Grant Keltner

Shaw Island

H1Shaw Island

“It’s not where you come from, it’s where you’re going too.”

Day 1.

Left Portland, Oregon early in the morning, overcast out of the Rose City, started heading north up I-5, left around 9:00 A.M. or so, made it to Seattle, Washington, got through noon hour traffic without a hitch. The sky broke, clear blue skies as I continued north towards Anacortes, Washington. Made it to the ferry boats around 1:00 P.M. Parked and waited for the boat taking me west. The ferry boat “Evergreen” stopped in and picked me up, a huge double decker, quite a few people were at the ramp waiting to go to Orcas, Lopez, Friday Harbor or Shaw Island. There was rust on the boat in a few spots; it looked like smooth sailing during the ride to Orcas.

I was glad I made it up for this four day camp, I love camping, one of the best ways in which to see sites in the west. The San Juan’s are one my favorite places to explore, knew what to expect in drifting around the islands, knew the weather could change instantly, hoped that I wouldn’t have too many problems on this excursion. I love the San Juan’s; they always have something new to offer. Love the farm land that stretches in front of you, rambling on for miles, the fact that people wave to you as you drive your car along the roads and by ways is pretty special. Some people like to island hop, I was going to visit Shaw, Orcas and Lopez islands with this short trip.

Anacortes is a great little town, cute cottages and shops dot Main street, the people were friendly as I stopped in to get supplies at a few of the local stores, driving west towards the ferry dock you start to get wonderful views of the waters surrounding the islands, beautiful craftsmen homes, built in the 1920’s lead you to the big boats that cruise through the islands, taking tourists and people that live on the island to their appointed rounds. At the ferry dock they have a concession area, including a restaurant and gift shop. They have maps and information with all the islands. The total cost for the ride around the islands is around $40.00.

After an hour or so in waiting for the ferry boat I drove my car on to the huge boat, got the first spot up front on the first deck, great view of the San Juan’s right from my front seat of my car. The ocean air felt great on my face, gulls swarmed around flying in all kinds of directions. You could see Orcas Island off in the distance, the clouds rolled in almost creating a thick fog around the islands. You could see Mt. Constitution off along to north of the horizon, towering up through the thick clouds that circled around Orcas island. I was planning on biking up to Mt. Constitution the next day; it’s always a challenge in biking up to the top of the mountain, it’s a big hill.

Before I left Portland I had packed my tent, camping stove, folding cot, spare clothes, sleeping bag, kitchen utensils and portable radio along with an ice chest full of food, it should last me at least four days on Shaw Island. I loaded my Fuji cycle cross bike on the back of my car. Shaw Island is remote, I had been there before and knew what to expect. We floated over to Orcas Island first, the wind smelled of the sea and firs that grow on the islands; it seemed to waken me up after the four hour drive from Portland. I started taking photographs with one of my digital cameras. I always seem to pack more clothes than I need when I go camping.

I had been to Shaw Island, back in 2006, been through the islands camping with my good friend Dan Wade. Knew that the island was less traveled, there’s a general store and that’s about it, there are eleven camp sites located at the county park, I was hoping to get a spot, they don’t take reservations on the island, the sites are situated about two miles due east of the ferry landing. I had biked through Shaw Island on my bicycle six years earlier, knew about the deer, orchards the wide open fields and forest.

We floated over to Orcas, fog horn blasting away in letting everybody know that we had arrived, I waited for passengers to unload and then after about fifteen minutes we were heading out over to Shaw Island, just a few minutes away, directly to the S.E. I was excited to get to Shaw Island; it had been a long day. When we got to Shaw Island I drove my car off the boat and stopped in to the general store. I got to know the owner, Steve his name was, he had bought the store nine years earlier from the nuns that had owned the island, the Benedictine nuns had run the store in the past, and they still have a convent located on the island. The store was built in 1926; it has wood floors and an old black Labrador in the front of the store, happily barking and wagging its tail. The store has a soda fountain in the back. Old wooden slats hold the store together.

“Can you get ice here?” I asked the owner.

“Yep, we have ice.”

