San Juans, WA & Victoria BC (1999)

Went on a super 8-day bicycle trip with a group of 12 people in the Pacific Northwest. This part of the country is known for dry, pleasantly warm and sunny summers. But for the 15 days I am there, I see what the local weatherpeople call three "sunbreaks." And they are brief. Mostly, it is light drizzle and cold. Several local residents tell me it is the worst weather they have ever seen for early July. Nevertheless, I have a wonderful time on the trip. Below is a daily log of the bicycle adventure:

Day #1 -- La Conner WA and Wild Iris Inn

La Conner features a traditional, "small town" main street feel. The main street has a lot of architecture with unique character. The residents must be proud of their town. It contains a fishing village, an artists' colony and an interesting downtown with galleries, shops and piers overlooking the Swinomish Channel. (BTW, for you trivia buffs, there are several places in the northwest that have a name ending with "mish," which is a native American term meaning "of the river.")

For example, I noticed on the map of the area:

Snohomish County

Swinomish Indian Reservation

Skykomish River ("Of the River" River?)

Stillaguamish River

The surrounding fields of the Skagit Valley are home to the largest commercial bulb industry outside of Holland, and features a large tulip festival each year. On this first day, we bicycle for 38 miles. At the end of the ride, a friend and I stop in to a local microbrewery. I have a pint of Stout, and samples of Extra Special Bitter, India Pale Ale, and Dopplebock. Each is very good. (By the end of the trip, we, as homebrewers ourselves, are to learn that the northwest brews several excellent microbeers.)

That night, we stay at the superb Wild Iris Inn. Our third floor bedroom balcony overlooks a farmer's field behind the Inn. At the restaurant that evening, I order King Salmon with Strawberry Sauce. It is delightful. Just before bed, I unwind from the events of the day by taking a one-hour soak in the Jacuzzi behind the Inn.

Day #2 -- Lopez Island and Edenwild Inn

On the second day, we ferry into the San Juan Islands. There are over 700 islands, but only 172 have names (400 at high tide). Sixty are populated and four are served by major ferry service. Our destination is Lopez Island. We head for Lopez Island Bay and Spencer Spit for a brief hike and lunch. I am amazed to spot 16 rabbits in the few minutes I hiked there, and wonder where the hawks and eagles and foxes are. Why have they not swooped in for feedings? We also bike to Agate Beach. I spend some time collecting a handful of the smooth, colorful, small "agate" stones that form this beach. We bicycle for 50 miles on this day, with our destination for the evening being the gorgeous Edenwild Inn (see photo). Our dinner that night is in the dining room of the Inn, where I enjoy Alaskan Halibut with Peaches, after an Inn "wine and cheese" event featuring a Chardonnay, cheese, and Pyramid Ale (a Seattle microbrew).

Day #3 -- San Juan Island, Friday Harbor and States Inn

We ferry to San Juan Island. This island is the most populated of the islands, and has the largest town—Friday Harbor. The town is pleasant, featuring shops, restaurants and a comprehensive Whale Museum. Ownership of San Juan Island was disputed by Britain and the US until the "Pig War" in 1872, which was started when a British pig was shot by an American soldier. The British and American Camps have been made a National Historic Park, and are located at the northern and southern ends of the Island.

During our 39 miles of biking here, we stop for lunch at a lighthouse (see photo). I set out on an interesting 30-minute hike on the beach leading up to the lighthouse. After lunch, I pedal to Lime Kiln State Park, the only park in the US dedicated to watching orca whales. On the way, I snap a photo of a large bald eagle perched in a tree along Dead Man's Bay. Unbeknownst to us during lunch, a pod of orca whales is spotted at the Park at 2:30. I wait for a while during the "prime" orca spotting time at the park (5-6 pm) without luck. That night, we stay at States Inn, a working horse farm farmhouse which has llamas out front. While in Friday Harbor, we check the real estate prices and see an add for a place with an acre or so of land with a view of the water. It showed a photo of a rather modest silver trailer, and stated that for this "habitable trailer," the price was $400,000.

