Creative photos and essays from the San Juan Islands

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People power

People power

Either our forefathers had lots of time on their hands, had no ready alternative, or simply weren’t afraid of hard work, whatever the reason or explanation, in the old days people apparently used to row to Bellingham and Victoria from San Juan Island, no sail, no outboard motor, rowing by hand.

A similar unimaginable journey from my memory was when my older brother once rode his heavy, three speed bicycle all the way from Portland, Oregon, where we lived (now the capitol of Northwest biking) to our folk’s summer cabin outside Zigzag near Mt. Hood in the Cascades, a distance of about 50 miles and most of it uphill. Took him at least six hours as I recall. That was approximately 53 years ago, still, I remember, as a 12 or so year old, thinking it was a mighty deed.

I was reading of how soldiers, wanting to desert the Army at American Camp, would pay the local farmers $30 to row them to Victoria, where they’d be beyond the reach of their officers. It happened so often, the Army caught on and offered the same amount to farmers to turn in deserting soldiers. Enterprising farmers would disembark in daylight with their paying passenger, make an excuse to return to shore for something they had forgotten, and head back to San Juan where the Army officers were waiting. $60 (over $3k today) for a short row in Haro Strait rather than the long slog to and from Victoria; $30 from the deserter, another $30 from the Army!

Rowing was, I’m told, a common mode of transportation in the islands. Workers at the Roche Harbor Lime and Cement Company would row home to Stuart or Spieden Island after a long day at work. To row from Waldron to Friday Harbor was considered a relatively short trip. Of course, these staunch adventurers would plan the trip to match the currents, something I’ve learned by experience myself. In the right boat, with decent weather and favorable currents, I suppose once a rower got into a rhythm, the trip might be an opportunity to reflect on how good you’ve got it living in this paradise!

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