I picked up a bag of ice and packed it in my cooler. I pulled the plug on the side of the cooler, letting it drain the melted ice. I had brought more than enough food for the trip, everything looked so fresh in the countryside, the late summer sun cut through the firs and shinned down on the sprawling meadows.

I headed south on the main road out along Blind Harbor, down to where the road connects with Squaw Road, I traveled down towards the east end of the island, the road sort of twists and curves around family farms and orchards, I passed by boats in Blind Harbor Bay, it’s a beautiful bay, sail boats are anchored a few hundred yards off the shoreline. I meandered through one hundred year old apple orchards; saw young deer feeding on the red ripe apples. The yearlings looked like little kids at the candy store, ears floppin’ around, hoping and jumping, all in order in getting a tasty bite from one of the delectable morsels. Everything is so wide open on the island, no traffic.

In talking with the locals I could tell they wanted to keep the island pristine, they wanted to keep it the same, didn’t want change and they don’t want growth, they were wary of visitors. I talked with several people, families, that had pioneered their way to the island, going back almost one hundred years, I loved the cabins and cottages, the marine life was active, noted ravens and hawks in the air, big blue heron balancing on one leg, standing in the water along with sea lions bobbing in the water and barking.

I think that September is a great time in camping on the islands, the weather is usually good, not many campers and you don’t have to contend with overcrowded sites or traffic. It was pretty quiet most of the way on the trip. I’d love to build a home on Shaw Island; according to some of the locals it’s pretty hard to get the permits to build anything on the island. Large homes sit on large acreage on the south side of the island. I stopped and looked at the landscape, took photographs.

Drove down to Indian Lagoon, finally made it to the county park, it was getting along in the late afternoon, I reached the campsites, there were six campsites on the east side of the main road, out along Indian Lagoon, out along the bluff, looking out to the peaceful waters, the calm waters, five camp sites on the west side of the gravel road that are situated in a small forest. The county park sits along Indian Lagoon, offering sandy beaches and allowing access to the ocean if you want to canoe or kayak.

I spent the night in campsite number six, located on the east bluff, had views of the moon that night, watched it set, the reflecting light was cast down on the lagoon, a clear night the first night, no clouds. It was memorizing, I had a great campsite, and the fire roared in the fire pit as I ate some chicken I had brought, made a small salad, munched on some big oatmeal cookies and gulped down a good amber beer before I hit my sleeping bag. The moon casted silver ribbons of light glistening on the surface of the water, sea lions barked, a slight breeze picked up.

Got my tent situated, unfolded my cot and spread out my sleeping bag, slept on and off through the night, rustled out of my sleep a few times, once by deer trying to find bits of scrap, a few hours passed and was woken by one of the local ferry boats, drifting through the islands, you could hear the engines helping propel the boat along, a soft hum, the huge vessel wasn’t located more than an eighth of a mile off shore, it was lit up with bright lights decorated around the outside. I woke up and poked my head out of my two man tent, I was half asleep, rubbed my eyes, yep there was the ferry boat, it reminded me of the big stern wheelers that drift on the Mississippi, it conjured up a few memories about Tom Sawyer, Huck and Jim on the mighty Mississippi. I sat there and watched as it rolled off in the distance. It was great, I went back to sleep and snoozed.

In talking with locals you could see their pride they have in their island, Shaw Island is inhabited by 250 people. Bill Gates owns a secluded home on the N.E. section of the island. Shaw is quiet, peaceful, tranquil, from the campsites you can hear the tide roll in.

Day 2.

Looking back I think the campsite I had was one of the best camp sites in the San Juan’s, isolated, private, quiet, and inexpensive. The sites overlooking the bluff have trails that you can take down to the lagoon, Canoe Island sits right out in front of the campsites, I’d say about two hundred yards off shore, directly due east, it’s a small island that makes the spot a bit more remote and private, providing you shelter from the wind and rain. The sites have water, firewood for sale, restrooms, no public showers, in order to grab a shower try taking the ferry over to Lopez Island; in Lopez Village they have free public showers, right in the middle of the village, in a small park. The campsites are located right on the bluffs, offering sandy beaches, you can take a swim if you want to, I waded in the water, it was cold, not too cold though, cool enough to swim in. The beach spreads out for a couple hundred yards or so, the tide went in and out causing hypnotic sounds throughout the night. I could see that there were four or five other campers on the island.

