Do not withhold good from those who deserve it,
when it is in your power to act.
Today, despite crushing humidity and a 60% chance of thunderstorms, Ian and I left at 7:10 am to ride the Upper Charles Trail in Milford, MA on the way to the longer Blackstone River Bikeway in Woonsocket, RI.
Our first stop was the Upper Charles Trail, which I have ridden on numerous times on my long training rides. We passed right by it on our way to the Blackstone River Bikeway, so we stopped to get another bike path under our belts. This one was only 5.75 miles round trip, but despite its short length, we agreed that it was a nice path: Well-paved, abundantly marked with mile, half-mile, and quarter-mile markers, with a couple parking lots for accessibility, and passing through mostly pleasant lightly-wooded areas or along ponds/reservoirs. At 7:45 on a Saturday morning, we only encountered a few other people, mostly dog-walkers, although we saw the same guy rollerblading several times. I recognized him because he carried a travel coffee mug with him. The path took us about 30 minutes to ride end-to-end, but by the end we both were drenched in sweat. It was already 75°F and over 90% humidity by that point, and it was then that I realized I had left our water bottles in the freezer at home. We agreed to look for a grocery store where we could buy water rather than aborting the trip at that point.
It took another 30 or so minutes to drive to Cass Park in Woonsocket, RI. We parked there because Ian’s Internet research had indicated there was no parking at the actual end of the trail. We attempted to ride along a “road” marked on Google Maps as a shortcut to the bike path trailhead, but unfortunately the “road” turned out to be deep, large pieces of gravel and rock. We walked our bikes a third of a mile to the normal road, and from there found our way to the beginning of the path. By way of recompense, that detour led us past the Ho Kong, a restaurant I have to credit with having the ugliest exterior decoration of any restaurant I have ever seen.
When we found the beginning of the bike path, we also were disgusted and dismayed to find a beautiful, new, mostly-empty parking lot where we could easily have left the car. Ian was particularly frustrated and distressed, I think because the Internet led him astray. Here is where we did not park:
We started off on the path with Ian feeling pretty low and me worrying about our lack of water. It was hot and humid, and even just sitting still involved copious sweating. Riding our bikes meant extra sweat, and I wasn’t sure the path would pass through any town centers or business areas where we could purchase water. Our adventures thus far had failed to take us by anything grocery store-like at all, which we found puzzling as well as frustrating. We continued that way, not really enjoying the path, as we went by the soccer fields (a bunch of middle-aged guys were getting ready to start a game) and rode along the Blackstone River. It smelled noxious and was uniformly green-brown, almost stagnant, and truly unappealing. This proved unfortunate, because the bike trail followed the river closely the entire time, and several times had extensions of the river on both sides.
The path, however, was gorgeous: Freshly-paved, wide, with mile and half-mile markers engraved in granite posts along the way, and very few people or road crossings. Our only complaint was the lack of shade towards the beginning of the trail. Even with intermittent cloud cover, we started to feel pretty roasted and parched. The very rare road crossings proved disappointing from a water-obtaining standpoint. Here are a couple pictures of the path itself at the shadier middle section.
Another odd quirk of the trail was that the mile markers at the end we started at indicated 17 miles to the far end. But when we got to the far end, the mile marker said 7 miles. There was clearly no more trail beyond either point, so we figure they must intend to build another 7 miles on the far end from where we started, and had simply put mile markers in anticipating that. Looking at maps of the path can be really confusing, since it is not always clear what part of the trail actually exists and what has yet to be built. They mean to complete a bike trail all the way from Worcester, MA to Providence, RI along the Blackstone River Valley, but so far only these 10 miles have actually been built.
We had ridden about six miles when I started wondering if we would have to turn around: No bike path is worth suffering from serious dehydration. At that point, however, an angel in the form of a diminutive woman in her 60s appeared. We had stopped at a crossroads in the path and were examining a map that seemed to indicate a visitor’s center within a reasonable distance. She saw we looked lost and miserable (both very true) and offered help. We explained that we needed water, and she immediately directed us to a Dunkin’ Donuts that was within a mile of our current location. We headed off up the little hill, bearing right as she told us to, and just when we started to wonder if we had gone astray — this part of the path had numerous branchings and few signs — we saw a glorious sight: The Visitors’ Center and the Dunkin’ Donuts, one and the same building, and the promise of water!
