First Overnight: “Urban Bikepacking” from Edmonds to Port Townsend

Excited, nervous, and downright giddy, we exchange four wheels for two and load onto the ferry that goes from Edmonds to Kingston, Washington. We may as well have training wheels, uncertain as we are of biker-ferry protocol. Is it safe to just leave them? Bike-thirsty pirates and misguided harbor seals may be lurking. The ferry attendant kindly instructs us that most people hang the handlebar over the side rail and go upstairs. Then relax.

Inside the ferry, we wander around, scope out the deck for photo ops, and sink into the oversize passenger seats, eager to begin our new adventure.

Ready, set ... not yet.

“Do you have a map?” I ask Jordan. Nope. Brilliant. Up the hill from our ferry terminal destination is a teeny chamber of commerce building, where a helpful older gentleman provides just the right map. (Here is an link to excellent maps of the area.)

From the office, we pedal up the hill on the main drag for a couple of miles, then right on Hansville Road directly after the Albertson’s. Still a bit trafficky, the road is far better than the constant buzzing of cars after the ferry ride. A left onto 288th Street sweeps us through a residential area until we regain Highway 104. After about ten miles and ten stops — adjusting clothes, getting water, puttijng sunglasses on, taking sunglasses off — we reach our first main stop, Port Gamble. Colony-style houses, tidy streets, coffee houses, and quilt shops. Can we stay here, forever? I am officially in love with bike touring.

Crossing the Hood Canal Floating Bridge is not as ominous as forewarned. Huge shoulders profice for biker safety and sanity, and offer an amazing view of the Olympic Mountains.

The real fun, if you are a masochist, begins with the right turn onto Paradise Bay Road directly after the bridge. Although my legs are screaming from the hard pushes required by the added weight on my bike, the sharp wind on my face is exhilarating. A smile curves at the corner of my mouth and extends to a huge grin as a crystalline sky bursts forth from the misty clouds.

Steep ups and downs rollick us forward along the coast through the little towns of Port Ludlow, Mats Mats, and Port Hadlock. From Port Hadlock, we follow Irondale Road until it intersects with Highway 19/Rhody Drive. Taking turns on the draft, we increase our speed to gain time on the bustling highway. After squeezing across a tight bridge with about a millimeter-wide shoulder, a greenway to the right catches my eye. We happily transition onto the wide, scenic path, the Larry Scott Memorial Trail (part of the 130-mile Olympic Discovery Trail). Fallen golden leaves spin in our wake as we enter beautiful Port Townsend.

Struck with awe by the historical buildings and lively marinas, we cycle dreamily through the main strip, en route to a primitive campsite at Fort Warden State Park. The park is an open monument of the battery that guarded the nautical entrance of the Puget Sound in the late 1890s. Rows of white-stacked buildings around the central square allude to what life could have been like in the early 20th century. This gorgeous landmark was the setting for the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman.

There are five hiker/biker sites in the state park. In high season, you should make a reservation ($8 additional). I called the day before to check on the status; with four of the five sites still vacant, our chances were good, so I saved the eight bucks. The price without reservation is $13. Amenities include water, bathhouse, and campfire ring. Shower tokens may be purchased for fifty cents for a three-minute shower. A two-day tour didn’t seem worthy of showering, so we pass. (Sorry about that, everyone else we encountered.)

Setting up a nomadic home is part of the joy of lightweight traveling. We need so little to be comfortable: a tarp, ground cloth, sleeping pad, and bag. All in all — including our camping items plus a jet boil, small fuel canister, food, and a change of clothes — we carry about thirty pounds between the two of us.

We leave our cozy site and continue to explore. The town openly accepts us with its bike lanes, parking, and gear shops all around. The woodwork and paintings in the galleries lure us in to admire the craftsmanship of local artisans.

The gurgle of our stomachs interrupts our attention for fine arts. Forty miles of cycling gives us the license to enjoy all aspects of greasy, gut-busting delights. Sea J’s, a little dive nestled in the marina, satisfies our needs with a whopping portion of fish and chips. Squeezing in the back of the diner, we get a taste of both the local food and the local flare. We must have equally been as strange of a sight to this seaward crowd.

Sauntering out of the greasy spoon in a food coma, we mount our steeds to make the twenty-minute journey back to our campsite to snuggle into our happy little home.

The morning dawns dank and dark. Sunlight seems to be breaching, so we move our breakfast spread of oatmeal, tea, and bananas to a picnic bench by the bay. Sipping hot tea and taking in the morning, we meet a fellow cyclist out to clear his mind for the day. He asks about our trip, and tells us about this amazing blog of one- and two-night adventures called (Thank you, by the way, and sorry I didn’t catch your name!)

Breaking down camp is bittersweet, because it means our journey is nearing an end. We return on the west side of the peninsula, taking in the gorgeous farmland. Once again, the road intersects with the busy highway. Our preoccupation with raw backsides and sore muscles determines our decision to straight shoot back to Kingston.

Racing against the clock, we have eight miles and thirty minutes to catch the 4:00 p.m. ferry. Our 12 mph pace jumps to 15 mph on the uphill sections and we zoom the downhills to make up for any lost second. Amazed at the hidden energy in our tired bodies, we pedal furiously and skid into the loading dock at 3:59. The final push leaves us panting with exhaustion; we barely made it! One minute later the gate lifts and the ferry plunges forward.

Bikes stashed on the rails without a second glance, we limp upstairs and collapse on the benches. Legs totally juiced, we relish in having successfully completed our first cycling tour.

New sport, new addiction: urban bikepacking — the luxuries of town at your fingertips, the wind of the open air on your face.

Get more information about bike overnights.

Tips for this adventure: Favorite lunch stops/watering holes included Port Ludlow Marina and HJ Carroll Park. The most amazing view is at the lighthouse in Fort Warden State Park.

Favorite local bike shops: Das Rad Haus (mountain biking) and Eurosports (road biking), both in Leavenworth, Washington.

4 responses so far ↓

Taylor Hughes - Feb 11, 2014 at 8:02 PM

This is a really neat article little cousin. I know a holy man who rides his bike from the middle of Virginia all the way down to the southern most tip of Florida (about 1600 miles). He also likes to bike up to Quebec. You can use the site, to track your movements / speed / route and receive messages (audibly) while you bike.

mike - Feb 16, 2015 at 8:38 AM

Nice bike story, Thanks for the info!

Tim - Mar 9, 2015 at 2:59 PM

Awesome writing!! Have been looking for some bikecamping/packing ideas for around here and you gave me a GREAT one!! Thanks for sharing!!

Ryan - Jun 23, 2016 at 4:33 PM

Glad to see that when they worked on the Hood Canal Bridge that they included wide shoulders, when I would ride it occasionally in the early 2000s it was ominous and we only half jokingly referred to it as "the bridge of death". Thanks for sharing your trip.

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