Scenic roads are fun to take in by on your own, but they are also fun in a group from time to time. I ventured out on a group ride with a few fellow Suzuki V-Strom riders this past weekend. The ride was organized through Stromtroopers.com. In all, 10 riders converged upon Old Strokers Benchrace Café to start the ride at 10 a.m.
After brief greetings were exchanged and everyone was satisfied with their salivating over others’ motorcycle customizations. It was “stands up” time. We fired up our beasts and headed north on Interstate 5 to exit 199 where we headed through the Tulalip Indian Reservation on Marine Drive NE.
The road winds you along the Puget Sound. The heavily forested area has homes scattered throughout and from time to time allows brief views of the Sound. It is a very scenic route. In fact, you have to be careful of the car drivers who are too busy enjoying the scenery to pay attention to the road. We didn’t have any issues this time, but I’ve traveled along this route before and folks taking in the scenery cross yellow lines, white lines and focusing on the road is secondary to the views.
Our first stop was at Kayak Point County Park. We took in waterfront views and snapped a few photos. It is funny how all of these people come together with a common interest in bikes and yet we don’t know each other’s names. We’re forced to go by our Web forum screen names in order for previous conversations to be remembered.
Back up the steep and heavily treed park road to Marine Drive where we continue heading north through Stanwood on our way to La Conner. The road changes names as you cross the county line from Snohomish County to Skagit County. Stick to State Route 530 and you’ll follow the same path as we did. Trust me, you’ll be glad that you took this scenic route instead of super-slab I-5.
I grew up on a farm and enjoy seeing old barns, tractors and animals in the fields. This route allows you to take in the numerous smells of the different animals. As I’m enjoying all the different odors in my olfactory neurons are suddenly overcome with the sweet sugary smell of silage. Open-air cars would likely give you some of the same experiences, but this is why I ride a motorcycle. It allows you to take in information about your surroundings from all of your senses. It enhances the experience of that stretch of road. Smell is the sense most closely tied to memory. Perhaps that is why I ride through the infinite odors along the route and can’t help but think of my childhood pushing cattle from field to field and taking our horses on 20-mile runs to “let them breath” a bit.
The area near Stanwood north to La Conner is some of the most beautiful farmland I’ve come across. The farmer’s fields are planted with various crops including many varieties of flowers. The rolling hills of the fields are flanked by mountains to the east and open up to the Puget Sound to the West including the San Juan Islands. It is truly spectacular scenery. A painter would be hard pressed to do the imagery justice.
The mind drifts, but I must rein it in and concentrate on maneuvering the road at hand.
We turn west from SR 530 onto Fir Island Road, which changes its name to Best Road as it sweeps from westbound to northbound. This is prime Tulip and Iris country. Driving these back roads in late April and early May provides views of thousands of acres of flowers.
We hang a left and head into La Conner.
La Conner is a humble town of less than 1,000 people located 55 miles north of Seattle and 75 miles south of Vancouver, B.C. This small town really pulls in the local tourists. The historic downtown area located along Morris Street and First Street are situated along the Swinomish Channel near the mouth of the Skagit River. Many antique shops and restaurants line the streets. It is a great back road destination for taking an easy stroll from shop to shop.
The people walking the sidewalks weren’t used to seeing a gang of motorcyclists riding in formation atop… what’s this, these aren’t bikes of American Iron. The heads turn as the string of tall V-Stroms decked out dual-sport tires with luggage hanging from both sides of the bike and adorned with bash guards and other dirt road accessories. We quietly roll through town and park.
We met another V-Strom rider on the street. He left the tall beast in the garage at home and on this day was riding another bike of the inline-four variety. We invite our new friend to join us as we walk across the street for lunch.
We strolled into the La Conner Brewing Company and made a “b-line” to their covered outdoor patio. It was the perfect spot for all of us to partake in the brewery’s decent, but expensive faire. The menu includes something for all tastes. They have 10” pizzas with what seems like an infinite amount of toppings. The menu screams pizza place, but I go for the bacon cheeseburger with a salad and lemonade. I was pleased with the meal and the service for our large group. The burger was good, but my bill with a decent tip came to nearly $17 for a burger. Ouch! I will return to the La Conner Brewery, but I’ll be ready with a full wallet.
Stories of trips, feats and other nonsense were flying at the several tables that we occupied. Our new friend told stories of his recent trip to Prudhoe Bay Alaska. It turns out that a couple of the guys had previously met him at a V-Strom gathering in Reno last year. The world is small when you ride it on a motorcycle. You make friends everywhere you go.
Now with full bellies we jump on the motorcycles and ride across the Rainbow Bridge onto Fidalgo Island. As we ride across the Swinomish Channel I wonder if the Rainbow Bridge inspired Jimi Hendrix’s early seventies film by the same name. Does anyone know the answer to this question?
We follow the Simlik Bay’s shoreline up to State Route 20 and ride into the town of Anacortes. We continue straight through town to Washington Park on the northwestern point of the island. This is a fantastic viewpoint of the San Juan Islands. There is a narrow one-lane tree-lined road that follows the shore. This is a great spot for picnics. Trust me on this one. Head there for a little day camping with the kids and everyone will be happy. We stop and snap a few photos, but keep pushing on.
Riding the western perimeter of Anacortes provides nice twisty roads that beg for a foot peg to scrape. Alas, it is a populated area and the speed limits keep our natural hooligans cooped up for now. We leave Fidalgo Island heading over the beautiful Deception Pass Bridge to Whidbey Island on SR 20. Yachts navigate the waters that divide the two islands. History books say that George Vancouver gave this area the name of “Deception” because it looks deceptively like a bay with connecting land on one side. Vancouver mapped the area and rightfully designated Whidbey as an island in 1792.
We gently sway through the island on SR 20 and pass the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. The road mostly allows speed limits of 45-55 miles per hour. These speeds are perfect for taking in the many fields, water views and wildlife. There are many places to stop and explore on the island, but we are determined to make it to the ferry on the southern edge.
Arriving in Clinton it is obvious that we’re getting close to the ferry. Cars are lined up on the right shoulder patiently waiting for space on the vessel to cross over to Mukilteo and the rest of the mainland. The beauty of riding a motorcycle on the Washington State Ferry System is that you don’t wait in any lines. There are different rules for each ferry, but the general rule is that motorcyclists can pass the two-mile long waiting lines and ride straight up to the ticket booths. Pretty sweet! It gets even better. After buying your ticket bikes can pull to the front of the large parking lot ahead of the cars. When the ferry is ready, motorcycles are loaded and unloaded first. This is a huge time saver.
The short 20-minute ride to Mukilteo is spent recapping the ride and discussing future rides. These Stromtrooper.com guys are a good bunch. It is time to make these rides a regular occurrence.
Here’s LowAndSilent’s video of the ride.