Not long after we moved to Olympia I discovered the town has a poet laureate program, which is simply delightful. Sady Sparks, poet laureate 2019-2020, created poetry “maps” to guide people to various locations around town where they could find poetry just standing out there in the wild, waiting to be noticed. The maps are lists of stopping points with a description of the poetry found there and suggested activities designed around how many people are on the sojourn:
- Family Edition: What do you want to see?
- Duo Edition: Where do you want to go?
- Solo Edition: How do you want to feel?
I thought then that these all made potential structures for a noodling sort of bike ride, one with a general plan but no fixed timeframe or requirement that I get everywhere on the list. In other words, a bikespedition.
I didn’t get around to going on these rides for a while and then broke my wrist so riding was off the table completely. A walk in January reminded me about the poetry installation that involves stenciled lines that only show when the pavement is wet. I’m able to ride again (which makes me so happy!) and I decided it was high time I designed a ride to poetry.
Conveniently, the poetry maps were already organized by which part of town they’re in. They don’t all point to the exact same list of locations, and I’m organizing by geography rather than how many people you might ride with. Consult the maps for poetic musings and the suggested activities and prompts for what you might do in your solo/duo/family configurations.
I wanted to incorporate things that make for an interesting ride on sunny days when some of the water-activated poems won’t be showing. To the rescue: public art installations already organized in a GIS map. The poetry sites aren’t on it, however, and it’s not something that can be exported to a Google Map. It shows more art sites than I included on this route, so you may want to explore on your own.
The art and science of bike ride planning includes routing to take advantage of bike lanes, trails, and quieter streets with notes about the availability of bike parking and coffee shops for all-important refueling stops with treats. I include opportunities to use a bathroom without having to buy something, which is another important thing to note for a comfortable ride. I’ll route you to treat stops on the same side of the street as your direction on this route. If you ride the same route in the other direction you’ll have different choices and new experiences. That’s the flexibility of bicycling!
This plan assumes a starting point at the Olympia Farmers’ Market and a generally counterclockwise loop on the east side. Westside has more poetry and art that I’ll visit another day, another post.
From map 1, solo edition, a brief excerpt from the opening lines by Sady Sparks in the spirit of bikespeditions as I originally described them:
How do you want to feel? I hope that you start laughing at some point on your adventure. This is nothing serious. I hope that if you get lost, the Douglas firs crack jokes on the sidewalks. I hope that the poems you find glisten in the sunshine and rain. I hope you find poems beneath and before the poems. I hope you realize we are both poems.”
Starting point: Olympia Farmers’ Market
Transportation features: Several bike racks, not too far from the Intercity Transit Center, walkable area with sidewalks, and yes, it does have a big parking lot.
Art: “Triumph of the Vegetables”, forged steel installation by Nick Lyle and Jean Whitesavage representing plants used by people as food or medicine. Wild rose, bunchberry and tiger lily are local wild plants used for food and medicine by Native Americans and later by colonizing settlers; pumpkin, leek, sea kale, strawberry, peas, kohlrabi and tomato are domesticated plants found at the Market.
Poetry: Lines of poetry stenciled on the sidewalk in front of the market may or may not show, depending on recent rain. Look for “poetry is a tour guide” near the bike racks, then go to the garden area to the right of the market and look for “happy birthday” below the bricks.
Food/coffee: If the market’s open, several vendors. Coffee stop just across the street at Dancing Goats. A number of restaurants in the general vicinity.
Other activities: Besides the farmers’ market, a few shops here are open at other hours, or go to the water’s edge and watch boats. That’s our next stop anyway.
Art at the water’s edge
Transportation: From the market, roll through the adjacent parking lot and through the walkway with wide red pavers between two buildings that leads to the water. You’ll head straight into Port Plaza. You can sit at one of the several benches along the water with your bike right there with you, or walk along pushing it if that works for you.
Art: “Windstar”, bronze and mild steel sculpture of a peregrine falcon by Ross Matteson, is to the left of the tall structure as you face the water, in a corner of the landscaping. (I had to look up the definition of mild steel; it’s low-carbon steel.) If you stand in the right place with your back to the water, this sculpture nicely frames another one: “Cognitive Synergy” by Bill Frymire.
Poetry: You’ll have to write your own at this spot, or bring some to read.
Other activities: Go up into the lookout structure to get a view of the bay, the bowl of downtown and surrounding hills, and the capitol. Watch the boats in the harbor; in the summer Parks and Recreation may be offering a class and you’ll see a lot of kids bobbing about with instructors suddenly tipping the boat so they have to deal with it quickly. Occasionally a big ship will be unloading at the port. Always, always birds to watch here, and an occasional seal sighting. You can look straight across the bay at West Bay Park, one of the other stops on the poetry and art maps.
