My Unexpectedly Excellent Birthday Adventure Cycling in the San Juans: A Journal
A San Juan Islands Bicycle Adventure, as told by a former guest…
The date on my calendar has been ringed in red since January 1st. I watched it approach with equal parts exhilaration and trepidation—September 18th, the day I turned the Big Five-Oh. The day I embarked on the biggest adventure of my life so far: A six-day bicycle tour of the San Juan Islands.
This is my story.
Let me start with a little background. I’ve never been particularly athletic—even as a kid, I’m the one who could never do a criss-cross jumping rope during gym class, nevermind doubles. I didn’t play high school sports; I marched in the band. With my piccolo.
My spirit animal is a three-toed sloth…actually, make that a stuffed three-toed sloth.
Let’s just say if you ever met me in the supermarket stocking up on Cheez Whiz, crackers, and hazelnut Coffee Mate, you’d never think to yourself, “There goes a woman who would crush a bicycle tour.”
And yet…with the devastating date looming large on my iCal…that’s exactly what I did.
Bicycle Tour: T-minus 6 weeks
So there’s no bike in my garage—probably because I don’t even have a garage. No matter, I’m still taking steps to prepare for my trip. I read up on fitness tips for 50+ athletes and I’m taking the stairs at work, walking laps in the park during lunch, and building my nonexistent core with a stability ball while I catch up on “This Is Us” episodes.
And I joined a spin class at the Y. It’s not so bad, but I’ve come to a stunning realization: Must. Get. Padded. Shorts.
Bicycle Tour: T-minus 4 weeks
Padded shorts (aka ”chamois” if you want to be in on the lingo) are a life-changing investment. Ditch those hot-pink athletic shorts and get yourself a little strategic padding. Trust me on this.
I’m also upping my lean protein and vitamin D consumption—if you looked in my grocery basket today, you might, might think, “This woman is a serious athlete in training.” Or you might think I have a dozen cats, given the amount of seafood and dairy in there. It could go either way.
Can I get real for a minute: I called Bicycle Adventures and reserved an eBike for my tour. Now don’t be a hater—I’m going to do this tour on my terms and that means leveling the playing field with all those cyclists who’ve been doing this for years.
I want to see and do it all, and there just isn’t enough time to conjure my inner Lance Armstrong before I go.
I’m planning to post about a million selfies from my birthday bike tour and I’d prefer not to do it from the back of the pack, looking at everyone’s derriere.
Bicycle Tour: T-minus 1 day
This is actually happening. Freak-out level on a scale of one to 10: Eleventy!!!!111!!!!
My packed duffel bag is sitting sentinel by the front door, capped by my ridiculously floral Nutcase helmet. Seriously though, I’ve got enough self-awareness to know Nutcase is pretty much the only helmet I could wear with a straight face. I’m feeling like a nutcase right now.
My flight to Seattle leaves at the crack of dawn. I toss back one last protein shake and try to sleep.
San Juan Islands, Day One
I don’t know about you, but I kind of feel like a celebrity when someone meets me at the airport. For today? You can call me Bey.
It was awesome to have Bicycle Adventures on hand to pick me up and whisk me away to the ferry at Anacortes. I didn’t even mind that my destination was Cattle Point (insert your own joke here).
Truth: I was prepared for a little heckling when I mounted my eBike. But I’m looking around at my bicycle tour comrades and I realize—we’re in this together. And I’m not the only one on an eBike. And no one even cares! My inner three-toed sloth is doing a celebration dance—all the way up and down the gentle island hills. This trip is going to be awesome.
Just when it seemed life couldn’t get any better, we arrived at Lakedale Resort at Three Lakes.
I’m beyond thrilled that this luxurious lodge is my home for the next three days. A girl could get used to this (possibly even without chamois).
The timid, unathletic three-toed sloth in me is secretly glad to have plenty of time to relax before dinner, but the newly empowered almost 50-year-old, semi-fit woman in me is raring to get back on the bike.
The people in my tour group are amazing. If I play my cards right, I’m pretty sure I’ll make a few friends.
San Juan Islands, Day Two
Eggs, granola, yogurt, and fruit—breakfast of champions, my friend! I’m kitted out in my new Bicycle Adventures jersey and my snazzy Giro cycling shoes. It’s my birthday today; I’m officially 50, but I’m torn between publicly celebrating this badge of honor and keeping it quiet. Is there anything more obnoxious than a group of strangers singing “Happy Birthday” off-key over scrambled eggs?
