….is maybe not such a great idea. It’s bigger than it looked on the not-to-scale map in the tourist brochure.
Pork-chop-shaped Block Island, Rhode Island, is about 15 miles off the easternmost tip of Long Island, where I live part of the year. I was bound and determined to get there on the last weekend of seasonal ferry service from Montauk. Unable to convince a friend to join me — admittedly, the night before — I went off solo, as I did last winter to Europe. I even wore the same trusty boots that saw me through Spain, France and Italy, and summoned up an echo of the old travel excitement as I drove the half-hour to catch the 10AM ferry on a perfect October Sunday, having done zero preliminary research. I had a vision of finding breakfast in a Victorian hotel, once I reached Block Island, on a porch overlooking the sea.
I had been to Block Island once before, in the early ’90s, and wasn’t wrong in assuming it would still be much the same — unspoiled and tranquil, with only 600 year-round residents and, by Columbus Day weekend, few vacationers left. I expected the ferry to dock in Old Harbor, immediately across from an old-fashioned high street with restaurants, bars and shops. All that’s still there, but that’s not where the new super-fast ferry from Montauk docks. It docks, after an hour-long crossing over pristine waters, in New Harbor, about two miles away from any hope of breakfast (or by now, lunch).
Leaving Montauk, above
First glimpses of Block Island, below
There was a stand renting bicycles (mopeds too), but I passed it by. Block Island is hilly, and I thought I’d be better off hoofing it. So I walked and took photos, arriving at Old Harbor to discover the grande-dame hotel restaurants mostly closed for the reason, and ended up at the Topside Cafe, a hippie establishment where I had my first-ever acai berry bowl.
Old walls made of huge stones, found throughout the island, are not why it’s called Block Island (it’s named after Adrian Block, an early Dutch settler).
I wanted to see a bit of the island’s interior and perhaps some of the vaunted ocean beaches. My rudimentary map showed 25 miles of yellow hiking trails, and I chose the Fresh Swamp Trail as a goal — it was the closest and shortest. I passed old farmhouses as I walked to the trailhead, some now used as inns, on roads that became increasingly less paved. The trail took me through woods and open fields and was serene and lovely, if not dramatic. By the time I emerged on the road at the other end, it was mid-afternoon. I had walked a total of five miles and my legs were tired. To get back on foot to New Harbor in time for the 5PM return boat, I’d have to head straight there, on perhaps the island’s least scenic road, past the airport. As I contemplated that walk, a taxi came along the otherwise deserted road, and my hand went up so fast I wasn’t sure I had even made a decision to hail it.
Because the driver had another pickup in that direction, we ended up on the unremarkable airport road, and I was now early for the return ferry. I had him drop me at Old Harbor again, thinking I’d do a bit of shopping and find a cocktail. Racks of cute, arty clothing at drastic end-of-season reductions lined the street, so I did that for a while, then found myself at Poor People’s Pub, crowded and cozy, eating the best pizza I’ve had since Naples — truffled mushrooms and goat cheese, and a Narragansett beer on draft. Then I had to move quickly to make that return ferry, or spend an extra 24 hours on the island (which wouldn’t have been the worst thing). By the time I’d hiked back to New Harbor, I was hobbling.
I never saw the beaches, except for those that could be seen from the ferry, or much of the island, really. But I saw enough to know I’d like to return.