The North End
When we paused in our tale of cycling bliss in Boston, I was enjoying a rest break in the Boston Common. Having recharged my energy levels, I prepared to set up into the heart of Boston’s historic section, The North End. The clouds and rain from earlier in the ride had given way to some sunshine and warmer temperatures.
There is a nice tourist feature that I hoped to take advantage of - the Freedom Trail. Slightly longer than two miles, the Freedom Trail is a brick-lined path which takes you past a great many of the city’s historical sites. It’s a neat feature that keeps people from getting lost and handily deposits them at each of the town’s attractions, where presumably they spend all of their disposable income. I set off in search of the trail, which intersects the north side of the Common. Along the way, I spied the bar which served as the inspiration for the TV show, Cheers. I know this was the bar because they proudly fly a flag outside their entrance announcing that fact.
“Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name…”
The State House
I found the Freedom Trail at The State House. The handsome gold dome can be seen from almost anywhere one can view the Boston skyline. The site was originally John Hancock’s cow pasture and the copper (now gold leaf) dome was installed by Paul Revere. As I embarked on the trail (or to be more precise, on the road next to the trail), I quickly discerned a problem – the Freedom Trail is on the sidewalk, meaning I would need to keep track of it while pedaling in the street amongst traffic. Another level of difficulty quickly presented itself as the trail went the wrong way up a one way street. Sigh.
Site of the Boston Massacre
Gamely, I pressed on. I walked my bike on the sidewalks when necessary and dove into traffic to ride whenever I could. I passed the Old South Meeting House where the Boston Tea Party was planned and came across the site of the Boston Massacre, complete with a tour guide in a tri-pointed hat. My next stop was Faneuil Hall, site of many famous public debates and protests, many of which were dominated or orchestrated by Samuel Adams. Sadly, Sam is probably best known to most Americans today for the beer which bears his name.
It was at this point I noticed my kickstand was not behaving properly. Somehow it had loosened over the journey and would no longer support the weight of the bike. More troubling to me was the prospect of the thing getting stuck in the spokes. I resolved to keep a close eye on it and carried on.
A few hundred yards past Faneuil Hall I reached Hanover Street and gave up following the brick trail. I only cut out a small portion, but it meant I could ride straight down Hanover to the waterfront, where I took in the view of the Charles River and the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) moored on the other side. Named by George Washington, she is the world’s oldest commissioned vessel afloat.
Old North Church
I then turned my attention to my final stop in the North End – the Old North Church. This was the church which shined lanterns as a warning to Paul Revere and other Minutemen of the impending British attack at Lexington and Concord (“One if by land, two if by sea”). The church sits on a steep little hill which gives it a prominent place in the North End. I was relieved to see no lanterns shining, meaning I would be safe from British attack on at least this day.
USS Cassin Young
The day was growing long at this point, so I sped across the Charleston Bridge and made my way to the Boston National Historic Park, where the Constitution is moored. Also there is the USS Cassin Young, a WWII destroyer now in dry dock and serving as a museum. I’ve never seen a ship in dry dock and it was quite an interesting site.
Although in command, Colonel William Prescott fought as a private during the battle and was the last to leave the defenses.
My final stop was just a short uphill pedal from the river and one of the most significant spots of the American Revolution – Bunker Hill. While the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord were the first engagements of the revolution, the Battle of Bunker Hill (June 17, 1775) was the first general engagement in which armies fought each other. The hill where the battle actually occurred (and the one I climbed) is Breed’s Hill. Bunker Hill is adjacent and played an ancillary role in the fight. It seems that, upon occupying the ground, the Colonialists decided Breed’s Hill would provide better defensible terrain than nearby Bunker Hill – the place where they were ordered to defend by Congress. Not wanting to let a pesky detail get in the way of naming the battle, Bunker Hill endured in the histories. The monument was completed for the 50th anniversary of the battle and the cornerstone was laid by the Marquis de Lafayette. The site was immensely popular and was considered hallowed ground until events of the Civil War and other conflicts eclipsed it.
Bunker Hill Monument
Self-Portrait with Lucky Raleigh Bike #13
By now it was 6:00 PM and I had an hour to travel about three miles back to the bicycle store before it closed. I made it with plenty of time to spare and was surprised to see the place extremely busy. One of the clerks said that as soon as the sun came out, the customers arrived in force. I mentioned the problem I had with the kickstand, only so they would make the repair before giving the bike to someone else. Immediately, the clerk sought out the manager, who directed him to take 25% off the already very reasonable rental fee. Wow.
So let me take the time to suggest to anyone in need of a rental bike in the Cambridge, MA, area, strongly consider Cambridge Bicycle. They have good bikes at very good rates and their employees are top-notch!
Broad, Sweeping Conclusions.
Based on a six-hour tour and two other days of walking about Cambridge, I believe I am now fully qualified to provide expert commentary on the cycling scene in and around Boston. In a word, I was impressed. There are lots of people riding bikes and plenty of pathways and bike lanes to get them where they want to go. The infrastructure makes sense – you can zip along pathways almost to the heart of Boston and Cambridge and duck off when you are very close to your destination. Once off the pathways there are ample bike lanes, especially in Cambridge. The cycling experience in the suburbs suffers just like it does everywhere else and the narrow, crowded streets of the North End are not ideal for cyclists, either. Other than that, I felt very safe. My one experience in a bicycle shop was one of the best I have had anywhere – their rates and customer service were exceptional.
All of this adds up to official There And Back Again recognition of Boston as “The Best City I Have Ever Cycled In.” Congratulations!
Let me close with another picture of the local bird life - some very smart Canadians which were loitering outside the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, no doubt developing a technology to ease cross-continent migrations.
Historical Marker Segment!
Yes, they have historical markers in Boston! Although I saw many placards and signs affixed to various historical buildings, this was the only “traditional” marker I came across in my travels. I found it next to the bridge over the Charles in the town of Watertown. In case you’re wondering, “tercentenary” means of or pertaining to a 300th anniversary. I think that means the sign was erected in 1930, which would truly be amazing!