Cape Cod (2009)

Here is the Blog I maintained during August 2009, when I made a six-day solo bicycle ride from my home in Manhattan to the tip of Cape Cod -- about 400 miles overall.

Day 1 - On the (Wet) Road:

Dear Family and Friends (sounds like a t-mobile ad):

Time for a brief first report from the road on my way to Cape Cod by bicycle. I'm writing from the relative tranquility of the Swan View Manor in Cold Spring Harbor, LI - the location of my first overnight stay - and where I arrived at around 3 pm today.

Let me say first that the room is very pleasant and, more importantly, has a lot of hangers and places to dry things (including a sun lamp and hair dryer) - a very essential need today!

Started reasonably at about 7:30 and headed out over the Queensboro Bridge, with a clear threat of rain, but not much actually happening. A lovely start. Who knew NYC had so many (and so well-marked) greenways? Queens was a total delight - not something I'm used to saying every day....

Nassau was a different story, as the heavy storms arrived and the greenways disappeared. Flooded roads (which hid the potholes and pushed you away from the shoulder), non-stop pouring rains, and a shorted-out odometer (so mileage markers were not determinable), were a bit of a test, but once I hit a certain threshold of wetness (and I certainly did), further wetness/rain kind of becomes irrelevant.

VERY glad I put new tires and brake pads on before leaving. I have never had such good wet weather control on a bike.

How did one survive before google maps on your phone? Notwithstanding my best efforts with zip-locs, my cue sheets got pretty soggy, with the effect that I definitely made a few wrong turns here and there. But, pull out google maps on your mobile and you can find out where you are with a push of a button, and then scroll or search to find where you want to be. Truly remarkable and invaluable! The only downside is my phone got pretty wet from all the usage (water under the screen - ugh), so I hope it holds out for the rest of the trip.

Feeling physically very good and looking forward (hoping?) for better weather tomorrow - and a good meal tonight.

50 miles down and about 300 to go!

Yours from the road,


Day 2 - Are We There Yet?:

Today's report will be brief because I'm kinda whupped. Total mileage was 70 miles (OK, 69.8, but are you going to begrudge me the round up?), going from Cold Harbor Spring, LI, to our weekend home in Mattituck, LI, where I will be "roughing" it for the night.

No rain. Hurray! Hot sun! Hmm, mixed blessing - definitely more fatiguing in an odd way - both the prolonged exposure to the heat (I started today at 8:30 and arrived a tad past 4:30) and the lack of adrenaline from not constantly having to navigate treacherous rainy conditions. But don't mistake me - I'll take the clear skies (tomorrow's forecast - yes!) every time - it's ultimately much more pleasant.

Don't let anyone tell you LI is completely flat. Some serious hills today, made more serious by traveling with fully loaded panniers (they add about 20 lbs). Did learn that when a road has "Landing" or "Hill" in its name, there is usually a solid geographic (or should I say, topographic) reason!

Only mechanical issue of the day occurred about 3 miles from the end, when a rotational clicking noise began that definitely shouldn't have been there. Fortunately, all it was was a wheel spoke reflector that had worked its way loose and was flicking the chainstay with each revolution. A quick shove back into place, and a tighten of a screw, and voila. Would that all mysterious bike noises were that easy to diagnose and fix!

Tomorrow should be an interesting and challenging day. First, about 25 miles to get to Orient Point, the tip of the North Fork, to catch the one and a half hour ferry ride to New London, CT. Then about 50 miles more until evening lodgings near the shore in Warwick, RI.

Until then, be well everyone.

Yours from the road,


Day 3 - One to Remember:

This will be a tough day to beat. Gorgeous weather, good roads, polite motorists and lovely seaside and farm vistas.

It didn't start off too great, as I managed to somehow mangle the setting of not one, but two alarms - proof once again (which will not come as a surprise to the lawyers among us) that mental acuity diminishes when the body is exhausted.

I had wanted to make the 8:00 a.m. ferry to New London, so given the 22 mile distance from where I was staying in Mattituck, I was planning on a 5:40 a.m. departure (which included time for breakfast and buying a ticket). Instead, I only just woke up at 5:40 and found myself scrambling (not eggs) to make it. My legs were surprisingly fresh (fueled only by two quickly-wolfed power bars, alas), and I got there in time while covering the distance at a respectable (albeit not Tour de France) 16 mph pace.

It was quite foggy for this portion - not just your typical morning mist. But it made the ride kind of magical, as the sun was up, trying to cut through it, and the mists hung over North Fork sod farms and vineyards.

