Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Brompton on the Cape Cod Rail Trail

On Columbus Day, the Brompton and I spent some quality time getting to know each other -- 32 miles of quality time, to be exact.  We hopped in a Zipcar and headed out to the Cape Cod Rail Trail!

Running 22 miles from South Dennis to Wellfleet...

...the CCRT is not what you might expect from a Cape Cod bike path.  There are very few views of the sea.  Rather, it goes deep into the interior of the Cape, through forests, pine groves, cranberry bogs, lakes, and salt marshes.  I've been to the Cape many times, but this was my first visit to this well-known bicycle trail.

I wish I could have rented an extra-tiny Zipcar to get there though, just to prove that the Brompton can fit into just about anything!  But the only vehicle available near my home on this busy Columbus Day Monday was this:

Yikes!  It cost the same as a small car though, so I booked it.  I picked up the minivan at 6:30 a.m. and brought it back home so the Brompton could have a look.

"Fabulous!" said the Brompton with its lovely English accent.  "I'll just hop in the boot."

Ironically, with three rows of seats in the minivan, the "boot" (or trunk, as we like to say on this side of the pond) was remarkably tiny.  Perfect!  The Brompton settled in nicely, and after taking my time packing supplies and stopping for breakfast at Dunkin' Donuts, away we went on the one-and-a-half hour drive to the trailhead in South Dennis.  Cruising through the pines of Plymouth and up-and-over the dramatic Sagamore Bridge, the scenery noticeably changes from an eastern deciduous forest to a sandy near-sea landscape with each passing mile.

Around 9:30 a.m. I turned into the trail's parking lot just off busy Route 134.  It's tucked away between shopping centers and convenient stores, but once in the wooded lot all is peaceful.

This being a cool off-season morning, there were only a few other cyclists in the lot, taking their bikes out of cars and off trunk racks.  But they represented a wide range of riders, from seriously decked-out road cyclists with carbon fiber racing machines, to mountain bikers, to families with small kids.  The CCRT makes room for them all.

Now, as you can see in the above photo, sitting on the front of my bike is the Brompton S-Bag.  Roomy, with a rigid frame on the back panel, it can be worn over the shoulder like a messenger, and then when you're ready to ride it slips into the bike's unique carrier block with a delightfully reassuring click.  Ingenious! Best of all, unlike front-mounted bags on conventional bicycles, the Brompton carrier block is attached to the frame, not the steering column. Steering-column-attached-bags turn with the handlebars, which is very unstable.  But the frame-mounted Brompton bags always face forward.  You barely know it's there.

"OK, that's all well and good," you may be saying, "but what's in the bag?"

Here's my packing list: A spare tire tube, a bottle of orange-flavored Vitamin Water, some paper towels, gloves, a windbreaker, my Kindle, camera, spare phone charger and cord, pad and pen, cell phone, three Clif Bars, comb, sunscreen, sunglasses, and -- most important of all -- a Red Sox baseball cap (to hide the "helmet hair" when I stop riding and take off my helmet.  These things are important).  Tucked away inside the bike's frame was my amazing little Brompton toolkit (more about that later, because it deserves its own post) and the frame pump (watch for upcoming post about that too!).  

I was wearing casual but neat non-cycling-specific clothes (no lycra!) because I think that look fits the Brompton best, and I plan to use the bike for everyday riding.  A bicycle is a beautiful thing, so it's a nice idea to put some thought into what one wears while cycling, especially when riding one as cool and stylish as a Brompton.

So, after unfolding my Brompton and getting it set to ride, I took a quick look at my watch ... 9:50 a.m. ... and then away we went!

It wasn't long before the path ran alongside some cranberry bogs:

During the harvest season, farmers flood these vast bogs with water, causing the cranberries to rise to the top so that they can be easily collected.

I rode through gorgeous forests....

... beside beautiful lakes ...

... and by quaint picket-fenced homes with iconic Cape Cod unpainted shingles.

This was such a different side of the Cape than the sun, sand, and beaches I'm used to.  The Cape Cod Rail Trail is like a magical, hidden passage, calm and peaceful, and only accessible for those who choose a quieter means of travel.

Here the Brompton and I are relaxing in the village center of Orleans:

There were many road crossings, but they were rather quaint, and all cars stopped and patiently waited for cyclists to pass.

The higher up the Cape I rode, the more low pines outnumbered the broad-leaf trees: 

From this point onward there are many side streets one can take to ride to the beach, which I will definitely do someday. But I stayed on the path for this trip.  After riding 16 miles and reaching Eastham, I decided it was a good time to turn back.

Here's the one sea-view I noticed, out beyond the salt marshes of Nickerson State Park:

But it's the magical and mysterious Cape Cod forests that are the real stars of this path.

Not to mention my favorite part -- the bike path rotary!

This is where the Cape Cod Rail Trail and the Old Colony Rail Trail meet.  Of course I rode around the rotary a bunch of times for fun, just like almost every other cyclist on the path.  I must come back and do the Old Colony Trail as well, as it seems to go through some nice towns and villages.

And then at 2 pm I arrived back at my Zipcar.  So doing the math over the 32 miles I rode, that means the Brompton and I averaged a whopping 8 miles per-hour!  And it was wonderful.

I suppose I could have given myself a work-out and ridden faster.  It is fun to zip along on a Brompton.  But really, what would be the point?  I could hear the sounds of the forest above the gently whirring wheels.  I stopped often to have a snack and take in the views.  Other cyclists said hello, and were delighted to meet a Brompton in-person.  With the -12% six-speed gearing and the upright position I chose, this bike is meant to amble along and smell the roses.

A good Lord of the Rings analogy occurred to me while riding.  Some bicycles aspire to be like Shadowfax, Gandalf's majestic white horse that races through Middle Earth at thrilling speeds. For my Brompton though, it's probably better to think of Frodo's little pony, Bill.  Resolute and good-hearted, it slowly but surely makes its way to its destination, even if it seems a bit oblivious to the adventure it's on as it stops to munch on berries every now and then.  After all, it's that steady pacing which is the most beautiful thing about Tolkein's novels.  The tale unfolds slowly, allowing its details to shine though and create the richest and most magnificent worlds, landscapes, and characters.  The Brompton is a writer's bike.

And it rode marvelously over those 32 miles.  I had zero neck or shoulder discomfort.  The shifting is fantastic (more on that in a future post too, because it's so cool), and the bicycle feels solid and secure.  The -12% gearing came in very handy.  I used the lowest gear on all major uphill sections, and I rarely shifted into my highest gear -- which means it was a good personal choice (choosing ease of riding over speed).  I was tired after 32 miles, perhaps more tired than I would have been on my much faster road bike, which is to be expected.  But I was not exhausted.  It was a great ride.

Back into the "boot" my Bromoton happily leaped after the ride, and I set off in search of a well-earned bowl of chowder, which I found a short drive away at The Sailing Cow Cafe across the street from the vast Nantucket Sound.

This was some awesome Clam Chowder.  It was complex and rich, with salt pork and bay leaves rounding out the sea of New England flavors.

A perfect end to a wonderful day.

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