Sometimes it’s nice to do things off season. Lopez Island in the San Juan Islands is a very popular summer destination, but on a chilly weekend in mid December we found ourselves in an almost empty campground, on roads with little to no traffic and on beautiful abandoned beaches. True, it was a bit cold and the days are short. But with enough clothes, a bonfire at night, a cozy tent and the right company, everything is possible.
On Friday it was Gili’s birthday, and also the mark of 16 years of us being together. Usually we are not big on celebrating these kinds of occasions, but we figured a nice weekend getaway with an activity we could both enjoy would be good. I did a quick internet search to see where there are campgrounds that are open year round. We then remembered our previous visit to the San Juan Islands, when I was just beginning to recover from my shoulder injury, two years ago. Although we made it to Lopez Island we didn’t complete the tour around the island since the weather turned for the worse and we said we’d come back another time. And now was another time.
Lopez Island is known to be the flattest island in the San Juan group and also the most bicycle friendly. It has been claimed that all drivers wave to cyclists and give plenty of room when bypassing. It wasn’t actually too far from the truth. At this stage of the pregnancy a flat island seemed like a good option, although let me tell you, it’s not completely flat…
We left early on Saturday morning to a surprise: no border waits. I thought all the Canadians would be lining up to do their Christmas shopping in the US, but maybe it was too early. We had to stop at REI in Bellingham to pick up a new mattress for me, so we waited until 10am. We came across a Christmas parade – it’s amazing how many people go out on the streets just because of this holiday, but not for political reasons. Then we drove to Anacortes, parked the car on a side street and rode for about a kilometer and a half to the ferry terminal.
The ferry terminal was relatively empty and we drank our hot chocolate while waiting. The ferry ride was beautiful, and we passed some small islands on the way. When we arrived to Lopez we rode to the Odlin County Campground, another two kilometers (it was a tough day). We had lunch on the beach and then walked around the campground. Parts of the campground were flooded, due to the monsoon type rains we experienced that week, but the sites next to the water were fine. Other than us there was only one friendly couple from Bellingham, Rob and Yuki. They started a fire and offered us to keep enjoying it in the evening while they slept in their van. They also left us more firewood and chairs and it was greatly appreciated.
Without the fire the night could have been much colder and longer. We had our dinner and Gili’s birthday cake – a chocolate melktart. It was tough to eventually leave the fire, but we managed, and quickly crawled into the tent and our warm sleeping bags.
We woke up to a beautiful morning, but it took the sun quite some time to reach the campground. Our traditional breakfast on trips is always oatmeal and afterwards hot chocolate, that we always very much look forward too. But on that morning when I tasted the hot chocolate I spat it out immediately. It turned out that Gili had confused the salt with the sugar! It reminded me of the time Gili cooked dinner for us with sea water. He quickly poured the drinks and we knew what our first stop on Lopez Island would be – the same coffee shop we visited last time…
We rode a few kilometers to Lopez village, where not much happens. The coffee shop, Isabel’s, seemed like the centre of town. Gili got us a large hot chocolate, and I sat outside to enjoy the sunshine and made friends with a very friendly dog named Bean. After we filled our hot chocolate quota we were ready to move on.
We stopped at Shark Reef Park for a short hike and eventually had lunch at Agate Beach. Like last time we were amazed by the number of “private beaches” on the island, and couldn’t really figure exactly what it means. We came across a few alpacas on the side of the road (or maybe llamas) before completing the loop.
A few kilometers before the campground I desperately needed a break and took a quick nap by the side of the road. When we reached the campground we were surprised by the number of cars. The day before nobody was there. It turned out that there was a “Santa Cruise” happening and people lined-up to go on the boat. It didn’t seem like the boat actually sailed anywhere but rather just docked there. Weird. Again, we were surprised by how this holiday manages to get so many people out and about.
We quickly packed and then rode the short distance to the ferry terminal arriving just as it got dark, completing the 50 km loop around the island. I fell into a deep sweet sleep on the very comfy benches. When we arrived to the mainland I waited in the cozy terminal while Gili rode back to the car and picked me up. We drove to Bellingham, discovering once again that all the Mexican food trucks are closed on Sunday evening. Anyway, we figured it was for the best because it was too cold to eat outside (all the cars were covered with ice). We had an excellent Mexican dinner at the lively Tadeo’s restaurant. Despite the chilly night, it wasn’t cold enough not to have ice cream at Mallard, another favourite of ours in Bellingham.
The next hour was spent at Trader Joe’s. We hit rock bottom with absolutely no chocolate at home since Friday… It might have even influenced our decision to drive to the US. The border was pretty quiet again, and we were quickly back in Canada.
A chilly winter getaway, but with everything you need to keep you warm: a fire, a tent, hot chocolate, a bike ride, Mexican food and ice cream… And of course the right partner to do all of those things with.