I needed this getaway. Hell, I needed any getaway, but I was overly fortunate that the San Juans fell nicely into my itinerary, due to a business trip in Seattle. I’d had the islands on my travel to-do list for four years, so I didn’t even mind waking at the butt-crack of dawn to catch a seaplane (my first) to Friday Harbor.
I’d fantasized about what this island chain would be like, but I was way off. It wasn’t the romantically gloomy, fog-enshrouded archipelago my imagination had cobbled up, but the remote world I discovered was just as refreshing, and in some ways even more singular. Where else can you find a community so safe that residents don’t even own keys to their homes? What other destination boasts a national park whose sole purpose is whale watching? Such peculiarities seem downright normal the moment you set foot on any one of the isles.
My trip began with a moped rental from Susie’s, which brought back memories of my dearly departed Kymco scooter (I’d curse the bastards who stole it, but that would be against the islands’ nature) as I tooled around the inner portion of San Juan, the most populated of the islands and the only one with an incorporated village (Friday Harbor). The darkly wooded interior I’d imagined was soon replaced with golden rolling fields reminiscent of Northern Europe, complete with neatly rolled bales of hay wafting warm scents in the afternoon sun. At the start of my jaunt, I was joined by a dragonfly of iridescent blue, who criss-crossed my moped’s path in a game of chicken, as if mocking my measly 50cc horsepower. Before the buzz of his wings had even been swallowed by the breeze, a bald eagle soared mere yards over my helmet, and I swear his golden eye was checking me out. Then, as if on cue, a small private aircraft swooped down to land on the airstrip of the farm I was passing.
Down to Cattle Point Lighthouse I puttered, snapping photos of hay rolls, quaint farm steads, and the overly fragrant False Bay, where the deep salt scent lured me though the flies seemed to flee in swarms. At the park’s visitors’ center, I did as Susie suggested and asked the ranger about the eaglet that had recently been spotted. Sure enough, in the branches outside the building was a nest, stocked with one brown-feathered baby whom the rangers, an elderly couple who delighted in sharing their information of the park, had named “Lucky.” I shared their binoculars with the other visitors of the moment, all of us taking turns to watch Lucky hop about the branches outside her aerie.
After strolling the rocky shores of Fourth of July and South beaches, I returned to the road and headed inland for Pelindaba Lavender Farms, which I smelled before even spotting the undulating fields of purple. I would have visited longer, but I had to return my scooter to Susie by 6PM or it would turn into a pumpkin, and I had yet to hit the main attraction: Lime Kiln Park, the aforementioned orca-viewing grounds. Alas, no orcas that day, although the view of my second lighthouse in less than three hours and the sparkling Haro Strait were sights unto themselves. A glance at my cellphone told me that I had less than an hour to make it clear across the island and, knowing my vehicle’s aversion to inclines steeper than an anthill and not knowing just how far “clear across the island” actually was, I hightailed it back down Bailer Hill Road, with far fewer photo pitstops than on the way out. When I returned my two-wheeled steed to Susie, she was surprised that I was so early, and when I glanced at my cellphone again, I saw that I was a full hour ahead. Ah, those tricky cell towers! My phone had been picking up Canadian service on the west side of the island, and Canucks don’t observe daylight savings.
The cellular mishap was actually a blessing in disguise, because I now had time for a catnap before my dinner at Duck Soup Inn, whose locally grown produce made my meal a standout, especially after the overpriced, overhyped dinner I’d had in Seattle the night before. I would have asked chef/owner Gretchen for the recipe for her simple but elegantly presented twice-baked corn souffle, but I know I would only have mangled it, so it’s for the best.
When I finally put my head to the pillow, I was as far away from my life in Los Angeles as I could have dreamed.