slow walk towards the sea

“People will see,” warns Minna Carolyn Smith Lafham’s Quarter About his pioneering tricycling tour of the Coastal North Shore in eastern Massachusetts. It wasn’t just that self-propelled adult tricycles were novel, but, so were women’s rides. This was 1885.

The gender shock may be gone now, but as the only person to ride a tricycle on the same roads more than a century later, I knew exactly what Smith meant. My weekend travel convenience, a low-riding recumbent trike operated by hands rather than legs, was arguably the one garnering even more attention. This was the first foray into adaptive bike touring. After a lifetime of traveling around the world, I was turning into an arm chakra following spine cancer and a complication that left my legs partially paralyzed.

I was hesitant initially, aware of what low-riding would look like. When I finally flipped the mental switch, I walked in. In the ultralight, performance trike I rented from a shop called north east route In Durham, NH, I was suspended in aluminum stirrups with my legs as if propped up on a low chaise longue with my head and upper torso propped up with a back-craddling husband pillow. The pedal hand grips were at eye level, the black crank and silver chain spinning in front of me like a hamster wheel. A tall pole with blinking LED lights and an orange flag trailing behind me so that the rest of the world could notice me.

Retracing in two days Smith’s 35 Mile Route From Malden Center to Cape Ann, I and my curious were kids on the rig, and young adults secretly poked their iPhones out of car windows to catch me on video. A man who so fearlessly shattered the quiet village by the sea in Manchester.

“Do you sleep in that thing?” An old man greedily asked in the Magnolia section of Gloucester. At Singing Beach in Manchester, a motorist complained that I was hard to see and suggested safety. “You must go Find a track somewhere,” he said.

I am happy to ride again. I identified with 19th-century Smith, not as an independent crusader, but as part of the underprivileged—a disabled man trying to engage in able-bodied fun. I felt a tie. Our modern, mixed-gender, middle-aged party consisted of six riders: some seasoned cyclists, others first-timers. My wife Patty used a pedal assist e-bike, the rest of the standard issue road bikes. The vibe will be low key; There was no need to hurry.

Boston’s North Shore has always been a major cycling destination. “In and Around Cape Ann,” a popular wheelman’s guidebook published in the 1880s, praised the idea of ​​largely streamlined and graded dirt lanes. In 1898, in the heyday of the pre-car bike riding craze, a Boston newspaper published a gorgeously illustrated map of our bike touring route, hand-drawn for snapshots of bridges, churches, elm tree-shaded getaways and the signature offshore The individual panel carried out was dedicated. idea.

The beginning of the modern route was no Currier and Ives postcard—a bustling Route 60 was in front of our suburban hockey rink parking lot. But after a few minutes the motor vehicle noise disappeared as soon as we got out North Shore Trail Stra, an eight-mile, newly constructed rail route through Everett, Malden, Revere, Saugas and Coastal Lynn. The trail is also part of this East Coast Greenway, a partially completed 3,000-mile bike and pedestrian network that connects towns and cities from Key West, Fla., to Calais, Maine.

The wide, well-marked trail was a revelation, surrounded by creative community gardens, vibrant murals, public sculpture and mixed green spaces and vast salt marshes. The road surface started with pavement and then continued on gravel and dirt (there have been many improvements since our North Strand ride in 2019, including a beautiful new bridge and sidewalk across the Saugas River. across.)

We traveled the trail down the Route 1 overpass and around the Revere Showcase cinemas. All of us, lifelong New Englanders and some living only a few miles away, kept saying some variation of the same thing: We didn’t know any of them were here.

Rumani Marsh Reservation, a gorgeous 600-acre salt marsh bordering the trail and sprawling stretches of Saugas and Revere, would have blown Smith’s poetic heart. Only five miles from downtown Boston, the habitat was a stop for migratory birds and a permanent hangout for majestic tidal giants like the great blue heron, one of which we saw soaring overhead.

Large oak and birch trees, as expected, stood on the path; Not expected the shallow-rooted Norway maple scattered across it, the result of a recent nor’easter. More than eight miles of bike-to-sea path between Malden and Lynn’s winding seaside boulevards were at least half a dozen trees, precipitating all kinds of inventive bypasses: down, up, and basically roughage. I through.