Fortunately, there’s little time to ponder my dilemma—we’re off to our bikes and around the island.
Before I know it, we’ve made our way along the coast past English Camp on the whale trail to Lime Kiln State Park. And I’m not even tired. It’s selfie time with the pods of orcas swimming offshore.
And then we’re off to the Pelindaba lavender farm. As a newly minted 50-year-old woman, this is a dream come true—I’m face-to-face with the flora and fauna responsible for all those lavender candles and sachets in my apartment and, cliche or not, it’s amazing.
We’re on our own for dinner in Friday Harbor tonight, but that’s not really how it worked out. The Bicycle Adventures staff surprised me with an incredible birthday dinner. And cake, but thankfully without all 50 candles. No need to call the fire department tonight, guys.
Fifty feels pretty darn good.
San Juan Islands, Day Three
Gave the chamois a break—we’re kayaking the Puget Sound and the Salish Sea. I could give you a long list of the birds and marine wildlife we saw, but can we just talk about the bufflehead? It may just be my new spirit animal.
It’s a tiny duck, a bit of a loner (I can relate), but it’s super enthusiastic when it comes time to eat (I can also relate).
I can’t stop watching these odd little waterbirds. Facebook friends, watch out—I’m posting about a thousand pics of my new spirit animal.
Then it’s off to Roche Harbor, which is exactly the type of place you’d want to be on the first day of your 51st year of life. I grab a coffee and peruse the village artists’ booths, where I treat myself to a gorgeous sea-glass necklace and matching earrings.
I meet up with a couple of women I met on the tour for a lakeside lounge in the sun and a glass of wine before dinner.
Life is good. And my bum is well-rested and ready for a full day in the saddle tomorrow. I’m not even exaggerating when I say I’m having the time of my life!
San Juan Island, Day Four
We’re boarding the ferry again, this time for Orcas Island. This is my do-or-die bicycle tour moment—can I conquer the switchbacks and turns and master the climb to Mt. Constitution?
Truth bomb one: eBike or not, this is my toughest ride on the tour so far.
Truth bomb two: I am my own worst enemy.
I can do this. And it is going to feel so darn good when I do.
I shed my inner sloth and bufflehead and, with a quick word of thanks for my trusty eBike, I start pedaling.
And I pedal some more and I think maybe I can’t do this and I might die right here on this road and my stupid flowery helmet and chic chamois shorts won’t save me.
Then my eBike kicks in. And I’m not even thinking about what I’m doing or whether I’m dying because the incredible Cascade Mountains are all around me and the San Juan archipelago is spread at my feet like an emerald carpet and I don’t really care about anything but this moment. I’m alive and happy and doing something I never imagined I could do.
The ferry to Lopez Island and the Edenwild Inn is a happy blur.
I. Did. It.
San Juan Islands, Day Five
If you’ve done any research about the best places in the U.S. to ride a bike, you’ve probably come across Lopez Island. When it comes to cycling chill, “Slow-pez” takes the cake.
The Lopezian wave? Yeah, that’s a real thing. I’m beginning to love the two-fingered salute from car-drivers passing by.
I don’t even need much of the assist from my bike to cycle the flat and friendly terrain. Is it possible I’m actually getting in shape?
We ride to Spencer Spit State Park and then to Agate Beach, where we take lunch at the 7th Parallel.
Then it’s on to the seals at Watmough Bay—can I change my spirit animal one more time? Because these guys are so amazing, I just can’t even. I’m filling my Insta feed with friendly seals. Is this really my life right now?
And then we cycle back to Edenwild.
You know I’m going to sleep well tonight. Have you seen these rooms?
San Juan Islands, Day Six
Today’s my last day on the bike, and you’d think my body would thank me. Funny thing—my body (yes, even my bum) is really sad my journey is coming to a close.
We start our time in the saddle with a “Free Willy” ride to Fisherman Bay before we head back to Edenwild and our chartered plane ride over the San Juan Islands to Seattle.
I’m coming home—with a whole lot of confidence, great memories, and an impressive cycling tan.
I think I’m going to love being 50.
What are you celebrating this year?
A bicycle tour is a terrific way to celebrate something special. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to do something awesome and confidence-boosting just for you.
We’d love to help you find the perfect bicycle tour to celebrate you. Get in touch today and let’s make some plans. Or if you’re not quite sure a bicycle tour is right for you, sign up for our free email course to learn more about planning a bicycle vacation.
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