An hour out of the Big Apple on my 2004 BMW Rl150R, I spy surly, fat, gray clouds rushing belly-up behind me in the mirrors. I, in turn, rush east on the super-slab of I-95 through Connecticut. I'm on my way to begin my tour of the biggest lil' state in the Union, Rhode Island
Day One: Watch Hill
The clouds retreat as I cross the Connecticut border into Rhode Island. Hopping off I-95 in this southwestern corner, I head south on Route 3 through Ashaway and Westerly, then work my way on Route 1A up the coast to Newport. My goal for today is to photograph the town of Watch Hill, but the sun is already sinking in the sky. A few other riders are about: a lovely postwar BMW with a sidecar passes in the other direction. The goggled rider and passenger offer salutes in de rigueur black leather.
Come back and play with me, I whisper.
My first stop in Watch Hill is the Ocean House Hotel, recommended by my father-in-law. It's 136 years old, and a landmark hotel for over a century. With white-gloved waiters, historic architecture, and elegant ballrooms, it's out of fashion, but I stop to ask if I might book lodging for the night anyway. They tell me it's under renovation - although it's due to reopen in the fall of 2005.
I ride back to Watch Hill's Main Street to photograph the marina. It's Sunday and Watch Hill is very quiet. The whitewashed, clapboard storefronts and seafood restaurants present a quintessential New England coastal scene. I almost expect to hear old sea chanteys or to see spectral visions of Ahab and Moby (the cetacean, not the singer) rising from the waves. Rain can come at any minute, an old woman warns me from her perch in a donut shop.
Before it does, back on Route 1A, I find a gem of a hotel for the night: the Shelter Harbor Inn. The conversation among some of the other lodgers and yours truly turns to motorcycling. Dan and his wife have ridden twice across the country on Harley-Davidson Sportsters. Ouch, that's an awful narrow seat for 3,000 miles, I thought, like sitting on an armrest from New York to California. But, hey, maybe I have a more sensitive keister than most. It turns out Dan got the motorcycling bug again when he recently ran a raffle giving away a new Harley-Davidson. He was in charge of storing it all spring until the winner was declared and apparently he had trouble parting with it, so he bought one just like it from the dealer! We swapped stories, compared riding experiences, and came to the conclusion that all riders have more in common than not.
Day Two: Point Judith and Newport
Wheels up at 8 A.M., the sky is a limitless azure, and I turn my bike north into Washington County on State Route 216. This is an inland route, but hints of the nearby sea creep in. Many of the Cape Cod houses passed have boats on trailers. Eventually I'm fed back onto Route 2 South and begin to make my way to Wakefield, riding by horse farms, fields and fishing spots. Wakefield seems to be a very no-nonsense area, with little of the romantic air of the coastline, and the traffic on a Monday is brisk. I decide to turn south to Point Judith to make the most of the day.
Remember that old salt named Quint in the movie Jaws? That's the sort of feller I see working the fishing boats off Point Judith, an historic fishing village that has retained its relevance; it ranks an impressive eighth in the nation among all fishing ports, netting (sorry) annual fishing revenues of nearly $ 70 million.
I meet two riders there, one on a Kawasaki Drifter and the other on a new Harley. Tim Mills, the Harley owner, is the Harbormaster for Newport, and he gives me a quick tour of Point Judith Lighthouse State Park. It features a brownstone lighthouse built in 1857 and modernized in 1954. The lighthouse guards the west-side of entrance to Narragansett Bay and serves a vital role for mariners in these waters. Weather permitting, the grounds and the lighthouse are open to the public.