Overdose on New England Charm

A few weeks ago I felt the need to get out for a longish endeavour. As always I tried to figure out what it was I wanted to get out of it, to know what would best fit. ¾ of the way through most things starts to feel like a chore. It isn’t until around 7/8ths that things accelerate towards a finish. ¾ of the way through this winter was feeling like a chore. I didn’t want to run in the cold. I didn’t want to run on uneven snow. What I really wanted was to be somewhere cool with mountains and trees and no cars or people.

Lack of infrastructure makes it much more logistical to accomplish all of that so it usually doesn’t happen. Some time last year I got it in my head that in the stead of expansive and pensive nature I’d take a jaunt on the end of the landmass that is Cape Cod.

I caught a bus down to Barnstable, situated in the bicep of Massachusetts. My plan was to bounce along the road until I could get onto the Rail Trail, follow that till its end, and then jump back on the road till I hit Provincetown. There is a year round campground, Nickerson State Park, in the elbow of the cape that was part of a more relaxing plan involving an overnight stay. This would be the first year they offered winter camping and the severity of weather forced them to shutter the idea this year.

Despite the lack of actually camping I wanted to test out a new smaller pack I had purchased for overnight running trips with a full set of gear. I rolled my sleeping bag, inflatable sleeping mattress and my bivy up in a stuff sack for convenience and strapped it to the outside of the pack. The smaller volume pack meant I would have to pare down what I usually bring to more bare essentials. (For some reason I always insisted on carrying 250 kitchen matches into the woods?). Given that my sleeping gear is only a few extra pounds it makes me feel much safer to have it with me on solo journeys over 30 miles.

The distance between the two points turned out to be around 50 miles and I had 18 hours before my bus left. I hit the road in Barnstable and started to absorb the New England charm. Nautical themes abounded. In a warped reality nouns became switched. Door knocker? It’s actually a pair of ice skates. Lawn art? Do you mean stacks of buoys and lobster traps? I knew Cape Cod Style homes were a thing but I didn’t realize the Cape is almost exclusively covered in them. I imagined the clouds of road salt I tasted were actually wafts of ocean breeze.

It would seem the whole Cape, beyond being its own altered reality is actually its own economic reality too. Every 3 miles had a requisite antique store, quaint lodging, and art studio. The amount of hurricane lamps on display would lead one to believe people collected them to keep hurricanes away.

It was all beautiful though. A lifestyle that perpetuates a style. The gentle mimicry that envelopes a peoples that spend time together is to me, a clustering of sorts. Parts of individuals that may or may not be at the surface bubble up in the agitation of shared experience. Maybe sometimes the assimilation isn’t so gentle. It almost feels that in an area of distinct style there is the endpoint of some evolution. A mixing and culling of individual styles that create a monolithic way of being. A sub-culture of well off white folks who enjoy replacing punctuation and letters with whales.

The road sucked. Endless cars, no shoulders. No where to wee. I got dehydrated and bored. There was one refuge, a sickly crafts-like shopping plaza with public toilets and a candy shop.

Eventually I found the part of the rail trail I wanted to jump on. I don’t know what I was expecting but there was 2 feet of snow with a thin layer of pack on top. I post holed a few feet down the trail and realized there was no way I was doing 22 miles of that. Pondering my next move I prepared a dehydrated meal I had purchased at REI. I realized that Ramen only has about 200 calories, where I should be getting much, much more on a multi-day trip. The vegan meal had about 650 calories in it, and didn’t taste too bad. The worry of getting run over was a real one and as the sun was setting I was not looking forward to running on the road all night. After digesting a bit I strapped on my headlamp and a safety blinker and got shuffling.

Eventually I got lost-ish at a traffic circle. For some reason I decided to give the rail trail another shot and was pleasantly surprised to find a small snowshoe track had packed it down a bit. In the darkness I crunched along on the most settling portion of my trip. I picked up scraps of solitude in the stretches devoid of artificial light. Whoever blazed the path called it quits after a couple of miles and I ended up trading off running on the road and rail trail a couple of times. The end of the rail trail was a ¼ mile slog through snow that was by all accounts untouched since January. I laughed and sunk to my thighs in frozen precipitation.

The sketchy road miles got less sketchy as the shoulder opened up and traffic closed up. The first hint of the cessation of my journey was a glimpse of the strange tower and glittering coastline of p-town. My stomach was unsettled to say the least and the perceived nearness to my finish slowed me down to a walk. Past rows and rows of unoccupied summer rentals. Tarps and half finished siding flapped under the pressure of ocean wind. Orange lights made visible the lack of active life. The occasional beach home would have a light in a window. I imagined myself the last man alive, the remaining lights a vestige of a lost civilization. They lied about the comfort and love inside.

I was still 5+ hours away from my bus and the cold seeped in. The projected overnight low in the 30s was more in the 19s and the wind ripped away my warmth. Wearing every layer I brought around my wet base I stumbled into town. More abandoned homes and untrue lights. The first sign of a life was someone coming home from a bar giving me compliments on my headlight.

After finding the bus stop I shivered uncontrollably for a few hours. Not wanting to get in trouble for bivvying at the bus stop I simply wrapped my sleeping bag around my lower half and sat on a bench. I spread myself across the realms of awake and sleep. I imagined myself warming the world by taking the cold air into my lungs,
heating it up, expelling it into the quiet night. I reminisced about time spent cold and wet and uncomfortable, times easy to remember.

All in all, would I recommend the trip? Hard to say. The problem is it’s beautiful in the daylight if you like checking out how the others live with their property and homes. Traffic on the road makes it much less enjoyable. Maybe running more on the bike path would be a better reprieve. The night had a very cool quality to it, but you can do that anywhere given the lack of interesting things to see. You could also just not do it as slow as I did and I bet it wouldn’t suck too bad.

That's life, man.

Strava Track before my watch died.

Scratch Math for calories consumed.

Bars - 290 + 360 + 370
Gu/Gel - 200 + 100 + 100 + 90 + 90 + 90
Meals - 640


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