Friday, June 3, 2011

Guest Post: Family Biking - Cape Cod

Brian was kind enough to invite my wife and I to write up our Memorial Day bike trip through Cape Cod on his fine, fine blog, so I (Kyle) will give it my best shot and try not to break anything in here.

First, a tiny bit of background.  We are a couple in our mid-30's with a 21 month old girl, we own no cars and 6 bikes, and we're chiefly practical city bikers.  The young'un has been in a bike trailer from 5 months old, and now in a Bobike seat for the last 2 months.  Thus, in contemplating a multi-day bike trip with our daughter along, we had a fairly good idea what to expect from her.  The longest trip with her in the Bobike prior to this was probably 3 hours of seat time in one day, possibly 4.  For this Cape trip, we were estimating more like 6 a day, with breaks of course.

 Next, a quick blurb about gear and setups.  My wife rode a 70's Phillips 3 speed with a new Sturmey-Archer 3 speed rear hub and an added front caliper brake.  Her bike has a big steel + cedar japanese front rack, and a cheap aluminum rear rack.  I rode a new Trek Belleville which comes with a Shimano Nexus 3 speed rear hub and a generator front hub to run lights.  The Trek comes with stout front and rear racks, and the whole thing is powder coated.  Each bike cost us about $700 with everything on it, in its current state of tune, I would guess.  Each weighs around 40 lb's, I am guessing, and mine is heavier than hers... I know I don't want to actually weigh mine, for fear of being cripplingly depressed.  I'm happier not knowing.  On each of our front racks, we tossed on a big open Coleman aluminum-framed basket, held on with one bungee cord (visible below). On the rear racks we brought 3 panniers, and a bungee net containing a huge beach blanket.  So, the trip...

We took the Provincetown ferry out from Boston friday afternoon at 5:30, which put us in P-Town by 6:30.
The ferry was a pleasant experience, and we'd both strongly recommend it.  The bikes are secured by staffers using stout rope, and I didn't see anyone's bike so much as twitch during the ride, though we did have calm seas. There is basic food in the galley, a full bar, enough seating for everyone, and the views are spectacular.  We even saw a whale!  I got no picture of it, sadly, but I saw the back and the fluke, and it was my first real whale sighting.

Once on shore, we biked to the motel we'd found.  If you're going to do this, finding places who will rent to you for just one night can be tricky.  The hotels, motels, and b&b's of the cape would really, really like you to stay for 3 nights at least on Memorial Day weekend. You, on the other hand, would not like to stay for 3 nights... you have places to bike.  What we did was book it all last minute, literally the day before, and Google/Yelp/call like hell until you track someone down who has vacancy.  At this late point they're pretty happy to get one night's worth of dough from someone instead of nothing for any rooms available. We had to find places with a crib, too, so if you don't have that hangup you'll have even better luck.  A basic understanding of Guest Industry economics and some blind faith will serve you well here.

Depending on how many days you have to do this and where you will end the biking portion of your journey, you could be doing anything from 20 to 60 miles a day.  In our case, we did 30-something a day, roughly, plus excursions, and it was very manageable even with the kiddo and the slow bikes.  Also, we lucked out on heat - it was cloudy but dry, with temps in the 60's and 70's for the most part.

Loaded up and ready, Saturday morning in the fog:

6A leaving Provincetown:

The northern section of 6A from PTown to North Truro is pretty pleasant to bike.  The traffic was minimal for us, drivers were slow and considerate, and people are generally not in a giant rush. There's really nothing else to choose from, so you'll wind up on it. The cape feels skinny here - you can see the water on one side and sense that it isn't far off on the other side. Up here it's still really VacationLand.  Soon it will be less so.

At North Truro, laid-back slacker Route 6A joins up with its faster, loudmouth big city cousin Route 6 Proper, and the ride becomes less pleasant. There are 2 lanes each way, cars go as fast as they can manage (70+), but there is a decent 4-foot shoulder, so the more hardened riders (and especially those without a toddler between their elbows) can probably stay on 6 and make bullet-like progress south, if that's desired. We opted out.

The only problem with opting out is that every road except 6 between North Truro and Truro looks like you tossed a handfull of cooked spaghetti at the map.  Also there are hills. If you're on a carbon-framed jobby with 4 lb's of gear total on it, have no fear.  If, however, you're on a powder coated steel battleship with 75 cubic liters of stuff and two breathing life forms on it, the hills will be a bit of a challenge. It's manageable, there are almost no cars - we rode side by side - and the scenery is woodsey and wonderful.  But this is the one section of the whole trip that felt like work. Pull over and have a beer to shore up your fortitude, but watch for ticks...  there are tons of them, and you are delicious.

Wellfleet is where we had lunch. The oysters are indeed worthy of the hype, my wife assures me.  (I only eat them cooked, and [20 miles into an 80 mile trip + bike shorts time to try out new raw seafoods]). At Wellfleet we joined back up with interstate-wannabe Route 6 for a few miles, until the rails-to-trails bike trail started just after South Wellfleet. There was a sign pointing it out to the left, so we carefully merged over and rode down through a parking lot, up a path, and there it was...

