I’m away this week so I’m scheduling a few quick posts sharing some of the car-free content I’ve found around the web in my research for The Transit Trekker Manual.
Here’s an old post from The Sightline Institute asking for car-free vacation ideas, with a bunch of comments offering up suggestions and experiences. Not surprisingly, the San Juan Islands and Port Townsend make a lot of appearances.
All of my vacations are car-free because I don’t have a driver’s license (fun, random fact: for some reason the WADOL styles this “driver license.”). But it’s interesting to see the interest even 15 years ago for car-free recreation options….
The photo above is from my March 2021 transit trek to Deception Pass on Whidbey Island.
The post features the C&O Canal, which I rode on what I think of as my first official transit trek, from NYC to DC and the C&O and then on to Pittsburg via the Great Allegheny Passage, about a decade ago. We even stayed in a lockhouse like the one featured in the post. More on that in a later post. As many 300+ -mile bike tour can be, it was quite the adventure.
The photo above is NOT from the C&O trip, as I don’t have those at hand. It’s from one of my many trips to Tolt-MacDonald Park, which is adjacent the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, which connects to the hundreds-miles long Palouse to Cascades Trail — a rough Washington state analog to C&O and Great Allegheny Passage trails.
Off-season rates for Washington State Parks rental cabins made this last week a good one to get some away time to be with myself and focus on writing The Transit Trekker Manual. I had rescheduled from the first week in December because the weather looked iffy at the time, only for more intense weather and snow on my rescheduled arrival date to suspend the Jefferson Transit Route 1 at Quilcene. That’s about 15 miles north of the bus stop at the entrance to Dosewallips State Park. Not a walkable distance or conditions with my gear, and not something that in unpredictable winter weather I’d be comfortable bicycling, especially on a route I’d not ridden before.
No matter. Although I thought I’d looked at all possible transit permutations from Seattle to Dosewallips, as I monitored the transit agency’s severe weather service updates in hopes that this was only a one-day delay, that gave me time to look over schedules and routes again. Whereupon I discovered I’d overlooked a series of transit trips that allowed me to avoid a frigid 4-hour layover in Port Townsend, among other factors.
Yes, a few hours in Port Townsend is its own elixir under most circumstances. But I was hauling more than usual in anticipation of my week-long stay at Dosewallips, and without my bike, so flaneuring around town with both my backpacking pack and my hand-cart AKA Burley Travoy in tow, in the snow, on sidewalks that might or might not be plowed and might or might not be iced over, and might or might not have curb cuts, was not my idea of a great time. I had even plotted out my expected layover so as to explore town and stretch my legs and lungs while keeping reasonably sheltered from the elements:
In retrospect, I’m not sure why I thought I could do any hiking at Fort Worden with the trailer in the snow. I probably would not have had time anyway, given the actual state of sidewalks just around Haines Place Park & Ride transit hub — mostly uncleared, semi-frozen, slick with ice, worst at curb cuts — it would have likely taken me a full hour or more to painstakingly walk back from Water Street (and my favorite Port Townsend destination, Better Living Through Coffee) to catch the Fort Worden-bound bus. I’m still very wary of being indoors with folks for long periods of time, even masked (I plan to get my bivalent booster in the next few days) or I would have happily planted myself at the library for all those hours instead of just a little.
The Seattle-to-Dosewallips trip I ultimately pieced together added one bus segment but reduced the layover factor by three hours, letting me leave home later rather than earlier in the morning. The weather was looking slightly less intense, but I knew I would still have to wait until morning to see if Jefferson Transit was going to resume full service on the route 1.
The next morning I furiously refreshed the Jefferson Transit page for severe weather service updates. It turned out that the route 1 was still not running all the way to Triton Cove, it’s southern terminus along 101. Nor was it running to Dosewallips. But! It was running to Brinnon, the stop just before Dosewallips. I knew from my scoping out the trip that there was a pedestrian pathway along Highway 101 on the bridge over the Dosewallips River, connecting the north and south sides of the park so folks don’t need to walk on the highway. Neither the park maps nor online maps make it exactly clear how to access it from town, but it looked like less than a 10-minute walk from the bus stop to my cabin. I’d delayed my trip by a day already and I wasn’t going to let a few minutes of possibly having to walk on the shoulder of 101 stop me from enjoying my planned week of respite and work.