I made an important adjustment overnight by shedding about 6lbs of weight - no, not me, I've been trying that forever without much success - but from the bicycle or, more precisely the bicycle load. Basically I left behind my locks - which I hadn't used to date (taking my prized machine into every deli I stopped at) and consolidated everything else into a single pannier, abandoning the other. I also abandoned the maps of Queens and LI that I had already used, as well as a small, but surprisingly heavy chain rivet remover (let's face it, if I ended up having chain problems, I was heading to the closest bike shop).

The difference was remarkable - both physically and, I suspect, psychologically. But the hill climbing today (where extra weight really makes a difference) was a lot easier, and not because the terrain was any kinder. Maybe my legs are also getting into bike shape!

The ferry crossing was uneventful, except the fog was so thick the visibility could not have been more than 20 feet. Let's hear it again for radar (we passed very close to - and very slowly by - a number of other large boats).

New London, however, was sunny - and the bike path across the river well-marked (see photo at midway point). Then down into Groton, past multiple General Dynamics sub and other facilities - all with strict warnings about trespassing and taking pictures. Very much a downtrodden feeling to the area - and yet lovely, empty streets, right next to the water (when there wasn't a defense facility in the way), delightful for biking.

Speaking of which, let me say a word in praise of CT drivers. They really know how to pass a bicycle on the road! They wait for an opportunity, and then pull out and pass. Maybe those "Share the Road" signs really educate?

By contrast, and at the risks of both showing my rank prejudices and potentially offending some, if not all, of you, my experience is that PA plates are the worst (aggressive, fast and close), followed closely by NJ (clueless and incompetent) and with very erratic and hard to predict performances from NY plates. MA plates are right up there in bike passing etiquette with CT - a theory that will be tested in two days - and RI Plates only a notch below.

The biking through CT and into RI was consistently good and charming - enough so that I added about 10 miles of alternative routes to go on smaller roads or get closer to the water.

Mystic, CT was thoroughly charming, with some great ice cream (no, I didn't sample the pizza). Watch Hill, RI is a bastion of privilege like I have rarely seen - let me just say that there is no recession apparent among the lawn care workers there, whose vans and trailers were in evidence at just about every other estate. But it all made for great biking - empty, meandering roads and beautiful vistas (not just estates - see other attached pictue).

Got to the Admiral Dewey Inn (est. 1895) in Manutuck (not to be confused with Mattituck) at around 4 p.m., having covered 75 miles in all for the day (yes, rounded up again!). Immediately went for a swim in the Atlantic and then chilled out on the beach.

All in all, not a bad day!

Yours from the road,


Day 4 - A Mixed Bag:

I apologize for yesterday's email snafu, in which a bunch of you received no report and, as a consequence, wondered whether I had jumped an Amtrak train somewhere. I'm guessing it was either the attachments or the number of names triggering those wonderfully efficient spam filters we all have. I can't do much about the names, so no attachments this go around.

Day 4 had some highlights, but also some monotonous and less fun sections. It also did not have the expected thunder showers or rain (good), but did have some pre-storm winds that were primarily out of the west and produced some nice tail winds for me (better). Those helped offset, somewhat, the sapping heat, sun and humidity (it was hot!).

I covered 57 miles today (if you have to ask about rounding, then you haven't been paying attention), going from Manutuck, RI to Little Compton, RI, by way of Newport. Although I didn't have to catch a ferry this morning, I did have to catch a bus! Unless I wanted to bike up to and through Providence, I needed to traverse two bridges to get to Newport, neither of which allows bikes. But RIPTA (Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority) to the rescue with its no. 64 bus, which racks bikes on its front and runs across both bridges about every 90 minutes. So, believing RIPTA's published schedule, which showed an 8 a.m departure, I left the B&B at 6 a.m. so I could be confident of covering the approximately 18 miles to the correct bus stop with time to spare. The route there went through Narangasset, whose Atlantic Ave. (not the one from Monopoly) was great biking along the water. The other good news? The bus arrived on time (MTA are you listening?). The bad news was that both rack slots on the front of the bus were full. Fortunately, the driver took mercy on me and let me board with my bike through the back door (although I swear he then did his best to make me lose my balance with every turn and acceleration along the way).

After arriving in Newport - and having the breakfast I missed at my B&B as a result of my early departure - I set out along Newport's Ocean Drive - which was just stunning. Only then to be topped by Bellevue Ave., which literally had one mansion and even palace after another. Why and how did this all get built? I'm going to have to do a bit of research when I get back. It made Watch Hill look like a shanty town!

