On May 22 – 25, 2021, Jerry and Odette rode from home in Seattle to La Conner and on to Lummi Island, then over to Whidby Island and eventually back home
I rode a lot during the pandemic, moving at bicycle speed outdoors when everyone else was quarantined seemed pretty safe and it gave me time to think. Odette retired at the end of June 2020 and although she really limited the amount of time she was willing to spend in the saddle, she rode regularly three or four times a week. We got vaccinated as soon as we could and by March or April we were beginning to think about traveling again.
Will wanted to gift Odette a meal at a great restaurant for her birthday, and Willows Inn came up. Odette and I weren’t aware of a top-ranked restaurant out of Bellingham, but Will recommended it (based on his housemates or perhaps personal experience) and told us that he would book something for us when the time was right. When the main dining restrictions eased he followed through. Odette had him time it as a celebration of our 43rd wedding anniversary. Dining was only available to people staying at the Inn.
Google says it’s about 120 miles from Seattle to Lummi Island. For some that would be a reasonable ride, but we felt a need to split it up. We have ridden to La Conner several times and enjoy that route. We’ve ridden Chuckanut Drive several times and know some variations so that the northern segment didn’t have to be entirely an out-and-back route. Returning from our last Vancouver Island trip we’d stayed at an Inn on Whidby Island and that seemed like a reasonable lay-over place.
I’d had the tandem serviced last fall and we’d ridden it about 1,700 miles since, so at the beginning of May I decided it was time to get it tuned up. The last couple hundred miles it had been making a clicking sound in the rear wheel and whenever I got out of the saddle it made a clunking noise like one of the couplers wasn’t tight, or the frame had a crack, or the bearings in a bottom bracket were failing, or something. I took it over to R+E and found that they’d posted signs all over saying “no admitance without appointment.” There were new guys in the shop – John Lehman, the guy I normally try to work with, may not be there any more. They decided to accommodate me, although for the first time ever they said it would be two weeks before they could get to it. I got a call three or four days later saying that the clicking sound was where the bearings in my free-hub body had exploded and that White Industries had a five week lead time for parts. We talked a couple of times, exploring the possibilities of new bearings, a new free hub, or a new wheel. Eventually they agreed to borrow a free-hub from someone else’s assembly bin. I didn’t get a call the day promised so I emailed the next day and eventually got a call back saying I could come and pick up the bike. Evidently the new White Industries free-hub bodies don’t fit the hub I have, so they’d had to improvise a way to extract and replace the damaged bearings. They said the bike was fine for our trip but that I should replace the rear hub before it failed again. (Considering that I’d stripped out a rotor bolt a year-and-a-half ago I realized that it was probably appropriate advice.) They also said that I ought to order new tires, not because mine were worn out but because lead times were getting really long. (They were Schwalbe Marathons with a couple thousand miles – they didn’t have any tread left but there was still plenty of rubber and they weren’t particularly squared-off.) They forgot about the clunking sound and said that they hadn’t heard anything on the test ride.
The weather report called for rain, but not until the third day the trip. Odette and I talked about routes and she made it clear that she wanted printed cue sheets, not being interested in the time that she’d have to invest in downloading a route file. I grabbed the RidewithGPS routes we’d used most recently for the first and last days and basically planned the RSVP route up to Bellingham and the MS Ride route back to Whidby. I grabbed a couple of panniers (which still were lined with garbage bags from our last outing) and used a dry sack instead of a trunk bag. We probably had 25 pounds of stuff – we haven’t done this in a while and we were packing both good clothes for fancy places and full rain gear for the trip back. In addition, after my experience with dried out glue on Rattlesnake Mountain, I wanted to make sure I could fix a tire problem – so I brought a spare folding tire and a couple more inner tubes than I usually carry.
The first day we rode out the interurban to McCollum park & ride and then took Seattle Hill Road down into Snohomish. The bike felt good but it did still make an unnerving sound if I stood up. We rode the Centennial Trail to the Skagit County line – the first time we’d ridden that in a very long time, The cutoff to Conway and the Fir Island route to La Conner were flat and familiar, We got to the La Conner Country Inn at a little after 2:00 and they wouldn’t let us check in until 4:00 – so we went to the brewpub and I had a bowl of chowder and a couple of stouts. We had dinner reservations at Oyster & Thistle – a place we’ve eaten a bunch of times and always really liked. It seemed as if the cook had changed or something, though, because this time was different. There was a big, loud, wedding party that took up half of the room and the food was super rich, oily and way too salty. I ended up leaving enough on my plate that the chef came out to ask if everything was okay. Next time we’ll have to explore a little more.