I got to chatting with one of the park rangers, Katie was her name, she was really kind, asking if I had enough wood, was there anything I needed with my stay, she thought that I might have the entire island to myself for a few days, I liked the sound of that, nice to have an entire campsite to yourself. She lived over at Lopez Island; kayaked over to Shaw to her job every morning, made sure everything was in order with the campsites and then she would kayak back to Lopez. It took her around a half hour to float between the islands. She was really thoughtful and she checked up on me while I stayed through the rest of the week. The campsites were in perfect condition. The county park has a large field that has a small enclosed cabin, open to the public, providing a fireplace and water in case the weather is bad.

I made some coffee in the morning, poured some cereal and ate a blueberry muffin. I pulled a map out trying to figure out which way to go with my ride that lay in front of me, trying to find roads, or landmarks that wound through the countryside on Orcas Island.

I moved my campsite across to the other side of the road when I first got up that morning, I camped in camp site eleven, a larger, bigger camp site, providing more shelter from wind and rain. It took about fifteen minutes in setting up my site. I’d be taking my Fuji cycle cross bike out for a spin that day, I put air in the tires, cleaned the chain, put water in my water bottles. I had planned on biking to the Shaw Island ferry dock and then taking my bike on the boat, pedaling around Orcas Island for most of the day, I’d head out and bike over to Moran State park and then up Mt. Constitution. I might be traveling about fifty miles or so I figured. I had plenty of food, packed a sandwich, a ripe pear and wore my rain gear. I was warm, covered from head to toe, no signs of moisture.

I locked up my car, made sure everything was tucked away, most of the people left the campsite that morning, heading to other islands or back to Seattle. I loved the campsite; it was perfect, nobody was there when I left that morning.

I started on my way, the first few miles I traveled through forests, lush meadows, heading west to Blind Bay Harbor, had to make it to the ferry dock around 10:00 A.M or so, had my back pack, packed up with food and my digital camera. As I headed towards the general store, traveling along the road looking out towards Blind Bay Harbor I stopped at an old orchard on the east side of the road, noticed young deer in the orchard along with an old house that sat in the middle of a large field. A pack of deer were gathering around a few of the trees, having a fine feast, not paying much attention to me as I stood there with my camera. I thought it would make a nice shot; I rarely get a chance in seeing so many young deer feeding. Just as I was adjusting my lens I noticed a large woman, a woman screaming at the top of her lungs at me. She was huge, and seemed to be a bit mad at me.

“You can’t take that picture! You can’t take that picture! You, you, I, I, I didn’t give you the authority in taking that picture!”

I looked around in making sure she wasn’t talking with somebody else. She was a mad large woman wearing a big blue skirt that completely covered her legs, draped down below her ankles, she wore a blue denim shirt and a dark blue bandana wrapped around her head big head, in one hand she carried a long pole, maybe eight feet long, seems as though she was cutting down the apples in the orchard and letting the deer feed on them. She seemed to appear out of nowhere as though she was hiding behind one of the trees waiting to spring out and yell at me. I thought she was going to hit me with her long pole, the pole had clippers attached to one end of it, a rope followed the pole down to her other hand, a large pruning pole I figured. She continued to yell at me and run around in her field. I stood there with my mouth hanging open.

I looked at her and calmly spoke and tried to gather my thoughts.

“I don’t know who put the bee in your bonnet ma’am but I’m visiting here, camping down the road, I just wanted to take a photograph of the deer feeding, where I come from you don’t see this many deer too often.”

She became beet red, steam seemed to come flying out of her ears.

“I don’t care what you have to say there buddy boy, delete that photograph now!”

