Springtime’s probably my favorite season for biking on the Vineyard. The colors and sounds and smells are just the antidote to a long, gray winter; or, if you’re a seasonal resident like myself, it’s a great time to get reacquainted with New England. The weather’s cool enough to pedal fast without overheating, you don’t have to carry as much water, and the traffic is still relatively light. Of course, you do have the drawback that, of the vehicles that are on the road, most of them are landscaping trucks. But if you make a point of avoiding the major thoroughfares, most of them can be avoided. At least they’re not tourists in SUVs.
Because of the variable weather, it’s a good idea to dress in layers. A 15-mile-an-hour wind can feel like anything from zero to thirty, depending on which way you’re going, and a sprinkle or soaking of rain can make it a lot colder. Plus, as you burn off those winter pounds, you crank out plenty of BTUs. So plan your layers ahead so you can peel by the roadside without entertaining the passersby: pantyhose over bike shorts work, for example. Wear a tank top under anything with long sleeves. Long socks are good; you can roll them up or down depending on temperature. And a too-big shirt is good: leaning forwards over the handlebars bares backs and shortens sleeves.
With all that gear, it’s a good idea to outfit your bike with a rack and at least one sidebag. Get in the habit of grocery shopping with it, and you’ll save on gas and gym membership.
But the best thing about springtime biking is the flowers! Courtesy of our maritime climate, the Island spring is more like that of Arkansas or Tennessee than the rest of New England. Dogwoods tend to die slow miserable deaths just a hundred miles away, on the mainland; here they bury North Road in an exuberant canopy. Unfortunately they don’t have much of a smell. Luckily lilacs make up for that: Lambert’s Cove Road, which is a nice alternative to State Road at all times of year, has more than its share; so does downtown Edgartown, if you’re looking for a tamer ride.
Only on the Vineyard have I ever gotten the sensation of being bodychecked by a wall of scent: the slightly soapy character of lilac can actually set me to sneezing. That still doesn’t stop me from casually sidling up to the owners of a lilac bush and complimenting them: more often than not they cheerfully invite me to pick some. And depending on how much further I have to ride, sometimes I do. (Yet another reason for cargo capacity — at least a rack and a rack net, if not a full set of bags.)
If you’re like me, you look forward to summertime fruits and berries almost as much as sunshine and beaches. And the best time to find many of these fruits, is now. The flowers are often a lot more conspicuous than the fruits, blackberries in particular. Blueberries not so much: their flowers are translucent green bells with almost no scent. And grape leaves start out red before turning green, making them easy to spot.
It’s easy enough to find a picture of any of these with Google Images; often that’s good enough to find a living example. Then stop! Stare at the plant, and its immediate surroundings, for a good 30 seconds. Then ride on, slowly, and scan the shrubs. (This is the advantage of a bike: you can go as slow as you want and stop anywhere.) All of a sudden it’s like a Magic Eye stereogram coming into focus: you see them everywhere, popping out of the formless mass of green.
Mushroom hunters call this “getting your eyes on.” Your brain gets the pattern well enough to recognize it intuitively. And when you close your eyes tonight, all you’ll see is flowers, flowers, flowers.
But be forewarned of ornamentals. Often the most lavishly floriferous trees were specifically bred for flowers at the expense of fruit: if they bear at all, it’s usually subpar. This is especially true in public places, where fruits are a detriment: they tend to splat, fouling pavements and lawn mowers. I don’t really know any way around this, other than trial and error for individual trees. But still stop and take a whiff and get a good look: sometimes you’ll spot the same kind of tree later, and this one will bear fruit.
I’ve noticed a peculiar phenomenon with pink flowers. For some reason, they tend to be darker at the tips of branches and whiter near the tree’s core, much after the patterning of a Siamese cat. Take a look at the beach plums that bloom along Beach and Lobsterville Roads; you’ll see what I mean. Does anyone know what causes this?
For those who would like to join an organized cycling trip, Ride The Vineyard takes place on May 2. This ride, run by the National MS Society in collaboration with the Martha’s Vineyard Boys & Girls Club, offers routes for individuals and families — 25K, 50K or 100K trips. All routes will begin and end at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. After the ride, cyclists are welcomed back with a barbecue. Registration is $35 and participants are asked to get sponsors to pledge a minimum fundraising of $250. For details and forms, see online bikemam.nationalmssociety.org.