Nick & Sara’s Tour de West – 07

Sat, 11 Sep 2009

Today is the first day of true “vacation mode” – finished up with work yesterday, and now I truly have nowhere I *have* to be until Mon, 9/21 – 10 days later when I’m due back at work. For now, it’s just me, Sara, and the open road. Ok, well, first I have to get Sara out of hock – the $35 a night valet parking fee in downtown Seattle turns out to be $42 a night when you add in city “parking taxes” – huh? Taxes on the room and taxes on Sara’s room.. Now, I’m no tea-party attending, tax-hating conservative Republican, but this is just insane.

So, I get Sara out of hock, and as the valet is handing me back my keys he asks if I need directions – I reply that I’m heading up to “Mulkiteo” – a town north of Seattle from which I can catch a ferry over to Whidbey Island, from which I can catch a ferry over to Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula, and I know I can take I-5 but I’m considering State rte 99 instead, since I’m in no hurry.

You would have thought I had for driving directions to Mars.. the guy looked at me like I was from Mar’s myself – “You can take 99 if you want, dude, but I don’t know why you would,” was his reply. Well, maybe because I’m on vacation and don’t particularly want to be in a hurry to go anywhere? Oh, never mind – give me directions via I-5 and I’ll figure it out for myself.

The drive up to Mulkiteo is pretty quick – it’s only 20 miles or so – the first half on I-5 with about 5 lanes of traffic and a zillion other cars – then I see the turn off to 99 and the relatively sanity of a smaller road.

The ferry crossing over to Whidbey is only about 20 minutes, but it feels like entering another planet once you get over there. From the hustle and bustle of the Seatac peninsula, things slow way down as you get off the ferry. Sara lets her top down, and as we cruise state road 525 along the spine of Whidbey Island the smell of salt and pine mixes in the air and washes over us… ahh.. vacation.

My friend Penelope grew up around here, and I can’t resist a quick text message to let her know I’m on her home turf (yes, I stopped for a minute – I don’t text and drive). She replies that she grew up in Greenbank – “just passed the berry farm,” – well there’s Greenbank – and that must be the berry farm – Greenbank Farm – thought it looks like it’s been taken over by Disney at some point in the past – advertising a wine shop, hay rides, you-name-the-tacky-tourist-attraction-and-it-has-it. OK, no water slides (yet), but I’m sure they’ve thought about it.

So we cruise on – ostensibly our destination is the Keystone->Port Townsend Ferry, then I’m going to see if I can’t find accommodations in Port Townsend and poke around there for the night. Though I’m kinda concerned about getting on the ferry – the Washington State Ferry website said “Recommendations highly recommended” but there were no reservations to be had – supposedly they have standby space on every ferry though, so we’ll see.

Approaching Keystone we drive over a strip of land called “Ebey’s Landing” – with what looks to be a lake on one side and a bay of Puget Sound – Admiralty Bay I later find out it’s called – there appears to be a beachside road with parking on the bay side and a couple of cars in the “lot,”- really a dirt road – and I can’t resist joining them for a quick jaunt on the beach. The beach is piled high with stacks and stacks of driftwood , forming a long grey Maginot line down the beach… You have to pick you way through it carefully, but the reward is a beautiful pebble beach with one lone couple sunning themselves sitting on a larger piece of driftwood. The weather couldn’t be any better – sunny, 70 degrees or so, calm winds, and a beautiful expanse of blue water stretching out in front of us. I could just sit *here* for the rest of my vacation but unfortunately, the ferry is calling me.

A little reluctantly, Sara and I head down the road to the ferry.. we get to the ferry, and there’s a line of cars stretched out down the road in the opposite direction waiting to get on.. so we drive down to find the end of the line.. and drive.. and drive.. the line must be a mile long. Finally, we find the end, and pull a U-turn to add our selves to the waiting queue. A woman organizing the end of the line asks if we have reservations – “no,” I replied, “I tried last night but I couldn’t get any – what are our chances of getting on?” She sighs and says it’ll probably be 4:30 or more likely the 6 PM ferry before I can get on – it’s now 2 in the afternoon. “I hate working this line,” she says with a shake of her head.

