Passing Heinz on a Bike

Just a couple of days ago, the Parent Imperfect encountered another one of those birthdays. He now has more years under his belt than there are varieties of Heinz Ketchup, a chastening thought. He celebrated, nonetheless.

Almost by coincidence, he and Liz decided that the family would spend that day with her relatives on a bike tour of Block Island, located in Naragansett Bay, about 13 miles off the coast of Rhode Island. The PI had done this once before, with the same group of people, pedaling a rented tandem bike with dear Connie in tow. He remembered it as a beautiful, but difficult ride. It was still a gorgeous ride, and now that Connie is on her own bike, the physical demands were a little less memorable. Vince also had a hard time on the last trip, but circled the island with ease this time. This despite the fact that his bike, like most other things he has, was much too small for him.

With bikes in tow, the entourage boarded the 10:30AM ferry at Point Judith, Rhode Island. Given the cost of the ferry ($100 for three adults, one child and four bikes), he’d probably want to get on an earlier boat, if possible. After the 55-minute ride under cloudless skies, they spilled out into the busy dock area of the Island’s only town, New Shoreham. The PI noticed that many people went directly from the boat to a beach right near the terminal. He later found out that lots of day visitors go no further than this beach, where well-conditioned servers bring drinks directly to their towels all day. Too bad for them. The census suggests that Block Island is home  to slightly more than 1000 year around residents, but there had to be at least ten times that number there for the PI’s birthday.

Based on Uncle T.’s memory of the best route, they rode quickly out of town, past the popular Crescent Beach to Settler’s Rock. The rock reminds visitors that native people lived on the island for about 3000 years before the first Europeans arrived and fairly quickly decimated the natives. The visitors sat there on a rocky and relatively empty beach eating their pre-packed lunches (why pay $150 for sandwiches and drinks at the well-named, “Tourist Trap”?), putting on more sunscreen and taking in the view of the Sound.

From Settlers Rock, they re-traced their steps back toward town. For a tiny island, Block Island presents the bike visitor with some surprising hills made more surprising by the constant sea breeze. As they headed up the hills past the airport toward Mohegan Bluffs, sweat began to carry sunscreen into the eyes of dear Connie, and, for the first time, she protested the ride. The PI, who had been riding with his daughter, failed miserably in his effort to get Ms. C. over this emotional hump. Luckily, Liz came to the rescue, along with the oldest of the cousins, who showed an amazing sensitivity to C’s situation. A little water in her eyes and some loving encouragement got Connie back on her bike for the duration of the trip.

It took those tears, lots of sweat and no small amount of huffing and puffing to get the eleven pedalers to Mohegan Bluffs, but it was very much worth the effort. From the top of the bluffs, the views along the island coastline are spectacular. A steep wooden staircase of about 150 steps (complete with warning about the exertion required) , and a hearty scramble over a final stretch of boulders got them to the small beach beneath the cliffs. Rapid erosion (certainly accelerated by thousands of human feet) is changing the face of this area, but it remains a spot not to be missed.  The cousin contingent could easily have spent the rest of the day playing in the rough surf while the sand fleas feasted on their parents.

From The Bluffs, a quick, mostly downhill ride returned them to town, from which they headed back to Crescent Beach. This is the island’s most popular beach, making it a much more crowded beach scene than the Bluffs. After another hour of beach play and a quick stop for ice cream, they were on the 5PM ferry headed back to Point Judith. They probably rode their bikes a total of 15 miles during the day, which was quite manageable, even for the birthday boy. Day visitors can crawl back on the last ferry at 8PM, but this was not the last ferry crowd. They all got comfy seats at inside tables, but wished they’d had the presence of mind to sit on the shady (eastern) side of the ferry (or that the boat had a few curtains on its windows).

Twelve hours after they left, Liz, the PI, Vince and Connie were back in Boston. For the PI, it had been a birthday well spent in one of those Last Great Places.



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