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My Unexpectedly Excellent Birthday Adventure Cycling in the San Juans: A Journal

A San Juan Islands Bicycle Adventure, as told by a former guest
My Unexpectedly Excellent Birthday Adventure Cycling in the San Juans: A Journal

The date on my calendar has been ringed in red since January 1st. I watched it approach with equal parts exhilaration and trepidation—September 18th, the day I turned the Big Five-Oh. The day I embarked on the biggest adventure of my life so far: A six-day bicycle tour of the San Juan Islands.

This is my story.

Let me start with a little background. I’ve never been particularly athletic—even as a kid, I’m the one who could never do a criss-cross jumping rope during gym class, nevermind doubles. I didn’t play high school sports; I marched in the band. With my piccolo.

My spirit animal is a three-toed sloth…actually, make that a stuffed three-toed sloth.

Let’s just say if you ever met me in the supermarket stocking up on Cheez Whiz, crackers, and hazelnut Coffee Mate, you’d never think to yourself, “There goes a woman who would crush a bicycle tour.”

And yet…with the devastating date looming large on my iCal…that’s exactly what I did.


Bicycle Tour: T-minus 6 weeks

My Unexpectedly Excellent Birthday Adventure Cycling in the San Juans: A Journal

So there’s no bike in my garage—probably because I don’t even have a garage. No matter, I’m still taking steps to prepare for my trip. I read up on fitness tips for 50+ athletes and I’m taking the stairs at work, walking laps in the park during lunch, and building my nonexistent core with a stability ball while I catch up on “This Is Us” episodes.

And I joined a spin class at the Y. It’s not so bad, but I’ve come to a stunning realization: Must. Get. Padded. Shorts.

Enough said.


Bicycle Tour: T-minus 4 weeks

My Unexpectedly Excellent Birthday Adventure Cycling in the San Juans: A Journal

Padded shorts (aka ”chamois” if you want to be in on the lingo) are a life-changing investment. Ditch those hot-pink athletic shorts and get yourself a little strategic padding. Trust me on this.

I’m also upping my lean protein and vitamin D consumption—if you looked in my grocery basket today, you might, might think, “This woman is a serious athlete in training.” Or you might think I have a dozen cats, given the amount of seafood and dairy in there. It could go either way.

Can I get real for a minute: I called Bicycle Adventures and reserved an eBike for my tour. Now don’t be a hater—I’m going to do this tour on my terms and that means leveling the playing field with all those cyclists who’ve been doing this for years.

I want to see and do it all, and there just isn’t enough time to conjure my inner Lance Armstrong before I go.

I’m planning to post about a million selfies from my birthday bike tour and I’d prefer not to do it from the back of the pack, looking at everyone’s derriere.


Bicycle Tour: T-minus 1 day

My Unexpectedly Excellent Birthday Adventure Cycling in the San Juans: A Journal

This is actually happening. Freak-out level on a scale of one to 10: Eleventy!!!!111!!!!

My packed duffel bag is sitting sentinel by the front door, capped by my ridiculously floral Nutcase helmet. Seriously though, I’ve got enough self-awareness to know Nutcase is pretty much the only helmet I could wear with a straight face. I’m feeling like a nutcase right now.

My flight to Seattle leaves at the crack of dawn. I toss back one last protein shake and try to sleep.


San Juan Islands, Day One

My Unexpectedly Excellent Birthday Adventure Cycling in the San Juans: A Journal

I don’t know about you, but I kind of feel like a celebrity when someone meets me at the airport. For today? You can call me Bey.

It was awesome to have Bicycle Adventures on hand to pick me up and whisk me away to the ferry at Anacortes. I didn’t even mind that my destination was Cattle Point (insert your own joke here).

Truth: I was prepared for a little heckling when I mounted my eBike. But I’m looking around at my bicycle tour comrades and I realize—we’re in this together. And I’m not the only one on an eBike. And no one even cares! My inner three-toed sloth is doing a celebration dance—all the way up and down the gentle island hills. This trip is going to be awesome.

Just when it seemed life couldn’t get any better, we arrived at Lakedale Resort at Three Lakes.
I’m beyond thrilled that this luxurious lodge is my home for the next three days. A girl could get used to this (possibly even without chamois).

The timid, unathletic three-toed sloth in me is secretly glad to have plenty of time to relax before dinner, but the newly empowered almost 50-year-old, semi-fit woman in me is raring to get back on the bike.

The people in my tour group are amazing. If I play my cards right, I’m pretty sure I’ll make a few friends.