Percival Landing and the Percival Plinth Project
Transportation: From the waterfront or Market, roll very slowly (walking pace!) on the boardwalk along the waterfront. On a very busy, sunny weekend day if you can walk and push your bike that would feel more courteous to the many people walking the boardwalk, although if your bike/trike is your assistive device and you can’t walk, no problem. This takes you to more art than out on the street.
If you do use the street, take Columbia Street south. It’s quieter than Capitol Boulevard and intersections that have a traffic light on Capitol often have a stop sign on Columbia, meaning you can take advantage of Washington’s “safety stop” law for bicyclists: If it’s safe to do so, it’s legal to treat the stop as a yield.
Alternatively, you could roll through the parking lot but that carries its own traffic at this location with several marina offices and people coming and going from their boats.
Art: If you left the boardwalk, “Tide Pool of Time”, a stone, water, and landscaping installation by Brian Goldbloom on Columbia at Thurston Avenue, is your cue to go toward the water from there to the “Motherhood” sculpture, cast iron sculpture by Simon Kogan. Right now in March 2023 near “Motherhood” on the same landing you will also find “Guardian,” a large twisted dragon by Jim Johnson, on one of the plinths, and “Why?”, another sculpture by the same artist. Near the water on the same landing you can make use of the blue telescope.
What’s a plinth? It’s a big square block that may have an art installation on it or may be empty, providing a great spot for you to stand on top and strike a dramatic pose for photography. The Percival Plinth Project places a number of art pieces on plinths with an annual People’s Choice vote for the next piece to be added to the city’s growing public art collection.
A bit farther along at the edge of the park you’ll find a plinth, which currently holds “Common Ground,” a steel sculpture by Nathan Robles.
Poetry: On a rainy day look for water-activated poems on the bridges and under/near the large pavilion by the parking lot. I was there about 24 hours after it had rained and didn’t spot any though.
Other activities: It’s a park! Throw a flying disc. Use the public bathrooms if you need a bio break. Sit on benches and people-watch. Kids may be playing on the playground equipment.
Olympia Center optional side trip
Transportation: Ride on Olympia a block across Columbia to reach the Olympia Center operated by Parks, Arts, and Recreation. During the hours it’s open you can go inside to view a number of pieces. It’s closed on Sundays, which is when I did this ride, so I didn’t actually view these; for this section I’m working from the city art map to describe what you’ll find.
Art: Several pieces including “Spectra Yellow Macchia with Turquoise Lip Wrap”, a stunning piece of glasswork by Dale Chihuly; “Aqueous”, a copper sculpture by Cyrra Robinson that was the 2017 Percival Plinth Project People’s Choice; and “Olympia Salmon Run”, 10 fiberglass pieces adorned by various artists that stood in downtown locations for two years before being relocated here. The Olympia Center is actually two buildings and the installation “Fish Fantasy” by Debra Tuinen in stone, metal and tile wraps around the courtyard next to the building at State and Columbia.
Poetry: Parks Photo & Poetry Project is located inside the Olympia Center.
Food/coffee: Time to refuel? No problem. Several options nearby. Take Olympia to Capitol Boulevard and on the far side of the street to the right you’ll find the Bread Peddler (French pastries, sandwiches, coffee) and Sophie’s Scoops (locally made ice creams and gelatos, including vegan options); bike rack on that block right by Bread Peddler. One more block south on Capitol on that same side of the street, stop in at The Owl’s Nest for coffee and all-vegan baked goodies. If you’d rather stay on Columbia since it’s quieter, go south two blocks, turn right on 4th Avenue, and stop at Juju’s Iced Cream & Frozen Custard or Rhythms Coffee next door; several bike racks right out front on an extended island at Juju’s. (Lots of great restaurants in downtown; I’m only listing the kind of quick refueling stop places that fit with a tour to multiple sites but don’t let that stop you from sitting down longer for Thai or Indian or fine dining.)
Along the boardwalk
Transportation: Wherever you ended up at, whether you made a side trip for coffee or ice cream or stayed at the water, my recommendation is to use the boardwalk at this point. The boardwalk is slow, bumpy, and often crowded, but you can take your time and look around without the pressure of dealing with drivers. This also takes you past more art.
You’ll follow the boardwalk around as it parallels Water Street NW and then 4th Avenue. You’re actually on the Percival Landing Trail according to the label on Google Maps, which lets me add to my list of named trails on my #BikeIt list.
Art: “Kujira I,” wood carving by Joe Tugas, leaps on a pole at the water’s edge in line with State Street. “Kujira II” is installed in Olympia’s sister city, Kato City, Japan. “Kujira” is the Japanese word for “orca”.
