The one tantalizing issue with a San Juans tour is getting there. While the San Juans are close enough to Portland to make it work for a five-or-so day tour, it still is far enough away that it would take a full day and change to get to, and then a good part of a day to return. While there is a direct train connection from Portland to Mount Vernon, the closest stop to the Anacortes ferry terminal, the train only runs once daily, departing from Portland around 3pm and arriving in Mount Vernon around 8pm. In September, this is after dark, and the ferry terminal is 20 miles from the depot, so realistically this would work if I wanted to stay in Mount Vernon for the night. But I wanted to stay in Anacortes so it would be only a couple mile ride to the ferry in the am.
|Bikes in the baggage car.|
And to make things even easier, I managed to pare my touring load down to my "minimalist" setup, meaning front rando/handlebar bag (my custom North Street bag), rear saddlebag (Carradice Nelson Longflap, tent strapped to exterior), and to augment my carrying capacity, my small Jandd frame bag. I had been wanting to test my minimalist setup beyond the one overnight I did to Oxbow Park in June, and I felt that this tour was a perfect time to try. There are three reasons for this:
- I knew that while the San Juans are "rural", they are "West-of-Cascades, not-in-mountains" rural, meaning NOT wilderness. There would be enough grocery stores and markets that I knew I would be able to resupply food on a daily basis, so I didn't need a heck of a lot of food carrying capacity.
- The weather would still be mild, so I could bring "just enough" clothes (and raingear.)
- I didn't want to check baggage on Amtrak (and I wouldn't be able to do this on the return anyway), and I didn't want to haul around a lot of stuff between trains and buses.
Upon arrival in Mount Vernon, I had a quick bite to eat at the food co-op, and then rode the mostly flat 18 miles across the Skagit Valley lowlands westward to Anacortes. (To make up for the relative ease of a flat ride, I was riding into the sun, with a headwind, and I almost bonked half-way down the road.) So I got to Anacortes well before dark, and found the house of my Warmshowers host, who put me up in their "guest cottage". I had a great view of the sunset over the water. I would be sharing the cottage with another bike tourist, Beven, a New Zealander who just finished riding around the islands and would be taking transit south down towards the Bay Area.
On Friday morn (September 13) I awoke early to a foggy morning (to be expected for such a maritime area.) It was a quick ride to the Ferry Terminal, and I made the 9:45 am ferry to Friday Harbor, the "big town" (actually, only town) on San Juan Island, the most populous of the archipelago. Still foggy, I decide to ride the north portion of the island first. The road out of town is busy for a mile or so, but traffic then drops off, and a decent shoulder appears. Not only that, they’ve made special “Bike Turnouts” for us two-wheeled travelers to stop. One of which is basically a bike rest area! The landscape is rolling farms and woods, a bit inland from the water for now. The fog finally breaks when I get to the west side of the island. The road becomes narrower and hillier, and I stop for my first attraction: the English Camp unit of San Juan National Historic Park.
here. English Camp was a more “deluxe” encampment than the American base on the SE corner of the island, but little is left of it today, just a few buildings. And a great view. Here at English Camp I ran into a couple of other bike tourists, the first (but not the last) ones I would run into. I forget their names, but remembered that they are from somewhere in the SW and they’ve been touring around the islands and sounds for a few weeks. Basically they’ve been doing the tour I wanted to do but couldn’t due to time constraints. (Sigh…) Anyways, the Surly Long Haul Trucker has been…interestingly renamed. (Somehow I can see Surly coming out with a model name like this.)
I had an enjoyable evening in camp, making dinner, listening to both Environment Canada’s forecast on the weather band and the CBC station from Victoria on the FM, and watching the sun rise and the stars come out.
More photos here.