San Juan Islands, Day Two

My Unexpectedly Excellent Birthday Adventure Cycling in the San Juans: A Journal

Eggs, granola, yogurt, and fruit—breakfast of champions, my friend! I’m kitted out in my new Bicycle Adventures jersey and my snazzy Giro cycling shoes. It’s my birthday today; I’m officially 50, but I’m torn between publicly celebrating this badge of honor and keeping it quiet. Is there anything more obnoxious than a group of strangers singing “Happy Birthday” off-key over scrambled eggs?

Fortunately, there’s little time to ponder my dilemma—we’re off to our bikes and around the island.

Before I know it, we’ve made our way along the coast past English Camp on the whale trail to Lime Kiln State Park. And I’m not even tired. It’s selfie time with the pods of orcas swimming offshore.

And then we’re off to the Pelindaba lavender farm. As a newly minted 50-year-old woman, this is a dream come true—I’m face-to-face with the flora and fauna responsible for all those lavender candles and sachets in my apartment and, cliche or not, it’s amazing.

We’re on our own for dinner in Friday Harbor tonight, but that’s not really how it worked out. The Bicycle Adventures staff surprised me with an incredible birthday dinner. And cake, but thankfully without all 50 candles. No need to call the fire department tonight, guys.

Fifty feels pretty darn good.


San Juan Islands, Day Three

My Unexpectedly Excellent Birthday Adventure Cycling in the San Juans: A Journal

Gave the chamois a break—we’re kayaking the Puget Sound and the Salish Sea. I could give you a long list of the birds and marine wildlife we saw, but can we just talk about the bufflehead? It may just be my new spirit animal.

It’s a tiny duck, a bit of a loner (I can relate), but it’s super enthusiastic when it comes time to eat (I can also relate).

I can’t stop watching these odd little waterbirds. Facebook friends, watch out—I’m posting about a thousand pics of my new spirit animal.

Then it’s off to Roche Harbor, which is exactly the type of place you’d want to be on the first day of your 51st year of life. I grab a coffee and peruse the village artists’ booths, where I treat myself to a gorgeous sea-glass necklace and matching earrings.

I meet up with a couple of women I met on the tour for a lakeside lounge in the sun and a glass of wine before dinner.

Life is good. And my bum is well-rested and ready for a full day in the saddle tomorrow. I’m not even exaggerating when I say I’m having the time of my life!


San Juan Island, Day Four

My Unexpectedly Excellent Birthday Adventure Cycling in the San Juans: A Journal

Doe Bay, Orcas Island

We’re boarding the ferry again, this time for Orcas Island. This is my do-or-die bicycle tour moment—can I conquer the switchbacks and turns and master the climb to Mt. Constitution?

Truth bomb one: eBike or not, this is my toughest ride on the tour so far.

Truth bomb two: I am my own worst enemy.

I can do this. And it is going to feel so darn good when I do.

I shed my inner sloth and bufflehead and, with a quick word of thanks for my trusty eBike, I start pedaling.

And I pedal some more and I think maybe I can’t do this and I might die right here on this road and my stupid flowery helmet and chic chamois shorts won’t save me.

Then my eBike kicks in. And I’m not even thinking about what I’m doing or whether I’m dying because the incredible Cascade Mountains are all around me and the San Juan archipelago is spread at my feet like an emerald carpet and I don’t really care about anything but this moment. I’m alive and happy and doing something I never imagined I could do.

The ferry to Lopez Island and the Edenwild Inn is a happy blur.

I. Did. It.


San Juan Islands, Day Five

My Unexpectedly Excellent Birthday Adventure Cycling in the San Juans: A Journal

If you’ve done any research about the best places in the U.S. to ride a bike, you’ve probably come across Lopez Island. When it comes to cycling chill, “Slow-pez” takes the cake.

The Lopezian wave? Yeah, that’s a real thing. I’m beginning to love the two-fingered salute from car-drivers passing by.

I don’t even need much of the assist from my bike to cycle the flat and friendly terrain. Is it possible I’m actually getting in shape?

We ride to Spencer Spit State Park and then to Agate Beach, where we take lunch at the 7th Parallel.

Then it’s on to the seals at Watmough Bay—can I change my spirit animal one more time? Because these guys are so amazing, I just can’t even. I’m filling my Insta feed with friendly seals. Is this really my life right now?

And then we cycle back to Edenwild.

You know I’m going to sleep well tonight. Have you seen these rooms?


San Juan Islands, Day Six

My Unexpectedly Excellent Birthday Adventure Cycling in the San Juans: A Journal

Today’s my last day on the bike, and you’d think my body would thank me. Funny thing—my body (yes, even my bum) is really sad my journey is coming to a close.

