A few weeks ago I went on a bike trip to Woods Hole with a group from The Anchors in Edgartown. We rode the bike path to North Falmouth and back, a pretty ride past a stretch of beach and a varied landscape of woods, fields and cranberry bog. As I pedaled along, shifting my 18 gears, a helmet planted firmly on my head, I remembered my first trip to Martha’s Vineyard. I arrived then on a three-speed Raleigh with an army surplus saddlebag slung over the rear fender and nothing but hair on my head.
In late summer 1955, I had taken the train from New Haven to Buzzard’s Bay with a group of teenagers on an American Youth Hostel tour. We had grown up riding bikes but never far from home. The Cape and Islands were foreign territory for this little band of Connecticut Yankees. We rode from Sandwich to Woods Hole, boarded the Islander (still in her youth), rolled our bikes off the ferry, and made our first ride up-Island. There were no bike paths, but the summer roads weren’t as thick with cars as they are today. We stayed at the newly-opened youth hostel in West Tisbury where the rooms still smelled of fresh plaster and the wallboards shone with varnish. Out at Gay Head we walked the cliffs and purchased little glass tubes of colored clay to take home as souvenirs.
From the Vineyard we went to Nantucket where it rained, and the crowded hostel, not as nice as the one in West Tisbury, was at the end of an airport runway. Despite the turn in the weather and the less-than-salubrious setting, we had a grand trip, the first time any of us had traveled without parental guidance, and we had done it under our own power. In the end, despite our tired legs, sore bottoms and soggy saddle bags we felt strong, and free and independent.
Years later, in the summer of 1974, my husband and I bought our home in Edgartown, and I have been riding the roads and paths of the Island ever since. There is something about riding a bike, whether heading out for a 20-mile jaunt, or slipping into town for the mail, that always appeals. It may be the warmth of the sun on one’s back or the sweet smell of privet in the air. It may be the sheer pleasure of wheels, so much smoother than plodding along one foot at a time, or the freedom of easing past stalled traffic out at the Triangle. It may just be that riding a bike makes me feel young again.
Whatever the reason, I go on riding, although sometimes, when I meet a phalanx of tourists advancing three abreast and forcing me off the path, or when a hot-shot in a flourescent shirt streaks by without warning, sometimes I think I should retire the bike to the garage and retreat to a rocking chair. So far I haven’t given in to passing doubts. The quiet morning streets still beckon. The long light of late afternoon calls me out. Walking is too slow. Driving is no fun. Gliding along on a bike is the best feeling in the world. So watch for me all you drivers and bikers, watch for me to go by, still happily coasting along with the wind at my back.
Gazette contributor Betsy Campbell lives in Edgartown.