Lavender Americana: Shawn Summer Touring in Washington

words and pictures: Shawn McKean

Amy and I decided kind of spur of the moment to set off on a 2-day bike trip to America. Our route was to be a loop heading out to Sidney and across to Anacortes, WA, via ferry, then down through Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands to Keystone for another ferry to Port Townsend. After a night in Port Townsend, we’d roll along the Olympic Discovery Trail to Port Angeles and return home on the Coho, a sort of international take on the traditional ‘3 Ferry’s Loop.’ All told, it would be around 200km, 2000m of elevation, and 2 days of riding for the two of us. Taking advantage of this uncharacteristically dry and warm summer, we decided to make the trip carrying only what would fit in our jersey pockets and a small, Farsik bar bag. Let’s call it ‘Summer Light Touring’ – like ultralight touring, but without the implied hardship and asceticism.

Puzzles and …. is it still called ‘patina’ on a boat deck? Or just ‘rust puddles’?

Departing through Sidney instead of Swartz Bay started the trip off with the type of excitement only an Islander can understand: getting to wait for an entirely different ferry than usual. Washington State Ferries take on customer service is a nice contrast to BC Ferries ‘cruise liner meets floating bus’ mix of show and an absolute lack of substance. It’s a different ‘experience,’ a little more matter-of-fact. There’s incredible views, familiar but different from our Gulf Islands. But there’s also puzzles! Yes, WSF puts out puzzles for your trip. They also strictly enforce the “No Cleated Shoes” rule, so be prepared and carry an alternative, or go barefoot. Making America great again doesn’t involve scuffing up boat decks with cleats.

Disembarking the Anacortes ferry onto Fidalgo Island, you immediately have the option to take the main road or the scenic loop on your way to Whidbey Island. Taking the scenic loop not only lets some traffic clear but is, you know, scenic. We took this option. Fidalgo connects to Whidbey Island via a bridge spanning Deception Pass. We stopped here to enjoy the spectacle of boats trying to navigate strong tides as they passed under Deception Bridge.

From Deception Pass we rolled on across Whidbey Island to Oak Harbor. If we rode this loop again, we’d likely skip Oak Harbor. Instead, there’s a route that hugs the western shore right after passing the Naval Air Station toward Swantown then crossing back over to the eastern shore just below Oak Harbor, near Penn Cove. The roads south of Oak Harbor through Penn Cove to Coupeville are quiet and gorgeous with pretty coastal views. On the plus, though, in Oak Harbor we got to try some fresh mussels and some delicious beer from local brewery, “Flyer.”

All along the south end of Whidbey, you get amazing views swooping down into Fort Casey Historical State Park. Don’t get too excited if you’re into the old timey stuff: Fort Casey itself is now a convention centre. We were early for the ferry so took a little ride out the Keystone isthmus. We were on the 7:30pm sailing from Keystone to Port Townsend and our motel was still quite a distance away. Since we had no lights, we skipped touring around Port Townsend and rode straight to Valley View Motel in Discovery Bay. There is an awesome 2.2km climb just before you arrive!

While our initial impression of the Valley View Motel tottered on the line between ‘rustic’ and ‘foreboding,’ especially arriving at dusk, but it was perfectly located for our route and cheap. Adding to the Cabin in the Woods vibes, the manager told us he was “chopping a few bucks off the bill” because our cabin had just been vacated by a guy who’d been living there for a month with three parrots. We opened the door to our cabin with more than a little trepidation, but were greeted by the comforting aroma of Mr. Clean. Outward appearances aside, the shack was great! Plenty of room for bikes, two beds, a full kitchen, clean sheets and towels, and a fan that proved especially handy for drying kit overnight. The floors weren’t especially level, and the shower stall felt like it may drop through the floor any moment, but there was also a TV with a VCR and a library of movies to borrow! (Be kind, rewind!)

While there’s a corner store and a restaurant around the corner from VVM, both close early enough that you’re likely to end up at the coffee/wine/beer/live music spot just a bit further on. We headed to the latter for late night snacks and beverages. A local named Aragorn (since birth, he insisted, not an adopted name like the others in the area) assured us that we were at no loss having missed the ‘Republican burger joint,’ since “they don’t like bikes.” We’ll let you weigh your politics vs. your hunger yourself but at the end of 120km a burger sounded pretty good.

The next day we left the VVM and followed the Olympic Discovery Trail route around Discovery Bay and through Sequim. The route dips onto and off of the 101 then eventually becomes a bike path, which is 99% paved. We’re told it’s going to be extended all the way to Port Townsend. [Ed. Clay recently rode the ODT West of Port Angeles] We tucked into a beautiful lunch with more good local beer at Alder Wood Bistro in Sequim, bought local blackberry lavender wine at the local farm market and had a fragrant time at a lavender farm.

Looking for a way to escape more killer head winds and fresh chip seal road,  a local tipped us off to a sneaky shortcut across the airport runway that would lead us to the shelter of a tree lined bike path. The route seemed questionable, but he seemed confident. So, looking both ways, we went for it. The bike path was pretty busy. Lots of people out who all looked realllllly happy with their tailwind. Actually, a noteworthy aspect of the trip was how friendly and helpful the locals were. Every single time we stopped to check our route someone popped out of their yard or house or car to see if we needed help. It felt very welcoming.

We got to Port Angeles with a little time to spare….but not enough to hop up The Ridge, although Hurricane would be a good addition to the ride. Or vise versa. We decided to ride the loop clockwise, starting in Sidney, because there are really limited sailings between Anacortes and Sidney. Going the other way would probably require a second night, but might leave time to explore more of the islands on your way back.

Full Strava files of Shawn’s routing can be viewed below:

Day 1 – Victoria to Discovery Bay

Day 2 – Discovery Bay – Port Angeles

Part 1: Sequim

Part 2: Port Angeles home