A Long Island Sound Adventure
A bike overnight need not be soaked in spectacular nature or capped with wild nights around a campfire, followed by mornings of carefully crafted artisinal camp coffee. When distilled down to its essentials, the focus should be on the escape from the ordinary, the adventure of flinging yourself into the world knowing that you are both vulnerable and empowered -- however that may come about, it is allowed.
My recent Long Island Sound bike overnight was such a trip. With minimal preparations and a strong desire to get out on my bike and clear my head, I set off from my parents' house on Wednesday, July 2nd. One hundred and eighty-five miles, two ferry rides, and one drawbridge later I returned.
Let's take a step backwards, to how I got here. I had planned on touring this summer for at least a week, but a handful of decisions, by myself and others, prevented such a long excursion. In June I saw that a window would open around the July 4th holiday, with my wife visiting friends out of state and my family willing to host me. I absentmindedly plotted out a rough route. I would venture across the sound via the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson Ferry, ride along New York State Bike Route 25/25A to Orient Point, and ferry back to New London, Connecticut. I would then ride along the Boston Post Road, Route 146, and the East Coast Greenway back to Stratford.
Day one started like a bike overnight should: a light snack, last-minute packing, gear checks, and reassurances to family members that I would keep in touch. A hurricane barreling up the East Coast threatened to wash my trip out to sea, but that morning I was met with beautiful, cool weather and a slight tailwind from Stratford to Bridgeport and the Port Jefferson Ferry.
After boarding the ferry, snapping a few photos, and deciding against a greasy breakfast, I chose to use my time wisely -- by charging my phone and deleting old contacts! Hey, a bike overnight is a vacation, and the seats were comfy.
After one hour and fifteen minutes, I left my ship behind in the village of Port Jefferson. Do stop in this town for window shopping and maybe some food! It is moderately "New England summer beach tourist chintzy," but that is okay. Use this time wisely, and get your climbing legs ready -- hauling yourself up the sandy bluffs is not all that much fun. The relatively short, but very steep climb left me regretting my decision to pass up on a real breakfast when I'd had the chance.
As I crested the climb, I found myself straining to find the Bike Route 25A signs that would lead me to my destination. I could not find any. Relying on a cue sheet meant taking the scenic route (accidentally). Eventually, I made my way to my route -- and ugh, what a beast it was! Bike Route 25A/25 follows some awful roads, occasionally punctuated by quaint little town centers full of charm. I could have mapped a less direct route and avoided these roads, but I had to cover a lot of ground in two days. Let me say right now that the overall "concept" of the route is great, but it really warrants three or four days and some meandering along quiet coastal routes. Use my route as a guide, but try to map out your own adventure if you plan on following in my path.
Long Island can be a curious place, with strange government installations, small weird towns, and challenging wayfinding. But it has plenty of charms, too. Chatting with a friendly small town shopkeeper as you gulp down water, accidentally finding a deserted beach, or visiting a restaurant that sells only bacon -- I enjoyed each of these things, and I was barely trying! As you get farther out on the North Fork you'll find farm stands selling local duck eggs, greens, berries, and corn. You also ride past large farms that grow Christmas trees, sod, and McMansions. I opted not to sample wine at any of the dozens of wineries, but I did stop to see the "grow your own" hops stand.
As the shadows grew longer, I made my way to Orient Point at the tip of the North Fork. The water seemed enticing, so I stopped and hung out at a small inlet as I chomped on a little bit of food. But, I regret to say, I did not get in the water. Eventually, I made my way to the ferry, settled into another comfortable seat, and booked my hotel for the night across the sound in New London.
New London would seem like a great place to stop for the night, but I recommend Groton, Mystic, or Old Saybrook instead. Whereas New London has a rich history, the present is not so charming, and these other towns have done a better job of embracing the maritime tourism concept. If you do find yourself in New London, do not venture to the north of the city to a cheap hotel. My value hotel was selected on price, but it felt quite unpleasant, and the only food within walking distance was unappetizing. My meal sat with me overnight and well into day two.
Day two started with good omens. First, Hurricane Arthur was nowhere in sight, but his swirling winds promised to come from all directions (better than all headwinds!), and the roads were dry despite overnight rains. Second, I felt great physically. With 102 miles down on the first day, the 83 miles lying ahead were daunting, but they seemed well within reach.
Unfortunately again, my route choices placed me on some unpleasant roads, though this was only for maybe 12 of the 83 miles. Once out of New London, I was into some really wonderful coastal New England towns. Beautiful river crossings, sound views, beaches, and historic sites. People seemed to be in a great mood as they decorated and prepared for the July 4th celebrations on the next day. I stopped in one small beach community and didn’t want to leave! Everything was buzzing with that quintessential New England feel. I opted to cross the Connecticut River via a sidepath to I-95, which provided some really great views -- though I wholeheartedly recommend riding upriver a bit farther, checking out Gillette Castle, and crossing on the seasonal Chester-Hadlyme Ferry.
Eventually, I ended up on Route 146, passing through the towns of Guilford and Branford. This route is well known by local cyclists, with large white wayfinding arrows painted along the side of the road. I took a short detour into what I assumed was a neighborhood named Stony Creek (halfway between Branford and Guilford) and found the most perfect lunch spot there could be. A real local gem, the Stony Creek Market has wonderful food and friendly service, and it seemed like everyone knew everyone else. I opted to sit inside, instead of at the patio picnic tables, to enjoy some air conditioning. I overheard conversations that left me wondering if I had stepped back in time. What is this, Leave it to Beaver?!
I elected to pick up the Branford Trolley Trail before rejoining Route 146. The trail is a small segment of an eventual greenway along the central coast of Connecticut. Though it is short and requires walking your bike, you get great views of the salt marshes and harbor.
The heat of the day had really picked up as I entered New Haven (to the welcome sights of sharrows and bike lanes!), and I got to explore some great parts of the Elm City. If you visit, find time to browse around some of the Yale Art Museum, and have a real New Haven Style apizza! Pick wisely: Are you a Pepe's, Sally's, or Modern type of person?
In New Haven I was also able to pick up the East Coast Greenway, and eventually I rode onto familiar roads in Milford, crossing the Housatonic River back home.
I regret not making this more of a sightseeing tour, but for my first overnight solo bike trip it was a great adventure. I pushed my physical limits, got to see some really great towns, and became reacquainted with my New England heritage. And at the end, I had family waiting to celebrate with me. Again, I highly recommend this route "concept" to anyone, though tweaking it to make it your own adventure is recommended. Being a big loop, you can start it anywhere and experience all the same sights.
Tip for this adventure: Pace yourself. I purposely did the "fast version" of this trip and limited my sightseeing. But there is so much to see and explore: birds, beaches, lighthouses ... make it your adventure!
Favorite local bike shop: BicycleSpace in Washington, D.C.