Car Free, Skirt Free and Exhausted!

For the remainder of September, we are staying on Cape Cod - and this year's experience is both a joy and a challenge, since we are getting around exclusively on our bicycles.

We are staying on the edge of Provincetown, about 2 miles from the town center. Two scenic, but hilly miles. The town bordering Provincetown is Truro - which is not really a town at all, but a long stretch of dunes, salt water marshes and beach-front properties. The next closest thing to an actual town is Wellfleet - and that's 15 miles away. Fifteen very hilly miles.

Needless to say, I am pleased with the bicycle I ultimately chose to take to the Cape: "Graham Greene," my Rivendell Sam Hillborne. Though not optimal for cruising through the center of Provincetown itself, it is indispensable for pretty much any other kind of cycling we do here - from transportational cycling to any destination on the Outer Cape (as the tip of the Cape Cod peninsula is known), to the series of long rides we have planned in our free time. I remembered this area being hilly from the time we stayed here with our bikes last summer, but I convinced myself that I was exaggerating. But now it is clear that my memory had not been exaggerating at all: It is darn hilly here;  hilly with a capital "H"!

Although last summer we rode our bicycles on the Cape frequently, they were not our exclusive means of transportation: we simply weren't in good enough shape to handle it. However, this summer it is bikes only - and even now our physical abilities are being challenged.

Every morning begins with our cycling into Provincetown for breakfast, work, and various errands.

Our bicycle bags are packed with everything we might need for the day, including camera equipment (thanks to the Zimbale camera insert I recently received - and stuffed perversely into my Carradice saddlebag) and several changes of clothing to accommodate changing weather conditions and different activities.  After that, we go about our day, cycling from one place to another and covering at least 15-20 miles purely as back-and-forth transportation. 15-20 very hilly miles, in case I failed to mention that!

On several occasions, we have had the opportunity to take long rides: We have gone on two 30 mile rides and one 60 mile ride so far (more on that later!). The goal is to do a century (100 mile ride) during our stay here.

For me, the weirdest aspect of riding a roadbike exclusively, is my resulting skirt-free wardrobe. But for a few weeks, I can live with it. Ultimately, my stay here will serve as a test of how well I can manage in a rural, hilly, isolated environment... with only my bike to rely on. While for some, a remote oceanfront location is associated with "Vacation", for me it is associated with "Home" and I miss it terribly. I am finding it increasingly difficult to cope with living in the city, even an interesting one like Boston.  Something has to change - including my own endurance, if I am serious about living someplace like here and I want to continue cycling. I won't deny that I am utterly exhausted from the time I've spent here on my bike. But I am also excited by the mere fact that I have been able to do it so far. Wish me luck!

Amusingly, though there is no overhead light at our place, there is internet reception. Lovely Bicycle will continue as always, scribbled by candle light.


  1. I assure you that many skirts can be worn on a diamond frame bicycle, unless you don't want to wear a skirt for some other reason. But many types of skirts will fit over the top tube and allow you to dismount with modesty. You can keep the hills though - hate 'em!

  2. Step-Through - I know that many women can do this, but alas I cannot. Consider it a defect in coordination skills! Upon dismounting, I get my skirt stuck on the nose of the saddle or in various components - practically every time. I don't even care about modesty anymore, especially in Provincetown. But I don't want to fall. In addition to that, I cycle pretty fast when I need to cover long distances, and prefer to wear tighter clothes on a roadbike that doesn't flutter or get caught on stuff... And I am addicted to Power Grips now, even in town. Sigh. Well, at least my bicycle is lovely, even if I am not so lovely riding it!

  3. The pictures make it look like your having a fine time, so if you are trying to make it sound like a lot of work so we won't be jealous it's not working...

    Your wardrobe may not be what were used to seeing you in but you guys still look stylish and comfortable... I'm tired of lycra and ya'll are setting a good example.

    How are you keeping the sand off of Graham?


  4. I've done that whole run up the arm of the Cape more times than I care to mention... Totally fine on the odd pleasure ride; but not something I want to do regularly out of necessity!

  5. "But I don't want to fall." You really, really don't want to fall. That cost me a hip replacement. Hills: suck it up and gear down! Lastly but most importantly, enjoy.

  6. Oooh, ooh, ooh. I just knew that Graham would show you a good time! ;)

  7. What an amazing challenge. And it sounds like you are handling it marvelously! Glad Graham turned out to be the perfect choice.

  8. Consider the fact that you've become a much stronger and endurant cyclist in just a year. You will continue to build strength and endurance, if you continue to put in the miles and keep increasing them. It happens even without a conscious effort. You might one day chuckle at the hills you used to find hard. That's what happens to me as I get in shape.

  9. Agreed with the first comment about it being quite easy to learn to ride a diamond frame with a skirt. Also, I don't understand why riding a road bike in town would be problematic.

