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Friday, September 27, 2013

San Juan Islands (and Skagit County Too!) Tour report, Part Two: More San Juan, and a little Lopez.

When I last left you fine folks I was camping out on San Juan on the night of Friday September 13. The next morn, Saturday September 14, I awoke to heavy wet fog. When planning the trip, I thought about bringing my bivy sack because of its smaller size and relative lightness. But I decided to bring my 1-person Passage 1 tent from REI instead, as there was a bit of rain in the forecast. Rain or not, it's a good thing I brought the tent, as it would have been less pleasant to deal with the fog in the bivy.

Wake up, make breakfast while listening to CBC, pack up, say goodbye to the fellow cyclotourists, and head out. Today I would be heading to the southern tip of San Juan Island to see the other part of San Juan Island National Historic Park, the "American Camp" part. This was the most challenging, yet rewarding part of biking on the island, as the road wound up and down hills and afforded occasional views, though most everything was still fogged in. After awhile the road leveled out a bit, and I passed through some farmland and by False Bay. Looks real enough to me.

American Camp is the yin to English Camp's yang. English Camp sat on a protected bay, American Camp was on a wide-open and windswept peninsula. The views of this hardscrabble landscape were stunning, though.

Another few miles down the road and I was at the end of Cattle Point and its namesake lighthouse. I hoped to catch a glimpse of a whale or somesuch, but nothing, alas. Just more great views of landscape.

Then I headed back into Friday Harbor to catch a ferry to Lopez Island. I had been taking a slow, as-it-comes approach to island exploration and didn't feel like rushing to catch a ferry. I had all intents of taking it easy in Friday Harbor and catching the 5pm ferry. But closing in on Friday Harbor I realized that I might just make the 2:30 ferry after all. So, I hammered on in, made a brief resupply stop at the grocery store, and got on the ferry with just minutes to spare.

The ride didn't take long and I got off the ferry just after 3. Here at the Lopez terminal they make cyclists wait in a staging area until the cars get off, as there is a hill getting out of the terminal. I didn't find this hill nearly as bad as some other hills out of ferry terminals I've dealt with. And there is a bike lane, so I don't really understand the point in making us wait in this circumstance, other than not having 50-150 cars whiz by you in succession.

Anyways, it was a shortish 5 miles to my camping spot of the night, Spencer Spit State Park. I wasn't as enamored with Spencer Spit as I was San Juan Park. Both did provide hiker/biker sites, but the devil's in the dtails. San Juan had it in a prime spot with a great view, Spencer Spit had it in the back of the park on what appears to be a service road.* (There was a back hoe and piles of dirt at the end of the road.) While wooded, I could still hear the campers in the main loop. And weirdest aspect of it all was the "picnic table" provided with each site. Rather than normal size, it looked like a normal-sized one cut in half the long way. (They did provide "regular" picnic tables and a fire pit in the one communal site.)

At this point in the trip, I had reeled in some of the expectations I had going into it. Initially I had hoped to do "an island a day", with Orcas being the probable third. But getting onto San Juan on Friday I switched to the "take it as it comes" mindset and slow things down. Now I was more into the idea of skipping Orcas for maybe Shaw, or maybe not. I had planned to circumnavigate Lopez on Sunday and probably spend the night at Spencer Spit or take the ferry over to Shaw.

These plans all changed when I turned on the weather band while setting up camp. I had known for days that there was a chance of rain starting Sunday, but the new forecast was much more dire. They were now calling for thunderstorms and a good 20-30 mile wind. I've dealt with thunderstorms and wind on tours before, but this was when I had no other choice. I didn't feel like sticking it out and camping on Sunday in these conditions, especially since I didn't care much for the campsite. I got in touch with my Warmshowers host in Anacortes and they said it would be okay to stay on Sunday night. So I'd be returning to the "mainland" a day sooner than expected, cutting my island explorations short. While it was a bummer, I planned to make the best of it.

But first a quick exploration of Spencer Spit. Despite my grumblings about its camping facilities,** the spit itself was cool and I got some great views. I didn't get to watch the sun set as I did on San Juan (the spit faces eastward), I did hang out there after dark and get to watch ferries pass by in the night. I did best to enjoy my evening on the beach, knowing full well it may be the last one I spend on a saltwater beach before 2014 (or at least while the weather is still good.)

*There is one hiker/biker site right on the water. But it's only one and it was taken. There were "walk-in" sites with a waterfront view near the lone hiker-biker site, but they were regular priced and already full.
**Another gripe, I could find only two bathrooms in the entire campground, and each men's room only had one toilet. Two toilets total for a pretty sizable place.

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