Electric Adventure: An Island Weekend Getaway on e-Bikes.
Electric Bikes are everywhere on Vashon Island, a semi-rural ecotopia just a short ferry ride from Seattle. Join us for a socially distant "glamping" getaway powered by e-bikes--and farm fresh eggs.
We load our gear onto the electric bikes and depart our houseboat in Seattle on a Friday afternoon with one goal in mind: escape the city for a quick, pedal-powered, socially distant weekend camping getaway. Downtown Seattle bustles with the noise and hustle of rush hour as we navigate our bikes through the city and work our way to the waterfront, pedaling over the Spokane Street Bridge beneath the closed-down West Seattle Bridge, then following bike lanes and greenways to the Fauntleroy ferry terminal, where we catch the 6:15 p.m. to Vashon Island.
A brine-scented wind buffets our faces and washes away the stress of the work week as city life recedes and our adventure begins in earnest.
My wife, Katie, is riding our Tout Terrain e-bike with two rear panniers stuffed with her clothing and essentials. I’m riding a loaner Tern HSD S8i, a “mighty mini” electric cargo bike equipped with a front porteur rack and two large saddle bags stuffed with clothing and food. We planned this trip as an experiment, a test of how we can use e-bikes to power our recreational pursuits--sort of a “car camping” trip minus the car, with e-bikes carrying our heavy belongings.
We disembark on Vashon and chug up the steep hill that leads to the island's interior. On regular bikes this hill is a punishing grind, but we charge up the hill in Turbo mode, reaching the top with a smile rather than a sweaty grimace. Riding the shoulders of Vashon Highway south, we turn off this busy main road after several miles and pedal on quiet country roads to our destination: Blue Moon Farm. We arrive at 7:30 p.m., roughly three hours and about 20 miles of pedaling away from our home. Enveloped in a lush green environment, surrounded by birds and wildlife, we feel a world away from Seattle.
We have booked two nights at a “glamping” site set amidst leafy trees on the farm. Glamping is luxury camping, with a bed inside the tent, electricity (for recharging our e-bike batteries), an outhouse, running water, a warm shower, and covered cooking area. As experienced campers, glamping is a treat. Without having to worry about packing our tent and sleeping bags, we stuffed our packs with essentials--wine, microbrews, bread, fruit and cheeses. You know, essentials.
Did I forget to mention this trip was also a celebration of our three-year wedding anniversary?
Vashon Island, some locals joke, is where affluent hippies go to retire and become farmers. For sure, it is a haven for city people craving outdoor sustenance. Farms, orchards, parks and forests cover the island, whose rocky shorelines, dank creeks and wetlands, abundant berry bushes, flowers, wildlife, hills and trails make Vashon an adventure paradise and nature reprieve for Seattleites. Locals are exceedingly friendly. We pedal past a retro sign promoting the Vashon Chicken Cooperative. Even the chickens here are cooperative.
As dusk turns to dark we retire to the large tent, serenaded by a chorus of frogs croaking in the farm’s two ponds, and we fall asleep to the sound of wind rustling through tall trees.
On Saturday morning, following some coffee brewed in our outdoor kitchen, we take a walking tour of Blue Moon Farm with Kevin Hoffberg, who runs the five-acre property with his wife, Eddy. The couple moved here in 2012 from Seattle. They bought the farm from the descendants of its original Japanese immigrant owners, the Hoshi family, who were forcibly interned during World War II, a shameful chapter in American history. The Hoshis eventually got the property back after the war, and the Hoffbergs celebrate the Hoshi family's history. "They were famous for their zinnias and their mums. Old man Hoshi used to hitch up a wagon and go down to a dock to send his products to market," Kevin says, noting that the Hoshis were also prolific strawberry growers. "There was a period of time before the war when Vashon was famous for its strawberries. The very first people to barrel and pack strawberries on ice and send them back East was right here on Vashon."
Today, the Hoffbergs grow vegetables and flowers, raise chickens and have a small orchard of 75 heritage cider apple trees, whose harvest is pressed and fermented into hard cider every fall. Kevin encourages us to pick some lavender from their large lavender garden, which buzzes with bees.
“When we bought this place in 2012, the people I worked with thought I was daft. ‘You want to be a farmer?’ Now they think I’m the smartest guy they know,” Kevin jokes, showing us his tractor (which he had to learn how to operate), their terraced gardens, the huge solar array on their rooftop and the hoop house where they grow seedlings.
After our farm tour, we saddle up and ride to Vashon Adventures, which is located on the water at Jensen Point, a prime kayaking spot with a rocky beach and abundant shorebirds. Vashon Adventures rents kayaks and camping sites and electric bikes to tourists, and owners Doug and Erin Kieper are one of the main drivers behind the rising popularity of electric bikes on the island. They even flew out a leading e-bike engineer and evangelist to present his TedX talk on the economics and benefits of e-bikes.
Everywhere we ride on Vashon, we spot other people on e-bikes. The reason is simple: the island is extremely hilly. No joke: Vashon’s best best-known annual bike event is called the Passport to Pain. “With the e-bikes, we wanted to make cycling accessible to everyone,” says Doug Kieper. “Getting the e-bikes was an issue of accessibility. We want to make it possible for non-cyclists to ride here and enjoy it.”
For experienced bike riders, cruising up a steep hill on an electric bike at 15 to 20 miles per hour is an incredible feeling. For the large number of tourists who visit Vashon, many of whom are not hardcore bicyclists, electric bikes are the only viable way to ride here. Electric bikes make it possible to park the car and never start it again for the entirety of a vacation.
“A lot of people who bike here for the first time get really disenchanted,” Erin Kieper says. “They pedal up the hill from the ferry and never ride their bikes again for the rest of their visit. With the pedal assist, you can go anywhere and really tour the entire island and enjoy it.”
Vashon Adventures has a fleet of more than 25 high-quality electric bikes from German brand Riese & Muller, as well as multiple Tern HSD cargo bikes similar to the one I am riding. Wanting to try some different models, we take two of their e-bikes for a quick tour. The Kiepers chose their bikes with beginners in mind. All of the e-bikes in their rental fleet have step-through frames for easy mounting and dismounting, grease-free Gates belt drives, Bosch motors, fenders, running lights, kickstands and day bags for carrying water and snacks.
Katie and I pedal along the waterfront of Quartermaster Drive, where boats bob in the waves, and stop on several scenic bluffs that offer views of the Seattle skyline and snow-capped Mount Rainier, then ride to Point Robinson Park to see its lighthouse. After returning the e-bikes and sharing a cold beer with Erin and Doug at Camp Colvos Brewing, we ride back to Blue Moon Farm, where we cook a meal in the outdoor kitchen, then swing in the hammocks beneath tall alders as an inky blue sky turns black.
On Sunday morning, we awake to a treat: a carton of farm-fresh multi-colored eggs from Kevin and Eddy. We eat several for breakfast and boil the rest to avoid breaking them on the ride home.
After a spin into town for one last round of sightseeing, we pack up, head out, coast downhill to the ferry and book our passage across Puget Sound back to West Seattle.
On the ferry ride we both remark about how refreshed and exhilarated we are from our two-day mini-adventure, all made possible thanks to the practical magic and transformative power of e-bikes. “We were only gone two nights, but we did so much that it seemed like a week,” Katie says. Indeed. We pedal home from the ferry terminal with one question in our minds: where will we take the e-bikes next?