North America · 11 Days · 43 Moments · August 2013

Summer Trip Through the NW Islands

20 August 2013

Hidden bicycle trails Why do we hide our bicycle trails? They seem to always be part of some in-the-know club with signage being at the absolute minimum if any at all. The Interurban trail is difficult to find using the current "magic box" apps. In Everett, travel south on Colby and go east on 44th St SE. About 100 feet in you will see the unadorned entrance to this part of the trail. Trail map:‎
Only a short hop due to no camping available While it only cut off 30 miles, we had already done 17 miles from Cama Beach State Park and we still had another 15 or so to go. We didn't want the last day to be a 60 mile ordeal. The problem was finding suitable lodging somewhere in-between.
Amtrak, oh Amtrak Another facet of our experience with Amtrak on this journey was that we were not supposed to have been sold tickets to enable us to bring our bicycles onto the train at this station. We made the reservations in January. Regardless of what the local policy was, I did have tickets and they honored them. We passed our bikes over a wall of luggage and dragged our panniers on board where room for them was scant. Another side note: with Amtrak you are only allowed two pieces of luggage under 50lbs each. Those who can count saw that we have four panniers each and other gear on top of the front and rear racks. We had brought a couple of light duffel bags to put the stuff from the racks into and then we taped the panniers together with a tough Tyvek packing tape purchased in North Vancouver. This got us down to the two pieces each. The pannier combinations were at 48 lbs each.
Everything tastes better after a couple hours of bicycling I have a neighbor who likes to eat at places where there are only one of them. Wayne's Corner Cafe is one of those places. Good food, decent prices and comfortable to be there. The fact that it is right across the street from the train station is another good point.

19 August 2013

This is not your everyday state park cafe While this wonderful catering restaurant is tucked away in a state park and is only open on the weekends during the off-season, the food is wonderful and reasonably priced. They may hamburgers and hotdogs on the menu, but it doesn't end there.
Get the Deluxe Cabin There are many cabins at this wonderful state park. It is quite a gem of a park, with a Center For Wooden Boats there at the park. Most of the cabins do not have an integral bathroom and shower, but the communal bathrooms and showers are quite nice. They just a bit more of a walk in the middle of the night. Spring for the Deluxe Cabin. It's right across the road from the sea wall and a wonderful view.
Get groceries before heading onto Camano Island Camano Island does have some stores on it, but your path may not include where they are. We saw one on the way off the island, but not on the way to the park. QFCs are usually open early and stay open late.
More than just a museum Part history, part museum, part working boat rentals. This location of the Center for Wooden Boats is only open from June 1-end of August. The main location at the south end of Lake Union in Seattle is open year round.

18 August 2013

Take the Seabus from North Vancouver to Vancouver We had taken a ride across the Lion's Gate bridge earlier that day, so we looking for a different way across the bay. The Sea Bus is a great way to enter Vancouver proper.
A shower when you need one I like to be clean when I go to sleep. Even when I backpack, going to sleep with the day's dirt embedded into your pores seems more like survival than fun. I knew that I could do a sits bath where ever I had enough water to wet my bandana. A shower, though, is such a luxury at the end a day of sweating up hills. My Ortlieb Water Sack worked perfectly and also was very useful in camp for a 'local' water source.
Any Port in a Storm Because of one facet of the Amtrak adventure, we were dropped off in Stanwood, WA at 9pm at night. By the time we shopped for some food and got out of town, it was 10:30pm and we were really tired. As we were walking up yet another hill--this time in the dark--our enthusiasm was at a low point. Resting at the top of the hill, we noticed that there was a church at the corner with a bit of mowed yard in the back. We prayed that the church patrons would be forgiving to our use of their property without permission.
Amtrak from Vancouver, BC to Stanwood, WA Amtrak still has a long way to go before they can be considered bicycle friendly and I do not think I can detail all of the things that went wrong with trying to use them on this leg of the trip. Yet, they seem to be the only option to Stanwood, as the Bolt Bus and Greyhound buses do not stop there. And, we were not supposed to be able to drop off bikes at that station. I consider us lucky that the comedy of errors went in our favor this time.

