Want to visit Whidbey Island but don’t want to worry about a car? Plenty of folks decide to experience the island on people and pedal power. Seeing the island from two wheels definitely has its advantages (with all of the usual safety caveats, of course.)
Step one, get the map. Island County produced a very useful map that highlights the roads, trails, and hazards in a fairly colorful way. Besides the hazards, watch out for the red triangles that designate the hills. There are plenty of them – and also ways around them.
Step two, decide if you’re riding with a goal, or simply to wander. Some routes are best for touring cyclists, those people who have loaded up their bikes with everything they need to cross the continent. Whidbey is a natural route selection for long tours that either start or end in the northwest corner of the US, or as a route that connects to Canada or Mexico. Riding down the island is one way to avoid the mainland for a while, yet still get close to riding past the Space Needle eventually. They’re more likely to track down the main roads that connect the bridge and the ferries: SR 525 and US 20 with a few side roads added.
Wanderers may do the exact opposite. Skip the higher speeds on the main roads and head off on loops past wineries, farms, vistas, and artists. That’s where the map really comes in handy as roads twist without changing names, or change names with only a subtle curve. An advantage of riding on the island, if you get lost, you’ll eventually find water if you don’t get trapped in a loop. Get your bearings and get found again, probably after a bit of an adventure. And stories are the reason for traveling, true?
A previous post points out some geology that cyclists can’t ignore. The glaciers carved valleys. Ride along them, and enjoy relatively straight and flat rides. Take a turn and find yourself working up a hill, and eventually coasting back down. Get close to the bridge and watch the road narrow, the traffic increase, and the path meander up and down to cross the Pass. Ride by the Coupeville ferry, maybe coming to or from Port Townsend, and enjoy flat land and wildlife along Crockett Lake. Down on the south end, get ready for the hill that is Clinton. Local cyclists taking that ferry get great climbing exercise, whether they want it or not.
There’s another option, at least if the bus service is available. Put your bike on the rack in front, either as a way to start, get home, or maybe to skip over some bit you’d rather not pedal. It’s free (for now) and a way to see more of the island in less time and with less effort.
Step three is a lesson from the locals. The locals know one of the other benefits of island cycling. Cars and trucks may have to wait in line to get on a ferry. Bicycles don’t. Easy on. Easy off (except for the hills in Clinton and Mukilteo.) There are even groups that ride in self-proclaimed bike buses. No buses are involved, but there’s safety or at least camaraderie in numbers. There’s also more help around if you need a quick fix. Commuters appreciate having a more reliable schedule, and the ability to work in some exercise. It’s cheaper than taking a car or truck, too; and the buses on the other side may have an open rack as well.
Whidbey’s roads are scenic enough that they’re part of the Cascade Loop, a 440 mile route of roads that shows off some of Washington State’s natural beauty. People travel from around the world to see the scenes from the mountains to the shoreline. Why drive by at almost a mile a minute when you can enjoy it and absorb it at whatever pace feels comfortable. And then, think about those folks who turn that into their daily commute. Just another uncommon aspect of island life.