Friday, October 11, 2013

Northwest Road trip with Bikes: Orcas Island and Mt Constitution

Tent site at Lopez Farm
our camp on Lopez Island
After spending two wonderful nights on Lopez Island. Our plan would take us to the largest of the San Juan Islands--Orcas Island. We woke up, de-camped, and packed our gears onto our bikes. We leisurely pedaled to the ferry dock and waited for a mid-day ferry, saying goodbye to this wonderful island along the way. From everything we have read and heard in conversation, Orcas is the hilliest of the major San Juan Islands. Our apprehension only got worse when a tourist riding a Surly LHT told us how he struggled on the roads. The place we planned to stay was in Eastsound Village, so we didn't have much of a choice. After taking a couple swigs of water and a bite of energy food, we began rolling.

Alpaca Farm
Alpaca Farm on Orcas Island
The road pointed north first before turning east toward Eastsound. It was early afternoon and the sun was out in full force, but the breeze from the sound kept the temperature down and the conditions quite pleasant. We were more observant of our efforts so as not to over-ride and struggle later on the supposedly hilly terrain. Though to our pleasant surprise, the terrain, even with our load, was nothing to worry about. I guess our usual riding and touring in the Bay Area hills prepare us well.

Crescent Beach
Crescent Beach outside Eastsound
Orcas is simply beautiful. Quiet country roads, evergreens and pastures everywhere. We took a bypass road that's even lighter in car traffic than the main road, then soaked in the bucolic atmosphere. The 9-mile ride to Eastsound Village went by quickly. Soon we had to slow down to enter this quaint town that sits in the middle of the island. We stopped to call our host for the night to get direction to his lodge/campground.

Riding toward Mt Constitution
Riding by Alpine Lake in Moran SP
We rode by Crescent Beach, upped a hill and arrived at the lodge. Our host Dave was very nice and showed us around. M. was tired so she took a nap on the hammock while I set up camp and went back to Eastsound to get some groceries for dinner and breakfast. We also had plans to get out for a sunset ride up Mt Constitution.

Our camp
our campsite on Orcas Island
After dinner, we relieved our bikes of panniers and locks, and rode toward Moran State Park. At 7:30 it was still very bright, though the temperature was beginning to drop. We rode at a good pace in the crisp but fragrant evening air. Moran State Park is a clean and serene area with big patches of evergreen forest and several alpine lakes. Soon we came to the fork and began climbing on Mt Constitution Road.

Wide panorama
Wide Panorama of Puget Sound from the top of Mt Constitution
Mt Constitution Road is a significant climb that gains 2000 ft in 5 miles. It reminded us of some of our favorite climbs in the Bay Area--BoFax Road from Alpine Dam or Bolinas to Ridgecrest, Kings Mountain Road, and Pinehurst Road. It was very well shaded but with a challenging gradient. We worked hard to crest to the top and enjoyed the output of effort. We were also rewarded with an expansive and jaw-dropping panoramic view of the Puget Sound. The climb itself was enjoyable, but the vista definitely put this climb to among our favorite roads to ride.

Alpine Lake Sunset
It was dusk now and we only have perhaps 30 minutes of civilian twilight left. I put 2 maps on my chest to maintain my core temperature for the descent turned on the dynamo light and headed back to the campground. We cleaned up and ate a snack before getting into our tent, under a tall evergreen, and went into a deep slumber. Tomorrow we will leave the island, but we will surely come back to this lovely place again.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Northwest Road Trip with Bikes: Lopez Island and Orcas Sighting.

A panorama shot from under the walkway to the ferry
Puget Sound from the Anacortes Ferry Terminal
We really enjoyed our time in Portland; so much so that I began second-guessing our decision to head to Puget Sound for 3 and 1/2 days. After all, wouldn't we be able to relax more and have a true vacation if we were to simply chill out in Portland? The calculus on the other side was that this was our first true longish vacation in a while, and we'd already driven all the way up here, so we might as well drive the extra 3 and 1/2 hours to Anacortes and check out the islands. In hindsight, our trip to the San Juan Islands was totally worth the extra drive and planning.

