I had arranged to buy some used camping equipment from a kayak tour company on San Juan Island, so we decided this would be a great first trip for our new bikes.


We woke up early to drive from Birch Bay to Anacortes, WA and made it just in time to catch the  ferry to Friday Harbor. They let the cyclists and pedestrians on first so we rode along the empty car deck to the front where we tied and locked up our bikes, and headed upstairs.

The Washington State DOT ferries are very old, and dated, in contrast to even our oldest BC ferries. The interiors looked like they could use an overhaul, but the views outside were beautiful and the voyage was just over an hour long.

Arriving in Friday Harbor, we were off first, along with the pedestrians. We made our way up the hill from the ferry and through town. The course I had planned on, lead us counter clockwise around the island, about 32 miles (52km) plus a few more miles off the roads.

Right away, as we started riding, I noticed my brakes rubbing as I cycled. They never seemed to let go completely, making for a harder and aggravating ride. We had noticed this issue the day I bought the bike so we’d already taken it back once and they swore they’d fixed it. I put on my iPod and tried to ignore the sound and problem but it definitely put a damper on things.


A few miles outside town, on Roche Harbor Road, we stopped at San Juan Vineyards to sample their wines. They charge $1 per taste so we sampled a few and settled on their 2007 Cabernet-Merlot blend.

This is a blend of 50% Merlot from Kestrel View Estates, Yakima Valley with Brix at 27; 25% Cabernet-Sauvignon from Kestrel View Estates, Yakima Valley with Brix at 25; and 25% Cabernet Franc from Alder Ridge vineyard, Horse Heaven Hills Ava, Brix at 26.

Harold tried to fix the issue with my breaks at our stop here, but when I got back on, the sound and feel was exactly the same. It was very hard not to get in a funk about it, but we had been looking forward to this ride, and I knew we had another 30 miles to go, so I pasted a smile on my face, plugged the headphones back in my ears and kept telling myself I was having a wonderful time.

The terrain along the north side is rolling hills all the way up to Roche Harbor, about 8 miles (13km) from town. I was unprepared for the ambiance and glamour of this resort area. The bay is filled with yachts of the filthy rich.


Named in honor of Richard Roche, who served under British Captain Henry Kellett in 1846 and Captain James Charles Prevost in 1857-60. The resort was formerly a company town surrounding the Tacoma and Roche Harbor Lime Company, which was incorporated in 1886. Lime production was a major industry and revenue source for a corporation run by John S. McMillin, whose ashes are buried in a large mausoleum nearby. The focal point of the resort is the historic Hotel de Haro, where Theodore Roosevelt stayed in 1907.


We headed back inland a bit and down the coast to the English Camp National Historic park. This is the site of the British Army camp during the Pig War set up in 1859 as response to a border dispute triggered by the killing of a pig. The camp, and the American camp on the south of the island, were occupied for 12 years, until the Treaty of Washington was signed, negotiated by Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany. The British abandoned their camp in November 1872, while the American camp was disbanded in July 1874.

The terrain became more hilly at this point. We had a long crawl up, which was agonizing on my bike since it felt like I had to push twice as hard, then the hill down was a welcome relief. Harold had been offering to switch bikes with me, but I had turned him down until we got about half way around to San Juan County Park. The park contains rustic campsites right on the coast and more importantly has hiker-biker campsites. We are told, during whale season, this is one of the best places to see whales, dolphins and porpoises from shore. The absolute best whale watching site is supposedly from Lime Kiln State Park, just down the road, considered one of the best land based Orca viewing areas anywhere.

The road runs right along the coast down the southwest side and this is where the biggest hills come in. Now that Harold and I had switched bikes, I didn’t have the pain of having to push twice as hard, but even though Harold had tried to adjust our seats, the fit wasn’t right and it was a pretty painful ride. The views of Vancouver Island and the waters between were just awesome however, and it was hard to maintain a bad mood.

Cutting back along the south side, we decided against going to American Camp since we had to be back in Friday Harbor to meet the guy who was selling us the camping gear, and to be honest, I was quite happy to be finishing. We waited for him in a seaside lounge, enjoying an appetizer and a glass of wine. He arrived with a beautiful old yellow lab, and we plied him with questions about the islands and whale watching, then packed up our newly purchased equipment, and boarded the ferry back to the mainland.