“Anticipation is usually worse than reality.”
Wanting to try a lengthier motorcycle excursion, Rich planned two trips this summer. One was in June to Port Angeles, WA, and the other was to San Juan Island in early August. Because of rainy and cold weather, we opted to go by car to Port Angeles, which was for the best because it enabled us to comfortably scurry to scenic sites in the Olympic National Forest, and hike until 8:30 at night on our first day, and drive through snow flurried to chilly Hurricane Ridge on the second day.
Check out our Port Angeles adventure.
Our August trip to San Juan Island also threatened rain, but knowing the island is usually temperate in the summer – versus the Olympic “rainforest” – we stuck to our plan to take Gatsby, Rich’s Harley Softail Heritage Classic. The next challenge was figuring out what to pack.
A few weeks earlier, panicked over having not enough space in our two saddle bags for our clothes, Rich bought a large backpack with metal ribs in the back for wheels. He got the backpack at Value Village for a few dollars because one of the ribs was broken. After making minor modifications to the backpack, and using bungee cords, he attached it to the back of the Harley. Voila! We had a place to store the items we needed to easily access: Cell phones, maps, ferry passes, camera, Kindle, rain gear, etc.
The night before our three-day excursion, we crammed our extra clothes and toiletries into two pillowcases, which we easily stuffed into the two saddle bags.
Because the ferry to San Juan Island gets very busy in the summer, and you may need to wait for hours to board, we made reservations in January. At the same time, we booked an affordable Airbnb on the west-side of the island. The Airbnb was a cute little apartment, attached to a larger house, with a mini kitchen, bathroom, queen-sized bed, and sitting room. We booked it Sunday through Monday.
In June, however, the host sent a note to Rich, saying he’d double-booked the listing, and we’d been bumped! Crazy since we’d reserved the room in January when he had NO OTHER bookings. When I went to his listing page, I noticed he’d booked the room Saturday through Monday, so he probably wanted to get an extra day of rent.
We were furious, especially since 90% of the accommodations on the island were already booked when we wanted to go. And the remaining 10% were either the scary Orca Inn (which brags about having the smallest hotel rooms in the State of Washington at a whopping 14 x 11 feet in size) or the most expensive Airbnb and hotel rooms.
Doing some strategic searching Rich found an opening at the Hillside House bed-and-breakfast in Friday Harbor. While considerably more expensive than the Airbnb, I felt it was our “opportunity” to redeem our vacation. Plus, they received numerous good write-ups on review sites. We booked their Sherwood room, which featured a fireplace, antique fishing gear, and a private bathroom across the hallway.
For Better or Worse
With rain threatening, we dressed warmly for the trip over to Anacortes, a 45-minute ride from Whidbey Island over the Deception Pass Bridge to the ferry terminal on Fidalgo Island. Because we were on Gatsby, we were directed to the front of the ferry line, along with a couple of other motorcyclists, and a hearse with a coffin inside.
You read that correctly, someone was evidently being brought to San Juan Island for burial. Creepy to stand by a hearse and realize a preserved body was inside. Or maybe it was naturally deteriorating!
Because we needed to wait an hour for the ferry, and were grossed-out by the hearse, we initiated a conversation with one of the motorcyclists, a couple from Mount Vernon. She was a realtor, and he worked for Boeing in Everett. They were planning to rendezvous with friends for the weekend. We chatted with them until the ferry arrived then continued the conversation during the 1.25-hour trip.
By the time, we reached Friday Harbor, the weather was starting to clear. Friday Harbor is a charming, quaint seaport town, which primarily caters to tourists with a breadth of restaurants, shops, mini museums, hotels, and bed-and-breakfasts. Everything is within walking distance with numerous seating areas for daydreaming, people watching, and enjoying the laid-back island life. A short walk from the downtown area is a small airport for private and charter planes.
Anxious to scope-out where we were staying, we zoomed through Friday Harbor and easily found Hillside House, less than a mile from the ferry dock. With several hours before we could check-in, we zipped to one of my favorite places on the island, Roche Harbor, a very upscale marina and resort, and a port of entry if you’re entering the United States by boat or seaplane.
We’ve gone through customs in Roche Harbor several times when we used to charter sail and power boats. It’s a surreal experience, having to prove you’ve brought nothing into the United States and aren’t engaging in nefarious activities. Once we had an officer come aboard our boat to inspect our food, check our cupboards and open the refrigerator. The officier instantly put me on the defensive, with my having to explain the nondescript canister on the counter was hot chocolate and not something more mind altering.
The opposite occurs when you enter Canada. They welcome you without reservations.
Despite the presence of customs officers, trouncing up-and-down the docks, Roche Harbor is idyllic. Leading to the waterfront, on a somewhat steep hill, are snazzy, craftsman style homes, some of which are available for rent. Most are private residents. At the bottom of the hill is the historical Hotel de Haro, built in 1887 to house customers purchasing limestone.
