A bike ride to Bellingham

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne day last week I took the notion to ride to Bellingham, Washington. I’d never been there, and hey, it is a place I had never been. What better reason?

Well actually the other reason was that I wanted to test my passport, to see if Homeland Security would give me the evil eye. And biking over the border just seemed like such a cool thing to do that it had to be done.

I did not get an early start, but as per Tony’s First Precept of Zycling, I was not in a hurry. By the time I got my snacks and maps together it was 10am and spitting lightly but the sky was bright to the south-west, from whence weather usually flows, so I headed out.

I took my bike on the SkyTrain to Surrey Central Station, then loaded it onto the White Rock bus. When I told the friendly bus driver I was headed for Bellingham he warned me to watch for the exits off the I-5. He did not seem able to compute how I could possibly get there without riding on the freeway. Thus, an early reminder of my first rule of cycle touring: Never Take Directions from Drivers. The bus dropped me off in downtown White Rock, and I rode down 160th/Stayte St. and over the footbridge into the Semiahmoo reserve. I tootled through the sleepy rez and ten minutes later popped out right at the Peace Arch border crossing.

I rode around the car lineups to the customs/immigration building and up to the door with the silver bike rack out front. After just a few minutes in line I flash the passport at the scowling HomSec agent (border guard training includes a whole course in scowling) and politely explain that I am  going for a fun bike ride, with potential to check out a yarn store in Bellingham (i.e. SPEND MONEY IN AMERICA). She radios tersely ahead: “single female on bike, blue jacket, cleared,” waves me through, and I pedal down the bike path into Blaine. Hello U.S.A!

Here is a map of the route I found to bike to Bellingham. I followed the western route around Birch Bay to Ferndale, then the south-western leg from there along the water. Birch Bay was pretty but what was really glorious is when I turned south after Birch Bay to Grandview then rode straight through, around a barrier, to continue on an old paved road. The sun finally broke through the clouds as I pedalled through miles and miles of farmland, vast and car-free. The old road hits the bay then swings east onto Aldergrove, which is also old and car-free. I suspect the entire region is owned and monitored by the BP Oil refinery that I occasionally glimpsed through the trees. Nevertheless it was a magnificent ride, like flying through a dream.

The upper northwest part of Washington is actually a vast flood plain. The only hill to speak of was a long shallow climb inland past Birch Bay, with a good fast downhill into the town of Ferndale. The whole trip was almost surreal in its flatness.

“Historic Downtown Ferndale” is the mid-point of the ride, and it is a bit of a hole. I had been anticipating a latte and a slice of homemade pie but there isn’t even a bakery or a café in that sad little place. That’s what I get for having expectations. I stuffed back a corporate muffin and followed the Nooksack River south out of Ferndale. As I approached Bellingham I hit a bit of outbound rush hour traffic, but it wasn’t onerous and I can honestly say that I never encountered heavy car traffic for the entire 80km+ of ride.

Past Ferndale I rode past an enormous farm growing this stuff. Anyone know what it is…or how it get tied into these elaborate trellises?

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By the time I got to Bellingham it was getting late and I didn’t have lots of time to hang out in town, but I managed to get a fair feel for it. There is this depressing American tendency to replace anything that is vaguely picturesque with a sanitized tourist-friendly facsimile of its former self, but Bellingham actually seems to be a authentic little seaside city with an lively working harbour. The downtown core is brick and funky but not too cutified.

I continued down to Fairhaven, at the southern tip of the route. Fairhaven is the slightly upscale college/boho part of town. By the time I rolled in it was after 6pm and I was getting a little blood-sugar bonked. It appeared that a couple of cheezy high-end mexican places were the only eateries still open for business in Fairhaven. Getting slightly frantic, I asked a local if there was anywhere to eat in this town, and she directed me to a couple of bookstores with cafés attached. One of them was was just on the verge of closing, and the kind proprietor made me a grilled-cheese sandwich which I devoured as the sun begin to dip over the harbour. So satisfied, my body so very alive.

To get back to Vancouver, yet another little miracle: Bolt Bus. To get to the Bolt Bus terminal I had to pedal several km into bike-hostile territory near the Bellis Fair consumer feedlot, so I was glad I had brought my bike lights. I laid my faithful silver beast gently on its side in the bus belly and for $8 we whooshed back to Vancouver, a 2.5-hr trip including border crossing. We pulled into Terminal Station at 10:30 pm and pedalled home to East Van.

This is a totally sweet trip, 80+km of pancake-flat leisure riding that I, a total non-athlete, easily managed in about 6 easy hours of riding (including rest and food stops). All you need is a half-decent bike: nothing fancy, but comfortable. And a taste for exotic international adventure 😉

 

 

 

5 Responses to “A bike ride to Bellingham”

  1. Arthur Orsini Says:

    Carmen – thanks for the inspiration…I’ll be following this … exotic adventure / path less followed!
    cheers, Arthur.

  2. Tony Golding Says:

    Hi carmen, thanks for posting my site. This ride goes to the home town of Bob Luitweiler founder of SERVAS who died recently , over 90 here is a quote from his book Servas an experiment in peace building ” ” All over the world there are small groups and individuals who are working for a society based on Creative Vocation , non-violence and social responsibility ”
    A few years ago I took the ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles , and took a real cycle track to Squim , is that the right spelling ? SERVAS by the way is a world wide host/traveller organisation where you stay for a couple of day , free, and get to know the natives so to speak .

  3. Pattipow Says:

    I’m totally inspired – I know some “coco” folks in Bellingham too, could go and crash somewhere for a night. I’m gonna plan a bikeride!

  4. Mono Brown Says:

    Stumbled upon your blog while researching the bike trip from the border to Bellingham. Can it really be that you did this trip without having to travel along I-5?! Amazing!!! Thanks for sharing. Have checked out your other posts, too, and really enjoy your blog.

  5. Tamara French Says:

    the field filled with elaborate trellises was a raspberry field- a huge crop export for Whatcom County. They were probably tied by migrant workers from Mexico.

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