Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Nashua River Rail Trail

All is quiet on the Nashua River Rail Trail.

Even on days warmer than the cold November morning of my ride, I have a feeling that a sense of peace always prevails on this path as cyclists, rollerbladers, dog walkers, and strolling families make their way along the 12.2 miles from Ayer, Massachusetts to Nashua, New Hampshire.

The trail's namesake winds in and out of view...

... and after seeing a few colorful trees at the start of the path...

... the forest quickly turns into to a late-autumn landscape of pines and leafless trees.

It's a friendly trail.  This pit-stop comes into view just as one crosses the Massachusetts-New Hampshire state line:

... and the quaint town of Pepperell makes for a nice resting point along the way.

All of these things are enough to make this trail special.

But the Nashua River Rail Trail is more than just a beautiful path.  It tells a story.

In 1981, the last train came down the tracks that used to lie along this path, ending a 133 year run of both freight and passenger service.  According to a plaque along the route, the glory years of passenger service were between 1900 and 1911, when the line was part of the Worcester, Nashua and Portland Division of the Boston and Maine Railroad (in case you like train schedules as much as I do, I left this photo hi-res, so that you can zoom in).

During those heyday years, a night train from New York City to Bar Harbor, Maine used to barrel through these woods.  Must have been an amazing sight.

Although the tracks are now gone, mile markers still exist today, with the original designations beautifully restored. Heading north on the path, "P" represents the miles to Portland...

... and riding south, the "W" indicates the miles to Worcester.

Seeing those mile markers and moving at the contemplative pace of a bike ride, it's easy to put oneself into the seats of those old trains -- looking out the windows at these same woods, sitting beside passengers from a time long since faded into an unrecorded past.  One can almost hear the sounds from a century ago: the clickity-clack of the cars, the steam whistle, and the hiss of that great iron engine. Murals under bridges recall the history of this remarkable place with colorful flair.

Riding my bike further and further along the Nashua River Rail Trail, I imagine that the unrecorded narratives of those passengers from long ago may not be so unrecorded after all. Their stories must exist somewhere, maybe in the attics of faraway houses, in dusty shorthand journals, describing the mystery and beauty of a night train from New York City to the rocky coast of Maine.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Brompton Toolkit

It must be fun being a Brompton engineer.  Take for example the beautifully designed Brompton Toolkit.

Need to tighten a bolt or repair a flat tire?  Just pull on the little ring, remove the outer shell, and here's what is magically revealed:

On one side is a ratchet wrench set, with magnetically secured double-ended bits fitting every hex screw on the bicycle, as well as flathead and Phillips screwdrivers.  Built into the ratchet's handle is a 15 mm wrench, and a self-adhesive tire patch with sandpaper is tucked into a space at the end of the toolkit.

On the other side of the toolkit are two tire levers, into which are carved 8 mm and 10 mm wrenches, as well as a spoke hook.

I actually didn't even know about the spoke hook until I happened across mention of it online.  So perhaps there are other things this amazing little device can do that I haven't even figured out yet!

Now, you might be saying: ok, that's fine, but where do you store it while riding?  That's where the truly ingenious part comes in.

Let's have another look at the toolkit all back together again:

Both ends of the lightweight toolkit are capped with hard rubber, the top of which flares out just a bit.  Like all bicycles, the Brompton's frame is hollow.  But unlike almost all other bicycles, on the Brompton you have access to that hollow space.

Have you figured it out yet?  That's right, into the frame it goes!

The rubber flare and a magnet keep the toolkit perfectly secure with no movement or rattling whatsoever.  When you open the bike into riding position, the frame closes over it and you have no idea there's a toolkit inside.  Fantastic!  I used the toolkit on my first few rides to make minor adjustments, and now it's wonderful just knowing it's always there.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Brompton on Nantucket, Part III: The Island

One of the first things I saw as I rode my Brompton away from Nantucket's Steamship Authority terminal was...

... a bicycle shop!

And it makes sense, especially for bike rental customers, because as you can see from this map on the Nantucket Regional Transit Authority website ...

... bike paths stretch across the entire island, from Madaket to Siasconset.

