Monday, August 31, 2015

Bay to beach and back, connecting Edward Hopper and Henry Beston: Cape Cod Nat'l Seashore

For 7 out of the last 8 years we've taken a week's vacation at the same part of Outer Cape Cod (Truro), and it seems we keep searching for the perfect rental house with the right combination of price, availability and location, location, location. Maybe this year's house, steps from a quiet bay beach, Fisher Beach, is the one.

Last year's house, tucked behind a dune overlooking the Atlantic, lay on the edge of a vast stretch of ocean beach that evokes Henry Beston's description of the Outer Cape:
At the foot of this cliff a great ocean beach runs north and south unbroken, mile lengthening into mile. Solitary and elemental, unsullied and remote, visited and possessed by the outer sea, these sands might be the end or the beginning of a world.

Overlooking the Atlantic, Truro MA.

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The landscape surrounding this year's house, just a few miles away, is entirely different. Rolling hills overlook a comparatively calm Cape Cod Bay. Sometimes wooded, sometimes open, this is the landscape of Edward Hopper, the iconic American landscape artist who summered at Fisher Beach for 40 years.

View of Cape Cod Bay from Fisher Beach in Truro.

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While reading Beston's The Outermost House, I got inspired to put together a mountain bike ride that would connect the two landscapes, staying entirely off pavement. A bay-to-beach-and-back ride.

I started my ride just south of Fisher Beach on Ryder Beach Road, heading off pavement on the old railroad bed of the Cape Cod Railroad that once ran to Provincetown. Further south on the Cape a 20+ mile stretch of the former railroad has been converted to a paved rail-trail, but here it's just a dirt track through the woods with occasional views of the salt marshes bordering Cape Cod Bay.

The old railroad bed is now just a dirt track through the woods

Bound Brook marsh viewed from the railroad bed

Unmarked foot trails lead from the rail bed onto Bound Brook Island, one of several bay "islands" between Truro and Wellfleet that are now connected to Cape Cod as a result of sand deposition and marsh deposits. Singletrack paths alternate between pine and oak woods and open hilltops, eventually reaching the water.

Rolling single track through Hopper Country

One of several bay views

Time to ditch the bike

Bound Brook Island beach

Part of the reward in reaching the beach is finding your way. The only road access is via a rutted dirt road that sees little traffic. The footpaths have no markers or signs. The best source for turn-by-turn directions, if you want them, is probably on Solitude is virtually guaranteed here.

Leaving Bound Brook Island you can either re-trace your tracks, follow a different trail, or ride the dirt road out. Find your way to the Paradise Hollow or Lombard Hollow trails (both are more fire road than footpath). I chose Paradise Hollow. CCTrails has descriptions for both. Cross Route 6 (civilization, ugh) and follow more fire roads through the woods past Great Pond and across Collins Road. Between Collins Road and the Atlantic lies a network of fire roads and singletrack. Explore. I got to know these trails reasonably well last year.

Paradise Hollow

Singletrack heading to the Atlantic

Unless you're severely directionally challenged, you'll eventually find your way to one of several spectacular lookouts over the Atlantic. My favorite spot is a high point along the cliff edge, more than a hundred and fifty feet above the beach. It's probably my favorite spot on the entire Cape.

Deserted Atlantic beach, looking north

Looking south

Standing here, I'm both thankful and amazed that this landscape has been preserved. It's an awe-inspiring vista, one that words can't possibly capture. Except Beston's:
Hold your hands out over the earth as over a flame. To all who love her, who open to her the doors of their veins, she gives of her strength, sustaining them with her own measureless tremor of dark life. Touch the earth, love the earth, her plains, her valleys, her hills, and her seas; rest your spirit in her solitary places. For the gifts of life are the earth’s and they are given to all, and they are the songs of birds at daybreak, Orion and the Bear, and the dawn seen over the ocean from the beach.

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