British Marines initially quarried and processed limestone at or near Roche Harbor. A sedimentary rock, primarily composed of skeletal fragments of marine organisms, limestone is used in road surfaces, and the manufacture of concrete, mortar, glass and iron, and too neutralize acidity in soil.
In 1886, Tacoma lawyer John S. McMillin and his business partners opened the Tacoma and Roche Harbor Lime Company. Limestone was quarried at different sites around the island then brought to Roche Harbor where it was processed and placed on ships.
McMillin built the Hotel de Haro where he and his family lived until 1910. Over several years, a flourishing community emerged with cottages for workers, a church, general store, post office, school, gardens, and farms. Most of these buildings still exist in Roche Harbor. The original church, Our Lady of Good Voyage Church, overlooks the marina and sounds a carillon on the hour. The two-bedroom cottages now rent for hundreds of dollars per night, and feature fully-equipped kitchens, gas fireplaces, wireless internet, 300-count linens, Starbucks coffee, and access to the Roche Harbor resort amenities, including the spa, pool, bocce courts, and restaurants.
Across from the Hotel de Haro is a sunken garden filled with gorgeous flowering bushes, arbors, and meandering walkways. When we visited Roche Harbor on the second day of our trip, there was a huge wedding taking place in the garden with antique cars parked across the Hotel de Haro to whisk the wedding party to the reception, which was being held under a large tent a short distance away.
On one side of the gardens is a quaint, shaded courtyard, which is lined with small booths where artists sell their ware. The courtyard leads to a large wooden wharf, where you pass by The Company Store, post office, Lime Kiln Café, and several small retail shops. The spacious building is probably the original structure from the late 1800’s.
The sacks of staple goods and household necessities once sold at The Company Store have been replaced by refrigerated cases of colorful organic produce, local and regional wines and spirits, cheeses, meats, and prepared foods. The shelves are stocked with the type of packaged goods, toiletries, sundries, and green cleaning supplies you’d find at an upscale grocery store. Because the store also supports vacationers, it has supplies for barbequing, fresh-cut flowers, shelfs of books and magazines, kids’ toys (shovels and buckets to play in the sand and nets to catch butterflies), historical posters, and anything someone might need to make their stay more enjoyable.
While there are four restaurants in Roche Harbor, ranging from a traditional American café to an elegant, white tablecloth restaurant, featuring island-certified-local ingredients, we opted for wraps, salt-and-pepper chips and fizzy water from The Company Store. We enjoyed our lunch at one of the umbrella-shaded tables on the wharf.
Prior to lunch, we wandered to the San Juan Island Sculpture Park, which features over 150 unique creations from world renowned sculptors, spread over a large area with meandering pathways, tranquil pond, and gentle hills that open into clearing with groupings of sculptures. It’s a magical place with unexpected surprises like a giant red dragon in a wooded area, spinning colorful collages, and a large metal alligator and life-size horse made from driftwood.
Many years ago, probably when we lived in Texas and had chartered a boat, we took a picture of ourselves in the Sculpture Park by standing in front of a large mirror, then aiming the camera at the mirror to photograph our reflection. We repeated the shot during this trip. Check out the two pictures in the gallery.
After lunch, we wandered down to the marina to gawk at the large yachts. Roche Harbor is the premier marina in the San Juan Islands, with 377 slips, housing multi-million-dollar yachts (up to 150 feet), sailboats, catamarans, and smaller vessels. If costs $260 per night for a slip that houses a 100-foot yacht. To keep an 80-foot boat at the marina year-round seems cheap in comparison, at $15,808 annually
Seeing a man working on a model railroad car – on his 50-foot or so pleasure craft – Rich struck up a conversation. They’d both worked in high technology and were model railroad enthusiasts. They spent the next 30 minutes reminiscing about the growth of technology juxtaposed by the simple pleasure of building a railroad diorama.
After spending time in Roche Harbor, we zipped to English Camp.
In 1859, the United States and Great Britain got in a pissing match over ownership of San Juan Island. They set up temporary camps, staking their claim and reasoning the dispute would be over in a few months. Fourteen years later, the issue was resolved in favor of the United States. In the meanwhile, the British constructed 27 structures, including a formal garden, spacious homes for officers, barracks, hospital, commissary, and other amenities.
With Victoria, Canada, a British colony, across the water, they had easy access to supplies from building materials to dishes, uniforms, food, ammunition, and toiletries.
The Americans, on the other hand, set up camp in a less fortuitous spot, and because of the Civil War, were provided limited supplies. Their life was considerably more rustic. Nevertheless, the men from the two camps regularly got together for community meals, dances, and other celebrations.
