There Are No Vineyards on Martha's Vineyard
Updated: Feb 5
I was under the illusion that Martha's Vineyard would be a quaint, little island. I was wrong. After having read that the island was larger than Nantucket and getting around would require bicycles, in the least, we formulated a plan to rent mopeds and spend the day sightseeing. This turned out to be a moderately terrifying experience for me, but a great adventure for my travel buddy. "Just sit right back, and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip..." wait, wrong island.
Martha's Vineyard is off the southern coast of Massachusetts. It is the playground for the country club elite, and those wishing to bump elbows with high society can be found on the island soaking up the Atlantic rays during midsummer, which is exactly why we chose to go in October.
It is said that the Obama Family recently purchased a beach home on the Vineyard and other notable residents include David Letterman, Diane Sawyer. And of course, the Kennedy Family, probably the most well known Massachusetts clan, enjoyed Martha's Vineyard for many years. October is the quiet season.Traffic seemed local, and many businesses were closed for the season. But, the ferries were running so accessing the island during the off-season seemed like a relaxing way to spend the day. If you go to the Vineyard, don't expect any wine tours. The last vineyard on the island closed in 2008.
The island can be accessed via ferry boat or airplane, year-round. We chose the former and bought ferry tickets. Round trip tickets were $17, and you can bring your car over, costing anywhere from $68 to $120, depending on the vehicle size. Travelers definitely need to consider what they want to see on the island because it is 20 miles at the longest distance. According to Culture Trip, there are ten must-see locations on the Vineyard.
The Gingerbread Houses - Oak Bluff
The Flying Horse Carousel - Oak Bluff
Have a Sunset Picnic and Eat Lobster and Chowder - Menemsha Beach
See the Gay Head Cliffs of Aquinnah -Aquinnah
Rent a Bike (or some wheels)
Meet the Alpacas
Check out the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary - Edgartown
Snap Photos of the Edgartown Lighthouse
Wander the Mytoi Japanese Garden - Chappaquiddick
Nosh at the Martha's Vineyard Gourmet Cafe and Bakery
After quickly looking over the list, we decided to start with the Aquinnah Cliffs. But first, we needed to obtain some wheels, therefore checking off item #5 on the Culture Trip list. We went to the highly-rated Adventure Rentals, a quick walk from the Vineyard Haven ferry terminal. As we approached the shop, we admired the beautiful row of shiny mopeds lining the street. Excitedly, we popped our head in through the open door, "Hello?"
No answer. The door was wide open, but no one was around. We called the phone number listed on the website and left a message saying that we would hang around for a few minutes before moving on to another shop. After about 10 minutes of waiting, Kevin from the neighboring glass store, came over to tell us that Adventure Rentals was closed on weekdays. Helpfully, he directed us over to King Rentals in Oak Harbor, a 5-mile walk from Vineyard Haven. We called King Rentals, and the lady who answered the phone told us that there was a bus or we could take an Uber. We opted for the Uber, having no knowledge whatsoever of bus schedules and stops.
The 15-minute ride set us back $17 bucks, but King Rentals reimbursed us for the fare. How cool! It was now about 10 am, and we were just getting started. So far, things were going nowhere near as smoothly as the Steamboat Authority Ferry brochure claimed. We got to the window and began the process of signing waivers, and when the lady asked for a driver's license, I reached down into my bag and realized that I had left my purse in the car on the mainland. Bollocks! No money, no license, no luck. Thinking quickly, I remembered I had a picture of my license on my phone in case I am ever stranded or get pulled over unexpectedly. Forgetting my money and license is an all too familiar scenario for me. Luckily, Laurel being the kind and generous daughter she is, picked up the tab for the mopeds, and the lady accepted the picture of my driver's license. She then asked us if we had ever ridden mopeds before. When we said no, she sort of chuckled in a way that made me feel instantly uncomfortable. "It is just like riding a bike, right?" I asked.
"Not really," she replied. I began to regret the mopeds instantly. Then she took us over to a television to watch a video about moped safety. When she pressed play on the DVD player, I heard the machine say "Pray" instead of play. I thought, "Oh God, am I gonna die on this bougie island with no forms of identification and no way to contact my family except by using my dental records?" I know I am being dramatic.
