Woody's Cessna 182 and bikes. Photo copyright Roadcycling.com/Paul Rogen.
Paul and Woody at Block Island Airport. Photo copyright Roadcycling.com/Paul Rogen.
Author with cold North Atlantic. Photo copyright Roadcycling.com/Paul Rogen.
Photo copyright Roadcycling.com/Paul Rogen.
Take a Flike
Can you be at Tweed Airport in New Haven in thirty minutes with your bike?
My friend, Woody, was on the phone asking if I could be at Tweed Airport in New Haven in thirty minutes with my bike.Woody and I had biked up many mountains last summer in the Alps and on long slogs he started to talk about taking his Cessna on short flights around New England and tucking his bike in the rear seat.We needed to think about such flights of fancy on the long pull up MountVentoux. in July 2005.Now, here he was six months later offering to change the fantasy into real adventure.On this late January morning he was proposing we fly to Block Island with our bikes and ride the day away and be home for dinner.I took about 30 seconds to decide, ?Can you give me 45 minutes instead and I will be there raring to go??
I zipped through my Friday home chores and gave my commuter bike a quick check.I left a sweet note for my wife as I started to think what it would be like to go down in a small plane in winter into Long Island Sound.Talk about cold; we would last about fifteen minutes.I grabbed an extra pair of cycling tights and slipped them on toward what end I do not know.I had never flown with my fellow bon vivant, Woody Hittle.I knew him to be a reasonably careful and thoughtful guy, but how much can you trust a biker who calls you up in January to go cycling at Block Island, nearly a hundred mile distant over the cold North Atlantic?
When I pedaled up to Woody he was already laying out his bike and going over his safety check list on the airplane.Airplane?What?I feel best on the ground on my bike. I do combine running and biking which the triathletes call bricks, but what is a flight and bike combination?A flike.Sounds very close to flake, and had me wondering.We broke our bikes down and slid them into the rear seat and cubby of the Cessna 182.After stowing our bike bags, we donned headsets and Woody began babbling numbers at the control tower.In moments we taxied out to the runway, did a test power up and, given clearance, shot down the runway to rise over New Haven harbor.We were at 1500 feet before I even took my third breath.We leveled off and turned east up the shoreline over the ThimbleIslands.It was a bright and spectacular day.Woody said it would only take about 30 minutes to get to Block. Island.The last time I had gone to Block with my wife nearly ten years ago it had taken us over two hours to drive to Point Judith in Rhode Island and then over an hour by ferry to get to the Island.On the way my wife got sea sick and lost all her breakfast.She felt punky all day and struggled to enjoy the great riding on the small island. Now, if I can just avoid getting sick, I ought to be able to revel in a winter day on my bike with a good friend and guide.
Cruising along the Connecticut shoreline I saw all the sights I work to enjoy on my bike through the summer and fall: FaulknerIsland, HammonsettBeach, the Connecticut River, New London Lighthouse, and Fishers Island.The tails of Long Island popped up quickly; Orient Point and Montauk.Woody pointed out GardnerIsland and PlumIsland.I told him about a friend who used to commute via boat to PlumIsland as a government scientist. He told me about all the good times he has had at ShelterIsland over the years.We could start to see the outlines of Block Island as I noticed a very odd, large wake below us.Looking closely, Woody said it was a submarine.We were at 4,000 feet and could clearly see the conning tower and the tail.Not much was visible to warrant such a large wake.Then we saw another sub coming in to New London.I thought the government was cutting back on making big subs at Groton and here were two right below us.I am not sure it made me feel any safer but I noted their heading and asked Woody how far his plane could coast if we lost power.He said two miles for every 1,000 feet and that we could make it to Block Island from here if everything shut down.Comforting thought. Soon we circled Block peering for the sock showing wind direction.I thought I saw it and Woody humored me and swung around Southeast Lighthouse and headed back to the west and into the wind.We dropped like a spent birthday balloon and hit the small runway perfectly.Woody was good. I did not have a worry in the world.I could take a flike with him anytime.
It only took us about ten minutes to unload and put our wheels on and pedal over to the terminal.We paid a $10 landing fee and while I changed into biking outfit, Woody ordered up the best warm cornbread I have ever eaten.The lunch counter had just two other patrons and the terminal had no other people.We were it. Off season is the way to go- counter-point.Corn breaded up, we mounted bikes and headed into the gusty winter ground wind.
Woody has spent a lot of time on Block Island, so he was guide and we turned right onto rock lined roads that afforded views in all directions.Block is not that big but offers some good summer cycling.In winter it is even better.The constant winds make the small island bigger as you need to push all the time.Woody signaled at a single track into the bushes and I followed him for two hundred yards to an overlook with a view straight out over the big Atlantic. This was not Long Island Sound any longer.This was the big ocean and it was not pacific today.The rollers crashed two hundred feet below us.Off to the left was Southeast Lighthouse which Woody reminded me had been moved back a hundred feet two years ago to save it from tumbling into the sea.This prompted a story from me about my hometown?s FaulknerIsland lighthouse which was also threatened with destruction from erosion.Many of the historic lighthouses of New England were under watch and required major efforts to save or restore.
We rode for over an hour and made our way across the island and up to North Lighthouse.It seemed that no matter what way we turned we were into the wind.Such is winter riding on an island way out in the Atlantic.We cared little as we felt our legs warming all the way up to our smiles.Woody showed me a few more sights before we stopped for lunch where we could look out and watch the Port Judith ferry bringing a few winter weekend visitors and track endless soaring gulls.
After lunch we shivered a bit before we pedaled ourselves back to warmth and climbed back up to the highest part of the island- maybe 200 feet in elevation.In summer the riding is leisurely and crowded.There can be hundreds of cyclists and thousands of vacationers.There are never too many cars but now there were zip cars and only two other cyclists.We had the place to ourselves and we felt the giggle.We were bon vivants in our own country.No need for French villages for us.We had our own villages, even our own island.
Back at the Block IslandAirport, Woody did his preflight check and within minutes we were off.He had offered the controls to me on the way over, but I declined.I have little interest in flying.But I felt so elated now that I said OK.I checked out right rudder and left rudder and nose up and nose down.Soon I was looking for more submarines.I could be a bombing pilot or maybe just a sub spotter. No subs, so I headed over toward Old Saybrook and the mouth of the Connecticut River.This was favorite biking territory that was wonderful to see in sweeping miniature from this unique perch.I swung along the shoreline and went straight east toward home.I was surprised how comfortable I felt.It all seemed so easy and natural and safe.We were back in New Haven on the ground within forty minutes.The whole flike had been less than five hours door to door.Not a bad way to spend a free Friday in January in New England.The biking was a complete bonus.In fact the whole day was a bonus that I could easily get used to doing.Flikes are the thing to which I could easily become accustomed.