It occurred to me, as I wrote two recent travelogues, that I’d visited a lot of interesting places in the last few years. I recorded my thoughts and impressions from those journeys on the pages of Twelve Mile Circle. The intent was to describe my adventures while still fresh in my mind. Looking back through many of those pages recently, as a complete body of work, they seemed to have transformed into something more like a diary. I wasn’t prescient as they unfolded at the time, just looking for topics that didn’t require a lot of advance research. Travel stories were easy to draft and offered a break from the usual fare of geo-oddities that sometimes took hours to write.
I couldn’t help getting a little nostalgic as the pages brought back events that had already started receding from memory. I couldn’t believe how quickly years had passed. I wanted to create a catalog, probably more for myself than for my faithful readers, so that I could always stroll through those past haunts with ease. This article was the result.
Wisconsin’s Point of Beginning
The concept began with a family trip to see the in-laws during the earliest days of 12MC, only a few months after I began writing it. The trip coincided with severe flooding in the area. The first travelogue on the site sprang organically from those events in a series of four articles.
Later we returned to Wisconsin and focused on the Great River Road along the Mississippi River. There I crossed into my 1000th county in my never-ending County Counting quest. I was up to 1,255 counties as of the time I published this article (June 2015) so I’ve progressed well. However I have to look at it realistically and I don’t think that I will be able to capture every remaining county. I’m moving too slowly.
Later that summer we traveled to Maine. It would set precedence for an annual family tradition: that summer and each subsequent summer (excepting one) we’ve picked a different state as a family and then spent a week exploring it.
That was fine although I was probably more excited about the state we selected that year, Alaska. I’d been to Alaska a couple of times before and I wanted to try a different corner. We rented a house at a central point on the Kenai Peninsula in the tiny town of Cooper Landing (map) and radiated out from there on day trips. We experienced only one small slice of the massive Alaskan landmass although we saw it in depth. I’d gladly return.
The Tropical Border Between France and the Netherlands on St. Martin/Maarten
We don’t go to the beach ordinarily. I’m too restless and my wife sunburns too easily. Yet, a trip to the Caribbean during early Spring without any kids sounded downright attractive. I selected St. Martin / Maarten because it had an international border running through it. Isn’t that how everyone chooses a tropical vacation destination?
We let our older son pick the state in 2012 and he selected Oregon. That was an excellent choice. I’d been to Oregon’s beautiful coastline several times so I decided to focus on the dry, hot eastern side of the Cascades this time. I also threw-in a couple of days in Washington for good measure. We spent most of the time near Bend, Oregon. It may have had something to do with the large concentration of breweries and brewpubs found there.
Then I joined Steve from Connecticut Museum Quest on a once-in-a-lifetime journey through an incredible array of Connecticut geography extremes that may never be equaled again. Steve, has it really been three years already?
The Dust Bowl Adventures marked my first encounter with the Mainly Marathons organization. This was the first race series they’d ever sponsored; five races in five states in five days (now they do even more). The series was designed for people working on 50-state marathon (or half marathon) lists or adding to their lifetime totals. I was a driver for a runner, collecting all sorts of obscure counties while we wandered through unlikely corners where Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico all came in close proximity to each other.
Kentucky was our state of choice that summer for the annual family vacation. We focused on its Appalachian region for the most part. Eastern Kentucky featured spectacular natural beauty along the wooded hills and tumbling brooks.
We signed on for another Mainly Marathons series in 2014, this time along the Mississippi River with races in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. We never spotted Elvis although we did stop at Graceland.
Then we deviated from our usual pattern and selected Ireland for our family vacation instead of a U.S. state. One branch of my family came from Ireland and we were actually able to meet some of our distant cousins. We covered quite a bit of territory in the southwestern corner.
Eastern Continental Divide: Which Way Will the Water Flow?
The current year may be my finest travel period ever. I began with some healthy exercise in April when I completed a four-day bicycle ride along the Great Allegheny Passage trail in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
That would probably be enough in a normal year. Fortunately I still have two more trips planned. I’ll spend a week in the vicinity of Asheville, North Carolina later in the Summer. In Autumn we will participate in another Mainly Marathon event, the Center of the Nation Series (six races, six days, six states — North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado). More travelogues will be forthcoming!
