It all started with an off-duty sous chef. It had been a slow day at work for him, so he decided to hike from Little Cranberry Lake to Whistle Lake on his extended break.
But we found him to be in no hurry. He was resting on a bench at Heart Lake, soaking up the sun, not yet even halfway to his hoped-for destination. When he mentioned his goal, Kath and I looked at each other and said, “What a great idea.”
Not long after, on another sunny but cool day, we parked one car at Little Cranberry and drove another to the Whistle Lake trailhead, our packs laden with water and snacks, and our backs with several layers of clothing. We had the goal of visiting three lakes and two named ponds by hiking about six miles through the beauty of autumn in the ACFL.
Murphy led the way, pulling at his leash for us to go faster. He would turn around and look at us as if to say, “Why are you so slow? Let’s go!” By the time we got halfway around Whistle, we had put our outer clothing layers in our packs. The sun blazed at its low angle, warming our outsides, while the up and down of the trail warmed our insides.
Whistle glistened, deep blue, sparklingly fresh, and inspiring in its beauty. At a canopied overlook, Kath just stood for a while, quiet and thoughtful. Too soon I interrupted and asked if she was okay.
“I’m just soaking up the peacefulness of this place,” she replied. Her centered approach slowed my pace and heightened my awareness of all that was around us.
The trail began climbing away from the lake through the hills. More layers came off. “At this rate I might be naked before we get to Heart Lake,” I joked, but then the sun went behind a cloud, removing that danger. The woods were quiet. Few animals stirred on this mid-autumn Sunday afternoon. Few people did, either. The trails were surprisingly empty. Maybe the Seahawks were playing.
As we dropped down towards Heart Lake, a handful of bikers were peddling up the steep trail. A gutsy workout.
The trail empties out onto Heart Lake Road near the parking lot. We crossed, took a potty break, shared some water, and enjoyed a small snack. Murphy did all this too, except for the shared water part. He has his own. We followed the eastern shore of Heart Lake, crossed the outlet, then continued north to find the trails that lead to Little Cranberry.
Some housing developments come close to the trail in places here, or is it that the trail comes close to several houses? It’s a narrow corridor leading to Havekost Road, then a quick scamper across the road to another trail corridor between a gravel pit and more houses. Sunshine lingered and our destination beckoned, as did the promise of pizza for dinner, leading us onward.
After climbing a couple short ridges, we were at Mitten Pond. The sun was lower, shadows were lengthening. We skirted the quiet shallows of the pond, walked north to the west shore of Big Beaver, then clambered up and down a ridge to the bridge over Little Cranberry’s inlet. Murphy was now lagging, looking up to us as if to say, “What’s the hurry? Let’s rest.” Soon we would.
The evening sunlight burnished Little Cranberry’s eastern shoreline to gold. In the deepening shadows on the western side, we followed the roller-coaster trail around trees, up and down rocks and over slippery slopes.
We dragged into the parking lot, our feet tired, our hunger piqued, and our joy full.
Then again, "The destination is not the point," the sous chef had said. Hiking, as is life, are all about the journey.
“The only thing that is ultimately real about your journey is the step that you are taking at this moment. That's all there ever is.” – Alan Watts
Directions: You can start and finish anywhere you wish in the ACFL. We chose to start at the Whistle Lake parking area. To get here, go south from the roundabout on Commercial Avenue in Anacortes. Take a left at the 't' onto Fidalgo Avenue, left again on Hillcrest, and then right onto Whistle Lake Road. Follow the signs carefully at the end of the road, as the route turns left down a hill, twists right, then right again and up a dirt road to the parking area. Or make a different plan. The journey is the thing.
By bus: The nearest bus service is to Commercial Avenue in Anacortes, about three miles from Whistle Lake.
By bike: It's a good ride from Anacortes to Whistle, as described above, with lots of hills, twists and turns on mostly quiet roads once you go south from the roundabout.
Mobility: There are some wide dirt roads in the ACFL with some elevation changes but mostly firmly packed dirt. Some are not so easy.
Republished with permission. View the original article.