Car* Camping on Vashon Island

Oct 25th, 2020

We punched out early on Friday afternoon and departed our home in Seattle on electric bikes, eager to escape our COVID lockdown for a weekend getaway to celebrate our wedding anniversary on Vashon Island, where we had booked a luxury campsite. 

My wife Katie and I had considered car camping for the weekend but wanted more adventure, and with only two nights at our disposal and a lot of miles to cover before dark, riding our pedal bikes seemed unnecessarily difficult. Instead we opted for something we call “eBike car camping.”

The idea was to enjoy the comforts and ease of car camping minus the car, using our eBikes to carry our gear, thus enabling us to do some legitimate pedaling while covering more ground quickly and getting to our campsite before dark. 

Our first destination was the Fauntleroy ferry terminal in west Seattle, which was only 10 miles away but required us to navigate through the heart of downtown during rush hour. We followed bike lanes and neighborhood greenways most of the way, reaching the ferry terminal in time to catch the 6:15 PM to Vashon Island, which lay three miles across Puget Sound.

On the ferry with their ebikes to start their weekend tour
A Washington State ferry is a nice start to any adventure starting from Seattle.
Paul Tolmé

Standing with our loaded eBikes in the bow, we enjoyed the wind on our faces and felt the stress of the work week and pandemic recede as the rocky shores and headlands of Vashon approached. 
Katie rode our Tout Terrain eBike with two rear panniers stuffed with her clothing and essentials. I was on a Tern HSD S8i, a “mighty mini” electric cargo bike equipped with a front rack and two large saddlebags in the rear stuffed with clothing and food. Typically, we use our e-Bikes as workhorses for grocery shopping and commuting, almost never driving our car, which sometimes sits for three weeks between uses. People who say electric bikes are cheating are clueless. Driving a car is cheating — pedaling is winning.

Disembarking on Vashon, we faced our next challenge: Vashon is extremely hilly, and the ferry terminal lies on the waterfront at the bottom of a steep grade. No worries. We put our bikes in turbo mode and powered uphill at 15 MPH, passing other bicyclists on lightweight road bikes.

Thirty minutes later, we arrived at our destination, Blue Moon Farm, which rents several “glamping” sites. We were only three hours and 20 miles from home, but we feel lightyears away, surrounded by trees, meadows, and farmlands. Our glamping site had electricity (for charging our eBike batteries), a bathroom and shower, and a small outdoor covered kitchen, plus a tent already set up with a bed inside. 

Blue Moon Farm glamping site with tent and bathroom
A glamping site complete with an open-air kitchen, a bathroom, and a shower. 
Paul Tolmé

Without having to pack camping gear, we’d stuffed our panniers with clothing and essentials: wine, beer, bread, fruit, cheeses, and chocolates. It was, after all, our wedding anniversary.
As dusk turned to dark, we listened to the birdsong and enjoyed a meal with abundant wine, then showered and fell asleep to the sound of wind rustling through swaying trees. 

On Saturday morning, we took a walking tour of Blue Moon Farm with Kevin Hoffberg, who runs the five-acre property with his wife. Kevin encouraged us to pick flowers in their large lavender garden, which buzzed with bees, and he showed us his tractor, their chicken coop and terraced gardens, their heritage apple trees whose fruit is pressed for cider, and the solar array on their rooftop that powers their home. Vashon Island’s orchards, parks, forests, creeks, rocky shorelines, and abundant wildlife make it an adventure paradise and haven for nature lovers.

After our farm tour, we saddled up and rode to Vashon Adventures, which is on the water at Jensen Point, a prime kayaking spot. Vashon Adventures rents kayaks and camping and glamping sites (we booked our accommodations through their website) and eBikes. Owners Doug and Erin Kieper are among the main drivers behind the rising popularity of eBikes on the island.

“Vashon is extremely hilly, and we want to make cycling here accessible to everyone,” said Doug. Erin chimed in: “With the pedal assist, you can go anywhere and really tour the entire island and enjoy it.” Indeed, we saw many electric bikes on the road during our two days on Vashon.

Cycling through the countryside of Vashon Island
An eBike is the perfect way to enjoy hilly Vashon Island.
Paul Tolmé

While many eBike rental outfits stock cheaper low-end models, Vashon Adventures has a rental fleet of more than 25 high-quality electric bikes. As a bike nerd, I was eager to test out another model so we rented two of their Riese & Müller models and went for a speedy island tour. All the eBikes in their rental fleet have step-through frames, grease-free belt drives, Bosch motors, fenders, running lights, kickstands, and bags for carrying water and snacks. 

Katie and I pedaled along the waterfront past sailboats bobbing in the waves, charged up hills (using the turbo boost to flatten the terrain and extend our range), and stopped on scenic bluffs that offered views of the Seattle skyline and Mount Rainier. Afterward, we grabbed a beer with Doug and Erin at Camp Colvos Brewery in downtown Vashon, the island epicenter and commercial district, then pedaled back to our glamping site where we made dinner and again enjoyed a restful night’s sleep under the forest canopy.

On Sunday morning, we awoke to find a carton of farm-fresh eggs from the Hoffbergs. We ate several for breakfast and boiled the rest to avoid breaking them on the ride home. After a spin into town for one last round of sightseeing, we packed up and coasted downhill to the ferry to book our passage across Puget Sound back to Seattle.

We were refreshed and exhilarated from our two-day mini-adventure, all made possible thanks to the practical magic of eBikes. The only requirement for an eBike car camping adventure is an electrical outlet to recharge the batteries. The only question on our minds as we pedaled home was: where will we go next?

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