Once I was off the bus….well, some sections of highway 101 shoulders are more narrow than others. And with two short bridges over marshy areas, to get to the ped path it looked like I’d still have to walk on those narrow shoulders, which still had snow plow pile up the sides, before I could get close enough to the ped walkway. Thankfully traffic was light, and notably, drivers of largest vehicles, including a semi, were by far the best at slowing and giving me ample space. I made it to the main 101 bridge over the Dosewallips and its wider shoulders and thought I might just be able to walk the shoulder to the main park entrance. But then I saw up ahead the curve of the highway and narrowed shoulders cramped by guardrails on both sides, and limited sight lines around the curve. I looked across the highway at the low concrete wall lining the pedestrian path on the other side. After a moment of assessment, I decided I could lift the Burley over that low wall. And so when traffic was clear, I crossed, lifted myself over and onto the snow-encrusted walkway, and then rolled the Travoy’s wheels and body up and over. Disappointed but not surprised, unlike 101 and the roads in the park when I arrived, the pathway was not plowed. (This would prove to be an ongoing issue when I walked into town after the snow melted off, because there’s a high lip on the river side of the walkway, which slows the snowmelt considerably, creating the effect of walking through a stream.)
From here I carefully made my way down a ramp that led to an underpass connecting the east and west sides of the park, and the sector of the park where my cabin was located – right there.
Later I discovered that getting to the path involves little more than crossing 101 during a lull and finding a well-worn but unsigned goat path that connects to the walkway and its ramps. (Not that accessible, alas, and neither is the park for mobility aids, though I guess that falls under YMMV.) The goat path likely would have been much more visible in the summertime, since the snow obscured a lot of cues that I otherwise would have been able to consider in my navigational choices! Better signage on the park’s and county’s part about the sidepath option would have also been useful, even in better weather. And if the goat path is on public park property or a DOT or other easement….just pave it already.
A couple of days in, I also discovered through speaking with a park staffer that the county didn’t consider Triton Cove enough of a priority to plow, which is one reason the bus likely held at Brinnon the day I arrived. I did not confirm this with Jefferson Transit….but whichever the jurisdiction, once again, disappointed but not surprised that a key transit connection — the only one between Mason and Jefferson Counties, by the way — is not considered a priority for plowing. Especially ironic to me when so much of the conversation I overheard on the buses I rode in Jefferson County was how unsafe the roads were for driving — many of the folks on my buses were riding precisely because they wanted to avoid driving but needed to get around.
These are the kind of barriers that nondrivers in these communities should not have to confront, and they are barriers that people who can drive rarely have to confront. Consider the rarity with which the state closes highway passes due to snow, and the great and repeated lengths it goes to plow those passes (and despite the near-certainty of costly collisions that end up delaying that traffic anyway and putting first responders at risk); yet a critical transit connection suffers a gap because some jurisdiction won’t plow sufficiently for bus service, which is a much safer way to travel, particularly in snow. One thing I’m working on with The Transit Trekker Manual is providing users a tool to provide feedback to All The Jurisdictions about the gaps and opportunities to improve the transportation network for nondrivers in the places they visit by transit. It would be a mistake to use the interest I think exists for transit-based recreation to only increase service and convenience for visitors without first closing the gaps and enhancing service and mobility for the communities I am encouraging folks to travel to and through.
Back to Dosewallips…
I arrived at the park at a magical time, when almost everything was covered in snow and the quiet that comes with it.
Later in my stay, after days of heavy rain melted the snow (and flooded part of the park, forcing one of the parties in a cabin in another part of the park to relocate to the empty cabin next to me), another kind of glorious emerged, including the famous elk of Dosewallips. My own sighting and so elk photos came at a pretty far distance earlier in the day— over in the meadow on the other side of the river. David Faber (who happens to be the mayor of Port Townsend and wrote a thoughtful letter about the Week Without Driving in the city’s October 2022 City Newsletter) happened on elk up close and kindly allowed me to use his tweet here. This is along Highway 101 just south of the park’s main entrance.
There’s quite a lot you can do using the park or nearby resorts or lodging as bases, including starting some epic backpacking trips on the Olympic Peninsula. You can also walk or roll from the park to the very-nearby Geoduck Lounge (see the results of my visit below) if you don’t mind crossing 101.
Dosewallips will be a featured trip in The Transit Trekker Manual with lots more details than I can offer here. (Yup, that’s a hint to sign up to get notified when the manual is released!)