We watched the video carefully, learning that the treachery from these small death devices comes from S.A.N.D.S. Sand, All Vehicles, Narrow Roads, Dehydration, and Speed. We were on an island surrounded by sand, and this, combined with having to share the road with cars and bikes, would be challenging. We were to keep our speed under 25 miles per hour. After a quick lesson on how to use the kickstand and turn the motor on, we took a spin around the block to make sure that we weren't going to crash straight away. I knew this was a test, and the man giving us the instructions would be judging us by our ability to not kill ourselves in the first 5 minutes.
We did surprisingly well and I was wondering to myself why I had never done this before. I felt pretty badass until I remembered I was on a scooter and had my speed capped at 25 miles per hour. Meep Meep. A quick reality check got my head screwed on straight and kept me from getting a tattoo that said, "Mom" and a leather biker vest that read, "Hells Mopeds." I was just a big fudgie dork, but that was okay. Riding a moped with the sand stinging your cheeks is about as much of a thrill as I needed to feel alive.
As we tooled around the block, we passed the Flying Horse Carousel, closed for 2020, and the Gingerbread Houses. They were numbers one and two on our list, and honestly, I was not impressed enough to pull the moped over and take pictures. I was really into riding and living in the moment, so I borrowed this picture of the Gingerbread Houses off the internet. Please see the source in the photo caption.
After we passed our practice drive, we were given the green light to head toward the Aquinnah Cliffs, which were located at the exact opposite end of the island. At this point in the journey, we had no concept of exactly how far that was because who likes people who plan in advance anyway? Boring! We set off on what would become an hour and a half long journey to Aquinnah, one of the six towns on MV.
The day was beautiful. The sun was warm, and the breeze cool, which made riding very comfortable. We puttered along at a leisurely hum, feeling stress only when cars would begin to tailgate and then pass impatiently. There were no slow island vibes here. The driving is just
as intense as on the mainland. The road took us through the central part of the island, where I guessed many locals live. I barely felt like we were on an island most of the time, but when we did catch a glimpse of the ocean, it was magnificent. Beautiful blues with bright green seagrasses, autumn had not yet begun to wrap the island in color.
After about an hour, we began to feel the "D" in S.A.N.D.S and decided to stop for some early lunch in Chilmark. We saw an attractive looking tavern that ended up being closed, so we walked next door to the General Store, and Laurel bought us some turkey, mozzarella, and pesto sandwiches for $12 apiece. You should have heard the outrage in her voice at spending $12 on a convenience store sandwich, but that is island life, and they were perfectly delicious.
After a quick bite to eat, we were back on the road. At times, our speed crept up into the 35 mph zone which was exhilerating and made the moped easier to steer. Making our way toward Aquinnah we began to see the Gay Head Lighthouse from behind the foliage. As we approached the trailhead parking lot we saw a sign that read, "NO MOPEDS." Are they even kidding me right now? We had driven all this way and we couldn't even park near the trailhead. In fact, most of the nearby parking signs said, "Residents Only." So, we briefly glimpsed an obstructed view of the lighthouse, took no pictures, and headed down the road along the shore back toward the way we had come feeling very defeated. I was begining to regret the mopeds.
I was so upset because I wanted to see these dang cliffs and there was no accessible parking. Again this is mostly due in part to my failed planning. When we passed another parking lot with fines posted signs, I said, "Fines be damned!" and I looked for a place to turn around and head back toward the lot. During the whole ride I had been checking on Laurel in the mirrors. She was driving quite a bit slower that I was and I was in constant fear of her getting too far behind or worse, having a car cut her off or be a jerk in some way. I saw a big truck behind her but in front of us the road was clear. I signaled a left turn intending go down a side street and eventually circle back toward Aquinnah Beach. Just as I had committed to the turn, I saw in the left lane, coming right at me, the Amazon Prime truck who moments before was behind Laurel. How it had gotten up next to me was a mystery, but I proceeded to turn right in front of it. Blindly oblivious of the error I was making, I completed the turn as the truck narrowly rumbled past. I wasn't scared until Laurel caught up and said, "What the hell were you thinking? I thought you were going to die today."
