October 4 2011 by Jason Fogelson
I pack my gear carefully for this trip, as always. I'm honing my gear down with each trip, trying to do more with less. Everything must have a purpose, and anything that didn't get used on the last trip gets left at home on the next one. I have this down to a science now.
I used to carry a tool roll on every trip, an old habit from the days when motorcycles were much less reliable. This time, I'm only packing a small flashlight, a Leatherman multi-tool, a roll of duct tape and the universal tool - my iPhone. I probably won't ever use the first three.
I fly in to Seattle Tacoma International Airport, and take a car service to Eastside Harley-Davidson in Bellevue. I've reserved a 2011 Harley-Davidson Road King for this ride, because my usual bike of choice, an Electra Glide Ultra Classic, is not available. Summer is winding down in the Pacific Northwest, and it seems that everyone is rushing to get in those last few rides. Eastside's Harley-Davidson Authorized Rentals will be closing for the season as of October 1, reopening at the beginning of May. I feel lucky to have found a touring bike available for this ride.
When I get to the dealership, a group of 14 riders, all pilots for a major airline, have just returned from their trip and are dropping off their bikes. Fortune smiles on me - there's an Electra Glide in the bunch, and I'm able to rent it instead of the Road King. Not that there's anything wrong with the Road King, mind you. It has the same great Touring frame as the Electra Glide, and is supremely comfortable and capable. But it doesn't have a Tour Pak, and I really like the convenience of the additional lockable storage. And I have to admit; I sometimes like having a radio, too. The Electra Glide has spoiled me - and I'll be spoiled again on this trip.
It's 11:30 by the time I get signed out, loaded up and on the road. Seattle has just come through a heat wave, but today the temperature is very comfortable, in the low 60s, and the skies are relatively clear. I'm headed to Bellingham tonight, a relatively short ride to the north, about 88 miles directly up Interstate 5. I won't be taking the Interstate, of course. I'll be riding along the Blue Routes.
I head to the Puget Sound and cue up for the ferry ride at Mukilteo. There are several islands near Seattle, and some of them are connected to the mainland by ferry in addition to bridges. The ferry from Mukilteo takes about 12 minutes, plus waiting time. Cars pay $9.00 for the trip; motorcycles get to cross for just $3.95. Deal! Plus, motorcycles get to board first and exit first.
I wait about 20 minutes for a ferry to arrive, and it takes about 10 minutes for the ferry to load. I lock up my bike, and go up to the observation deck to watch Whidbey Island grow closer by the second.
As the ferry docks, I jump on the Electra Glide and prepare to disembark. The bike roars to life, and the ferryman signals that it's safe to ride away. I zoom onto Whidbey Island, and proceed to explore.
Whidbey Island is a long, narrow body of land, about 35 miles long and 1 to 2 miles wide at various points. It is home to nearly 60,000 residents, and boasts farmland, livestock and quaint villages. Route 20 runs the length of the island, and it is a lovely, rural road. This island immediately charms me.
I stop in Coupeville, population 1,831. The little town boasts a historic wharf that has been occupied by a collection of antique stores, galleries and restaurants. I drop in to the Front Street Grill for lunch. I sample the chef's clam chowder, and dine on a delicious chopped salad. I'm trying to eat lightly during the day on my trips nowadays - so I don't try the local Penn Cove Mussels, though they look amazing on nearly every other table in the restaurant.
After snapping a few pictures of the wharf, I climb back on the Electra Glide and continue my trip north. I pass the BEST WESTERN PLUS Harbor Plaza and Conference Center in Oak Harbor, and make a mental note to plan a stay there, and soon. Riding the length of Whidbey Island is all it takes to convince me that it would be a perfect place for a vacation stay - like a West Coast version of Martha's Vineyard.
The northern tip of Whidbey Island is the Deception Pass Bridge, a beautiful steel girder bridge that connects Whidbey Island with Fidalgo Island. The surface of the two-lane bridge is 180 feet above the water below, and sidewalks along each edge afford a million-dollar view. I hike to the center of the bridge with my camera gear, and take pictures until I feel like I've captured just the right angle. I could stand out there all day today - the colors, textures, smells and sounds are amazing.
But I have to move on. I secure my camera gear back on the bike, and roll back on Route 20 across Fidalgo and along a causeway back onto the mainland. I could jump onto Interstate 5 here, and make a quick trip up to Bellingham. But I've heard about a better motorcycle road, Route 11, which runs along the coast. That's more like it.
Route 11 is also known as Chuckanut Drive. It hugs the shoreline, passing to the west of Chuckanut Mountain, and it is a great motorcycle road. After a few miles through farmland, the terrain changes, and I find myself riding along twisting, turning two-lane blacktop, carved into the rocky hillside on one side and giving great views of the Sound through the trees on the other. It's like Skyline Drive met Big Sur all in one place. I have a blast choosing my lines and exploring the Electra Glide's lean angles. Traffic is light, and the speed limits are generous enough to allow some fun. It's a great ride.
I cruise into Bellingham, and easily find the BEST WESTERN PLUS Lakeway Inn & Conference Center, my stop for the night. I park the bike and stroll into the elegant lobby and to the front desk, where friendly faces greet me. As I check in, they inform me that this hotel is Rider-Friendly, and that I am welcome to wash my bike at their washing station behind the hotel. They also suggest that I park in one of the designated motorcycle spaces beneath the canopy of the hotel's entry. That'll be convenient, and I'll feel much better about leaving the Electra Glide protected from the weather.
I unload the bike, check into my room, then head back to the lobby for some dinner. The BEST WESTERN PLUS Lakeway Inn has two restaurants, Poppe's Bistro & Lounge, and The Oboe Cafe. I choose the Cafe, because it looks a little quieter this evening, and I want to decompress from my ride. The food is excellent, and the service even better. I have a potato and wasabi encrusted salmon steak, and treat myself to a little bit of bread pudding for dessert. I did have a light lunch, after all.
Tomorrow is a big day, the longest one of this trip. I'm going to meet up with some riders at the local Harley-Davidson dealership, Mount Baker Harley-Davidson. They've got a ride planned for me, and I can't wait to see where we go.
Miles Traveled: 145
NEXT: DAY TWO: BELLINGHAM TO OMAK