Cycling Adventure on Amtrak Cascades

by Dan Shryock

 

We slide onto our seats and watch the scenery pass by. It’s slow at first, but we gradually gain speed toward our next destination. We’re expending no effort, though, and these are not our rock-hard bicycle seats. We’re enjoying cushioned comfort aboard an Amtrak Cascades train.

We’re on the road—and the tracks—for a week in search of destination bike rides from Oregon to British Columbia but instead of driving from town to town, we’re taking the train. On the rails, we check our bikes into a baggage car. On the wheels, we rely on regional walking/biking trails for easy escape into the Pacific Northwest countryside.

Station 1: Eugene, Oregon 

The adventure starts with a casual ride in and around Eugene. Alton Baker Park is a logical starting point with its easy access to the city’s Ruth Bascom Bike Path. We can ride on 12 miles of paved trails from Eugene to Springfield before returning for our train.

The Amtrak station is less than a mile from the park, a quick ride across the bicycle/pedestrian DeFazio Bridge over the Willamette River. The train arrives and we lift our bikes to the baggage handler who hangs them in their reserved spots. Once in our seats, we head north.

Station 2: Salem, Oregon

The train rolls into downtown Salem. We disembark, retrieve the bikes, and strap our bags to handlebars and seatposts for a short ride past the state capitol building to the city’s showcase Riverfront Park. The expansive Minto-Brown Island Park is easily accessible across a footbridge. Four paved miles of trail later, we emerge on the park’s opposite side and quickly link with the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway, one of Oregon’s 17 designated state bike routes. Vineyards, blueberry fields, and the Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge are accessible depending on how far we choose to ride.

Amtrak/cycling adventure

After a night’s rest, we start early the next morning. There’s another train to catch.

Station 3: Olympia-Lacey, Washington

Our destination is Olympia, another state capital, and the nearest Amtrak station is in suburban Lacey. The nine-mile ride to Olympia’s downtown Historic District provides a first look at the Chehalis Western Trail system across Olympia and Thurston County. This network, sheltered by stands of trees throughout the region, links us with Woodard Point 6 miles to the north and the town of Tenino 28 miles south.

A two-night stay also allows time to explore downtown Olympia. Pasta at Basilico Ristorante provides an opportunity to practice speaking Italian with owner Gianpaolo Falchetti. Batdorf & Bronson Roastery’s Dancing Goats coffeehouse across the street delivers morning wakeup sustenance, and a post-ride draft beer is three blocks away at McMenamins Spar Café. Everything we need is right here.

Station 4: Whidbey Island via Everett, Washington

A late afternoon train from Lacey delivers us to the Everett Amtrak station after dark. With headlights and taillights on, we make our way to our hotel before starting early the next morning for Whidbey Island. First, we fuel up with breakfast at the Village Café in the city’s Hewitt Avenue Historic District. Fortified, we pedal to the Clinton-Mukiteo Ferry, enjoying views of Possession Sound along the way.

Our destination today is Country Cottage of Langley, a traditional bed and breakfast with owner Jacki Stewart’s personal touch. On Jacki’s recommendation, we walk a half mile to quaint downtown Langley where fresh seafood is the order of the evening. We later return to the cottage porch where deer foraging on the fruits of Jacki’s plum trees provide after-dinner entertainment barely 50 feet away.

The dominant daytime wildlife in and around Langley are the rabbits, or bunnies as locals prefer to call them. They are everywhere. Local legend says a few animals escaped from the nearby Island County Fairgrounds years ago and met their wild cousins. Then, bunnies did what bunnies do.

We explore the area’s rolling, wooded, two-lane roads by day and relax at the Country Cottage for two restful nights before a planned ride to the island’s north end, across Deception Pass Bridge and on to the Mt. Vernon Amtrak station. A heavy rainstorm washes away that idea. Instead, we connect with Island Transit, the local bus service, and eventually are dropped off near the train station in plenty of time for the Amtrak Cascades to Canada. We sink into our train seats and close our eyes with thoughts of Vancouver.

Station 5: Vancouver, British Columbia

It’s midnight. We retrieve our bikes one more time, turn on the headlights and pedal the bike paths around False Creek, past BC Place arena and through empty downtown streets. We arrive at Wedgewood Hotel & Spa, find our room, and blissfully sink into luxurious mattresses.

Morning arrives with anticipation overcoming physical exhaustion. There’s one more day on the bikes and it’s a big one. It starts with a must-do ride around the parameter of iconic Stanley Park. We pass under the towering Lions Gate Bridge knowing we soon will be atop the span heading for North Vancouver. There’s no hurry though. The seawall tour should be completed slowly in order to enjoy views of the city, Vancouver Harbour and the Burrard Inlet. And, of course, the park itself.

Amtrak/cycling adventure

Once safely across the Lions Gate Bridge using the protected pedestrian/bike lane, we pedal east across North Vancouver and into Mount Seymour Provincial Park for one last forest ride before returning to Vancouver. We stop in Gastown, a popular Vancouver restaurant district known for its whistling steam-powered clock, for well-earned food and cold drinks.

One last Amtrak Cascades train bound for Oregon leaves Vancouver at dawn. The sounds of bike chains ticking on gears are replaced once more with the rhythmic clickity clack of train wheels on rails. The sounds combine with the blur of images passing outside the window to lull a weary body to sleep.

Plan Your Trip

Amtrak Cascades

Eugene, Oregon

Salem, Oregon

Olympia-Lacey, Washington

Whidbey Island, Washington

Vancouver, British Columbia