17 August 2013

Not a Bar-B-Que place, but you have to go We were looking for BBQ joint within walking distance from the hotel in North Vancouver, but what we got was a wonderfully unique restaurant with great food. Prices were appropriate. The place has been in business for a long time for a reason.
North Vancouver Comfort Inn and Suites Oddly, finding a place to stay in North Vancouver was one of the most difficult during the whole trip. Campgrounds are almost non-existent and hostels cost as much as the hotels. Then trying to find a hotel where we would be allowed to bring our bicycles into the room took a few tries. The Comfort Inn and Suites did not hesitate to let us bring our bikes inside where they would be safe. And, they had a very nice breakfast in the morning!
Horseshoe Bay to North Vancouver The obvious reason not to take Canada Hwy 1 is that it is a freeway and would be anything but a pleasant ride. Marine Drive winds around a bit, but it offers the best views and the traffic is manageable being mostly locals.
Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay Ferry This ferry was a couple of hours long and is like a small cruise ship. It has restaurants and arcades. We found the best entertainment to be on the sun deck, since it was such a wonderfully sunny day. There are bike racks on this vessel, but with the bikes loaded as they were it was better to prop them up against a wall in the lower deck. A bike with 60lbs. on it will twist a wheel just moving with the water.

16 August 2013

City Warf and Maffeo Sutton Park Within a short walk from the Painted Turtle Guesthouse, we were at the docks. From there, there is a wonderful walking path to the north that will take you to a city warf which has benches to sit and watch the moonrise. A bit further down the path, is a wonderful park--Maffeo Sutton. The evening we took the stroll after having dinner at cool fish&chips place on the docks, there were musicians of all types entertaining the folks walking along the path. Bring a few dollar bills with you, as you will want to show your appreciation.
Best Fish N Chips around Just down the way from the Painted Turtle was this wonderful little spot to eat. It's been around for awhile for a reason.
One of those great stumble-upon places We were lost--again--as we wandered around exploring Nanaimo. As we climbed this hill, there was this festive, pink building. The umbrellas outside gave the hint that it was a restaurant. We stopped, as we were famished. It was providence that we would have such a great meal just because we happened to be there when we were hungry.
The Painted Turtle Guesthouse We were looking for a hostel, as they are usually set up better for travelers who don't have cars. The Painted Turtle had a set up where we could safely store our bikes locked up at night. Their common areas were very clean and inviting. The bathrooms/showers, while not private, were set up to be private while you were using them. It would have been nice to spend a couple of days with them.

15 August 2013

WiFi is scarce One of the assumptions that we made which didn't pan out so well was that WiFi was going to be available where we needed it. I didn't want to pay the $80 or so for a Canadian data/phone plan, so we thought we'd use the available WiFi. wasn't so available. Mad Rona's is a very nice coffee bar that has WiFi available--thankfully.
Make friends with the locals We met a wonderful man named Fred at the farmer's market, who took us sailing for a few hours. You never know what can happen if you're open to it.
Go to local farmer's markets There is nothing quite so telling about a community than it's farmer's markets. Gabriola's is about friendly as can be.

14 August 2013

Best-smelling Pit toilets around This may not sound like the best billing for a campsite, but I think it's one of the main reasons that people are turned off of campsites that do not have flushable toilets. These pit toilets were immaculate and the keepers of the park used peat moss to cover the waste. This method of covering waste should be used in every pit toilet possible.
Most bicycle facilities are not designed by people who actually use bicycles Bicycle paths with steep hills or with doors too small to get loaded bicycles through or racks that are guaranteed to destroy your bike, etc. It's just part of the adventure.
Ferries of all sizes As much or more mileage was covered using the ferry systems as was by bicycle. Some were pretty intimate and others were like cruise ships. The route shown by Miavia traveling up the coastline of Vancouver Island to Nanaimo is not the path we took. Being that we needed to cover that distance on our bicycles, we took a ferry from Pender to Swartz Bay. The next ferry from Swartz Bay to Twassaan. Then from Twassaan to Nanaimo. The last ferry was Nanaimo over to Gabriola.
Wear shoes that you can walk in Yes, this was a bicycle-touring adventure. Yes, we spent a lot of time walking. On Pender Island, there was a sign for an 11 percent grade. This was notable. There were so many eight percent grade signs that they were just part of the landscape. Wearing cleated bicycling shoe might not be best choice on this sort of ride. To match our regular Keen water-type sandals, we used large, wide platform pedals. This combination may not get us into the bicycling ads, but we were comfortable.

13 August 2013

Pender Island Kayak Adventures We had a wonderful six-hour tour and hike up Mt. Norman to an awesome lookout for lunch. Jay, the owner of PIKA asked all the right questions to custom make this tour for level of kayaking experience and what kind of day we wanted to have. A must do while you're on Pender Island!
Take time to wander the streets Friday Harbor is not a very large town, but it has a lot of character with the older, well-kept buildings and a downtown made for walking.
Make sure you have the equipment to keep your bike upright on the ferry We have on our touring bikes kickstands that open up into two legs to keep the bike upright. This provided a solid foundation for our bikes laden with 60lbs of stuff each. Most ferries had short lines to keep normal bikes upright, but having a line of your own is a plus. The reason you don't want to be holding your bike during the whole trip, besides it being tiring, is that the scenery through the islands is wonderfully breathtaking and you won't want to to miss it.