  10. How hilly is it out there? I have only vague childhood memories. It is mountainous where I live so contend with hills all the time. I do ride my diamond frame with skirts and always have-but where I live it is only for the summer months.
    I did a century in a dress last year and it was fine-probably better than anything else. I was in agony by the end BUT, the next day I was fine.
    I moved to the country from always living in cities and biking is more challenging and you may find yourself riding less. Riding is more out of necessity than going for a nice ride. If you work from home you can stay tucked in at home and go out for rides, but if you have to have a job somewhere it will involve lots of riding to and from work in all weather and come winter in the dark. So, I'm worn out by the end of a day and do not have the energy to go for a ride as I just want to get home. To run errands, buy groceries etc it requires riding. Luckily the nearest town is a 15 minute ride from my house and there is a village and more towns in the other direction. So it might be a good to find a place relatively close to a town with needed services so you can bike without exhausting yourself. It is also good to live somewhere with a hub system of roads leading to different places so you are not stuck with one town, one road. I live on a penninsula cut off from the mainland so have to take a ferry to civilization. So there is only one scary highway snaking along the coastline with very few alternative routes. I would definitely prefer to live somewhere knitted with backroads and several options for rides and destinations. Poor weather and limited options can actually cut down on your riding. I have not had a car for quite a few years so really have to rely on my bike although there is a bus service for when going into the city or when the weather is too gross.
    Sometimes I miss riding in the city. I have years of riding etched in my memories of my teens, twenties and now thirties. Just being able to go out to the cinema at night and out to a cafe later or out for a late dinner, riding through the streets and alleys of the city, through the parks and tree lined streets. The smells, the lights, the wind on my face. I think I rode more in the city than I do out here which is weird!

  11. Sam/AKA Graham was the only real choice. Hope you folks have a wonderful time. The pictures are so inspiring. Graham isn't the only Greene thing around here - your car free holiday is making me green with envy! Take it easy, and enjoy those hills.

  12. I went car free for a month or two at the start of this year (I didn't last). Its amazing just how tired you get when you have no choice but to cycle somewhere everyday, and its amazing just how often the washing machine seems to need to go on!
    - Looks idilic!

  13. As someone coping with a rural, hilly, isolated location (but not exclusively by bike) I say chapeau! One thing I have found is that if you ride biggish hilly rides every day, you do start to really feel it, even if you aren't going to the limit of your abilities. It adds up. I find after a week of cycling 10-20 miles every day, by Saturday I'm totally ready to NOT ride. The legs just want a rest... are you able to have a day a week when you don't ride? It may make the difference over the month

  14. S - I am not saying that riding a diamond frame bike in a skirt is problematic for everyone, but it is hardly a novel idea that step-throughs are more convenient for this purpose. As for riding a roadbike in a town with dense stop-and-go traffic: drop bars = too much lean, visibility, no easy on/off, foot retention, etc. For this kind of cycling, i prefer this kind of bike.

    Tom - Yes, I am certainly chuckling now at the hills in Lexington and Concord MA!...

    Red Bike - I can be without a car in Boston and Vienna, but here is a different story. Though I sentimenalise the time I used to live in the countryside earlier, admittedly I did not cycle back then and got around everywhere by car. Experiencing the landscape in this new way surely puts things into different perspective!

  15. I like your hat, cool. Do you mind me asking what it is?

  16. Good for you for taking one of the "good" bikes! I was hoping you would take the mixte, perhaps for my own reasons. I still want to believe in the holy grail of a bicycle that does most everything quite well and could truly be an all-around bike, for which I would be happy (ok, not happy, but resigned) to spend Real Money. I do not, however, want to acquire a shed full of bikes, each for a different activity....even if I seem to have acquired a few too many bikes that seem to do only one thing...and not necessarily to perfection.

  17. Ah ... so it looks like you settled on the Ostrich then?

    The girl and I took our bikes to the Cape last year and meandered between P-town, Truro and Wellfleet; nipping down the rail trail for a bit as well. I also visited the area a year earlier with some friends to do a 24 hour fleche from P-town to Westfield, MA. If I recall, the Provincetown to Hyannis portion of our ride was almost 50 miles, so you can probably script a decent century with that as an out-and-back. A good chunk of that route would be on the rail trail, which is a welcome relief from the rolling terrain of the Lower Cape.

    Good luck on your century quest!

  18. oh, and with regards to experiencing the countryside by bike -- when we visited the Cape last year, the 2007 Edward Hopper MFA exhibition was still fresh on our minds, so the houses and landscapes that we saw were filtered through our memories of watercolors and pastels. It was nice to be able to see that on a leisurely ride on a bike, rather than zipping past all of it on Highway 6.

