Boston Bikes’s Hub on Wheels has two great features: (1) a ride through parts of Boston I would not normally ride and (2) a car-free Storrow Drive so you can ride right down the middle of the highway. I was in for the 2015 edition.
I rolled out at dawn heading to Downtown Boston for the 2015 edition of the Hub on Wheels. The sky was dark and gray with clouds blocking the stars. I felt a few raindrops and doubted the decision to leave my warm layers and rain gear at home. As the sunrise came, the drops dried and the sun threatened to break through the clouds.
I sat at the Bill Russel statue waiting for some friends. A nearby resident told me how great the bike racing was on Saturday. “Those m–ther-f—ers were flying around the street. It was awesome. Those m–ther-f—ers were awesome. I saw the Tour de France when I was in the Navy, but these m–ther-f—ers were awesome.” I was sorry I missed the race. I asked him to cheer me on. “You got it brother.”
I met two of my Team Kinetic Karma teammates for the ride. We cut off the start of the ride to Cambridge Street in an attempt to stay in front of the hundreds (thousands?) of riders in the crowd.
We cruised down Cambridge Street, passed MGH and onto the Storrow Drive ramp. We rode fast, but slowed down for a moving group picture.
At some point I realized this was a unique opportunity to put the hammer down and ride as hard and as fast as possible.
I didn’t have to worry about cars. We had three lanes of car-free tarmac.
I didn’t have to worry about many bikers. We were in the first 20 bikers.
I lowered my hands down to drops and began cranking the pedals. A quick glance behind. I saw the flash of blue and yellow. At least one teammate was in my slipstream, coming along for the ride.
We blazed past another paceline, dipping under the Guest Quarters overpass.
My quads were burning. My lungs were burning. I kept turning the pedals.
The Harvard Bridge came and went. The Northeastern boathouse flashed by. We hit the turn around and I slowed.
Dan G. had managed to stay in my slipstream, but I had lost the other two. Dan G. continued on at a fast pace to meet a deadline. I slow pedaled waiting for Mike and Christine. When we re-grouped, I slammed the hammer down again, taking advantage of the open tarmac.
The rest of the ride would be on city streets, with car traffic, bike traffic, signals and the urban experience. The pace would be much more moderate.
I had ridden the Hub on Wheel’s 30 mile route in the past, but never the 50-mile route. The 50-mile route adds great roads through Stony Brook and up Bellevue Hill, the highest point in the City of Boston.
The sun was out and it was a beautiful day to ride through the streets of Boston.
While marathon runners were sleeping in anticipation of the race on Patriots Day, I joined hundreds of cyclists to bike the 26.2 miles in the middle of the night. The Midnight Marathon Bike Ride was back for its seventh year in a row. Short of actually running, I thought it was a great way to honor the marathon tradition.
The roads were still open to vehicular traffic, but only a few cars passed me on the road. The midnight ride is not a race. Although more pacelines went past me than cars. My pace was on the leisurely side. The road were mostly recovered from the winter stress and were spruced up for the marathon’s start several hours later.
The ride actually starts in South Station, where you could load your bike into a truck, while you jumped on the commuter rail to re-join your bike at midnight. I convinced Mrs. Doug to drive me and two fellow riders out to Southborough instead.
There were dozens and dozens of riders at the train station who had also been dropped off. That’s lots of riders with an assortment of lights, bikes, skill levels and motivations.
It was cold. We were dressed to ride, not stand around in the cold. So we jumped on our saddles and rode off just before midnight and before the train arrived. As we left the the parking a lot, a half-dozen moving trucks full of the train riders’ bikes pulled into the parking lot.
It was a few miles from the train station to the Marathon’s starting line in Hopkinton. A few miles that went mostly uphill, with a nasty half-mile stretch in excess of a 5% grade. It’s a tough enough hill that there is a plan B route that goes around the hill.
At the start line we found several hundred cyclists already in place waiting for midnight or the train riders to come. We kept pedaling.
And pedaling and pedaling.
It was a continuous stream of bikes from start to finish.
Marathon security was nice enough to leave the finish line open for us to take pictures.
Boston Common Coffee Company hosted a charity pancake breakfast after the ride. Pancakes taste great after 30 miles in the saddle.
The last leg of our Charles River journey was through the basin to the harbor, perhaps even into the harbor. I loaded up the big red kayak with The Boy, The Girl, and snacks.