My low rider, not necessarily viewed as a versatile all-terrain machine because the seat bottom is mere inches off the ground, was actually low enough that I could roll under scattered tree limbs. Where it couldn’t, I gave a nudge, or even a brief excerpt, in the case of the then crumbling Saugus River footbridge. I wasn’t discouraged – I needed help. It was a one for one, one for all group adventure.

We rode one final paved, auto-free path into downtown Salem, part of a new network of protected lanes across the city, accessed at the start and finish by black metal gates resembling high-wheeled vehicles. is. Smith’s group stopped here for lunch as well as for the iconic 17th-century painting of Salem Common.

We knew about the photo from digital reproductions, but were surprised to see the Essex Institute-owned original hanging in three-and-a-half feet of glory in the Witch City mall. His formal attire – long black dresses for women, military uniforms for men – belie his unmistakable penchant for self-satire.

The men were particularly hams, who sat on the ground before their thrown penny farthings, as the high-wheel bikes of the day were known. One of the riders looked to the side, as if contemplating a fascinating sight (he was looking just south of the present day) good night fatty), the sensational cookie and soft serve on the mainstay in the brick patio across the street.

The women of 1885 lost the majority of their party after the official photograph was taken; The remaining riders are going to an inn in Manchester. Finishing the 20-Mile Day, We Didn’t Get Far Enough wily in in the city of Beverly. The inn (owned and operated by Endicott College) is on the grounds of a historic summer property and is one of several luxurious Gold Coast homes that dot the headlands and secluded waterfronts.

We met the owners of a heritage estate the next day. We were admiring a perfectly fortified Kettle Cove Bay in Gloucester, about six miles northeast of the Wylie Inn, when an older couple walked through a hidden high on the shoreline road. “It’s Black Beach,” offered the man, practically wearing high wading boots, shell jackets and heavy bribe-repellent gloves. “The other one is white, But we don’t call them that, we call them Pebbles and Sandy.”

My father, Oliver Balfe, was one of several New York City artists who came to Cape Ann in the 1940s. Like many others he came for the summer and stayed for good. I’m pretty sure that as a young man his eyes were drawn to the same en plein-air backdrop we’d seen all weekend: working fishing boats dotted about Pocket Harbour, a wide, cold Lower edge of starchy offshore clouds against a watery blue sky.

The other day, we cycled the long route between Beverly Farms and Gloucester, turning off Route 127 on Ocean Street and Shore Road, each stunning spur route for ocean views. We found a sign engraved in granite that read WOE TIDES and a weather-worn wooden arrow on top of a stone for “Old Salem Path”. In an attempt to take a shortcut back to Main Street, we bypassed Thunderbolt Hill, a steeply winding, granite-lined drive near Singing Beach in Manchester where James Fields, founder of The Atlantic Monthly, once visited Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. , was entertained by Nathaniel Hawthorne. and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Traveling with a hand trike, centered two big wheels behind me and a third in front, was surprisingly luxurious. I was, of course, able to relax and sit in the countryside while passing leisurely. But I was thrillingly entertained down the slopes, leaning like a slalom skier to carve corners at speed. Pedal power from my upper body was steady and reliable, and as the tour continued, although I knew I looked different, I didn’t feel any different. Trikes and e-bikes help level the playing field. More inclusive tourism, and more diversity of them, is likely to follow. But it was also nice to know that you could be set with old cycling buddies, one of whom saw fit to ride all weekend in a tweed vest, tie, and collared shirt.

Minna Caroline Smith initially planned to end her trip at Magnolia, but a deep craving for Gloucester clams brought her four miles to a hotel near Pavilion Beach. We thought the trip would end in downtown Gloucester too, but followed by a perfect fried fish and chowder lunch Causeway Restaurant, an afternoon local favorite, we drove 12 miles in total, looking forward to circling Cape Ann and making good use of the day.

Todd Balfe is the author of several non-fiction books and, most recently, a memoir about his disability journey called Complications.

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