A World Away

During a clear day on the summit of Mt. Constitution, it’s possible to see Mt. Rainier, Glacier Peak, the Twin Sisters, Mt. Baker, the Canadian Coast Range, the Olympic Mountains, and, of course, Bellingham Bay, nearly 3,000 feet below. It’s just one of the benefits of riding the highest point in Puget Sound.

A World Away Ride, Relax, Repeat on Orcas Island

Every year during the first weekend of May, the ferry to Orcas Island is packed with mountain bikers.

An assortment of vans, trucks, minivans and Subarus fill the Anacortes terminal’s 16 lanes, waiting for their chance to start the hour-long motor to the forested cluster of the San Juan Islands. It can be a long wait; it’s the last weekend before Orcas’ summer bike closure, and from the DH, enduro and XC bikes stacked and packed into the mob of vehicles it has the makings of one big party.

The weekend’s popularity might be due to the ferry ride, which makes the island feel a world away. Or maybe it’s having a paved road to the top of the 2,398-foot Mount Constitution and the ability to pack a shuttle truck beyond the brim. It could also be the trailhead lake-side camping, a mountain bike factor that can rival an all-inclusive resort. Or maybe it’s the miles of singletrack falling from the summit of the San Juan’s tallest peak. Whatever the reason, mid-May on Orcas Island is a singletrack bender.

At 57 square miles, the horseshoe-shaped island is the largest in the San Juan archipelago. All the elevation and most of the singletrack is on the east side of the island, leading giddy bikers through rolling hills, dank forest and past the famously wild skatepark to their destination. Twelve miles from the ferry dock, the highway passes under a concrete archway at the entrance of Moran State Park, a 5,000-plus acre plot of land that was originally given to the state of Washington in 1921 by Robert Moran, Seattle’s mayor from 1888 to 1890. The arch is the first sign of the history that’s made Orcas Island such a mountain bike paradise. Thanks to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program, in 1933 the 4768th Company of the Civilian Conservation Corps established Camp Moran. The workers, from as far away as Minnesota and New York State, set out to build infrastructure, trails and much more to promote recreation in the park. The culmination of their projects was a stone lookout tower at the top of Mount Constitution. A crew of 28 men began construction in late summer of 1935, with a crew of eight men harvesting sandstone from the quarry on the northern side of the island. It took two years, but by 1937 the tower stood proudly at the summit.

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