We started off in Brighton, from the same spot we stopped after coming down river from Waltham. This section of the river would be very different from the rest of the Charles River. The river is much wider. The current is mostly gone. The wind would likely move us quicker than the current, and not necessarily in the right direction. We would have to contend with traffic.
We stayed close to the river bank. There were dozen of rowing shells of all sizes moving quickly along the river. They go fast, but do not turn fast. We get to face forward and see where we were going at our much more leisurely pace. We gave rowers plenty of room.
After bending through the Harvard portion of the river, we passed under the Western Avenue Bridge and the River Street Bridge to come into the BU portion of the river. Off to the left is Magazine Beach, so named because it was the old site of a powder magazine for the defense of Cambridge.
We passed under the BU Bridge. Theoretically, we could be a boat passing under a train, passing under a car, passing under an airplane. As it turns out, the flight traffic from Logan was going in a different direction and trains rarely use the lower bridge.
From the Charles River Dam to the BU Bridge the Basin is two and one-half miles long and up to two thousand feet wide. Passing under the bridge we got a panorama of the Boston skyline.
As we entered the lower basin, the water became choppier. The wind was sweeping across the water, stirring up waves and larger boats were leaving wakes. Fortunately, we could tuck into the shelter of the esplanade lagoons.
The first is the Storrow Lagoon, the middle is the Canoeway, and the third is the Concert Lagoon.
We emerged from the lagoons at the Community Boating docks, just upstream from the Longfellow Bridge. There are breakwaters to quell the waves pushed across the basin.
We hugged the side of the river, trying to stay far away from the duck boats, sailboats, and other boats, all of which were much larger than out little red kayak.
Just around the corner is the Museum of Science. It sits atop the old Charles River Dam. When the dam was built in 1910 it limited the flow of salt water in the Charles River. It turned the Charles River Basin from a tidal salt water estuary into a pond. The tides no longer affected the water river and a stable water level could usually be maintained.
Just to the right is old lock for the dam, which is our passageway to head closer to Boston Harbor. The lock is narrow with high walls. It’s especially intimidating when you are paddling behind a Duck boat, with another coming upstream on the other side, and a third behind you heading downstream. The red kayak felt very small.
We had to pass under the railroad bridge that connects North Station with the rail lines that are on the other side of the river. The kayak is small enough to fit under the bridge when it’s down. There was a bigger boat heading upstream from the harbor, so when we first saw the bridge, both spans were up.
We continue paddling behind Boston Garden and under the Bunker Hill bridge. The river in this section is highlighted with new parks, a result of the Big Dig environmental offsets. The concept is to reclaim some of this lost riverfront as the New Charles River Basin and reconnect it to the heavily used basin waterfront.
We arrived at the New Charles River Dam. On the left side are big grates. On the right are three locks separating the Charles River from Boston Harbor. One lock is much larger than the other two to handle the bigger boats.
Behind the grates on the left are six diesel-powered, 2700 horsepower turbo-charged engines that drive six pumps with a combined capacity of about 3.7 million US gallons per minute. The purpose of the dam is to control the surface level of the river basin. Otherwise the water level in the Charles River basin would rise and fall with the tide. It would also flood Boston in times of heavy rain and high tide. That was the failing of the old Charles River Dam.
I had heard that small boats, like our kayak, could use the locks to enter and leave the harbor. We sat around waiting for the green light to come on and the big doors to open. After a few minutes, I thought it was not true. But then the doors opened and a boat emerged. I assume the wait was just for that upstream traffic. The doors stayed opened and the green light stayed on. So in we went.
The kids waved to the operator in the catwalk high above us. The doors behind us swung shut. The water level increased about one foot to match the tide level in the harbor. The big doors on the far end swung open, the green light came on, and we were now in Boston Harbor.
We had transitioned from paddling in the river to paddling in the ocean. Unfortunately, our little red kayak is not really built for ocean paddling. Fortunately, the wind was calm and the waves were small. Off to the left was Charlestown, the Bunker Hill Monument and the U.S.S. Constitution.
We swung by the oldest commissioned warship. It was an impressive sight from the water. The dock was fenced off with a warning that it was a restricted area and the “use of force authorized”. I was not about to test the guns of the warship.
We turned right and paddled across the Coast Guard station, the Aquarium, and Rowes Wharf towards Fort Point Channel. The waves were small, but choppy. Boat traffic sent wakes crashing into us and bounced us up and down. As we passed under the Old Northern Avenue Bridge and into Fort Point Channel, the waves subsided.
