Bicycles (and a beer) on Block Island

For such a small state, Rhode Island has a lot of little corners that even long-time residents don’t ever manage to explore. As an inveterate, if sometimes reluctant, traveler (see the closing thoughts from one of my travels here), I take some pride in knowing the state where I have now lived for more than twenty years pretty well, a pride that I share with Dr. Mrs. Dr. Dave.  (Twenty years!? Pretty soon we’ll be up to half my life here–ACK!)  We made our first visit to Block Island with a group of summer research students during our first summer in Rhode Island, and we retreated there for an off-season weekend when I had to decide between accepting my current job or going back to school and training for a totally different career, so although we aren’t regular visitors, we have been often enough to get to know a little bit about the island, and we’re surprised whenever we meet someone local who has never taken the one hour ferry ride to this little pile of glacial till just beyond the eastern tip of Long Island.

In that spirit, Dr. Mrs. Dr. Dave made plans with the four young women doing research in her lab this summer to play hooky from the lab for a day (ostensibly to collect soil samples–you always need an excuse for a boondoggle) and go on an expedition.  It was a chaotic morning, since we had to first pack son G off on a school-organized trip to the old city of Quebec, then meet up with the young ladies outside the fitness center to help transport their rented bicycles and caravan down to the ferry dock at Point Judith in time to make the 8:30 ferry.  It didn’t help that the weather forecast had dramatically turned overnight from “10% chance of showers” to “It’s going to rain off and on until sometime around noon–or maybe later!”  (OK, the latter isn’t a direct quote from the Weather Channel, but it might as well have been, from our perspective, during the soggy drive southward.)  Even so, student Heloise (who promises that she will have a complementary blog post here eventually) was relentlessly optimistic during the ferry ride, and the semi-native fellow travelers on the ferry promised that it would clear up around noon, so we watched the island emerge from the mist and resolved to make the best of what nature was going to give us.

Block Island is only about ten square miles, so a bike is a perfectly adequate way to see almost anything on the island, even if you aren’t a serious cyclist.  Our general itinerary for the day was to ride from the ferry dock to the north end of the island and back (along the only paved road that runs that direction), then do a counter-clockwise circuit around the more settled southern end of the island, for a total distance of about 18 miles. For the record (in case the funding agency gets wind of this), four soil samples were collected at various places on the island, mostly in fairly sandy beach soil.  Also for the record, the ferry-riders were correct and it did clear up around noon, though not before we got soggy enough that we took a late morning break for a warm drink at a small coffee shop back in town.

The most spectacular spot on the island is arguably the area known as the Mohegan Bluffs on the south-facing coast.  There is a steep drop-off of over 100 feet from the main road to the ocean below, and the area is sufficiently eroded that the south lighthouse had to be moved back from the edge a few years ago so it wouldn’t simply tumble into the Atlantic Ocean.  (As you look southward, the next landfall would appear to be somewhere on the island of Hispaniola, so there’s a lot of ocean to tumble into!)  There’s a long stairway down from the parking lot, followed by a scramble over some boulders to get to the rocky beach where we took some pictures, admired the cairns that had been left by previous beach visitors, and enjoyed the fact that the sun was finally shining.

After our bike ride, we were ready for a late lunch, and the college women happily agreed with the suggestion from son S of pizza for lunch.  Papa’s Pizzeria was just outside the main business district on the road north, near Crescent Beach, and they had outdoor seating, which seemed like a great idea now that the sun was out.  Our group of seven shared two large Margherita pizzas (basil and fresh mozzarella) on a thin (Neapolitan?) crust.  The college students all had Del’s frozen lemonade (a Rhode Island tradition, though not the official state beverage–that honor goes to coffee milk, but that’s another story), Dr. Mrs. Dr. Dave had her customary Pinot Grigio, and I chose a can of Hurricane Amber Ale from Newport Storm brewery (going along with the local Rhode Island theme, I suppose, but also because it was the most interesting choice available).  IMG_0286[1]The good news here is that I didn’t notice any allergic reaction as I had from another Newport Storm beer back in the wintertime.  The bad news is that even a pretty good beer in a can still tastes noticeably like the can, so as enjoyable as the rest of the day was, the beer (number 74, since we’re still counting) was not the high point.

But beer doesn’t always need to be the high point of the day.  After lunch, we wandered over to the beach so the students could enjoy a quick splash, then re-organized ourselves and headed back to the dock for the 3:30 ferry back to the mainland, since various obligations were calling several of the students back to campus or to home.  The weather remained clear enough that we could soak up some sun (too much in my case) on the outside upper deck of the ferry and watch as the island faded into the haze.  The nice part, however,  is that Block Island isn’t some magical Brigadoon–it’s always there just off the south coast of New England, as an inviting destination for a day trip.  It was fun to have an excuse to introduce another generation of research students to this little getaway spot and to be able to serve as tour guides for a day.  Today it was back to the lab for them, and back to yard work for me (well, the World Cup is going on, so maybe not all that much yard work!), but yesterday’s expedition was a great way to spend what would otherwise have been a pretty ordinary summer Thursday.

Hope there’s a fun day trip in the offing wherever you’re reading this.  Cheers!

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