November 27, 2014 | Posted in:Washington
The route out of our hosts’ place took us through a few miles of residential neighborhoods of Lake Stevens. Pulling up to a stop sign, I almost toppled over when my cleat wouldn’t come out of the pedal! As happened to Brandy in Wisco, one of the screws had come out and was lost, adding yet another item to the maintenance inspection rotation. I also discovered that I’d stepped in dog poo. While stopped we noticed some blackberries down beneath the bridge we were on, so while I was fixing my issues, Brandy grabbed a bungee and went ‘fishing’ for blackberries. If only we’d known the virtual bonanza of berries we’d encounter throughout the next couple weeks. Really, I have never seen so many. At the first huge, untouched patch I wondered if they were in some toxic soil or something, but as we passed drooping vine after overloaded bunch, we realized there are just so many blackberries everywhere that nobody even cares to pick them anymore. Obviously we indulged frequently.
We spent most of the day on the Centennial Trail, which is a great paved rail trail. I love being in the woods away from krrs on a nice grade, but you do tend to give up some of the better views you can get on roads. As soon as we got off the trail the view opened up into a quaint valley before we plunged into a forest of great pine trees. Coming into Conway we got to enjoy the counterpoint to the huge climb we had the previous day and sailed down into the Skagit Valley.
We had just had dinner and were looking out for some camping when some dudes at a house hollered at us asking where we were headed. We stopped and gave them the story, which is getting a bit old (our lame way of telling it, not the telling). I wish we could just say we’re cycling to S. America, but I always feel the need to qualify it with the fact that we’re not just cycling, etc, and we may not even go to S America. Then people ask where we’re from and I go into the whole spiel about living in NYC, but really I’m from WI and she’s from VA. After chatting for a bit, the owner of the place, Pete, offered us to pitch the tent in his yard. Sweet.
It was about this moment that we looked back across the valley and saw the incredible view of the hills we’d just descended beginning to be lit up by the setting sun. Yet another great moment in this world.
The next morning we finally got up at a somewhat reasonable time and we were even slug-free, despite the utter infestation of the giant slimy beasts. We were chilly and clammy and the tent was covered in moisture, but when you’re in the Pacific Northwest sliding into autumn, what can you expect?
The morning landscape was flat through colorful farms of various flowers and food crops. Interspersed among the farms are steep sided heads, very similar to what one would find around Wisconsin Dells but covered in fir trees.
The farmland gave way to pine forest once we crossed a cool steel arch bridge into the Swinomish Indian Reservation, and the land began to roll in earnest. We had the roads mostly to ourselves and had a nice ride into Anacortes where we stopped to gorge on more berries and picked some apples and pears, which are almost as abundant as the blackberries. By the time we reached the ferry terminal we’d put in a comfortable 27 miles of easy riding.
Our first ride on the Washington State Ferry system was a pleasure because it is just so damn easy. You roll right on to the front and lean the bikes against the wall. We always tied them down, but the boats are really stable so it’s likely not even necessary.
The San Juan archipelago consists of several hundred islands in the Salish Sea between Vancouver Island and northern Washington, although only four are accessible by Washington State Ferries. Each of the islands had been recommended to us by different people, but we chose Orcas because of the great hike to the highest point in the islands, the state park with hiker/biker sites and, quite frankly, the cool shape. I’m just a sucker for isthmuses and weirdly shaped land bodies.
The hour-long ferry ride gave us time to decompress and look at all the pretty islands, and also for our body to pretend it wasn’t on a bike tour. Although we’d arrive on the island at 5pm, we figured we shouldn’t have trouble riding the 14 miles to the park. We could happily pedal the quaint roads seeing the sights of this bucolic island and duck into the woods if we ran out of light. We nonchalantly rode off the boat with a ‘Ho! Ho! Let’s go!’ attitude and were punished instantly as the road jumped out of the gate at an immeasurable grade. We were in the wrong gear, ferry traffic was streaming past and we felt like fools for our hubris. It’s not that we weren’t prepared for climbing, we knew there were hills on this island, including a biggie the final four miles into the campground. We just weren’t prepared for THIS hill, THIS soon. It wasn’t even that long, but it certainly was demoralizing.