There were numerous other happenings from my recent Cape Cod and Islands adventure that didn’t fit within larger themes. Some of them were unusual. Others simply cataloged additions to my various lists. Still others, well, I’m not sure why I felt they were noteworthy except that they caught my attention for some inexplicable reason. My thanks go out to the Twelve Mile Circle audience for indulging me on this latest travelogue. This is the last installment. We will return to geo-oddity goodness soon.
What the Fox?
I am a terrible photographer. Even so, this blurry monstrosity was even worse than my usual sad fare. I broke a cardinal rule: just take the picture and only then try to get a better one. I was walking down Bradford Street (map) — one of the major roads through Provincetown — very early one fine morning on the way back from seeing the Wood End Lighthouse. I got a strange feeling that someone or something was watching me. I turned to the side and, directly across the street from me, stood a fox with a squirrel in its mouth. We stared at each other for maybe ten seconds while I slowly pulled a phone from my pocket to take a photo. I should have hit the shutter at the first opportunity. Instead I tried to neatly center the image, zoom in and get a perfect shot. Naturally the critter started walking as I set the shot, leaving me desperately clicking as fast as I could, capturing a blurry fox with squirrel. You’d think I’d learn.
Ferry, Ferry Quite Contrary
I like ferries. Longtime 12MC readers already know that. This particular trip offered multiple opportunities.
The Chappy Ferry on Martha’s Vineyard was particularly memorable because it was an unusual example of a ferry requiring another ferry. First people needed to get to Martha’s Vineyard on a ferry then those wishing to travel onward to Chappaquiddick Island needed to take a second ferry(¹), the Chappy Ferry’s "On Time III" boat (map). Also notable was its duration, all of maybe 30 seconds. In fact, my YouTube video showed pretty much the compete route in its entirety. One had to appreciate the simplicity of the solution, going back-and-forth all day long carrying three cars at a time across a narrow channel. It was more romantic than a bridge, I supposed.
We took two other ferries during our adventure, both departing Hyannis on the mainland using Hy-Line Cruises. One involved a round-trip to Nantucket and the other a round-trip to Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard(²). We chose Hy-Line because it made visiting both islands on back-to-back overnight stays a little easier. We didn’t have to worry about getting to different mainland ports. I admit that it was a bit of an odd scheme contrived solely so that I could add to my county counting list. Nantucket was it’s own eponymous county. Martha’s Vineyard plus a few nearby islands formed Dukes County. I felt I had capture both counties on this trip because I wasn’t sure when I might be back that way again.
That created a minor time dilemma. We disembarked at Hyannis after the Nantucket round-trip and then had four hours to kill before catching the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. We ate lunch at the harbor. OK, we still had three hours. Fortunately the Cape Cod Beer brewery was a short drive away. Problem solved.
I noticed a Cape Cod Beer truck loading the Martha’s Vineyard ferry when we returned. I really liked the photo. I should probably send a copy to the brewery.
I have a few stories that I’ll gladly share in person over a pint someday.
12MC Sees Geo Everywhere
Nantucket Water Meter
Maps always seemed to be on my mind even when I’m supposed to be relaxing on vacation. The only greater significance of that statement related to my unnatural interest in Nantucket water meters. They featured maps of the island. It took me awhile to fine one worth photographing. Let’s just say it became an obsession and move along to another topic.
My Digital Fingerprints
That Was Me
I’ve also never missed an opportunity to scour Google Analytics for unusual 12MC readership trends. My real-world adventures created the pattern on this image! That happened as a result of my back-to-back trips to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. I pinged the site from Nantucket in the morning and Martha’s Vineyard in the afternoon. That was the first time 12MC ever received hits from both of those islands on the same day. I’m easily amused.
And let me digress back to County Counting while I’m thinking about it. I also captured the final two counties in Rhode Island that I’d never visited previously. Newport County was a great capture. We stayed overnight in Newport and that counted extra in my mental categorization. Plus it was my first overnight trip ever to the state of Rhode Island so that made it doubly special. Bristol County was a lesser capture. I merely crossed the border then did a U-turn, traversing Bristol for probably less than a minute. It still counted! Now Rhode Island could be listed as completed on my scorecard along with Delaware, Maryland and Connecticut (a.k.a. "easy ones"). I know, Rhode Island doesn’t technically have self-governing counties anymore. I still count them.
Fort Revere Park
Most people probably visited the ruins of old Fort Revere in Hull (map) to see the fortifications themselves. I did that too. That was great. I also enjoyed walking through the underground tunnels within the fort to view graffiti. My wife rolled her eyes. I’m used to it.
