I was first introduced to Greek history in university while in my 20s. I studied the Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, and read it cover to cover. Since then, I’ve been dabbling in Spartan/Athenian history from the taking of Troy to the rule of Alexander the Great. I first discovered Birch Bay while on a road trip. I decided to take a road I’d never taken before, and found myself in a small coastal beach town that immediately made me feel at peace. I knew at that moment I needed to write a book that took place there.
My magic number is 16. That’s how may road trips I figure I can get in between April and the end of August, over the course of 20 possible weekends, taking into account that some weekends will be overtaken with business or bad weather.
This year, I got in 17 road trips. I visited Lynden, La Connor, Edison, Langley (WA), Birch Bay, Fairhaven, Blaine, Fort Langley, Campbell Valley, Whytecliff Park, George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Squamish, and Shannon Falls. It was a good year for discovering new places, and a few of those I visited more than once (in case you wondered how 13 places adds up to 17 road trips).
There were many times when I woke up early, and didn’t feel like getting in the Jeep and going. But I did, because every year the number of enjoyable weekends is limited. And once that nice weather is gone, it’s gone. And that makes me understand and realize that our whole life is like that–we have a limited number of weekends left and each time I put something off for another weekend, or another year, I take the risk that the remaining weekends may not afford me the same freedom as the one before me.
We’re this strange species that acts as though we’re going to live forever. Sure, we know of our mortality. We know how fragile we are, and how fleeting life can be–when it comes to other people. And maybe the way we cope with that is that we don’t acknowledge our own hour glass of time running out. I’m no different. I waste time as much as the next person and don’t spend it as meaningfully as I should. But I have discovered a way to live forever–or if not forever to at least feel as though time has slowed down considerably. It helps to follow a few rules:
- Point the Jeep in a direction, but be prepared for unexpected results.
- Don’t give yourself a time limit. Sure, eventually it’s time to return home, but that time should be fluid not set.
- Wave to other Jeeps. In Washington, they’ll wave back. In Vancouver (Canada), they’ll sometimes wave back.
- Check out the small town museum. Always.
And lastly, a few highlights from my past summer of road trips (in no particular order):
I finally got to have coffee in the Little Red Caboose Cafe. I first discovered it in 2011 when I took my first road rip to Bellingham, but it was never open. Now it’s under new management and is a fantastic place to stop in for coffee and lunch while in Blaine.
9. Birch Bay
The outdoor bookstore I discovered in Birch Bay. Even though it doesn’t have a name, it’s within sight of the C Shop if you’re ever there. And bring cash, as the cash register is a bowl where you can leave money and take your own change.
Campbell Valley Regional Park in Langley (Canada). An easy hike with plenty of historical sites, including an old raceway and a one-room schoolhouse. Watch out for horses as it’s a shared path.
The Sea to Sky Gondola at Squamish. The views here are spectacular. What can I say that this photo doesn’t say on its own.
The town of Snoqualmie. This was one of the longest drives I made–just over three hours– and while the falls themselves were a bit underwhelming (I went on a long weekend, and I don’t much like crowded spaces) the city was lovely. The train museum is worth the trip itself, but the cafe across the street from it was some of the best coffee I’ve had in awhile.
This was one of my favourite places to visit this year and I went back often. There’s something therapeutic about the Chuckanut Drive that leads to this place, and everyone I met were so friendly and amazing. The Slough for lunch, the Bread Farm for my sour dough, and then to the Calico in La Connor for coffee. That it lead me to learning about Fish Town was just a bonus.
I discovered this place in 2011 completely by accident. I was on a road trip with an ex-girlfriend, and we happened upon it. Since then, I’ve been returning here several times a year–mostly for the Lynden Dutch Bakery.
3. Langley, WA
I discovered Langley by Googling, “Best small towns in Washington” and it showed up on a list. Seemed like an interesting place to point the Jeep, so I drove down there. Not only did I get to drive the Chuckanut, but I also saw Deception Pass, Oak Harbor, and Coupville. Whidbey Island is an amazing place and I return here as often as possible.
Fairhaven is a historic part of Bellingham, and filled with wonderful lunch spots and cafes. Village Books is lots of fun to peruse, and Rocket Donuts is just down the street.
1. That time I met a knight!
I ended August with a trip to Langley (Canada) for the annual BC Renaissance Festival. I go every year to watch the jousting.
It seems fitting, if you’ve ever seen Highlander, that Princes of the Universe by Queen should be the theme song for this post. And of course, summer isn’t exactly over and there could be a few more road trips ahead. But as September arrives, the weather is far more unpredictable. Although, Lynden is beautiful to visit in October!
