amtrak, trains, travels, trip with bike, tweed ride

Of farms, daffodils, Tweed, and beer: A weekend in the Skagit Valley, 14-17 March

I’ve mentioned previously how Emee and I won’t be able to make it to the Lake Pepin Three Speed Ride this year. While it’s definitely a bummer, there are other smaller yet similar rides in the area we can do to give us the feel of Pepin without going the distance.

Like the Dandy Daffodil Tweed Ride for example. This annual ride happens in/around La Conner, Washington around St. Patrick’s Day. It’s a thirteen mile tour of the flat farmlands of the Skagit Valley, a much more rural flavor than the primarily urban Tweed Rides I’ve been a part of. We did it for the first time last year, and I had remarked then that it resembled Pepin in miniature. Since we’re not going to Minnesota this year, it gave us more impetus to go again.

Last year we brought the three speeds in the van, mostly because of time constraints. This year we opted to take the train up. I’d rather not drive on I-5 if I don’t have to. The closest Amtrak station, Mt. Vernon, is about ten miles from La Conner, so we knew it was doable. Plus, there is bus service if we needed it.

We decided to stay at a rural AirBnB about three miles from the station (Mt. Vernon is fairly small, the countryside begins about a mile from downtown.) This was a good idea, as it would mean not having to ride in the dark for ten miles after getting off the train, nor waking up butt early to catch the train back.

We took off from Portland on Thursday afternoon, getting into Mt. Vernon around 8:45 PM. We had a quick dinner before the ride to the cottage we were staying at. Friday was our “free” day, so we had a lazy morning in the cottage and then rode back into Mt. Vernon in the afternoon.

Mt. Vernon is a cute town with quite a bit of options for food and beverage. It’s definitely “grown” over the years I’ve been through it. When I first visited it in 2003, I was hard-pressed to find anywhere to eat besides the (very good) food co-op. I can see why there’s growth: The town is in a beautiful area, just west of the Cascade foothills and a half-hour from the ferry to the San Juan Islands. Plus, Seattle and Vancouver are about 1 to 1 1/2 hours away. You feel like you’re close to everything (with fairly convenient transit service to boot) yet still far enough out there. I don’t think I could live in a place like this now, but if I ever “retire”…

Anyways, Saturday March 16th was the ride day. We rode to La Conner in the morning. About 65 people had signed up for the ride, and everyone was mulling about the picture-perfect Victorian downtown. (This part of the world seems to have a lot of picture-perfect Victorian downtowns that were forgotten for decades and then rediscovered around the 1970’s. Port Townsend is a great example.)

We took off around 10 AM. The weather was beautiful: lots of sun, a high scraping 60F/16C, and light wind. (This area can get pretty windy.) We rode about 8 miles to the mid-way stop, the Rexville Store. There’s a picnic shelter besides the store, so we had a little food while some folks played croquet. Then another five miles back to town. The last part of my ride is the favorite, as it’s ever-so-slightly hilly and the surrounding woods are more scenic to me than open farmland.

The mid-point was a good time to check out bikes. It seems the emphasis is on clothing vs bikes, probably because in this semi-rural area there’s not loads of interest in vintage bikes. (Though I bet there’s some to be found in all the barns!) However, there were a few nice specimens, like Ed’s 1951 Hercules and Dakota’s 1948 Monark. Also on hand was a lovely early 50’s Raleigh (maybe a Superbe), a couple newer Pashleys, and of course a bunch of Raleigh made three speeds!

The ride ended at a winery by the water (Swinomish Channel) in downtown La Conner. The hardy few remained to enjoy some drinks by the water. Afterwards Emee and I explored the town, had some beer, and rode back to the cottage. We decided to go a different and slightly longer way, one that would bring us across Fir Island. The island is in the Skagit River delta, and has way more wintering Snow Geese than people.

And then it was time to end the adventure. On Sunday morning, March 17th, we rode back into town to catch the 9 AM train back to Portland.

It was a great time. The ride made me more excited for upcoming Tweed and Three Speed rides, and springtime in general.

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