New England 2019: Cape Cod and the Islands

Wednesday the 28th of August, I rose at dawn to a sunny morning, with rain forecast for 13:30. Cheryl was still on Pacific Time and overslept. We missed the 09:00 ferry, which proved to be a blessing. We walked to Faneuil Hall, got Cheryl a SIM card at Walgreen’s, and enjoyed custom handmade ice cream sandwiches on the Wharf. The fast ferry put us at MacMillan Pier in Provincetown at 15:30. By 17:30, we had checked into the Dune’s Edge Campground abutting the Cape Cod National Seashore. The rain never materialized.

Charles Sternaimolo

After pitching our tent, we rode to the Stop & Shop for breakfast supplies, then headed downtown. Provincetown was an isolated backwater for much of its history, but today it is a bustling, cutesy tourist town. We rode against one-way traffic on Commercial Street (legal for bicycles in Massachusetts), dodging couples and families flowing from one restaurant or bar to another. Cheryl has an incredible ability to pick great dining places intuitively. After checking out menus on Commercial Street, she led me back to Mac’s Fish House near the Stop & Shop. I had a swordfish red curry that combined some of my favourite flavours in one place.

Riding back to the Campground, we learned that US 6 is still “Suicide Six”. The deadly centre passing lane that gave the highway its nickname has been replaced by a median and guardrail – with no opening for left turns into the campground, a 55 MPH speed limit, no lighting, no shoulder, no sidewalk and no bike lane. It was impossible to approach the campground from either direction safely. We finally crossed the median on foot in the dark and walked in the sand to reach the campground entrance.

Dune’s Edge is a lovely campground, even though our site, No. 1, sat at the intersection of three roads to other sites, and between the two washrooms. Cheryl was still on Pacific time, so we chatted until 01:00 before turning in.

On Saturday, we toured the Cape Cod National Seashore. Several asphalt bike trails wound among the dunes, leading us to the seaside. I took off my shoes as we walked among the bathers and campers. Riding back to town, we stopped to walk through the tidal marsh to Wood’s End beach. Slogging through the water, sand and muck put a strain on muscles that had never been brought to bear on the walking process.

We found fresh salmon at the Stop & Shop, and enjoyed it sautéed in lemon-infused olive oil.

The last day of August was warmer, but still a seasonable 25⁰C with northerly winds at a gentle 3-8 knots. We broke camp and let the wind push us to the HI Hostel at Eastham, halfway along the Cape Cod Rail Trail, and 46 km from the Dune’s Edge Campground. We passed several campgrounds that never appeared on my Google searches. I should remember that such places, often private and family-run, may be listed with the Tourist Office or Visitors’ Bureau, but not found by search engines. I did not regret booking the hostel, because of the urgency of finding shelter on the Labour Day weekend. However, Eastham proved to be too close. We could have ridden all the way to Harwich or Hyannis.

HI Eastham had been in place since 1954 and had not been modernized much. Its quaint cottages had no air conditioning (not a problem for us at the time). The place is closed in the winter.

Another lesson learned was to look carefully for laundry facilities when researching accommodations. The HI Hostels at Eastham and Nantucket did not have washing machines, so we should have done our accumulated laundry at Dune’s Edge.

Joanne Ozug

At the Stop & Shop in Eastham, we found fresh scallops for only $10/lb, which provided a dinner that was the envy of our fellow hostellers that night.

The cold kept me from falling asleep promptly that night, and the two snorers did not help. Nevertheless, I managed to get 8 hours of solid rest and woke up refreshed. Considering the expense, I think I prefer camping in Massachusetts. The hostels don’t provide value.

We made the 44 km to the ferry at Harwich easily, thanks mainly to the connector between the end of the Cape Code Rail Trail and the old bike trail through Yarmouth. We easily found our way to the Stop & Shop on Sparks Avenue in Nantucket to stock up, and then to the HI Hostel in Surfside. It was cooler on the island, and pleasant, with a high of 21⁰ and NE winds pushing us along.

On Labor Day, we toured Nantucket, riding the many wonderful bike trails to Cisco Beach and Makadet Beach before turning back to the hostel. We worried as the sky darkened all afternoon. The rain forecast for the afternoon made an appearance that night with a brief shower at 22:15. Hurricane Dorian was making us nervous, because if it crawled up the Eastern Shore, it would dump much rain on us as it weakened, or it would hit the barriers islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard on its way inland. Either way, we hoped to be well north on the mainland by then.

The traffic and crowds lightened considerably over the day, so that by evening, there were few cars on the road and half as many guests at the hostel.

