The Distance: 482 miles by land and sea, counting the ferry to and from San Juan Island. The bulk of this distance is from our hard run from Anacortes inland to Spokane. Our total for the year is up to 5837.
The Places: We started with a week at our new Whidbey Island back up campground, Rhododendron Park. Though with limited facilities, this county property is in a desirable location and has a fairy-land quality due to the massive old growth trees and other foliage. Given the price and general availability, it is similar Lake Monroe in Central Florida. We bounced back over to Cliffside RV on the naval station and then again to Rhododendron for two final days on Whidbey Island.
In August we spent 19 days in military parks and 12 in county facilities. We had full connections for 19, electrical and water for 4, and dry camped for 8.
The Money: A tough month that saw us well over budget, 38% in fact. Our $430 ferry fee to get our rig to San Juan Island and our annual RV insurance pushed us over despite a couple of modest Saturday markets.
The Drama & Improvements: Our ongoing problems with Loki included the loss of a fanbelt pulley while touring San Juan Island, which necessitated a longer than anticipated stay in Spokane, as well as another unexpected repair bill.
On our last highly delinquent yet riveting episode, our heroes had barely caught the ferry from San Juan Island to Anacortes due to the unfortunately ongoing drama with our tow vehicle, Loki, an awesome yet currently fickle 1997 Geo Tracker. It will not surprise long time readers to know that we had little plan other than “get to the mainland and head inland,” assuming as we do that time and distance would provide clarity.
Having started our day before dawn meant that even after a multi-hour ferry experience, we began the mainland drive earlier than is our custom, and us such put in a bit more mileage than is usual as well. More than six hours down the road we arrived at Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane, Washington. The Family Campground there is a perfectly serviceable, if not particularly exciting, full service and affordable campground. While it is not located in what one might call a high demand nature and tourism area, it would give us a safe and affordable place to settle in while we coordinated repairs to the Geo Tracker.
After some online research and a few calls, I settled on the downtown location for Performance Automotive. We towed Loki there, it’s only a few miles outside of the base, and by Monday they had a parts list available, most of them located, but had not located the main part, the harmonic balancer pulley. If you are going to own an old vehicle, it really comes in handy knowing a few of the specialty shops to go to when you are on a hunt like this, and Richard at Xtreme Zukes Offroad back in Florida came through for us. He had the part on hand and FedEx’d it to the shop here in Washington.
The entire process took about ten days, during which we made the best of it in Spokane. Having spent most of 2015, our first year full time RVing, without a tow vehicle, we had experience living with just bicycles and our motorhome as transportation. Mostly this involves a bit of advance planning for supplies and entertainment. We combined our trip off base to drop off Loki with a stop at the commissary and even a casino for a drink and some low stakes slot machine action.
It was quite hot, and thus our $25 a night full hook up site was greatly appreciated, but we knew that three days of living exclusively on the base would be more than enough, so we made follow on reservations at the military-owned Clear Lake Resort just outside of town. This is a modest lake front facility offering RV sites, camping, cabins, and water-oriented equipment rentals at the usual discounted/subsidized prices for military members, retirees, and other veterans. We were ablet to snag four days there, Sunday through Wednesday, during their last week of operation.
Catching them in their last week of operation also meant even further discounts on their already affordable boat rentals, so we rented a johnboat equipped with a small outboard motor for an afternoon on the lake. We had a great day of boating, a lunch on the water, and gathered a few challenging geocaches along the shore as well. We returned to the Fairchild Base Family Camp to await the completion of Loki’s repairs and lingered a couple more days taking care of basic business and necessities before continuing east through Idaho and into Wyoming. Next up: We return to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
Rosemarie has mentioned her desire to visit the San Juan Islands for years. These are a group of islands between Whidbey and Vancouver famed for tourism, beauty, and whales. I had not really internalized how badly she wanted to see them until, during our time on Whidbey Island, we were planning out the rest of our summer and she placed it as her number one priority. (In my defense, she has a rather extensive list of must-see places.) And so we planned it. Doing so this late in the game was hardly ideal; many of the RV park options, especially the county and state parks, are full, and the ferry spots for large vehicles can fill up, but we made it work.
Let’s start with that ferry. The Washington Island system provides service from Anacortes, less than an hour up the road from Rhododendron Park, to the four largest islands, San Juan, Orcas, Lopez, and Shaw. Based on our RV park selection, we needed a round trip from Anacortes to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Due to the size of our rig (52 feet with the tow vehicle attached to the motorhome) it cost us over $400 for the journey. We paid less than $100 for the trip from Port Townsend (near Sequim on the Olympic Peninsula) to Whidbey back in July, but this is a longer trip, though not by a lot, taking about 90 minutes each way.
As for our accommodations, there was really only one game in town available: the county fairgrounds in Friday Harbor. The county and state parks were either full or could not accept rigs our size, and even most of the private resorts were at capacity even with their exorbitant prices. As it was, the partial hook up (power and water) fairground was over $50 a night, despite which we were lucky to find four days available split between two different sites.
Friday Harbor is a fun little tourist town. Our campsite was within easy walking distance of downtown where we enjoyed the plethora of boutique shops and seaside sights. We found the locals very helpful with recommendations as to what to see, how to do it, and where to eat. Such freely given advice helped us plan our car tour of the island during our second day.