I looked at her and then at my camera, I proceeded to delete the photograph and spoke to her. She gleamed at me, turning red and a few shades of purple, she was a true character, she lived off the land, lived in an old cabin over grown with black berry bushes, she was big as a caboose, and she crept closer, waving her pole at me. She had a big nose and tiny little squinty eyes; her face was scrunched up from yelling and carrying around her pole.

“There I’ve deleted the photograph!”

“Fine, I’d appreciate it if you would kindly leave.”

I looked at her, looked at the deer that had gathered around her. I thought she might be the keeper of the deer or maybe the deer god of Shaw Island, watching over her flock, staff in hand. I swear those deer surrounded her and she stood there and started to huff and puff, she reminded me of Moses in away. She watched as I got on my bike and pedaled down toward the general store. I waved to her and smiled.

When I got to the general store I told Steve the owner of the general store about my chance encounter with the keeper of the deer.

“Oh yes Grant that would be Ms. Ritter, everybody knows she’s nutty, nutty than a fruit cake, she barks at everybody, the Seattle Times came up here a few months ago and did a story about her. She’s lived on the land with one of her girlfriends, they had a falling out and split up, her parents owned that land for years, she’s a recluse, and she won’t allow anyone on her property.”

We laughed about my introduction to Ms. Ritter and I sat on one of the wooden benches that nestled up along the docks, a few minutes later the ferry boat arrived, around six cars drove down on to the docks, I was waved on to the ferry, the state workers scurried about, if you bike or walk on the ferry boats that travel the islands you can travel almost anywhere for free, it’s a great way to see the islands. I headed over to Orcas Island, it stretched out in front of me, I took pictures as we traveled along the outer western part of the island.

Within fifteen minutes we arrived at the town of Orcas, it’s a quaint little town, lodges and motels drape down to the docks, cute restaurants and bed and breakfasts are built along the hillside, I biked up a small hill off the dock, wanted to make sure I had the right road, once I got my bearings I darted to the east, grinding away looking for Orcas Island Drive, then out to Olga Drive, headed out towards Moran State park. It takes about an hour to get to Moran State park from the Orcas ferry dock. You travel through fields and farms, creeks and ponds that dot the land. The road stretches on for miles, cows, sheep and other livestock inhabit the island. I ran into other bikers traveling around the island, usually people wave as the pedal along, Orcas is so majestic.

As I approached Moran State park young deer started to dot the roadside, bucks and does, continually flicking their ears as I went by. The ride seemed fairly long; I wanted to make sure I had time to climb up Mt Constitution and make it back to the ferry boat later that afternoon. I made it to the gates of Moran State park within an hour or so, it’s a great park, dark forests nestle down along the north side of the park with the scenic Cascade lake that spreads out to the south part of the park. The park is named after the former mayor of Seattle, he originally owned timberland on the island and use to harvest the firs that grew on the island dating back to the 1880’s, he’d cut his trees in helping construct massive sailing ships. As I traveled through the park, heading due east, I finally came to the road that takes you to Mt. Constitution, up to the highest point in the San Juan Islands.

I’ve climbed up this road before, on my bike, it takes a while in getting to the top, sometimes it seems like your traveling forever up on this swerving road, a cold wind and light dew started to fall, making it much harder to head up the steep hill, it became a bit more difficult as I kept heading up what seemed a never ending road. I kept climbing up, up, up to the top. I actually climbed through clouds that had gathered around the mountain. Vistas and beautiful scenic views popped up from time to time. After a few minutes, small lakes and fields sprang up as I forged up the road, the views to the south and east are spectacular. Always climbing, huffing and puffing to the top of the hill, people waved from time to time as I continued the climb. I started to reach the top of the mountain. At the peak there is a small gift shop, restrooms and tall Douglas fir trees that surround the parking lot. The famous stone lookout tower is located a bit further to the north of the parking area; it stands out climbing up to the sky, giving you a great view of the islands. It was early September and it was cold, colder than it should have been, it reminded me of the fall, clouds continued to roll around and the mist fell, the wind howled ducking in between the dark green trees, gray rocks and boulders stuck out dotting the hillside.

