Before I began writing this I checked the official rule book – a bike overnight need not be soaked in spectacular nature or capped with wild nights around a campfire, followed with mornings of carefully crafted artisinal camp coffee. When distilled to its essence, a bike overnight should be an the escape from the ordinary, filled with the adventure of flinging yourself into the world knowing that you are both vulnerable, but empowered. However that may come about, it is allowed. My recent Long Island Sound Bike Overnight was such a trip. With minimal preparations and a strong desire to get out on my bike and clear my head, I set off from my parents house on Wednesday July 2. 185 miles, 2 ferry rides and 1 drawbridge later I returned.
Let’s take a step backwards to how I got here. I had planned on touring this summer for at least a week, but a handful of decisions, by myself and others prevented such a long excursion. In June a window opened around the July 4th holiday, my wife visiting friends out of state and my family willing to host – I absentmindedly plotted out a rough route. I would venture across the sound via the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson Ferry, ride along NY State Bike Route 25/25A to Orient Point, ferry back to New London, CT, then ride along the Boston Post Road, Route 146 and the East Coast Greenway back to Stratford. All told the route was about 185 miles, and I had two days to ride it.
Day 1 started like a bike overnight should: a light snack, last minute packing, gear checks and reassurances to family members that I would keep in touch on a regular basis. A hurricane barreling up the East Coast threatened to wash my trip out to sea, but that morning I was met with beautiful cool weather and a slight tailwind from Stratford to Bridgeport and the Port Jefferson Ferry. After boarding the ferry, snapping a few photos and deciding against a greasy breakfast, I decided to use my time wisely – by charging my phone and deleting old contacts! Hey – a bike overnight is a vacation, and the seats were comfy.
The Park City
Crossing the sound was a real highlight of the trip!
A sister ship.
After 1h15m I left my ship behind in the village of Port Jefferson. If you decide to replicate this route, do stop in this town for window shopping and maybe some food. It is moderately “New England summer beach tourist chintzy”, but that is ok. Use this time wisely, and get your climbing legs ready – hauling yourself up the sandy bluffs is not fun. The relatively short, but very steep climb left me both regretting and applauding my decision to pass up on a real (greasy) breakfast when I had the chance.
As I crested the climb, I found myself straining to find the street signs that would get me to my destination, Bike Route 25A – but I could not find any. If you are a GPS user you’ll find your way around – but relying on a cue sheet as I did meant I took the unintentional scenic route. No worries – the shaded and low traffic roads were pleasant – though the views of LI Sound were obscured by large houses on large lots.
Eventually I made my way to my route, and ugh, what a beast it was! I came to find that bike route 25A/25 follows some awful stroads, occasionally punctuated by quaint little town centers that are full of charm. I could have plotted a less direct route and avoided these roads, but I had to cover a lot of ground in two days. I don’t mean to be discouraging though – let me say right now that the overall “concept” of the route is great, but it really warrants 3 to 4 days and some meandering along quiet coastal routes. Use my route as a guide, but try to map our your own adventure if you plan on following in my path!
Follow the signs….
I hope I haven’t made this trip sound horrible already. Please, continue reading. Long Island can be a curious place, strange government installations, small weird towns and challenging wayfinding – but it has plenty of charms too. Chatting with a friendly small town shopkeeper as you gulp down water, accidentally finding a deserted beach, or a restaurant that only sells bacon – I enjoyed each of these things, and I was barely trying! As you get farther out on the North Fork you find farm stands that sell local duck eggs, greens, pick your own blueberries, and corn. You ride past large farms that grow Christmas trees, sod, and McMansions. Constantly switching from high-speed (but wide enough shoulder) roads to quaint country surroundings keeps your on your toes – and you see so many interesting and curious things (hence my recommendation to extend the trip into 3-4 days). I opted not to sample wine at one of the many dozens of wineries, but I did stop to see the “grow your own” hops stand. Beer and biking – always a great combination.
Found this beach by accident. Hung out for a while.
You have my attention…
Hmm, will one of these survive 100 more miles on a bike? Maybe not :(
As the shadows grew longer, I eventually made my way to Orient Point at the tip of the North Fork. I was soaked in sweat, I stunk to high heaven, and could down a water bottle in 10 seconds or less. The cool rippling waves of the tidal ponds seemed so enticing, I stopped and hung out at a few small inlets as I chomped on a little bit of food – but I regret that I did not get in for a proper swim. Making my way to the ferry, I purchased tickets on shore and made my way onto the vessel just as she was pulling away from the pier. Settling into another comfortable seat, I booked my hotel for the night across the sound in New London before my G’s ran out.
