Back from biking in Martha’s Vineyard with students!

On Friday I got back from two nights and not quite three days in Martha’s Vineyard. We left school around 8:30am on Wednesday; parents dropped us off at the ferry in Wood’s Hole. We got there a bit early, so students were allowed to go off to buy food and look around. We then boarded the ferry for a 45-minute ride to Oak Bluffs. A number of students had never been on a ferry before, so it was awesome to get to see the sheer joy they found in riding across the ocean. It was sunny and we all spent the entire time outside.

When we got to the Vineyard we walked just a few blocks to the bike rental shop since most students were renting bikes. The bike rental place kindly took all of our bags and drove them to the hostel where we stayed. After everyone had a bike, a number of us got pizza slices. I took the lead and my co-leader (one of the school principals) brought up the rear as we rode to Edgartown.

A line of bikes, shortly before leaving for Edgartown. *Note: I have so many beautiful photos from the trip, but am only posting ones where students aren't identifiable.

We stopped for a bit at the famous bridge from Jaws because within 15 minutes one of our students had a flat tire and one had fallen off her bike, ripped her jeans, and was bleeding. Luckily the girl with the flat tire was riding a rental bike–they sent a repair truck!

Several students on the beach by the bridge from Jaws, taking a break while we waited for the repair truck.

When we got to Edgartown students went exploring in groups, and my co-leader who has been to the Vineyard a lot showed me around.

We then continued on to the youth hostel where we were staying, which was in West Tisbury. We were able to go virtually the entire way on wide, paved bike paths lined with trees. My co-leader took the lead and I brought up the rear. It was slow going in the back, and there where a couple of times when I had to get off my bike because I couldn’t ride that slowly… But we made it! We rode about 13 miles in total, but that was spread over four or five hours with lots of breaks.

I still really wanted to do more riding. I hadn’t previously put much thought into what makes a bike ride rigorous. After wondering why 13 miles felt like nothing, I realized that it depends only somewhat on its length; speed and steepness are huge factors! I found two students who were also eager to ride again. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip–talking and riding with two teenagers who are thoughtful and considerate, filled with ideas, energy, and compassion.

The two students on our evening ride. We rode off of the paved bike trail for awhile, to this mowed trail through grass and purple & white wildflowers.

We then came back and the hostel threw us a huge barbecue. Another Endersession group, who were camping on the Vineyard and volunteering for several conservation groups, joined us for dinner.

So much delicious food! (Veggie burgers too!)

After dinner, a lot of people sat around and played cards, played volleyball, or enjoyed the hammock. I took a group of three students (including one who went on the ride before dinner) on another ride at sunset.

In total, I rode 21 miles on day 1. When we got back, we had a bonfire and made s’mores. It was really nice connecting with students in the dark, with the heat of the fire on my calves and melted chocolate in my mouth. Campfires always make you feel more open, and closer. I got to hear a lot of neat stories. It was amazing seeing typically shy students tell stories of sleep walking and sibling rivalry, and then see them beam as everyone laughed.

The next day over breakfast (the hostel provided us with oatmeal, make your own pancakes, freshly made bread & homemade jam), my co-leader suggested he take the bulk of students that day on a shorter ride to Edgartown and then to South Beach. He showed me a route he thought I should take four or five or our more advanced riders on, to Aquinnah. We left around 9:30; it was overcast, but thankfully the rain held off. It was incredibly hilly, and the absence of a shoulder on the road in parts made me nervous, but it felt so good to have a challenge. Biking in a much smaller group not only made it easier to stay together and keep up a good pace, but it enabled us to have conversations we couldn’t have had in a large group. I’m so grateful that my co-leader gave me the opportunity to do this.

The cliffs and lighthouse in Aquinnah.

We walked around the very, very small shop area by the lighthouse, which consisted of two or three food stands and a gift shop or two. We then headed to the beach.

While on the beach we ran into a few men who were also staying at our hostel. They told us to walk down the beach a bit further, that not too far off there was a huge shark washed up on the beach!

Here I am with the shark.

I was expecting the shark’s skin to be smooth, like a dolphin’s, but it was incredibly sharp–far rougher than sandpaper. Much of the shark was buried beneath the sand because of the tide, and parts of it (like the head) were clearly missing. I found out today, after reading this Martha’s Vineyard Times article that it was a basking shark and when it originally washed up it was 30 feet long! The photo on the newspaper’s website is incredible!  This was, far and away, one of the coolest parts of the trip. My small group of students were so excited to tell the rest of our Endersession group about it, and are still talking about it days later.

We then got on our bikes for the return trip. We were all pretty exhausted because it was so hilly and we were hungry. At one point, one of the students wanted to quit and catch a bus back. Another student in the group (a very talented cyclist who spends hours riding his bicycle most days, and said to me with a smile, “This is why my homework doesn’t always get done…”) rode behind her, saying encouraging things, and telling her which gear to ride in.

We found a place to eat alongside the road, Chilmark Store, which was both a convenience store and a sandwich/pizza shop. We all ate a slice of pizza while sitting on rocking chairs on the patio. We felt much better after eating and realized we shouldn’t have waited until 2pm for food. We then road back to the hostel–a total of 27 miles. It was much more difficult than previous rides I’ve done though, because there were so many steep hills and so little flat terrain. We arrived 20 minutes before the other group, which meant we got showers right away! (I was sharing a bathroom with two showers, two toilets, and two sinks with 16 teenage girls, plus a few other hostel guests.)

For dinner that night we made a huge spaghetti dinner. I ran the cooking of the meal and my co-leader led the clean up. After dinner, I got to talking with the three men who we’d run into at the beach. A ways into the conversation, it came up that I wasn’t a student they were pretty taken aback, though they said, “You were so eloquent and it seemed like you were in charge, but you just look so… YOUNG!” They then told me that their high school teachers were “in their eighties or nineties.” I’m used to people thinking I’m 15, so their amusement was pretty funny. The students always get a kick out of it.

I spent quite awhile talking with Larry, Ron, and Tony. They have all been friends since 1967. I’d estimate that they were in their mid-60s, but I’m not so good with ages. We sat around the kitchen area and they recounted lots of their old stories–you could tell that they’d told them dozens of times before, but still got a kick out of recalling their adventures. They’d each jump in, sometimes cutting each other off, to add details. The told me about their 145-mile bike ride through New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania in one day. They told me about the 212-mile double century where they started in the dark and ended in the dark. They each live in a different state now (NY, NJ, and PA), but they get together at least once a month and talk on the phone several times a week. I could have listened to their stories and laughter all night long.

The next morning I ran into Larry who said, “I hope we run into you again some day.”

We began the trek back to school around 9am and got back at around 2:30. I was so grateful the rain held off until our last day.

I would have liked to stay even longer and students kept saying the same thing. My co-leader and I are thining about planning some weekend school trips next year–another bike trip to Martha’s Vineyard in the fall, a ski trip in the winter, and possibly some hiking in the spring.

2 Responses to “Back from biking in Martha’s Vineyard with students!”

  1. Mom Says:

    I wish I could have gone with you! The article on the basking shark was fascinating. We must do a bike ride together if the rain ever stops.

  2. Dan Says:

    Good post! My mom recently unearthed her diary from the biking trip through Europe that she took 25 years ago or so. One day, she biked 59 miles. I can’t even fathom that. If I had gone on your trip, I’d definitely be in the beginners’ group. Possibly with a tricycle.