Along this stretch right now you’ll see several pieces on plinths including “Salmon Romance”, red cedar sculpture by Pat McVay and “Journey Home”, a brightly colored powder coated steel sculpture by Angelina Marino-Heidel. Pause at the corner by that piece and look up and across at the “Views on Fifth Salmon Project” by Joseph H. (wahalatsu?) Seymour, Jr. Squaxin Island/Pueblo of Acoma. (Note: Joe’s ancestral name, wahalatsu?, is shown in parentheses.)
Follow the boardwalk on around to spot “The Kiss”, a cast aluminum sculpture by Richard Beyer. Great spot to stop and take a group photo with the “people” standing there. Just before the Oyster House you’ll see “South Sound Mosaic”, a tile mosaic with Salish motifs by Oliver Tiedeman, Klee Wyk Studios located on the Nisqually Flats, installed by Rod Dresser, Sr.
Food/coffee: If you didn’t stop earlier and are feeling a bit peckish, have no fear. Delicious food options including vegan choices available at New Traditions Fair Trade Cafe (and you can do some fair-trade shopping while you’re there). From the boardwalk when it turns right just before “The Kiss”, look straight ahead at a light blue building with the word “OLYMPIA” in rainbow colors. You’re looking at New Traditions. Take the crosswalk to get there.
Transportation: The next bit is a little goofy but I have my reasons. From the boardwalk take the gentle slope down to the sidewalk and continue along 4th. You can stay on the sidewalk or take a right on Seymour and then left through the parking lot, depending on your comfort level with the two setups. It’s only a block. At the next street, Simmons, turn left and position yourself in the street facing south toward Capitol Lake at the traffic light.
This is all so that in the next block you can experience the freshly painted bike lane and bike box at 5th. Back in October 2021, thanks to a Twitter connection, I took photos of this block that ended up in a video illustrating bike infrastructure that was produced by the KiDZ Neuroscience Center/Walk Safe/Bike Safe at University of Miami Medicine.
From the bike lane, veer into the parking lot to your right to reach the sidewalks at Isthmus Park. Alternatively, you could skip this bit and go straight through the traffic light at 5th into the parking lot to reach the trail around Capitol Lake.
Art: Move along the sidewalk to the belvedere (the half-round projection from the bridge where you can stop and look at things without obstructing other folks walking or rolling past). “From the Laws of Man to the Laws of Nature” by T. Ellen Sollod includes mosaics in the sidewalk and landscaping farther along at the other end of the bridge.
Poetry: Haikus cemented into the sidewalk were written by former poet laureate Amy Solomon-Minarchi, Joanne Clarkson, Melissa Hughes, and Suzanne Simons.
Food/coffee: Realizing you should have stopped sooner? Try the newish Taylor Ray’s Cafe. Take a right on 5th from the Simmons Street bike lane.
Transportation: If you went into Isthmus Park come back to the bike lane on Simmons and head toward the lake. At the traffic signal on 5th get into the bike box in front of the drivers. This positions you so they can clearly see you and won’t right-hook as they turn if you’re planning to go straight, which is what I want you to do. Ride straight into the parking lot and decide whether you’re going to do a loop around Capitol Lake (either direction) or continue on your way.
Art: Sometimes you might find a piece installed on a plinth here. On the side of the park along 5th, look for the cover to the time capsule by Carole Hannum, installed in 1998 and scheduled to be opened in 2038. That…doesn’t feel that far away in time.
Other activities: Bio break? You can use the bathrooms in the building at Legion. You could choose to do a loop around Capitol Lake. Deschutes Parkway has unprotected bike lanes. Or simply stay on the path near the lake for the whole ride. For a bit you’ll ride on the sidewalk that’s also serving as a shared-use path. You’ll be on packed sand and gravel in some spots and this loop usually has people out walking or running, so watch for them.
Food/coffee: Before leaving the downtown area, Burial Grounds Coffee Collective at Legion and Capitol is an easy stop. If you take 5th and want some tasty, tasty vegan comfort food (but alas, no coffee), stop at Wayside Cafe.
5th and Lybarger Poetry Box
Transportation: Google thinks that from Heritage Park you should ride on 5th. It does have a bike lane along the edge of Heritage Park, so route depends partly on where you went in the park. It isn’t one of my favorite bike lane configurations since it puts you between a lane going straight and a lane turning right. Then you share the lane for a couple of blocks, and by “share” I mean “ride right in the middle so drivers can see you and don’t do a close pass.” Across Capitol traffic has been calmed through pedestrian bumpouts, street trees, and other elements that make the streets more pleasant to move along for a couple of blocks in the heart of the downtown shopping and dining area.
