Port Townsend Overnighter

Words & Photos by Aaron Rickel

I’m a warm-blooded Californian at heart, so when I saw the weather forecast for the weekend—40 degrees with a chance of rain—I started wondering what the hell I’d signed up for. I’m usually the guy who puts on long pants the moment it dips below 70 degrees, and this weekend we’d be lucky to see 50 degrees at all. Fingers crossed it would at least be dry.

The route was simple: Ride out of Edmonds (just north of Seattle), take a ferry across Puget Sound and ride up Whidbey Island, hitting a few trails along the way, take another ferry to Port Townsend and spend the night at Fort Worden, then ride back toward Seattle along the Olympic and Kitsap Peninsulas.

⁠Fortunately for us (honestly, mostly for me) the weather held and our 7:00am rollout was cold—below 40 degrees—but sunny! After riding a quick dozen miles through the city, we boarded the first ferry. The Seattle ferry system (the largest ferry system in the United States, it turns out) makes getting out for an adventure by bicycle incredibly easy, and there’s something special about boarding a ferry that makes an adventure feel uniquely Pacific Northwest.⁠

⁠The riding on Whidbey Island had me smiling the entire day. The striking fall colors and golden, angled light were constant reminders I wasn’t in SoCal anymore. When we hit our first section of singletrack, I couldn’t stop smiling. [side-note: I’d recently put a set of 2.1” Teravail Sparwoods on my Breezer Doppler and damn, the moment we hit dirt those tires were the absolute jam. Plus, they didn’t seem to slow me down too much on the pavement either—although I’d like to blame them for my being out-sprinted at the end of each day.]⁠⠀
The 55 miles of the first day flew by and before I knew it we were powering through the final few flat miles of headwind (of course there was a headwind) to our last ferry to Port Townsend.⁠

We stayed the night in 100 year old officers quarters at Fort Worden State Park. With its big guns and strategic location, Fort Worden was once one of three strongholds that made up a coastal defense system known as, “The Triangle of Fire.” We used the remaining daylight to explore the defunct coastal defense batteries, and watched the sunset across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

A hot shower at the end of a long day in the cold was the perfect appetizer to an entree of Mac & Cheese, hot wings, and local beer served up in the Guard House Pub—the original brig. During non-covid times, you can sit around tables in the jail cell. I’ll have to go back.

A quick note on gear: I rode my @breezerbikes Doppler Pro with 2.1” @teravail Sparwood tires and had the time of my life. Because we weren’t camping, I simply loaded fresh clothes in my @roadrunnerbags Middle Earth Jammer, nutrition and tools in my @blackburndesign frame bag, and my camera (a @sony rx100iv) in the @kaiventurebags Snack Kaddy. Just in case of rain, I slapped on a @ridepdw Origami Rear Fender. I didn’t end up needing it, but it gave my bike a bit of extra NorthWest vibe regardless.

The best piece of advice I can give is to pick your mates just as carefully as you pick your bike—they can easily make or break a trip. In this case, the group dynamic absolutely made the trip. Bikes bring people together in a pretty remarkable way, and if you haven’t experienced the bond that an overnight bike trip creates, well… you’re missing out.

After a hearty breakfast of breakfast burritos and coffee, we rolled out of Fort Worden on another perfectly crisp fall morning. There wasn’t much in the way of food between Fort Worden and Kingston where one final ferry ride would take us back to Edmonds and our cars, so loading up on breakfast and snacks for the road was the game plan. Depending on how the ferry timed out, we planned to eat a late lunch on one side of the ferry or the other.⁠

⁠Another note on gear: This ride was a great illustration that there is no “right way” to head out on an overnight bike trip. We had everything from skinny road tires to full-on tread tires, racks and panniers, bar bags, baskets, frame bags, saddle bags, 1x drivetrains, 2x drivetrains, full spandex cycling kits, and gravel-casual flannel. One thing we all had in common was that we were there for a great time. Don’t let the particular gear you think you need keep you from heading out on a trip. Chances are, there’s a way to make what you have work!⁠

After a day in the saddle and a stop for lunch, we rolled into Kingston, I treated myself to a dirty chai latte (they taste like Autumn), and we boarded the final ferry back to Edmonds. Just over 100 miles of the most gorgeous October riding behind us, we were already talking about next year. This was the fourth year in a row they had ridden this route (or some variation of it) and now I knew why. It’s a perfect weekend getaway ride. Just challenging enough to be engaging, and just chill enough to guarantee a good time.⁠

⁠Thanks for following along on the journey! I’m already looking forward to the 5th annual Port Townsend Overnighter, and in the meantime I’m more inspired than ever to take advantage of the beautiful fall weather here in Southern California. It feels about time to head out on some more adventures on two wheels down here! Who wants to join me?

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