Some time ago, I’d taken a road trip to Lynden Washington when I decided to travel the other direction down the Birch Bay/Lynden road. I’d found a little cottage town that I fell in love with, but had only had a short time to explore. That day I had vowed to return so that I could better check out the area. At the time, it seemed as though I had stepped through a time portal to the 50s and so I wondered if I’d ever find it again.
Today I decided to return to Birch Bay and see more of the little cottage town–as well, I’d discovered that a cousin of mine (who also, it turned out, loved visiting Lynden,) visited Birch Bay often. It’s a short drive over the Canada/US border to Birch Bay–known by me mostly for the little shopping centre by the highway with the Woods Coffee that I always visit. (Yet didn’t this time.) Birch Bay has a population of just under 8,500 people.
I was pretty confident that I knew the area well enough not to need my GPS. After all, I’d been there once before and had found it completely by accident after taking a wrong turn. Surely that meant I’d have no trouble finding it a second time. (That should be read with the utmost of sarcasm plus the sound of one smacking himself in the forehead.)
I drove around for probably 45 minutes and wound up in six dead end streets. I finally had to give up and pull out my GPS, only recalling that the name of the place I wanted started with a C. Or a G. Or maybe it rhymed with C or G. I didn’t want to use my cell phone and pay for US data roaming, so once again I gave up on the GPS and just guessed which street might be the right one. I also guessed on the name of the place; more on that later.
I wound up along a strip of road that I didn’t recognize, and so I stopped to check things out and maybe get some lunch. The cafe below looked interesting, but was closed today until noon which was still an hour and a bit away.
What I noticed mostly as I walked along the road beside the beach, was how low the tide was. There were boats marooned in the sand and rocks with no water for a good mile. I attempted to get a photo, but I’d forgotten my proper camera and while the cell phone has great MPs, it cannot do zoomed in shots at all without pixelating the image. The one below isn’t terrible, but there were sections of the beach covered in boats.
The Beach at Birch Bay is a place I’ll try next time, but today there wasn’t anyone in it and I’m always leery of places without customers. I will note that on my way back to my car, it was full.
So, I went to the place below. CJ’s Beach House had a reasonably full patio, so I figured if the locals liked it I would as well. I had a coffee and crab cakes, since it was still an hour and a bit before noon. The service was very good and the food was enjoyable.
At this point I knew I was never going to find the place I was originally looking for, but at least I was fed. I figured it wouldn’t take too long to Google the address of the place I was looking for, and then I could plug that into my GPS and find it. So I did. It was called the “C Shop.” (Whatever you do, do NOT accidentally Google “the c spot” which was what I thought it might be called.)
Also, it was just another three blocks down the road that I was on, which meant I was headed in the right direction all along.
Today’s coffee shop was the Bay Cafe, kitty corner to the C Shop. Walking inside feels like stepping back through time–thus the theme song for this post. (Which you’ll find at the bottom of the post. In fact, go there now, play it, then continue reading from here.)
I had a latte and one of the cookies below. Both were delicious! The Bay Cafe was once a root beer stand from 1930-1950, and much of the feel of the place has remained the same.
I spent the next couple hours at a table on this gravel patio enjoying the day and listening to locals.This place was just what I needed to de-stress and refocus my energy.
By mid-afternoon, I was ready to stretch my legs and see what else was here. Across the street there were tables with local artisans selling their wares. I was drawn to a large sign that read, “BOOKS!” so I wandered down the road towards it. It was basically a self-serve used bookstore! And just in case you think my theory that I’d stepped back in time is ridiculous–there were no DVDs here. Just VHS!
And of course there were plenty of big homes, private beaches, and places I wasn’t supposed to enter. >whistles innocently< There were also waterslides, but since I can’t swim and I’m afraid of heights water parks don’t really interest me.
On my way back, I stopped in at Blaine to see if the Caboose was open. I’d been spying it for years, but have never once been in town when it wasn’t closed. And in case you were wondering, I didn’t use my GPS to find my way back to Blaine (I figured how hard could it be? It looked like this one road lead straight there.)
Thankfully, most of the road I took was gorgeous and the day was hot. My temp gauge in the Jeep said 26C (78.8F) and the sun was blaring. I had my windows out and the sunrider roof open, with my hat and sunscreen to protect me. In retrospect, I should have had water with me.
I wasn’t lost for long, although at one point I nearly wound up back in Canada and wasn’t sure how to U-turn or where.
