With the crowds gone, the island becomes a cyclist's paradise
- Last Updated: 2:22 PM, August 16, 2011
- Posted: 7:22 PM, August 12, 2011
When Labor Day weekend comes to an end, and tourists have snapped up their last Black Dog t-shirt and devoured their last chunk of Murdick’s fudge, Martha’s Vineyard returns to its naturally serene state. That is, until the next wave of visitors arrive — the kind on two wheels.
September and October are the most popular months for biking here: The weather is stable and the roads are no longer clogged with summer crowds. Bikers come to explore the sheer variety of Vineyard’s terrain. In its roughly 80 square miles, there’s everything from rolling farmland to dense forests, precipitous cliffs leading to vast expanses of beach, sand dunes alternating with fields of wildflowers, and water, water everywhere: ponds, marshes, coves and of course, the ocean.
It attracts plenty of hardcore cyclists, kitted out in spandex and aerodynamic helmets. But of the island’s 44 miles of dedicated bike paths, many are suited to the casual rider. I count myself in that category; my ancient 3-speed gets me around the city on weekends in a languid fashion. So, the 21-speed I rented from Edgartown’s Wheel Happy (8 South Water St., 508-627-5928) was a considerable leap, as was learning how to maneuver through sand (keep the wheel straight and keep pedaling).
I’d staked out several easy “down-island” routes, mainly around Edgartown, followed by a trek to the neighboring isle of Chappaquiddick. Leaving behind the town’s narrow streets lined with austere, white-clapboard homes, I pedaled on a 4-mile-long dedicated biking/walking lane to South Beach. This South Beach has little in common with its more famous Florida cousin. Here, you have a better chance of stumbling upon warheads than topless sunbathers (signs posted along the beach warn of unexploded WW II-era munitions, recently unearthed along many Cape Cod-area beaches). Nor will you find hotels, pools, beach clubs or even a concession stand littering the pristine shoreline of this state park.
It’s the same story in Chappaquiddick — or in Vineyard parlance, Chappy — a spit of land just a mile off the coast. The only way to get there is via ferry from Edgartown’s harbor; it holds just three cars, a few bikes and takes all of a minute. In Chappy’s 6 square miles, there are few roads; the pavement eventually gives way to sandy, bumpy tracks, so there’s fair warning that you’re nearing its many nature preserves and beaches. One, the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, a barrier beach that stretches along the island’s eastern edge, is largely overshadowed by the bridge leading to it; the Dike Bridge was the site of Ted Kennedy’s infamous “Chappaquiddick incident” in 1969.
Even today, there’s no shortage of star power on this tiny, sparsely populated, yet very wealthy island. Rumors were swirling on our visit that Lady Gaga was building a house on the northern shore; Meg Ryan has owned there since the mid-90s. Every gigantic, gray-shingled waterfront estate held the possibility of being the Haus of Gaga — but we never found it.
Not all celebrities were quite so elusive. Guiding my bike onto the ferry back to the mainland, I heard the ticket-taker ask a gentleman to put out his cigarette before pulling onto the boat. The pompadoured smoker was none other than rocker John “Cougar” Mellencamp — in the passenger seat of an SUV driven by Ms. Ryan herself.
STAY Part boutique hotel, part B&B, the Hob Knob has 17 rooms outfitted with antiques and Frette linens; breakfast is included and it’s just a few minutes’ walk to the bustling center of Edgartown (from $395; hobknob.com).
GET THERE Delta flies direct from JFK to Martha’s Vineyard through early October, starting at $184 RT.