Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Biking Martha's Vineyard, Part I

Biking Martha’s Vineyard can be vexing at times - intersections clogged with cars and tourists, inexperienced and inattentive bike rental bikers, stiff headwinds – but the rewards of cycling here are many and varied. I had the good fortune of experiencing it firsthand this past weekend.
Two friends and I accepted a standing invitation to visit old friend and musician Kevin Keady who, in addition to writing and performing uniquely insightful folk songs, works on the Pimpney Mouse Farm, “The Last Farm on Chappaquiddick” (which it is and which is also the title of a recent book documenting the farm’s history in the 30s and 40s and written by the farm’s matriarch, Edo Potter).
Pimpney Mouse Farm is a working hay farm encompassing several hundred acres of some of the most beautiful and classic landscape to be found on the eastern seaboard. Kevin happened into employment here nearly two decades ago and in the interim time has become a fixture not only on the farm but on the Vineyard itself. Generous, motivated, a devotee of his art and a tireless promoter of the local music scene, Kevin hosted our three person cycling squad at his small cabin (known simply as “Camp”) on the far end of the farm, the most private area, the section beyond which is nothing but fields and vistas down to Poucha Pond and the Atlantic Ocean beyond East Beach.
Our cycling goal was simple – ride from one end of the Vineyard to the other and explore the back roads in between. Starting at the end of the farm’s long dusty sandy driveway and taking Chappy’s only paved road to the three car ferry across the cut to Edgartown, we set out for the far southwestern headland of Aquinnah (also known as Gay Head) with its cliffs and lighthouse and views across the water to the Elizabeth Islands and Cutty Hunk. It was Saturday, the sun was bright in a cloudless blue sky, and we had the whole day ahead for our cycling meander.
Three main roads head across the island from Edgartown, all with parallel bike paths so that it’s possible, for the most part, to stay clear of roadway traffic. Vineyard Haven Road skirts the seaside congestion of Oak Bluffs but as a result is also one of the island’s busiest thoroughfares, used extensively by the locals. The shore route through Oak Bluffs (Beach Road, New York Ave to Vineyard Haven) is also busy but in a more sightseeing manner with lines of tourist cars snaking through Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven or angling for a parking spots along the beach straightaway across from Sengekontacket Pond. The Edgartown-West Tisbury Road along the southern side of the Vineyard is generally less busy and though not exactly scenic it does have a fine shaded bike path that runs through pine forest (with the result that sections of the path are blanketed with burnished carroty/orange dried pine needles).
But limiting your cycling to the above-mentioned roads and sticking to the fatted center of the Vineyard is not recommended. Instead, head west, southwest actually, to the Massif Central (so I dubbed it in my mind) otherwise known as West Tisbury and Chilmark where we pedaled with enthusiasm along nearly empty rolling byways.Three island roads in particular stand out.

Lamberts Cove Rd is on the right off State Road coming out of Vineyard Haven. It’s a beautifully paved, winding country road in West Tisbury that takes you by old property and woodland idylls – hoary old dignified stone walls demarcating fields and wood edges, stalwart and massive oaks growing for a century and more, ancient fresh water ponds (Seth’s and Duarte’s), mown fields, road shoulder thickets. Very little traffic. 
The second must-ride street is Middle Road through Chilmark – the “Chilmark Alps” I joke with Leonator and the Virginian, my estimable riding companions. Even more up and down than Lamberts Cove, this longish (3 – 4 miles) road bypasses the far busier South Road, the preferred way for auto traffic to get to Aquinnah. Middle Road is flawlessly paved too and runs through some of the same gorgeous countryside as Lamberts Cove except in Chilmark there seems to be more open space, more farm fields and stone walls. Toward the far end it becomes visually apparent that Middle Road unfolds along the higher spine of the peninsula that marks the southern geography of the Vineyard. Off to the left we catch glimpses of the sea.

The third and final must-ride road is Moshup Trail, another little-traffic’d route that allows you to bypass the more congested State Rd in the run up to the Aquinnah headland. “Mash It Up Road!” we joke, doing our best Rasta imitations while cruising along one more finely surfaced roadway, this one going down to sea level and running through the dunes and sandy landscape hills that separate the road from the ocean to the south.
But those are specific roads. I offer a blanket endorsement of the Menemsha Pond basin, also on the Aquinnah peninsula. Take Lighthouse Rd down to Lobsterville Beach and then along West Basin Road to the Bike Ferry. Yes, a bike ferry that, for $5 per person, takes you across the cut that separates the traveler on West Basin Road from the small fishing village of Menemsha. Fantastic dune landscape, flat beachscape, faded fishing shack grays and washed out pinks and blues, scrub green sand soil hillocks, the ocean.
In Menemsha, we ride down the port road and pass several fish markets, behind which, on the salty-gray plank docks, hungry diners sit on creaky picnic benches eating something I can only assume is fresh, hot, and delicious. Mental note taken – return to this little hamlet for outstanding fresh seafood!

Take North Road out of Menemsha – it parallels aforementioned Middle Road and, while not quite as transcendent as Middle Road, still manages to conjure images of Languedoc in rural southern France. In fact, all along this extraordinary ride I think of France, of the upcoming Tour, of the simple joy and unadulterated sense of goodness that comes from riding a bicycle through new and remarkable places.

1 comment:

  1. Biking through a Vineyard looks amazing. My husband is very out doorsy so he will love that. We are currently looking up Marthas Vineyard Rentals for our vacation and I'm so excited. Everything I've looked up so far looks amazing!