We missed the last bus to the last ferry on the last night before the Fourth of July. Well, we didn’t actually miss it. We arrived at the stop on our bikes, over packed luggage on our backs, fifteen minutes early then had to wait for it. We never once considered the possibility that the bike rack would be full. The woman driver denied our pleas to bring the bikes on board. Some liability issue she said. She drove away leaving us standing there in the middle of nowhere, no way back, now way forward, no way out. The late afternoon sun was scorching hot. My timing, my strategy, my navigation of this exit was perfect. After all, I hadn’t proudly retired from a career as Commanding Officer in the U.S. Coast Guard for nothing. Leave it to a woman to mess things up.
I quietly kicked at the sand while she stared at me. Cautiously, she said, “Charlie, I’ve never seen you look so forlorn. Everyplace is booked for the 4th, we can’t even get a room.” No kidding I thought. My reply, “We have to go back to the AirBnB to sleep in a tent in her yard!” The suggestion of sleeping outdoors, on the ground, just the whiff of the idea set her mind alight with another one of her genius ideas like staying all the way out here in West Tisbury on our bikes! Her next idea, “We’ll ride to the ferry! It’s our only option.” We looked at each other, at our map then at our luggage. I helped heave her Mt. Everest backpack onto her petite back. She tried to balance the skinny wheeled road bike. Very wobbly, but she just might survive pedaling the narrow, shoulderless road, thin white stripe delineating it from the sand trap lining its edge. We were nine miles, two villages and ten gallons of sweat from our destination.
I fastened my backpack, looped my suitcase strap around my neck, then balanced it across the handlebars. We donned our helmets. All systems heave-ho. My companion said she may well die trying to catch a late ferry. I laughed, but secretly thought she might be right. We pedaled away into the setting sun and speeding traffic.
Big mistake to tell her to ride ahead. Why the hell was she pedaling so slow, wiggling around like a circus clown? Not looking ahead, only at her pedals? We arrived at a tremendous hill. Mt. Everest was sliding downward off her barely existent derriere as she wobbled to a stop, coughing, gasping, grabbing at her throat. What the hell? Oh No! Everest’s chest strap had slid up to her neck, choking her! I helped her with Everest. Rubbing at her throat, she took her helmet off. Said it kept bumping into the overstuffed top flap of Everest, restricting her from looking forward. I was being led by the blind, worse yet, I was following! She asked if we could walk the bikes up the hill. I said some kind words, denied that I was hungrier than a lion, agreed that it was hotter than the third level of hell then got a fix on my map. Halfway there. It was all downhill from here, except for the traffic. They don’t slow down for a couple of aging bicycle boomers on the Vineyard. Not even when the boomers look like they’re escaping from a hungry lion pride or a 1950’s insane asylum. No. The drivers lower the window and scream out, “Use the bike path!” Scare the living shit out of them so they nearly loose control of the bike, careening straight into the car or skip the thin white line into Sand Pit Purgatory.
It was a heavenly site when we pedaled around that last curve of East Chop into the village of Oak Bluffs. The sun’s last angle a perfect pitch for her sinewy silhouette, however Everest laden it was. We half skidded, half stumbled to the ferry landing. My female companion collapsed on a bench saying she wouldn’t move from it for all the tea in China or even a hungry jungle lion. Me, being the nice guy that I am, agreed to forgo dinner, stay with her, watch the simmering sun set over the harbor. She congratulated us on surviving the perilous ordeal we’d just put ourselves through. I thought, “Yeah, all for the sake of not sleeping in a tent.” I said, “Oh, I’ve done lots of things like this, far more risky, hazardous and unnerving.” Incredulous, the woman looked at me, “Charlie, you’re seventy years old!” Through my split a gut laughter I managed to spit out the words, “Oh, yeah, I forgot!”
She hadn’t choked to death on that hill but I thought she might right there and then as she hit the ground laughing at our unabashed absurdity.
Martha’s Vineyard in early summer isn’t a place you’ll read about in National Geographic but it’s unrivaled beauty is a sight to behold. If you visit, be sure to go in the shoulder season like we did, barely. Be extra certain there’s an endurant woman by your side. A woman the likes of Nancy isn’t a bad a choice, even if she does refuse to sleep outdoors in a tent.