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Everett Station is Modern, but Also Attractive
Most all northbound transit routes lead through Everett station, by Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”)

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I ventured north from Portland through Seattle and returned as part of an all-transit trip to the San Juan Islands in late May of 2013.

In very early August of 2013, I decided to try another trip north. A few days of this would be spent in the San Juan Islands, but on the way back I thought I would hit the Anacortes Arts Festival. Sadly, this works best on Friday, since transit service in that area is extremely limited on Saturday and nearly non-existent on Sundays.

As I noted in Part 2, I have my hesitations about trying to make any sort of tight connection coming south through Seattle, thanks to an experience in 2010 that turned what should have been a reasonably quick SoundTransit express bus trip into a very long, slow trip on I-5. I thought that trying to leave Anacortes too late in the day would get me into trouble trying to transfer to Amtrak 509 coming back to Portland.

So I came up with a different, but somewhat more expensive plan, as I will explain in Part 4.

Going North

The northbound trip was a fairly typical one in terms of the methods: Amtrak Cascades #506. My hope was to get Sounder North to Everett that left at 4:03, and with train 506 arriving at 3:45 (remember this is the 2013 timetable when things ran a bit faster) this could work. Right out of the gate, however, things went awry when the Willamette River Bridge was opened for several ships, putting the train behind by 20 minutes after less than 5 minutes on the main line. They did OK in terms of making up a little bit of time, but there is only so much that can be done. Train 506 arrived just before the Sounder train was leaving. I might have been able to do it if the station arrangement allowed for a cross-platform transfer rather than going all the way up to street level and back down. An on-time arrival at 3:45 pm would have been pretty close to a perfect transfer.

I high-tailed it over to 4th and managed to get the 510 instead.

With the 2013 timetables, either way yielded a fairly nice set of reasonably timed transfers using Skagit Transit 90X, Island Transit 411W (now operated as Skagit Transit 40X) and Skagit Transit 410 to get from King Street Station to the Anacortes ferry terminal in 3 hours, arriving there about 7 in the evening.

It’s an interesting contrast between the Amtrak Thruway bus (see Part 1) and the Skagit Transit 90X. The 2013 fare from Everett to Mount Vernon was $2, and as you would expect the passengers are mostly working class folks trying to get home from work. The young woman sitting next to me was very worried that she might not be able to get the connection she needed as this was the last bus of the day that made her required connection. She was surviving on very little money, so to her the ability to get from north of Mount Vernon to Everett for work for $3.50 ($2 of which was for the 90X) was a huge help. Sometimes she would have to take Island Transit routes for part of the way if she ran short of money.

This series of connections was also the last scheduled 410 trip of the day, so all this worked out decently enough, though I would have preferred there to be one later trip so I could get something to eat in Anacortes instead, and since the boat to Friday Harbor doesn’t leave until 8:20 pm anyway there’s no reason to immediately get to the ferry terminal, had their been a later bus. I got a little bit of highly overpriced food at the snack bar at the ferry terminal instead, and thought maybe I could get something a bit more food-like once I arrived at Friday Harbor.

The boat, however, had mechanical issues, and was taken out of service. Once the Chelan had arrived from Sidney at 8:30 and gone through the customs process and unloaded, it was pressed into service as a replacement. My 8:20 pm departure turned into a 9:15 or so. It was certainly my first time on a Washington State Ferry with a duty free shop on board.

Having spent much of the afternoon in seats of various types, I would have been quite willing to walk to Anacortes at that point since it really isn’t that far, but the road really isn’t something that is good to walk next to as it is narrow, busy and lacks any real walk space. There is an attempt to develop a path between Anacortes and the ferry terminal, but it is very incomplete: it currently connects an obscure dead end street with vacant lots to a large no trespassing sign.

End of Guemes Channel Trail at Nowhere at All
Guemes Channel Trail connects a dead-end street near the ferry terminal to this sign. The hope is that one day this really nice trail will go all the way to downtown Anacortes, or at somewhere more useful than this End of Trail sign. By Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”).

That’s OK. I had an additional hour to kill at the ferry terminal and did what I could to explore.

I called the hotel where I was staying, which closes its front desk 10 pm, and  let them know I was on the way but was being held up due to ferry issues. They said they were already planning to close late as they check the ferry status regularly – they have to do so since they “live and die by the ferry” in the hotel manager’s own words.

On The Islands

For the record, I had no trouble getting around on either San Juan Island or Orcas Island using San Juan Transit. The very limited schedules were certainly a constraint but at least the service was there – which it wouldn’t be in another month.

Making This Trip Today

There is now an expanded set of timetables on Skagit Transit 90X over what I remember from 2013, and the segment of the 411W that used to run from Mount Vernon to March’s Point is now operated by Skagit Transit as well rather than Island Transit.

The slower 2014 Amtrak schedule to Seattle of train 506 means an arrival in Seattle at 4:05 pm if it is on time. This means using the next possible 510 for the 1 hour 10 minute slog going north or using Sounder North, and if everything is on time then there is a two minute layover at Everett to the 90X to Mount Vernon at 5:32 pm. This bus will hold for up to 10 minutes to guarantee a connection for the Sounder train that left Seattle at 4:33 pm, and arrives at Mount Vernon at 6:10 pm. The 6:15 departure of 40X gets you to March’s Point at 6:40, but there is another trip an hour later if you miss it, but that is the last one of the day.

The 6:40 pm timed transfer at March’s Point to the 410 to Anacortes is the last scheduled trip of the day for the 410. If you are desperate enough and transferring from the last 40X, Skagit Transit will make one more run out to the ferry terminal an hour later but it isn’t regularly scheduled to do so and won’t stop to pick anyone up anywhere. The only passengers allowed are those coming from another bus.

One interesting item of note for 2014: San Juan Transit operated weekend service late into September this year.

The Trip South

The trip south was a bit more interesting in terms of transit events, but due to the article length I will save the return trip for Part 4.

3 Replies to “To The San Juan Islands by Transit, Part 3: All Afternoon Effort”

  1. During the summer months there is also the much more expensive option of taking the Victoria Clipper from Seattle to Friday Harbor. Very convenient if you’re bringing a bike along. But it leaves early in the morning so you would have to spend the night before in Seattle.

    1. I’ve done that as well. In 2012 I came back that way and was able to get BoltBus to Portland as a through trip, and the trip through Deception Pass on the NB trip on the clipper is nice.

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