The long ride was 26 miles on the Washington Secondary Bike Path, and I didn't even go all the way to the north end. It's actually two connected paths, the main WSBP to the east, and the Coventry Greenway to the west. Well, sort of connected, and therein lies the tale. It's a story about a not so young, not so innocent man who really ought to know better, but nevertheless allowed himself to be led astray by a note on the RIDOT map of the bike path that says "Projected 2006 Open" for the connecting segment. Surely any reasonable person would take that to mean that since it is now well into 2007, the section in question is likely to be open. Turns out RIDOT are a bunch of lying liars who lie! Clearly I forgot to translate RIDOT's "2006" into real world language, which is "Not anytime soon." Post-ride research found a brief note about the path on the RIDOT web site that states:
Between Whitford St. and Station St., 1.6 miles is currently under construction.
Right, and I'm Nomar Garciaparra. Apparently, the RIDOT-English translation of "Under construction" is "The path currently consists of a narrow rut created by the passage of numerous folk on bikes who were suckered into it by an over optimistic time to completion estimate. Have a nice day. Oh, and mind the big rocks."
My mistake was parking at Station Street, on the Coventry end of the semi-connector. I parked there because it is the closest lot to home, and I was marginally familiar with the area. My plan was to head towards the much more distant Cranston end of the path first, and then if I still had some energy left upon returning, I could head west towards the Flat River Reservoir. Things looked great at the lot. The path runs in front of the lot, and is fairly new, paved, and well maintained.
So I headed east alongside the parking lot, crossed Station Street, and all of a sudden the pavement vanished. There was just a beaten path, the rut mentioned above. The rut itself wasn't so bad. The path was well beaten, and if I was riding the Univega, which has mid-width, all-purpose tires, I probably wouldn't have given it a second thought. (At first, anyway.) But the Absolute has skinny, road tires which really don't do all that well off road. Plus there were pebbles and bits of glass that I wasn't all that keen to ride over. Still, it was a nice day and I was already on the bike, so I decided to give it a go. The trail was hard packed enough that I was able to make reasonable progress even with skinny tires. (We haven't had much rain this summer. I shudder to think what the trail is like muddy.)
It didn't take long before I realized what the big problem with the trail is. It's those rocks I mentioned. They aren't huge, just fist-sized, sharp edged pieces of track ballast, the stones that railroad tracks are built on. The problem is that a lot of them are still there. The path is, after all, the remnants of an old railroad roadbed, and while someone sometime did an excellent job of clearing away the rails and ties, they were far from meticulous about removing the old ballast. Made for 1.6 miles of very bumpy, very slippy-slidey riding, and would have been almost as bad on the Univega. The only respites came when I had to cross one of the three old bridges along the way. They were built a long time ago and look it, but the crumbling wooden decks made a nice change from the rocks.
I finally hit the paved part of the path at the West Warwick line, and things picked up considerably. For one thing, the first couple of miles are all downhill. It's not a steep grade, but enough so that I was cruising along at just below 20 mph for a very long way. Which is fine, because West Warwick will never be described by anyone as pretty. It's an old New England mill town decades past the prime it never had. You ride past the backs of decaying businesses and old company housing blocks. There is one impressive view, when you emerge from the trees onto the refurbished railroad bridge that crosses the Pawtuxet River and continues on over the Bradford Soap Works. You're about seventy feet up in the air here, and it's a long bridge. I tried not to look down.
A little further along the path cuts across the NW corner of Warwick, making a turn to the north behind CompUSA, then crosses the Pawtuxet again over a refurbished truss bridge. The path is now dead straight for miles, running for awhile behind the strip malls along Oaklawn Avenue then entering a virtual tunnel of trees in Meshanicut. I suspect the trees were probably planted to shield the houses on either side from seeing and hearing the way freights trundling past their back yards. I kept heading north until I hit Park Avenue, where I turned around. The path continues on for another mile or so, but I'd already done ten miles, and was still interested in seeing the Coventry Greenway end of the path.
As I headed south, I nearly squashed a death squirrel. I caught a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye, looked down, and there he was, below the arc of my front wheel. Missed him by inches. I had no time to react, so getting out of the way was all his doing.
The trip back was slower, mostly because I now had to go back up that long grade I'd zoomed down earlier. It's a very gentle grade, because locomotives don't do well going uphill, so it's not a strenuous climb, just very long. At the end of the grade I was back on "under construction." (Really, there's not a single piece of evidence that RIDOT has done anything on that stretch.) Still, for all my complaints about it, I was able to negotiate it well enough.
Finally back at Station Street, the completed part of the Greenway beckoned, so I headed west. RIDOT did a nice job here. This stretch is quite a bit more visually interesting than the eastern end. There are even a couple of pieces of the old track work that were spruced up and left in place as pieces of found artwork. There's also an old abandoned factory along the way, it's corrugated steel siding slowly rusting away, stark against the blue sky. I need to bring my camera along next time I ride. The pavement runs out just short of the three mile mark, replaced by a narrow, claustrophobia inducing trail. No track stones here, so I pressed on for a little bit. Then I started to smell smoke, which intensified as I went deeper into the woods. Somebody probably burning stumps or something, but the foliage was trapping the smoke down amongst the trees. My eyes started to sting, so I turned around and headed back to the truck.
It was a decent ride, a great was to spend a gorgeous morning. (The weather all weekend was terrific.) Next time, though, I'm going to park in West Warwick.