Friday, August 21, 2009


Cycling vacation reconnaissance is (I suppose you could say) what I was up to the first three days of this week. My wife, younger daughter and I spent a few days on the Rhode Island shore (at Narragansett) doing some hiking, including some hiking on what is probably the number one bicycle tourism spot in the lower 48 (or at least New England). That is Block Island, RI.

Block Island is strategically located between RI and Long Island, and is served by ferries from Point Judith RI, Newport RI and Montauk NY. While there are certainly cars on the island (it has plenty of miles of paved and semi-paved roads), traffic is nonetheless very light, and the locals seem to be very cognizant of cyclists, so (I'm presuming here) automobile-bike accidents are rare.

The island is beautiful, filled with not only natural beauty (sea views and some outstanding cliff-protected beaches) but also much history, both maritime and architectural. The Southeast Lighthouse is pictured at right. It's on the National Register and the Historic American Buildings Survey. It was moved (taken down and rebuilt, I guess, brick by brick, as it's darn hard to move a brick building) back from the edge of the cliff it overlooks to prevent collapse.

Good seafood abounds, of course. The terrain can be intimidating to those once-in-a-blue-moon cyclists; climbing out of the village on Spring Street was an uninterrupted 1-1/4 mile climb. Not terrifically steep, mind you, but still a sizable challenge for a cyclist uncertain of their gears.

While there are on-island 5 bicycle rentals (one rental agency notes "Bikes with 6-27 speeds available"), it seems most on-season tourists brought their own. The ferries were packed with bikes, and they charged $6 to carry a bike, which for an hour ferry ride seemed a little steep to me. Bikes are accommodated elsewhere -- most on-island taxis, for example, have hitch-style bike racks for getting the less conditioned cyclists up those hills.

I won't go into a diatribe of the bicycling errors and risks I saw, suffice it to say that I'm sure many people go expecting a carefree day of cycling (away from those pesky cars) and find other pesky aspects of reality crawling their way into the picnic. I'd be willing to bet that flats, other minor mechanical failures, hills, and sunburn top the list. There is another non-bicycling hazard that exists on Block Island, and that is Lyme disease. BI has historically been endemic with it; however, I was told that BI has eliminated their deer population, and evidently that has had some effect. So, insect repellent is on the list of Block Island musts.

But the island looked great, even if a very touristy destination. It's for a reason. I've got vacation hours to burn at work, so I'm going back in the off-season, you can be sure.

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