Whether for business or pleasure Falmouth’s scenic bikeway is something to see and explore.
by Bill Higgins
Photography by Dan Cutrona
The Shining Sea Bikeway in Falmouth gets its name from “America the Beautiful,” the poem written in 1893 by Falmouth native Katharine Lee Bates and a song considered by many worthy of the national anthem.
“O beautiful for spacious skies … From sea to shining sea!”
Beautiful indeed. The bikeway is a 10.7-mile paved, off-road (no cars) path winding from North Falmouth to Woods Hole, with several access points and scenic stops along the way. The trail follows the route of the old New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad.
The bikeway is extremely popular and shared by cyclists, joggers, inline skaters and walkers. For many, it’s an oasis from these confusing times of COVID-19. Stephanie Madsen rides the path often from her home in West Falmouth to Woods Hole, where she works as sustainability coordinator at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Before the pandemic, Madsen commuted on her bike to WHOI five days a week.
One of the priorities when she and her family moved to Falmouth was to find a home close enough to the bikeway to make the eight-mile ride to work. On occasion during inclement weather, Madsen will drive, but cycling fits her environmentally conscious lifestyle and helps support the science community’s biking initiatives to ease traffic congestion, reduce greenhouse gas and pollution emissions, and encourage a healthy lifestyle. “I enjoy the exercise and the ride helps me separate the day, whether it’s in the morning getting ready for work or in the afternoon transitioning back home,” Madsen says. “I don’t ever take for granted the natural beauty that is all around me.”
Madsen has been working at home during the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, but she continues to ride the bikeway to Woods Hole several days a week “to help maintain my sanity.” Her favorite spots are the sweeping Sippewissett marshes, which change by the light of the seasons, and the beaches. “I’ve been in cities, and I know I need this environment, the green space, the blue waters,” says Madsen. “It’s soothing and helps keep me in a positive frame of mind.”
For Paul Sellers, who enjoys cycling longer distances on open roads, the Shining Sea is still one of his favorite routes. He lives about three miles from the North Falmouth start and near a bikeway parking lot. “Just jump out the door and you’re off,” says Sellers, manager of Vegetation Management at Eversource Energy/Massachusetts. “I’ve been riding with my daughter, Paige, and one of our favorite routes is to follow the bikeway into Woods Hole, out along the Falmouth Road Race course past Nobska Light, Surf Drive Beach, into Falmouth Heights, and then back home. It’s [about] 25 miles and having her join me has been one of the good things to come out of the pandemic.”
The bikeway rides are a nice change for the 58-year-old Sellers. Before the coronavirus curtailed things, he was part of a Monday night group out of the Corner Cycle shop that rode through Falmouth, Bourne, and Sandwich, often integrating the Shining Sea and the Cape Cod Canal path.
Sellers has done the 100-mile Buzzards Bay Watershed Ride from Little Compton, Rhode Island, to Woods Hole. He also participates in the Tour des Trees, an annual national fundraiser supporting arboriculture and urban forestry. It’s a five-day event covering 400 to 600 miles. One of his favorites was in 2013 when the 575-mile trek took him on both sides of Niagara Falls from the U.S. into Canada.
Sellers, who has been cycling for more than 30 years, rides nearly every day from spring into the fall and enjoys the simplicity of the sport. “It’s easy exercise, hop on the bike and go at your own speed for as long as you want,” he says. “For me, it’s definitely therapeutic, physically and mentally. Riding at the end of the day allows me to unwind and we certainly don’t lack for things to see.”
- Before riding, do the ABCs: check the air in tires; check your brakes; check your chain and cables.
- Always wear a helmet. Also, bright or fluorescent clothing will help make you more visible.
- Practice proper hand and verbal signals when approaching or passing; refrain from wearing earbuds or headphones.
- To protect yourself and slow the spread of COVID-19:
- Limit touching surfaces (call buttons) touched by others; if you do, as soon as possible wash or use hand sanitizer (60 percent alcohol).
- Follow social distancing guidelines and avoid crowded and/or narrow routes.
- Wear a mask in public settings and when around people.
- Avoid spitting or clearing of the nasal passages in public.
For more resources on biking Cape Cod and the islands:
The Shining Sea is not the only game in town. The Cape has a variety of trails and paths. Here are three more worth exploring:
1 Cape Cod Canal
There are two flat, seven-mile paved service roads on both sides of the canal and they’re great options for family rides. Along the way you’ll see fishermen, diving birds, plus boats, barges and tugs making their way between Cape Cod Bay and Buzzards Bay.
2 Cape Cod Rail Trail
This 25-mile paved bikeway was recently expanded from its original trailhead in South Dennis to a new area in South Yarmouth. The well-maintained path winds along cranberry bogs and Nickerson State Park in Brewster to Orleans, Eastham and Wellfleet. There is also a split that’ll take you to Harwich and Chatham.
3 Province Lands Trail
Part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, this is a ride through Provincetown’s majestic dunes at the tip of the Cape. The seven-mile paved path is a hilly loop with stops at Herring Cove and Race Point beaches. The Visitors Center (and observation deck) is also a good resource.