Once the bike path starts, the miles begin to fly past. My wife commented that she felt no sense of progress on the path, because there were so few things pasing by with which to mark the distance.  I, on the other hand, had a gps unit on my handlebars quietly doing a bunch of math and whispering encouraging things to me. I suddenly saw a huge difference in both our whole-trip total moving average speed (from 9.8 to 10.4mph in about 1 hour), and the distance left to our destination as measured in a straight line. There is a tool for every job, and if your job is mile munching by bike, then the Cape Cod Rail Trail is the right tool.  Some history on it:

"Somewhere around the elbow" was our target range when we were trying to find a place to stay for Night 2, and we found an incredible place in Chatham that I will gladly name-plug here: Pleasant Bay Villiage.  They have what I would lovingly call a "compound," consisting of a motel-row front, behind which are paths and ponds and trees and fountains, populated with small houses and other nicer rooms for rent as well.  Everything is landscaped in a very japanese style, it's family friendly without being noisey, and the staff was VERY friendly and helpful to the last man.  The dog that hangs around the front office is still the largest I have ever seen, even after having slimmed down from 200lb's to 135 on a diet of frozen carrots.  They also have a nice pool and a hot tub, though I cannot guarantee that the latter will not be clogged with 14 men in t-shirts and sunglasses discussing golf.
We settled in, got the baby fed, and put the integrated bottle opener to good use.

Sunday morning we had to use more 2-lane busy roads to get back to the rail trail, which was less than ideal.  Cars south of Chatham (Training Field Rd, George Rider Rd) were uniformly doing 15-25 over the speed limit and not pleased to see us laboring along on the right shoulder. The worst offenders were work pickups, a dump truck, and a guy in an unidentifiable bondo-grey mid-60's Dodge with open pipes who thought it would be great fun to dump the throttle once he got right alongside us. Less than an hour after we started, we got back onto the path next to Chatham Municipal Airport.

From here it's smooth sailing west all the way until you hit 134, at which point the bike path ends. This is the end of it... some bricks, a map, and a parking lot.
After this you're back on surface roads as you head west.  We incorrectly headed north for a block or two, as seen below from the GPS track data, then realized it and went south.
Then you pick up Highbank Rd going west northwest, which leads you pleasantly enough up to 6A near Yarmouth.  6A is pretty decent for bikes.  It winds and twists gently, the hills aren't imposing or frequent, and the towns you're going through are incredibly quaint.  We had a great meal for lunch in Barnstable at the Barnstable Restaurant & Tavern.  The outdoor patio is wonderful, the Cape Cod IPA (brewed right down the street) punches above its weight class, and the mediterranean stew hit the spot.

 Back to the business of going west.  6A looks like this...
...and then this...
...and then you're in Sandwich, more or less.

Sandwich is a cute / serviceable little town with some basic amenities but not a ton to choose from.  We stayed at the Belfry Inne / Painted Lady Inn, which are side by side and share ownership and operations.  That night there was a wedding, so we couldn't eat in the Belfry, and were left with slim pickin's.  We ended up calling in an order to a pizza/burrito joint, and the $24 meal wasn't amazing. The Painted Lady is an old mansion-turned-hotel that has excellent bone structure but whose interior has been regretably slathered in whore's makeup. The decor consists of high-density kitsch and a collection of awful folksy "humor" paintings, far too many of which feature half naked mermaids. Noise travels through the floors like water through a screen, so if you stay here, aim for the highest floor you can get. We stayed at ground level and heard every footstep and dropped TV remote above us with unwanted clarity, in addition to chatter from people in the small "bar" room across the hall from us. Drink some beer and bring earplugs.

Sure is pretty, though!

Getting home... We had planned to ride up to Plymouth to take the commuter rail back to Boston, but it's been closed every weekend for awhile now for repairs.  That left us with an easier-yet-pricier option, the P&B Bus Line which picks up right over the Sagamore bridge.  It took maybe 30 minutes from Sandwich to the bus pickup spot, which is in the parking lot next to the Shell gas station.  Tickets are sold inside the Shell, and 2 adults + 2 bikes cost us $44.  The bus was clean, had good a/c, was at less than 1/2 capacity, and had us home in an hour flat. It picked up once an hour, so if you're close by at the end of your trip and don't feel like slagging it out all the way to Plymouth, this was a good option.

Specifics like trail on/off points, gps coordinates, etc, available upon request.  Cheers and thanks again Brian!

-Kyle, Megan & Annika

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like fun although I don't think I would do the whole trip as you did, at least not until my boys are more adapted to riding - we are working on it. The short jaunt on 6 south of Wellfleet can be avoided although the alternative adds hills (see this Google map). It has the added benefit of the best views of the ocean from a bike on the Cape, at least in my opinion. I've been late and rode that stretch of 6 and it is unpleasant without a passenger.