Travel Tip: Book trips off-season

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It seems a large portion of our travel takes place in the fall months of September and October. Here are a few fall finds:

  • Spectacular travel deals.
  • Fewer tourists, allowing us to thoroughly explore a destination.
  • Locals appreciate off-season visitors. You are more than just a monetary transaction.
  • The weather is enjoyable. Those hot summer are gone while cold winter days are still weeks away. Note: We do end up playing Weather Roulette some years, but that’s also part of the travel magic.

What’s your favorite time of year to travel?

Day 2 – San Juan Islands: Cycling from Anacortes to Port Townsend

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This is Day 2 of our San Juan Islands Cycling Adventure:

TOTAL MILES: 37

Cumulative Climbing: 3,100’

Although it’s the second day of our Adventure Cycling Tour of the San Juan Islands, today is the first day of actual mileage. The group wakes up bright and early at the Ship Harbor Inn to enjoy a continental breakfast as well as pack our lunches and snacks.

Realizing I still have too many clothes for the ride, I quickly ascertain what else can be left in the car before we begin our journey. Ricardo is hauling both our gear (what a guy!) in a BOB Yak bike trailer we rented from Skagit Cycle in Anacortes, so it’s important to be as practical as possible. When we’re finally ready to pull out, it’s about 8am and we’re among the last of our group to leave the hotel.

Today’s route and geography:

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Cycling the scenic side roads on Whidbey Island to avoid SR 20

The main road that goes through this part of the San Juan Islands is SR 20, which is very busy. Thankfully, we spend very few miles on this highway. Instead, Adventure Cycling sends us the scenic route and slightly off-the-beaten path.

anacortes to port townsend cycling routeA portion of the map provide by our Adventure Cycling Tour

Hills, hills, and more hills!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrequent breaks and the natural beauty of the San Juan Islands make all the hills worth the effort!

I have to admit, the first few hills were the hardest – I was still getting used to the rental bike, getting over a cold, and my muscles weren’t warmed up. It was frustrating and not very motivating to be walking the first few hills of the trip. I had to keep reminding myself:

  • I’m here and that’s what counts.
  • It’s a ride, not a race.
  • A ferry leaves every 45 minutes, so not a problem.
  • My body needs extra time to heal after feeling under-the-weather for several days.

Thankfully, by the fourth hill, I could cycle to the top. This was the confidence booster I would need for the rest of the day (and trip!), especially when biking up the long, steep hill on West Beach Road when this went through my mind:

“Don’t stop now. You can do this. You’re almost there. Keep going!” I kept telling myself as I simultaneously cursed and pedaled up that long, never ending hill on Whidbey Island. My spin instructor’s voice popped into my head, “Keep your head up. Don’t forget to breathe! Steady cadence as you reach the top… keep it going! Your legs are burning and it feels so good!” I had trained for months to make it up a hill just like this, but I just wanted the damn hill to stop. Did I not train enough? This was only the first day. Heck, it was only the first morning of a week-long ride! Just when my legs were beyond screaming, my breathing heavy and way past conversational, I looked down and saw the sign: someone had spray painted “Shut Up Legs” on the bike lane. Thank goodness it wasn’t just me! This is exactly what I needed to go on and conquer that killer hill.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeautiful Mt. Baker. There’s a view around every corner in the San Juan Islands!

Key places to stop:

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Scenic San Juan Islands – Houses by a lake on our way to Coupeville

  • Vista Points: When you’re cycling, pulling off at every vista point, official and unofficial, is much easier than with a car. The San Juan Islands are full of breathtaking views, so if the weather in nice, make time to stop and admire the scenery. Although West Beach Road tested every bit of my fitness and mental drive, this road also provides some of my favorite viewpoints. Or, maybe I just really needed an excuse to stop every few minutes?
  • Coupeville: We rode Madrona Way into this cute waterside town because the drive along Penn Cove is very scenic. If your time here is short, grab an ice cream cone and walk the pier. Otherwise, there’s a nice coffee shop at the end of the pier.
  • Fort Casey State Park: Check the calendar, as this park hosts various festivals in the summer months. As we cycled through, a kite festival was in full swing.  It’s a 467-acre marine park with a lighthouse, an artillery post, and beautiful walks through Mother Nature.

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Cycling into Coupeville – head in via Madrona Way, which takes you by scenic Penn Cove.

Taking your bike on the Coupeville- Port Townsend ferry:

Riding the ferry with your bike easy and cost-effective. To save time, you can buy your tickets online and bring a printed copy for the cashier. If you’re early for the ferry, they’ll let you walk your bikes on before the cars. Otherwise, if cars are being loaded, you’ll have to wait until they finish. When we traveled, it was about $7 to take the ferry with a bike. Check the WSDOT Ferry website for the latest fares and schedule. When we did this ride, a ferry left the terminal every 45 minutes.

