Dan and Hannah Bike the Cape Cod Rail Trail to Chatham

Map of Cape Cod

It’s the worst.  Bar none!  Traffic to Cape Cod in the summer is the worst in all New England, maybe the known world.  As residents of New England for thirty plus years, we wouldn’t dream of going to the Cape during July and August.  Conveniently, my high school classmate Lenny has invited us to the mid-Cape in September.

The Urban Dictionary describes Cape Cod as a small peninsula off Massachusetts that sucks money out of tourists to survive since the fishing industry is slowly dying. Basically we hate tourists, but without them we’d be totally impoverished.

You can find VCU Rams everywhere

You can find VCU Rams everywhere

Leaving after the morning Boston rush hour commute, we take I-95 south and then follow I-93 through the heart of Boston.  Gliding onto route 3 on the South Shore, we will have major highways for 98% of our 150 mile drive to the Cape Cod Rail Trail.

Once over the Sagamore Bridge onto the Cape, we take to the four lane route 6 which leads us east through the heart of the Cape.  Along the way we stop at the visitor center for bike maps and fortunately learn of the side bike trail to Chatham.  Nearby at their picnic tables, we lunch on our obsequious Subway Tuna and Chicken Salad subs.

Getting ready to roll

Getting ready to roll

The Cape Cod Rail Trail (CCRT) is a 22 mile walking and biking trail from Dennis to Wellfleet.  As the Cape grew as a destination for vacationers in the early 20th century, the Old Colony Railroad transported travelers throughout the Cape.  Then, Henry Ford had the bright idea to mass produce automobiles and with that came the death knell of the railroad on the Cape.  With the building of the Sagamore and Bourne Bridges over the Cape Cod Canal in 1935, the rail lines soon fell into disrepair.  The silver lining of this playbook is that the Cape embraced biking as recreation and made the one time railroad into a modern day bike trail.

Cape Cod Rail Trail

Cape Cod Rail Trail

Exiting route 6 at exit 9 onto route 134, we pass malls, gas stations, and a barbecue grille store to find the trailhead parking lot on the left with room for 40 to 50 cars.  Since the elevation on the Cape never seems to change by more than a few feet, biking here is easy going and leisurely.  Ten feet wide with a dividing yellow line in many places, the CCRT on this Monday in mid-September has little bike traffic so Hannah and I can ride side by side.

Hannah as the trail begins

Hannah as the trail begins

The trail bisects the Cape Cod peninsula, which is a good thing considering its vulnerability to the inevitable rising sea due to global warming.  On this sunny day in the 70s, it is ideal for biking, but here is the rub – it’s not great for picture taking by amateur photographers like myself.  The sun through the trees on the trail picks up the light and darkens my pictures.  You might be thinking, Wah-wah-wah.  Give me a break; you are on the Cape with Hannah on a 70 degree day.  You got me there.  Mea culpa.  Sacre bleu.

Picked over cranberry bog

Picked over cranberry bog

Passing one of the many cranberry bogs on the Cape, I later learn that cranberries grow on vines in bogs layered with sand, gravel, and clay; some vines are more than 150 years old.

Biking east to Chatham

Biking east to Chatham

After three miles we break off the main CCRT and take the Old Colony Rail Trail to Chatham (Chatham is thought of as a drinking town with a small fishing problem – thank you Urban Dictionary).  Throughout our twelve miles of biking we never see the ocean as we pedal under spreading canopies of still green leaves.

Biking in 70 degrees is all it's cracked up to be

Biking in 70 degrees is all it’s cracked up to be

Finding the ride an excellent work out, we have a trail wide enough to easily pass others without slowing down. Though Hannah’s bike bell alerts others, many times walkers or bikers don’t hear it; just about everyone has ear buds and has zoned out listening to their favorite tunes.  With a strong wind to our backs (we are fortunate that much of our lives are that way), the pedaling is easy and the ride mellow.

Crosswalk courtesy

Crosswalk courtesy

Cape Codders are the new Canadians. Throughout our entire 24 miles of biking, not one car raced through the crosswalk as we waited to cross.  Not one.  Lenny suggests police enforcement may have a lot to do with that.  Even so, I am sticking with the Canadian heritage angle to explain their courtesy.

Hannah at Chatham Lighthouse

Hannah at the Chatham Lighthouse

The trail ends in Chatham; its over-priced Main Street of shops is easy to navigate on this Monday in September.  Like much of the Cape, Chatham is suffering from an exodus of young people and young families due to the high cost of housing and the lack of suitable employment. The majority of Chatham homes sit empty in the winter.

Hannah at Chatham Beach on Nantucket Sound

Hannah at Chatham Beach on Nantucket Sound

I have yet another lament to break your heart.  Beach walking is over rated.  There I’ve said it and I sense a lot of nodding heads and Amen, brothers.  Others are again thinking, Wah-wah-wah.  I get that, too.  Hear me out.  The beach sand is soft granules that give way with each step.  With no rhythm to our walk, we plod and plod some more.

I think you can feel my pain

I think you can feel my pain

Then at the shoreline, the bank to the water is so steeply angled that we are stepping four inches lower with one foot than the other. Give me the flat beaches at low tide in Scarborough, Maine or Hilton Head, South Carolina.  I sense very little love for my position on beach walking.  Give me a midday forest trail or a seaside road at 630 AM any time.

Heading back to the trailhead

Heading back to the trailhead

The twelve miles back to the trailhead is into a steady wind that has us pedaling in middle gears.  Even so, the trail is bracketed by 6 to 10 feet mounds much of the way and we catch a consistent pedaling rhythm here in paradise.

Mileage marking along the Cape Cod Rail Trail

Mileage marking along the Cape Cod Rail Trail

The Cape Cod Rail Trail and biking spur to Chatham are delightful “walk in the park” kind of bike rides. Let me tell you that coming to the Cape in the fall is all it’s cracked up to be.   I can see why tourists come despite, well, the tourists.

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