(¹) I suppose one could also fly to Martha’s Vineyard although I still preferred the double-ferry option. (²) The triangular route beginning at Hyannis which included a direct link between Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard would have been more efficient. Unfortunately that option only operates during summer months and wasn’t available during my trip.
Coastal Massachusetts had plenty of history before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620. Native Americans long lived there. Even other Europeans explored the area. Nonetheless it was the Pilgrims we all remembered from our elementary school curriculum and a lifetime of Thanksgiving holidays so that’s where I began. I’d been wanting to do that for many years. It had been an empty hole in my personal experience of a particularly important era of American history.
Lesser known in the tale of the Pilgrims was that their initial footsteps in the new world didn’t happen at Plymouth. Initially they disembarked at the tip of Cape Cod in the vicinity of modern-day Provincetown. That Mayflower Compact — the governing document for the Plymouth Colony — was written and signed aboard the Mayflower as it sat in the Cape’s natural harbor. The Pilgrims explored Cape Cod for several weeks seeking a suitable place to establish their colony. The land, they discovered, would be too difficult to farm and it lacked suitable fresh water. Only then did the Pilgrims press onward towards Plymouth.
This initial landfall was commemorated in the early 20th Century by the construction of a large granite tower (map) in Provincetown named the Pilgrim Monument. Visitors can climb 252 feet (77 metres) to the top where it features an open-air room with amazing views of the cape and the town below. I was quite impressed by the experience. It also helped to have picture-perfect weather and few other visitors.
Naturally I stopped by Plymouth too. That was a given. Once again I was happy to have arrived in mid-May with wonderful weather and the bulk of the tourists not arriving for another couple of weeks. We visited all of the historical sites without feeling jostled or claustrophobic.
Well, let’s talk about the rock (map). Plymouth Rock, as the story goes, was supposedly the first place the Pilgrims set foot when they arrived at their new home (after leaving Cape Cod). I’d seen images of Plymouth Rock before so I was able to manage my expectations and not be underwhelmed. It was amusing to watch the faces of other visitors who gazed upon the famous stone for the first time. Plymouth Rock is housed within a grandiose edifice resembling an ancient Greek temple complete with marble columns. People walked up expecting something spectacular… and… it’s just a rock with 1620 stamped upon it. Seriously. It looked like it was dug out of someone’s back yard.
Historically, it actually might be simply a rock without any greater significance. Plymouth Rock was identified by Thomas Faunce in 1741 and he was 94 years old at the time. There was nobody else alive who could corroborate his claim. He wasn’t a Mayflower passenger either although there were still some Mayflower passengers living when he was a child. In theory it’s possible that the Pilgrims first set foot on Plymouth Rock, just not likely. However, more important than the rock was what it represented and that alone made it a worthwhile stop.
Marconi Wireless Station
I moved onto other interests once my Pilgrim curiosity had been satisfied. An historical site of much more recent vintage awaited exploration about half-way up the cape (map). Little remained of the old Marconi Wireless Station other than a few bricks and crumbling cement. Most of it had been dismantled long ago or been consumed by the sea. Guglielmo Marconi built a series of towers while pioneering ship-to-shore and transatlantic radio communications. The facility on Cape Cod was known as the South Wellfleet Wireless station. From this spot, the first direct wireless radio message between the United States and the United Kingdom was transmitted in 1903.
Much of Nantucket’s history focused on whaling. Whaling fleets existed in various coastal communities in New England, and Nantucket had one of the most successful. It also provided a name for the "Nantucket Sleigh Ride" — when harpooned, a whale would drag the small dory boats used by hunters to get close to the whale on a fast, wild ride. Eventually the whale would become exhausted and only then could the whalers close in for the kill. The whaling industry made a lot of people quite wealthy for a time and many of their stately homes lined the cobblestone streets of Nantucket.
I particularly liked this photograph I took in Nantucket Harbor (map) during an early morning fog. Minus a couple of modern boats, it almost looked like it could have stepped out of a previous century when whaling still ruled the local economy.
I wrote about Methodist summer revival camp meetings last year in From Camp to Town. That brought the "gingerbread cottages" of Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard to my attention. I won’t bother to repeat the story because it’s all covered in the previous article, however I’ll say that it was lovely to stroll amongst the 300+ historic buildings (map) as well as visit a place in person that I’d discovered while writing Twelve Mile Circle.