We had a great little sightseeing adventure, taking the mostly coastal road along the west side of the island to Lime Kiln State Park. While enjoying the views and heading to a couple of geocaches, we noticed a distinct and rather loud vibration coming from the Tracker’s engine. Popping the hood, I could not spot anything visually, but we resolved to head home. Unfortunately, Loki had seen enough of the island, and dropped what we would later learn was the harmonic balancer pully straight off the engine into the road within the next half mile of travel. This is one of the main pulleys, and the associated fan belt powers the engine cooling fan, among other things.
Though we were able to retrieve the actual pulley, and Loki would still start and run, it would overheat almost immediately unless coasting downhill. Now, we only had about nine miles to get back home, and it’s possible that we could have made it by pulling over, shutting down, and letting the engine cool off every half mile or so, but man if we screwed that up we could be looking at another blown engine. Instead we coasted to a wide spot along a cliffside pull out, and I hitched a ride back to the rig. Since nothing can be simple, I of course forgot to bring the door key, and had to break into the RV through a window, managing to crack the screen of our front TV with my wildly careening foot in the process.
I made it back to the lookout point in the motorhome where, with some assistance from a couple of locals, we managed to push Loki into position and hook up while the limited traffic along the road waited patiently. Thank you, San Juan Islanders, for your assistance and understanding during this stressful event. The silver lining: Rosemarie got to see orcas swimming and broaching along the coast while I was gone.
OK look, we have been here before. The tracker is 23 years old, and even with a fully rebuilt engine, things break. We were on a beautiful island, within walking distance of a cute town, biking distance of other interesting sights, and with plenty of bus tour options as well. Heck, we did most of our first year of full time RVing with no tow vehicle whatsoever, so we would manage. The next day we took advantage of the tour bus availability and enjoyed a day trip around the island with a lengthy stop in the ritzy, yacht-filled Roche Harbor on the northwest side of the island.
We toured the harbor, the main waterfront drag, and a few of the points of historical interest before enoying a light lunch overlooking the harbor at one of the lovely outdoor restaurants. We spent most of our time, however, in the beautiful botanical garden filled with installation art pieces. We found a handful of geocaches before catching our bus back to Friday Harbor. Once back in town, we closed out the day with a rather odd pizza buying experience, involving as it did a seemingly closed restaurant, ordering through a cracked open door, cash only of course, and waiting in the parking lot for it to be done. Fun experience, mediocre pizza.
On our last full day, lacking a working car, it was bike time. We took our old, rickety bicycles on a multi-mile tour of the Pear Point Peninsula, hitting half a dozen geocaches along the way, enjoying the coast, beautiful weather, wild raspberries, and exclusive looking neighborhoods.
The next morning we had reservations on the first ferry out, and awoke before dawn to get things ready. Unfortunately, with Loki broken, I had a very difficult time getting connected for the drive to the terminal. Much swearing, sweating, and panicking ensued as the minutes raced by. Eventually we got it done, arrived at the ferry, and despite being beyond the show time, they let us on for our journey to the mainland.
We would definitely return to these islands, although next time with a bit more advance planning, and hopefully the ability to visit a couple of the others. Next up: Spokane, Fairchild Air Force Base, and auto repairs.
As we strung to together a couple more stays at Cliffside, the front office informed us that we were close to our maximum allowed time in the park. Many military bases, especially the seasonally popular ones, have such limits, and the specific rules vary greatly from place to place. In this case we were caught off guard, thinking that our time off island and at Rhododendron Park had reset the clock.
Four years ago during our first visit to Whidbey that would have indeed been the case, but a few cases of perceived abuse had prompted a rule change and we needed to vacate a bit sooner than expected. So we pushed out as far as they would allow, finished our time on the island with a couple of days back at Rhododendron, and allowed the stay limits to help define the dates of our next adventure.
We took advantage of our remaining two weeks on the island to revisit our favorite places, find a couple of new ones, and participate in three more local Saturday markets put on by the Lion’s Club. As we had in July we timed one of our RV moves to coincide with the market, making this event quite convenient. Between July and August we sold at this venue five times, and while not all of them were great, the average of our sales made the overall endeavor worthwhile.
The Lions Club market is the island’s newest regular craft event, and fills a niche for what I think of us “entry level” or “easy access” sellers. I.e., it is cheap ($20 vendor fee), short (one day a week for five hours) and accessible (all are accepted with no category limits and no special licensing or paperwork.) For us it replaced the weekly (and since cancelled) 2nd Street Market in nearby Langley at which we sold in 2017. They are still growing, working on their client base and community awareness. If we were back on our home turf in Florida and COVID had never happened, we would have skipped this modest market, but here out west, with so many festivals and fairs still rebuilding, it was quite worth our time and effort.
In this, our second summer on Whidbey Island, growing familiarity with the place has solidified our favorite spots. Coupeville is our preferred town here. It is quite small, and the limited population and tourism mean there are only a dozen restaurant options, some of which have quite limited hours of operation which further constrain the unprepared diner. We love Little Ren Hen Bakery, but it’s only open Thursday through Sunday. Front Street Grill (our favorite mussel place) and nearby Toby’s Tavern are both open daily, whereas Oystercatcher is much more limited, and we never managed to catch them when we were hungry.
Despite such limitations, we thoroughly enjoy this town, and had many great experiences. Besides, Coupeville is big enough to boast its own craft brewery, which is sort of a minimum requirement to be considered civilized in my book (I’m looking at you, Sequim.) We expect to be back in mid 2022, and look forward to catching a few of the places we missed this visit.
So that’s Whidbey for 2021. After nearly seven weeks on the island, it’s time to move on. Next up: The San Juan Islands. (Hint: not Puerto Rico.)