Martha’s Vineyard

September 5, 2006 in Travelogue

“You’re gonna do what? Cycle a hundred miles this weekend? And you’re taking the kids?!”

It wasn’t an unusual response, most people we know think we’re crazy. Who in their right mind packs up four kids under ten and cycles a hundred miles just for ‘fun’? We do.The trip in question turned out to be one of our best, in spite of the ominous weather forecast, missed ferry and bent wheel.

On a crisp fall day, we packed up our bikes and headed for Falmouth, Massachusetts to catch the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. It seemed like the perfect place to test the kids and our gear, four bikes, and two Adams Trail-A-Bikes with custom made racks, designed by my husband. It was also to be our first foray into hosteling, something we were marginally nervous about with four kids.

Rain was predicted for the entire weekend and the skies were an ominous grey as we boarded the little white ferry with our entourage for the choppy passage. It was to be a learning journey. Learning about our bikes, our gear and ourselves; as well as a test for the children: how well would they do three nights from home with long days of cycling in between?

The learning began right away. We stowed our bikes in the racks provided and Tony and I had settled into a bench by the window while the children munched some trail mix and tried not to fall off the back of the boat. The double decker ferry was rolling heartily with every swell when it happened: The boat rolled, the bikes rocked and my husbands bike, completely loaded, with Trail-A-Bike attached pitched sideways and fell right over; with the front wheel still in the gate.

Lesson number one: Never put your front wheel through a bike gate on an ocean passage. We were a little less cheerful as we disembarked, Daddy pushing his bike with its wobbly wheel while the four year old provided commentary to passers by: ‘Daddy wasn’t watching the bikes and his felled over and bent the wheel.’ Master of the obvious. Fortunately, within a hundred yards was a bike shop, as it seemed there was one every hundred yards in the towns on the Vineyard. The salty old man who ran the shop saw us coming and we speculated about the number of repairs of exactly this sort he does every week. We were obviously not the first, and surely not the last.

Martha’s Vineyard is, indeed, a biker’s dream. There are paved bike paths, nicely mapped with easy to follow signs, over most of the island that are separated from the road by trees so that you feel as if you’re cycling alone through the post card your aunt sent from her summer vacation here years ago. The natives are kind and welcoming, and there truly is a bike shop on every corner.

The skies were grey all weekend, but it only rained hard at night. As a result, there weren’t as many people on the island as usual, which only added to our enjoyment of our ride. The best day we had, by far, was the last in which we rode out toward Gay Head to the little town of Menemsha. The rolling hills overlooking the ocean were spectacular and the ride down into the little fishing village at the end of the Vineyard is exhilarating. We spent an hour wandering this idyllic little town, watching the fishermen unload their morning’s catch of flounder:

‘Mama, why that fish have both eyes on one side of his head’!?

and purchasing postcards in the little general store. The shop keeper added four sticks of old fashioned candy to our bag, after we had paid, to the great delight of the children. While my husband conversed with the bike ferry operator (an open deck pontoon boat with an electric motor) the children and I watched a little boy and his grandfather trying to net hermit crabs in the bay. The temptation proved too much for our sons and soon they were wet to the knees helping their new-found friend.

All of our anxiety about hosteling with children proved unwarranted. They shrieked with joy at the sight of the dormitory style room and scrapped over who would get the top bunk. It was a novelty of highest degree to sleep with twelve other people in the same room, cook meals in a huge kitchen with four stoves and three sinks with foot peddles instead of knobs to dispense water. More than once we found them curled up on a worn velvet couch with a college student regaling her with stories of the day’s big ride, or our plans for ‘the big trip’ next year. They met a lovely little Indonesian boy who, at five, was the perfect playmate. They laughed and pretended to play chess until way past bedtime.

The sun finally came out a few hours before we caught the ferry back to the main land. We ate ice cream next to the flying horses carousel and congratulated ourselves on a good test run. The gear held up. The hostel was a success. The kids rode circles around us and wanted to keep going at the end of a forty-mile day. What more could we ask for?

How ’bout one more day?