New England – An Historic Visit
High atop the Ivy Lea Bridge, as the fierce gusts of wind threaten to blow Bill and Hank’s bikes into the roiling blue eddies below, the ominous September sky is overtaken by storm-laden clouds. Telltale droplets splatter on my windscreen. As I crouch down, droplets turn to tiny rivulets streaming upward. Hypnotized, I watch the rivulets puddle into droplets again at the top of my windshield, slip over the edge and glide down onto my dash below as I cogitate about the science of wind patterns. Common sense seeps in to outstrip my bravado, and our three bikes roll into a rest area. Janice, Marie and Tina are pleased with this decision, as we suit up just in time for the deluge.
New York State Route 12 is a two-lane highway shortcut running southeast from Watertown, and a nice alternative to the Interstate. A few miles south, we pass through Dry Hill, NY, and appropriately, the rain stops. As we meander southward, the recent rainfall brightens the vibrant green pastures, a backdrop for postcard scenes of Holstein cattle, whitewashed barns and farmhouses set against the mountains of the Adirondacks, rising up through the September mist.
As we roll over another hill, an awesome view of the Mohawk River Valley spreads before us with Utica, our destination for the day, snuggled along the riverbanks. With many closed businesses and empty factories, it’s evident that the city’s heyday has passed, hit hard by the made-in-China revolution. For many decades, the Erie Canal was a major interior shipping lane through bustling Utica and on to the saltwater port at New York City. In fact, New York City became the major eastern American port because of the Erie Canal. It’s a short walk from our hotel to Delmonico’s eatery, where we discuss the day’s ride over a succulent, juicy New York steak.
Sunday morning dawns bright, promising a good day’s ride as we climb northbound out of the Mohawk Valley on SR-12. Leaving Utica behind and turning east on SR-28, we can see all the way to Poland . . . Poland, New York, that is. You never know what lies on the other side of the hill, and our commanding view alerts us to rain clouds ahead. We pull on our rain gear, only to strip it off again in a few kilometres when the sun comes out. At Middleville, we catch SR-29 on an entirely new two-lane dimension along the southern slopes of the Adirondacks. We roll through small town after small town – Salisbury, Dolgeville, Oppenheim and Johnstown. Saratoga Springs, fondly called the Spa City because of its mineral springs, was frequented in bygone eras by the rich and famous for its healing powers. Steeped in old money, with carefully preserved Victorian architecture, this lovely town was a favourite of affluent politicians, aristocrats and artists. We stop at Lillian’s, a restaurant named after the famous Broadway actress, Lillian Russell, who used to be a summer resident here.
We follow the Hudson River Road to the Taconic Parkway. We cross the Massachusetts state line and, now on The Mohawk Trail, we arrive at the city of North Adams, named after another leader in the American Revolution and signer of the Declaration of Independence, Samuel Adams. Now a college town with beautiful stone buildings randomly scattered across the campus, North Adams was once a thriving industrial centre and was the home base for the building of the Hoosac Tunnel. Located in North Adams is America’s largest contemporary art museum, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, in what used to be Sprague Electric, who left a few years ago, leaving 4000 residents unemployed. Today, North Adams enjoys a considerable tourist trade thanks to its museum, college and the natural beauty of the Berkshire Mountains.
We continue eastbound on the Mohawk Trail, winding up, over, and through the Berkshire Mountains. In the next valley, we turn left onto Zoar Road, winding along the edge of the Deerfield River on a narrow, paved, but bumpy road. Against the looming mountainside, a freight train laboriously lumbers by us, and in just a few minutes we reach the hole in the side of the mountain from whence the train came, the Hoosac Tunnel. Linking the towns of Florida and North Adams, the Hoosac Tunnel still stands as an engineering marvel. Using drills, gunpowder, and later, nitroglycerine, it took 25 years to build the 4.75-mile long tunnel through the Hoosac Mountain. The tunnel cost 195 lives during its construction, and 30 or more since completion in 1877. It provided a link to the west and was used by passenger and freight trains for many years. Now it is used only by freight trains, and I can see why. Diesel fumes billow out for hours after a train passes through, and I can only imagine the discomfort for passengers when the mode of power was steam and coal.
Greenfield, Massachusetts, brings us to the end of the Mohawk Trail and our day’s history lesson, as we look forward to the evening’s R&R.
With Plymouth in our sights, we’re southbound on MA-9, coursing through the small towns of New England, past huge Victorian homes with narrow doors, transom windows and fretwork embellishments that beg for attention. I crane left and right, taking in the beautiful architectural history of a bygone era. Villages with ornate signs boasting the date of their founding welcome visitors as they have for decades. Not wanting to miss anything, we constantly run below the posted speed limit as we bank slowly through the lefts and rights.
As we wind our way toward Plymouth, suddenly, from out of a side road, some silver-haired moron inexplicably turns left without stopping, barging directly into my path. I brake hard and pull up alongside him, horn blazing. Expecting the worst from every cage-driving cretin has helped me survive all these years. And after 45 years of motorcycling, once again, anticipatory perception has saved my life.
Memories of our visit 35 years ago flood my mind as we roll into Plymouth. After booking in to accommodations, we seek out a restaurant down by the shoreline. Our view of Plymouth Bay –and the day’s fresh catch – create an ambience unsurpassed.
The next morning, we take a stroll around the Mayflower II, a copy of the little ship that carried the first pilgrims to America. A pilgrim’s cabin reminds us of what it must have been like arriving in a foreign, hostile environment in 1620. Before leaving town for Cape Cod and Provincetown, we take a quiet look at Plymouth Rock, now enclosed in a citadel.
