A Morning Ferry

2 August 2016

The return trip from Bainbridge at the midmorning hour is effortlessly appeasing. On both occasions, the marine layer had given way to reveal the Space Needle punctuated Seattle skyline

Each time I’ve ridden the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island, it has been, oddly, in the name of breakfast. A voyage last February found me interviewing Pete Athans, a remarkable mountaineer whose Himalayan climbing resume netted him the nickname Mr Everest, over soft boiled eggs and bread crisped on a mediaeval looking camp toaster at his cabin like home. Similarly, a trip in October found me sharing decadent Dutch pancakes at an ivy covered coffeehouse with the founders of this very magazine. On both occasions, I awoke in the dark. To commute via ferry from one of the many islands that dot Puget Sound into Seattle each morning is to become well acquainted with darkness. I showered, brushed my teeth, and tossed on a few extra layers to fight the damp chill that this part of the Pacific Northwest seemingly has a patent on. Each time, my companions and I hurried the pre-dawn, downtown streets towards Alaskan Way, rushed through the terminal, and bustled onboard the hulking ferry as it lurched from the dock, on time, with a moan from its horn.

On my first trip, a photographer friend and I huddled in our rental car, listening to alternative rock. The ethereal sounds provided a respite from the swirling February winds. We weren’t about to brave the cold in exchange for scenery that particular morning. The October trip was different. My leather jacket was enough to insulate me on a jaunt to the top deck where our group stood, enveloped in a Hitchcockian fog, as Seattle, to our aft, quietly slipped away. From the bow, only the sea below was visible. From the port and starboard sides, we caught glimpses of neighbouring islands, with jagged black pine trees jutting out into the grey air, and white clapboard houses dotting the shore. The boat pushed on. The wet breeze on our faces was a particular kind of freedom.    

Below deck, in a dimly lit cafeteria, we pulled breakfast burritos from a warmer (they were surprisingly flavourful), and slid into a booth where we huddled together, swapping stories, and watching the rain bounce off the windows. Workmen shuffled past, carrying hardhats, looking for coffee. Dogs sniffed. Other humans talked quietly or napped. The whole ferry was half asleep. 30 minutes later, docked at Eagle Harbour, we were the last to disembark. A parking lot’s worth of commuter cars idled, anticipating the coming sign to drive below deck, and a peloton of helmeted bicyclists chatted eagerly, awaiting their turn to board the waiting ferry. Over six million people will make trips back and forth to the city on this boat this year, and each one is earned in dampness, in cold, in heat, in darkness, in sunshine, in transit. The reward, of course, is the very experience itself, to be one of the few who get to travel to work over the ocean.

Bainbridge Island centre is a sedative. On each trip, my group took the logical route and made our way west towards Winslow, stopping at Blackbird Bakery for espresso on the first occasion, and on the second, turning south, back towards the harbour. We sat by the bay window in the homey Pegasus Coffee House, and ordered sweet, dense pancakes, steaming mugs of tea, and eggs. Pete Athans served eggs too; direct from the chicken coop he kept in the back of the home where he lives with his wife and two children. The family’s morning routine – a meditation ceremony (Mr Everest is Buddhist), carefully constructed coffee, and a hike up a hill along moss covered trails – added even more Zen factor to a place that had plenty to begin with. 

Expected back in Seattle for another engagement, my photographer friend and I had declined Pete’s enticing offer of a trip to the beach. We would have to postpone exploring Bainbridge’s craggy coast until a later date. Our Cereal crew, meanwhile, was needed on the south side of the city for another photo shoot. The return trip from Bainbridge at the midmorning hour is effortlessly appeasing. On both occasions, the marine layer had given way to reveal the Space Needle punctuated Seattle skyline, and more than a few shutters clicked on lofted iPhones. Fellow travellers ignored the strong winds, and giggled at the snapping of their open jackets, and the occasional flight of their baseball caps. Others – us included – observed in quiet contentment. We were full. We were floating. We were happy. And the day had only just begun.