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Completing a Cycle
Leigh Montville
February 22, 1993
A father-and-daughter bike tour evoked thoughts of the past—and of the future
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February 22, 1993

Completing A Cycle

A father-and-daughter bike tour evoked thoughts of the past—and of the future

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Our grand in-town adventure is a narrow brush with an oncoming Ben and Jerry's truck that is delivering ice cream to the populace. We do not see the truck. The driver does not see us. There is a three-way squeal of brakes at the last possible moment. My daughter says it would have been a perfect yuppie death, the two of us hit by a Ben and Jerry's designer icecream truck in the midst of a yuppie town, and we would have been taken directly to yuppie heaven. I wonder how such cynicism is borne by someone so young. She says she learned it from me.

The prettiest trip is a six-mile ride along the coast to Oak Bluffs. A paved bike path takes us past the long state beach to a town of totally different character from Edgartown's. In the path is a menagerie of riders ranging from professional-looking racers who fly past with a careful warning—"Left!"—to slow-moving families with little children riding in carts attached to the backs of the bicycles. At any point there is a place to stop, spread a blanket and enjoy the sun. On our trip we see hundreds of riders, more bicycles than we see cars on the adjacent road.

Oak Bluffs is Victorian and funky. It was built mainly in the 19th century by Methodists. The houses feature ornate gingerbread trim on their porches and eaves, and many are painted in pastels. The area has long been a vacation spot for affluent African-Americans, who call the local stretch of beach the Inkwell. One of the oldest merry-go-rounds in America is in town. It is a historic preservation that actually works. I tell my daughter that I remember riding on the horses with her brother when he was a baby. She says I have told her this already. I almost fell off reaching for the brass ring. That is the punch line. Hilarious.

Other trips take us to the beach at Katama, to the Wampanoag reservation at Gay Head and to the center of the island, where only the sea air tells you that water is not far away. We also take a small ferry across a channel to Chappaquiddick Island, the site of Senator Ted Kennedy's automobile accident in 1969. This is probably the most historic spot in the area, where a presidential future died along with young Mary Jo Kopechne. I remember my last visit, not long after the accident. A wonderful beach was on the other side of the Dike Bridge, where the tragedy occurred. We would go to the beach every day, and every day tourists would gather, re-creating the accident. How did Kennedy's car go off the bridge? How did Kopechne drown in such shallow water? When my daughter and I arrive, I am surprised to see that there are three groups of tourists still asking the same questions. Will this never stop? I also am surprised to see that the bridge has been closed. A large fence bars passage.

"You should see the beach on the other side," I tell my daughter. "It's the best on the island. At least as I remember it."

"But what are you going to do?" she says. "It's closed now. Gone. To go to the beach, we're going to have to go back to Edgartown, then on the road to Oak Bluffs."

"Right."

We have brought our towels in anticipation of the beach, and we keep them around our necks as we pedal back. This ride on top of all the other rides seems to be a bit too much for me. I feel a pain in my backside, pain in my thighs, pain in my calves. Almost without noticing, I am not the leader anymore. I am laboring, and my daughter has moved to the front.

I watch her as I clunk along. She is confident. She is strong, balanced evenly on the bike, hair flying behind her. Danger? She can handle danger. A construction truck rides past. It contains two young guys, and one of them whistles. My daughter rides straight ahead as I glare into the cab. Next summer at this time she will be busy, preparing to leave for some college, and in the summers after that, who knows what she will be doing? She will be in control. My daughter, Robin. The young woman.

How did this happen? I still am not sure. I simply keep pedaling.

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