We start our time in the saddle with a “Free Willy” ride to Fisherman Bay before we head back to Edenwild and our chartered plane ride over the San Juan Islands to Seattle.

I’m coming home—with a whole lot of confidence, great memories, and an impressive cycling tan.

I think I’m going to love being 50.


What are you celebrating this year?

A bicycle tour is a terrific way to celebrate something special. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to do something awesome and confidence-boosting just for you.

We’d love to help you find the perfect bicycle tour to celebrate you. Get in touch today and let’s make some plans. Or if you’re not quite sure a bicycle tour is right for you, sign up for our free email course to learn more about planning a bicycle vacation.


4 Reasons to go on a Hiking Tour


By: Chad Maurer

If you’ve ridden with us before then you know we love to incorporate other outdoor activities like kayaking, rafting, and hiking into our tours. That’s because we want you to experience our amazing destinations in the best way possible, and sometimes that requires getting off our bikes and taking a closer look.

It turns out that we are more than just a bicycle tour company, we’re adventure travel enthusiasts, and we’re very excited to expand our hiking tour destinations and offerings.

Still skeptical? No problem. Here are some great reasons to choose a hiking tour with Bicycle Adventures!


1. Tour Dates

Olympic NP_Tree 2

Our tour dates are selected to maximize your experience.

For instance, on our Olympic Peninsula Hiking Tours we look at more than just the calendar – we choose our dates based on low tides, so we can thoroughly explore beaches and coastline. To avoid the weekend crowds from nearby big cities, we operate our Mt. Rainier National Park and Columbia Gorge Hiking Tours only on the weekdays.


2. Local Naturalist Guides

Mt Rainier_View

It is easy to appreciate the amazing scenery at these destinations, but what about the story behind the beauty? All our hiking tours are interpretive and led by local naturalist guides whose goal is to create a deeper connection between you and the natural history of the area.

If you are inclined to wonder: How did that mountain get there? What was this place like 25, 100, 1,000, 10,000, or even a million years ago? Is Mt. Rainier an active volcano? Who lived here? How did they survive? Is that Mt. St. Helen’s in the distance? What tree, plant, bird, or animal is that? Why is it here? What is its role? How does it survive? Is this plant edible, medicinal, useful, poisonous, or dangerous?

No problem! Our knowledgeable naturalist guides have the answers to these questions on our Mt. Rainier Tour, and even more to share about the other wonderful ecosystems we visit!


3. Lodging


Location, location, location.

Wherever possible we choose hotels which allow you to go for hikes or walks right outside your door, giving you the opportunity to explore and practice your newly acquired knowledge on your own. That’s why we stay at incredible places like the Timberline Lodge, a National Historic Landmark perched upon the flanks of Mt. Hood, on our Columbia Gorge Hiking Tour. And even though there are several lodging options near Mt. Rainier National Park, the only one located at the aptly-named Paradise Visitor Center and trailhead is the historic Paradise Lodge – and we spend 2 nights there.

We’re all about incredible views, but also being up close to the amazing nature we’re there to explore. And don’t worry, we also build time into our itineraries to allow for self-exploration, or just plain relaxing.


4. Small Groups

Olympic NP_Mountains

No one wants to push their way through a crowd to see the views from Hurricane Ridge, and when you hike Olympic National Park with us, you won’t have to. We keep all our tours intimate and small (7 or less), so we can offer personalized service and great interpretation on the trail without affecting the experience of others or destroying the inherent peace of the places we visit.


Ready to Hike?

Our tours explore the best the Pacific Northwest has to offer! Often the most beautiful places are found beyond where the pavement ends, especially in our National Parks.

We hope to see you out on the trail this summer!

5 Books Every Cyclist Should Read

booksThough I don’t expect everyone to be as fanatical about cycling books as I am, there are some great cycling books. I thought it would be easy to narrow a list to five books. Boy, was I wrong! After lots of mulling, here’s my list:

1) A great sports story for everyone: Major Taylor: The Inspiring Story of a Black Cyclist and the Men Who Helped Him Achieve Worldwide Fame, by Conrad Kerber and Terry Kerber. Major Taylor, a black, Christian athlete, raced bikes in the late 1800s and early 1900s. What Major Taylor accomplished during that era rivals that of the best black athletes of any era – Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Cassius Clay. It’s unfortunate Taylor’s story has been overlooked by so many historians. I think this is the greatest sports story in history.

2) The cult novel: The Rider, by Tim Krabbé. First published in Holland, this book has a cult following in part because it can be read year after year. It’s the story of a 150 kilometer race, and even if you’re a non-cyclist you can feel your heartbeat elevate as the physical and emotional aspects of the race unfold.

