Sunday, August 23, 2015

The annual San Juan Island Overnighter

This weekend I got out for one of my favorite annual rides, the San Juan Island Overnighter. I have been coming to the San Juans by bike since the late eighties, and I still look forward to this ride every year. This year was one of the best times I have ever had out there!

These days a lot of cyclists are doing rides called "S24O", which stands for Sub-24-hour Overnighter. People leave from work for a ride, camp overnight, and then get up and ride back in time for work the next day. My rides tend toward more of a "SO24O", which stands for Slightly-Over-24-hour Overnighter. I like to take my time, enjoy myself, and not feel rushed to beat a time expectation. I do these rides on my weekend when I don't have to get back to work, and that allows me enough time to enjoy the ride the way I want to. 

I started this year's ride like usual by driving from Seattle up to the Anacortes park and ride on the southeast side of town and leaving my car. From there it was a picturesque ride past Fidalgo Bay into Anacortes on a wonderful bike path along the water. I rode through town and out SR20 to the ferry terminal, where the wait for the ferry ended up being just under an hour. After boarding I tied my bike up to the railing and headed upstairs for a snack and to enjoy the view as the ferry made its way through the islands to Friday Harbor. It is summer, and of course there were a million kids running around like crazy, but I tried to ignore them and just watched the scenery pass by.

Once we arrived in Friday Harbor I rode off the ferry and climbed up Spring Street through the main part of town. It was a spectacular day, warm with a nice breeze, and the perfect weather for riding the island. I decided on a slightly different route this year, meaning to tackle the entire tortuous Bailer Hill Road and giving myself a good climbing challenge. In no time at all I was facing the pavement wall, and took the opportunity to put the Rholoff hub to the test grinding my way up Bailer Hill. The road is so steep it has pull-outs for bikes, just like mountain passes have for cars! I felt pretty good though, and slowly cranked my way up without stopping. From the top I was rewarded with the incredible  beauty of the West Side Road, which looks out over Haro Strait. It's one of my absolute favorite roads to ride. I wound my way along the scenic highway, trying to stay well to the right side to avoid cars while still looking out and enjoying the view, and before long I was passing Lime Kiln State Park. A grueling climb out of the park leads to an exhilarating downhill and my destination for the night, San Juan County Park.

Day one. I turned Strava off while on the ferry, but it still connects as a straight line. And my battery died two miles from the County Park! Grrrrr.....

The hiker/biker sites in the park are spartan at best, just a simple grass hill with picnic benches and fire pits, but at only ten dollars I can't complain. This park is one of the most popular destinations in all of Washington State, and is a very busy place to camp with lots of people making all kinds of racket, so you just learn to expect it and deal with the chaos as best as you can. I set up my tent, fired up my Jetboil, and had dinner ready in no time at all. I whipped up a hot chocolate/Via faux-mocha (a faux-cha?) and headed down to watch the beautiful sunset over Haro Strait and Vancouver Island. After the sun had set and it started to get dark I crawled into my tent, put in my ear plugs, and settled in for the night. Unfortunately, I slept like total crap. The hill makes sleeping a bit uncomfortable, and I just could not get into a position that felt right. Just as I would drift off, the call of nature would wake me, and I would have to get up and go take care of it before crawling back in to try falling asleep again. It was a rough night.

Nonetheless, after waking with a stiff neck and a sore back, after eating breakfast I felt surprisingly refreshed. I whipped up another faux-cha and went back down to the water to check if there were any Orcas to be seen. I was just finishing up my drink and thinking it was going to be a bust this year, when the first whale entered Haro Strait. More and more kept coming until I couldn't believe how many were passing by! I have seen whales almost every time I have camped here, but never so many so close to shore. You could easily hear the whoosh of air as they came to the surface to breathe. They were breaching, tail slapping, spy was just incredible! 

After such an amazing whale show I quickly broke camp and got back on the bike. Today's plan was to ride around the north end of the island, which is a ride I have not done in many years. It is less scenic than the west side, but still passes through beautiful, pastoral countryside. Thankfully there is more shade on the north end of the island, as it was starting to get pretty hot. The miles easily drifted by,  and before long I was back in Friday Harbor. As I rolled up to the ferry terminal I could see cars  disembarking  from the boat that I was going to be boarding, so there was only a short wait before I hopped on the ferry to retrace my steps back to my car, and home. 

Day two

Mr. Hanky, loaded and ready to go!

From the park-and-ride I head north along the east side of Fidalgo Bay. I loved this road sign, it cracked me up!

This wonderful pedestrian bridge is the scenic alternative to a nasty stretch of highway, and traverses Fidalgo Bay.

A little history of the bridge

A really nice paved bike path leads us into the quaint town of Anacortes.

An easy ride through Anacortes on 12th Street leads you onto Highway 20, and then down to the ferry terminal. Stay on the left side of the road as you ride to the ferry holding area in order to avoid the millions of cars queuing up. 

After making your way onto the ferry, you have to tie your bike securely to the railing.

The upper deck of the ferry provides a fantastic view on the way through the islands.

The unfortunate but aptly named Bailer Hill Road. Yikes...

You know how photos never make hills look as steep as they actually are? Can you imagine how steep this road actually is?!

This sign is no joke. Unless you are a strong rider, you will need this!

Very worth the climb though. The views around the west side of the island are simply spectacular. That's Port Townsend in the distance across the Straight of Juan de Fuca. 

Deer are everywhere. I hope the drivers are careful!

Not a bad view from the campsite.

A crappy iPhone snap of one of dozens of Orcas that passed by the campground this morning.

Fun roadside sculptures

Watch where you are going!

Typical idyllic views as you ride around the island

Yes, this is a camel. A CAMEL!!! Someone on the island has a freaking camel. Believe it.*

Spring Street is the main road through Friday Harbor, with many cute shops and places to eat.

The last time I was here there was a fire in this spot, burning down a historic building called Downriggers. It was a big part of the waterfront, and a sad loss.

Very exciting to see the Adventuress out cruising the waters of the San Juans

What a fantastic weekend on the bike, in one of my favorite places in the world, the San Juan Islands!

*Ed. note: DROMEDARY camel!! (signed: the wifely editor)