Visiting Port Townsend:

When you arrive at the ferry terminal in Port Townsend, you’ll be in the middle of town. “PT” is known for its vibrant arts culture and historical Victorian homes. Leave a day to explore the town and vicinity (like Ft. Warden State Park). They host a busy arts calendar, so make sure you check for events well in advance – you wouldn’t want to find yourself on a bike without a place to stay!

L.A. Museum Season

Psst… here’s a not-so-well-kept secret: The museums in Los Angeles are amazing and world class institutions.

We should know! When we moved to the area over a year ago, we chose a place within walking distance from LACMA. Fortunately, you don’t have to live locally to enjoy the benefits of fine art because L.A. Museum Season is back for tourists! Now through November 14th, Los Angeles visitors who book at least two hotel nights for stays during this time period will receive TWO free admissions and museum store discounts at more than 20 premier Los Angeles cultural institutions. Typically, these privileges are reserved for those with memberships (ahem, locals…), so this is great news!

jazz lacma la museum season

We love free Friday night Jazz at LACMA – bring your own picnic and wine. Tip: Visit the museum before the concert starts. Also makes parking easier!

“As home to more museums than any other U.S. city, Los Angeles offers permanent and temporary exhibitions for every taste and temperament,” said Ernest Wooden Jr., President & CEO of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board (L.A. Tourism). “From Picassos to pop hits, dinosaurs to diamonds, cowboys to classical sculpture, L.A.’s museum collections span the gamut.”

Participating institutions include:

  • Autry National Center
  • Craft & Folk Art Museum
  • GRAMMY Museum® at L.A. LIVE
  • Hollywood Museum
  • Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens
  • Kidspace Children’s Museum
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
  • Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
  • Museum of Latin American Art
  • Museum of Tolerance
  • Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
  • Norton Simon Museum
  • Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits
  • Paley Center for Media
  • Pasadena Museum of California Art
  • Skirball Cultural Center
  • USS Battleship Iowa

Details: L.A. Museum Season is a 6-week travel deal, showcasing premier arts and culture offerings in Los Angeles and highlighting the diversity of museum experiences L.A. has to offer. L.A. Museum Season is presented by the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board (@DiscoverLA).

How to book:

All bookings need to take place through the Museum Season site (which links to Expedia), in order to get the free admission and discounts.

Day 1 – Cycling San Juan Islands: Anacortes

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Anacortes: Patio view from the Ship Harbor Inn. You can see the ferry dock.

We signed up for the Adventure Cycling tour of the San Juan Islands five months ago and we’re giddy with excitement. Today is the official start of the trip! It’s also the only day we won’t be in the saddle as we’re scheduled to meet with our group and tour leader at our hotel in Anacortes on Fidalgo Island.

We’re actually starting our day in Port Angeles, where my parents live. We spend the early morning hours packing and repacking our bags. Wow, that’s a lot of biking gear! I check the weather app on my phone once again and some of the clothes don’t make it into my small duffel bag. As we kiss our 2-year old goodbye and wish him a fun vacation with Grandma and Grandpa, we drive to Port Townsend to catch the Whidbey Island ferry.

TIP: A reservation is highly recommended, even needed, when traveling by car on the Washington State ferry system in high season. It’s easy: head to the WSDOT website, and click on “Vehicle Reservations.” The ferry schedule and prices are also available at this website.

Driving Whidbey Island:

The ferry docked and we immediately headed north on the island, towards Deception Pass.  I knew we’d be retracing our steps on bike the next day, so I couldn’t help but notice… ALL THE HILLS!

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Pausing for a picture with Ricardo on the narrow bridge over Deception Pass

The weather was gorgeous, so we had to stop to walk the bridge and take photos at Deception Pass State Park. Washington sunshine is unpredictable, so we didn’t want to miss this photographic window, just in case. This 4,134-acre marine park boasts breathtaking views of rugged cliffs with sheer drops that greet the chaotic currents rushing below. It’s a place you’d take the family for a short hike down to a beach or maybe a picnic at the nearby tranquil lake.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to do much more than take a few photos. Our stomachs were grumbling for lunch and we needed to pick up or rental bikes from Skagit Cycle before the group meeting.

Eating in Anacortes

We arrived in beautiful downtown Anacortes just as the lunch crowd dissipated. The Rock Fish Grill is a local brewing company and restaurant. With all the money thrown into modern brewhouse restaurants these days, it came as a shock to be drinking beer in a place that felt more like a fancy dive bar-slash-diner (a total compliment!). The food was delicious and diverse enough to be a crowd-pleaser. There’s something for anyone whether you’re looking for pizza or salad, vegetarian or meat. The Vegetarian Chili hit the spot and our beer sampler was the best way to pick our pint. So, if you’re ever in Anacortes and looking for a family-friendly joint with good beer and food, this is the place.

