Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Mashpee HV Power Lines Ride

And, just like that, it's already July. A couple of days of the long Independence Day weekend I spent with my family at the Cape Cod. It's not the best place to ride a bike this time of the year, due to crowd and heavy traffic, but I tried anyway.

My problem with Western Cape Cod was always lack of longer, unpaved sections for some off-road riding, away from the car traffic. There are short fragments that can be stitched together but sooner or later you will end up on a main road with cars and trucks speeding by.

I looked at the satellite map of the area and realized that there is a way to (potentially) create an off-road bike route by using maintenance roads under high voltage power lines. Not knowing exactly what I was signing up for, I gave it a try...

The route covers an area between the village of Osterville and towns of Mashpee and Sandwich, just east of Otis National Guard Air Base.

I started early in the morning, at which point air was already unpleasantly humid (typical for July at the Cape) and I quickly entered the first power line trail. In terms of riding surface, this one (just north of Rt 28) was very civilized:

Then things got a bit rough. The next trail just off Old Post Rd is covered with crushed rocks and riding there was tough on my 35mm tires.
But then the rocky surface ended and when I got to Sampsons Mill Rd, it turned into sand. I had to push my bike frequently as it sank in the deep sand way too easily.
On top of that, once I crossed Meetinghouse Rd, the road turned into a narrow forest singletrack and I quickly discovered that I either take my shoes off or be forced to turn around. This is where the trail crosses Mashpee River. Unfortunately, there is no bridge, no fallen log over water, not even some rocks to jump across. The river isn't wide but deep enough that you may end up stuck, should you try to ride through it. One tip here - it would be certainly easier to ride this section in the opposite direction - north to south. That's because the northern bank is very muddy, which means you can't keep your feet clean to put socks back on.
With that in mind, I continued and my feet smelled like river mud.
I eventually reached a network of fire roads in the deep woods of Mingo Conservation Area in Mashpee. The map of this area is very misleading. The roads on the map are wide and even have their own names. In reality, it's not much more than wide, but very sandy fire roads with no markings of any kind. You need to rely on your GPS (a smartphone will suffice) to figure out where you're going. 
I also had to back track a couple of times as it turned out that I can't ride around Otis base. The whole area is completely fenced in and roads that seem to be on the outside of the fence on the map, are not.
After a few more miles through the forest, I entered a trail on Cove Rd, which started nicely but then got me completely lost. By dead reckoning, I ended up exiting it through Hirsch Rd somehow, just a few hundred feet away from Cove Rd. Then I tried to cut across YMCA camp at Stowe Rd and go around Lawrence Pond by means of Schumacher Way, but I found out that maps for this area are plain wrong. This dirt road first turns into a grass-overgrown path, then enters a field and then just disappears with no sign of any trail or path ahead. I had no choice but to give up this section and go around to Great Hill Rd, which took me to the last power line train on my route.
This power line trail runs along Rt 6 - Cape Cod's main highway and oh boy, it's rocky. I could slowly make my way forward but riding there on 35mm Clement USH tires wasn't "what tiggers like best"...
... and it was quickly evidenced by the first flat I got in many years (in the rear wheel obviously). I realized that I either buy a bike with wider tires or stop riding on trails designed for mountain bikes. Otherwise my tires are not going to last much longer, judging from several cuts and scrapes on sidewalls.

After fixing the flat, I finally got back home - nearly 5 hours after leaving it. What was supposed to be a quick 40km ride (25mi) ride ended up in 55km (35mi) trek across sand, rocks and water.

In the end though, it was fun. Should you attempt it, keep in mind that there are many gates on the way to cross, perhaps not completely legally. Most of them have a sign attached like the one in the photo below. No motorized vehicles allowed. However, it doesn't mention bicycles...

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