Monday, July 13, 2009

Block Island for 4th of July

New York's Long Island, Connecticut, and the Rhode Island mainland provide easy access to one of the greatest day tripping and long weekend getaways in the Northeast, Block Island, located just 12 miles off the coast of Rhode Island. The island is only a short ferry ride away but once you arrive it feels like a different world. The only season to get the full Block Island experience is in the summer, when the beaches are perfect for sunbathing, the roads perfect for biking, the trails perfect for hiking, and the lobster perfect for eating. To experience a perfect day or weekend all you need to do is get off the ferry, everything you need is on the island waiting for you. You can rent bikes and kayaks at one of many sporting goods shops. If you're not the athletic type, you can shop and dine in the little marina village and for exploring hop on a motorized scooter available for rent. You can hang out at the bar on the docks and listen to live music. And if you're staying overnight, don't forget to book a room at one of the island's many pristine B&B's.

I ventured to Block Island from Montauk, NY on the Eastern most tip of Long Island on the 10am Viking Ferry on this year's perfectly sunny 4th of July Saturday. The ferry reservations were booked online making the process at the docks seamless. Viking provided a parking pass and a space in their lot for the day as there is not much parking at the dock. You can bring your bikes onto the ferry for an additional charge, which if you plan on biking is the way to go, however there are numerous places to rent bikes from once on Block Island. The ferry has comfortable seating in the cabin (perfect for napping on the way back) and upper deck outdoor seating as well as benches along the sides of the cabin. The best seating on the boat (for view, not for comfort) is the two small benches at the bow of the boat (that's the front for those of you who are not familiar with nautical terms). Of course this is where I chose to sit as the view is perfect, and the light sea spray is quite refreshing (it's also a great place to get a picture!).

Once you disembark from the ferry via the gangway onto the dock in Block Island, you see boats everywhere. Block Island's marinas are obviously the hippest place to park your boat. Some of the boats are three boats deep and couldn't get out if the docks were set aflame. No one seems to care that they're stacked upon each other, everyone sits on the back of their boats drinking and listening to music just lazing the day away (not a bad way to live life if you ask me). The ferry ride is only an hour long, so once you've got your sea legs, you're back on land. As you leave the boat and dock area, make sure you know how much time you will need to get back to the dock as the last boat out for the day is THE LAST BOAT OUT. If you miss the boat, you will have to stay the night or charter a private boat back to where you came from.

Once out of the marina, you can rent a bike right away or catch a taxi which will take you to your B&B, the village, a small watercraft rental shop, or a motorized scooter rental shop (sometimes these double as bike rental shops also). We opted to rent bikes right away as we were not staying overnight and felt like being active. The bike rentals are for 4 hours or the whole day, which of course is irritating as the next boat doesn't leave for 5 hours! We were able to finagle the summer employee from Europe to give us the 4 hour rate for the 5 hours (shh!). The bikes come with a lock and most come with a basket or rack with bungee chords so you can strap your bag to the bike (make sure you take it with you when you park and lock the bike). Also make sure to inspect your bike before you ride away. The bikes are used frequently so they tend to get dirtier and broken faster (the front break one of our bikes was not attached properly, another had a wobbly basket only held in place by the seat).

Once the bikes were squared away we set off immediately to the North Light House. On the way we passed some kids selling lemonade and baked goods and stopped for a cup (we passed more throughout the day, it's a popular past time for kids on Block Island). On the way to the North Light House you pass the National Wildlife Refuge and Sachem pond which are both great scenic locations. As you approach the North Light House be aware of the LONG WAY DOWN HILL! You have to ride (or walk) your bike back up it! However, it's super fun to ride down and the minimal traffic makes it fun and relatively safe for cyclists to cruise down at full speed. Just try not to get any bugs in your teeth... The North Lighthouse can be accessed only by a rocky beach so we locked the bikes on one of the ever present bike racks and walked down to the light house, which was not yet open for the season (opened the next day) but proved to be a very picturesque sight. Also, do not be deceived by the apparently calm water, there are strong riptides and swimming is strongly discouraged. After picking up some litter on the beach (there are garbage cans right there people!), and getting the sand out of our shoes, we hopped back on the bikes and trekked up the HUGELY HUGE HILL on the way to the Southeast Lighthouse. On the way we stopped for lunch at a beach front joint to refuel, we needed it after that hill!

The Southeast lighthouse is situated on the bluffs at the Southeast (obviously) end of the island and provides a great view. 300 yards from the entrance to the lighthouse is the entrance to steps (152, we counted) with access to the beach at the base of the Mohegan Bluffs (one of my favorite stops of the day and unfortunately not long enough... had to get back in time for the LAST BOAT OUT). The beach can only be accessed by climbing down a steep rocky trail so wear appropriate footwear. Bring a towel for an extended stay and lay out under the bluffs.

After leaving the Southeast Lighthouse we had to move pretty quickly to get back to the marina in time for the LAST BOAT OUT! The loop from the Mohegan Bluffs back to the marina is very hilly but absolutely breathtaking. Dotted throughout the landscape are small sweet water ponds with water lilies in bloom. They're all completely natural formed which makes them that much more awesome. The last stretch back to the marina passes an old cemetery situated on a hill, which I hear is great for gravestone rubbings. Make sure you've picked up a map as the roads on this end can be tricky, but generally just follow the people in front of you and you'll arrive safely back at the marina.

Once we got back to the marina and returned our bikes we decided to stop at the bar on the dock. It was super crowded with people drinking and dancing to the live band. We opted to wait on line for our ferry, but were still within ear shot of the music. Once back on the ferry (we made it!) we went in the cabin found a row of 5 seats, and took a nap. We were exhausted. On a 7x3 mile island we biked about 14 miles (wow!). Once back in Montauk we had plans to see the 4th of July Fireworks at the beach and have dinner at Cyrils. Now if only we had found an outdoor shower...

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