Biking in San Juan Islands

When I returned from my studies at the University of Oregon where I rode the bike paths on both sides of the Willamette River past Valley River Mall, over the bridge and past Skinner Butte and back home again. I had really enjoyed this bike I had won from The Bike Gallery in Portland after putting my name in a drawing. It had served me well in Eugene which was a bike friendly town. When I came back to Portland I wanted to go on an extended ride, overnight, camping and touring. I found what I wanted with the Portland Parks and Recreation rides to the San Juan Islands. The rides were scheduled by age. The 30 and 40 year olds ride was full, so I signed up with the 50 and 60 year olds. I was glad I had. I was 46 in 1987, and I had difficulty keeping up with the older riders. This is when I began to learn about fit seniors.

There were about six of us who boarded the ferry in Anacortes, WA plus our leader, a bike mechanic from the Bicycle Co-op on Morrison in SE Portland. I knew she was the leader because she had a shirt that said, “Wait for me. I am thy leader.” We were fortunate to have her because she could completely break down a bike and repair it before the next day of the ride. I don’t remember much about the others, except a 60 something small ethnically Japanese woman who was smaller than me but much faster. Another woman owned the Alibi Restaurant on Interstate in North Portland. The man who drove the pickup that acted as a sag wagon for us, had a large natural gas tank in the back that gave him a range of over 500 miles.

When we got to Lopez we were first off the ferry with our bikes and the sag wagon followed. We strung out, the first opportunity to ride together with our leader in front and me trying to keep up with the Japanese lady Mrs. Ito. We found a campground on the far side of the island where the sea kayaks came ashore to camp. We had been scheduled to prepare the meals in the evening, but there were lots of arguments about meal preparation and washing up after. These were not the arguments you might imagine, but arguments as to who got to do the meal or clean up. “Sit down honey, you made the dinner last night. Or “Now you’ve worked hard enough today. We’ve got it.” Or similar arguments when it came to clean up. I learned to strike fast and grab a place in the work line or be left out sitting on the side till the meal was ready. Mostly I got to do the dishes.

The next morning we started off back toward the ferry dock to catch a ferry to San Juan. I soon learned that Mrs. Ito was my challenge. I couldn’t ride as fast as she could up hill, but I could catch her going down since she used her brake a lot. The rest were faster or slower than us, but we stuck together till we got on the ferry to San Juan’s Friday Harbor.

Friday harbor was a bustling city full of docks with boats, sail boats, motor boats, and cabin cruisers. But San Juan Island was the biggest island in the group. We rode off on the main highway only to find extreme courtesy whenever we came in contact with cars. We were always given the right of way. Always. So we toured around the island and ended the day at a camp ground with a lake used for swimming. I got out my tent and set it up, grabbed my swimsuit and headed for the swim area. It turns out I did not need my suit as I saw a woman who was speaking French strip and dive into the water sans suit. Although I did wear my suit in, I took it off under water and swam free and cool until I had to get out and so put on my suit before exiting the pond.

We stayed in that campground on San Juan Island till the next morning and then we caught the ferry to Orcas Island. According to the bike guide we were upping the ante with each island, each one having more hill climbing that the last. This island was rated ‘advanced.’ I didn’t go up to Mount Constitution (2,400 feet elevation) though. I stayed in camp and rested and tried to help with dinner.

The final day was at Shaw Island, famous for the Benedictine nuns who ran the island. Nuns in habits welcomed us at the dock which they ran. They also had a school on the island and they, or one of them, was the county coroner for San Juan County. We had another lovely ride on Shaw Island and then got back on the ferry and returned to Anacortes. We all got into our respective vehicles and came back to Portland. We would gather for dinner in a month.

The night we gathered together again was filled with stories. The woman who owned the Alibi Restaurant had four passengers in her Cadillac, and four bikes on a rack on the roof. However she had forgotten the bikes when they decided to go shopping and pulled into an underground parking structure and knocked all the bike off the too and damaged her roof. Oops.

When I had a chance to talk with Ms. Ito, my goal of catching her going uphill was explained. I told her I could catch her going down but it wasn’t till Shaw Island that I could catch her going uphill. She laughed and said, “When I saw you at the meeting before the ride at Overlook House, I thought you were too fat to ride.”

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