The Beaver and the Eleanor are replicas and part of the history lessons at the museum. A popular misconception is the belief the Tea Party Ships were British. Not true. The vessels were built in America and owned by Americans. It was only the cargo of tea they were carrying from London to Boston that was British, goods from the British East India Company. The Beaver was owned by the Rotch family from the Nantucket Quaker family. The Eleanor was one of several vessels owned by the Boston merchant, John Rowe.
We unexpectedly crossed paths with the pirate ship, the White Pearl.
I had noticed a small dock, garishly adorned with a pirate flag and treasure chest next to the Northern Avenue bridge. The White Pearl came around the dock with water guns firing in all directions. This was our first encounter with the Kids Pirate Adventure run by the Boston Harbor Shuttle.
Our takeout was the new kayak and canoe dock in the Fort Point Channel. P&G Gillette built the dock as part of the restoration of the channel after the Big Dig and as part of its Chapter 91 license for its nearby buildings. Unlike other docks on the waterfront, this dock is low to the water and designed for canoes and kayaks. Motorized boats are not allowed to use it. There is free parking for using the dock and designated parking spaces for using the dock. Unfortunately, those spaces were occupied. From the look of the vehicles, they were not parked there to use the dock.
It was a pleasant end to our quest to paddle the entire Charles River.
I’ve paddled through the Lakes District of the Charles River many times and approached the Moody Street Dam. I’ve looked over the edge, with the roar of falling water, wondering what is downstream. Ron McAdow labels that section the “Industrial Corridor” in his exploration guide: The Charles River. Michael Tougias doesn’t even bother paddling this stretch of the river in his Exploring the Hidden Charles. Needless to say, I had low expectations. I didn’t tell The Boy because if we want to paddle the entire Charles River, we need to paddle this section.
The books were wrong. This was an enjoyable stretch of the Charles River. You are not going to mistake it for the tranquil sections upstream where you see few signs of human life. You hear traffic noise. You see glimpses of commercial and industrial buildings. You see trash. But you also see the same wildlife and fauna you see upstream.
The put-in at Landry Park, just downstream from the Moody Street Dam offers several choices for access. There is ample parking on the south side of the river that is easily accessible by a footbridge.
We started out in the fast water flushed downstream by the Moody Street Dam. Boating Barry decided to come along in his new-ish kayak. The current took us quickly over the shallow water and we needed to make a few rapid adjustments to avoid the bigger obstructions.
The water stayed rapid allowing us to quickly pass under an old railroad bridge and the Newton Street bridge. Then the river slackens as it impounds behind the Bleachery Dam. We exited on the right hand bank and portaged the kayaks about 100 yards around the Bleachery Dam. It’s located just behind the Shaw’s Supermarket on River Street in Waltham.
After getting back in, we came across goose island. It’s a small accretion of sediment, covered with ducks and geese. On the right bank, Cheesecake Brook falls down a concrete slope after flowing down the middle of Albemarle Street. Then we passed under the spectacular Blue Heron Bridge.
The river picked up speed again as we got closer to the Bridge Street bridge. This is the site of the old Bemis Dam. It’s breached so you can go over, but there are rapids and obstructions in the river. Just enough to quicken your pulse and make a few quick digs with the paddle.
The river slackens again as it gets impounded behind the Watertown Dam. It’s a quick portage around and an easy reentry. The water is shallow and it’s easy to get caught on rocks. We did. Fortunately, the water is shallow so it was easy to get out and pull the kayak off the rocks. Boating Barry found deeper water closer to the left bank.
As we passed under the Watertown Square bridge, the character of the Charles River changed. We were clearly entering the basin portion of the river. Heavily traveled roads are on both sides of the river, veiled by a veneer of trees and bushes. As we turned a corner, the Prudential Tower was visible in the distance.
The Newton Yacht Club is on the right hand bank and the Watertown Yacht Club is on the left. The Charles River is now wide enough and deep enough for the big boats docked here.
All proceeds beyond the direct material costs, postage and applicable taxes from the sale of One Heart Boston merchandise will benefit The One Fund Boston, created to raise money to help those families most affected by the tragic events that unfolded during this year’s Boston Marathon.
