An Impromptu AdventureJan Heine
Ryan’s e-mail started like this: “I haven’t cycled on the San Juan lslands for a long time. We could leave in the afternoon and catch the 10:30 PM ferry to Orcas. We would be on top of Mt Constitution by 2 AM…”
I didn’t need to read any further. Instead, I picked up the phone: “Count me in!”
Climbing Mount Constitution at night sounded romantic. Add ferry rides, riding on empty backroads and eating good food… It had all the ingredients for a perfect day-and-a-half outing. That is, despite the weather forecast predicted a front coming in.
We met at 3:30 p.m. and left Seattle on familiar roads and trails (above). We crossed the Skagit River Delta through powerful head- and crosswinds. We explored a new bike route into Anacortes in the dark, which took us on an amazing pier across the bay. After 160 km (100 miles) on the road with a single, brief stop, we had an excellent dinner at the deli of a grocery store. Once again, we marveled at how efficiently good randonneur bikes can cover large distances.
When we reached the ferry terminal shortly after 10 p.m., there was a ferry at the dock, but we were the only people there. A sign on the toll both read: “Will be back at 4.” Huh? We double-checked the schedule and discovered the fine print: The 10:30 ferry only runs on Fridays.
Fortunately, the waiting area was open. The janitor showed up for work just as we started to get comfortable, and soon turned off the lights without asking us to leave. So we slept there. It was drizzling outside, so this was probably more comfortable than bivying in the forest on Mount Constitution.
We took the first morning ferry at 5:30. I had only cycled on Orcas Island during summer weekends, when the roads and ferries were crowded with tourists.
Today, we had the roads mostly to ourselves. The few local drivers were friendly and returned our waves. After the long winter, it’s amazing how green spring is. The early foliage has a more yellowish green hue, and the mist made it seem even more vibrant. The evergreen trees’ tips were also lighter, where this year’s growth is coming out.
After the dips and rises of island’s interior, the road wound its way along this magic bay, into a surreal landscape shrouded in fog.
We reached the turnoff to Mount Constitution almost before we knew it. From here, the road winds its way up the mountain to gain a total of 730 m (2400 feet) in elevation.
We had the road to ourselves, except for a single car that passed us on the uphill. We wondered what happened to it, since there is no turn-off, and it wasn’t at the top.
We pushed the pace, since this was our first mountain pass for the year – important training for the rides we have planned for the upcoming season.
The last bit was a steep gravel footpath. Nobody was around, and we rode up that as well.
At the top is an observation tower, built during the 1930 depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which put unemployed people to work. Usually, the tower offers grand views of the surrounding islands, the Cascade and Olympic Mountains, and even Vancouver in British Columbia. Today, all we could see were fog and clouds. Deserted and cut off from the world, it was perhaps even more special.
The downhill was exciting, and then we took a different route that led us through Eastsound, Orcas’ largest town. With some time until the next ferry, we decided to enjoy a good meal.
Orcas has enough locals to support their infrastructure without tourists, so we had no trouble finding a bustling café. We ate a multi-course meal that really made Eastsound a destination. Then we caught the ferry back to Anacortes.
On the ferry, Ryan learned that his presence was required at home, so we split up. While he headed to Mount Vernon, I continued with our original plan of riding across Whidbey Island.
I explored a new backroad on the way to Deception Pass (above), then headed along the coast of Whidbey Island, avoiding the busy highway that runs through the center of the island. The coastal roads are very hilly as they climb and descend one bluff after another. As a result, there wasn’t time for photos, but my pace into the headwind and rain had to increase the further I went.
I caught the ferry to Port Townsend with minutes to spare, and enjoyed a brief rest while the boat crossed the choppy waters. I love having all my stuff in a handlebar bag. While other cyclists fuss with their luggage, I just pull the bag out of the decaleur and head to the heated seating area of the ferry. (Except on this day, I was the only cyclist on the boat.)
Soon the charming town of Port Townsend came into view, reminding me of many wonderful vacations spent here.
This afternoon, my visit was limited to an early dinner at the excellent food co-op, before I took to the road again. Instead of taking the busy and relatively flat roads back toward Bainbridge Island, I re-acquainted myself with the wonderful roads that traverse the peninsula.
One of my favorites is Old Eaglemount Road (above).
We will head the other way on these roads during our Flèche 24-hour ride soon, so I got a preview in reverse.
I reached the 9:45 p.m. ferry at Bainbridge Island with barely enough time to buy a sandwich at the grocery store. Then, on the way home from the ferry in Seattle, it had stopped raining, and I had the first tailwind of the entire trip! By 11 p.m., I was in bed, after an exhilarating 30-hour vacation.