Long Island by Bicycle, January 2009
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.
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.
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.
We 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”
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.