I took photographs and ate my lunch when I reached the top; I found an old wooden bench and I sat for a while before taking on my descent down the hill, as I headed traversing the road I rolled along golden meadows. I headed down the hill, down, down, down, twisting and turning, cruising past Moran State park, I went by the ranger’s office and headed back down along Cascade lake, traversing the park. I got back to the town of Orcas, traveling the byways that ramble through large farms and ranches, got back in time to take in the town, stopped and grabbed a coke at one of the little stores by the harbor, before the ferry boat left for Shaw. I had gone for a fifty mile ride that first day I figured, toured all around Orcas Island with a heavy back pack, I was good and tired, talked to a few locals on the docks, soon the ferry boat was there, I boarded the boat and took the huge boat carrying cars, bikers and hikers over to Shaw; it took about fifteen minutes, I road my bike off the ferry, passed by the general store and waved to Steve, pedaled back to my campsite. The ride on Orcas was epic, I figured the ride took about five hours with touring the island. The clouds started to burn off; I finished the chicken from the night before, loaded up on water, changed into some dry clothes and washed up, listened to my radio for a while and went to bed right after night fall. The sounds of the fire crackling in the fire pit along with the the sounds of the ocean made for a wonderful night of sleep. I was amazed at the birds on the island, spotted wood peckers, and osprey. The ferry boats woke me again around 4:00 A.M. in the morning, the lights shinned bright, and you could see reflections of the boat in the water. I fell back to sleep for a nice snooze.

Day 3.

Woke up to clear blue skies, there is nothing like clear blue skies when you camp, not a single cloud in the sky. Made some coffee, grilled some French toast and looked at riding over to Lopez Island, I figured it would be around a forty mile ride that day, twenty miles out and twenty miles back to Shaw. I looked forward to taking a hot shower in the village.

Katie, the friendly ranger stopped in and checked up on me, it was nice to know she would pop in and see how I was doing, I was camping alone and it was reassuring in a way. I asked her about the history of the campsites, she proceed to tell me that around 1890 the locals that lived on the island wanted a county park, the land was owned at that time by the U.S. military, they sold sixty acres to the residents, the locals paid $75.00 for the land. What a deal! I thanked her and got my bike ready for the ride. I laid out some of my damp clothes in the warm sun, left them hanging over my tent hoping they would dry out in the next hour or so.

The ferry boat for Lopez left around 9:30 A.M. that morning. I put on my bike gear and headed down the gravel road, biked along the harbor and dropped into the general store. Grabbed some bananas and packed them away in my back pack. The ferry boat arrived and I rode up onto the big double decker boat that plodded through the water, it was sunny and warm. The ride over to Lopez took about twenty minutes. I took in the sites of the San Juan’s as we past smaller islands along the way. I could see Lopez off in the distance, could barely make out the boat ramps. I had camped on Lopez several times through the last five or six years, had camped at Spencer Spitz and Lopez Farms (a small private campsite nestled in a big meadow.) Lopez is around thirty five miles in circumference, fairly flat, with old gravel roads that stretch to the far side of the island.

I got to the ferry dock on Lopez, biked up a small hill and then headed through fields and forest, curving through the countryside, a few rosters cackled at me as I spun by. I decided I would bike around the sights and sounds of the island first, then head into the village, the island is so pristine, old farms and homes dot the island, it took about an hour, maybe a little longer to take in the entire island, soon there was the small town of Lopez Village. It’s a great little village, consisting of a few homes, stores, restaurants, coffee shops and a small park that has public showers. The showers are free, nice and warm. I brought a back pack and some clean clothes, headed to the inviting showers, let the warm water cover me, scrubbing away, I must have taken a good ten minute shower that day. Shaved, brushed my teeth and went over to one of my favorite coffee shops located not more than thirty yards away from the showers, after having a much needed coffee I road over to the local market and got a few things, took a few photographs, got on my bike and headed back to the ferry docks. I waited about an hour before the friendly ferry bumped up along the docks, boarded the boat, looked back at Lopez and floated back to Shaw Island. I really love Lopez Island, it has always been such a nice place to visit, the people are friendly and the weather is usually really nice in late July and September.

