How I planned a bike ride and ended up with an adventure (or, Bike-cation 2012: Waterside Edition)

Gillette Castle State Park, East Haddam, CT

I tend to ride the same roads repeatedly and, having a break from my usual group ride, decided to embrace change. At the same time, having a week off from the group ride is a great time to get some culture. High on my culture-to-do list of late has been visiting Gillette’s Castle. As I do not usually ride the roads surrounding the Castle, it seemed like a match made in cycling-culture heaven. All I planned was the route. The rest of it fell into place, making it a fabulous, full day adventure.

Posted in every stall, Visitor’s Center, Gillette Castle State Park

Not having any desire to ride a century, I decided to put the bike in the car and drive to Gillette Castle State Park. They do not charge for parking, and have restrooms, making it that much more attractive to the Cycling Archivist. Well, I’m not really sure “attractive” and “restrooms” should be in the same sentence.

Moving along, my route took me over the East Haddam swing bridge (cool article from 2007), along Rt. 154 to Essex, and down to Old Saybrook. Though my aunt recently sold her cottage at Chalker Beach, I asked the guard/attendant if it would be ok for me to dip my toes.

The dip, Chalker Beach, Old Saybrook

The water temperature was fabulous; I could have gone all the way in. Next it was over to Indiantown, where I sat in the shade and had snacks with friends. I continued along Rt. 154, through Katharine Hepburn’s part of town. I have to go cliche here and say that if you haven’t biked this stretch, you are missing out. My phone’s camera wouldn’t really capture most of the beauty, so I took few photographs. Heading north, I had an impromptu watermelon stop with cousins before reaching the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry (as my ride last Sunday also included watermelon, I am now completely convinced all summer rides should include this treat). Being a native of Glastonbury, my ferry of preference tends to be the Glastonbury-Rocky Hill, but after the budget woes of late, it is so great both ferries are still running. From the ferry ($1 for bicyclists), my final destination was in clear view.

Gillette’s Castle, as viewed from Chester-Hadlyme Ferry

Being in the business, I can be rather critical of house museum tours. This one ($6 adult) was self guided, with story telling docents in the rooms. On a scale of yes or no, I would say that yes, it was worth it. The castle interior has incredible woodwork and you get to hear stories about the practical jokes William Gillette, “America’s Sherlock Holmes,” would play on his guests.

Chester-Hadlyme Ferry, as viewed from Gillette’s Castle

With both cycling and culture achieved, the only thing left to really make this an adventure was the requisite ice cream stop. I had thought about the James Gallery and Soda Fountain earlier in the day, but ended up at Hillside Sweet Shoppe ($2.75, single scoop, Gifford’s Mint Chocolate Chip, sugar cone). Though lunch mysteriously disappeared from the agenda, I was rather pleased to have a full day of close-to-home fun for less than $10. It was truly a full day. I left my house at 9:00 AM and didn’t get back till 6:00 PM.

I saw the Essex Steam Train go by twice. I passed sheep along one road, and there were egrets and swans in the water as I pedaled over the causeway. Even though I was cycling alone, I spent enough time with other people to make it a social event. I’m amazed at how, with so little planning and effort, I ended up with such a wonderful bike-cation.

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