Many years ago, I rented a charming, slightly wobbly, light green, step-through bicycle with a Nantucket basket on the handlebars from a similar shop and rode out to Madaket.  So on this day, I decided to go the other direction, to Siasconset -- or as it's more commonly called here in Massachusetts: 'Sconset.

To get to the trail that leads from the town of Nantucket to Siasconset, I first needed to navigate through Nantucket-town's narrow streets (the main town on Nantucket island is also called Nantucket!).  I consulted Googlemaps on my iPhone -- which now has an excellent cycling-friendly street guide -- charted my route, and took off.  

I began by riding, but then quickly switched to walking my bike as the pavement turned to cobblestone.

These were serious cobblestones ... like Paris-Roubaix, Arenberg Forest, wheel-crunching lovely-monster cobblestones!

The streets were so beautiful -- tree-lined, with quaint little shops.

But I resisted the temptation to linger.  There would be plenty of time for that later.  With 'Sconset beckoning, I rode out of town...

... past the nicely-named "Old Spouter Gallery", harkening back to Nantucket's whaling heritage ...

... and then on to the paved, perfectly-straight and flat Milestone Road bike path.

This was a remarkable trail.  Cars and trucks zipped by on the separated road, which is amazing in itself when you remember that all those vehicles had to arrive here by boat.  Plus, once on this 45 square mile island, there really aren't that many places to drive to! 

To the right of the path was an impenetrable forest of pine trees, scrubby underbrush, sand, and prickly bushes.

The scenery on the left was similar for the first few miles, with mysterious sandy roads leading deep into the forest every few hundred feet or so.

But then the trees thinned out, and a truly magnificent sight emerged.

The vast Nantucket moor.

My limited photography skills cannot capture the beauty of this place.  In addition to the moor's great tapestry of green, yellow, and red colors, the Sankaty Head Lighthouse silently watches over all like a sentinel on the horizon.

I stood on the path for a few minutes in awe of this incredible landscape.  I imagined that if I looked closely enough, perhaps I could spot the Hound of the Baskervilles dashing across the moor in a spectral streak of grey (Sherlock Holmes readers will know what I'm talking about!).

As I climbed back on my bike and resumed my ride, the delightful whirring of the Brompton's wheels brought me back to reality.  It makes wonderful little sounds, this Brompton does.  The gear-shifters click with a reassuring snap, and the chain hums along as it courses through its unique derailleur system.

Arriving at the edge of Siasconset, the bike path eventually evaporated into the road.  But unlike the busy little town of Nantucket, everything here was silent.  Few cars passed me as I rode by the distinct "Cape Cod and Islands" style of unpainted-shingled houses.

The house in the above photo had a sign one of the walls identifying it as "Starbuck Cottage".  If you think that refers to a certain coffee shop, then it's time to brush the dust off that old copy of Moby Dick and give it a read!  It took me a year of subway rides to get through it, but it was totally worth it.  A life-changing book. (Oh, and I love the coffee shop too).

It wasn't long before I arrived in the amazing little town center of 'Sconset.

It was so incredibly quiet on this off-season Monday, other than a few fellow tourists chatting as they rode by on bicycles.  In the town center is what must be the most peaceful rotary in the Commonwealth.

There's a post office ...

... and a little deli.

If like me one of your favorite childhood books was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, then the sight of a lone lamppost adds a magical touch to an already lovely landscape.

Riding just beyond the town center, I entered into a picturesque warren of narrow alleyways and summer cottages.

I looked at my watch: 1:00 pm.  The sundial was exactly right!

I crossed the pedestrian bridge, with the ocean on my left...

... and then rode down to the beach.

Nantucket may not be the eastern-most point in the US (that belongs to Lubec, Maine), but it sure felt like it on this windy October day.  I rode up the street that runs alongside the ocean...

... and then back ...

... into 'Sconset's town center, where I relaxed for a bit on a covered bench.

On the other side of this bench was the Siasconet Casino -- which is not a casino at all, but a historic community gathering place.

A few residents walked in and out of the post office.  A couple more cyclists rode by.  All was quiet and peaceful.

After a while I got back on my bike and headed north, eventually meeting up with the Polpis Bike Path.

Unlike the Milestone Road Bike Path, which follows a straight line from the town of Nantucket to Siasconet, the Polpis Path runs alongside Polpis Road as it meanders through the northeastern part of the island. Looking on a map, I noticed that it would take me alongside the Sankaty Head Lighthouse that I had seen earlier that morning across the moor.