Got back to my camp site, nobody else was there, it was dark, I lit a fire and made some soup, toasted some cheese sandwiches and wrote in my journal. Listened to the Oregon Duck football game on my small radio, glad the Ducks won that day, glad to hear that Oregon State won as well!

The stars were out that night, a terrific constellation provided me with a fine show that night, the moon came out and lit up the sky. Deer showed up after my fire went out, I could hear them doing a little dance next to a field that butted up against my campsite, I could see their silhouettes up against my tent, I didn’t move, didn’t want to scare them. At night, in going to bed I usually dressed up in a sweat shirt and wore warm ups and a pair of good wool socks. My sleeping bag was warm and I usually had a spare blanket to cover me up. The second night in sleeping was perfect; I even had some ear plugs in case I needed them.

Day 4.

Woke up to clear skies once again, I had lucked out with the weather, made coffee and a fire. I slept in that morning, I figured I covered close to nighty miles in the last couple of days with biking around the islands, I decided to stay at the county park that day, I wouldn’t leave Shaw, I wanted to explore the beaches, I wanted to walk around the lagoon, after breakfast I draped my sleeping back over my tent, letting it air out and organized my clothes and ice chest. I relaxed, wrote in my journal after breakfast, a few sparrows hopped along the picnic table and picked at scraps of food, made sure I put out the fire and headed across the gravel road and then made my way down to the beach. Not a single person was in the campsite other than me, it was perfect.

I waded in the water, soaked my feet and tired legs, they were sore from the rides that I had done, suddenly out off in the distance, off of Canoe Island there was a large orange canoe heading my way, two young guys around twenty five were busily paddling, huffing and puffing along in the still waters, trying to make their way to the inviting beach. I looked at them, and waved, I could tell they were exhausted from their trip. They looked like they were in good shape, they looked curious when they saw me.

“Welcome! Welcome to Shaw Island,” I said.

They smiled and looked around.

“Where are the campsites?” I pointed up to the bluffs not more than twenty yards up the hill.

“Nobody is here, you’re not going to have a problem spending the night.”

They smiled, dragged their canoe up to the bluff, they had stuff bags and supplies. Within twenty minutes or so they had set up camp. I walked over to their campsite.

“Why don’t you guys head over to my site tonight, I have a few beers and will make a fire, I have some chips and salsa.”

“Sounds good,” They replied as they smiled and unpacked their belongings.

I walked down back to my campsite, cleaned my bike, oiled it, checked the gears and brakes, everything was fine and ready to go with the ride the next morning.

I spent the rest of the day taking photographs, writing in my journals. I decided that the next day I would ride around Shaw Island, there were a few roads that went down the southernmost tip of the island and a few roads that went to the west. I cleaned out my ice chest and made sure the food was good to go. I made some spaghetti, had some tomato sauce, salad and bread, I put a few cold ambers on ice.

The night settled in, shortly bright stars started to sparkle in the sky, twinkling as bright as could be. I put on a fire, and made sure I had enough wood to last a few hours. I had brought a portable lounge chair, put on a sweat shirt, warm ups, some clean socks; I sat bundled up warm and dry as could be. I found a good radio station playing some soft jazz.

Around eight or so the two kids that had canoed in that afternoon came walking across the road and made their way to my site. They sat around the fire, and I offered them a couple beers. They were bundled up and gazed into the fire, almost drifting off as we started our conversation.

“Grant I’m Ian, my buddy here is Dan,” I shook their hands and sipped on my beer.

They went on to tell me that they had recently graduated from college, lived in Seattle and had taken the ferry boat over to Lopez Island from Anacortes. They had set up camp on Lopez the first couple of nights and decided to head over to Shaw Island. Dan was big, he looked like a football player, had graduated from Whitman College, studied political science, Ian was tall, good natured, had graduated from Seattle University had studied environmental services. We striked up a quick conversation, they had never been to Shaw Island, and I told proceeded to tell them what I knew about the island. We had the entire camp ground to ourselves that night. Dan took a long stick and poked at the fire, it kept us warm as we sat there, talking about current events and music.