The day after Labor Day started out cloudy but with no wind. With less traffic, we made our way to the ferry. The sky cleared while we rode. Because I didn’t know the side streets, we walked the bikes on more cobblestones than we needed to. I carried our food on my back in a lightweight backpack, which helped me balance the load in my panniers. I would use that yellow pack a lot in the coming month, as we stopped to shop for food and other things. No need to stuff things in the panniers as we travelled.

Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard is full of tourist shops and eateries in a not-so-historic way, because it lacks the large fine homes of the whaling captains that grace Nantucket.

The different summer and winter populations of the two islands provide an interesting perspective. Nantucket has 11,000 year-round residents, and 56,000 in the summer; Martha’s Vineyard also has 11,000 year-round, but 26,000 in the summer. Nantucket is much larger, so things are spread out more. Also, Nantucket is 26 nautical miles from Hyannis, but Martha’s Vineyard is only seven miles from Wood’s Hole.

I could feel the difference in the air only seven miles from the coast of Massachusetts. Breathing on Nantucket felt like sailing on the open sea, but my handkerchief came out with the sneezing on Martha’s Vineyard.

Martha’s Vineyard Campground, the only camping on the island, is heavily wooded and well-equipped. The facilities are rather far from the tent camping, but the darkness was conducive to sleep, in spite of the noise from the tyres on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road. While the laundry ran, Cheryl reorganized my panniers. We assembled a shipment for each of us to send home.

Lesson learned: when camping, I need to remember a trash bag before setting up camp. Both campgrounds that we used so far had distant dumpsters near the office, but no bins elsewhere.

During the night, the fog condensed on the trees and fell on the tent like rain. Nocturnal insects drowned out the few far-off human noises. We had a private site with power and water. As close as this campground is to the mainland, it should provide serious competition for the campgrounds on Cape Cod, at least for hikers, bikers, and other tent campers.

The 4th of September started out like most mornings on the island: foggy, clearing by 10:30. Winds were calm, and the day remained partly cloudy. Temperatures here and on Nantucket were seasonal with highs near 20⁰ and lows in the high teens.

We met the camp managers. Michael and Allee only took over from Michael’s grandfather last year. They have made many improvements and are working on more. They seemed embarrassed when we pointed out that bicyclists and hikers pay the same as people driving cars and recreational vehicles but use practically no resources. They promised to price out the cost of showers and overhead, and adjust pricing next season to reflect the difference between cyclists and motorists.

We rode 38 km to Edgartown and South Beach, walking in the sand at the latter, and picking up fresh crab cakes at Edgartown Seafood. We also found the same Crane Lake pinot noir that we found in Provincetown, also for six dollars a bottle. Wine stores around Massachusetts must have been clearing inventory, because the excellent beverage was well under-priced.

I could get used to gourmet seafood dinners in campgrounds. I wasn’t doing anything fancier than sautéing in olive oil with some smoked Himalayan salt and black pepper, but the freshness of the fish, crab and scallops made each supper a delight.

Thursday dawned with no fog (!) so the tent was dry. Cheryl rode ahead and held the 09:30 ferry for me. We had planned to camp at the Scusset Beach State Reserve, but we got separated on the Bourne Bridge over the Cape Cod Canal. I rode the Cape Cod Trail to the Reserve, where Cheryl called me. She had decided to ride from Sagamore to Plymouth to catch the T commuter train to Boston. Just as well: Scusset Beach proved to be an exposed RV park with nothing to recommend it. I rode back to Sagamore and caught up with her. We boarded the last train from Plymouth, because we stopped for supper and it took a half-hour for our food to come.

Lesson learned: when leaving from Plymouth, plan on using the Kingston station. It’s only 4.6 km from the Plymouth station, but almost all the inbound trains to Boston originate in Kingston.

We rolled into South Station Boston, took the Red Line and the Orange Line subways to the North Station and the T commuter train to Salem. Once the T started from Plymouth, the trip was smooth, but we still checked into the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem at midnight. We had ridden 94.64 km from Martha’s Vineyard, our longest day yet. The luxury of a big bed in a 4-star hotel provided a sweet contrast to the spartan accommodations of the previous week.

Hurricane Dorian was coming. Cheryl got the idea of riding to Marblehead and Rockport before the rain started, then use the T to come back to Salem to visit the House of Seven Gables during the rain. After the storm passed, we would ride around Cape Ann and head north.

Next week, see how that worked out.

Smooth roads and tailwinds,


4 thoughts on “New England 2019: Cape Cod and the Islands

  1. Your description of that wonderfully fresh seafood made me drool! How I miss getting to enjoy the freedom of camping…hope you can keep going as long as possible! Looking forward to your next blog.

    Liked by 1 person

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