For dinner at our restaurant, I feast on Alaskan King Salmon with Macadamia Nut Pesto. After dinner, at 10 pm under a full moon (behind clouds, of course), our tour guide treats some of us to a nighttime hike into a dark forest to see something so fearsome that many locals refuse to visit. Our destination is the bizarre mausoleum containing the ashes of timber tycoon John McMillin's family. The site was chosen because McMillin enjoyed the spectacular sunset afterglow on Spieden Channel—unfortunately, second-growth timber now obscures the sunset view. The mausoleum is based on the family history and on the Masonic Order, of which McMillin was a member. The entrance to the mausoleum consists of stone gates. The open-air mausoleum is about 30 feet high, and shaped in a circle with stone columns supporting it. A circular stone table is at the center, and 6 stone chairs—each containing the ashes of a family member—are around the table to symbolize the family sitting together for a meal for all eternity. Legend has it that one of the chairs contains the ashes of McMillin's mistress. Each chair has a stone column behind it. However, one chair and column are conspicuously absent to symbolize a son who has disowned his eccentric father and family. Another account has it that the intentionally broken column represents life broken by death, while the ring supporting the columns represents eternal life after death.

To add to the fears and eerie sounds we hear that night, I sit on the chair containing McMillin's ashes (his chair is at the head of the table, as it was when the family was alive) then walk on top of the table and chairs. So far, I have not died a mysterious, agonizing death, nor have any others in the bicycle group.

Day #4 -- Orcas Island, Rosario Mansion & Cascade Harbor Inn

On this day, we arise early for a 6:30 am bike ride to a café near the ferry launch. I am not expecting the bicycle "death march" that is awaiting me on Orcas Island. Orcas is the largest island in San Juan Islands, and has the reputation as the most beautiful island. Our first destination was Moran State Park, on the eastern side of the island, which is the largest state park in Washington as well as the largest peak—Mount Constitution. The bicycling on this day was for 45 miles, but seemed more like 450 miles. I am warned about the strenuous nature of the ride up to the mountain summit, but am determined to accomplish the ride. Part of the warning is to bring a change of clothes, lots of water and food for the ride, since I'd be sweating bullets at the top. I am puzzled, since it was another cool and drizzly day. But after 4 continuous miles of uphill—a 2,400-foot elevation gain that took about 70 LONG minutes to ascend—I understand the need for precautions. The entire cruel uphill finds me fighting fatigue. I am thoroughly exhausted and sweating profusely at the top. The ride down is nearly as challenging, since it features wet road surfaces, 40 mph bicycle speeds, and several hairpin turns. Our guides decide to commemorate the effort of those of us insane enough to bicycle to the mountain summit by giving us a certificate recognizing the achievement.

We tour the Rosario Mansion and hear a nice organ recital and speech, which includes a description of the Moran shipbuilding empire at the turn of the century. That night, we stay at the rustic Cascade Harbor Inn, where our bedroom balcony overlooks Cascade Harbor. For dinner that night, I order a dish of prawns and scallops with vegetables, and a red curry mussels salad.

Day #5 -- Deer Harbor kayaking and Laurel Point Inn at Victoria BC

We bicycle for 12 miles from East Sound—a lovely little town—to Deer Harbor. At Deer Harbor, we enjoy a one-hour tandem kayak trip in Deer Harbor, where we see unusual purple starfish, sea lions basking on islands, and, at one point, a seal that plays around with our kayak out of curiosity. Near the end of this day, we ferry to Victoria BC. Victoria is the capitol of British Columbia, and has worked to retain its British heritage, as can be seen most clearly by the Parliament building (see photo), which was designed by a 25-year old architect in 1898. The city is approximately 325,000 people in size, and contains architecture and urban design that is impressive. Our lodging in Victoria is the Laurel Point Inn, which is extremely opulent and luxurious. The bathroom in our bedroom features sliding doors, glass walls surrounding the shower, two sinks, wall-to-wall marble, a separate bathtub, a phone/TV/Stereo next to the toilet, and a delightful view of a waterfall, gardens, Victoria Inner Harbor and the Victoria skyline on the balcony off our bedroom. The nightlife in Victoria is festive and vibrant with a number of street performers (buskers) entertaining the crowds. No doubt part of the vibrancy is due to the heavy tourism this wonderful city gets, and the Canadian Independence Day celebration on July 1st while we are there.

