English explorers were a trifle on-the-nose with their naming conventions in the early 1600s when Bartholemew Gosnold gave the name “Cape Cod” to the sandy, hooked peninsula in southeastern Massachussets after pulling in a big haul of cod there. I went with other intentions back in September (2020) and am now getting around to writing about it. I use the term “writing” generously since I am already realizing how out of practice I am at writing anything other than an email or analysis for work. You need to exercise these muscles to keep them strong…
The pandemic quarantine was really wearing on me back in September and my PTO balance was stuck at January levels, so a week of forecasted perfect bike riding weather gave me the impulse to go do a tour for the first time in years. I pulled my old 2006 Fuji Touring out of the attic and started to get some gear together. New panniers were en route but I was missing a front rack and every shop nearby was out of stock of these and so many other things – apparently I wasn’t the only one who was rediscovering cycling. The velo gods must have been smiling on me because just as I was starting to get desperate and considering postponing, I went to dig in the bins at my local bike co-op and came upon a very sought after “Jim Blackburn” front rack. Tour on.
If you’re ever thinking about doing an extended bike tour – or even a long day trip – I’ll share something that might save you some discomfort. You need to be conditioned before you embark, and I don’t mean aerobically. You need to condition your posterior with some time in the saddle. Not doing so will mean saddle sores and general soreness regardless of whatever padded bike shorts (chamois) or saddle you use. A week or two of regular riding is what is called for – but being the type of person who always goes for it, I prepared with just two rides a few days before leaving.
I embarked Hartford around noon on a Wednesday and at about 10 miles in I made the mistake of riding too much in the gutter, for which I was rewarded with a punctured rear tire. Not more than 10 miles later around Marlborough CT I get my second flat – not a great start. Second word of advice here – bring lots of patch kits and spare tubes, not just an optimistic few. By the evening I’m sitting outside eating an Italian dinner in Norwich with some other cyclists who were eating there as well and struck up a conversation when they saw me. Another 25 miles or so and I stop for sleep somewhere off Woodville Road in Woodville, RI.
There is a right way and many wrong ways to stealth camp. The right way is to scout a location out of sight around dusk – in the woods, the back of an old cemetery, somewhere out of sight and preferably at a vantage point. A wrong way is to trudge into the woods nearest you when your headlight starts to die at about midnight on a rural road. My spot could have been worse but after waking up and making some coffee, I exited the woods to find I had chosen a spot almost directly across from a home where the owner’s dog was allowed to roam freely near the road. He must not have been accustomed to people emerging from the woods in the morning – could have been worse but he was definitely letting his owner know I was there as I rode away. Just down the road I stop to visit the Collins family at a historic cemetery.
Pedal 25 miles that morning and I reward my efforts with brunch in Narragansett while recharging the power bank and devices. Crossing the two bridges here is tricky since bikes are not allowed, but detouring north through Providence is too many pointless miles. Heading east, the strategy is to make a run for it on the Jamestown Bridge from Plum Beach, carefully negotiating the narrow protected walkway and apologizing to the city workers who stop to let me know bikes are not allowed on the other side. This tact isn’t an option for the Newport bridge though, so after admiring the Jamestown windmill I hitch a ride at the entrance ramp from a worker with a pickup truck and some landscaping equipment in the bed who declines my offer of a few bucks for the trouble. I’ve taken more than a few adventures in my life, and it often seems to be the working class people who are willing to help out when needed. By the way, there is a bus service here which I think runs hourly, but only in-season and during certain hours…worth looking into in advance but on the fly I preferred a streamlined solution.
Now in Newport I notice I’ve popped a couple spokes so it is down to a bike shop (Ten Speed Spokes) to get them replaced. I was rolling the dice traveling without a cassette removal tool which I definitely would not have done on a very rural tour, but with towns usually not more than 10-20 miles apart I figured I could make it to a shop on a bumpy wheel if and when this happened. Luckily there were no more broken spokes for the rest of the ride. After the fix I grab an early dinner at “Pour Judgement” where I could again sit outside and avoid offending anyone as I’ve now been riding for two days. Forty miles after dinner gets me to Shoolman Nature Preserve where I again set up camp in the dark. This was a great nature spot where I could get way off the trail and not worry about early morning hikers.
