Burning Eyes of Fire

I was SO excited.  We were finally hitting the road!  It had been a while since we had done any travelling.  We had just moved into our first house.  It was a huge endeavour that took much more time and energy that I had anticipated.  The fruits of our labor included an amazing summer in our new oasis.

I was craving some time on the road.  Some time away to explore and be free.  We had a great two weeks planned, packed full of craft beer, cycling, and outdoor exploration.  We arose before sunset.  As we backed out of the driveway in our little Subaru, packed to the brim with bikes and outdoor gear, we were guided by the soft glow of the moonlight.

The summer had been an absolutely terrible one for forest fires.  We were fortunate.  Being in Alberta, and the fires mostly burning in British Columbia, the most we experienced were some minor inconveniences when we had to cancel cycling or hiking plans due to poor air quality.  For those in the heart of it, lives had been changed.  I didn’t realize how much, until we embarked on our exciting little road trip.

As we made our way west and into British Columbia, we found ourselves engulfed in a a smokey haze.  As we headed South, the air began to clear up.  We thought we were through it.  But, as we got closer and closer to our destination of Hood River, Oregon, the clouds of soot thickened until at times we could barely see.

When we finally got out of the Subaru and walked towards our hotel, we were engulfed in a thick, dense, massive cloud.  It turned out that a forest fire had just started, only miles from where we were.  The air quality was so bad that we could barely walk a block before our eyes were burning and our throats were stinging.  This was no condition for cycling, or outdoor time of any sort.

We checked into our hotel, with thoughts of positivity that we would chill out for the couple of nights we had booked and see what would happen.  We made the best of the situation, checked out the local breweries, and took time to relax.  But as the second day began and the smokey smell only worsened, we found ourselves unsure about our next step.  Upon examination of the air quality maps online, it was apparent that all of Oregon was smothered in smoke, and it wasn’t going to clear up in the next few days, maybe even weeks.  The situation for Washington was just as bleak.  Since we were planning to end up in Seattle at the end of our two week trip, we were hesitant to drive too far.  It seemed that we would have to drive almost 2 days east or south to escape this growing cloud.  Cycling in bend, as I had longed for ever since our first time there, was clearly out of the picture.

What to do?  What to DO???  We examined maps, searching and searching for somewhere to go.  Driving time, availability, and cost were all factors.  Finally, we settled on San Juan.  It seemed like the only glimmer of clarity in this smokey mess.  We were taking a risk that the wind could blow the smoke in that direction, thus putting us back into the smokey haze.  At this point, it seemed like the only viable option.  The risk was worth taking.

When my husband, James, was searching for accommodations, he asked me if I would prefer a ‘crappy place off the water’ or a ‘crappy place on the water’.  ‘On the water!’, I declared.  I figured we might as well have a view.

The next morning we drove away from the haze.  Because the main highway was closed only a few miles West from Hood River, we ended up on a smaller, windier road.  Sometimes life takes you in an unexpected, yet delightful direction!  This road was beautiful.  We wound our way through lush forest, over small bridges and bubbling brooks, and sunk into the loveliness of nature.

As we passed by the orange glow of the fire, sadness engulfed my heart.  Such beauty was literally being burnt to the ground.  We were so fortunate to be able to simply drive away.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to have this tragedy occurring in your home town.  The building fear and anxiety as the burning ball of fire threatens to destroy your whole existence would be hard to bear.  We felt deeply grateful.

A bit of driving took us to the port where we would embark on a ferry.  I love ferry rides. I love being out in the open water, the breeze blowing through my hair, and filling me with fresh air.  And fresh it seemed after the haze we had left.

A night in Oak Harbour, a drive, another ferry ride, and we had finally reached our destination, Friday Harbour.  We parked and we strolled.  We found a lively little cafe packed to the brim, people spilling out the door.  The very informal queuing system soon found us seated and drinking coffee.  After a hearty breakfast, we pondered our next move.  It was foggy, but fresh.  So we decided to park and go cycling.  Since the place we would be staying in wasn’t ready yet, we had to create an outdoor change room using our Subaru and some bushes.  After some fumbling around, we were able to locate everything we needed.  We mounted our bikes, and off we went.