12 August 2013

If we were to do it over again... You'll notice that this island is not Orcas Island. We realized well before we got to Moran State Park on Orcas Island that we should have gone to Lopez Island instead. Moran was just way too much effort for what little we were able to see of it. Odlin County Park on Lopez Island was something that we had seen a couple months before on a day ride. With the campsite just a mile from the ferry terminal, it would have been perfect.
I'm sure this is a beautiful park Due to the hills and the distance we traveled this day, we didn't get to see much of Moran State Park. We got there at dusk and we left before dawn to get back to the ferry. See tip on Lopez Island.
Walk your bike across Deception Pass Bridge Even if there weren't a rule about walking your bicycle across the bridge, it makes sense. It is a sight that you will want to take in whether the sea is at slack tide or in transition between tides. If you are on the road, you will be worried about making it across alive.

11 August 2013

Ride with GPS Application I tried several "free" methods of trying to create our route with not much acceptable success. I researched and found this online application and was glad to spend the $50/year fee to use it. It was easy and clean to use, and the product was first class. We would have gotten lost just out of the gate without the cue sheets produced by this application. I highly recommend using it.
Smoke and Mirrors The entrance to Deception Pass State Park is right off the highway, but to get to actual campsites for bicycling is a hill test. This was one of the many, many times I grumbled that most roads were not designed by anyone who had ever ridden a bicycle. It's not the end of the world, but at the end of a long day from South Whidbey SP, it had you wondering why they didn't put the hiker/biker sites closer somewhere else.
Don't go on this section of SR20 with your bicycle Our maps said to take SR 20, as it seemed like the most direct route, but this section of SR 20 doesn't have much if any shoulder and is part of the main route for automobile and truck traffic on Whidbey North and South. A retired owner of a local bike shop, Tom, had stopped at the intersection of 525, 20 and Wanamaker road to make sure that we took Wanamaker Road into Coupville to bypass the dangers on State Route 20.

10 August 2013

Esbit Stove I purchased this stove the day before we left on our trip, due to a open fire ban that started a few days before. Gas stoves were acceptable, but I had a biolite stove (, which uses wood and has an open flame. I purchased a package of extra "tablets", as I didn't know how long the ban was going to last. This is an awesome little stove and it worked just fine and weighs much less than the biolite. I still would bring the biolite, as I like the way the stove works.
One of the nicest hiker/biker campsites on our trip While this picture was from a previous trip, it shows the character of hiker/biker campgrounds well. All the rest of the hiker/biker sites we visited were less than ideal for camping. It might have paid to get a car campsite in many of these campgrounds.
Be open to hospitality Traveling is not just about the sights and landscapes. It is really the people that make the trip come alive. In order to meet these people, you have to be open to it. It's okay to be lost. It's okay to ask where a good place to camp would be. By not knowing everything, the local people will be glad to help out.
What to take on such a trip? 12 days on a bicycle is a lot of days on a bicycle if the longest overnight trip you've done before this was just that--an overnighter. From one of the many bicycle touring blogs I have read to try and answer this question came the the insight that what you would bring for two weeks, you could use to go for a two-year tour. We use our Novara Safari (used off of Craigslist) bikes for our commuter/grocery-getters. Most of the panniers we got off of Craigslist too. I made our sleeping quilt from a kit from Ray Jardine ( We purchased a new tent, because we wanted the dual doors of the Kelty Gunnison 3.2. It was a good purchase. We carried some food staples, so we would have back-up food if we weren't able to find a grocery store. We used most of it along the trip. We did bring stuff we didn't use, but not as much as I had hoped.
Did we have all that we needed? This trip was about a year in the planning. One problem with such a long planning window is that you figure out all the little things to bring. What we needed more of was thinking of ways we didn't need so much. In the end, we sent back a box with some of the big and little things when we were at Friday Harbor. It wasn't that much, but it felt good.
Washington State Ferries are a great way to see the area. The water is always a natural draw. There is so much horizon. In western Washington, there are hills and mountains everywhere poking out of the water. And, being a coastal environment, there is always weather that is always changing. Even in the rain, it's beautiful!
Start from where you are Adventures do not need to be far flung affairs. We wanted to avoid planes and cars, because you miss so much traveling so fast. The idea was to roll out the driveway and return to home without retracing too many steps. Still this trip can be done by flying into Seattle with your bike and gear and setting off. You wouldn't do the same trip we did, but we hope this guide helps out in your planning process.