“Is there something going on? I ask,” and for the second time today, I get a look like I’m from another planet – “The Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend,” was the reply. Of course, the “Wooden Boat Festival!” doesn’t everyone from Boulder, Colorado, follow the schedule for the WBF religiously? So, I ask my third naïve question of the day – “Will it be hard to find a room, then?” – No look from Mars this time but a definite affirmative nod – yeah, you’ll probably have to go on from there a ways to find someplace to stay.

Now, the thought of maybe getting the 6 PM ferry, getting over to Port T at 6:30 or so, then having to drive as it’s getting dark to the next town or the town after that is not appealing at all. It’s only 2:30 in the afternoon, the sun is shining, and Whidbey Island is looking very nice, indeed.

“So, how about finding a place here?,” I inquire, hopefully – “Tyee Motel is nothing fancy, but they’ve got clean rooms and a dining room – just up the street a bit.” – OK, sounds good to me. – “How about getting a Ferry reservation in the morning?” – “Just call 511” is the reply.

So, it’s down the street the Tyee Motel – like the lady said, clean but nothing fancy – book a room, and once settle in, call 511, the Washington State Ferry line. After going the the standard “Dial 1 to .. yadda yadda yadda,” I finally get down to a real human being manning the reservation line. “Can I make a reservation for the Keystone → Port Townsend Ferry tomorrow?,” I ask.

Now, you can’t get a look like you’re from the planet Mars over a telephone line – but I’m sure if I could, I did. I got the verbal equivalent. She laughed at me. Well, chuckled, sorta. That merciless, dry sort of chuckle that says “I’m not laughing with you, I’m laughing at you.” “So, what’s the earliest I can make a reservation for ?” “9:15 PM tomorrow” is the reply. “I hate that line – it’s been like that all summer.” OK… so I’m definitely getting the feeling the Keystone->Port T ferry is NOT the most popular among the ferry staff… nobody’s bothered to explain WHY, yet, but there must be a reason.

Oh, well. “The journey is the destination,” it’s sunny out, the day is still young, I’ve got a place to sleep tonight, and a few hours to kill. I’ll deal with the ferry in the morning. What to do now? Pull out the map.. well, the furthest north point on Whidbey Island is “Deception Pass,” it’s only 20 or so miles away, and… why not? Top down, radio on (OK, iPhone playing MP3’s with radio tuned to an FM transmitter on – I’m nothing if not a geek at heart), and we’re off.. through the town of Oak Harbor, (the most commercialized part of Whidbey Island – Safeways and Pizza-Marts and all that dreck you’d rather be without – until you need it), past the Whidbey Naval Air Station – north to Deception Pass.

The pass itself is a narrow channel of water that separates Whidbey Island from the mainland – so named by Captain Vancouver who explored the area and thought that he’d been “deceived” into thinking he’d found the Northwest Passage when he came upon the pass. There’s a bridge that goes over the mainland, and just before the bridge a state park and a parking area. I pull into the state park and take a short walk through a verdant green forest to “North Beach,” on North Beach are number of people just hanging out in the sun and a line of fisherman casting for Salmon. I wander on the pebble beach a bit, and as I’m standing looking at the water and the occasional boat going through the pass, strike up a conversation with a fisherman standing next to me.. He asks about my camera, we talk a bit, then I mention I got stuck on Whidbey due to a lack of ferry reservation. “Yeah, he says, I hate that ferry.” Oh, Lord, not again… “We used to have a bigger boat.., but a year ago, they did an inspection, and found cracks in the hull – had to pull it out of service. They had to borrow a boat from Canada to take it’s place, but it’s half the size.” So, that explains it. No wonder it’s easy to get on Whidbey Island, but hard to get off – oh well, there are much, much worse places to get stuck.

After exploring the pass and the bridge a little while longer, I drive back through Oak Harbor, grab a salad to go and a few other food items at the Safeway, and head back to the beach at Ebey’s landing for an impromptu picnic dinner. The lone couple on the beach at Ebey’s has been replaced by a line of erstwhile salmon fisherman (they’re everywhere..), but they pay me no mind as I sit, eat dinner, and watch the sun go down on Puget Sound.

There are worse places to get stuck than Whidbey Island.