3) The literary novel: The Wheels of Chance: A Bicycling Idyll, by H.G. Wells, is for anyone who enjoys 1900s prose and a whimsical tale. The story describes how bicycles changed the social and sexual landscape during the late 1800s, as the book’s main character, Mr. Hoopdriver, prepares for a bicycle touring vacation through the
English countryside.

4) Oh, those French: Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape: The Remarkable Life of Jacques Anquetil, the First Five-Times Winner of the Tour de France, by Paul Howard. While Anquetil’s accomplishments on a bike are beyond comparison,
his story off the bike is even more unbelievable. TMZ could not make this stuff up. He takes drugs, is motivated by money, seduces and marries his doctor’s wife, and that’s only the start.

5) The history book: Road to Valor: A True Story of WWII Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation, by Aili McConnon and Andres McConnon. Many books fall into the category of paralleling cycling with world affairs, but this story of Gino Bartali is particularly poignant. Bartali holds the record for the longest span between Tour de France victories. Nicknamed Il Vecchio (“old man”), he lost his best of years of racing
to the war, but stayed in shape smuggling fake identification papers to Italian Jews.

What are your top 5 cycling books? Any that you think should knock any of my top 5 off the podium? Let us know in the comments section – I’m always looking for a great cycling story.

– Todd Starnes
President & Co-Owner
Bicycle Adventures

New Float Plane on San Juans Tour a Real Highlight

michelle float plane

This past summer, we made some improvements to the San Juan Islands 6-Day tour, making the itinerary a little more relaxed so our guests have time to enjoy the charm of the islands and the great lodges that we stay at. One of the new highlights is a Kenmore air float plane from quiet Lopez Island on the last day of the tour. We set out from Fisherman’s Bay and fly into Lake Union, the heart of downtown Seattle.

Let me tell you, flying to Lake Union is about a million times better than driving. It’s a unique experience in the Pacific Northwest which for me highlights the beauty of Washington State, from the Olympic Peninsula across Puget Sound, all the way to the Cascade Mountains. On a clear day you may be blessed with a peek of Mt Rainier dominating the distant skyline as the float plane settles in on Lake Union.

It’s really a great way to see the area — and all of us are just glowing when we step off the plane!

Michelle Longstreth
Head Guide
Bicycle Adventures
float plane

Mickelson Trail, from Guide to Guest

Preparing for South Dakota

“There were side bets going on, I was wondering if I could relax and let others work…” I told Jill, Brad Barnard’s wife, “I am going to prove them all wrong…” – Teri Smith, Bicycle Adventures guide on her first trip with Bicycle Adventures as a guest. The following story is from her Facebook Page.

Pre Trip: Leading up to this Custom “All Dawgs” Mickelson Trail tour in South Dakota, Dave, my husband, was feeling a little uneasy… By Memorial Day, however, the weekly bike rides had become fun, and on this day we hit a trail in the Columbia Gorge that would feel similar to what we would encounter on the Mickelson Trail with Bicycle Adventures. Next stop, Rapid City, SD!!!

Taking a trip as a guest, and not a guide was a first for me. Having never been in the state of S.D., I had zero expectations. Dave and I were blessed enough to find the best United Airlines employee in Portland and received standby tickets for an earlier flight out of Denver. She also went ahead and scheduled our bags to be on the earlier plane. All worked out, and all but three of the All Dawgs crew filled many seats on the 3:45 to Rapid City. (They call these trips the “All Dawgs” trips because the participants are all rowdy UW alumni.)


Parks, cool alleyways, surprising restaurants, presidential statues, and smiles of friendly locals filled Rapid City. We had a fabulous night with friends! After having dinner, I laid down ready to sleep. Soon after, I looked at the clock and almost immediately thought of our guides, Carrie and Renee. They were probably outside, finishing up. Maybe shopping for our lunches or trying to organize packets. Oh boy… quiet mantra in my head to let these thoughts go, I fell into a sweet slumber, ready to ride. The next morning, on our way to breakfast, I saw Todd Starnes carrying the water jug to be filled and felt a small twinge of guilt… but changing into bike clothes and sharing in the fun banter about the coming days melted those thoughts. David, my husband, was about to see what I have been doing all of these years and I was about to share a passion with him. It could not be a better day!