Anyway … Blaine is a cute little border town of approximately 5,000 people. I especially like all the murals on their buildings. Plus, if you have to use the public toilets, they are clean and not scary.
Today, finally, persistence paid off. The Little Red Caboose Cafe was open! And it was worth being so persistent over. As cafes go, this one was terrific. They do serve food, but I was in the mood for something cold to drink and not a meal. I had a mocha frap, and sat for a spell on their patio. When I mentioned to the barista that I was surprised they were open, she said they were bought by a new owner and that’s why they weren’t closed.
And that was my trip to the Birch Bay/Blaine area. Considering how close I am to it every time I venture south, I’m surprised I’ve never checked it out before. I will certainly be checking it out again–many times. In fact, August 13 and 14 is their Birch Bay Rollback Weekend with the promise of returning to the 50s and 60s. See? They do time travel there!
A couple weekends ago I took a road trip to Lynden, Washington, a town I visit quite regularly. I follow the Lynden Dutch Bakery on Instagram, and they’d posted a pic of all the fresh raspberries they’d acquired and so I knew a trek was in order.
While Lynden was my destination, I’ve always said that a good road trip isn’t where you point your Jeep but where you ultimately wind up. This day was warm and sunny, hitting a nice 25C by noon. From the Canada/States border, the road to Lynden is called the Lynden/Birch Bay road. Turn left to Lynden, turn right to Birch Bay. (The latter is where I always stop for my coffee at the Woods Coffee.)
In Lynden, a town of just under thirteen thousand, I got my Raspberry Delight as pictured below) and attempted to get a selfie of me and it. A woman was sitting at the table beside me with her newborn, and offered to take my photo for me. We wound up chatting as she and her husband had just been to Vancouver for the first time, and we compared stories of what it’s like to live where we do. She and her husband had moved there from Texas, and they were finding it difficult to meet new people.
Below are photos of my walk through the historic part of Lynden, and they can be compared to my earlier journey there from January. I did stop at a new place for lunch, and while I enjoyed the meal I had a rude comment from the manager that I had intended to blog about. But, to be honest, sometimes the best way to let people know about a bad experience is to just not give that place any advertising. Next time I’m in Lynden, I’ll stick to the Lynden Dutch Bakery since they are always friendly and the food is always amazing.
After I had my lunch, it was still early in the day so I decided to drive down to Fairhaven and just enjoy the rest of the sunny day. I often go to Avenue Bread for their iced coffee and some sort of pastry.
As I walked through the town, I kept thinking about that Lynden/Birch Bay road and how I’ve only ever driven the Lynden route and never all the way to the end of the Birch Bay area. I was curious what was there, and while I could Google it nothing beats actually venturing it yourself.
I also recommend taking a stroll through Fairhaven Park.
When it was nearing time to head home, I still had a couple hours of free time. As I neared the Lynden/Birch Bay road, I decided to turn left down towards Birch Bay and see what was there. At first it was a typical country road, but then I came across Birch Bay State Park and had to stop to purchase a pass.
After getting my pass, I drove towards the camp grounds and found a road that wound along the bay. There were dozens of families enjoying the water, and I stopped at a picnic table by the water to finish my iced coffee that was leftover from Avenue Bread. It was a beautiful day.
Below, you’ll find photos of the campsite area and the road along the water. When I left, my GPS took me on a different route home than where I had begun. And that’s when I found the most amazing of places.
I saw the bright yellow from down the road and instantly had to find a place to stop. It felt as though I had stepped through a time portal and had wound up in the 70s where simple cottage life still existed. The C Shop was a cute little place that served ice cream and fudge. Birch Bay Village has a population of just under 8,500 people.
Families had gathered, and across the street were tables where people were selling their arts and crafts. Kitty corner to that was a yarn shop. As I watched the world happen (while eating my ice cream), a group of kids all rode by on their bikes and stopped for ice cream.
All of this got me thinking about a novel I have finished but have just not been happy with. There was something missing–something about where the kids live, why they have their conflict, and the reasons why they’ll never see each other after that last summer together. That story returned to me as I watched the lives unfold at Birch Bay, and many of the pieces I couldn’t figure out suddenly made sense.
I didn’t have nearly enough time to fully experience Birch Bay, so this will be a spot that I return to again when the sun is out and warm. I’ll sit in the cafe, enjoy a coffee, and be inspired by a slow way of life that sometimes feels completely lost.
And yes, as you can see below, I’ll also stop in at the Woods Cafe at Birch Bay Square to fill up my bottles of cold brew coffee.
And what song went through my head when I saw the old C Shop and that cute cottage town?