Northern Rhode Island: History + Hospitality

Rhode Island, officially known as The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, is the smallest U.S. state by land area, covering only 1,045 square miles. And 30 percent of the state is water, so it should be no surprise that Rhode Island’s nickname is “The Ocean State.”

Although I have cycled quite a bit in Rhode Island, I had never done any multi-day trips here (or anywhere else). So, the purpose of this overnight tour was twofold: First, to practice fully loaded touring with a camping component; and, secondly, to see Rhode Island and share with readers the surprising diversity of this smallest of states.

I was determined not to use a car for any part of this adventure, so I began and ended the circular tour at my home in Barrington, located on the east side of Narragansett Bay. Locals refer to this area as the “East Bay.”

The Blackstone River Bike Path follows the historic Blackstone River for 12 miles between Woonsocket and Lincoln. The plan is to extend the path north to Worchester, Mass. 

I left home, riding along the Barrington River to where the East Bay Bike Path crosses over. It was cool and sunny, but the wind would prove to be a fierce adversary for the remainder of the day's ride. Cycling northward, I soon found myself in the city of Providence.

One of the oldest streets in Providence, Benefit Street, is a textbook of historic preservation.

Rhode Island is a densely settled state, with Providence the primary population center and state capital. Interestingly, though, once you get away from the major highway corridors of Interstates 95 and 195, the state is surprisingly rural, with excellent cycling. So, after navigating the urban streets, I headed into the countryside, traveling in a clockwise direction while always keeping an eye out for the most rural roads available.

Kinetic bicycle sculpture turns in the wind.

Paula was the online connection I'd made through the Narragansett Bay Wheelmen, and I had a wonderful overnight at her and her husband Pete's farm. Earlier, while I was cycling north, Paula was driving south to work; she'd had a good idea which way I would be coming. Indeed, she spotted me and waved me down as we approached one another. We talked for a while before she headed on to work. I felt an immediate connection, since we are both RNs with similar interests like bicycling and the outdoors.

When I arrived at their farm, Pete treated me to lunch; later, I cooked my own dinner using my new Brasslite alcohol stove. I was very impressed by its "zen-like" qualities: small, light, silent, and surprisingly efficient. One ounce of fuel was more than enough to cook pasta and heat up a piece of lemon-dill salmon from a pouch.

Paula and Pete relax in their off-kitchen room.

The wind was gone by dark and it was a cool, clear late-April night with temps reaching down to the low 30s. I slept well in my new tent and stayed toasty warm in my three-season synthetic bag. During the night I heard distant coyotes and a not-so-distant barred owl. Just wonderful!

This 19th century barn door was like a time machine for me.

In the morning, my Brasslite made quick work of oatmeal. I then enjoyed a nice cup of tea with Pete before Paula got up. Later, as I cycled away from their terrific farm in the cool overcast morning, I felt like I'd been on a long, spiritually restful vacation. The positive vibe of their homestead set the tone for the rest of the tour home.

As I began my southward ride, I negotiated the city of Woonsocket before once again reaching Providence and the final leg home via the East Bay Bike Path.

The East Bay Bike Path is a 14-mile-long rail-trail running from the city of East Providence to the town of Bristol.

While successfully completing my first loaded, self-contained overnight bicycle tour, I learned a great deal about the history and geography of my adopted state. I truly hope that readers will be inspired to visit Rhode Island and tour its diverse network of roads and pathways. 

This fireplace in Haines Memorial Park in Barrington was built by the CCC in the 1930s as part of the Works Progress Administration.

All equipment performed as expected (see list below). I did bring a few articles of clothing that I didn't need; the weather can be so variable, though, that when it comes to clothes, I believe it's better to be safe than sorry.

I never needed the entertainment of my iPod, either, and only read a few pages from my Kindle. But these items don't weigh much, and the pleasure potential makes them well worth carrying for times when good conversation is lacking (although I believe listening to the iPod while riding is unsafe). 

My Tout Terrain Silkroad expedition bike with the Rohloff Speed hub was just amazing. I'd put over 3,000 miles on her (Joan) since last May, so I already knew how good she is -- but on this ride I was carrying approximately 30 pounds of equipment over some hilly terrain. The Rohloff drivetrain performed flawlessly. I still own a derailleur bike (Bridgestone RBT), but can't imagine ever buying one again. Any future bicycles in my life will have a Rohloff drivetrain.

Lastly, a heartfelt "thank you" to Paula and Pete. Your hospitality made the tour! 

Get more information about bike overnights.Tips for this adventure: Coming up with an equipment list is not an easy task when it's your first loaded tour. In addition to my Tout Terrain Silkroad, my gear included: Small Arkel handlebar bag; Ortlieb rear panniers; tool kit with spare tube and pump; sleeping bag with pad and MSR Hubba Hubba tent; Brasslite alcohol stove with cooking pot, spoon, wind screen, and fuel; food for dinner and breakfast, and snacks for the road; three water bottles; one change of cycling clothes (long pants and long sleeves); one change of clothing for off bike; rain jacket and pants; down vest, wool cap, and insulated gloves; first-aid kit and personal hygiene items; iPod, Kindle, and camera.

Favorite Bike Shop: Legend Bicycle, Providence, Rhode Island

4 responses so far ↓

Yolande - Jun 30, 2012 at 7:34 PM

I really enjoyed this article. I'm originally from northern RI so that got my attention. I did most of my bicycling when I lived in Middletown. I did a 4-day bike camping trip from north shore of MA to Augusta, ME over 20 years ago. This gives me inspiration to get back on my bike and explore our little state on an overnighter.

Keith Spangler - Jul 19, 2013 at 12:44 AM

In 2012 I completed a solo, unsupported tour of Rhode Island. I found Rhode Island a great place to bicycle, wonderful scenery, nice people and outstanding weather. If anyone needs info, let me know. Here is a link to a flickr set of pictures: http://www.flickr.com/x/t/0092009/photos/kspangler/sets/72157630665980640/

Michael McCoy - Aug 9, 2013 at 4:32 PM

Keith, thanks for the comment and information!

Ellen Johanse - Sep 29, 2013 at 6:56 PM

I did a solo two day ride from East Hampton, NY to Boston this summer and took the ferry from Montauk to Block Island and then to Port Judith. I used the wonderful bike paths to Providence and stayed at the Marriott so I only brought a bathing suit and shorts for the restaurant there. Loved the biking in Rhode Island. Massachusetts, not as much until I hit the Minute Man Trail to Davies Square. Great ride, two days hard biking, minimal packing and lots of luck. My first and not my last solo tour.

Leave a Comment

Leave this field empty: