Bicycles, Life of Carmen, Uncategorized

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?


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 😉




7 Comments on “A bike ride to Bellingham

  1. 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 .

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. What a great route! Thank you for sharing!
    After riding part of it I’ll add one update. The Semiahmoo reserve is now closed to the public. I’d suggest riding along King George Boulevard instead to avoid the hill on 8 ave.
    **When approaching the border the bike path is to the far left**

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