In the summer, Cape Cod becomes the crown jewel of eastern Massachusetts. While the Berkshires in the western half of the Bay State lure vacationers and weekenders with its rolling hills and famed classical music performances, the siren song of the beaches and other shoreline attractions of the Cape prove difficult to resist, with three-hour-long, Friday night bottlenecks at the Bourne and Sagamore Bridges attesting to its coastal appeal.
Wishing to avoid this nightmare of a stop-and-go affair, my friend Robert and I planned our three-day riding tour of the Cape and the southeast region of Massachusetts as a reverse commute: We'd cross the Sagamore Bridge late on Sunday and return on Tuesday. But the threat of Hurricane Katrina-related squalls and storms pushed our plans ahead a day. So on Saturday afternoon, with rain gear packed and ready, we set off on our excursion: Robert on his Vulcan 1500 and me on my 1100 Honda Shadow.
Our trip begins in Quincy, the birthplace of America's second and sixth presidents: John Adams and John Quincy Adams, respectively. A smattering of historical sites relating to these political principals pepper this shipyard city; while out along Route 3, a two-laner flanked by strip malls and gas stations, the commercial influence of Quincy's two most famous businessmen - restaurant magnate Howard Johnson and Dunkin' Donuts founder William Rosenberg - is most evident.
This leg of our trip is uninspiring until we reach Cohasset Harbor, where the eyesores taper off appreciably. A waterfront horseshoe-shaped detour along Route 139 takes us past the first biker bar of our trip and through the small seaside communities of Ocean Bluff and Brant Rock. Small, shingled, one-family shacks sit a block away from the ocean, sharing a strip of downtown with seafood restaurants and a roadside burger stand, and year-round lobstermen gather at the local pub to drink a liquid lunch and talk trash about their peers. While grabbing a bite to eat here, the owner of a bagger parked outside suggests a stop on our return route along Route 105. Duly noted, we finish our meal and press on.
Cozy, with a quaint downtown, historic points of interest - the Mayflower II (a replica of the ship that brought dissenting Separatists to America from England in 1620), Plymouth Rock and Plimoth Plantation (where actors recreate the seventeenth-century lifestyles of New Englanders) - and a plethora of bikes cruising along the harbor-front streets, Plymouth might make a better starting point for this trip. It's a rare day when there isn't a line of bikes parked along the main drag, and bench racing is always in season.
It's been about four hours since we left Quincy and we need to make good time to reach our night's lodgings in Dennis Port (near the elbow of the Cape) at a reasonable hour, so we decide to delay a planned loop through South Carver, Plympton and Kingston for the return trip.
Valiant time-saving efforts aside, you can never predict when you might get caught behind a car hell-bent on going at least 10mph below the speed limit, which is exactly what happens to us en route to the Sagamore Bridge. Not only are we losing valuable daylight, but the constant need to stare at a set of brake lights trying to transmit a secret message via Morse code is drawing our attention away from our surroundings and foiling any enjoyment of the twists and turns of these tree-lined, two-lane back roads.
Just before crossing the Cape Cod Canal, we pull over at a general store/ice cream stand/grill (a hybrid combo we saw plenty of over the next few days) to let our brake pads and tempers cool.
Night is falling and the north shore stretch of the Cape we drive along, 6A, is one string of tourist destinations after another. If you've got a hankering for fried seafood, ice cream or burgers in a restaurant built to resemble a grounded schooner, or putting through, around or over a sunken pirate's ship, go no further than Barnstable. Families clog the roads here, heading home from the beach or out for the evening.