Long Island by Bicycle, January 2009

Long Island by Bicycle, January 2009

Langworth, Birtzen, McCardy leaving "Island Link" to bicycle Long Island.
Lang­worth, Birtzen, McCardy leav­ing "Island Link" to bicy­cle Long Island.

Most peo­ple trav­el to and from my home island of Eleuthera via Nas­sau or Flori­da. Neigh­bour­ing islands on the Bahamas “out­er banks”—Cat Island and Long Island—seem to fall under the old adage: “You can’t get there from here.” Actu­al­ly you can—with an expen­sive char­ter flight or boat—but it’s sim­pler to go via Nassau.

Thus three mem­bers of the “Eleuthera Long Rid­ers” bicy­cle club, John Birzten of Governor’s Har­bour, Arring­ton McCardy from Hatch­et Bay, and this writer from Rain­bow Bay—arrived to cycle Long Island on Jan­u­ary 21st-23rd.

Trav­el­ing “tra­di­tion­al,” we used most­ly mail­boats. The Cur­rent Pride is a micro­cosm of the old Bahamas, laden with pro­duce (this real­ly is a “banana boat”) and Eleuther­ans head­ing for the big city. You can’t pay for the enter­tain­ment you get free. One gent spent the entire voy­age singing and shuck­ing peas; anoth­er trolled part of the way and hooked a giant bar­racu­da which flopped around on the deck and scared some of us passengers.

The stur­dy, wood-hulled Cur­rent Pride shook off high seas and cov­ered 52 miles in four hours—and cost only $30, includ­ing cof­fee, sand­wich­es and soft drinks. From Nas­sau we board­ed Island Link, which also ser­vices Hatch­et Bay, Eleuthera—a mod­ern, Aus­tralian-built fer­ry which makes the overnight run from Nas­sau to Long Island in 16 hours for $80. Fare includes com­fort­able bunks and a hot break­fast as you are pulling into Salt Pond, halfway down Long Island’s Caribbean coast.

Lying 100 miles south­east of Eleuthera, Long Island is 80 miles long and has rough­ly the same area, but is flat­ter and rel­a­tive­ly emp­ty: 23 peo­ple per square mile com­pared to over 50. The inhab­i­tants are a wel­com­ing crowd, but a team of bicy­clists tack­ling their 73-mile-long Queen’s High­way is not some­thing they see every day.

Nor do they expect vis­i­tors from Eleuthera. Many thought we were vis­it­ing Amer­i­cans. On March 21st, as we rode off the Island Link, a local said: “Wel­come to the Bahamas.” Arring­ton, an Eleuther­an all his life, replied: “Thanks very much!”

Actu­al­ly I think some of the school kids took us for Mar­tians. Many had nev­er seen a road bicy­cle and were intense­ly inter­est­ed in our machin­ery. We felt like Lance Arm­strong as they admired our speedy mounts.

Checking the map at Simms, en route Cape Santa Maria.
Check­ing the map at Simms, en route Cape San­ta Maria.

Long Island is a gem, with bril­liant turquoise water, thanks to broad, shal­low depths—you can walk out a quar­ter mile and still be waist-deep. Yet there’s 600-foot-deep Dean’s Blue Hole—the deep­est in the world—right in the mid­dle of a wad­ing cove.

In amidst the forests and farms run herds of free-range goats. Some Long Islanders have even trained their “pot­cakes” (Bahami­an dogs) to herd goats like Scot­tish sheep dogs. And some haven’t trained them not to chase bicycles…

In the north is Cape San­ta Maria, con­sid­ered one of the most beau­ti­ful beach­es in the world. Across the way is a stone mon­u­ment mark­ing Long Island’s claim (shared with Cat Island and San Sal­vador) as the first land­ing place of Colum­bus. Here too are some the most beau­ti­ful church­es in the Fam­i­ly Islands, includ­ing the mas­sive Angli­can and Catholic church­es in Clarence Town, which dom­i­nate twin peaks.

There’s no big fish­ing fleet, like Span­ish Wells here, but the score of small boats anchored in Salt Pond har­bour give it the look of a Maine lob­ster vil­lage. Many sail­boats anchor after work­ing down the Exu­mas chain. There’s a muse­um Eleuther­ans can only envy, packed with arti­facts dat­ing back to the Lucayan Indi­ans. A wilder­ness com­pared to Eleuthera, Long Island is as neat as a pin. They are real­ly seri­ous about not littering.

Anglican Church, Clarence Town
Angli­can Church, Clarence Town

Right off the boat we cycled north from Salt Pond to Sey­mours, 28 miles against a 20 knot northerly—hard work! After lunch it was 40 miles south to Deadman’s Cay with the wind at our backs, fly­ing. Near the end, at Thompson’s Bay, we were wel­comed by a local char­ac­ter, Jus­tice of the Peace Triph­emia Bowe, who had accom­pa­nied us on the Island Link. As promised, she reward­ed our efforts with three com­pli­men­ta­ry Kaliks.

We spent the night at Mar­vin McArdy’s “Cen­tral Oasis” in Deadman’s Cay (337-0435), a tidy, and afford­able “bed & break­fast” with the option of home-cooked din­ners. Next morn­ing we head­ed south toward Gordon’s, stop­ping at Clarence Town, which is more like Gre­go­ry Town on Eleuthera than our own Governor’s Har­bour. The only set­tle­ment on the Atlantic coast, Clarence Town has a well pro­tect­ed har­bour is the cap­i­tal of Long Island.

At the far­thest point south we turned north again and back­tracked to his­toric Goat Pond Bar, estab­lished 1948. Pro­pri­etor Susan­nah Mar­t­in­bor­ough tells won­der­ful island sto­ries and has a decid­ed polit­i­cal view­point, which she doesn’t hes­i­tate to offer! (Hint: posters of Prime Min­is­ter Hubert Ingra­ham are the main wall dec­o­ra­tions, and Susan­nah calls the oppo­si­tion Pro­gres­sive Lib­er­al Par­ty the “Poor Lit­tle Peo­ple.”) Again cold Kaliks cel­e­brat­ed our achieve­ment: 114 miles in two days at an aver­age speed of 15 mph.

longriderWe would not have done near­ly as well with­out Arring­ton McCardy, whose fam­i­ly is from Long Island, and who made the arrange­ments. Undoubt­ed­ly the fastest bicy­clist on Eleuthera, Arring­ton can often be seen burn­ing up the Queen’s High­way between Ban­ner­man Town and Span­ish Wells—a dis­tance he’s been known to cov­er in a day. Any­one with Long Island or cycling ques­tions (or in need of a bike rental) is wel­come to call him at 335-0070. “Eleuthera Long Rid­ers” wel­comes new mem­bers, and is plan­ning future cycling trips to Crooked Island, Ack­lins, Andros and Inagua.

On Jan­u­ary 23rd we left our bikes for the next mail­boat and flew back to Nas­sau, catch­ing Island Link to Hatch­et Bay. We arrived around 5pm as the set­ting sun was light­ing up the cliffs at Gre­go­ry Town. There’s still no place like home—but this is a vis­it worth mak­ing. Long Islanders are sweet peo­ple who take life as it comes: “No wor­ries, be hap­py, aldebest, God will pro­vide.” There’s some­thing to be said for that.

One thought on “Long Island by Bicycle, January 2009

  1. Gone too soon, wish I had more time to ride with him, he epidimized the fun­da­men­tals of cycling and would’ve had every­one he knew on a bike as he thought cycling was one of the great­est ways to have a good work out.
    Will always be remem­bered by those who loved him dear­ly, his wife, chil­dren, broth­ers and sis­ters, friends and love ones.

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