MA-3A, a trail less travelled, allows us to steal occasional glimpses of Cape Cod Bay. The briny scent of saltwater marshes carried on the warm onshore breeze permeates our senses. We ride along, basking in the pleasure of having no particular agenda. We stop in Sandwich for a sandwich at a small roadside diner before taking MA-6A at Plowed Neck. Farmers harvesting cranberries in a roadside bog capture our attention. The paddlewheels plop, plop, plop in the knee-deep water, freeing the berries from their bushes to float to the surface and be scooped up.
At Provincetown, huge sand dunes block our view of the sea. Pilgrim Tower, the tallest all-granite monument in the U.S.A., stands atop a dune commemorating the Pilgrim history. We take a leisurely walk through narrow one-way streets, checking out various shops. The tide is out, leaving sailboats, rowboats and powerboats strewn about on the mud flats, high and dry, waiting for the incoming tide to set them free.
The hour is late, so we take the Mid Cape Highway and the Pilgrim Highway back to Plymouth. We park the bikes at the motel, stroll down to The Lobster Shack and dine on an elevated patio, enjoying the harbour view, filled with sailing vessels of every description. As the sun goes down on another day, my thoughts are drawn to the speed at which this adventure is passing by. Back at our motel, we relax and I look forward to tomorrow’s unique experience, “The shot that was heard around the world.”
Morning breaks with oppressive, dark clouds overhead, and a gentle shower begins as we travel north. We are taken aback as cars pass us on the paved shoulder of the highway, which is permitted during rush hour but sure feels odd to this Canadian. The rain ends as the prestigious homes of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott announce the approach of our next stop in Concord, the birthplace of the nation. In the town square, we park in front of the Colonial Inn and beside a monument to the fallen heroes of the Revolution. Built in 1716, I can’t help but wonder what tales this Inn could tell. It stands as a silent witness to Paul Revere, the Minutemen, the redcoats who wanted to raze the town, and the subsequent Battle of Lexington. Concord is a veritable history book of America’s birth.
At Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, we stroll through Authors’ Ridge and stop at the tombstones of Hawthorne, Alcott, Emerson, Irving and Thoreau. Just up the road at the North Bridge, we witness where that “shot heard around the world” was fired. Here, British colonists fired upon their own king’s army and started down the road of no return. A plaque on one side of the bridge marks the remains of the first two British soldiers to fall for the cause; on the other side is a monument to the minutemen, forefathers of today’s National Guard. As a Canadian, it is still a moving experience to be here, realizing that, should the cause have failed, the participants would all have hung for treason.
In Minute Man National Historic Park, off Lexington Road, we stand at the legendary “bend in the road” where Paul Revere was taken captive. Blocking out the traffic noise, I place myself here on that fateful night in 1775. Nearby, a monument – bearing the names of the three brave men who warned of the coming British soldiers – recounts the event. Our schedule demands our departure, but having stood on the very spot where world history could have changed gives me goose bumps. And as we ride away, I swear I can hear Major John Buttrick shouting at the North Bridge, “Fire fellow soldiers, for God’s sake, fire!” followed by that fateful shot, and the start of the American Revolution.
Leaving Concord, we take I-95 and finally I-295 to the Comfort Inn on the Blue Star Memorial Highway at Freeport, Maine. The Corsican Restaurant, a renovated carriage house, is our evening’s culinary destination, where lobster rolls are the item of the day for our friends. A short ride up the hill and we’re at the famous L.L. Bean outdoor store where you can buy anything from guns to underwear. After a double scoop of Cherry Garcia at the adjacent Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop, we are off to our rooms for the night.
Morning dawns yet again with forbidding overtones in a grey sky as we head up Route 1 toward Camden. The scenery has changed dramatically from Plymouth: the mountains of Maine and the rocky outcrops in farmer’s fields reveal a different kind of beauty. Around every corner is another breathtaking scene; stately white pines soaring heavenward, babbling brooks running to the sea. Aptly named the White Pine State, Maine has abundant stands of this majestic conifer.
We arrive at Camden, nestled in Penobscot Bay, and park next to the slip of the Appledore, the schooner that will host our cruise of the surrounding islands. The Appledore, built to sail around the world, would have accomplished its mission had its owner not run out of money before he ran out of ocean. He had to sell the schooner in order to get back home. Now the Appledore, owned by a wealthy non-resident, spends its summer months entertaining tourists at Camden, and its winters in Key West. After a couple of hours of sailing and dodging rain clouds, the sky falls in just as we disembark. We muster the courage to surf through the deluge back to Freeport and our warm, dry motel room.
The next day, with one more place to see, we head north on Route 26 through Sebago and cruise along some great back roads to Shaker Village. Because dancing was an integral part of their worship service, this Quaker sect earned its original title, the Shaking Quakers, later shortened to Shakers. Based on a belief in self-reliance and fundamentalism, this sect has died out due to its members’ belief in celibacy. The religion survived in the 19th century because it offered a safe haven to the abundance of orphans. Through time, abstinence from man’s most enjoyable moments caused the religion to literally die off. Today, only three Shakers remain in the U.S.A.: two ladies in their eighties, and one man in his late fifties. All three reside here in Shaker Village, take care of the farm, and are totally self-reliant.
To visit a religious sect that is nearing its end is a fitting conclusion to our vacation, the benediction for a fine trip. With Stowe, VT, and Lake Placid, NY, as our final stops, we leave with a head full of wonderful memories and conjuring up plans for next year’s rides. Good friends, good weather, good roads, good food and beautiful countryside. We are truly blessed.