Nantucket Island and Lighthouse
May 1998

I've always wanted to go to Nantucket. Gorgeous, small island, far from people, where whalers sailed to distant lands. I decided we should bike around the island (it's far too small for cars) and go off-season to avoid tourists. So we planned for Saturday, May 16th.

Friday, the 15th, we drove after work out onto the Cape. It was the first sunny weekend after three solid weeks of rain, yet it was still early enough not to be covered with people. We stopped to carbo-load at a Papa Ginos, then went on to the Spouter Whale, my Cape motel of choice. We took the "aim in the general direction" method and Bob's amazing directional ability had us hit it easily. Right on the ocean in Dennisport, it was quiet and comfy. We got there, unloaded the bikes, and prepped them for the trip. WGBH played some neat stories about ocean birds and Ireland. Eventually we went to sleep.

Saturday morning we were up bright and early. I went down and wandered along the beach - it was nice and warm, the seas calm. A seagull pecked at a crab breakfast, and another runner went past smiling. The rocks were coated with small snails. Eventually I went back to the room and helped pack everything back into the car.

Back to Hyannis, a huge closed-in harbour where the ferries leave from. We stopped and got the tickets, then drove out to the JFK memorial and the beach where Bob used to play as a youngster. He pointed out where they used to shoot fireworks from on the 4th. The maintenance guys were just out mowing the lawns now, preparing for tourist season. We headed back to the ferry, parked the car. We parked next to another group of bikers - the trio had on normal clothes, slippery shoes, and thought they were going to "Mardalket" for the night. We wished them luck, but I hoped they didn't have to bike far! "Maddaket" is 6 miles west, at one end of Nantucket.

In came the ferry!! We were taking the high-speed one which is a Catamaran. Instead of having a normal-boat-bottom that curves down into the water, there was instead like two thick ice-skates along the bottom of the boat that it rode on. Very neat and slick looking. Also more expensive, but the crossing was only 1 hr instead of over 2. We boarded and sat on the outside deck (in the back). Canadian geese trundled around below the boats.

9:15am, off we went! We went slowly through the large harbour, zig zagging through the buoy path. There were all sorts of condos and houses and boats along the edges of the harbour. As we approached the mouth, the speed kicked up and soon we were doing 32 knots. We quickly passed the "slow ferry" that had left before us, and headed out into open sea. We moved inside the cabin, so my contacts wouldn't dry out!! The seats were plush, comfy, like airplane seats with pull-down trays. There was a nice drink/food bar downstairs at the "first floor", which had chairs around tables and long curved bench nooks. It was all very comfortable. We could see in to where the pilots sat - they had all sorts of computer screens, probably for GPS and radar and such. Soon, even with the cape still a series of bumps behind us, we could see the first lighthouse of Nantucket. Nantucket is shaped like a giant thick U, and we were going into the mouth of the U, where "Nantucket Proper" was.

Again, a series of buoys to guide the way, starting with "1" and alternating left-right. A wall of rocks line each side of the tight mouth, to keep out large waves. We pulled in to the town, which is uniformly grey clapboard houses, very refined and quiet looking. The series of larger houses on the right had widow's walks on the top. We docked, got our bikes and headed out.

The dockside area was paved with red brick, which eased into grey cobblestones as we moved away from the docks. Lots of small grey stores lined the road, and an A&P (in grey) sat next to the central parking area for the town. Lots of jeeps and trucks, and expensive cars were there. Many of the shops were not open yet. I had a CamelBak (a back-carried water system) and we had gatorade and Clif bars, but I went in to the A&P for sunblock and a portable camera. Once blocked, we walked our bikes a few blocks to where "regular paving" started and headed east, towards Sconset.

It was about a mile out to "The Rotary", slightly south and east of town - the intersection of all main roads on Nantucket. There's one east, to Sconset, 8 miles away on the east coast. One south, to SurfSide, only 2 miles away. And the last west, to Maddaket, 6 miles away on the west coast. Nantucket is barely a town, the rest are barely clusters of houses. We started east.

The bike path was very nice - paved, a grassy area on each side, and there were few cars on the real road in any case. We stopped a few times at the beginning to fix my brakes, my odometer, and to apply bug spray. Nantucket has the highest incidence of Lyme disease in the US! The trail was relatively flat and very comfortable. There were medium sized brushy pine trees, remnants of daffodils everywhere, and a whitish hawk circling overhead. We didn't see the ocean, just the small trees of the island. It seemed like no time at all before we were pulling into the small group of houses that was Sconset.

We went ahead and down under a white pedestrian walkway, and we were at the ocean! This side was more surfy - the waves rolled in, cresting. I walked down along the beach for a while, admiring the waves. There were shark or something egg sacks all over the beach. Eventually I went back up and we headed north along the coast.

Sconset is interesting because the houses used to all be little fishermen shacks. The bachelors would come down and hang out in little huts, fishing. Eventually their wives came down and fixed up the shacks, and raised families, so now they're all enlarged and have gardens. There's a series of these houses along the road, then it goes back to just trees and scrub. The further north we rode, the more scrub.