  19. Chris - Yup, that is what we did for the 60 mile ride: Provincetown to Wellfleet via coastal route that branches off of 6A; then Rt 6 for a tad, and then the Rail Trail until Orleans, with an extra loop added at Marconi. When we do the whole thing, we are not quite sure where to go after arriving in Dennis, but will try to find a nice route to the coast.

    Dave - It is from Target. It would be gender-neutral, if it were not for an enormous flower on the right side that you can see the edge of in the pictures. I have other hats that are similar with no flower, but they are from obscure small shops.

  20. wonderful article in the NYTimes about a bike charity--I had not heard of it until now
    so as the gift giving season looms ahead, perhaps we should think about giving someone far away a bike in honour of one of our biking friends?

  21. have you been to Chatham? A coworker of mine is from there and has grand things to say about it. It's a charming little community that's done its best to escape the overdevelopment that's hit the rest of the Cape. A lot of weekenders who aim for Provincetown tend to skip Chatham since it's in the 'elbow', so it's got a nice local vibe to it.

    So ... lollipop route -- Ptown to Wellfleet to the rail trail past Orleans through Nickerson Park and Long Pond, then head east on the bike rotary at Harwich to Chatham, then back north via 28 to Orleans and rewind your steps back to Ptown?

    That might be less than 100 miles, come to think of it, but you could pad on miles by going out to Dennis before doubling back to head to Chatham.

  22. Ah yes...hilly rural life...after a few years of riding 10 - 30 miles a day for just getting around (even with the magic hetres and the floppy ostrich but stylish)...well you get used to it; and now it's perfectly fine. You find yourself flying uphill just to see how fast you can do it (even with a duck or pork shoulder in the bag). At least that's how it turned out for me. Yep, flying uphill.

  23. Merci beaucoup townmouse. I am used to the hills-even hills I despise are bikable. You build up a resistance very quickly if you do a hill everyday which is what I try to tell people who are afraid to bike around here. I can even ride my 5 speed raleigh up the long steep ones. Sometimes I do get tired out and demand we take the bus to my husband's chagrin. He's a vegan cyclingmachine. Occasionally we don't have to go out so we go for a hike instead(roll eyes). My problem isn't so much all the hilly biking but my exhausting job which takes all my energy. At my job I stand on concrete for hours and sometimes get shin splints or at least serious leg pain which makes the riding hard and I whimper home.
    Also sometimes I just do not want to ride on the scary highway. there was a nasty fatal incident yesterday in New Brunswick where a large group of cyclists were toodling along in fine weather and a few of them got hit by a semi! one died-all in their early 20's. I saw the photos on the news and it was on a straight, flat divided 4 lane highway with a shoulder just as wide as the car lanes. So, no matter what, our safety is at risk. Ride safe and don't be a hero trying to 'take the lane'.
    I'm totally clumsy so I don't care if I look ridiculous trying to dismount my diamond frame bike. I probably look just as silly with pants on. I really prefer mixte/loop frames! It is sad that the raleigh lady bike will have to go away for the winter soon.
    Living in the country with a bike/car/public transit is the best of all worlds.

  24. Graham was the right choice. Not because he was the right bike, but he was the right bike because he was the sorted bike.

    Next year take the mixte; which, by the way, looks something in the line of a bit special. If it were a proper color I might be jealous.

  25. Ahh... pedalling up and down hills by the sea. That's my idyll.

    Have you had rough surf up that way? It seems that here in NY and NJ, that's what we've had nonstop for the past two weeks.

  26. Now that I'm back from my 4,600-mile bicycle tour across America, I'm pleased to once again savor your blog.

    I took note of your concern about having enough cargo space in your bags. On my recent journey I discovered the joy of touring on a fully loaded bicycle. I had panniers front and rear, a handlebar bag with map case, and a rear trunk bag. My bike, a Surly Long Haul Trucker, certainly was not among the most lovely touring bikes, but I found it exceedingly reliable and economical. Here's a link to a flickr image of the fully-loaded, 90-plus lb. beast that carried me from coast to coast in 65 glorious days!

  27. 70 miles per day for 65 days?! Holy cow.

  28. cris - Thanks for the route tip. We rode around in Chatham last summer; there is a nice scenic loop if I recall. Plenty of seal (and shark) watching, too!

    rural - I am very pleased at your description.

    heather - Thanks for your description as well. I will have to look up that accident, sounds horrible : (

    kfg - You are exactly right; the reasoning was that it was "sorted". Everything has been tested for 1800 miles now, and I know exactly how this bicycle works. Generator lights, too. The mixte was fine for 40 miles locally, but who knows whether it will have glitches that will need to be ironed out?

    Justine - Oddly, no rough surf here. But the water is freezing. "September is the best time of the year for swimming" my foot!

    bikecommuter - Double wow, and congratulations! I am going to check out your pictures asap!

  29. Hi Veloria,

    Just stumbled upon this photo, thought you might like it:

    I always like to see where I've cycled,
    thought you might too.

    John I


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