Care to kick off 2013 in an offbeat, get-out-of town kind of way? Here's a budget-minded suggestion: a trip to Seattle to celebrate the beginning of a new year in the shiny Emerald City. To up the ante, take a bike aboard Amtrak's Cascade rail service, an approach that Pique test rode in mid-December. Granted, the experience may prove slightly intimidating for first timers. So be it. That's all part of the adventure frisson.
At first blush — given Seattle's topography that in places rises steeply from its Elliot Bay waterfront — cycling may seem a challenging affair. When queried on that point, Bob Freeman, proprietor of Elliot Bay Bicycles, told Pique that much depended on the chosen route. "Seattle is not necessarily a granny-gear city. I commute on a fixed-gear bike without trouble except going downhill on the cobblestone streets around my shop in the Pike Place Market district. There's always the option of taking one of the pedestrian elevators from the waterfront on Alaska Way uphill which only leaves a block or so before things level out in the downtown core."
Whether you explore on foot or by bike, conveniently placed, freight-sized elevators present just two possible options to circumvent the hillside. Far preferable choices are well-marked bike routes such as Western Avenue, which leads gently north from the bustling public market to the nearby Seattle Art Museum's Olympic Sculpture Park. Named for the horizon views of peaks on offer in distant Olympic National Park, the tiered green space — a former industrial land rededicated in 2007 — is dotted with a collection of oversized masterworks from renowned artists such as Alexander Calder and Claes Oldenburg whose Pop Art "Typewriter Eraser, Scale X" created in 1999 is a visual highlight not only for park visitors but also for sharp-eyed rail passengers. Watch for it as the train nears the city's downtown King Street Station several blocks south of the park.
Temporarily redubbed in neon as King Tut Street Station in honour of a major exhibit of Egyptian artifacts on display at the Pacific Science Center until January 6, a towering image of jackal-headed, loincloth-clad Anubis, god of mummification and the afterlife, casts its gaze above the terminal's entrance. Backlit by the glow of the nearby Convention Center's lights display, the scene gives off a startling timeless effect that bridges the millennia — not to mention a climatological blend of desert and rain forest.
Just north of the station, a boulevard of festively lit trees on First Avenue invites slow-paced exploration as it leads past Pioneer Square towards the public market. Dotted with small creative enterprises, the Gaslight-era neighbourhood is also home to the Bicycle Alliance of Washington. Pique stopped by its storefront office to pick up a copy of the free Seattle Bike Map, a pocket book-shaped guide to cycle-related routes and contacts throughout the city. BAW spokesperson Jack Hilovsky proudly showed off some of the office's added amenities: bike stands with complimentary chain lube and tire pumps. "We've been around for 25 years acting as a force in bike advocacy, safety, and education," he said. "Along with Portland and San Francisco, Seattle is in the top five of American bike cities. Our goal is to make Washington the most bike-friendly state."
Two blocks downhill from Pioneer Square, Seattle's waterfront is lined with separated pedestrian and cycle pathways that offer leg-stretching routes for expanded exploration of the inner harbour. A leviathan quartet of Alaska king crab trawlers sits moored in an ageing industrial area far from their fishing grounds in the Bering Sea. Look familiar? Seattle is homeport for some of the ships and crews portrayed on the Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch." Care to take to less turbulent waters? Ride a spacious King County Water Taxi a short distance across Elliot Bay to explore West Seattle's Alki Trail. Highlights along this smooth oceanside pathway include a miniature Statue of Liberty set above the pea gravel beach and the Alki Homestead where the city's first non-native families settled in the 1850s. From here, gaze back at the glittering city where the imaginative spirit of the New Year beckons like a beacon. Get rolling.
Pique contributor Jack Christie is the author of The Whistler Book (Greystone). For more information, visit jackchristie.com
ACCESS: Of all the post-Christmas travel deals on offer, the best bargain may well be the cost of a round-trip ticket on Amtrak’s Cascade: as low as $80 plus $10 to stow a bike in the baggage car. The shoreline scenery on display along the five-hour route is worth the price alone. Amtrak’s Cascade departs twice daily from Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station. For details, visit www.amtrakcascades.com. For an overview of Olympic Sculpture Park, visit www.seattleartmuseum.org/visit/osp. Bicycle Alliance of Washington’s website is bicyclealliance.org. Bike rentals and repairs are available daily at The Bicycle Repair Shop, 928 Alaskan Way; www.thebicyclerepairshop.com. For guided bike tours, contact Seattle Cycling Tours, www.seattle-cycling-tours.com. Sailing schedules for the King County Water Taxi are posted at www.kingcounty.gov/transportation/kcdot/WaterTaxi.aspx. The writer travelled as a guest of Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau and stayed at the Mayflower Park Hotel; for tourist info, see www.visitseattle.com.