The celebration is quite a spectacle. The Canadians certainly enjoy celebrating their independence. Like America, they enjoy a fireworks show. We watched the show over the Inner Harbor, along with approximately 80,000 people who had jammed the waterfront and nearby streets to watch.

Day #6 -- Victoria and Butchart Gardens

As a city planner, I am compelled to do sightseeing on foot in Victoria in both the morning and afternoon of Day #6. The Empress Hotel downtown on the Inner Harbor is awesome, as is the Gatsby Mansion nearby. A number of boats leave throughout the day to go orca whale watching—often on high-speed boats that require one to wear a heavy suit to stay warm in the face of splashing, spraying seawater.

Butchart Gardens is a lovely "must see" in Victoria. Formerly a cement plant run by Mr. Butchart, the plant grounds were converted into colorful gardens, although the cement plant smokestack remains—perhaps as a reminder. The Sunken Garden contains a very pretty set of flower arrangements in a former limestone quarry (see photo).

We bicycle for 26 miles this day.

Later in the evening, we dine at Millos Greek restaurant, where I have Filet of Salmon charbroiled with olive oil and lemon, and octopus appetizers. We are entertained by a belly dancer.

Late at night, I enjoy the Jacuzzi at Laurel Point Inn. The Jacuzzi sits next to the full-sized indoor pool at the Inn.


Day #7 -- Victoria and Port Angeles

Early in the morning, my friend and I take a tour of the inside and outside of the Parliament building. It is quite educational, impressive and entertaining, since it includes a bit of acting by actors and actresses playing the parts of important persons in the British Columbia past.

Afterwards, my friend and I tour the famous Royal British Columbia Museum. The Museum showcases the human and natural history of British Columbia, and features periodic exhibitions of international fame. When I tour it, I am nearly overwhelmed by the maze of rooms containing exhibits. Founded in 1886, it is well-known for creating highly realistic exhibits. It is also a center for research, education, and museum innovation. Over the past 30 years, there has been 27 million visitors.

Before the Museum, we watch a highly realistic and educational IMAX theatre movie inside the museum.

That evening, we visit a brewpub in downtown Victoria, where I enjoy a salmon sandwich (I can never get sick of salmon, no matter how much I eat, and on this trip, I eat a lot of it.) While there, I sample the very good Black Tusk Ale. We ferry to Port Angeles, where we stay at the Double Tree Hotel, featuring another Jacuzzi. While in our room this evening, I am talking with my friend when I notice the mirror, door, and wall shake. My friend feels his chair move, and he thinks it was just me jumping up and down in another one of my "city planner rants." Turns out that it was the first in a series of 5.5 Richter scale earthquakes with an epicenter nearby.

That night, we talk about it as I enjoy a dinner of Italian-spiced clams, shrimp, crab, mussels, and scallops—a dish called "ciopini". My friend and I hit the town that evening, where I sample Evening Warmer Ale, Angeles Amber Alt, and Beardslee Stout.

Day #8 -- Port Angeles and Olympic Park

For breakfast this day, I have the Dungeness Crab omelet. We bicycle to Dungeness Harbor on Olympic Peninsula, where I enjoy a 20-minute hike along the world's longest natural sand spit at the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. The New Dungeness Lighthouse National Historic Site at the end of the spit is 5 miles from the start of the spit. The calm, quiet waters created by the spit creates a very good habitat for marine life (Pacific black brant, salmon, and steelhead), not to mention shorebirds and various waterfowl.

