Off the beaten path with Lee Sinai
"Discover Martha's Vineyard," by Lee Sinai, Appalachian Mountain Club Books (AMC), 2009, 288 ppg, $18.95
If you've never tasted an Island dangleberry or strolled through fields of lady slippers in the spring, Lee Sinai's "Discover Martha's Vineyard: AMC's Guide to the Best Hiking, Biking, and Paddling," may become your indispensable traveling companion.
Seasonal Island resident and inveterate outdoor enthusiast, Ms. Sinai has paced, pedaled, and paddled her way through the Vineyard's 23 miles of unspoiled terrain during her 25 years of living here. She compiled her first collection of off-the-beaten-path excursions in 1991 and has thoroughly updated that volume twice. The 2009 edition, now published by Appalachian Mountain Club, the nation's oldest outdoor recreation and conservation organization, includes several new properties and a host of others that most Vineyard residents have probably never explored.
From Waskosim's Rock and Wapatequa Woods reservations to the Caroline Tuthill Wildlife Preserve, "Discover Martha's Vineyard" offers nature lovers and adventurers 45 destinations, complete with directions, a detailed description of the natural environment, map, illustrations of flora, photographs and the degree of difficulty of each outing. Along the way, Ms. Sinai provides frequent detours - snippets of information about the history, geography, geology, and vegetation of the area.
A Massachusetts native, Ms. Sinai says she has always been attracted to outdoor pursuits. "My father was a very good athlete and I was a camp counselor from age 13 to 20. Sports were a constant in my life from the time I was a child."
A former tennis instructor-turned-administrator at Tufts University, she turned to writing after a casual conversation with a passerby on the beach in Chilmark. "We were discussing our favorite out-of-the-way places and it occurred to me that it would be cool to develop an active guide to the Vineyard. The only catch: I knew nothing about writing."
Pragmatic as well as energetic, Ms. Sinai wrote and sent a sample chapter to her daughter, then on staff at Money Magazine in New York, and to her son, the former editor of his college paper. "They're the best editors I've ever had," she reports.
After receiving rejection letters from several publishers, Ms. Sinai decided to produce the book on her own - not an uncommon choice among Island authors - when Boston's Harvard Common Press contacted her. They released her first edition in 1992 and followed it up with a request: Could she write a similar outdoor guide to the greater Boston area? The result: the first of two editions of "Boston on Bike and Foot," a compilation of excursions from Gloucester to Cohasset.
Ms. Sinai says she selected the destinations in "Discover Martha's Vineyard" based on scenery, history, flora, and geology. While she had toured some of the areas, before she began researching the book, she discovered others once she was on her mission. Relying on input from the directors of Martha's Vineyard's conservation groups, she hiked, biked, and paddled across 37 miles of bike paths and 12 bodies of water, often with the experts, then organized the material into reader-friendly trip with planning charts, a keyed locator map, and an easy-to-digest format divided into walking and hiking, on- and off-road biking, and paddling sections.
Spending countless days exploring remote territories doesn't come without its mishaps. Ms. Sinai got lost on unmarked trails and experienced her share of flat bicycle tires.
"Then there were the mosquitoes on Chappy!" Ms. Sinai says with a note of begrudging respect in her voice. On the other hand, she kayaked among hundreds of swans on Squibnocket Pond in Chilmark. "There was absolutely no one else there," she explains. "It was magical."
Pressed for her favorite destinations, she has a difficult time narrowing it down. Walking/hiking: An "oldie but goodie," she relates, citing Cedar Tree Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in West Tisbury. A close runner-up: Blackwater Pond Reservation, a new Martha's Vineyard Land Bank property, also in West Tisbury. Biking: The ride to Aquinnah on Middle Road. Runner-up: Pedaling from East Chop to West Chop. Paddling: Tisbury Great Pond, her favorite, hands down, for its varied terrain and plethora of coves and inlets. As for the best beach, Ms. Sinai's pick is Great Rock Bite Preserve in Chilmark, "a little known gem." And top getaway: Mytoi Garden on Chappaquiddick, a serene Japanese-inspired garden with exotic plantings, brooks, bridges, and benches for quiet reflection.
"Discover Martha's Vineyard: AMC's Guide to the Best Hiking, Biking, and Paddling" is available at Island bookstores and online.
Karla Araujo is a regular contributor to The Martha's Vineyard Times.