The Skagit Delta - Northwest passages: riding out the storm - CycleBlaze

July 13, 2020

The Skagit Delta

Today’s ride is one I’ve been looking forward to since we arrived in Bellingham.  The Skagit delta has some of the most pleasurable cycling opportunities in the region.  We touched on the edge of it a couple of times now, with our day rides to Edison and Sedro Woolley.  Today though we’re taking the car down to Edison and starting from there.  We’ve mapped out a loop that extends south through La Conner to Conway, generally following the coastline; and returns to Edison by an inland route through the county seat, Mount Vernon.

As expected, we’ll experience about miles of flat, easy cycling - there really isn’t a rise of note in the entire loop.  And, again as expected, we’ll enjoy some wonderfully scenic cycling - 35 miles of it.  Unfortunately, that leaves about 15 pretty crappy remaining miles: the ride from Mount Vernon back to Edison on Route 11 (the road that becomes beautiful Chuckanut Drive a bit further north).  It didn’t help that we were fighting a 15-20 mph headwind for this final stretch of the loop, but mostly it’s just an unpleasant ride, grinding out one mile after another on a too busy, none too interesting secondary highway.

Other than that, it was pretty much a perfect day out on the bikes.  If I could change one thing, it would be the itinerary.  The next time we’re down we’ll either just ride an out and back to Conway or bypass Mount Vernon and find a quieter way back to Edison.

And if I could change two things?  I’d re-experience one of the most delightful wildlife scenes I can remember, but have Rachael next to me sharing in it.  While biking the short but delightful Padilla Bay Trail, Rachael got a bit ahead of me.  I stopped to take her photo across a small channel and then looked down in the water, surprised to see a creature surface.  And then another, and another, and another.  A pod of river otters was working its way inland up the narrow channel, performing their charming river dance.  

I tracked them as they neared the end of the channel beneath the bike path, expecting them to turn back and head to the shoreline again.  That’s not what happened though.  When they reached land, they climbed out of the water, scrambled up the rocks to the edge of the bike path, and then paused to look around.  Then, abruptly, they all scrambled across the bike path and spilled back into the channel on the other side.

I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and maybe won’t again; although when we come back to Padilla Bay I’m sure we’ll have our eyes out for the otters.

And if I could change three things about the ride?  I’d have been quick-witted enough to think to take a video of the otters crossing the bike path, so I could share it with you and we could look back on it when we’re older and greyer.

On the Padilla Bay Trail, south of Bay View.
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Looking across Padilla Bay. The two low lumps are Hat Island and Saddlebag Island, I think.
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Looking across Padilla Bay toward Anacortes on the far left, and Guemes Island.
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Rachael rounds a bend on the Padilla Bay Trail. The otters are in the channel between us.
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Otters must be about the most entertaining species to watch - right up there with brown pelicans. It’s such a rare treat to get to see them so close up like this.
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I was so startled when they started scrambling up the rocks.
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Ron SuchanekWow, you don't see that every day.
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4 days ago
The bike path needs an otter crossing sign. I was amazed by this, and it unfolded so quickly that I almost failed to get a photo of it.
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Along the Padilla Bay Trail.
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Along the Padilla Bay Trail.
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South of Padilla Bay, we cross about fifteen miles of broad, flat delta land, cycling past one plane acreage after another. Many of the fields are labeled to identify the crops. Like the mid-Willamette Valley, the crop diversity here is amazing.
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It’s a Ford.
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Shawn AndersonLooks like a 1935 pickup. Threw me off as it has almost the same grill of a '33 roadster along with the fairings and running board.
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1 week ago
Goat and bicycle. This is a bed and breakfast out in the middle of the cropland. It looks like it would be a delightful place to stay over and pet their friendly goats.
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The North Fork of the Skagit River: a short distributary that splits from the main river just a few miles from the bay, visible ahead.
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The view north from Fir Island Road, crossing the triangle between the north and south forks of the river. I never knew how beautiful a field of potatoes could be. In the distance, Chuckanut Mountain.
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Potatoes and a volcano.
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Jen GrumbyIf I saw a painted version of this scene, I wouldn't believe that the colorful stripes were real.

Another great spot for a comfortable bench!
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3 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyIt was a surprise to us too. The Skagit Valley is famous for its flower displays in the spring, but I didn’t realize that included potatoes.
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3 weeks ago
Ron SuchanekNot pet-a-potatoes, I gather...
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4 days ago
On Fir Island Road still, which in spite of this look is very quiet. This long queue is backed up behind a huge agricultural vehicle that ties up most of the road.
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Barn of the day, Fir Island.
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Fir-Conway Lutheran Church.
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On Dike Road (another outstanding cycling road that follows the South Fork north to Mount Vernon), I stopped for a photograph of the hop dryer on the left. Then, getting back on the bike, I looked behind me and saw a second one on the far side of the field.
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On Dike Road still, I was transfixed by this hawk atop a rusting disker. Oblivious to my presence, he kept preening himself, splaying out his wings and tail feathers. Another spot I should have taken a video, obviously.
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Half-barn of the day, Dike Road.
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One freshly shorn alpaca, Dike Road.
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Two freshly shorn alpacas, Dike Road.
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The alpacas are interesting, but so are the other bikers.
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The Division Street Bridge, Mount Vernon. If we repeat this loop, we’ll cross the river here instead of continuing north, and get back onto the farming roads.
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Impressive! It gives me a headache thinking about lugging these around all day.
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Ride stats today: 49 miles, 500’

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Jen GrumbyThat otter experience .. how lucky!
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3 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyReally. Feels like a once in a lifetime event.
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3 weeks ago