Biking, Sightseeing and Boat-Building in the Pacific Northwest
My husband, Jim, and I set off for Seattle, Washington, for two reasons: Jim wanted to learn how to build a kayak and I wanted to visit my niece, Dr. Caley Coulson. We arrived the day before Jim’s boat-building session began at the Skin Boat School in Anacortes, Washington. After setting up the motorhome with an electric hookup in a field at the school, we drove our dinghy to Seattle to see Caley. We knew she would be a great tour guide. In the first year of her residency, she won the University of Washington’s “Get a Life!” Challenge. Interns were encouraged to enjoy Seattle’s many attractions in their spare time. Of the 101 activities on the list, Caley completed 97 of them. She and her boyfriend, Bob Copeland, offered to show us their favorites.
Since Caley and Bob are cycling enthusiasts, it wasn’t surprising that the first stop on our agenda was Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park in Issaquah. The 120-acre park in a lush evergreen forest contains 6 miles of well-maintained cross-country mountain bike trails to satisfy people like me who like to ride with both wheels on the ground. For riders like Bob who want to go airborne, there are plenty of jumps, drops and skinnies (narrow above-ground boards) on the free-ride trails. Optional technical features on the cross-country trails allowed me to snap photos of Bob doing stunts I’d previously seen only on YouTube.
On our way home, we stopped to watch the Snoqualmie River take an awe-inspiring 270-foot plunge off a ledge of volcanic rock. When Charles Hinckley Baker, a 23-year-old civil engineer, saw this same sight in the 1890s, he was inspired to build the world’s first fully underground hydropower plant. The facility is still producing electricity more than a century later. The picturesque Salish Lodge and Spa, a resort with 84 rooms, sits above Snoqualmie Falls.
That night, Jim returned to Anacortes to start building the kayak; I settled in with Caley.
The next day we explored the city via bicycle. Since I’ve never been fond of biking that requires me to share the road with cars, I rode behind Bob on a tandem. From Caley’s apartment on Lake Washington, we rode downtown to the Seattle Aquarium, which sits on the waterfront. We arrived during one of three daily dive shows in the Windows on Washington Waters, a 120,000-gallon exhibit. The reactions of the group of children watching the divers was almost as entertaining as watching the 800 fish and invertebrates on the wet side of the glass. Around the corner, we touched sea cucumbers and sea anemones in the Life on the Edge exhibit that mimics the coastal tide pools in the Puget Sound. In other parts of the aquarium, I was mesmerized by the graceful, almost hypnotic movements of the moon jellyfish. I learned more about the arduous journey salmon make from ocean to river, which made me vow not to complain about biking up Seattle’s hills.
Before resuming our bike tour, we went to the nearby Pike Place Market, a 9-acre neighborhood market famous for fish, flowers and farm-fresh produce. Established in 1907 as one of the nation’s first farmers markets, it has expanded to offer locally made artisanal and specialty foods, and products imported from around the world. We paused to watch fishmongers throw the catch of the day, then browsed the craft market with works of art from 225 craftspeople. While eating lunch at one of the restaurants overlooking Elliott Bay, we watched buskers entertain passersby on sidewalks, and boats coming and going on the water.
Boats that go from the Puget Sound to Lake Washington must pass through the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, nicknamed the Ballard Locks. Built in 1911, they provide a passage from the salt water of Puget Sound to the fresh water of Lake Union and Lake Washington. I was impressed with the fish ladder that allows salmon to pass between fresh and salt water. Through glass panels below the water line, we watched the fish swim through the ladder.
Since we’d worked up an appetite biking around Seattle, we decided to reward ourselves with a nice dinner. We swapped the bikes for a car, and headed to FareStart Restaurant, a nonprofit that trains people who are down on their luck for jobs in the food service industry. It was Guest Chef Night at the restaurant and graduation for six of the people who had gone through the demanding 16-week training. While we were eating the delicious three-course meal designed by a local chef and prepared by the students, each graduate addressed the audience. One woman said, “Not only did FareStart teach me culinary arts skills, it taught me to be a better me.” Soon tears were dripping into my soup.