We bicycle for 40 miles on this day, and have lunch at the "John Wayne Marina." One of our group stops this day is to see the land developed by a Boeing executive, who made a fortune developing a navigational system for the Boeing planes. He retired on Olympic Peninsula on a farm. The house he built is a castle. He carved out, from wood, hundreds of gnomes and figurines—many of which serve as fence posts.

In all, the Bicycle Adventures trip includes 6 ferry rides and 250 miles of bicycling on the San Juan Islands. I eat an enormous amount of delicious seafood (and gain a few pounds as a result, despite all of the bicycling). It is an unforgettable, magnificent trip.

Days on My Own

 As always, I find ways to include some exploring and adventuring on my own while in the northwest. I first go to Lacey and Olympia WA to visit a high school buddy who I have not seen in about 20 years. First, we walk a bit in Olympia and have dinner. Then it is back to his place in Lacey to socialize with him, my sister and brother-in-law, and a Gainesville friend to drink the English Porter and Irish Stout beer I have brewed in Florida and have carried on the plane. That night, my friend and I stay at the lovely and stately Harbinger B&B Inn, which overlooks East Bay boat harbor.

The next day, my high school buddy takes me into the Cascade Mountains to hike Mount St. Helens, which erupted in 1980. The mountain and its surroundings is a 110,330-acre national monument. The blast blew off 1,300 feet off the top of the mountain, devastating 235 square miles of landscape. Nevertheless, nearly 20 years later the only real evidence we see of the eruption, besides glimpses of the sheered off summit from a distance, is the tremendous amount of volcanic pumice on the ground. Unbeknownst to us, the two access roads leading to the St. Helens "blast zone" are closed—probably due to the tremendous amount of snowfall the area has gotten, which perhaps kept the roads closed. Instead, we hike for a few hours along an old dirt road atop about 9 feet of snow which was the deepest snow I had ever hiked in July (see photo).

After the hike, it is off to visit my Gainesville friend, who have left to visit her dad on Camano Island. There, we hike the Chuckanut Ridge Trail, and stop at Taylor Oyster Farm to purchase enormous Pacific oysters—24 of which I eat raw and broiled later that night. The trail is in Larrabee State Park, and the forest we hike features a large number of cedar trees. We are told that the trail offers tremendous views of the 11,000-foot Mount Baker to our east, but the cloudy weather obscures our view. Nevertheless, we are able to see Bellingham Bay and Samish Bay to our west. We also hike Deception Pass State Park.

The next day, we use wooden, home-made kayaks for a trip into Triangle Cove and Port Susan.

I then ferry from Bainbridge Island back to Seattle, where I tour this city on the day before and the day after my 8-day bicycle adventure with another Gainesville friend. I always enjoy taking in downtown Seattle because it is such a walkable city with good transit service. Once again, Pikes Place Market is bustling with activity, as are the many streets and neighborhoods we walk. The transit includes buses run on electric overhead cable, and a fare-free downtown zone. My favorite neighborhood is Wallingford, where the walkable, mixed use, compact, vibrant urban design certainly makes this part of Seattle so attractive that the real estate prices are steep. Retail and office—even the well-known fast food chains—are quite well-behaved because the buildings are placed up at the sidewalk, which adds a lot of pedestrian comfort, interest and convenience to the streets. The "Wallingford Center", which we toured, is a mixed use building in the neighborhood with 27,000 square feet of retail shops on the first floor, and 24 residential apartments on the second floor. I am envious, since it appears very livable and attractive. In the impressive Freemont neighborhood, we see "The Interurban" sculpture, which depicts a group of people waiting for a bus at a bus stop. Standing with the group is a dog, whose face is that of the former Freemont mayor. We also snap a picture of the imposing, controversial Lenin statue in this very bohemian neighborhood (see photo). Along the way, we enjoy the Madrona and Capitol Hill neighborhoods, which are, like other parts of Seattle, very mixed use and walkable, and full of character. We stop in to Pacific Northwest Brewing Company, where I enjoy a Jump-n-Jack Black Porter microbeer, and a Scotch Ale (St. Stephen Shilling 90).


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