Inspired by ride #6 in Mike McQuaide’s 75 Classic Rides of Washington, we set our sights on Skagit County and the 1,273′ lump just south of Anacortes, Mount Erie. Although at first glance it’s not a particularly compelling objective compared to other Puget Sound rides, Mount Erie is the highest point on Fidalgo Island, and it offers amazing views of Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands, Mt. Baker, and the Cascades. Mike’s name for the ride, “Leg Shredder,” also added to the appeal.
Mount Erie is actually only a small portion of this cloverleaf route which tours Fidalgo Island, the Swinomish Indian Reservation, and super-industrialized March Point:
The crew consisted of 3 Cheasty Boys, a “loose confederate of riders and beer drinkers from the western hoods of Seattle” that has been “blowing minds since 2009.” My legs usually get blown as well when I ride with this band of cycling buddies.
Our adventure started at the March Point Park and Ride, just north of Hwy 20 and east of the turnoff to Deception Pass and Whidbey Island. There is a portapottie at the park and ride, and Moka Joe is across the street if you need a caffeine fix before or after the ride.
From the park and ride we spun north to the Tommy Thompson Trail, a rails to trails trestle and jetty that spans Fidalgo Bay and connects March Point and downtown Anacortes. The Tommy Thompson Trail can be treacherous for bicycle tires: Watch out for the sharp remnants of oysters and other shellfish that birds drop on the trail to get at the tasty bivalve meat.
Rather than strictly follow McQuaide’s route, we minimized the time on Hwy 20 and instead followed a zig-zag route though quiet (and foggy) neighborhoods before reconnecting with the guidebook’s route on Marine Drive. The punchy little climbs in this section were a shock to legs that only had a few miles of warmup in them.
As you approach Mount Erie from the north, you see a wooded rise up ahead and think “how hard could this be?” The climbing is relatively benign at first, but gets serious once you turn left onto Erie Mountain Drive. The actual climb is about 1.5+ miles of steady 10+% with sections that exceed 15%. The final .25 mile qualifies as what I call “digital steepness”–either you keep pedaling no matter what or you tip off the bike and become a pedestrian.
The morning fog had mostly burned off by the time we reached the summit, and we spent a fair bit of time enjoying the views from the outlooks. Mount Erie is a popular rock climbing destination, and on a weekday morning we saw several pairs and groups geared up to practice their skills on the south-facing crags near the top.
After relaxing a bit too long, we pointed the bikes downhill and completed the rest of the ~50-mile circuit. There is one sketchy ~2-mile section along Hwy 20 north of Deception Pass that has a lot of traffic, and as McQuaide advises, it’s worth just going into time trial mode to get it over with and to the mellow country roads on the Swinomish Reservation. Although there are no major climbs on the rest of the ride, there are quite a number of sharp rollers that yield a total of ~3,921′ of climbing in ~52 miles.
This is a fantastic ride for a clear warm day, and I’d recommend doing it on a weekday since weekend traffic to the Anacortes ferry and Whidbey Island can be horrendous. To finish the day, stop at the La Conner Brewery for a post-ride meal and beverage.