Up-Island: Peace and quiet on the Vineyard

Trip Start Aug 10, 2010
Trip End May 30, 2011

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Where I stayed
Martha's Vineyard Youth Hostel

Flag of United States  , Massachusetts
Friday, August 13, 2010

This day started off early, and not of our own volition. It was 6:30 and all Hell erupted.  It turned out that one of the summer camp groups was departing early.  And that meant that all the doors around us slammed open, feet pounded on the floor and tween yells rose up like caterwauling cats.  Suffice to say we were pretty much up for good by 7 AM.

After some breakfast and watching the troupe of children take off, we decided to head up early to Aquinnah to get some sun and time in before the crowds started to arrive.  At the beginning of planning this trip, I considered the option to bike to Aquinnah and back—on the map it's only 12 miles each way, and we’ve comfortably done four times that in a day.  Thankfully, after my experience with the hills and turns (and cars), we had the presence of mind to put take our bikes on the bus out to Aquinnah.  This was very much the right move, as the bus we took went speeding up and down and around the many hills up-island.  It was like a roller coaster in a way, shifting form side to side during every turn, hoping to stay on the narrow road.  And there were no bike paths and no shoulder lanes—it would have been a ridiculous undertaking trying to bike down and back.

We arrived at Aquinnah, basically an overlook, a couple of food shacks and some souvenir stands.  The whole area was just opening up and none of the bikers had yet to reach the place, nor had the cars from down island.  We took a few pictures from the overlook and checked out the lighthouse, which is only open to the public a couple of hours before sunset.

Since we were so early form our schedule, we walked along Moshup Beach, a long white sand stretch bordered by the multi-colored clay cliffs.  We passed several nude swimmers at the upper stretches of the beach near the tip.  Though we were told that the beach is contiguous, we couldn’t continue up around the tip and to the cliffs at the base of the lighthouse, not without wading through waist high water.  We tried to walk over the rocks instead, but it turned out they weren’t rocks, but rather hunks of clay.  You stepped on one and you felt the slippery clay ooze through your toes and slowly suck the rest of your foot in.  Let’s just say, we abandoned this idea a few steps in.

But we got some early morning sun and headed out on the road with a nice wind blowing.  We took Lighthouse and Lobsterville Roads, which were pretty devoid of cars and not particularly hilly.  It was mostly just us and the occasional biker—most cars don’t go this direction, as there’s no way to get a car across the bay to Menemsha.  On the bike ferry we met a philosopher and a Taiwanese orchestra director, who apparently kinda sorta knew each other. 

Menemsha is a one street town.  There’s a small beach on one end, a few seafood shacks (with good Lobster Rolls) and a market.  We visited what might charitably be called an antique store—maybe indoor garage sale is more accurate, at lunch and wandered the town and were done in under an hour.  This was lunch time though, and everyone who had dreams of getting an iconic lobster roll from a fishing town away from the upscale towns ended up coming to Menemsha.  By the time we were on our bikes heading of town, there was a steady stream of cars heading in.  I’m not sure where they’ll find enough parking…

Our next stop was Menemsha Hills Reservation, a Trustees owned nature preserve with a few hiking trails and some overlooks of several beaches.  The ride up on North Street was rather harrowing—several climbs, but the way some cars just zoom within a foot of you is terrifying.  After the first you get paranoid about cars behind you all the time.  I can’t tell you how many times I ended flying right off into the dirt for fear of being side-swiped. 

But we made it to Menemsha Hills which was pretty empty.  The best thing about the place though is that the hiking is basically on forest trails and out of the energy sapping sun.  As we walked, we caught up to a couple in wedding dress, who were hiking to an overlook to presumably get their wedding photo done.  More hilarious than the wife, with her train in her arms to prevent them from getting snagged or dirtied, was the portly photographer, who could only pant, sweat and throw us miserable looks as he trailed behind the two.

We reached the overlook before the wedding party—it provides a really nice view of up-island and also back down towards Aquinnah.  At the base of the stairs is a head of destroyed lobster traps, which would then also be seen at the base of the stairs at the stone beach.  The actual beach is pretty uneven and was rather uneventful and especially challenging under the frying sun.  We quickly wrapped up our hike and biked back on Middle Road, which was recommended as a less travelled and flatter alternative.  It was still hilly and there were still passing cars, but it was nice and pretty shaded.

The road ends at West Tisbury, which contains for sights, a general store (Alley’s) and Field’s Gallery with lots of lawn sculptures.  You can walk about the grass and take pictures with the various sculptures—I like the animals better than the anthropomorphic ones—they kinda remind me of the figures in the opening to Masterpiece Mystery on PBS.

Behind the hostel runs a bike path that circles the Manuel F. Correlius State Woods.  It takes a good couple of hours to circle the grounds, more if you overshoot the path like we did…twice.  But missing our turn off let us visit the local alpaca farm.  We were the last visitors and decided to go see them on a whim.  It was actually informative—they’re smaller than llamas but belong in the same general family as camels.  And since they’re split hoofed, they’re not kosher, apparently.  Also their fur has got better tensile strength than sheep’s wool and has over 20 natural colors.

The young are called crias and are born almost 100% before noon.  Basically you stay around pregnant females till lunchtime and then bugger off for the rest of the day.  They come in two flavors—crinkle haired like sheep or with long straight hair—with the latter being much more rare.  We got to see some of the animals up close, who were totally not thrilled at the prospect of being photographed or petted.  Which was fine with me because they kind of smelled, or maybe that was the hay they were eating.  Just seeing these weird lollipop-head shaped animals (their bodies have been shaved, but their head pompadours left alone) is good enough to end the day of sightseeing.

The sun was low in the sky and we spent the last hour of the day riding the rest of the State Forest Loop to return back to the hostel.  While the eastern portions of the bike route are pretty nondescript—you pass an airport and hug the main road for a while—the western parts were really great scenery.  The path strays from the main road and you end up cycling through the woods and fields and past farms that sell bags of fruit on foldout tables alongside the bike route.  That was the most enjoyable ride of the whole day--along level ground, riding fast as you can, wind in your face, golden sun slanting across the ground.  Plus, we got to see a hippie looking guy room past us on a yellow submarine (imagine a yellow torpedo fiberglass casing bit over one of those sit down bikes with the seat back).   We arrived tired and hungry at the hostel, had dinner, spent a night playing Scrabble and Sorry and went to bed, ready to get back to Boston tomorrow.

Tomorrow:  biking back to civilization and visiting some leftover bits on Martha’s Vineyard
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