New London Harbor
With a great maritime history, New London would seem like a great place to stop for the night – but I now recommend Groton, Mystic or Old Saybrook instead. Whereas New London has a rich history, the present is not as charming – and these other towns have embraced the maritime tourism concept much better. Time your tour properly and any of these towns are within reach. If you do find yourself in New London, do not venture to the north of the city to a cheap hotel. My Red Roof Inn was priced great, but it felt quite unpleasant – and the only food within walking distance was an Outback Steakhouse. My meal sat with me overnight and well into Day 2.
The second day of the tour was exciting for me. Firstly, Hurricane Arthur was nowhere in sight, but his swirling winds promised winds from all directions (better than all headwinds!), and the roads were dry despite overnight rains. Secondly, I felt great physically – with 102 miles down on the first day, the 83 miles ahead of me were daunting, but seemed well within reach.
Unfortunately again, my route choices placed me on some unpleasant roads, though this was only for maybe 12 of the 83 miles in total. Once out of New London, I was into some real wonderful coastal New England towns. Beautiful river crossings, sound views, beaches, and historic sites were all within reach. People seemed to be in a great mood as they decorated and prepared for the July 4th celebrations on the next day. I stopped into one small beach community and felt like I would have been happy just to stay there for the next 24 hours. Everything was buzzing, but with that quintessential New England feel. It felt like home. I opted to cross the Connecticut River via a sidepath to I-95 which provided some really great views – but I wholeheartedly recommend riding upriver a bit more and checking out Gillette Castle, and crossing on the seasonal Chester-Hadlyme Ferry.
Another beach, yes… but this one was alive with energy!
The Niantic River
Eventually I would end up on Route 146, passing through the towns of Guilford and Branford. This route is certainly well known by local cyclists, with large white wayfinding arrows painted along the side of the road. No cues necessary! These small towns offer a lot by way of shopping and sightseeing, and just generally seem pleasant. I took a short detour into what I assume is a neighborhood names Stony Creek (halfway between Branford and Guilford) and found the most perfect lunch spot there could be. A real local gem, the Stony Creek Market had wonderful food, friendly service, and it seemed like everyone knew everyone. I elected to sit inside instead of at the patio picnic tables to enjoy some air conditioning and overheard the owner on a call “ohhh, ok you are so-and so’s mother, yes, roast beef sandwich on your tab, he can come by and pick it up on 10 minutes”. What is this – Leave it to Beaver!?!?
I elected to pick up the Branford Trolley Trail before I rejoined Route 146. The trail is a small segment on an eventual greenway along the central coast of Connecticut,an though it is short and mostly requires walking your bike – you get great views of the salt marshes and harbor.
On the Branford Trolley Trail
The heat of the day really picked up as I entered New Haven (to the welcome sights of sharrows and bike lanes!), and I got to explore some great parts of the Elm City. Again, if you visit – find time to browse some of the magnificent Yale Art Museum, and have a real New Haven Style apizza! Pick wisely – are you a Pepe’s, Sally’s or Modern type of person? (I choose Pepe’s white clam pie).
Once in New Haven I was also able to pick up the East Coast Greenway – again, it’s nice not to have to focus so much on a cue sheet – just keep an eye peeled for the little placards on street signs and you’re all set. If you have time, visit the beach at Savin Rock in West Haven, it looks great. Myself – I had a beach awaiting me the following day – and all I could focus on was water, and home. By this time I had been in 90+ degree heat since 10am and I felt like I was calculating “only 20 more miles” for about 2 hours.
Eventually, I crossed into familiar roads in Milford, crossed the Housatonic River after waiting for a drawbridge to close (3 times! It was having trouble seating itself) and eventually home to air conditioning, a cold shower, and a beer.
I regret not making this more of a sight-seeing tour – but for my first overnight solo bike trip – it was a great adventure. I pushed my physical limits, got to see some really great towns, felt reacquainted with my New England heritage, and at the end of it – I had family waiting for me to celebrate. Who could ask for anything more?
Again, I highly recommend this route “concept” to anyone – though tweaking it to make it your own adventure is recommended. Being such a big loop, you can start anywhere and still experience the same sights.
All that is left now is…. to plan my next adventure!
(Hint… It is spelled O-R-E-G-O-N, and my flights are booked)