“We’re heading out early in the morning; we want to go down south on the island.”

We were enclosed in my camp site; the tall firs seemed to wrap their arms around us. I told them of the deer I had seen. Dan looked at me and started to smile.

“Grant call me Tank.” I looked at him and asked, “Why do you want to call you Tank Dan?”

He looked at me and started to tell me the following tale.

“Well Grant I was raised by my father, a Lutheran minister. He put me in summer camp when I was eight; we had a great counselor named Tank that summer. He was the coolest guy in the camp, he taught us how to tie knots with rope and showed us how to tie fishing lines, he taught us how to read the stars and navigate the seas. All the kids loved him.All the kids loved him. I want people to love me the way they loved Tank.”

He looked at me and smiled after he finished his story, “I want you to call me Tank Grant. Please?”

I thought it over and nodded my head in agreement.

We sat there for a good five minutes not saying a thing, one of the ferry boats started passing in the night, it fascinated them. We started talking about Mark Twain. We laughed, telling stories of Huckleberry Finn, Dean Moriarty and Tom Joab.

They went on to tell me they liked Jimmy Hendrix and the Band of Gypsies. Told them I had seen Buddy Miles the drummer with Band of Gypsies back in 1982 or so. They were amazed when I told them of this fact. Ian told me he played guitar.

“He’s really good Grant! He can really play the guitar” barked Tank.

We talked about Django Reinhardt, told them he was my favorite guitarist. Ian had just checked out a few of Django’s records at the library and pulled them out. We started to play his mesmerizing tunes.

We talked about what their generation was facing with the national debt. We talked about the state of the economy, Afghanistan, and the changing weather patterns. We sat quietly once again as we looked at the clear dark blue night, it was great. It was Zen like, a moment in time forever sketched in my mind.

We continued to chat into the night, I looked at my watch, and yawned, it was close to 11:00 P.M.

“I should get to bed guys.”

They looked at me and agreed, made their way across the county road holding their flashlights in their hands, kicking small rocks across the road. It was a great day, no rain, no wind everything was dry. I looked over at them and waved.

“See you later Ian, see you Tank.”

I fell asleep pretty fast that night, I had a great night with sleep, had a dream about an old girlfriend.

One of the great things about camping, about sleeping under the stars, when the moon lights up the sky, like a bright ball, the water glistened, creating visual images that fade and twist in the water, not a cloud was is in the sky that night. The young guys were great company that I could tell they appreciated the hospitality.

I thought to myself as I went to sleep, “Ha, ha, ha, he wanted me to call him Tank!”


Day 5.

Woke up early on Monday morning, it was sunny, a perfect day once again, the best day camping by far. I poured cereal, noticed fresh deer tracks in the dirt surrounding my fire pit. Made coffee, looked over at where Tank and Ian had been camping, they were gone. They did leave early, most likely before dawn.

Ate breakfast and checked out the map with the island. Soon I was on my bike, I headed south on my bike, out on Squaw Bay road. Went due S.E. along the contour of the island, the first mile of the ride is really nice, passing through old orchards and fields. Followed Squaw Bay, went out to the outer part of the island. Shaw Island is about fifteen miles round. The convent still stands near Squaw Bay, the nuns live there. They own several acres, they have livestock and orchards, and fields that roll through streams and creeks, old wooden fences follow dusty roads, it sits on a beautiful spot in the island, surrounded by forest and deer. I left around 9:00 A.M., noticed old cottages that dotted the landscape, old family farm homes, horses and lamas seemed to flourish through the countryside. Made it to the farthest point due south, there are some nice homes on this part of the island, remote homes. Headed north, made it to the point in the island where you get to the old historical two room school house. The library sits kitty corner of the school house. Kept biking to the community center. It’s a nice community center, small offering a few things to the locals; it sits right smack dab in the island, a big pasture sits on the other side of the road. Went along Blind Bay road. Wound my way down to the campsite, nobody was there. Got done with the ride in about two hours or so, took some great photographs of the landscape on the island as I plodded along the old country roads.