Washington State Ferry
From the ferry deck
Driving on the main corridor on the day before the July 4th long weekend was not the most pleasant experience. We stuttered our way to Anacortes, worried about missing our 5PM-ish ferry to Lopez Island, where we planned on staying the night. We got to the ferry terminal parking lot with enough time to unload our bikes, pack our gears onto the bikes (since we were camping for the next 3 nights) and wandered to the line for pedestrians/cyclists. I bought two tickets for us, chatted with a resident cyclist who is an experience tourist, and proceeded to board the ferry when the ferry worker let us on. Both M. and I were so excited about our trip--we giddily walked around the boat to soak in the amazing scenery and daydreamed about our adventures for the next days. Little did we know at the time that our adventure was indeed about to start, but not quite the way we planned.

Incoming Ferry
Ferry coming into Friday Harbor
The resident cyclist whom I was chatting with found us looking out the window and pointed out that we were on the wrong ferry, as the one we were on were headed directly for Friday Harbor on the main San Juan Island, whereas our intended ferry was the one after. We poured over the ferry schedule and realized that we won't be able to get to Lopez Island until 11pm at night. We considered finding a place to stay on San Juan Island but on late afternoon of July 3rd finding a spot to stay was nearly impossible.

Marina at dusk
Friday Harbor at Dusk
After we got off the boat we decided that we would hang out in Friday Harbor and wait for the late ferry to get on Lopez. We sat around and enjoyed the harbor the best we can. It was getting cooler, and we sought shelter in a enclosed hut on the dock. It was getting late but the darkness was slow to arrive. As we left Friday Harbor at 10:30 or so the night had barely fallen.

Sun is out
Sunrise at the campground on Lopez Island
I'd been to Lopez Island once in 2005, but navigating it at night, even with bright dynamo headlight on our bikes was not easy. We proceeded cautiously and were able to find our campground and stumbled our way to our site. After a long day of travel both of our patience was wearing thin. Somehow we got the tent pitched and we fell into slumber in the quiet evergreen forest on Lopez.

I also made the mistake of not bringing a sleeping bag. I'd checked the weather prior to leaving California, where we had the worst heatwave in several years. Portland was baking when we were there also. The forecast for the islands showed temperature in the 50's. I thought bringing a thin fleece blanket would be sufficient. I was mistaken and had to put on all the layers I had and stayed as close to M. in the tent (she had a sleeping bag) as I could. I did get used to it the following two nights and slept well.

Sequoia at the harbor
Lopez Island Harbor on July 4th
Lopez was very tranquil, even on a day like July 4th. I rode my bike 1.5 miles to the grocery store at the local village center to buy some food and supplies. The town was hosting a 5k run to raise fund for several local organizations. I meandered to the harbor nearby the market and stared for a while before heading back to the campground. Few folks were up at this point and hanging out in the common area. I made some breakfast and woke M. up to eat. After tossing a frisbee for a while I convinced M. that instead of kicking back and sitting in a lawn chair for the rest of the day, that we should take the ferry to San Juan Island again to check out the beautiful coastline on the west side of the island and to try our luck with potential sighting of orcas. M. was doubtful but decided to follow my whim.

Sequoia on Ferry
Bike on Ferry
We collected a bag of snacks and maps and headed for San Juan. After getting off the boat, we rode at a leisure pace toward the coast. The weather was breezy and sunny. There were more cars than I remembered from 8 years ago. After a couple of hilly stretches M. was regretting her decision and missing the hammock back at our camp site. We reached the coast shortly after and began to make our way toward Lime Kiln Point State Park.

Orcas watching
Orcas watching folks and boats
We saw some folks pulled over on the side of the road and made various sounds of exclamation. We stopped and walked up a big rock to see what it was about, and saw a line of boats moving steadily northward undoubtedly carrying passengers to watch orcas. While we were standing there enjoying an amazing vista of the sound, we saw it--an orca surfacing just above water and was moving about. Though it wasn't for long our interest was now definitely piqued. We decided to ride 2 miles to Lime Kiln to get a better view.

The state park had quite a few folks at this point. For the next hour or so, we sat on a rock near the beach in the park and saw 2-3 orcas surfacing from time to time, to the joy of people on the shore. It was truly an amazing sight, even if they were merely small specks from the beach.

Orca sighting!
The best I can do to capture the Orcas
Reluctantly, we got back on the road and headed back toward Friday Harbor so we can catch our ferry back to Lopez. Even without the orcas sighting, the ride up and down the west coast of San Juan was incredibly scenic and relaxing. We rode back to Friday Harbor in time for the ferry. After a low-key dinner and some time in the law chairs, we turned in to catch up on some needed sleep. The next day we planned on de-camping and then go visit Orcas Island before heading back to Portland for the weekend.