Volcanoes of Washington Bike Tour
September 10 - September 23, 2003
Kerie and I headed to the Northwest this year for the Volcanoes of Washington and Oregon tour sponsored by Bicycle Adventures. We had a great trip last year with them on the Crater Lake tour, and the Volcanoes trip was a good combination of number of miles per day, time of year, and location.
Kerie and I have not spent much time in Washington or Oregon, and this tour looked like a good way to see the various volcanoes in the region including Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood. To start the tour, we flew to Seattle to spend a few days riding and walking around the city and nearby islands. The tour started on Saturday, Sept. 13 and ran through the following Saturday when it ended near Portland. We planned to stay in Portland for a day and then catch Amtrak back to Seattle for the flight home on the September 22.
For planning purposes we consulted the Lonely Planet Seattle guide. It contains good info on getting around without a car, including phone numbers of shuttle companies and current prices. They also seem to cater to the more budget-conscious traveler.
In Seattle we stayed at the Days Inn near the downtown area. It's the most reasonable motel ($85/night) and appeared to be the kind of place that would not care if we brought our bikes into the room (i.e. it looks like a dump). We flew into SeaTac airport, which is about 15 miles south of the city. We took the Gray Line Airport Express. The basic charge was $8.50/person, but since our motel was not on the official list, we had to pay $2.50 extra for the transfer van.
Kerie shipped her bike via Sports Express. It costs about the same as what the airlines charge for their unfair bicycle surtax, with the added advantage that they pick up and deliver to your location of choice. It beats making sure the taxi can accommodate the large box, and then hauling the bike through the airport on each end of the trip.
Kerie's bike was at the Days Inn awaiting us. I brought my Bike Friday on the plane and had no problems with it on the trip out. The return trip was another story, but more about that later.
From the Days Inn on 7th Ave it's about a 15 minute walk to the heart of downtown. Belltown is located just south of the motel and is a mixed neighborhood with upscale restaurants next to a park filled with rowdy street people.
Having arrived at around 11 a.m., we had some time to eat a quick lunch at the Farestart Café and to check out Belltown and the downtown area. Farestart is an organization that provides job training for the homeless and disadvantaged.
From Belltown we walked to the famous Pike Place Market. Fish markets and restaurants are together with local vendors of arts and crafts and lots of miscellaneous junk. It's a great people watching place. I was a little disappointed that the market is separated from the shoreline by a major highway.
We then checked out the Seattle Art Museum, with the Hammering Man located out front. That weekend the cycle messenger world championships were being held in town, and on the way to the museum we caught sight of an interesting sign on one of the exotic dancer places.
The museum has an excellent collection of Native American art and artifacts. There was also an exhibit of modern glass artwork by Preston Singletary, a Tlingit artist.
Later we had a so-so Asian dinner at Chin Chin's located near the motel. We then spent about an hour putting both bikes together. We planned a bike ride the next day.
After another walk downtown, we ended up at Von's Capital City Cafe for their decent $10 breakfast buffet. We got a late start for our bike ride to explore some of the trails of Seattle. We particularly wanted to check out the Burke Gilman trail that runs east-west just north of Lake Union and along the western shore of Lake Washington. In order to get to the trail we relied on the Seattle Bike Map published by the Seattle Dept. of Transportation. The map is out of print, but luckily the King County transportation department not only sent us a map of cycling in King County, but they had an extra copy of the Seattle map. From their website it looks like they've now run out of both maps.
Seattle is a great city for cycling. Many of the streets have bike lanes, and the bike map notes many other streets with wide curb lanes and low volume, slow traffic. We cycled north to the Chittenden Locks where we crossed the ship canal and watched as several boats passed from Puget Sound to Lake Washington. There were many large salmon making their way upstream through the fish ladder and we spent some time walking through the exhibit.
We then followed the bike map route to connect to the Burke Gilman trail just to the west. The trail is a paved asphalt trail that is well marked as it winds through the mostly industrial area along the shoreline. One industrial relic was left and made into a unique place, Gas Works Park.
For lunch we took refuge from the rain and stopped at Hales Brewery & Pub in the Fremont district. The feta pizza was a bit overwhelming, but the beer was great.
We continued on the trail past the University of Washington stadium with the statue of a Husky out front. Since it was raining and we wanted to ride again the next day we decided to head back to the motel by way of the University Bridge that has a bike lane. We continued down Eastlake Avenue to the huge REI store that includes a climbing wall and two stories of outdoor gear.
The bike section carries the new Breezer Bikes. These are bikes designed for the bike commuter and those who make short trips around town. They are designed and built by Joe Breeze, one of the inventors of mountain bikes, who like me thinks that cycling can be our salvation from a polluted, automobile-oriented environment.
After the ride we hosed down our very dirty bikes behind the motel. According to some locals, Seattle had not received rain for nearly two months, which probably explains why there was so much dirt and grit on the trails.
We had an excellent dinner at Flying Fish, an upscale but unpretentious restaurant in Belltown that was listed in the Lonely Planet guide. The service was excellent and the food was superb. The Brutal Bitter beer was pretty good too.
It wouldn't be right to visit Seattle and not get out onto the water. It was a short ride through town to the ferry docks near the Pioneer Square area. Bainbridge is a small island just off the coast, home to many Seattle commuters. The commuter ferry is one of the cheaper boat rides; $6.50 per person, round trip. We rode our bikes onto the ferry and tethered them to a railing with ropes.
After lunch at Pegasus, a funky little sandwich place just off the beaten track, we headed toward Fay Bainbridge State Park at the northern tip of the island, about 7 or 8 miles away. The park has several sites reserved for kayakers and canoeists. After a short walk along the beach we rode back to the town of Winslow to catch the return ferry.
To promote cycling, Winslow has a bicycle station at the ferry dock. Cyclists can ride to the ferry and park their bikes in the station and hop on the ferry. Other cyclists ride onto the ferry, then continue their bike commute in Seattle. It was fun to watch the made dash of the returning cyclists as they exited the ferry at Winslow. This being the northwest, cyclists get to exit first.
|Cyclists leaving |
|Bike barn on |
Another must-see for us was the Space Needle, a short walk to Seattle Center from the motel. The spectacular view was well worth the $12.50 per person entrance fee to the observation deck. The day was clear and Mt. Rainier caught the last golden rays of the setting sun.
Dinner was a disaster. It was late on a Friday night and restaurants were packed. Fandango is owned by the same people who own Flying Fish where we had a great dinner, so we thought we couldn't go wrong. No seats were available in the restaurant so we ate in the bar. Big mistake. The music consisted of someone singing in Spanish at full volume, service was lousy, and the food— I can't even remember what we ate because we were in such a hurry to get out of there.
On the walk home, two young guys behind us were accosted by a screaming homeless dude, and the next thing we knew bottles were smashing and sirens were blaring. A paddy wagon was parked nearby. We scurried back to the motel.
The Volcanoes bike tour started the next day, and since the van that would transport us to the starting point would not be coming into the city, we still needed to pack our bikes again and get ready for the cab ride to the airport in the morning. It had been a long day.