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biking to the beach

Posted on 10 July 2022 by Barbara Beckwith (0)

How Does She Spell Relief? ‘B-i-c-y-c-l-e’ by Barbara Beckwith (Cambridge Chronicle, Sept 16, 1982)

I love living in Cambridge, but I can also feel trapped by it. On hot days, I feel hemmed in by concrete, car exhaust and construction detours. Escape seems necessary.

Getting away by car or bus can be a hassle, but I’ve found a way that requires no bus ticket or costly gasoline.

I have discovered Biking to the Beach.

Others may head for fresh water or the sea in hot cars that can jam upon Route 2 or 1A. And when their drivers reach their destination, they are likely to stew at the end of lines, waiting to pay for a parking space.

All I need to spend is my own energy. In one and a half hours of pedaling due west – 11.7 miles from the edge of Cambridge – I can reach the leafy woods and deep waters of Concord’s Walden Pond. In the same amount of time heading northeast – 14.6 miles but on flatter roads – I can reach the sea breeze and gentle waves lapping Lynn and Nahant beaches.

City noise and heat may smother me at 8 a.m. but by 9:30, I can be floating atop clear Thoreauvian waters or sunning myself on a gem-like Nahant beach, encircled by rocky cliffs equal to those of the Italian coat.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m no professional bicyclist in black skin-tight shorts and toe-clips. I often go on my 3-speed bike, though a 10-speed helps on hills.

Not only do I like the places I go, I also like getting there. Biking gives me a chance to unwind, to shed my urban layers as I move mile by mile from city to countryside. The peaceful side of me emerges slowly, like a butterfly from a cramped cocoon.

I like watching bib-sized grass plots fronting city two-deckers be gradually replaced by crew-cut suburban lawns with bushes pruned into ice cream shapes. Further out, houses blend in with woods, whole fields are abandoned to black-eyed Susans,  stone walls sink back into the earth and traffic thins to an occasional swoosh. Now I can breathe in, not hydrocarbons, but pine and honeysuckle.

I’ve found two routes and usually go by one, return by the other. The Trapelo Road route (starts at Mt. Auburn Street Star Market) is straight — just one left onto Baker Bridge Road after Lincoln. But there are six long hills I must pedal up. Some have rewards at the top: Brigham’s, Ricci’s Farm Store, a Town of Lincoln bike path. Other excuses for pausing are the Armenian bakery in Belmont, Met State hospital’s sprawling landscape, the compute card-like architecture of Waltham’s Federal Archives, Lincoln’s ritzy houses and the DeCordova Art Museum. I also stop each time at the causeway cutting through Cambridge Reservoir to check if our drinking water is clear and abundant. It always is. Further on, I pause for wild blueberries, which families in cars go by too fast to spot.

When I finally reach Walden Pond, zipping by grumpy families in stuffy cars on the parking line, I feel smug. I park my bike and walk the woods trail – full of Indian pipe and bayberry – to “The Cove.” If I left early enough, I have the place to myself. By noon, it fills up, busy as Central Square, so I leave before it gets that late.

Even if the sky decides to cloud over just as I arrive, so what? I‘ve had my fun three days’ worth of exercise, and a mental vacation from the city. A sunny day would almost seem like too much luck. In fact, on a chilly autumn day it’s just as nice a ride, even if I skip the swim.

The return route via Concord Avenue is quieter and less hilly (turn left after 128, right at the red barn). I often take this route both ways to avoid Trapelo Road trucks, although I’m practiced at vying for the road from experience with Cambridge’s Prospect Street.

Concord Avenue takes me though wild and moody marshlands and up onto Belmont’s upland meadows. The one notoriously steep hill on this route is luckily downhill in this direction. There’s a Bailey’s at the bottom of it, where I stop for an ice cream pickup, then zip on into Cambridge.


But it’s not always pines and pond water I yearn for. Sometimes only sun and salt sea give me mental relief from the city. So I bike to Nahant – a peaceful peninsula stretching out into the bay from Lynn on the North Shore.

My starting point is the bike path along North Cambridge’s Alewife Brook Parkway. I switch to Route 60 at Medford and from then on it’s all Cambridge-type traffic at about the level of Broadway or Huron. I feel right at home.

The Medford-Malden-Saugus route has no art museums or blueberry patches. Instead the sights consist of yard sales, McDonough’s Frost Mug Pub, Reverend Szczepkowski’s Polish National Catholic Chorus, and one solar house. But the route is hill-free, the land only slightly lumpy, as if the very ground had relaxed and put on extra weight.

I enjoy the illusion of breeze that biking creates as long as I keep pedaling, and the brief wash of cool each time I pass under a tree. There’s also the adventure of getting lost at least once a trip. The route changes names: Route 60 becomes Salem, Lincoln Summer, Lynnways streets. But not all streets are marked. I bring my North Suburban Boston Map (bought at the Cambridge Map Store on Brattle) just in case.

Suddenly, I am at the sea. I can stop at Lynn Beach, a pleasant, clean and beachrose-bordered public space leading out to Nahant peninsula. But I want quiet, not radio blare coconut oil. So I bike on, gleefully noting the line of cars at the parking lot gate.

The town of Nahant will ticket any non-resident car that dares to park, so reaching its otherwise inaccessible  beaches by bike feels like a coup. Any of its four beaches are quieter and more intimate than Lynn Beach. The one at the peninsula’s East Point tip is my favorite. The cove of crystal clear water, pebbled beach bordered by rough rock cliffs, glows like a gem in its setting. One hot Sunday noon I had it almost to myself. No crowds, no cars, just soothing hush.

The trip back to Cambridge is a long haul, and there’s no alternative route. Before I go, I wash off the saltwater in one of the MDC elegantly marbled free showers at Lynn Beach.

I soon heat up again pedaling home. I am dog-tired when I reach my house. Cambridge is still an island of heat. But I feel good. I’ve escaped the heat for a few hours, beaten the traffic and parking fees, outsmarted snobbish Nahant, gotten a workout, and calmed my city claustrophobia. I am ready to once more face trafficky Harvard Square.

Barbara Beckwith is a Cambridge freelance writer and avid bicycle enthusiast.

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