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Cycle Touring
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Stinging Needles
Roll in a patch of stinging nettle and you'll think it's a spelling mistake. Nettle's stinging needles, as whispy as whiskers, are hollow and filled with formic acid which can cause burning, even blistering. Though aboriginal medicinal uses were various the principle technological use was as a source of hemp-like fiber for making thread and string. Stalks were picked late in the year when prickles had largely dropped off. Fibers were separated by rubbing or beating and then spun into thin threads. Those in turn could be braided to form thicker, stronger twine for weaving fine cloth, making fish nets and fishing line and, rarely, string bikinis.
Illustration by Manami Kimura
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San Juan Islands-Lopez Island E-mail
(6 - user rating)
Written by Brian Grover   
Terrain: Fairly Flat
Traffic: Light
Season: Year Round
Distance: 53 km
Access: See section intro, Getting to The San Juan Islands.

Since pedalling Lopez Island's 53 km circuit is easy, cyclists will have plenty of time to explore the foreshore, stop for a refreshing dip in Hummel Lake or photograph the ample agricultural artifacts of the island's frontier era. Farming continues to be the principle industry here.

While there are numerous inns and B & B's to choose from venture not to Lopez without reservations. Most rooms throughout these islands are booked up as much as 6 months in advance. Campers too may find both Spencer Spit State Park and Odlin County Park full to bursting during the high season summer months.

From the ferry both of the island's campgrounds are nearby. Since campgrounds throughout the San Juan Islands fill up fast, securing a campsite should be a high-priority. Setting up camp early not only reserves a spot for the night, but allows you to leave behind most of your gear. Of course valuables such as camera and cash should never be left unattended. Neither park on Lopez Island has showers so embark on a clockwise tour around the island, ending up towards the end of the day in the Fishermen Bay - Lopez Village area where showers, laundry and provisions can all be had.

Odlin County Park, on the sunset side of the island, is just 1½ km from the ferry dock. Altogether Odlin County Park boasts 30 campsites and a sandy beach overlooking Upright Channel. With luck, one of the more secluded beachfront bicycle campsites will be available. If full, sprint across to the sunrise side via Port Stanley Road to Spencer Spit State Park. The park can accommodate 49 groups, including 18 walk-in campsites for cyclists and kayakers above the beach.

To begin your explorations head down island towards Hunter and Mud Bays, avoiding Center Road, the island's busiest, wherever possible. At the end of Islandale Road you'll find a public wharf on the little peninsula separating both bays. Public access to the waterfront can be had further along Mud Bay Road and again near the end of Sperry Road. Unlike in Canada where 98 percent of all foreshore belongs to the Crown and is publicly accessible, in the U.S. most beaches are part of the private property above them and owners can and do enforce their ownership.

En route to the beach, at the corner of Mud Bay Road and Mackaye Harbor Road, you'll find the Islandale Bicycle Rest, a small picnic area set aside for cyclists. Picnic tables, outhouses and shade have been provided for the comfort of the many two-wheeled tourists who visit Lopez each year. Not surprisingly water, that scarcest of commodities, is not available.

There are two more noteworthy points of waterfront access on the southeast corner of Lopez Island. Hughes Bay County Park off Watmough Head Road features a gravel beach at the bottom of a steep, wooden staircase. Mackaye Harbor Road leads to Agate Beach Picnic Area where again all the amenities except water are available. Working around to the west cyclists will find a boat launch at Mackaye Harbor and a public pier at historic Richardson. The latter was once a busy fishing and steamship port from which the island's produce reached markets in Seattle.

From Richardson take Burt Road across island to reach the old-growth forest reserve at Shark Reef Recreation Area. Birders with an interest in waterfowl will want to set their sights on Hummel Lake while those captivated by predatory habits will find a variety of raptors but no sharks at Shark Reef Recreation Area. The old-growth sustains a variety of owls while the nation's symbol can be found nesting in the topmost branches. Rather than a beach expect to find rocky shelves along the foreshore.

Shark Reef Road leads back up island past the local airport. Pick up Fisherman Bay Road to reach the island's commercial heart. Along the way take a side trip down Bayshore Road to reach the narrow neck of land which separates Fisherman Bay from the more open waters of San Juan Channel. The road continues along the spit past the picnic area at Otis Perkins Park to eventually end at private property. A number of services related to maritime recreation as well as public laundry and showers facilities, a bike rental shop, restaurants, a dive shop and a motel can be found at the settlement of Fisherman Bay. Just minutes further along the road at Lopez Village groceries, public showers, accommodations, restaurants and even a museum will be found.

Lopez Road will take campers back to Odlin County Park while those staying at Spencer Spit State Park can follow Hummel Lake Road to return to camp. Fishermen can cast in the lake for trout and bass.



Copyright © 2007 Brian Grover. Content Distribution is Prohibited
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