Renting bikes in Anacortes

Between our busy lives and coordinating travel with a 2-year old, the last thing I wanted to do was worry about packing up and shipping two bikes. Adventure Cycling recommend we contact Skagit Cycle in Anacortes about renting bikes for the week. The rental cost was $160/bike per week for a Trek bike. It included a trunk bag, tire repair kit, and helmet. If you bring your own pedals or seat, their mechanic, Andy, will do the installation. We opted to rent a Bob trailer for an extra $160/week because we don’t want to invest in panniers just for this trip.

Tip: Biking the San Juan Islands is popular in high season, so reserve your rental bike far in advance. I suggest calling to reconfirm the reservation before leaving home.

Where to stay in Anacortes

jacuzzi room ship harbor inn anacortes

Our hotel, the Ship Harbor Inn, is located just above the ferry terminal and a few miles from downtown Anacortes. It’s serene and the view is beautiful. Hotel staff is lovely and very accommodating with our group and needs. The lobby hosts a small snack bar that serves coffee, tea, beer, and wine. On a beautiful day, you can enjoy your drink on the patio. There’s also a light menu, an excellent option if you don’t feel like driving into town. An “extended continental breakfast” buffet is served each morning. It’s the typical hotel fare and I’m glad they have hard boiled eggs as I’m going to need the protein to get through 40 hilly miles.

Our room has a comfy king sized bed, kitchenette, fireplace, and Jacuzzi tub… why are we only staying one night? ;-)

Cycling with a group

The moment we’ve been waiting for… we finally get to meet the people we’ll spend the next week with riding the San Juan Islands! Our new friends range in age from young professionals to a retired 74-year old man who will probably be cycling circles around me on those hills. They hail from Montana, New York, and Kansas.

After introductions, going over the week’s itinerary, general group rules, and discussing details for tomorrow… we enjoy a group dinner under heat lamps on that coveted patio!

The Packing Dilemma

I’ve never been on a cycling trip, so I really have no idea what’s really necessary. I go through my things this first night, once again, for the millionth time, and decide to leave a number of clothes in the car. Looks like I’ll be hand washing each night!

TIP: You can arrange to keep your car at the Ship Harbor Inn for a small daily fee.

sunset in anacortes

Image via skedonk, flickr

Stay tuned for Day 2!  

Also see- Active Travel: How to train for a cycling tour

Active Travel: How to train for a cycling tour

cycling san juan islands deception pass

Cycling the San Juan Islands in Washington State. Katie & Ricardo at Deception Pass.

“Don’t stop now. You can do this. You’re almost there. Keep going!” I kept telling myself as I simultaneously cursed and pedaled up that long, never ending hill on Whidbey Island. My spin instructor’s voice popped into my head, “Keep your head up. Don’t forget to breathe! Steady cadence as you reach the top… keep it going! Your legs are burning and it feels so good!” I had trained for months to make it up a hill just like this, but I just wanted the damn hill to stop. Did I not train enough? This was only the first day. Heck, it was only the first morning of a week-long ride! Just when my legs were beyond screaming, my breathing heavy and way past conversational, I looked down and saw the sign: someone had spray painted “Shut Up Legs” on the bike lane. Thank goodness it wasn’t just me! This is exactly what I needed to go on and conquer that killer hill.

And I did. I climbed that killer hill and suddenly, the other hills didn’t seem so bad. Every muscle and breath in my body was telling me to stop and walk, but I didn’t listen. Instead, I kept going and learned the most important lesson of all, a valuable piece of wisdom that stuck with me whenever the going got tough as I cycled the hilly San Juan Islands of Washington State:

It’s Mind Over Body.

Yes, you can train all you want for a ride (and I highly recommend you do!), but if you aren’t mentally prepared to take on the challenge… the cycling tour might be more difficult than anticipated.

We signed up for an Adventure Cycling Tour of the San Juan Islands by bike a full 5 months before our departure date. When I spoke with avid cyclists, they recommended preparing for a week- long cycling trip two ways:

  • Spinning class
  • Going on long rides at least once a week and then building up to a few daily rides back-to-back.

As usual, we kept saying we were going to start training, but didn’t get around to actually putting our thoughts into action until less than 3 months before the cycling trip. It was workout procrastination with every excuse possible: work, parenthood, fatigue, cost.  When we discovered the new YMCA offered spinning classes and childcare, we finally took the training plunge.

I committed to spinning 3-4 days a week until our San Juan Islands Cycling tour.

And I kept this commitment.