The Neponset River Greenway is a plan to connect existing and proposed Boston parkland stretching across Hyde Park, Mattapan and Dorchester and the Town of Milton. When complete, the Neponset River Greenway will be a ten mile multi-use recreational trail from the mouth of the Neponset River to the 894-acre Fowl Meadows at the city limits. The Greenway will also connect to the 5,800-acre Blue Hills Reservation, the largest open space within thirty-five miles of Boston.
The most accessible part of the Greenway is the Pope John Paul II Park on the mouth of the Neponset River. The park consists of three former uses: the former drive-in movie site,
the former Hallet landfill site, and a former lumber yard. The old Hallet Landfill site had pollution in the soil that could run into the river, so four feet of clay and soil was added as a protective layer.
The Neponset River Greenway may be a bit premature to be on the list of 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts because it’s not done yet. But the pieces that are in place are great places.
He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
– excerpt from “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The enduring legend of the Old North Old Church began on April 18, 1775. Robert Newman, the church’s sexton, climbed the steeple. Having seen the British and held high two lanterns as a signal from Paul Revere that the British were marching to Lexington and Concord by sea and not by land.
Actually “sea” is only sort of right, although more poetic. The British could have marched down the long peninsula or crossed the Charles River to start their march toward Lexington and Concord. The two lights alerted the militia that the British troops were taking the boat route to land in Charlestown.
Revere rode out through present-day Somerville, Medford, and Arlington, warning towns along the way. William Dawes rode the land route to get out the warning.
The church was built in 1723 and survives as the oldest standing church building in Boston.
There are very few restaurants on the list of 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts. The ones that are on the list, as far I’ve seen so far are contained in buildings of historic significance. Somehow, Sullivan’s made the list. Castle Island was already on the list, so it seem strange that to also name Sullivan’s to the list. In large part it’s the snack bar for the visitors to Castle Island.
We should forgive the “island” label since it once was an island. Boston has a long historic of filling in the harbor and its rivers to create new livable land areas. That occurred here as South Boston grew bigger and bigger and finally reached the old fort. As far back as 1892 it was were connected to the mainland by a wooden footbridge. This was replaced by an earthen causeway in 1925 and an automobile road in 1932.
In 1634, Governor Dudley selected the spot for the sea defense of Boston Harbor. The first fortification were built in 1644 and consisted of a pine log fort, some earthworks, and three cannons. It eventually earned the nickname of “The Castle”. Since then, it has been rebuilt seven times. The current structure was built in 1851 with granite from the quarries in Rockport, Massachusetts.
In 1798 Massachusetts gave the fort to the United States Government. President John Adams dedicated it as “Fort Independence” in 1799. It was given back in 1962.
The park offers a great view of Boston, Logan Airport, and the harbor islands. If you visit on a summer weekend, you can take a tour of the fort from noon until 3:30.
With all my decades living in Boston, I had never been to the Skywalk at the top of Boston’s Prudential Center. I had been to the top of the Hancock Tower next door. But that was ten year’s ago. Before they shut it down their observatory level for “security concerns.”
The Boy and I had some time to kill waiting for our next train home after the LEGO KidsFest at the Hynes. So I dragged up 50 floors to take in the stunning 360º view of Greater Boston. It is a stunning. Stunning enough to get included in the 1,000 Great Place in Massachusetts.
I have to admit that I had been a negligent parent. I had not taken my kids to the Boston Children’s Museum. I fixed that problem when I finally brought them to Boston’s waterfront last Friday.
There is plenty for young kids to experience and enjoy. I shouldn’t have waited so long.
Right at the entrance is the three-story climbing maze. The Boy went charging right in and up. The Girl had second thoughts and came right back out. We continued on while he continued to go up and down.
The Girl went to the KidPower exhibit next door and started pulling, pushing, and climbing.
I was surprised that The Boy was intrigued by the flying leaf machine in the “Out on a Limb” exhibit. He kept grabbing the fabric leaves and throwing them into the plastic tube over the fan. He spent an hour throwing the leaves in and watching them float up.
The only miss at the Boston Children’s Museum was the “Japanese House.” It’s a fully equipped 100-year-old Japanese House reconstructed in Boston by Japanese carpenters inside the Museum. Given the age of the structure, it’s mostly a no touch zone, standing out in sharp contrast to the rest of the museum. The Japanese House off the main traffic flow at the back of the third floor.
There are plenty of other exhibits and things to do. Bring your young kids. They will have a great day.