With it approaching 3 o’clock, when we could check into our room, we didn’t stay at English Camp for more than an hour. Before leaving, we chatted with a park ranger who asked, “What are you doing tomorrow?”
I responded, “What should we be doing.” He remarked we should return the next day to see the reenactments. Rich concurred.
Back to Friday Harbor
With the overcast skies dissipated, and the temperature at least 20 degrees warmer, we reluctantly donned our heavy motorcycle jackets, and headed to Hillside House. We’d reserved their Sherwood room, which was on the lower level of the house. Much to our delight, when we checked-in, we were directed to the Picasso room, which was on the top floor, and much prettier with a red and gold quilted bedspread, dark brown leather chairs, window seat with a red velvet cushion and ornate throw pillows, and framed black-and-white Picasso prints on the walls. Our bathroom was across the hallway with red accents and a snazzy, marble shower.
We couldn’t be happier. During our two-day stay, we slept soundly, and enjoyed lounging in the window seat with the window open to let in fresh air and soothing sound of crickets at night.
There were six other couples staying at Hillside House. One couple was a physic professor and his wife, a senior manager from IBM, who lived in Austin, TX. Another couple, from Manhattan, were on a whirlwind 3-week trip, starting in Bend, OR, and working their way up to British Columbia, Canada, then down through the Olympic National Forest, to Seattle before returning to Portland, OR to fly back to New York. A third couple was from Maryland and were attending a family memorial on San Juan Island.
The other three couples were from Washington. A young couple was up from Seattle to kayak and enjoy the outdoors, a middle-aged couple from Bremerton (west of Seattle) were celebrating their anniversary, and an elderly couple from Mukilteo (north of Seattle) were enjoying a get-away, a present from their kids.
One of the widely lauded aspects of Hillside House is their banana chip cookies, which are available upon check-in. We grabbed a few after changing into cooler clothes and exchanging our motorcycle boots for Converses. More comfortable, we wandered down to Friday Harbor to find a place for dinner.
While walking through a small parking lot, we noticed a striking black car. It was a Tesla Model X with winged doors, sleek headlights, and set of batteries in the front. We chatted with the owner for a few minutes, learning about the experience of charging the car. He mentioned having spent two hours the evening before, charging it at the only electric “fast” charging station on San Juan Island. While it could be charged elsewhere, it would take significantly longer. Even so, the two-hour charge only gave him 20 miles or so.
“Hmmmm, that doesn’t sound like a good use of time.”
He said that he usually charges the car overnight at his house in Seattle, where he has a 240-volt outlet, and doesn’t use a lot of “energy” when he commutes to work.
While an electric car is appealing, especially the peppy Tesla Model 3, it’s not practical for Whidbey Island when it takes 45 minutes just to reach the ferry, and another 45 minutes or more to reach Seattle. If we were to drive to Portland, we’d probably need to spend an hour or so charging up the car in the middle of the trek.
After learning about the Tesla, we zipped into Hermanos, a small, trendy Mexican restaurant with homemade tamales, street tacos, and other yummies. I had a scrumptious chicken tomatillo tamale, and Rich had a massive burrito grande. Plus, we ordered chips and salsa. Burp.
After eating, we walked around Friday Harbor, which is lovely with many quaint shops in historical buildings with spacious streets filled with people on everything from spunky red electric bikes, mopeds and scoot coupes from Susie’s Mopeds to cars and small trucks, and an occasional RV or trailer. Because most of the lodging for the island is in Friday Harbor, along with a 500-slip marina, the sidewalks are crowded with vacationers, boaters, and an occasional bride and her wedding party.
The marina is north of the ferry terminal in a protected bay. We’ve stayed at the marina several times when we’ve chartered boats. It has unexpected amenities, including wide, brightly lit docks, access to a large grocery store, showers, laundromat, fuel dock, and a convenient floating bathroom. A diversity of boats are in the slips from ratty, most likely abandoned motor and sailboats to fishing boats, small to large sailboats, motorboats, and luxury vessels, whale watching ships, a hundred or more transient vessels (stay overnight or for a few days), and a seaplane dock.
Boaters are always very friendly. We’d stopped to pet a rambunctious Jack Russell terrier on a small racing sailboat and ended up engaging in a lengthy conversation with the owners, a couple who’d recently purchased the stripped-down boat for $7,000 and had sailed up from Seattle. The boat fit their needs in that it was trailerable, easy to sail, and gave them and their dogs a place to sleep. And because it was so small, they didn’t need to pay for a slip. They could simply tie up to a dock.
While talking to them, the motorcyclists we’d met earlier in the day while waiting for the ferry in Anacortes walked by, and we exchanged pleasantries. Small world.
Tired from a full day being on Gatsby, site seeing, and talking to numerous people, we wandered back to Hillside House and slept soundly.