It’s taken me 24 years to finally get up early on a Sunday morning to join the trailblazing Bike to the Sea folks for their annual 20-mile ride from Everett to Nahant Beach. Twenty-four years—that sounds lame, but it’s true.
Finally, on Sunday, June 12 of this year, my husband and I biked down to the Doo Wop Diner in Malden to meet friends, Karen and Scott, for a 7:30 a.m. breakfast, and then on to the starting point for the annual ride.
Every year, I thought about doing the ride. When my kids were young, I envisioned us all doing it together, but I could never seem to garner the forces such as they were. I’m essentially a casual bike rider, often too daunted by the long steep hill I live at the top of, which makes finishing my ride an exhausting feat. I love fresh air and exercise, but physical stamina was never my strong suit.
However I so appreciate the bike path! Maybe it’s because I remember a Malden Recycling Committee meeting way back (circa 1992, before we had curbside recycling), when Steve Winslow, who was on the committee with me, broached his idea of a bike path that would run from Malden to Revere Beach. He stated that he knew it would take a long time. It took 20 years for Arlington to get their Minuteman Path.
And he was right! He and the hardworking folks on the Bike to the Sea (B2C) committee have been working diligently to leap over all the political, financial, promotional and logistical hurdles necessary to make this path a reality.
When the Malden portion of the bike path, officially called the Northern Strand Trail, was finally paved a few years back, I was cheering them on. It was so exciting to try the path out. It seemed like you could ride from one end of Malden to the other in no time at all, enjoying a flat, smooth ride the whole way. It was heartening to start seeing families and joggers, strollers and skateboarders, rollerbladers, walkers and, of course, bicyclists appear on the path. Malden suddenly had a 3 mile linear park running right through it.
Sure, it’s not the most scenic of routes. The bike path runs on the old, abandoned railway line, cutting mainly through the backs of industrial buildings and neglected commercial properties. But that is slowly changing, as people “adopt” sections of the trail, cleaning and sprucing it up—some flowers and shrubbery here, a cool wall mural there, and of course the wonderful community garden, built two years ago on the intersection of Faulkner Street.
The annual Bike to the Sea ride has been raising awareness and support for the bike path since B2C was established in 1993. Originally, just a symbolic ride through where the path would eventually be, it’s now become an actual ride on the bike path, or at least as far as the bike path takes you, before you need to veer off onto the street to get to the sea.
Riders start at the Madeleine English School in Everett and ride the smoothly-paved path through Everett and Malden. The path turns to crushed stone at the Revere line and continues that way all the way through Saugus where the path ends at the Lynn line. B2C has not yet been able to plow through the hurdles to get the bike path through Lyn and into Nahant to end at Nahant beach. (Early in the process, a path to Revere Beach was not deemed feasible.)
On Bike to the Sea day, riders can opt for the “family ride,” a 13-mile ride to the end of the bike path and back, or continue on to Nahant Beach (the 20-mile ride), navigating the regular streets and roadways. Police patrol help guide and protect the riders at key intersections along the route.
B2C Board member Pete Sutton explained that B2C alerts the police in all the path communities, letting them know the approximate time riders would be arriving at various intersections. Typically, each community sends volunteer police patrol, which is really helpful in making the ride possible for so many riders to cross safely at one time, and stay together as a group. This year, the City of Everett sent bicycle police patrol that led the riders from the start of the ride to the end of the bike path.
According to the other B2C co-founder Helen Weitz, over 120 riders registered for this year’s ride. She notes that in the past few years, there have been well over 100 riders, compared to 80 or less before there was an actual path.
Malden resident Bob Rowley has been doing the ride almost every year. This year, he brought along his longtime friends from St. Francis grade school, to ride with him. “It’s always a lot of fun to get out and do the ride,” he says.
There were many first-timers on the ride as well. Malden resident Dorota Bulik stated, “We know about the bike path and wanted to support the cause.” Melrose residents Mike and Martha Quigley comment, “It’s a wonderful community initiative and we’re glad to be doing this year’s ride.” And Ginny Rowe adds, “It’s a great excuse to pump up the tires.”
School Committee member Tara Beardsley rode with her 21-month-old son in tow and her 14-year old daughter, Kaelen. Together, they did the whole 20 mile ride. Kaelen shared that this was her third year doing the ride, with only the first time being just the 13-miles. When asked why she does the long ride, she responded simply, “Because it’s fun!”
And it was. I enjoyed being together with this group of local activists who have worked so hard to make their communities more healthy and livable, and the folks who rode to support their efforts. It was fun to meet new people and chat with them while riding. And it was great to finally reach “the sea” where many folks dived into the water, while others enjoyed the view by relaxing on the sand or under the pavilion, before heading back.
Co-founder and B2C president Steve Winslow was thrilled with this year’s annual ride, but he has bigger and better plans for next year. “Every year, we ride back from the beach using the same route we took to get there. Next year, we hope to plan “Pathfest,” by getting the path communities to organize different events which we can stop at and enjoy on the return trip.” The idea would be loosely modelled on “Porchfest,” popular in many communities, where folks host musical acts on their lawns and porches. “Pathfest would get people out into the communities that the path serves,” states Winslow, “and would be a new, fun way to celebrate the bike path.”
As for me and my husband, we veered off the path before the ending celebration at the Dockside Restaurant in Malden. Not that we wouldn’t have enjoyed pizza and drinks at the popular eating establishment but, you see, there was still that steep hill I had to get up in order to reach home, and I was TIRED!
For more information on the history of building the bike path, see this article by Neighborhood View journalist Karen Buck.