On My Way: Riding the gravel trail

Out for a ride leads to making new friends.

The Gravel Crew. —Jonathan Burke

The gravel ride from the meadow of Quansoo Farm to the meadow of Nat’s Farm, with all sorts of surprises in between, was fun the entire way. The All Star All Gravel course, slotted for 2.5 to 3 hours, was all of that and more for the full 25 miles of up-Island road and trail.

I was excited and nervous. Could I keep up? Where would the ride take me? Would I fit in with the group? My brother Douglas, a regular in the Island bike community, had encouraged me to join.

We met in the parking lot of the West Tisbury library a little before 8 am on a Saturday in the second week of August. The day was quiet and the sun was lifting in the sky. I found in short order there was no reason to worry.

Wayne, the leader of the ride, welcomed me. He commented on my bike. Beth, we discovered, taught my kids gymnastics in preschool. Sean and I talked colleges.

The ride began promptly. The burley group of 15 or so, of which I was a part, set out onto State Road. We settled into a single file on the shoulder. I felt the grin plastered to my face.

We turned soon en masse onto a dirt road. Traffic came to a stop and gave us a right of way. My enthusiasm increased. The day boded well. Some folks talked and rode in small groups. I kept to myself as a newcomer. My goal mainly was to keep up and stay in the saddle.

We turned onto a trail. My eyes could not help but to open. We were traveling a wide and expansive meadow. I had not been here before. I followed the narrow winding dirt path through the grass and shrubs. Where were we?

A short tree stood on its own. I looked up. In the distance, I saw a ridge of sand dunes. I had no idea we were that near the ocean. My comfort level increased as we wound along the trail. The pace was comfortable. I followed the biker ahead of me. I asked and learned we were in the Sheriff’s Meadow Quansoo Farm property.

The group stopped as the trail ended on a dirt road. At every turn in the ride, folks waited for the last person. The group bunched up. Once everyone was accounted for, we went left. Folks shot ahead.

I could blame it on my mountain bike. Douglas and I were the only two mountain bikes amidst the lighter gravel bikes with their more narrow tires. I could blame it on my pedal baskets. I was the only one without the more productive cleated bike shoes. Truth is my conditioning for biking was just not as strong.

I pedaled for all I was worth. My legs burned. My comfort level decreased as I fell back. I bounced in my seat over the crosswise ruts. I fought for oxygen. Fortunately, the group was clustered ahead as I began to question myself. I took a few relaxing breaths. Douglas checked in.

We crossed Middle Road. Another dirt road with some gentle humps lay on the other side. I followed along. We were in new territory.

This next segment introduced me to an Island I had not seen before – a whole other world tucked in the woods away from the three main up-island arteries. We went on gravel and dirt from one road to another.

I chatted with Peter who is building a house with his wife. I learned some biker communication. “Car up!” meant a car ahead and ‘car back!’ meant a car coming from behind. It was the same for joggers and walkers.

Out of nowhere, a pretty pond materialized. I looked in wonder. The small body of water seemed more of the Adirondacks than of the Island. Trees of different types grew down to the shore. I marveled.

I met a few more folks. Brian moved to the Island full time with his wife during the years of the pandemic and Roger recently took up gravel biking as his knees no longer wanted to run.

The day was hot and the roads dusty. I drank from my CamelBak. I settled in and found my place. The group was full of camaraderie. We went at a relaxed pace. I had the opportunity to speak with Wayne.

Wayne grew up on the Island. He is disheartened some when he returns to visit now due to the massive influx of wealth. But on the gravel rides on the dirt roads and ways of the Island backcountry, he finds the home he loves.

We took a mid-ride break. The day was beautiful. We were in a clearing with a panoramic vista of the sea. Folks lay down their bikes. Some took pictures and some just talked and soaked in the sun. The break did not last long. ‘Seat up!’

After about five minutes we were back in the saddle. We had a short climb. I was accustomed now to the burn in my legs and the lack of air in my lungs. Thankfully, every time I felt like I was out of steam we crested a hill and started a downward coast.

One of the group picked up a flat. We decided one group would go on and the other would wait. I chose to go on as I was slower. We went along for a ways and then turned onto a conservation property. Out of nowhere again, another pretty pond appeared — a little smaller than the first. I marveled again at the surprising sight. Homes were nearby.

The other group caught up shortly. With the help of a CO2 cartridge, the tube had been replaced in no time. I was learning some things.

Somehow, we were back on a paved road. We went up a country hill past some farms. We turned onto a dirt road and went down. We turned onto another road and went back up. Someone knew their way.

One of the great things about the ride was that all I had to do was ride. Someone else did the figuring. I did not have to stop and think about the next turn. I could just enjoy the gravel trail.

Every now and then a place I knew — the Nip N Tuck Farm, the Tea Lane Farm — unexpectedly appeared. After some time on gravel roads and/or conservation trails, we would surface somewhere I knew. I would register our location for a moment. And then we would disappear again into the woods.

The last portion of the morning ride was the easiest. A flat and fast trail took us to the meadow of Nat’s Farm. I hopped onto the paved bike path to go faster. We found a short way in the foliage. On a dirt road, we came by the Granary Gallery. The group stopped to confer.

The ride was near its end. We pushed off for the last segment. The euphoria took over. The last mile was no problem. The fatigue dropped away. I had held my own. We pulled into the parking lot.

The 25 mile All Star All Gravel ride had lived up to its name. We came in just under the allotted three hours. The ride had been full of roads and trails and sights of the Island. And the best part? The Saturday morning gravel crew was friendly as could be.