Bicycles, idyllic farms and attire out of “The Great Gatsby” — it was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss.
I arrived early for the 8-mile Summer Seersucker Social, based in the picturesque seaside town of La Conner, Skagit County, on the third Saturday of last July, hoping to see what a “vintage biking event” actually looked like.
The ride, which is named for the railroad-striped, crinkly cotton fabric and passes through Skagit Valley’s abundant farmland, is part of a trifecta of themed bike rides including the Dandy Daffodil Tweed Ride in mid-March and the Fall Flannel Frolic in September. Proceeds from last year’s ride went to the La Conner Library Foundation.
The idea is to wear Edwardian attire or the closest we could get to it (think: early-seasons “Downton Abbey”) for a pip-pip cheerio event among friends. Leather lace-up shoes, a flat cap and some 1920s jazz on the iPod might lend authenticity, but anyone willing to shed the Lycra and make an attempt at period dress is welcome.
When I showed up — in capri pants and a sky blue-and-white-striped blouse that looked vaguely old-fashioned; I couldn’t find seersucker anywhere — I encountered Corey and Bonnie Stout, a Camano Island couple who have been going on themed bike rides in the Skagit Valley for several years and are founders of the Boneshaker Society, (sprocketscience.com/boneshaker-society/), which hosts the event. (Boneshakers are an old nickname for bicycles.)
They started the Dandy Daffodil Tweed Ride in 2015 in conjunction with La Conner’s Daffodil Festival, and when people actually showed up dressed in period attire, added two more rides, including a tweed event, which attracted 65 participants on a 13-mile spin through the Skagit Valley on March 16. (The sartorial focus swaps seersucker for tweed, which originated as a woolen twill fabric meant to guard commoners against cold Scottish winters until the British aristocracy discovered its fashionable waterproofing powers around the mid-19th century.)
At the Seersucker Social, the Stouts wore yellow seersucker jackets, their outfits pulled together from thrift stores and flea markets, with the help of a tailor in Sedro-Woolley. The seersucker fabric is an “inspirational theme,” they assured me, but not a requirement.
“The object for these rides is to encourage people that don’t necessarily ride bicycles to give it a go,” Corey Stout said. “The object is to make them social. They aren’t a race. There really isn’t a time limit, so to speak. One can stop, put a foot down and look at the scenery while making new friends.”
Which is what we did.
I linked up with two friendly riders from Snohomish County, and we took off on a sunny, slightly windy day past fields of corn, potato, broccoli, strawberries, loganberries and wheat. The landscape was lush and pungent and the roads were lightly traveled. Along the way, we paused at stops for “Talking Fields” (talkingfields.org), sites around the Skagit delta where you can find out, with the help of QR code technology and a cellphone, what’s growing.
Headwinds made the first 4 miles of the ride slow going, but eventually we ended up at Christianson’s Nursery & Greenhouse (christiansonsnursery.com, 15806 Best Road, Mount Vernon) for a scavenger hunt. It took an hour to race around the grounds, poking into the gift shop, garden store, conservatory, greenhouse, various gardens and an 1888 one-room schoolhouse to discover answers to our clues. We then rode back to La Conner, where we ended up on a sunny patio outside the Hellam’s Vineyard wine shop overlooking the Swinomish Channel (109 N. First St. #105, La Conner).
This summer’s ride is set for 10 a.m. July 20, and the Stouts promise the riddles for the scavenger hunt will be better than ever.
Bicyclists wanting a longer journey can head to the Olympic Peninsula for the Tour de Lavender, a 35-mile ride through past Sequim’s picturesque lavender farms, on Aug. 3. Both the 35-mile “family fun ride” and a 62.5-mile “metric century ride” take off at 8 a.m. from Sequim High School.
Event director Ken Stringer says the longer ride, which involves an elevation gain of some 1,200 feet during the first 15 to 20 miles, is quite doable.
“It’s not the kind of thing an uber athlete would do,” he says. “People even take their kids on it. It might sound like an awful lot, but the average grade is 5% or less. It’s not like, ‘Oh my God, I’ll never be able to do that hill.’ ”
Much of the ride follows the Olympic Discovery Trail, a bike route from Port Townsend to La Push, about 75% of it completed.
Both rides take cyclists past numerous lavender farms offering snacks and drinks and bushy purple plants still in full bloom. An army of volunteers will provide assistance with everything from flat tires to major breakdowns, and prizes and gifts of lavender will be handed out along the way. The ride will begin with a police escort.
Participants are urged not to bring a lunch, as there will be plenty of food en route from 17 corporate sponsors.
According to those who have completed it, the Tour de Lavender is full of flat stretches, rolling hills and fabulous views of Puget Sound. A pizza repast is served at the end. Organizers have capped the number of riders at 1,000.
“Generally,” said Stringer, “the first weekend in August is good weather. Any fog tends to burn off quickly.”
Cycling enthusiasts can pair the Aug. 3 ride with Ride the Hurricane, a six-hour event on Aug. 4 (portangeles.org/pages/RideTheHurricane) that allows bicyclists to ride 17.5 miles from the Olympic National Park Visitor Center to Hurricane Ridge and back. Hurricane Ridge Road will be free of motorized vehicles from 7 a.m. to noon that day.
This is the Tour de Lavender’s seventh year. Visitors not wishing to cart their bikes to the Olympic Peninsula can rent from shops in the area, but reservations fill up fast.
And don’t forget one key piece of attire: your helmet.
If you go
This year’s Summer Seersucker Social takes place Saturday, July 20. More information at sprocketscience.com/summer-seersucker. Costs range from $10-$15. Check in is 9-10 a.m. at Orange Rainbow Espresso & Ice Cream, 602 S. First St., La Conner. There is plenty of street parking.
The Tour de Lavender is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 3. Information and registration information is available at tourdelavender.com. The cost for adults is $60; riders 12 and under pay $15. Both the Fun Ride and Metric Century start at 8 a.m. at Sequim High School, 601 N. Sequim Ave., in downtown Sequim.
Ben’s Bikes: 1251 W. Washington St., Sequim, 360-683-2666, bensbikessequim.com, all-day rental $40
Sound Bikes & Kayaks: 120 E. Front St., Port Angeles, 360-457-1240, soundbikeskayaks.com, all-day rental $40
The ReCyclery: 1925 Blaine St., Port Townsend, 360-643-1755, ptrecyclery.org/Rent-a-bike, all-day rental $15-$40
The Broken Spoke: 630 Water St., Port Townsend, 360-379-1295, thebrokenspokept.com, all-day rental $40-$70
Port Townsend Cyclery: 252 Tyler St., Port Townsend, 360-385-6470, ptcyclery.com, all-day rental $24-$35
Classic Cycle: 740 Winslow Way E., Bainbridge Island, 206-842-9191, classiccycleus.com/home, all-day rental $35
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated the Tour de Lavender takes place on the Kitsap Peninsula; it’s held on the Olympic Peninsula.