Bike me to Cape Cod

vt_capecod_mapNow, biking to Cape Cod may not be such a big deal if you’re living in, say, Hingham, MA. But for those of us who live in Vermont such an undertaking requires a little planning.

I recently (late August) pulled off a two-day ride from Norwich, VT to Yarmouth on the Cape by way of Salem, MA (no, that’s not a logical stop on the way, I just happened to have good friends there who were willing to put up — and put up with — a sweaty, tired, delusional biker for a night).

First things first: bikers really are the blacks of travellers. We aren’t supposed to be seen or heard from, at best we’re accomodated with weirdly inappropriate “bike routes” (“yeah, you go thru the glue factory parking lot and around the incinerator, then carry your bike across the firing range and thru the creek, then there’s an unmarked, unpaved stretch of half-covered landfill that’ll get you there”) and the rest of the time we’re just supposed to make ourselves scarce and get out of the way when ther SUVs need the space. Why am I making this point? Try to use Mapquest or Google Maps as a biker. Sure, I’ll get on Highway 89 for 27.3 miles, then get on Highway 91 for 12.6 miles… Not. Mapquest at least has the semi-cool “shortest route, avoid highways and tolls” option (intended, I believe, for drivers who want to take the scenic route or don’t like going over 50 mph), but just because it rules out genuine interstates there’s no guarantee that the route it provides you is appropriate for a bike. So I worked with a combination of a Mapquest route and a couple of detailed paper maps, and weeded out the worst of the crap. Then I went to Google Maps and created a whole bunch of disposable 4×5 printouts of annotated close-ups of sections of the route I could have handy for navigating on the fly.

Most parts of the route worked out great, but I did get royally screwed near Manchester, NH where a small-ish road named the 28 Bypass looked like it would take me around the nasty traffic. In fact, the 28 Bypass is six lanes of stop-and-go SUVs alongside miles and miles of strip mall hell. The shoulder is about 12″ wide and was last repaved in the waning years of the Nixon administration; your choice is to ride there or chance it with the bargain-hunting Escalades and Hummers. That whole part of New Hampshire sucks; at one roundabout just north of Manchester a whopping four gas stations all featured and enforced the user friendly “no public restrooms” policy, and just to enhance their service image, sourpiss owner/operators at all four also declared that “nope, we don’t have any water.” Thanks for nothing, scumbags.

Once you get to Lawrence/Methuen and the MA border, things just look ugly for a while; nothing like a dead mill town to get your spirits down after riding thru the pristine New Hampshire countryside for hours on end. Big, big props to the granola vegetarian sandwich joint in Middleton, MA, right on 114 — forget the name, but there’s nothing like an XXL smoothie when you’re getting really tired of cliff bars, caffeinated power gel, and stale water out of a plastic bag.

And suddenly (okay, not so suddenly), after seven hours of riding spread out over eight hours, the 125 miles were done. The following day featured a quick 15 mile ride to downtown Boston on a Sunday at 6AM — no traffic, of course, but true to Boston’s reputation for insane traffic, I had to change my route several times along the way because the road I was supposed to be on either disappeared or became a highway tunnel. Please do not ever believe that Beecham St. in South Revere can be ridden on anything other than a full-suspension bike or in a tank — there are potholes the size of overweight children along there, and the banana trucks and cabbies that rule the heavy industrial area simply refuse to believe that you’re there on a bike and will actively try to run you over.

There are (at least) three ways of getting to the Cape from Boston with a bike. Firstly, you can ride all the way there, down along the south shore and across one of the bridge. These guys have a decent set of directions that supposedly will get you thru the worst traffic. But it’d still be pretty nasty. The other two options involve, well, cheating. You go to the harbor, and you take a boat to Provincetown at the tip of the Cape. The trip takes about one-and-a-half hour (runs about $45 one way) with the speedy catamarans, or three hours on the slow cruiser. These guys leave from the World Trade Center (no, the Boston one that’s still there) — apparently it’s hopeless to find, I couldn’t on a Sunday AM with nobody around to ask, so I gave up and went with option number two: these guys, sailing from right alongside the New England Aquarium. Easy to find, easy to get to with a bike, too. For five bucks your bike gets a ride, too, sitting in a rack on the bow of the ship.

Even as a straight, married guy, nothing can be more rewarding than starting a long bike ride in Provincetown wearing tight spandex… the approving looks from immaculately groomed and tanned hunks, the big smiles, the waves and the cat calls just make it all worth while. Having said that, Route 6 south from P’town is awful nasty bad. Not a place to go with a bike. You’re right on two lanes of very fast traffic, full of people in overloaded cars who are busy bitching with each other about the size of the tip they just left at the pancake place that wasn’t as good as it was last year, and the sugared-up kids are whacking each other with beach balls the size of small planets and dad’s not really sure how to get back to the condo so he can change into that mauve bathing suit his wife bought him that’s really two sizes too small, and why the hell didn’t we stay in Hyannis this time like we always do where the golfing is better and… boom, you’re roadkill.

Thankfully, 15-20 miles down the road, you come to the start of the Cape Cod Rail Trail. A huge biker hug and a thankyou to the people who made that happen — such a great thing to do; it’s good for kids, families, bikers who don’t ride often enough to want to play with real traffic but still want to get out and go, it’s great for people walking, roller blading, running, people who have strollers and dogs and itsy-bitsy tiny tots on bikes with training wheels and bigger kids who want to try to go all out for a bit somewhere safe. Oh, and did I mention that it’s beautiful? As a thru-biker it’s a bit of a pain with all the road crossings — you can’t really get your rhytm going, you can barely get up to speed before you have to stop again, and with all the toddlers, dogs, and geriatric roller bladers it’s up to you to watch out. But so be it. Along the way there are ample pit stop options (ice coffee and ice cream, PB&Js, etc.) and only if you’re as tired as I am could you even think of getting lost (there’s a roundabout right at the end that’s confusing as hell, and there’s a stretch of public road you need to follow that’s completely unmarked — we were a whole bunch of people staggering around like lost pilgrims trying to find the next leg of the trail). Beware that the MA parks’ guys are closing a section for repaving (yes, it’s in really bad shape in places, bumpy as hell). Also check out this link for general “biking on the Cape” info

And that was it. Suddenly (again, perhaps, not so suddenly — i distinctly remember looking down at my trip computer and yelling like a petulant kid in the back seat: “are we there yet?!?“) I was in Yarmouth — except, of course, on the wrong side of Route 6, which this far south has turned into a genuine highway and can’t be a) ridden, or b) crossed. Too bad. But it was a really amazing ride, and I would do it again in a minute (or a total of about 12 hours of riding for 185 miles, as it were). Maybe next time I’ll do it for a good cause… or just for the hell of having done it twice to show it wasn’t a fluke.