What a lovely ride we had!!! It was quite foggy, but not enough to be concerned.  We road  via Pear Port to the edge of the west side of the island.  It was a simple out and back.  The roads were quiet.  It was peaceful.  It felt nothing less than spectacular to be out, on our bikes, breathing in the fresh air.  I felt like a whole new person as we rolled back towards the Subaru.  After being cooped up in a car and various hotels and engulfed in smoke, this was an amazing existence!!!

We took the evening to explore the town, finding food, drinks and even live blues! It seemed like our trip was finally taking shape.  Until the next morning.  Rain.  Lots and lots of rain.  Since the crappy little place we were staying in was literally right on the water, we stayed in the little bed, reading, and watching the world move before us.  Boats came and went.  Birds flocked.  Except of the two bird statues that I thought were real birds until I started to ponder how they could be so still for so long.  The rain continued to pour.

Eventually, we had to give up on the ride we wanted to do.  We ventured out and found a quaint little seafood diner.  We got the rock star table in the corner with a view of the whole town.  I had fish and chips, my hubby had shrimp and chips.  It is so much fun to say ‘shrimp and chips’, isn’t it?  We simply sat and watched the town happenings.  The chaos of the process, or lack thereof, for loading the ferry amused us.  The frequent almost collisions stopped surprising us after a while.  People came.  People went.  The rain poured.

Since we couldn’t ride, we decided to drive.  We explored the other side of the island.  Instead of being disappointed, we stopped along the way and took in the beauty.  The rain was starting to let up, and there were paths to explore.  As we drove through the lovely forest and winding roads, we saw a sign for cider and a distillery.  Why not stop?  As we waited for the next tour to start, we strolled around and explored the grounds.  Behind the building was a big, open space, bordered by tall trees.  The sun had made an appearance by this time, and the bright reflection off the golden leaves created a warm hue.

The tour and tasting was provided by a very laid back man.  He had been running the cider side of the business for a long time.  He co-owned the place with a couple, and the three of them picked every apple used in the process.  After a tour and a tasting, we went on our way, chatting excitedly about this little gem of a find.

The next morning we woke up to fog so thick we could barely see anything out of the windows.  My heart sunk.  It seemed like there still wouldn’t be any riding today.  Oh well.  I opened my book and sunk into bed with a cup of coffee.  But, after an hour or so, the fog lifted.  We got on our bikes, and off we went!!!  Since we had driven the east side of the island only the day before, we knew where to best roads were to cycle on.  We covered everything we thought we would miss out on.

Rolling hills.  Lush forest.  Fresh, crisp air. We whipped around, feeling free, feeling alive!!! Oh it was so much fun. My most favourite stretch on this ride found us on a small road, winding its way through tall, dark green trees reaching for the bright blue sky.  This section provided for us many steep, short hills.  When we had started the ride, I had felt groggy.  But by this point, I was quite warmed up.  I really got into it.  I found myself standing up on the pedals, and giving it all I had on the rollers.  What a thrill!

By the time we got back, we had just enough time to quickly shower, put on our jerseys, and find a place to watch the Seahawks game.  I was famished!  Nachos and beer did the trick.

love the feeling of a good, hard ride.  And the rewards after including food, and such a feeling of calm and relaxation.  That evening found us on the picnic bench outside of the place we were staying in, with some wine and a picnic.  We took it all in.  It was absolutely beautiful.  We even got a couple of little visitors, a pair of otters who playfully slide onto the dock below us.

When things don’t go as planned, salvage what you can, then move on!  Go with the flow.  There just may be a hidden gem around the corner that would have otherwise gone undiscovered.

Check out the rides we did as I captured them on Strava:

San Juan Pear Port

San Juan Friday Harbor to Roche Harbor and Back


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