Leaving Newport was less enjoyable, as some of the roads were more crowded, without decent shoulders, and less scenic (the drivers continued to be polite passers though). There was also one other bridge, without a bus option this time. My story is going to be that I never saw the "bikes and pedestrians prohibited" sign - but, assuming, ahem, that there might have been one, it would have been with good reason. I don't think the shoulder, such as it was, could have been more than 12 inches wide. I rode a VERY straight line for what seemed forever, but was certainly less than a mile, and was very glad to exit. Phew. The passing drivers were still polite though!

The end of the day was from Tiverton down to Little Compton, and although the Tiverton portion was nothing special, the last 10 miles to Little Compton were gorgeous, full of rolling hills, farmlands and water vistas. It inspired me enough to do a little exploring - and even to break my "consider the name of the road" rule (explained in an earlier email) and sample an unfortunately very appropriately named "Windmill Hill" road (it definitely had both wind - in my face this time - and hills).

In the last 5 miles, the first mechanical problem of the day - but it was someone else's - a damsel in distress with a flat tire! Hmm. To commiserate, but ride by, or stop and fix it for her? Actually, knowing I was going to write this "blog" tonight, there was no real choice - but I like to think I would have done the same thing even without all the "virtual" watchers. At least it was an easy fix - some tires can be bears to patch - and she was very sweet and appreciative (no, not THAT sweet and appreciative) - and I got to feel good at the same time for doing a good deed.

On to MA tomorrow, as we enter the home stretch!

Yours from the road,


Day 5 - What a Start!:

Phew! A long, but very good and satisfying day. 77.94 miles in all (that's decent enough that I figure I don't need to try to impress you with a .06 mile round up), and I'm finally on the Cape! I crossed the Bourne Bridge around 4 p.m., and, as I write this, am comfortably ensconced in a nice motel in Sandwich.

The day was a story of several different rides. The first 30 miles out of Little Compton, crossing into MA, were right at the top of any biking I've ever done. Small, winding, nearly empty roads, taking me through an incredible array of vistas: Open fields, old mills, working farms, craggy stone walls, dense tree canopies, quaint bridges, Atlantic shore lines and beaches, inland lakes and marshes - and I'm no doubt leaving much out.

Great stuff overall, made even better by the humidity having broken. The day was mostly overcast and even coolish - which made for MUCH more comfortable biking - although a few more appearances by Mr. Sun would have made it perfect. But close enough, given the past several days.

It was hard to match that start - and the next leg - of getting around a very run down New Bedford - was about as dismal as it sounds. So I'll skip the details - suffice it to say that I didn't choose to stop there for lunch (I also didn't get felled by mysterious toxic fumes, for those of you who may have seen that story earlier this week).

Once well past New Bedford, on the way to the Warehams, the cycling improved again, and I would have considered it very good by any standards other than the morning's. I did face one route dilemma: my cue sheets at one point had me basically following the two sides of an isosceles triangle - so I thought why not cut out several miles and just ride the road that follows the base of the triangle? That is until I saw the road was called "Fearing Hill" road. 'Nuff said. This time I stayed with the cue sheet path. (Of course, now I'm going to have to consult a topographical map when I get back to see whether the "road name rule" would have held up.)

The next portion of the ride was coming into Bourne, navigating the infamous Bourne traffic circle (yes, the drivers were still all mostly polite and competent passers - the difference being that the MA plates will speed past you while also giving you lots of room) and crossing the Bourne Bridge. I can't say the biking was great, but I was so excited to get there I didn't care - I still had a big grin plastered on my face.

And then the day ended (almost, see below), with a perfect coda - an about 8 mile ride alongside the Cape Cod canal (from Bourne to Sagamore) on the nearly deserted bike path there. Very serene and peaceful, and a ride I've always wanted to take but, for some reason, never got around to before today.

So, that should have been it - but he who lives by the sword...well, you know. Having touted Google Maps to you all earlier (unpaid!), I was oddly unable to find, where GM told me it should be, the B&B I had booked earlier because it was at the end point of the day's route. Once, twice, three times I rode past where GM insisted the lodgings were - to find nada. I began thinking Rod Serling. But logic prevailed and I called the inn. Turns out they were on my route - but about 20 miles earlier, on the other side of the Bourne Bridge! The innkeeper knew all about it - she said she had been trying to correct the error on GM and MapQuest for about two years...

Having not learned my lesson, I then used GM to find an alternative inn where I was - in Sandwich. I'm pleased to report that GM came through like gangbusters - and I called and made the reservation. But when I tried to find the new motel - all of 1.2 miles away, it again wasn't there! Fortunately, GM's margin of error was significantly smaller this time - about a half a mile off. Maybe something about the Cape?