We saw a lighthouse ahead, but the path curved to the left. I saw a road off to the right (to the lighthouse) and called out to Bob, "Stop!". My bike rolled 5 feet further and suddenly the left side of the trail (previously low brush) opened up and I saw I was at a golf course, and there was a foursome of older men looking at me, smiling! I apologized profusely. He said, "I wouldn't have hit you," and I replied, "I was talking to my boyfriend, we're trying to get to the lighthouse!" They told us how to get there, and another couple coming up behind us heard and wanted to come as well.

We headed up the road, through nice 4-5 bedroom houses on a sandy street, and got to the lighthouse, which overlooked the rest of the golf course. You couldn't get down to the beach - it was fenced off. I'd wanted to see the elusive endangered Piping Plover, but perhaps it was not meant to be. We watched the golfers for a while, then headed back on our way.

The trail was mostly inland still, although it was running along the north-eastern edge of the harbour - the tops of the "U" curve in greatly and there's just a little mouth. We saw some sandy spots but despite my "Pipe, pipe" calls did not hear any response. The trail went by few houses, mostly scrub trees and larger trees. At one point, we stopped by a clearing and saw two ring-necked pheasants, with more calling from the woods!! Bob got a picture. Then a bright blue finch-type bird flew by.

I remembered my Nantucket tasks and started quoting, "Thar She Blows!" and "It is blasphemy to seek revenge on a dumb beast" from Moby Dick. Bob was amused :)

Soon we were back in Nantucket. Cobblestones and grey stores, lots of fancy clothing and antiques. Few "useful" stores :). One book store, "The Hub". We walked around a bit, I got a tshirt with a map on it :) and postcards and a magnet. Next I went in to the post office to get stamps. Apparently I just missed a wedding party going in to the church next door - Bob watched them while I was inside. I tried to get a book of normal stamps, because it took dollar bills. It took 3, then spit one out and gave me back 40 nickles. I fed those nickles into the postcard stamp machine, so it all worked out. We then we went to Schooners for lunch - it had a spot outside for the bikes. It was very good - I had a fish sandwich (of course! Must eat native food) and Bob had a burger. The waitresses were all new there - it must have just opened for the season. There was a Scottish man in full array getting some pizza at another store - he might have been in for the wine festival.

We'd gone 23 miles already, so decided to head west a bit on Cliff Road. The road went past a conservation area that used to be a golf course, but now had birds. We headed down Eel Point Road looking for the public beach (for restrooms) and ended up passing the turn by accident. The road turned into a dirt road and up ahead were a series of mansions (mostly grey, of course). We think the biggest one was the new one Bill Gates was building - he was also expanding the airport to take his jet. The land around us was all sand and short scrub-trees. We turned around and headed back into town.

We saw the wedding reception in full party as we came back into town. We got some homemade ice cream and ate it on the benches by the other part of the harbour, where the Woods Hole Ferries landed. This was where the "One Crazy Summer" scenes were shot. We'd seen the huge radio tower earlier out by Sconset. The houses on the harbour were all nice and grey, tho one was rickety and falling down. I wondered how much it would cost to buy it and fix it up. We'd seen ads in a real estate agent's window for a 2 bedroom house, $1.8 million. I'd read in one of the on-line Nantucket newspapers that a family who owned land had given some to one of the kids, but the kid couldn't afford the $200,000 to build on the land and had to move to Maine!! It seems really sad that Nantucketers can no longer afford to live on this "vacation spot".

It started to get chilly, so we got some things to read (Wine Spectator, this weekend was a huge wine festival on the island, but I doubted we could go in dressed in bike gear!) and snuggled on the main street. We read until ferry time ... Bob even looked for something warm for me to drink, but everything was closing up! The ferry arrived at 7:15 and we all quickly boarded. This time we sat on the bottom floor, again in quite comfy seats, and Bob got me some hot cocoa. The sun set as we left, slowly sinking redly into the sea. I watched for the "green flash", but alas, I didn't see it. We zipped back across the water into Hyannis harbour, where the other ferries were already tied for the night. I looked into one of the slow ferries - it had rows of blue plastic chairs!! Quite uncomfortable looking for 2 hrs. I was quite glad we took the fast comfy one.

We trundled off and got into our car. We drove back to Hyannis and stopped at Cooke's seafood, which has won awards for the past 5 years at least for Best Seafood. It was delicious! And service was amazingly friendly. I had a scrod/scallop dinner and Bob had a huge mixed plate. Then, on the way home, a coyote ran across the highway in front of us! I'd never seen one before. In fact, the next day (Sunday) we saw our female Wild Turkey strolling near our house so we know she wasn't eaten by Thanksgiving hunters. A great weekend. And we ended up biking around 33 miles, which was a good distance.

So, what did I think? Nantucket was exactly what I was expecting - a gentle, quiet island, cobblestones and grey houses, quiet and gentle. I'd probably hate it during tourist season - the natives I heard talking said *they* hated it then!! But in this quiet lull, it was great for biking around and seeing the ocean and sand and scrub.

Lisa Shea Travelogues - Full Listing


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