I apologized for scaring her. I swore, I didn't see or hear the truck. She said she was screaming, "MOM!!!! NO!!!!!" but I obviously didn't hear her either. I had a bit of an exisential crisis after that. I went into a quasi state of shock thinking maybe I was lying dead on the road in a parallel universe and my daughter was hovering over my mangled body and moped as my life force drifted off toward the open ocean to frolic with the sea birds. Miserable, horrible thoughts tainted the rest of the day which made moped riding incredibly anxiety provoking. I felt drunk on the bike although I hadn't touched a drop. Every time a car passed, I felt myself pulling toward it as if I forgot how to steer. I had suddenly become dangerous. We made our way to the beach, carefully. I kept hearing the voice of the DVD player, "Pray," and I did.
We parked in the lot threatening fines which now I could couldn't care less about, and walked to the beach down one of those perfect grassy dunes landscapes. The cliffs were some distance away but the views were gorgeous. I felt that we shouldn't wander too far from the scooters so we stayed fairly close to the parking lot. Laurel grabbed some beautiful seashells and stones for pictures and we had fun chasing the surf for a bit but toting helmets is also annoying, so we didn't linger.
The drive to Edgartown was a painful, hour-long endeavor. We stopped so many times that it may have been an hour and a half drive in actuality. It is hard to say because the minutes felt like hours on that moped. I kept stopping every mile or so to catch my breath. When we finally pulled into town I felt a little better. The road was less busy, the town was quaint and perfect as a New England seaside town should be, and I was alive. We decided to get something to eat at a local restaurant.
We happened on The Good Newes from America. I didn't even Yelp or research it at all, which is ordinarily my custom. They had indoor and outdoor seating and I just needed to sit and relax for a bit before we made the final leg of the journey back to Oak Harbor. I wasn't hungry but I ordered a clam chowder and an iced tea. I counted this as a partial box check for #4 on the list. Laurel had the fish and chips. Both meals were delicious although we didn't finish either. My stomach was still in knots. The restaurant had a warm, rich, wooden interior decorated with
a nautical theme. The tables were spaced appropriately for social distancing which meant I would bump my head on the light that used to be over a table, every time I entered and exited the booth. I felt like I was having an out of body experience and that I shouldn't be here. I felt so stupid for not checking better before I turned. I learned that on a motorcycle, you must be even more vigilant and check every direction before you turn.
Edgartown was very picturesque but New England towns all blur together for me. I think before moving to New England I would have been far more impressed with Martha's Vineyard than I was now. I live in a state of seaside town saturation so it doesn't feel like a vacation unless it is very remote wilderness, or a sprawling metropolis. The town was far from busy, but you could tell that in the summertime it would be packed. The whole island felt a little sleepy in October and so that was really nice.
I could have gone for an ice cream but the two shops we passed in Edgartown were closed. We didn't see the Edgartown Lighthouse, but at this point I was tired and ready to go back to the mainland. There was one more thing to see on the journey back, Jaws Bridge.
The drive back to Oak Harbor was short and we drove right over Jaws Bridge for the day's final box check on my personal list. I am a big Jaws fan. Sorry there are no pictures as we were in a rush to make the ferry. Overall, if you have never been to New England and you want a great getaway, Martha's Vineyard is a perfect choice. There is loads to see, yet it is manageable to take it all in after few days and have plenty of time to relax in between. Would I suggest renting a moped? Yes, if you are going to drive it between Edgartown and Oak Bluff. Otherwise, just take a tour bus or bring your car. It takes too much time to get around on a moped and it is wicked dangerous.
The ferry ride back to the mainland was uneventful. I fell asleep and drooled in my mask. It was gross. It was exactly what I needed. We had a great little adventure and I am very thankful to be able to have more in the future. As always, thanks for reading this and please, remember to keep your eyes open and share the road with all vehicles and bikes. Expect the unexpected and stay safe out there!