The inside was empty, but when we got in with our bikes, a guy immediately appeared and told us to take the bikes outside (the guy later explained what part of the path existed and I thought he was pretty nice after all. He clearly just wanted to kee
p the place pristine — he wiped down several displays a couple times each in the time we spent there). No problem. We had already spotted the case of refrigerated bottled water and were already giddy at the thought. We parked our bikes within easy sight of the windows and bought the water through the Dunkin’ Donuts guy. He also gave us two of their biggest-size glasses full of ice and water, which we drank to the dregs, and after that we felt much refreshed. Or maybe that was just the air conditioning in the gorgeous and mostly-empty Visitors’ Center (which also served as a rest stop on I-295 and as a headquarters for the Rhode Island State Police):
I felt refreshed enough after drinking that icy water to step outside and take some pictures of the building. It was then I noticed a hornets’ nest the size of a beach ball up in the eaves of the building:
It was really far away from us, though, so I felt safe taking a celebratory mid-ride picture outside the site of our watery salvation. I didn’t tell Ian about the huge hornets’ nest, which is presumably why he looks moderately cheerful in this picture. That, and the fact that we each now had 20 oz of cool bottled water, plus the huge cups full of ice stowed carefully away in my panniers for future ice water consumption. Notice that, by now, we had gotten hot enough that we didn’t want to get so near as to share any body heat or anything.
We started off again from that rest stop feeling much, much better. Both our moods dramatically improved and we enjoyed the rest of the trail immensely. It went over the river on a strangely convoluted, zigzag bridge and then across a swamp on a long, wooden section that made me glad it wasn’t raining. Partway through we went by a Super Stop ‘n’ Shop, where we could have bought water if we were desperate. Also along the way we went over some tree roots and my chain idler somehow got misaligned and started rubbing along the chain when I got into lower gears. We had to stop for some on-the-spot adjustment that I was, happily, able to do by hand. I may have to have it checked out at my bike shop to make sure it gets more securely adjusted for future rides. On top of that, one of my pedals died and is now thunking with every rotation, which proved really quite irritating over the course of 28 miles. Despite these minor inconveniences, we made it to the far end of the bike path just fine.
The guy in the background said something funny to us a half-mile or so back. We were all three stopped at a traffic light, and across the street a girl on the bright yellow Griffen bicycle pictured below went through the light, crossed the street towards us, and wove around us to get onto the bike path before the signal changed in our favor.
The guy in the red jersey turned to us and said, “That’s a $2,500 bike right there.” I just looked at him and didn’t say what came to mind, which was, “Gee, why would anybody pay that much for a bike?” No need to mention my other bike cost almost twice that.
On the way back, we went by a clearing in the trees and I saw a few birds sitting on a branch in the river. Immediately I stopped us — Ian was happy to stop at any point by then, especially in the shade — and I took the following series of pictures.
I guess once the one bird hopped in, all the others decided it was a good idea and dove in as well. Even though the thought of swimming sounded nice in general, the river was disgusting enough that we never entertained the thought of dipping so much as a toe in there. We did see lots of people kayaking on the river, though, which looked hot and shadeless to me. The rest of the trail went fairly easily — we had a good stiff tailwind on the way back, which I appreciated — and we only stopped one more time, to buy water from the concession stand at the soccer fields. This involved a fair amount of riding over bumpy grass, since oddly there was no direct path from the concession stand to the bike path, despite the fact that lots of people from the path would presumably want to frequent the concession stand and its clean, nice bathrooms. “Concession stand” doesn’t really get at what it really was: It was a small ice cream and hot dog-type eatery, but occupying a beautiful, large, brand-new brick building just a sip away from the bike path and situated adjacent to the soccer field parking lot (which was gravel held in place with some kind of weird inset mesh). Anyway, they had gorgeous clean bathrooms and icy cold 12-oz Poland Springs bottled water that Ian and I each drank to the dregs within one minute.
The rest of the ride involved finding our way on the roads (avoiding the stupid way we came) back to the sketchy park where we had left the car. We had one eventful experience when we got in the left-hand turn lane and then realized both the right and left lanes turned left. This put us were too far left for bikes. We were stuck until the light turned, at which point we moved right as soon as it was safe. That was nerve-wracking but OK, until a guy in a car drove by and shouted, “In Woonsocket bikes have to ride on the sidewalk!” or something to that effect. I later looked up bicycling laws in Rhode Island and in Title 31, Chapter 31-19, Section 31-19-3, “Applicability of traffic laws,” found the following:
Every person riding an electric personal assistive mobility device (“EPAMD”), ri
ding an electric motorized bicycle, or propelling a vehicle by human power shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle by chapters 12 – 27 of this title, except as to special regulations in this chapter and except as to those provisions of chapters 12 – 27 of this title which by their nature can have no application. This section shall not forbid a bicyclist, EPAMD or electric motorized bicycle from traveling upon the shoulders of the highway except for those highways which prohibit bicyclists…
I take this to mean the guy was full of crap and we had every right to ride on the road. Right or wrong, we finished riding on the road and triumphantly pulled up to the park to find our car safe, secure, and not broken in-to. Here we are at the end of the ride, sweaty and hot (again, not touching because of the overwhelming grossness of the situation), but once more the triumphant conquerors of another bike path.