So I rode up the Polipis Path for a few miles -- and all of a sudden there it was, to my right, looking so majestic at the end of a gated sandy road.

This view was amazing enough for me (you can see the actual light flash in the above photo).  But then I read the sign to the right of the gate: 

No trespassing. No access to Sankaty Head Lighthouse. Please access via Baxter Road entrance. Thank you.  

I had to smile.  In just four phrases the message transformed from foreboding, to hopeful, to quite polite!  I opened the Googlemaps app on my iPhone and located Baxter Road, which was just a short ride south on the Polpis Bike Path.  I decided it was worth the side-trip.

Sure enough, just as the sign said, the "access" to the lighthouse was as real (and awesome) as promised.

On one side of this still-operational Coast Guard lighthouse were Nantucket's oceanside cliffs ...

... while on the other side was the picturesque and extremely blustery Sankaty Head Gold Club.  Here it is in a photo I took after riding back to the Polpis Bike Path:

At this point in my Nantucket adventure I had a choice.  I could return to Siasconset and retrace my route on the Milestone Road Bike Path -- the most direct way back to the town of Nantucket.  Or I could keep riding on the winding and much longer Polpis Path, eventually arriving at the same destination.  Since I still had a number of hours before my 5:30 ferry to the mainland, I decided to keep experiencing new things and follow the Polpis Path.

There were some nice glimpses of watery inlets...

... and the path was quite pretty, especially as it wound by a cranberry bog and through a small pine forest.

Just like on the Milestone Road Bike Path, sandy roads veered off into the interior of the island.  This one was guarded by a pair of very attentive Foo Dogs:

The Polpis Path was long and hilly though, and the scenery wasn't as dramatic as the Milestone Road Path. Add in persistent headwinds from the west and this became a pretty challenging ride.  But I'm glad I chose the route-less-traveled, and soon enough the path led me back to the town of Nantucket.

I leisurely explored its beautiful residential streets...

... and walked my bike around the shops and galleries of the town center.

This dog was living the good life, sleeping outside an art gallery.

Here's Nantucket's only year-round movie house -- the 90-seat Starlight Theatre and Cafe:

And what would a northeast seaside town be without a Fudge Shop!

With about 45 minutes to go before my homeward ferry arrived, I decided to take a short bike ride out to Jetties Beach.  Riding to where the road disappeared into the sand, I looked out toward the Nantucket Sound, and there I caught an amazing sight:

My approaching ferry, the Eagle, seemingly floating on the horizon as it made its way to Nantucket's Steamship Authority terminal.  Beautiful.

Riding back to town...

... I watched as the now-docked ferry unloaded its trucks, cars, and passengers...

... and then I climbed on board and sat in a comfortable booth -- but only for a few moments!  As the ferry steamed out of the harbor and the sun began to set over Nantucket and the ocean, I walked out into to chilly evening air onto a side deck to enjoy the show.

Returning to the warm interior of the ferry, I settled back into a booth and put my helmet and bag on the table and my Brompton on the floor next to me.  I tried to take a picture of the night sky with my iPhone, but it turned out to be a silhouetted self-portrait in the window's reflection.

I loved the two-hour voyage back to Cape Cod.  I ordered a hot chocolate, read, enjoyed the view out the window, and simply rested -- weary after a day of riding, but so content and inspired by my journey.

As the Eagle approached Hyannis' Steamship Authority Terminal, I went outside to the windswept front deck and watched as the gigantic ferry gracefully cruised into its mainland home.

(The spotlight in this photo is coming from the ferry itself, illuminating the way to the dock...)

And with the now-familiar thud of the ferry making contact with the port, I arrived back on Cape Cod.  I carried my Brompton, helmet, and bag off the boat, and then stopped for a moment to see the trucks and cars re-emerge from the hold one last time.

As one of the ferry workers waved goodbye to some people on the dock...

... I walked to my nearby Zipcar and loaded the happy Brompton into the trunk.  Looking back once more on the exquisite nocturnal scene of the ferry preparing for its final journey across the Nantucket Sound, I drove out of the Steamship Authority parking lot and turned the car north, toward Boston.