Get Out of Town, Get Active, and Get Home in Time for Dinner

Kayaking, Wine, and Bicycling on San Juan Island with Evergreen Escapes

It would be a shame to visit Seattle for business and not take a day to see the sites. Better yet, get out of the city and into nature. It's so easy. Just a phone call away. All you have to do is catch a ride. Evergreen Escapes will take you on an active tour of Washington's best destinations.

We sent one of our writers, Jill, on their San Juan Islands Tour to check it out....

It's 7:30 a.m. in downtown Seattle, and people are rushing past me on their way to work...looking a little stressed. Not me. I'm standing outside a hotel about to be whisked away for an action-packed day of kayaking, bicycling, and wine tasting in the San Juan Islands.

A spacious van pulls up and out hops Dan, a tour guide at Evergreen Escapes, who welcomes me and the rest of the group as we load into the van. Part of the Evergreen Escapes experience is a focus on the environment; all of the guides are naturalists, wetland ecologists, or wildlife biologists. In keeping with their eco goals, the van runs on biodeisel.

After a quick stop to pick up our other guide, Kieron, who jumps in with a cheerful smile and an armload of freshly baked muffins, we merge onto Interstate 5 and head north.

Our destination for the day is San Juan Island, the largest of the San Juan Island chain that lies about 80 miles north of Seattle. After an hour and a half drive and good conversation, we arrive at the Anacortes ferry terminal to catch the 9:30 ferry to San Juan. "Anyone want some hot tea and baked goodies?" asks Dan while we wait for the ferry. We're each provided our own insulated coffee tumbler for the day and chow down on muffins, lemon bars, and energy bars.

After a relaxing, hour-long ferry ride cruising past lots of smaller islands, we unload at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. As we're driving across the pastoral island landscape to Roche Harbor, I mention my favorite bird call--one that I've heard before on the island. Dan, a trained naturalist, pops in a CD of bird calls. "Is it one of these calls?" he asks.

At Roche Harbor, a lovely and historic bay on the northwest side of the island, we head down to a marina dock and receive quick instructions on sea kayaking. The water is calm, and we leisurely paddle in stable double sea kayaks past rocky outcrops with some stunning vacation homes set among the trees above.   A great blue heron on a beach nearby bends over, pulls up a small fish in his beak, and gobbles it down with a quick shake of his head. A few minutes later, our guide points out purple and orange sea stars clinging to the rocks just above the tide line on a small island..

After an hour and a half of paddling around small islands and along scenic shorelines, it's time for lunch.  We grab a bite at the Lime Kiln Café on the historic wharf in Roche Harbor. We sit outside in the sunshine and chat while munching on breaded oysters and gourmet fish sandwiches. Life is good.

Next up is a stop at San Juan Vineyards, halfway back across the island towards Friday Harbor. We amble into the tasting room, where island-grown grapes and other in-state grapes are featured in the wines. I'm taken by a smooth and spicy Washington syrah and buy a bottle for future sipping.

I can't think of a better way to work off lunch than to bicycle along a bucolic, two-lane country road. We stop at Island Bicycles in Friday Harbor to get fitted for rental bicycles and helmets, then Dan and Kieron load the bikes into the back of the van and we head south to American Camp National Historic Park at the southeast tip of the island.   We'll be dropped off there and then ride back to Friday Harbor to board the late afternoon ferry back to the mainland. A couple women in our group are concerned about the distance, but Dan reassures us, "It's mostly downhill on the way back."

We drive past homes on the outskirts of town, then pastures fringed with evergreen forest, until we arrive at the crest of a big hill and pull off to the side of the road. I breathe in the clean air, and glance at the sweeping view across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the snow-capped Olympic Mountains to the south. It's an incredible view, but with a ferry to catch, we need to get going. I hop on my bike and take off down the steep hill without braking, passing a couple other cyclists on the way.

Thirty minutes later I've worked up a good sweat as I pedal furiously nonstop up and down gentle rolls and dips along Cattle Point Road. Only a few cars pass by, and I hear my favorite bird (Swainson's thrush) in a stand of trees singing a sweet, spiraling song as I zip past. Just outside of town, the van is stopped on the side of the road to pick us up. "Whoo hoo! You made it!" Dan and Kieron cheer us on as we straggle in one by one, flushed from the exercise and fresh air.

On the ride home, Dan offers us headsets so we can watch a video about Mount Rainier, with spectacular footage of the mountain and its history. We get back to downtown Seattle in time for dinner (about 7:30 p.m.), and exchange hugs and goodbyes. Thanks to Evergreen Escapes, I'm one tired but happy camper.

~Jill Irwin

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