The next day we had pastry and coffee in the hotel lobby and then rode to Bayview State Park and up Chuckanut Drive to Bellingham. I was trying not to stand on hills but the whole ride seemed flatter than I remembered. It was warm and the views were spectacular. We missed the entrance to the trail in Fairhaven and rode State Street all the way into town. Then we meandered through the port and on out to the Whatcom County ferry to Lummi Island. The crew yelled at us for loading too soon, but it was a short ride and a simple spin on the island to get to the lodge. It took a long time to get checked in and then a little longer to figure out bike storage (we put it in our room but had to get the manager to say it was okay.) Before dinner we walked on the beach and admired the flowers around the lodge.
We ate outdoors and it wasn’t really warm but working through a very large beer (a wild ale called Sahale from the Ale Apothecary in Bend) distracted me. The food was really spectacular, both in presentation and in substance. Overall the contrast with the previous evening couldn’t have been more stark. Usually places with big reputations feel like they’re trying hard – this place didn’t. The food was really fresh and while it seemed really simple, the tastes let you know that it was complex. The service was impeccable. We slept well that night.
Breakfast at The Willows didn’t start until 8:30 and we had a long ride to do. We put on our rain gear and hit the road at a little after 7:00. We went to the gas station on the other end of the ferry and got coffee and packaged donuts. We essentially retraced our route to Bellingham but took the trail instead of State Street. The climb on Chuckanut wasn’t any worse Southbound, but it rained pretty steadily and the views were of fog. We picked up a headwind in the Skagit Delta and decided to ride the highway instead of farm roads. We turned one intersection too early to head for Whidby, and ended up next to the golf course and then climbed up a steep hill to get to Gibraltar Road. (We’d ridden that route before but I hadn’t planned on doing it that way this time – given the rain I think it was a good idea to skip the Tommy Thompson trail, and I’m glad that we didn’t opt to climb around the backside of Mt. Erie on SR 20.) After the Deception Pass bridge the weather cleared up a little but we stuck to the highway all the way to Coupeville. Traffic was heavy, the shoulder was narrow and the views were constantly inviting us to take more scenic byways. It was about 3:00 when we got to the Captain Whidby Inn. We had one of their little cabins with an overhand to keep the bike dry. I had a New York strip steak for dinner – really good but totally different from our previous meal.
It rained all night and the metal roof made it sound like it was raining really hard. Breakfast was pre-ordered for take out – but when we showed up to pick up our bag they had run out of scones and we had to substitute coffee cake. We stuck to the route we’d plotted out from the earlier trip winding back and forth across SR 525. It was very green, there were lots of deer and the rain was kind of showery.
The approach to the ferry terminal in Clinton was down a gentle hill with a broad curve to the left and wet pavement. We weren’t going very fast – coasting and riding the brakes a little – focused on figuring out which lane we needed to be in. There was a big white arrow painted in our lane and after we passed over it we suddenly found ourselves sliding on our butts on the pavement. There weren’t any cars behind us. We both were able to get up and walk and there wasn’t any visible blood. I put the right pannier back on the bike and adjusted the shifters and it looked like nothing was damaged. The bike didn’t want to roll and it took me a minute to realize that sliding on the right side had applied the drag brake and once I released that we were back on the bike and down to the pedestrian waiting area. I still can’t explain what happened. Looking back up the road there was a diagonal gouge in the pavement just below the arrow and perhaps that grabbed the wheel out from under us – but I would have expected to have fallen on the other side in that event. I wasn’t out of balance (my weight was forward and my elbows were probably locked since I was riding the brakes) and Odette wasn’t moving around. I wish I’d had more tread on those tires.
On the ferry ride we realized that Odette had twisted her knee and it was accumulating a lot of fluid and swelling up badly. I had a large bruise (and a big bump) on my right hip and I’d shredded my rain jacket (it was three or four years old and needed to be replaced anyway.) We got off the ferry and started up the hill on the Mukilteo Speedway. Odette wanted to unclip her hurt leg and pedal one-sided. That didn’t work too well. We actually made it up the hill just fine and then cut over to Manner Way to get back to the Interurban. We limped home but we made it in reasonably good form – about 25 miles. Then we had a huge pile of wet gritty gear to deal with and a really uncomfortable night with bruises and road rash. I took the next day off from riding – my first sedentary day in months.
- We need to pack more thoughtfully and not take so much stuff.
- We know we don’t do well if we don’t eat anything except a big meal in the evening. I’m not sure why we never learn.
- If we are going to do much more of this kind of travel I want to invest in a new pair of panniers
- I also need to figure out a way to ride in the rain without destroying my good bike shoes
- I overthought the risk of flat tires but didn’t think enough about riding slicks on wet pavement
- Odette said she wanted to make this trip an annual tradition – I’m good for that as long as I don’t have to bang myself up every year
Here are the maps: