San Juan Islands: Island Hopping & Cycle Touring

After a long border wait we stopped for Mexican food in Bellingham

May Long Weekend is usually the opening of the cycle touring season for us. This year I was off my bike for eight weeks due to my injury. This is a long time not being able to ride, taking into account that cycling is one of my favourite activities. We were considering options of where to go, and I wanted something that is mostly paved and not too strenuous. Seeing that our Trader Joe’s supplies were running low, it seemed appropriate to go the the US and to stock up on the way back, and the Sun Juan Islands met all the criteria we were looking for.

We really thought we were beating the system by leaving on Friday morning, a day before the long weekend officially started, but turns out many people had the same idea… So after we finally crossed the border it was time for lunch so we had a quick stop in Bellingham and found a new Mexican wagon by chance. The wind picked up just as Gili opened the two salsa containers and made a nice Yin Yang formation of red and green salsa on the table..

False Bay

We parked our car on a side street of Anacortes, the town the ferry leaves from. We didn’t have a set plan, so we played it by ear. The ferry we caught only stopped at Friday Harbor on the San Juan Island, so this is where we started the tour. Once you pay for the ferry ticket you can travel between the islands as many times as you wish. The ferry ride also allowed for a much needed nap for both Gili and I. It was Friday afternoon, a popular day to go to Friday Harbor and many cars went off the ferry. But once they all passed the ride was quiet and we rode to the campground passing some alpacas, fresh farm eggs for sale on the side of road and forested roads. We set up camp at Odlin County Park and cooked dinner on the large lawn overlooking the ocean.

Woke up to a beautiful morning

We woke up to a beautiful and warm Saturday morning and set out to explore San Juan Island. We made many stops on the way and visited two lighthouses and many beaches. For lunch we stopped at Eagle Cove, the locals’ beach hang out. A few children were even in the water, brave souls… The sunshine was too tempting and of course I fell a sleep in the sun within a minute… Then in less than half an hour we came across five foxes, weird. Then back to Friday Harbor where we caught the ferry to Shaw Island, the smallest island you can get to by ferry, only 20 square km and 240 people live there year round. It wasn’t a long ride to the campground and we had dinner by the water.

Riding in San Juan Island

Unfortunately the sunshine was gone by Sunday, but luckily it didn’t rain much during the day. We completed the figure eight loop on Shaw Island and we only saw about two cars on the road. If you are looking for quiet roads, that is definitely the place to go! One thing that is weird about the US though is the privatization. Many people even have a private beach! We saw so many”no trespassing” and private property signs that I lost count.

A friend on Shaw Island

On the ferries there were some puzzles spread out on the tables, which are completed in a communal way, everyone contributes a little bit. On the 20 minute ride to Lopez we only manged to add three pieces to one of the puzzles, but on the next day we were much better (or perhaps we chose an easier puzzle). It was Sunday and as we were riding away from the ferry we noticed the long line up of cars waiting to catch the ferry back. I think a bicycle is the ideal way to travel on the islands… The campground was fairly empty too, as luckily it wasn’t a long weekend in the US.

Toasted cheese sandwiches for lunch on Lopez Island

Gili set up the tarp and made us toasted cheese sandwiches for lunch with the homemade (by me) maple pecan bread. After lunch we rode to “downtown” Lopez Village, and found a local coffee shop since it was the perfect weather for hot chocolate. We explored Lopez a bit more and the nicest thing was a causeway with ocean on both sides, very similar to a road we cycled in Cuba. On the way back to camp it started raining again, so it was nice to arrive to an already set up tent and tarp.

It rained most of the night and throughout the morning so we just hung out by the tent checking out different slugs… Amazing what you notice when you have time to explore your surroundings a bit. The ferry left late, but no one seemed to mind that much, life has a different pace on the island. Gili toasted our cheese sandwiches while we were waiting for the ferry. I am not sure that they would have been happy about us using a stove there, but no one noticed us anyway… On the ferry we contributed our share to a cat puzzle.

Lopez Island

Adding a few more pieces to a different puzzle on the way back to the mainland

As we were driving back it started to pour, the weather changes so drastically around here. Trader Joe’s was packed as many Canadians were stocking up. Border reports reported on at least a one and a half hour wait, so we made the brilliant move of driving to the Sumas border crossing, where we waited two minutes. It’s a bit a of a detour, but I think we were home way earlier this way.

It was a great weekend to start the cycling season! Hope many more will come.

More photos

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