The hardest part, however, was finding time to get outside on my bike to cycle long distances. We live in the middle of Los Angeles and I’m weary of sharing the city streets with cars. In order to do any serious riding, it had to be during the weekends and on a bike path. Mission impossible. We went to Santa Monica once and it was too much hassle for not enough miles.

So we continued to spin and hoped for the best.

Details of the San Juan Islands Cycling Tour

washington state ferries and cycling

Ricardo walking his bike off the ferry in Anacortes on our last day. Bringing your bicycles on the Washington State Ferry system is fast and easier – way better than traveling by car, especially in high season.

Day 1:

Anacortes, WA on Fidalgo Island: Rent our Trek bikes from Skagit Cycle and meet with our tour group and leader, Joe, at the hotel.

Day 2:

Begin cycling from Anacortes to the Keystone ferry at Coupeville. Then take the ferry to Port Townsend for the night.

Estimated Miles: 35

Estimated Cumulative Climbing: 2800′

Day 3:

Hop aboard the Puget Sound Express (with our bikes on the roof rack) for a morning Whale Watching Cruise through the San Juan Islands. The boat drops ups off in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island and we cycle a northern loop with a side trip to Roche Harbor.

Estimated Miles: 25

Estimated Cumulative Climbing: 1290′

Day 4:

Cycle the southern San Juan Island loop with stops at places such as Lime Kiln State Park and Cattle Point.

Estimated Miles: 40

Estimated Cumulative Climbing: 2800′

Day 5:

Ferry to Orcas Island and cycle to our hotel with stops along the way at Deer Point and a pottery studio.

Estimated Miles: 20

Estimated Cumulative Climbing: 1900′

Day 6:

Cycle the East Side of Orcas Island with a long climb up Mt. Constitution in Moran State Park

Estimated Miles: 30

Estimated Cumulative Climbing: 4400′

Day 7:

Ride back to the ferry dock and take a boat to Lopez Island.

Estimated Miles: 38

Estimated Cumulative Climbing: 2500′

Day 8:

Ride back to the ferry dock on Lopez Island and catch the ferry back to Anacortes where the trip ends.

Estimated Miles: 10

Estimated Cumulative Climbing: ??

Why Spinning Is Good Training for a Cycling Tour

how to train for a cycing tour spinning

Spinning class makes you strong.

I will say this: If you are going on an extended cycling trip, I HIGHLY recommend spinning classes on a regular basis. Here’s how spinning helped me prepare:

  •  Cadence
  • Pushing up hills
  • Muscle memory: as soon as I got on that bike, my muscles had a spinning class “#tbt”
  • Pushing through: when the going got tough, I remembered my instructor(s) telling me “I know it hurts, but keep at it and push through… you can do it!”

The only thing it won’t help you with is the fatigue of sustained riding day after day. With that being said, there weren’t too many people on our trip who were able to train for our San Juan Islands cycling trip with long daily rides. Life is just too busy and it’s unreasonable for most people.

cycling to lime kiln state park san juan island

With frequent breaks, such as this lunch stop at Lime Kiln Point State Park, we found cycling 20 or 30-something mile days leisurely and relaxing.

That oh-so-good feeling at the end of the day

cycle the san juan islands best experienceUpper Left: The Pike Kilted Lifter at a pub in Eastsound on Orcas Island. 

Lower Left: A group dinner at The Kitchen in Eastsound

Right: A bottle of wine purchased from San Juan Vineyards on San Juan Islands – an easy bike ride from Friday Harbor

Our cycling trip to the San Juan Islands was a leisurely go-at-your-own pace vacation. We started the day with a dozen others, yet all finished our rides at various times, depending on the sights and distances that particular day.

Ricardo and I, although among the youngest of the tour, chose a slow and steady pace. We stopped frequently to take pictures and sometimes pedaled slowly in awe of Mother Nature. Speed cycling through the San Juan Islands, we felt, wasn’t the best way to enjoy the spectacular scenery – we listened to birds chirping, stopped at overlooks to watch porpoise play, enjoyed a photo shoot with the Yellow Submarine and Sponge Bob’s pineapple house, and paused to savor freshly picked and free Asian Pears roadside.

While the hills were tough at times, I thoroughly enjoyed the other side… downhill always made the climb worth the effort and felt like air conditioning against my sweaty body. The end of a riding day was always satisfying. We gorged ourselves on delicious local eats and microbrew (and wine too!). Unlike other types of vacations, there was no feeling fat and lethargic at the end of the day. At bedtime, it was easy to slip into a deep and restful sleep.

Why I love active exercise vacations

We’ve been back from our adventure for a little over a week now and my body is still buzzing with energy. When I was training, I promised myself workout break as a reward for all the hard work. Instead, I find my body craving exercise. In addition to spinning class, I have utilized my newly found endurance to start running. It feels so good!

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