Getting Off the Grid on Orcas Island

After being completely immersed and ultimately distracted in the REI Flagship store in Seattle, we found ourselves hauling ass to meet the ferry from Anacortes to Orcas Island.
Visiting Orcas Island can be a bit tricky, no matter what time you visit. Leaving Anacortes, there’s generally a 3-hour gap between ferry departures. Given our timing, we had to either make the 3.40pm ferry* or wait and try and find our Airbnb accommodation in the dark, since the next ferry left at 6.30pm.  An arrival after dark doesn’t work well for us.  We hate to miss out on the scenery.
After queuing at the ferry terminal in our rental car, we were methodically guided onto the vessel.  Wedged in nose to nose, every inch of parking space was allocated.  Getting in and out of the car was a bit of a squeeze, but we managed to wriggle our way out.  As soon as we were settled, we made our way upstairs to watch the departure from the wharf.
Like the adventure to Bainbridge Island, this journey was a dream come true.
The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful. Being this far north in the San Juan Islands, the weather can be brisk.  Visiting in February, for us, was damn cold since we’d just left summer in Sydney! But there was no way I would spend an hour and a half cooped up inside.  I was here to experience the brisk salty air and my long-time dream of making the voyage through the islands in the Salish Sea.
It was like another world here. 
It was interesting to watch how the other passengers passed the time. Some played card games. Putting jigsaw puzzles together was a popular activity.  Others simply caught up with friends or passed the time reading.  I found it hard to believe that anyone could tire of such gobsmacking gorgeous surroundings and need to divert themselves otherwise.  My camera finger was numb by the time we arrived (and not just from the cold)!
We had heard nothing about Orcas Island prior to our visit. We were enchanted by the photos we’d found online when were were looking for places to stay.  With every mile we drove, through rolling farm land and small fishing communities dotting the coastline, we grew more appreciative of the area.
With map in hand, we attempted to navigate to the opposite side of the island to our Airbnb accommodation.  Let me just say, Orcas Island is not very big and there is a single main road to follow that takes you to anywhere you might want to go.  Still, with crystal clear directions, we managed to get lost.  We found the local airport, a lovely cemetery, and a fancy resort while we tried to decipher where we went wrong.
I don’t know about you, but I love what comes with being lost. 
We never would have seen these places had we not zigged when we should have zagged when we passed the supermarket.
Our escape was worth the trouble to find.  Our quarters were set up as a separate entity to the main house, connected by a locked door.  Our hosts were away, basking in the warm weather in Mexico, as we ducked through rain and navigated through the twilight to find the hidden key.
The house was cosy and the views were magnificent as the fading sun dipped behind a neighbouring island. We lit a fire and settled in.  We nibbled on munchies we found at the supermarket on the way (in Eastsound) and sipped Washington State wine to celebrate where we were.
The upstairs bedroom had a giant king size bed with windows opening to what we anticipated would be a stunning view in the morning.  It was here where we crashed– and hard.  We had packed a lot in today and we still had more to do tomorrow.
Packing up the next morning was hard to do, but we ventured back out to explore the island.  We had read about Mount Constitution in Moran State Park so we headed there for the 360 degree views that could be seen from the top.  Funnily enough, it was off the main road, we’d passed it the night before.  But upon arriving, we discovered the road was closed due to fog.  Of course!
We found a trail to hike and imagined what it would be like to camp here.  (Oh, it’s so on the U.S.A. Road Trip Living List!)  We came upon campsites nestled in the great pines with picnic tables available for each site.  The trail wound around small lakes while birds ducked in and out of the water in search of their breakfast.  Very few people were out and about which made exploring perfect.  I’m sure summer would be a different story.
With travel, sometimes timing is everything: off season alleviates the crowds, but allows for lousy weather.  You’ve gotta take the good with the bad I suppose.
Checking our watch, we realized we had limited time before having to meet the ferry back to the mainland.  As we were leaving, we saw the road was now open to the top of the mountain, so we made a quick decision to head up for a look.  The clouds still blocked much of the views overlooking the vast forest (we did see Canada peek through for a quick moment), but it was worth the detour all the same.
We arrived for the ferry only be turned away because we didn’t have a reservation.  Wait.  What?   No one said anything to us about a reservation, we tried to explain to the somewhat grumpy attendant.  Our pleas fell on deaf ears so we had three hours to kill.  Not a bad place to be stranded though, let me say.
After hopping online to secure a spot on the next ferry, we stopped for lunch at the Orcas Hotel where we learned more about this notorious reservation system.  The locals are appalled.  During high season, the ferries are booked months in advance, leaving the residents stranded.  To make due, excursions off Island are planned within the community to stock up on supplies.
The young woman tending the counter told us about trying to make a reservation around her best friend’s due date for her baby.  Because of the rigidity of the system, she had to hope that she got the timing right weeks in advance.
I couldn’t imagine.
As I said, it’s like a whole different world up here.  You’d have to be a damn good planner to live here!
 *you must make a reservation for the ferry as soon as you book your accommodation in any of the San Juan Islands.
Click here for a $20 AirBnB credit for your next booking!

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