A second option: From Heritage Park come out onto Legion Street (by the building where you could use the restrooms) and take that. It’s a designated bike route with a lane much of the way. Granted, you’ll miss a few art installations along 5th so I’ll note them below in case you want to go by them. You could also stay on 5th for the few blocks to go by those, then hang a right to Legion and take a left there. Legion feels a lot like 5th once you’re past the downtown core in that it’s mostly big buildings, some parking, empty-ish streets. I’ve found it to have less traffic than 5th, which is why I prefer it. You also get to ride through the raised intersection at Washington and Legion, which is a subtle bit of infrastructure that slows drivers.
On Legion as you cross Plum you’ll see a sign that reads “Share the Lane.” Take the lane. It’s yours. “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” is the new “Share the Road”. (I’m serious about that; WSDOT, where I work, doesn’t use “Share the Road” signage any more because it doesn’t actually tell anyone what “share” means. “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” is an actual official MUTCD-approved sign that provides clear information.)
If you drag the route on Google Maps to use Legion coming out of downtown, Google wants you to take a left on Eastside and a right on 5th. I didn’t do that and discovered that the last two blocks on Legion were seriously steep. Maybe the climb on 5th would have been a bit shallower? Worth trying another time. Thanks for the boost in Turbo mode, Zelda.
Art: From Heritage Park if you stay on 5th for a bit you can see “Art Benches” along 5th starting at Water Street designed by several artists to invite you to sit a spell. On the far side of Capitol Boulevard and 5th, the lithomosaic “Music Out Loud” is one of several around town installed as posthumous honor for musicians. This one in honor of Bert Wilson is by Michele A. Burton; another at Washington Center (on 5th, go across Washington and then it’s easy to stop at the park that fills that block) by Jennifer Kuhns honors Verne Eke.
Poetry: When you get to 5th Avenue and Lybarger Street SE, there’s a wooden poetry box on 5th facing Lybarger.
Decision Point: San Francisco Street Bakery to East Bay Drive or back to the Market
Transportation: You have a decision point here based on weather. Not just today’s weather—if it rained sometime in the past 24 hours you’ll be able to see poetry and if not you may decide to wrap up the ride by returning to the Farmers’ Market.
To return to the Farmers’ Market you can use the downhill bike lane on State. Depending on your comfort level with traffic you could turn right on Plum (heavy traffic), move into the left lane, and turn left on Olympia Avenue, then right on Marine Drive to wrap around to the Market. Or stay on State into downtown and take a right on Columbia to the Market. Also trafficky, but on streets that aren’t quite as busy an arterial as Plum.
As you consider these options you may want to take my route even if it hasn’t been raining just to avoid the heavier traffic.
From 5th and Lybarger go downhill a block and turn right on Central. Stay on it to its T intersection with Bigelow, where you’ll turn left. This takes you past Bigelow Park so you can make a stop there if you’d like a break.
From Bigelow turn right on either Garrison or Tullis and ride through the quiet residential streets. I’m not sending you to Puget Street with its bike lane because you’ll give up elevation you’ve gained and I never do that if I can help it.
At San Francisco Street if you’re not making a food stop turn left and take the steep downhill to East Bay Drive, where you’ll turn left and use the bike lane.
Poetry: Depending on the weather you may be able to spot the poetry stenciled on the sidewalk at the tiny tiny parklet by the water where you’ll see a bench, and another line at the East Bay Waterfront Park in the block before Olympia Avenue.
Food/coffee: At San Francisco Street turn left from Garrison or right from Tullis to reach San Francisco Street Bakery at the corner with Bethel. Stop there for lattes, pastries, and a loaf of good bread to take home. If you get there toward the end of the day the cases may have emptied out so you could decide to start the ride here instead of the Market to mitigate that risk. They also have a spot inside the Market so if you’re riding on a day that’s open, you can get in the long line that always forms and get your pastries and bread at the beginning of the ride at the Market.
Other activities: This whole stretch along Budd Bay is a great place to watch birds and occasionally spot a seal. You’ll have benches at the two locations that may also have poetry showing.
Back to the Market
Transportation: From East Bay Drive turn right in the green bike lane onto Olympia Avenue, then right again onto Marine Drive. You have a bike lane the whole way to the Farmers’ Market.
Art: If you stop at the Dancing Goats Tasting Room you can sit outside by the statue of the eponymous goats.
Other activities: If you want a little more birdwatching you can stop and go to one of the benches along the gravel path by the bay that parallels Marine Drive. We’ve seen lots of Canadian geese, mallards, buffleheads, and seagulls; fairly often a great blue heron or crane; a few hooded mergansers; and once, a kingfisher. We keep hoping to see that raffish bird again.
Food/coffee: Depending on how you timed this and what day you do the ride, you may be able to stop at Dancing Goats Tasting Room for a cupping to wrap up the ride.
How did it go?
- What did I leave out that you’d like to know about a route?
- What did you notice along the way?