Sleep to Dream on the San Juans
A hot sun overhead, now, we roll into Coupeville in the early afternoon and stop in at Toby’s Taven on the town’s historic port waterfront.
The bartender, a raspy woman in a Harley Davidson vest, lists off the day’s specials – fresh cod caught this morning, chowder, mussels.
“The mussels are from Sequim,” she says almost apologetically, “ever since the boat thing...”
The boat thing turns out to be a 140-foot fishing vessel that caught fire and sank two weeks ago in the area’s famous Penn Cove mussel beds, which are now contaminated by over 1,400 gallons of leaked oil.
“We have to wait for the environment people to survey the wreckage before pulling the boat out of the bay,” the bartender explains, “and nobody knows what will happen to all the diesel on board once the boat moves. They’ve said the boat could split in half when they go to pull it up.”
The prospects are dismal for the small bayside town, their crown industry on hold, but the mood is festive in Toby’s as a local middle-aged couple posts up next to us and, seeing our bikes loaded with gear in the corner, remark “that sure looks tough!”
The half-drunk newlyweds are impressed and paternal when we explain our intentions, saying, “Deception Pass! There’s no way you can bike there today! It’s gotta be twenty miles! Just pitch your tent in the woods somewhere. Did you bring a flashlight? Do you have food? You need meat. Do you have any jerky? You goofballs are crazy!”
We tell them about our chat with the local at China City last night and the couple agrees.
“Oh yeah, there’s not much real crime on the island. The Barefoot Bandit was probably the biggest thing to happen here. That guy was a genius!”
The so-called Barefoot Bandit was a teenager from Camano Island, directly east of Whidbey, who is believed to be responsible for around 100 thefts in Washington, Idaho, and Canada, including bicycles, automobiles, personal planes, and speedboats.
It’s said that he flew the Cessna 400 he stole from Indiana in July, 2010 and then crash landed in the Bahamans with skills he developed from watching instructional DVDs and playing flight simulators.
The Bandit was captured a few days later on the islands and, just this January, sentenced to six and a half years in federal prison.
During his sentencing, bandit Colton Harris-Moore addressed the court, saying that it’s "no stretch of the imagination to say that I'm lucky to be alive."
We take off down Madrona Road, a scenic detour recommended by the bartender at China City. Between the red, glossy branches of the namesake madrone trees we see the floating wood flats of the mussel farm and, behind them, a large area quarantined with orange buoys where the sunken vessel rests on the Penn Cove floor.
At a crossroads, the Sheriff rolls up and my thoughts flash to Easy Rider – “I still say they’re not going to make the parish line” – but it turns out that, a cyclist himself, he just wants to recommend an alternative coastal route to get us away from the evening Highway 20 traffic.
“Look up to the trees on the right once you top the hill into the farmland,” he says. “There’s an eagle’s nest up there about the size of a VW Bug.”
The next morning we head north from Deception Pass State Park and romp around the towering bridge feeling goofy and elated.
The ten mile stretch to Anacortes is steep and the road is gravely, and we’re beat when we hit the ferry to the San Juan Islands.
In Friday Harbor we grab some supplies – salami, tortillas, a rotisserie chicken – and cut through the middle of the island rolling onto the bluffs of San Juan County Park as the orange sun is halfway set between Vancouver Island mountains six miles across the Haro Strait, where hulking cargo ships churn north to port in Canada. We are calm and hungry and everything looks like a screen saver.
In the morning we hitch into town for supplies. It’s Z’s half-birthday and we’re going to celebrate with beer and campfire quesadillas. An older gentleman picks us up outside the campground and takes us a few miles down the road to Lime Kiln State Park, where he works at the historic lighthouse – a popular whale-watching spot.
He points out the rideshare sign – a recycle symbol with a thumbs-up in the middle – and we catch a ride in no time with a couple from Sacramento and then a housing contractor listening to Philip Glass.
After a few hours in town we hit the road, catching a ride the moment we approach a rideshare sign. The man is enthusiastic about our bike trip and goes out of his way to drive us all the way back to the campground.
