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 Islands Information

San Juan Islands - Washington:
Scootin' The Scenic San Juans

By Jane Cassie
Photos by Brent Cassie Cassie & Compliments of Columbia Tourism

While plying through the ocean chop, we breeze by regal sailboats, bobbing kayaks, and seining fishing vessels that look like looming pterodactyls. Emerald isles, thick with evergreen virgin forests, flank our aquatic passageway. They're fringed by driftwood clad beaches, craggy west coast granite and cozy inlet bays that shelter waterfront homes.

While more that seven hundred of these San Juans rise above the Pacific's surface, the continuous archipelago extends along the ocean's bed, from the southeast tip of Vancouver Island to the northern part of Whidbey. Orcas Island claims centre stage and is our first of two stops during this weekend escape.

There are a number of ways to check out the treasures on Orcas. Kayaks come lashed onto car tops, road bikes are geared by pedal pushers, and as we soon discover there are some mighty mopeds that will go anywhere we will lead.

"It's just like driving a car," John instructs, as he takes us through our crash course (no pun intended) of 'Moped 101.' "Remember, don't use the gas and brake at the same time." Although my iron pony is a far cry from a Harley, and the principles seem relatively simple, I feel a rush of adrenaline as soon as I straddle its saddle. Then with a kick-start and a throttle thrust, we're off, and before I know it, I'm feeling like a motorcycle mamma right out of Easy Rider.

Our winding road bisects pastoral settings where sheep and cattle roam and farmland grasses billow in the breeze. It parallels the craggy seashore hosting gnarled Arbutus trees and rock hugging firs. The setting is serene, the pace is relaxed, and under cloudless skies we mosey along at island time, letting our cares wash away with the salty air.

Peninsulas and inlets are a frequent lay of the land and one of the most picturesque is the little nook of Deer Harbor. Terraced on its hillside perch and overlooking berths and boats is our home for the night, the Resort At Deer Harbor. As well as capturing the shoreline view, our romantic abode and private hot tub boasts key ingredients to keep us ensconced for days…if not for our yearning to hit the open road!

The restaurant at West Sound serves up a scrumptious piece of pie, and the island's hub of East Sound offers a farmer's market. There are artisan galleries to browse, gift shops to explore and a choice of culinary options at our fingertips. Instead, we opt to stop at a few picnic places along the way. We relax on the grasslands overlooking East Sound's driftwood bay, sprawl out on towels over North Beach's pebbled shore, and gaze over glistening waters of Cascade Lake in Moran State Park.

Moran is also one of the best places in the San Juans to trek the trails. While embracing over five thousand glorious acres, it offers everything from a lake stroll to escalating Mount Constitution's six hundred metre summit where the panorama is pristine. As well as forty eight kilometres of hiking routes, this fourth largest Washington State park offers five lakes, a hundred and fifty campsites and just about every outdoor adventure you could imagine.

The day goes quickly, and by the time we re-trace our tracks, I'm feeling pretty comfy on my almighty moped. The balancing act between throttle and brake are well co-ordinated, my shoulders have detached from my earlobes, and as we putt putt into Orcas Village I'm humming 'Born To Be Wild.'

A similar euphoric experience is provided the following day while we tour the terrain of San Juan Island in a scootcar. What's a scootcar you ask? Best described, it looks like a stubby-nosed beetle bug on training wheels. The hybrid is actually a cross between a car and a moped and travels at a maximum of 50 km an hour. While harnessed in, we cuddle side by side and once again experience the island offerings at our own pace.

We have a history lesson while visiting the British and American camps. It all started when an American sailor shot a British pig and, as troops from both nations came in preparation for war, they distanced themselves to opposite ends of the island. Although the war never occurred, the historical evidence still remains and is a reminder of how senseless this feud really was.

After zooming to San Juan's west side we dismount and take time to check out the living museum at Lime Kiln Point State Park. A short gravel path leads to the rocky promontory where orcas, otters, and other sea life hang out. "You can often see them from here," one of the nature guides shares, "and sometimes the seals will come up and rub against the rocks." The aquatic loving creatures are drawn to the area's deep water wall and the strait's exposed rocky point and, in spite of our eagle eyes, we have to depart somewhat disappointed.

Before heading back to Friday Harbor we stop for lunch at the quaint seaside village of Roche Harbour. Brick paved pathways take us on a tour of the beautiful English gardens that spill over trellises, planters and pots. They wind around to a Victorian style mansion that was once home to the McMillin family, lead to the Historical Victorian Hotel De Haro, and take boaters back to their marina berths. The hotel has been serving guests since 1886 and was once a favourite stomping ground for John Wayne and Teddy Roosevelt.

Vibrant California poppies border our return country cruise to Friday Harbor and with the pedal to the metal, we tear down the tarmac going fifty km. We rumble past the romantic Friday Harbor House where we'll later retreat, scoot along the main Spring Street where a string of trendy gift shops unite with funky galleries, and finally zip into the local service station to re-fill. Over the entire round trip of seventy five km, people have looked, waved and chuckled. Maybe they were intrigued, or maybe it was due to the smiles on our faces. It sure was a great way to check out the island. Yes, it really was a blast. And all on a measly gallon of gas!

Jane and Brent Cassie are a travel writer/photographer team. Follow their other adventures on their website - www.janecassie.com.