Day 1: Waking up in darling towns is always special. As a guide, our faces light up just as a guest’s will when we see something interesting. The biggest difference between the two roles is that, as a guest, I was able to have the time to explore and discover little hidden gems. On this day, we explored Hot Springs, SD, had a delicious cup of coffee, wrote in chalk on a table, took goofy pictures of Brad Barnard (would have done that anyway), saw some incredible nature moments, watched a film about Tatankas, and had a very memorable (50th) birthday surrounded by love. Phone calls from Charlie and Jalen that weren’t interrupted by work capped off a perfect day!

Rails to Trails…what better way to see parts of our country that only train engineers, passengers, and folks on horseback used to see.

Well, hello beauties! Tatanka, or Bison, are powerful and beautiful creatures. Their eyes have stories to tell, and this day allowed ample opportunity to learn their history, see them up close in their natural environment, and to remind us all that we must stay diligent in our respect of all living things.

Day 2: The All Dawgs week with Bicycle Adventures continues to shine. After a heavy storm last night, we slept in a bit and woke to sunny skies and lower temps. Our ride is just 17 miles with about 1,200′ of elevation gain, but it bookends a visit to Crazy Horse Memorial and culminates in Custer at Sylvan Lake Lodge… read the picture caption to follow along on our memorable day!

Old architecture makes me happy… and a bank turned coffee, ice cream, and beer shop makes me even more so. Perfect combo!

On this tour, we watch a movie, take a bus tour, and explore the grounds at Crazy Horse Memorial. There is a lot to learn, both about the family who made this happen and continues to work their father’s vision and about the monument itself. Thank you for bringing us here!

Day 4: Today, our rest day, was PACKED and WONDERFUL! We asked if we could hike early, and Todd, Brad, Jill, and David joined the two of us at 6:30 a.m. for a hike to Black Elk Peak (once known as Harney Peak.) Black Elk Peak is the highest natural point in South Dakota at 7,242′. It is also the highest point east of the Rockies. Leaving early, we were able to walk without seeing other people until we hiked out, saw some mountain goats settle in place for their morning sunning, and made our way back to the lake for an afternoon paddle. A visit to Eye of the Needle and Mount Rushmore capped a beautiful and adventurous day!

Sylvan Lake Lodge to Trail 9 to Black Elk Peak, then Trail 3 to 4 for a round trip of just about 9 miles… perfect! Sore legs all around at the end, but the BEST views and lots of stories to share. Don’t miss this!


Day 5: Today our intrepid group rode from Hill City to Rochford, then into Deadwood, SD. We have 23 miles to ride with 1,300′ elevation gain… David is feeling legs today but is staying strong and intends to finish this week with over 100 miles. Others in our group (all of us!) are feeling our legs, too, but the beauty of the Mickelson Trail (well, one of the beautiful things about this place) is that the grade stays around 1-3 percent and is doable. Slow or fast, your riding style doesn’t matter. Just doing it takes you on a ride through time, brings a sense of becoming one with our beautiful outdoors, evokes moments of “I can’t wait for our next tour,” and allows all of the senses to be present in each moment. We all feel very blessed to be able to ride this trail, and I am very much in my happy place.

Another little gem in the city park at Hill City. Here, early in the morning with no one overseeing your time, you can walk inside this old cabin and read about the history of Hill City. South Dakota is amazing, and YOU should visit, too!

Al, Doug, and Betty enjoying the trail

Day 6: Riding in Spearfish Canyon to Cheyanne Crossing is just plain fun! We all enjoyed a nice long downhill today, and David decided that, next time, he’d like to go on the Bryce/Zion trip. I am down… you in?

Brad and Jill take in the beauty of Spearfish Canyon. It does not disappoint.

Post Trip: To say the last six days were wonderful would be an understatement. I do believe that David and I had what was arguably the best trip we have ever taken together. To quote Dave, “I have heard that you will appreciate the country better from a bicycle. Having had that opportunity, I understand what Teri and the others are talking about. The world slows down around you, allowing you to be one with the beauty as you pedal each day, sharing time with new friends…” Brad Barnard took some photos of the two of us along the way, and I am sharing one of those now… I did not have a hard time being on a trip as a guest (sorry Deb!) but I did truly enjoy looking at what I have done for work from the other side. Renee, Carrie, and Todd did a very good job during our trip. We felt cared for, informed, pampered, heard, and each day that passed was better than the last. Being on a trip during my birthday was such a wonderful blessing, and the entire day I felt special. THANK YOU to everyone for sharing in this trip with me, and now I shall return to what I am passionate about… creating the “best vacation” experience for those I am lucky enough to guide. I really do feel like I work alongside the best in the business, and I hope you will ride with us soon so we can share our passion with you.

David, Jill, and Brad playing around on rocks…