“I spend my winters in San Diego,” he says, “at Campland by the Bay. My cardiologist down there just bought our house here and we’re moving to Anacortes. It’s just getting too expensive on the island and when you get older,” he chuckles, “you need to be close to the hospital.”
We pass the evening chatting with our Canadian campmates and drinking the bottle of wine we bought, which is a bad batch, carbonated and acrid, but uplifting nevertheless.
We're the last to pack up and leave camp the following afternoon. Z and I have a sleepy synergy, and our pace tends towards the languorous. Slow, spontaneous, flexible, unassuming – it’s simply how we roll.
As such, we arrive at Roche Harbor some time later and eat bananas dipped in cacao nibs from Theo chocolate factory in Fremont - Jesse's new place of employment as a shop clerk and tour guide.
The harbor is a former lime production town gone high end resort where tourists go to eat ice cream and donuts. We have a donut and absorb not without a sense of humor the melancholie Native American flute music piped from a stereo by the copper jewelry vendors.
In the evening we ferry to Lopez Island. A sign by the terminal advises that “All at large dogs will be detained” – curious wordage in reference to canines.
We post camp at the Odlin County Park a short distance down the road, right on the water.
The landscape is flatter on Lopez, so we peddle the 4 or so miles into town to catch last call at the Galley around 11 p.m.
A few locals sit around out front talking about Banksy and Shepard Fairey as a boxer growls at our bike lights suspiciously.
Her owner puts her in the truck, saying: “I just got her about two weeks ago and I’m not about to coddle her and let her think it’s ok to act like this.”
I mention the “at large dogs” sign and one of the others says, “dogs can actually be shot on sight if they get on your land here. There are so many sheep on the island that it isn’t tolerated at all.”
Conversation continues about Exit Through the Gift Shop, a documentary (or mockumentary, depending on who you ask) about the British artivist Banksy in which a knock-off artist named Mr. Brainwash gains a degree of notoriety in Los Angeles by selling works that clearly rip off styles generally associated with Banksy and Andy Warhol.
“There are plenty of conspiracies that suggest Banksy was actually working with Mr. Brainwash and the whole thing was a ploy,” one dude says.
“It would be awesome reality hacking,” I suggest.
“It points out the death of the American Dream,” he continues. “The American Dream says that if you have an original and relevant idea, you can go and work hard and make that idea into a business that will support you and your family to a reasonable degree. But that’s not how it works. Now, if you have an idea and you do anything about it – anything at all – pretty soon one of three things will happen.
“One – someone will say they thought of it first and sue you for everything you’ve got, or at least run you broke with lawyer fees.
“Two – a lawyer will exploit a loophole in the way you run your business and run you into the ground with a class action lawsuit or an ADA violation or some damn thing.
“Three – a corporation with a competing product and more resources will buy you out. Best case scenario. Sell out your dream.”
The notion is especially poignant in the microcosm of Lopez Island, where the grocery stores brim with local goods – pickled garlic, goat cheeses, chipotle-goji-cacao hot sauce, greens – that, while more expensive, take precedence over outside competition.
The Dream, at least within the Puget boundaries of “the rock,” may just have a chance, for now.
Once the Galley closes, Z and I head to karaoke at the Islander - an overpriced resort joint full of wasted vacationers.
The $8 cocktails don’t matter, however, because a drunk man from Burlington continuously buys us shots of Bulleit bourbon as he expounds on the enduring depths of the love he has for his wife, who is talking with her girlfriends at a nearby table while a gaggle of girls twirl and toss around a roll of toilet paper on the dance floor.
It’s sad and classic and beautiful all at once.
I sing a terrible rendition of “Suffragette City” and the jockey cuts me off right before I get to “wham bam thank you ma'am!”
A light rain falls on our tent as we dream.
on May 30, 2012
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Thanks for the poetic description... we feel like we're almost with you - but without the leg cramps.
written by Mom and Dad on May 30, 2012
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