Second morning waking up in my tent and I’m just outside the Cape at this point – don’t want to be denied entry, so I’m thinking I need a shower. I stop in the very blue collar, old school New England town of Wareham and get beach recommendations from the owner of a diner where I eat. I like the energy in Wareham – nobody is in a rush, the historic buildings remain standing, the waitress is dealing with relationship drama in the service area between waiting tables – it retains its charm from a century earlier when the major industries were a nail factory and cranberries. Apparently it is also in the top 5% of MA towns for crime rates. The owner and his wife want to tell me about every beach in the area but I extract from him that he thinks they have showers at Onset beach. Onset is a separate incorporated tax district/village within Wareham, but geographically and economically separated. They do end up having showers which are turned off due to Covid, so the shower turns into a bath in the ocean – just as good.
Ready to make my appearance on the Cape, I pick up the Canal Service road near Buzzards Bay which was an awesome, heavily used recreational path. This leads to a bridge across the canal and then you continue on the other side’s service road for a few miles before arriving in Sandwich. I honestly didn’t have time to stop and look but there seemed to be some outdoor music event happening on the beach right where I exit the path. As I push on I find myself on the single road (aside from a highway) running east, Rt. 6A which is two lanes and about two inches of shoulder, for 10 miles in what must have been weekender traffic. Definitely the most dangerous leg of the trip so far – I think the preferred bike route heads south before swinging east whereas I wanted to go straight east toward my campground in Brewster for the night. Maybe there is a lesser known trail google maps could not tell me about…anyway, do whatever is necessary to avoid 6A between Sandwich and about Barnstable, although somewhere around Barnstable you get more residences and nice sidewalks to ride on if needed.
In Brewster there are two campgrounds and I forget which one I chose, but I was happy to have a hot shower and an outlet all to myself for the night. I had a beer with a couple guys who work in IT and another with myself before going to bed.
The next day was by far the best riding of the trip and will be the reason I return to the Cape. From Brewster I head east and pick up the Cape Code Rail Trail (CCRT) which connects villages from South of Yarmouth right up to the National Seashore in Wellfleet. With the nice weather it is actually a little bit crowded with people on bikes. Orleans in particular stands out as a great village with bike shops right near the trail and people all around on foot and I stop here for second breakfast before shooting up to P-town. My biggest mistake on the trip was not leaving enough time to enjoy the stops and explore towns and villages along the route.
As you enter Wellfleet you are entering National Seashore protected land. I take Ocean View Dr. north and start to notice little dirt “ways” with funky signs listing what looks like family names. My route says to turn left on Thoreau Way which at first I think is a private driveway – little more than a dirt trail one vehicle wide. Turns out as one of the locals driving through explains to me when I ask if I’m lost, the land I’m riding through is sort of private, but with public access rights being in a National Park. Another local, an older lady in a car, rolls down the window to let me know “bikes rock!” as we pass each other carefully. Excellent. I’m having a lot of fun riding through a maze of rocky, hilly dirt trails and getting lost so I forget to take all but one picture. Next visit I will be taking a lot more time to explore the seashore area over a couple days.
Leaving the forested area of the Seashore, I shoot up to Provincetown on a more typical road to make the ferry to Boston by 4:00. If liberal-minded people in September were taking a principled stance behind a social responsibility to sacrifice pleasures in the name of social distancing, then you wouldn’t know it visiting P-town which was an all-out party in the street and in the establishments. Only not-OK when a cruder class of person violate these expectations, I suppose? Anyway I am out as fast as I arrive, enjoying a beer on the ferry.
There’s still a lot of miles to cover – from Boston up to Salem, camping off a wooded trail at a golf course (Highland Park), then taking a hard left turn for the two-day return leg heading southeast through Mass and entering CT through the “Quiet Corner.” I’m also leaving out the best camping location – a marked “rest area” located on a bike trail where I build my one and only camp fire on the trip. But this post is turning out longer than intended, so I’m going to leave the rest to the image gallery below. All in all this was a 6-day tour and somewhere around 350 miles. I’ll be planning some more trips in 2021 with my soon-to-be rebuilt bike – the stripped frame is currently at the powdercoater so I’ll post soon on the rebuild.