As we prepared to leave Bellingham, we had a big decision to make. When we
set out on this trip, we knew that we were going to through Oregon and Washington,
hitting towns along the way to from Park City to Bellingham. But we had not
made any plans beyond Bellingham. I think this is because we were both hoping
that we would find the perfect town before we hit the Canadian border. But this
didn't happen, and now we were faced with planning "Phase Two" of
our search. It was now July 27, and we figured that we had another six weeks
or so to continue our search before we had to make a decision.
Our options were:
1) Continue north into Canada
2) Hop on a ferry or a plane and go to Alaska
3) Turn around and take a different route back towards Utah, hitting other towns
along the way. Possibly continue on towards the East and Midwest.
Option 1. As much as we wanted to explore the best towns of Canada,
we knew it wasn't practical. We had done some initial research on a few towns
and what it boiled down to is that it would be very hard for two Americans to
move to Canada indefinitely without any real plans for employment and no plans
to become citizens. After researching visa policies and companies we were interested
in, it boiled down to this: You can't move to Canada without already having
a job lined up, and Canadian companies aren't keen on hiring Americans if they
can get a Canadian to do the job. Makes sense. It was possible that, had one
of us been going alone, I/she could have pulled it off, but two unmarried people
moving to Canada together presented more hassles than we were willing to deal
But even though this is the Search For Ski Town USA, I feel compelled to devote
a few lines to Canada. If this was the Search For XC Town North America, I might
very well vote for a place north of the border. For instance: Silver Star, British
Columbia is my favorite place to spend a training camp. Canmore, Alberta would
have a very strong claim to being the continental XC Town. And if I could only
ski one trail system for the rest of my life, it would probably be Mont Sainte
Anne, Quebec. I could be very happy living in any one of these places. But it
is not going to happen anytime soon, so I'll have to be content with visiting
once in a while.
Option 2. We knew that Anchorage would be a strong contender for the
title, but the problem was, "How do we get there to check it out?"
Airfares and ferry tickets were both too expensive for us to just shoot up to
look around. Fortunately, I have plenty of friends in Anchorage and have spent
a good amount of time there in the past. My girlfriend's sister also lived there
for three years, so my girlfriend has probably spent more time there than I
have. We both love the amazing playground that is Alaska, but were we ready
to pack up and move there? Not quite.
Option 3. With options one and two not looking promising, we plotted
a northern return route that would bring us through a number of good towns,
including Winthrop, WA and Bozeman, MT on our way back to Utah. We also knew
that we had to be in Maine by September 1st for a friend's wedding, so we decided
that we would return to Utah via this northern route, leave our stuff in storage,
and then fly back to New England a couple of weeks early to do some exploring.
With that settled, we figured that we had about three weeks to get back to
Utah. This was more time than we needed, so we figured that even if we couldn't
move to Canada, we could at least visit for a little while. We quickly planned
a week-long side trip going first to the Vancouver/Whistler area, then out to
Vancouver Island, then taking a ferry back down to the San Juan Islands, then
coming back to mainland Washington. I won't spend too much time writing about
this side trip, instead I will give you a quick run-down and show lots of pictures.
After crossing the border, we drove past Vancouver towards Whistler, where
we found a great campsite at a secluded lake near Squamish, BC. Squamish is
about halfway between Vancouver and Whistler (1/2 hour from both). It is, in
my opinion, one of the coolest places in the world. It is right near the ocean,
with tons of xc skiing, climbing, hiking, lakes, and beautiful scenery. The
only problem is that because of the combination of huge mountains and ocean,
the weather can be foggy and wet a lot. And the fact that it is in Canada (bad
for me, but great for Canadians!). We went on a great hike up Whistler Mountain
and also wandered around the resort base, which is everything that Park City
wishes it was. Sure it is all touristy, but at least they designed it well.
They also had one lift still open for skiing on July 28th!
Hiking in Whistler
From there we spent a day in Vancouver, which was less impressive that I had
hoped. From all I had heard, I had expectations of the world's perfect city.
And looking back I think it is a great city, but it was bigger than I expected
and that caught me off guard. I guess I was expecting Portland North. Stanley
Park was wonderful, and you can't argue with the fact that Vancouver is surrounded
by some great places.
Then we took the ferry to Vancouver Island for a couple days of sightseeing.
They have good xc skiing on Vancouver Island, but we didn't try to find any
A swimming hole we found on Vancouver Island
The view from our campground on Vancouver Island
Then it was on to the San Juan Islands where we went hiking, mountain biking
(some excellent mountain biking on Orcas Island in Moran State Park) and had
the highlight of the trip, which was arriving at the right place at the right
time in order to see 80 (!) Orcas swim by in one big pod. It was amazing – they
came within 25 feet of where we were standing on shore.
the Orcas gave us quite a show
After the San Juans, we took a ferry back to the mainland and made our way across
Washington through North Cascades National Park.
North Cascades National Park
On the way into North Cascades National Park, we stopped at an organic Blueberry
Farm on the side of the road. I bought a blueberry shake and a pint of fresh
blueberries. I can honestly say that I don't think I have ever tasted anything
so wonderful as the fresh blueberries mixed into the shake. I was in heaven.
It was so good I made my girlfriend stop the car and take a picture of me with
my shake so I could remember it. (I should probably mention that I love blueberries.
Blueberry was, in fact, my first word as a baby. Yep, three syllables. I told
you I love 'em) But I digress…
Me, in blueberry heaven. Yes I know this is not normal.
As you descend to the east from the North Cascades, you get dropped down into
the Methow Valley. I had never been to the Methow, but I had heard plenty about
the area and the amazing skiing and was anxious to see the place for myself.