The sky was glowering when I biked out of Woods Hole on the Shining Sea bike path yesterday, with a blustery wind blowing from the southeast which is where the summer storms blow in from. The breeze was warm enough, it was cool and pleasant, a perfect day to explore.
The bike path, which is one of the biggest draws to Falmouth, is on the reclaimed path of the old railroad tracks (abandoned in the 1960s). This means it is a nice straight line, far from any road except a handful you cross along the way. How rarely do we get to bike on a paved road nowhere near a car? A special experience, it makes me wish that cities and towns across the country would have to foresight to install a unique right of way such as this one.
The bike path was extended last year, and now runs 11 miles from Woods Hole to North Falmouth. I dream that someday it will extend (as the abandoned train tracks still do) all the way to the Cape Cod Canal and hook up with the path that swoops out toward Provincetown making all of the Cape safely bike-able and connecting us in a green way to our neighbors in Chatham, Wellfleet, Truro and beyond.
I am working towards riding the whole thing round trip, and yesterday I made it past the five mile marker. The first mile out of Woods Hole is in the shady beech forest, passing over several old wooden bridges the bike wheels going thump thump thump on the weathered boards. There are glimpses through the trees of the houses on Fay Road that line a private beach looking out at Vineyard Sound. Tiny intriguing foot paths veer off to the right and left with small painted “private please” signs.
About a mile up, you get your first big reveal of the ocean. Surf Drive, one of the most beautiful of Falmouth’s many beaches, stretches two miles before you, surf crashing today over the breakwaters, the shore dotted with little cabins on stilts. I think of the people who used to come here on the train, most headed to the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, and imagine that this view was an exciting moment as they emerged from the woods and saw Vineyard Sound for the first time, caught a whiff of that distinctive smell of eel grass drying in the sun, and felt the cool breeze off the water. I can only imagine this was the first real taste of summer vacation.
Yesterday, the southeasterly wind buffeted my bike as soon as I emerged from the woods. I passed the Trunk River which is a tidal pond that empties into the ocean. Herring run here in season, and fisherman gather at the breakwaters to catch fish drawn to the current. There is another small wooden bridge, and a sign about the life of the tidal river that is worth a quick stop.
From here, the path veers inland, back into the lee, past several conservation sites with salt-water pond views and walks, toward the main streets of Falmouth. The vista to the left across the Oyster Pond is particularly delightful, even on a gray day, with the Spohr Gardens in the distance. Once in Falmouth, you can take a right off the path at the bus station for a pick-me-up at the locally-run Coffee Obsession on Palmer Ave., or continue onto Main Street for ice cream, homemade fudge, cupcakes and lots of fun local shopping.
I did not stop, as the weather was still threatening. Past the village, from the path you can see the back side of the bus station, the back corners of the Steamship Authority parking lot, and the cooking vents of Seafood Sam’s then you are back in the woods again, the canopy high above you and the light filtered green with the glow of the spring leaves.
I made it up to the Sippewisset Marsh, about mile five, before the rain started coming down in those large droplets that you can almost dodge between but indicate that much more is likely on the way. I paused to look out over the marsh and read a sigh posted there about the Wampanoag. It says, among other things, that “Sippewisset” means “place of the brook” and that this was a sacred site for Native Americans on their annual peregrination towards the fishing holes and summer hunting of what we now call Woods Hole and the islands.
History buffs will enjoy learning that this marsh is also the site of Rachel Carson’s 1950′s era scientific exploration into the devastating effects of DDT (a pesticide) on the environment which inspired her to write “Silent Spring” the book that launched the environmental movement in the US, ultimately inspiring the US Congress to ban the use of DDT. Were she alive today, she would reflect again on the sacred beauty of this marsh, again filled with osprey and many other shore birds that have returned due to her clarion call. Even with the threatening rain, I pause for several minutes to appreciate this achievement, a nice confluence of the scientific with the spiritual. Louis Agassiz would approve.
The ride home, I pick up the pace as the rain starts to come in earnest. It is all subtlety downhill now, I realize as soon as I turn around, and the trip back is faster and easier. I fall into a trance as the rain drips softly from my hat and the view in reverse rushes past.
Rolling back into Woods Hole, almost two hours and ten miles later, I am ready for a snack and a place to put my wet feet up. Lobster taco time! Thank god for Quicks Hole, the restaurant on Luscombe Avenue across from the Landfall, the perfect spot for a dripping wet biker to unwind a bit before heading back to that comfortable suite at the Woods Hole Inn.