I changed in to some dry clothes, I started to break down my camp and head back to Portland, packed away everything into my car. Cleaned my bike, made sure my campsite was left spotless. I spread out a wet towel in the back of my car, covering the ice chest, I didn’t have to many things that were wet, hardly anything to speak of. Looked around one last time, nobody was left in the campsite, I drove down to Blind Bay Drive, made it to the ferry docks and the general store. I was early, decided to park my car and wait. I went over to a little park across from the general store and sat on a wood bench in a tiny little park that looked out to the still quiet waters of the San Juan’s.

Noticed an old grizzly guy sitting over on a bench, striked up a conversation with the old islander, he looked like something between an old cowboy, an old fisherman and an old wise hobbit, he had an old gray beard that hung down, wore a cap on his head and was missing a few teeth. He looked at me and spat on the ground, rubbed his forehead and started to ramble away.

“Ya’ been campin’?”

I looked at him and he started to kind of suck on his gums asking me questions and eying me up and down.

“How long ya been here?” he said as he flapped on his gums.

“Oh I’ve been here for about four days or so,” I replied.

He scratched his head, kind of tilting his hat to the side as he looked at me.

“Did ya’ get to see the sites of the island, Purty island ain’t she?”

I looked at him and nodded with agreement.

He wasn’t more than five feet five or so, his clothes were worn, and it looked like he had been working on something that must have been a big chore, maybe working on a farm or maybe doing work on one of the large homes located to the south side of the island. I tried to answer all his questions.

“What cha’ been doing?” I asked.

He fumbled around in his pockets and pulled out some chewing gum and popped it in his mouth.

“Oh, I insulated a big new home over near the community center. Just finished the job this morning, had been workin’ on it for a couple weeks, I’m heading over to San Juan Island, back home to my sweetie-pie.”

I told him I was from Oregon. He looked at me and shot up in the air a bit, blinked his eyes and kicked his right foot out, almost like he had been stung by a bee.

“I lived in Eugene for a few years, use to fly  helicopters for a couple of the big logging companies outside of Eugene, I helped lift logs off the land,” He smiled at me.

I told him that I had a friend out of high school that died logging, died while he was tying a choke, the cable snapped and hit him in the neck, snapping his neck instantly.

He looked at me, “Yep it can be real rough logging, sorry about your friend.”

We looked out at Orcas Island. I thought of John Monague, my friend that had died logging.

The 4:30 ferry boat started to approach the island, was heading over from Orcas. When the boat arrived it was scheduled that we would head over to Orcas and then head to Anacortes, then drive down 1-5 to Portland. I loved my camping trip to Shaw. I’ve camped on Orcas, camped on Lopez, I have to say that Shaw Island is my favorite island with camping; it’s rural, small, and peaceful. The locals were real nice, real friendly, the county park was a great place to camp and explore.

I wish that the community of Shaw Island would look at putting showers in at the county park or maybe even at the community center. Maybe look at allowing a brew pub would be pretty cool, maybe call it “Shaw Island Brew Pub?”, have it look over one of the rolling meadows, with a big beer garden and play music on the weekends. I can understand why the islanders want to keep the island the same. They want to preserve the past, leaving things the same after for other generations to enjoy. I doubt if the nuns would want to allow liquor on the island. I loved the fact that I didn’t have to drive for almost four days once I set up camp, that I biked everywhere I went, it was fun, liked meeting Ian and Tank. I love Shaw Island and look forward in staying there again, I hated to leave.

I wound down through I-5 heading south, down through Seattle; the trip down from Anacortes to Portland took about four hours that day, drove down through Tacoma and Longview, through Woodland and Battleground, down to Vancouver and finally making it in to Portland, made it through the cars driving to fast, made it through the traffic and the madness of the big cities. It had been a great camping trip, was rested and I wished that I could have stayed longer on that magical little island.

One Response to Shaw Island

  1. Melanie Fields says:

    My husband and I are considering a day trip to Shaw Island. Someone remarked that it is hilly. I have a bad knee which gets better as I ride but long steep inclines are difficult. Liked your story.

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