My cousin Tea calls me up every once in a while and says, “Hey, Rach! Wanna go–?“
Choose one: backpack the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, cycle 200 miles in two days on the Seattle to Portland Ride, sit on a beach and drink mai tais.
Only she never offers that beach/mai tai option.
Most recently she said, “Hey, Rach! Wanna do the Tulip Pedal?”
I’ve wanted to check out the Skagit Valley’s famous tulip fields for years, and I was so relieved that Tea’s idea didn’t involve a 30-pound pack or 10,000 other people that I blurted, “Sure!”
She roped in her sister and aunt and we sent off our $25 entry fees to support child safety programs.
We met up in Tsawwassen on a Friday evening in the middle of April with our bikes, passports and all the enthusiasm you could ask for. Tea had come straight from work and hadn’t been to the bank to get any American cash but her sister Pea agreed to cover her so we piled into Bea’s truck and headed south.
Tea, whose partner is a chef and who is something of a foodie herself, recommended dinner at Boundary Bay Brewing Company in Bellingham en route, and with a glass of Washington State merlot and a plate of piping hot enchiladas in front of me, I decided this expedition was one of Tea’s best ideas yet.
On Saturday morning, we picked up our maps and T-shirts in La Conner, threw our legs over our trusty two-wheelers and headed north on the first leg of the 40-mile route. As we left the lovely small town behind us, we excitedly pointed out solid stripes of pink, red and purple across the landscape about a mile to the east.
“Can’t wait to see them up close!”
But the tulips remained where they were and we continued north.
We saw an occasional cluster of yellow or red blooms in a tidy front yard, but otherwise it was all flat green farmland. Pretty, but no tulips. Then we got to Edison and promptly lost interest in flowers.
There was a bakery.
We crowded into the tiny two-table space and eyed the menu as if we hadn’t seen food for days instead of the hour and a half since breakfast. I decided on a latte and the merest sliver of a taste of what the others were having.
Pea’s lemon verbena iced tea and white-and-chocolate cupcake decorated with chocolate chips were delightful. I think I moaned out loud when I sampled Bea’s polenta cake infused with lime. A crumb or two of Tea’s maple scone was not nearly enough.
Some time later, we rolled back to our bikes.
Swinging east on the second, short leg, we saw more beautiful countryside. Turning south, yet more. There was always a new vista: a red-tailed hawk hunting over a field, red-winged blackbirds amongst the bulrushes at the edge of a slough, green fields, ploughed fields, old barns.
The ride organizers had chosen a fantastic route: lots of scenery, only two hills (neither long nor arduous), and very little car traffic.
And also no tulips.
We made a slight detour (thank you, Tea) to Golden Glen farm to buy double-cream cheddar made by the Jensen ladies. They also make a lavender cheese that I think I must try next time.
Finally, when we were well along the southward leg of the route, we spotted a big band of colour.
“Yay!” we said.
With fresh energy, we pedaled closer. At last we’d found tulips!
We’d also found a parking lot and wardens with stop signs to control traffic so the thousands (okay, hundreds) of drivers and their passengers could cross the road to line up at the ticket booth: cash to the left, Visa and MasterCard to the right.
“I don’t want to pay to look at tulips,” I thought.
“I don’t want to pay to look at tulips,” Pea said.
“Me either,” Bea agreed.
Tea said, “I do.”
We had come all this way to see tulips, so she had a point, but we’d also had a beautiful ride and wonderful culinary treats and it seemed silly to ante up even a few dollars each to walk through some muddy fields.
The argument went back and forth, as they tend to do, and then…
“She’s got that look.” Pea said.
We turned as one and headed for the ticket booth.
“Tea still doesn’t have any cash, does she?” I said to Pea as we hauled out our wallets.
She shook her head.
“So not only do we have to go in, but you have to pay her way?”
The tulips were glorious.