The adventure winds up tomorrow with another long day to get to my in-laws' place in Truro. 60 to 80 miles, depending on which alternatives I choose. I suspect I'll go the more direct route, as I'm anxious to finally arrive and, for the first time, my achilles tendon was a bit sore from today's ride (frankly, I'm kind of amazed that represents the extent of my physical ailments from this journey).

Thank you for riding along with me so far - it's been a lot of fun for me to report on events - and your replies and witty comments (not, ahem, to put pressure on any one to meet or exceed this standard) have kept me entertained and feeling connected in what otherwise would have felt a much more solo pursuit.

I'll confirm (I hope!) my final arrival tomorrow, but I need to ask you to excuse me if I keep it minimal (like, "I'm here").

I plan to be working on my hot tub technique.

Yours from the road,


Day 6 - Made It!:

I'm here! And I've already made good use of the hot tub. So, from that narrow perspective, all is well in the world!

Covered 70 miles today (rounding down!), which, if my math is correct, makes for a nice round cumulative total of 400 miles for the whole trip. Even I have to admit that's pretty impressive. But today was a bit of a struggle on several levels.

First, I think that mentally, making it to the Cape yesterday felt like the real achievement, so the motivation today lagged a bit. Second, my achilles tendon (the left one, for those of you starved for detail) was whining pretty incessantly, saying it was sore and needed a break from pedaling, and only shutting up when fed some aspirin (which I popped religiously the rest of the day). And third, I had my first serious bike mechanical problem. More on that in a moment.

I would be remiss not to say that weather-wise, the day was superb. Sunny, low humidity and reasonably cool. About perfect biking weather.

The biking itself, on the Lower Cape, was only so-so. In truth, being August, most roads were heavily trafficked, and shoulders were inconsistent. Conversely, when I got to the Cape Cod Rail Trail further up in the Cape later in the day, it was nice to have no cars, but the scenery and feel of a bike path is, at least to me, just not the same as empty country roads. And the final 20 miles of riding was all territory I already knew well. So, all in all, the riding was a bit of an anti-climax. Throw in a screaming achilles and - well, you get the picture....

And then there was the mechanical problem. But first, a bit of context. The reason for the timing of my trip is a remembrance ceremony being held tomorrow, in Truro, for a family friend (Myra) who died last year. So everyone is converging here today, including my wife, Laura. She left NYC early this morning (yes, she was driving, not biking), and we joked that she could sideswipe me somewhere along the Cape today. But it coincidentally turned out that my route would be crossing hers about 40 miles into my ride today, and it looked like we'd be arriving there at about the same time. So we made plans to meet so we could grab a quick smooch - or whatever a married couple of twenty years can do at a roadside intersection, when one of them is super sweaty, smelly and wearing tight lycra pants and those funny shoes that clack when you walk....

But at about mile 38, I heard a sound I knew too well and did not want to hear - that of a rear wheel spoke breaking (mine, I'm afraid, not that of a damsel in distress). This is bad news because they are quite cumbersome to fix - you have to remove the rear cogwheel to access the spoke (which needs a special tool), and assuming you have a replacement spoke available (I didn't), you then have to re-true the wheel. And, of course, you first have to have removed the tire and inner tube. So, a bear all around.

But Laura and Google Maps to the rescue. I searched for "bike shop" and, voila, there was one about a third of a mile away. I called them and confirmed they were equipped to do the repair and could do it right away. Then I called Laura and explained that our meeting point had changed - and, by the way, I needed a lift.

To cut to the chase, Laura picked me up, the bike shop replaced the spoke (charging $25 - it would have been $60 to $80 in NYC), and I was good to go again - although I had to ignore the whiny achilles again, which was urging me to take a lift with Laura for the final 32 miles.

Now, for the purists amongst you, I confess that I made two concessions to my wimpy little friend (the achilles, not Laura! Sheesh). First, I let Laura take my pannier (still weighing about 15 lbs) in the car, since I didn't need it any more. Second, I picked up my trip from the bike store location, instead of going back the third of a mile to my breakdown spot and re-starting again from there. I like to think these were the decisions of an enlightened soul, who understood the essential spirit of the trip remained unchanged by them. But, deep in my heart, I know I have now given my brother and others (you know who you are, Dick) permanent ammunition to say: "Gee, remember the time you rode your bike ALMOST all the way to Truro, fully-loaded?"

So that's it. I couldn't resist a final report (extending my 15 minutes of fame, as it were), but if I keep writing tomorrow, you'll know I have a problem....

Thanks again for all your support - it's been fun! And I hope maybe even a bit inspirational.

Yours, resting comfortably,


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