San Juans Tour 2015: Parting Thoughts

20069226145_cd1879b203_oIt’s been a week since my tour around the San Juan Islands, so now is a good time for reflection. Overall, it went well, no snags or problems. (Well, a few minor ones, stuff quickly fixed by the bike shop on Orcas.) The weather was just right for most of the trip (it was pretty hot at the end, but the “real” riding was done by then.)

The three big different things about this trip vs. the last two San Juans Trips (in 2013 and 2014) was:

  1. The emphasis was heavily on the islands. The last two trips had more “mainland” riding, whereas this time I only rode the short (8 mile) distance between the ferry terminal at Anacortes and the transit “center” at March’s Point.
  2. This one was “inn-to-inn”, meaning no camping.
  3. I toured both Orcas and Shaw Islands, which means I have now visited all four of the accessible islands. (Any other island would require a private boat/plane trip.)

Staying indoors the whole time was a nice break from camping. All the places I stayed were hostels, which meant I had access to a common kitchen. This helped lower food expenses, as eating at restaurants on the islands is expensive. And not having to set up and break camp is nice too.

However, I did miss some aspects of camping. While I did watch the sunset from North Beach on Orcas for two nights, it’s not the same as watching it from camp, like when I was at San Juan County Park in 2013. And while I did run into a few cycle tourists at the island hostels, there’s just something more…satisfying about sharing the hiker/biker camping spot with other touring cyclists, something that I can’t really define in words.

It was great to finally bike Orcas Island. I had been saving it for last, because all reports indicated it would be the most intimidating of the islands. It’s renowned for being the hilliest and busiest of the San Juans, which aren’t that great from a cycling perspective. I found that the island was indeed hilly, but maybe not as hilly as the reports suggested. Yeah, Mount Constitution is a bear of a hill, but I didn’t find it that bad, I just got in my granny gear and spun slowly upward.  If I believed all the dire things I heard about this ride, I would have psyched myself out of actually doing it. But I’m glad that I persevered.  And while there was definitely more traffic than I would prefer, I didn’t find it horrible.

But honestly, even though I had a fine time on Orcas Island, I just didn’t care that much for it. There’s just something about the attitude of the island, as it’s the most visited, and the most moneyed. A guy at the hostel there told me that there are many a millionaire that lives on the island, whether as their primary residence or (most likely) their summer home. He said that they tend to be humble folk, so it’s “different”. They may actually be in line in front of you at the supermarket, and you’d never know. While that might be fine and dandy, just having all that wealth around definitely affects the vibe of the place in a palpable way. I constantly got the feeling that there are just three “classes” of people on Orcas: the wealthy, the tourists, and those in the service industry who serve the other two groups.  Now maybe I’m hypersensitive to these things, but I could feel it when I interacted with folks in the shops and cafes, and honestly, I couldn’t blame them for being a little on edge.

Now if I removed the attitude aspect from things, Orcas is great. It’s got some cool stuff like Moran State Park. And I wish I could ignore the atttitude, but I can’t. So for now, Lopez Island is my favorite of the big San Juan Islands. Yes, it is not as “spectacular” from a scenery standpoint, but that doesn’t matter as much to me. Anyways, I loved spots like Shark Reef and Iceberg Point on Lopez. And how can you hate an island with a much lesser degree of traffic, and whatever traffic you do see, they wave at you?

Now I’m not writing off Orcas. I should go back again. If I do, I should hit it during the off-season, when the tourist factor (and millionaires summering in their second/third/etc home) is way down. Thankfully the islands have a very moderate climate (the only place that regularly sees snow is atop Mount Constitution, and that’s because it’s so durn high in elevation.) So as long as I don’t mind a bit of rain and shorter days, it would be a fun trip.

But all these little trips to this area over the past few years just remind me that I need to do a big couple week long tour of all the stuff around there. It’s been six years since I’ve been to Vancouver Island and seven since I’ve been to any of the Gulf Islands, the Canadian archipelago. And I’ve only been to Salt Spring Island. There’s lots more islands than that, and lots more riding on Vancouver Island. I could easily spend a good part of a month doing a tour around the sea, mainland, and islands in both British Columbia and Washington State. And I need to do that soon! But there are so many tours I want to do, and so little time. If only I was one of those humble millionaires…

Anyways, if you want to check out all the photos from the trip, go to my flickr.

And if you want to see the routes I rode, go to my RideWithGPS and filter by “San Juans 2015”. (Sorry, it doesn’t allow a direct link.)


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