The traffic subsided as we coasted down through dense forest into grazing land, and bam! we were broadsided by yet another beast of epic proportions. This one was definitely steeper and way longer than the first. The gears clattered down to their lowest limit and I STOOD UP to pedal for the first time. This soul-crushing monster cast serious doubt on our projected destination. Halfway up we powwowed about whether we should just bag it and find a place to camp. Keep in mind that I had not heard anything about other hills on Orcas, but had heard very much about the BIG ONE at the end. If THIS is what this island is like with these hills not even worthy of mention, we would have no chance of making it at all, much less before dark. However, we were determined not to be defeated just yet and decided to churn it out and made a go for it.
I crested the ‘destroyer’ and began bombing the other side with Brandy a few dozen feet behind me. A steep descent and around a corner, then a longer more gradual descent, coasting as I watched my mirror for Brandy to round the bend… Finally, stop, watch, wait. Still no Brandy. Sh!t! I reluctantly pedaled back up to the steep part, parked my ride and began running when I saw her bike sprawled on the shoulder. Uh oh. My overactive imagination was able to conjure up a couple grizzly scenarios in the short time before I saw her walking down from about a hundred feet up. Oh, whew, she must have lost something. Indeed! As she bombed the hill, she heard a clinking in her spokes and assumed it was a stone or something. When she went to brake, the front emitted an excruciating metal on metal squeal and she realized that her brand new, expensive badass fatty bo-batty front brake pad we bought 200 miles ago had fallen out of the mounting bracket. Luckily she was able to find it in the middle of the road. A quick check found that ALL of the bolts holding the pads in were unacceptably loose. The rear pads are in no danger because the mounting orientation keeps them secure, but once the bolt is gone from the front, the pads can slip right out. We yoinked a screw from the rear to secure the front and rolled on. It is simply unacceptable with the cost of these pads that we need to check them every time we ride. They make special bolts and washers for this kind of application, it’s not rocket science.
We got some relief after this as the terrain leveled out a bit and all of the hills before the town of Eastsound were manageable. We picked up some groceries there and reconvened the powwow. Again we decided to go for it. The ride was only four miles, but it was a doozy and getting dark. A little less than half of that was straight uphill, not quite as steep as the death hill earlier, but seemingly endless after such a day. We were in a pretty ragged state by the time we pulled into Moran State Park. Moral was low. Orcas had put the fear into us. If we couldn’t handle this silly little island, how could we possibly tackle the Andes??
The regular campgrounds were full for Labor Day, but we were the only ones in the hiker/biker site and snagged the new lean to. The ‘primitive’ campground turned out to be quite lovely and still had great water and a very clean pit toilet. Much to my delight they had also recently done a small amount of cutting and milling, so there was tons of great firewood scattered about.
We decided that the place was nice and we wanted to explore a bit rather than just beating our asses up those hills only to turn around the next day and take off to another island, so it was unanimous as soon as we set up camp that we would spend two nights in the park. We could take a rest day and hike Mount Constitution. After enjoying the great fire in the solitude of our camp, we climbed into our hammocks for some much needed rest. Once in bed, we noticed an eerie sound – complete silence. There were no conversations, no cars, no human noises whatsoever. Not only that, but the air was utterly still with not the faintest rustle in the pines. The oddest part was that there were no nocturnal beasts at all. We heard not a single insect or creature snuffling about. We cast off to sleep under a thick blanket of stillness.
Up: 2,806 ft
Down: 2,806 ft
It seems like quite a coincidence that up and down are the same, considering we did not start/end at sea level. I double checked the numbers though, and it seems legit.
Up: 15,873 ft
Down: 15,269 ft
*All numbers are relocation miles, most of which are loaded. They do not include cycling around town. “Entire trip” does not include Hawaii.