Guest Post: The Triple-Treat Tour of the San Juan Islands (Part 1: Orcas Island)

I was super excited the other day to get an email from Dieter Loibner asking if I’d consider a guest post for this blog. He’s been on an adventure in the San Juan Islands that sounds fantastic–and in the interest of sharing car-free possibilities, I’m psyched to be able to post his write-up of it. So here you go, a three-part installment of car-free adventures in the San Juan Islands. Thanks, Dieter!! :)

The Triple-Treat Tour (guest post by Dieter Loibner)

Lollygagging on Lopez: It’s a favorite summer luxury, spending a week in the San Juan Islands to paddle a kayak, fly a kite and to ride the olde Drahtesel (wire donkey). Quiet roads, rolling hills, juicy pastures, cool forests, ocean vistas and drivers who don’t speed or honk at bicyclists, but smile and wave: it’s heaven, pure and simple. I could ride this place ad infinitum, and maybe one day I will. But until I do, there’s one specific itch I have to scratch when I’m here, to compensate for touring-bike envy when I see the heavily loaded Surlys, Salsas and whatnot rolling on and off the ferries: Riding the three big islands in one day. Sounds wacko, but with a bit of planning and sweat equity, it is like having ice cream (or whatever else) three times a day. To make it work, the schedule has to respect the timetable of the Washington State Ferries, but it’s not a race. It’s just enough to keep you honest, a bit like the controls on a Rando ride. Of course you can do this tour in reverse order, do one island a day or ride different roads. To each their own.

ferry_to_orcas©Dieter Loibner

 At  6:50 AM I catch the early interisland ferry (free for cyclists!) from Lopez to Orcas, getting java’d up and stretching during that 35-minute westbound trip that includes a short stop at Shaw Island. Scheduled arrival is 7:35, which can slide a few minutes, but usually you’re off the boat and riding by 7:45. The destination is the top of Mount Constitution, a portly 2400-foot hill, the highest one around here, about 17 miles distant. The first 8 or so miles the road is mostly flat with a few rollers taking you north to East Sound, the island’s commercial hub and tourist trap. If the breeze blows from the south, that makes this stretch a breeze. If it is from the Northwest, it’s a bit more work initially, but you’ll get a nice push on the way back.

In East Sound, use Crescent Beach Road to bypass the town and make a right on Olga Road to go south again for a couple of miles and gaining some altitude as you enter Moran State Park. Once you’re past Cascade Lake, look for the left turn to commence the 4.7-mile ascent to the top. It’s not a killer-climb, but there’s little reprieve for the first three miles, either. Make sure to stop at one of the southwest-facing hairpin turns at higher elevation for a panoramic photo-op.

mount_constitution©Dieter Loibner

As you continue upwards, the road mercifully flattens out as it takes you past Little and False Summits. At the top there is a small dirt path that leads to the observation tower and picnic benches with more breathtaking panoramas and the best view of snow-clad Mount Baker, the majestic volcano to the east. The park charges a $10 day use fee, but if you don’t dwell for too long, they’re not militant about it. On my last visit, the road was closed for construction, so it was only me and a few squirrels up there.

There should be enough time for a snack before getting on the steed again for the screamingly fast descent that starts the ride back to the ferry. Don’t go all out, though. Those hairpin turns can be hairy when you fly downhill at 30+ mph. And the rapid changes from bright sunlight to dark shade will obscure the few rough patches in the pavement that can rattle you good at high speed.

If you decide to ditch this three-in-one adventure to explore Orcas for a little while, there is The Kitchen, a great Asian lunch spot on Prune Ave in East Sound. If you’re the artsy type, check out Anthony Howe’s kinetic sculptures that are moved by wind. It will blow your mind, I guarantee it. If you like oysters, stop at the Buck Bay Shellfish Farm in Olga, which is on the way to the eastern terminus of the road at the Doe Bay Resort. On the way back to the ferry, instead of pedaling down Orcas Road whence you came, choose Crow Valley Road, which is a bit less traveled.

Next up: San Juan Island. Stay tuned!:)

Read more! Part 2 (San Juan Island) and Part 3 (Lopez Island)

One Comment:

  1. I just noticed that if you follow the link that Dieter provided for Mt Constitution, you can watch a video of someone’s bike ride down it! Wow, quite the ride!:) As if I wasn’t already psyched to head out there… :)

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