The next morning, back at the Skin Boat School, Corey Freedman was teaching Jim and the other students how to build baidarkas (Aleutian kayaks) with techniques he’s mastered during the last 20-plus years. Arctic natives developed and refined skin-on-frame boats over thousands of years. After Freedman studied authentic Aleutian methods and historically documented designs, he helped resurrect this lost art using modern materials. Since opening the Skin Boat School in 1990, he has helped students build more than 1,500 kayaks — fewer than 15 have been tandems. To my delight, Jim decided to build one with room for me. The frame is made of red-and-yellow cedar, bound together with ties of artificial sinew (waxed nylon), covered with ballistic nylon and coated with urethane.
My knowledge of woodworking starts and ends with sandpaper, so I didn’t expect to be much use to Jim in boat building, but I offered my unskilled labor. Soon I found myself engrossed in the process. After the last urethane coat was applied, we needed to wait 48 hours to let it dry.
We passed the afternoon in Deception Pass State Park. The pass is a narrow strait separating Whidbey Island from Fidalgo Island, where Anacortes is located. A picturesque bridge, 976 feet in length and 180 feet above the water, connects the two. The beach was crowded with fishermen, all of them happy with their catches, and for good reason. The 2013 estimate for pink humpy salmon returning to the Skagit River to spawn was 1.2 million.
We took an early ferry to Friday Harbor to visit Jim’s brother, Charlie, and his wife, Roxanna, on San Juan Island. As longtime residents of this island paradise, they helped us make the most of our visit. Our first stop was South Beach in San Juan Island National Historical Park. We walked along the pebble beach, admiring the piles of driftwood and listening to the sounds of sea gulls and waves lapping the shore. Next they took us to Lime Kiln Point State Park, a popular whale watching spot. The kayakers gliding by the lighthouse made us even more eager to get ours in the water.
The next morning we had a leisurely breakfast at Roche Harbor, a resort community on the northwest side of the island, and Jim and Charlie played bocce ball while Roxanna and I browsed the local artisans’ booths. It was soon time for the early afternoon ferry to return us to the mainland.
Back at the Skin Boat School, we picked up Jim’s beautiful, eye-catching kayak (I lost count of all the people who asked him about it in RV parks and parking lots). The next morning we were up at daybreak and eager to try out the kayak. We moved the motorhome to an RV park near Seattle, and launched the kayak from a beach on Lake Washington. Caley and Bob were there to cheer and snap photos. We soon found a comfortable rhythm and rowed along the shore, surprising nesting birds and waving to people on land. Our maiden voyage was a great success.
We couldn’t leave Seattle without seeing three of the area’s most famous attractions. The Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour offers the only public tour of a commercial jet assembly plant in North America. Even the building itself is impressive, the largest in the world by volume. We saw numerous airplanes (747s, 777s, and 787 Dreamliners) in various stages of assembly.
The Space Needle is the symbol of Seattle. Built for the 1962 World’s Fair, the tower stands 605 feet high. Our elevator ride to the observation deck took 41 seconds. The must-see view from the top showcases many of the city’s best features: the downtown skyline, the Olympic and Cascade mountains, Elliott Bay and the surrounding islands.
Chihuly Garden and Glass sits next to the Space Needle. Dale Chihuly is a well-known glass sculptor. His large-scale blown-glass sculptures are exhibited in museums and hotels around the world. This facility includes the Exhibition Hall with eight unique galleries, the Glasshouse with a 100-foot-long suspended sculpture, and the Garden with four huge sculptures and several installations nestled among the plants and flowers.
Of the 101 items on the “Get a Life” List, we did 15. We included most of Caley’s favorites, with one notable exception — flying trapeze lessons at Emerald City Trapeze Arts. We’ll leave that to the younger generation. But we do look forward to knocking off another 15 on our next visit to Seattle.
Interstate 5 is the main highway running north to south through Seattle, and Interstate 90 runs east to west. When touring the downtown area, or taking the ferry to San Juan Island, it’s best to use your dinghy vehicle.
WHERE TO STAY
Lakeside RV Park