PNT Day 19: Road Runner

Today’s miles: 21.7

Total miles: 239.6

I’m up very early, using my headlamp on the red light setting and walking softly so as to disturb as little as possible the sleeping hiker on the other couch. I leave the amazing barn at 5:40am and step into a densely foggy morning. Not optimal for roadwalking. I put my headlamp on again, on the brightest setting now, and head back up the road to my turnoff. Thankfully, the nervous horse isn’t out this early, and the barking dogs don’t notice me until I’m rounding the corner on the other side of their house — then they come barreling across the yard like “We almost missed him!!” but it’s too late, I’m past their lot and they give a few dissatisfied huffs.

Early morning fog and pavement

I pass a slough with maybe fifteen people fishing in it, at this early hour, all standing in a crooked line in their hip waders. A few others are suiting up along the side of the road. Most of the rest of this early morning takes me along vast expanses of farmland. Finally I reach my first sight of Padilla Bay, and the road winds along parallel to the shore. A dog runs alone on the beach, barking continuously. A person eventually chases after it, calling the dog’s name over and over. The dog’s name is my name. Very strange to hear it yelled repeatedly into the morning air. I pass two alpacas eating breakfast in the front of someone’s property; looks like they recently got haircuts.

Road with a side of bayview

At Bay View State Park, eight miles into the morning, I snag a picnic table with, appropriately, a view of the bay and eat second breakfast (mostly peanut m&ms), texting my friends and looking at my maps. I use the toilets here, preemptively — roadwalks make it very difficult to know when/where you’ll be able to go to the bathroom.

For a few miles now I am technically not on road, but my feet don’t really recognize the Bay Shore Trail as “trail,” since it’s a hard gravel bike path. Still, it’s a relief to be away from cars for a bit. Many people are out walking their dogs here, and I miss my dog. By the end of this little path, I’ve accomplished 10×10 (ten miles by 10am), which I haven’t done since the desert on the PCT. I turn back onto paved road and keep walking.

On the Bay Shore Trail
Sign for “No Name Slough” along Bay Shore Trail. (I later learned this is pronounced “slew.”)

Here I must walk the shoulder of State Route 20, which is essentially a freeway: a four-lane divided highway with a high speed limit and a lot of traffic. The shoulder is pretty wide, as shoulders go, but it’s nerve-wracking nonetheless. I walk at my top speed for the first mile, anxious to cut over onto the bike path that parallels the highway after that. At the end of the bike path, I rejoin the highway, but on a barrier-protected pedestrian walkway for the bridge over the Swinomish Channel. Despite the cars and trucks zooming by on my left, I really enjoy this crossing. I feel protected by the big concrete slab separating me from traffic, and it’s beautiful to have this view of the channel, the boats, the Swinomish Casino. When I step off the bridge, I am on Fidalgo Island.

Crossing on Hwy 20: Swinomish Channel and Casino

I turn onto March Point Road and soon have a choice to make. The trail formally goes around this small peninsula, or I could snip a few miles off by taking a different road through the middle. I’d intended to take the shortcut, but I have lots of time before I can check into my hotel room, and the weather has just shifted from overcast to sunny, which means I may have some views at the tip of the peninsula. I choose the longer route and set off with the bay to my right.

It’s a hot walk, and my feet begin to complain. I put on an audiobook, Carrot Quinn’s new book The Sunset Route. So far, it’s a book about traveling and remembering, about going away and returning, and so it is a very good book to listen to right now. I see a number of cyclists and some bikepackers on this road; there is clearly some popular cycling route through the San Juan Islands.

Private property along Padilla Bay (seemed to me most likely owned by oil companies, but just a guess).

At the end of the peninsula, I sit on my bear canister to eat lunch, looking out over Padilla Bay and enjoying the breeze off the water. There’s a lovely view of Mt Baker over to the northeast, which I suddenly realize is my first glimpse of it — on the days I was actually near it, and the whole day I walked around Baker Lake, the mountain was completely obscured by clouds. Behind me, literally right on the other side of the road, sit massive oil refineries. I saw a sign for Shell oil on my walk out here. It is a very intense mix of the “natural” and the “unnatural,” something I’ve experienced as a theme on this trail so far.

Approaching the tip of the peninsula, with its bay view and cluster of refineries.

Reluctantly, I pack up and continue around March Point, plodding along the side of the road until I can at last walk west again. I walk on the Tommy Thompson Trail, a converted railroad trestle that feels and looks like the world’s longest boardwalk, across Fidalgo Bay. After a long stretch, it joins a finger of land jutting out from the island, and this turns into a walking/biking path along the waterside and eventually into the heart of Anacortes, my next town. The other hiker from the barn last night catches up with me around here, having taken the shortcut I declined, and we walk a mile or so together. We see four otters playing and fishing together at the edge of the bay. We walk through loads of wild blackberry vines, and see some people foraging from them with big cloth bags.

Walking repurposed railroad trestle across Fidalgo Bay to Anacortes
View of Mt Baker and the oil refineries at March Point

I turn off toward my hotel, stopping in the convenience store for a red Gatorade and then to my room for a blissful shower. The repetitive roadwalking gave me a new blister, so large it looks like my toe is growing a second toe. But it doesn’t really hurt once I drain it. There is a reportedly excellent Thai restaurant across the street so I order a ton of food from them, and return to the convenience store for some additional snacks and a pint of ice cream. I do a little laundry in the sink and stuff my belly full of delicious town food before passing out in a soft clean bed.

Public art in Anacortes, of Mt Baker and the refineries

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