Tag Archives: Penn Cove

Bicycling Around Whidbey Island

This account of the trip dates from a letter I wrote home in April, 2015. A few minor changes have been made.

K found an inexpensive cabin rental on Whidbey Island and suggested we bike there. Whidbey is far enough away that I haven’t yet made it there, even though I’ve wanted to. So I thought it was a perfect idea. Later she (wisely) amended her suggestion: let’s just bike to the cabin when we get to Whidbey. There’s a bus that runs directly from Seattle to Everett (home of many Boeing factories) but nothing that took us directly to Mukilteo, where the ferry departs. So in the end we biked 40 miles that first day: from Everett to Mukilteo, and then most of the length of Whidbey Island.

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Our two days of bicycling.

That wasn’t hard for me – I can do 40 miles at the drop of a hat. But that was further than K has ever been on a bicycle, and she was pretty tired when we arrived.

The weather was generally ideal – cool enough to prevent overheating, but not too cold. But when we pulled into Coupeville (about 3 miles from the place we rented) in order to get some food at the grocery store, it started drizzling, which made the last bit of riding cold and unhappy. I still stopped to take some pretty pictures, though.

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On Whidbey Island

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On Whidbey Island

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On Whidbey Island

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Raising mussels

For the last few miles, we rode along a winding, terribly scenic rode that had tremendous views of the water. And in that water, something was going on – I couldn’t tell what, but it looked like some kind of organized fishing operation. It turns out that Penn Cove (where we were) is the site of the largest mussel farm in the US. Oysters and clams are also grown there – and shellfish farming turns out to be ecologically beneficial. Partly because shellfish provide ecological services (they clean the water and provide habitat) and partly because the farming operations don’t feed the shellfish with anything (like fertilizers): they just plant the mussels and then come back, 14 months later, to harvest. In fact they only harvest the mussels as-needed, meaning that first they get an order, and then they go get the mussels (not the other way around). So on our second and third nights there, guess what we ate? Yup: two pounds of mussels each night, steamed simply with butter and spread with lemon juice.

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Delicious

I’ve never eaten so many mussels at one time, and they were delicious.

Needless to say, Penn Cove is also a place where mussels grow well naturally. In fact there was a public beach about a third of a mile from where we were staying where you could go and harvest your own mussels, if you were so inclined. We stumbled upon the beach but decided not to harvest because apparently the timing wasn’t right, but you can see the mussels (in black) clinging to every rock they could lay their barnacled hands on.

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Mussels!

We stayed in a lovely, well-appointed little cabin. It had a lakeside view (a small lake only just barely divided from Puget sound) and a fireplace, which was so nice that first night, when we came in from the cold rain. Over the water we saw an heron (so tall and majestic, as you know), an eagle, and lots and lots of ducks.

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A great view.

Just up the way was an old lodge/in, which had a bar and restaurant (in the middle of what’s otherwise a very rural area). So we stopped in our last day for an afternoon drink (I had a loganberry liqueur made by the Whidbey Island Distillery) and we watched hummingbirds whirr and flit around in the bushes, and an otter that climbed up to sun itself on the dock.

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Watching the otter

I also took some house photos while we were there. This is a multi-story octagonal house with a view of the sea, and below it is the photo of another seaside house, but one which has fallen into disrepair.

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A house

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A house

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On the road.

We rode out on a grey day that threatened rain. But fortunately, the rain held off for a long time. On the way we spotted some buffalo (pictured – probably being raised for meat) and horses, sheep, and cows in various places which I didn’t bother to photograph. For some vistas, though, I couldn’t help stopping and pulling out my camera. You can see the results below.

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On Whidbey Island.

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On Whidbey Island.

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On Whidbey Island.

The place where Whidbey Island ends is famous for its beauty. Deception Pass – a series of two tall bridges that are often shrouded in mist or snow or something else that’s scenic, according to the photos on the internet. But when we were there, it had just started to drizzle; no snow or mist for us. The bridge is narrow, which means the traffic lanes are narrow, which made me reluctant to bicycle across. But the pedestrian walkways on either side are also narrow – wide enough for me to walk through, but only barely wide enough with a bike. One of our handlebars would often snag on one side of the slim passage or the other. But the whole time, we were both mesmerized by the view. The bridge is way up there, and down below, the water roils in eddies and upwellings that are fascinating to watch.

I didn’t photograph it myself – we were too busy getting across – but I did find a photo on the internet that will give you a sense of what it looked like. It was beautiful.

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The roiling waters of Deception Pass.

When we got to the other side, I did snap a photo of the bridge – you can dimly see the second span in the distance. But I agree with the internet – it’s prettier in the mist and the snow.

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Deception Pass

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Deception Pass.

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Deception Pass.

By then the rain was getting pretty miserable. I had packed a decent raincoat for K, but my own was kind of a raincoat/jacket mixture. I figure: what difference does it make? You’re going to get wet anyway. I think that was true for K, too.

In the early afternoon we found a place to stop for a bit – a sodden roadside seafood place that had a large tented area to eat beneath. It was so small that at first we thought there was no indoors area to eat in, but to our good fortune there was. She had a buffalo burger – presumably made with buffalo meat – and I had a fried oyster burger. Which was good, but when you deep fry oysters they taste like everything else that’s deep fried. I don’t think I’d do that again.

The last four miles of bicycling were the rainiest. I took off my glasses because it was easier to see without them. But it was cold, we were tired, and we were soaked.

On the last long descent I had a difficult time slowing down – my bike is naturally faster than K’s and I didn’t want to rear-end her. Both my brakes were fully engaged, but they’re less effective when it’s wet and I was still too close. So I did what I usually do in such situations – I take my foot off the pedal and place it on the ground. The added friction slows me down, but my shoes are not what they once were. They’re now 4.5 years old, and they’ve started to develop holes in the bottom. When we got to the end of the hill I had to pull it off to shake out all the pebbles that had wedged themselves between my sole and shoe pad. K just shook her head.

The end of our ride was a rainy bus stop, where we huddled and changed into drier clothes while we waited for the bus. A succession of three buses took us back to Seattle. Public transportation is grand.

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