An esplanade is a long, open, level area, usually next to a river or large body of water, where people may walk. The Esplanade is the centerpiece of Boston’s Fourth of July celebrations. At other times, the beautiful Hatch Shell usually sits silent and unused, waiting for the Boston Pops to come back again.
The Esplanade stretches almost three miles along the Boston shore of the Charles River, from the Museum of Science to the Boston University Bridge. The parkland evolved in stages, over several decades, as landfill was added to the mudflats. Damming of the Charles River basin in 1910 submerged the smelly mud flats, creating a wide basin with a near constant water level.
The construction of Storrow Drive in the early 1950s sliced the Esplanade from the rest of the city, although the fill from the construction created additional parkland.
The area referred to today as the Esplanade is just middle one of three distinct segments. Charlesbank is the easternmost section, extending from the Charles River Dam to the Longfellow Bridge. Charlesgate is the westernmost segment, extending from the Harvard Bridge to the Boston University Bridge.
The middle segment extends from the Longfellow Bridge in the east to the Harvard bridge on the west. It contains the Hatch Shell, Community Boating, Union Boat Club and the lagoons.
While the Boston Common is a hard-working park, the Public Garden next door is more laid back and luxurious.
The Public Garden was established in 1837 when philanthropist Horace Gray petitioned for the use of land as the first public botanical garden in the United States. That dates it as almost 200 years younger than the Common. The twenty-four acre landscape, which was once a salt marsh in the Charles River’s tidal basin.
The centerpiece of the Public Garden is the swan pond and its circling collection of human-powered swan boats. The Swan Boat story dates back to the 1870’s when Robert Paget, whose descendants continue to operate the business, was granted a boat for hire license by the City of Boston.
For kids, the highlight is probably the bronze statutes of Mrs. Mallard, Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack. The statue by Nancy Schön brings Make Way for Ducklings to three dimensions. You can see where the bronze has been polished by kids riding the statues.
The home was built about 1680 and Revere owned it from 1770–1800. Much of its notoriety comes merely from its survival. It’s one of the few (the only?) house from the 1600s still standing in Boston.
By adding in the legend of Paul Revere, it elevate the house’s status. I think most of the fame of Paul Revere comes the famous Wadsworth poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” The poet focused on Revere, but ignored the William Dawes, who had been sent on the same errand by a different route.
The Parker House is the longest continuously operating hotel in the United States. It opened in 1855 by Harvey D. Parker at its location on School Street near the corner of Tremont. The original Parker House and later additions were demolished in the 1920s and replaced with an entirely new building.
Parker’s Restaurant in the hotel is home to the creation of Parker House Rolls and the Boston Cream Pie.
The moist, fluffy, and internationally-known Parker House roll was the inspired creation of an in-house German baker named Ward, who worked under Chef John Bonello.
Created by French chef M. Sanzian at Boston’s Parker House Hotel, the Boston Creme Pie is a pudding/cake combination comprises two layers of sponge cake filled with vanilla custard or crème pâtissière. The Boston Cream Pie was chosen as the official dessert of Massachusetts on December 12, 1996.
Today, the North End is know for its Italian culture. But that is just the current iteration of this area of the city of Boston.
The North End sits on one of the tracts of original land of the Shawmut Peninsula. It’s the city’s oldest residential community. As the city’s leaders began filling in more and more land, the wealthy began moving out. At one point it had a big community of free and escaped slaves. In the early 19th century it was an area that the Irish began to migrate to the North End in huge numbers. Then a wave of Jewish immigrants followed.
In the early 20th century the latest wave of the city’s immigrants began taking over the neighborhood and it became an Italian community.
The wave of immigration to the area was because it was not a desirable place to live. People wanted to escape the cramped streets or urban life and tenement structures.
Now, with movement back to city life and improvements to the urban culture, the North End is a very desirable place to live. The area is full of great restaurants and has all the infrastructure for residential living. (The same cannot be said for the new Seaport district.)
With the completion of the Big Dig, Hanover street now connects with the rest of city, instead of plowing straight into a green behemoth of steel and traffic.
I joined a few year ago because it seemed like a Boston thing to do. I have to admit that I have taken little advantage of the membership. The one thing I have done a few times is bring the kids in for story time. There is a great children’s reading room, with lots of nooks for kids to curl up with a book. It also has a great out the window that overlooks the Old Granary Burying Ground.
The Boston Athenæum was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966.
Boston Common is the oldest park in the country, having been put to public use in 1634. During its early years, it was used as a cow pasture. It was used for public hangings up until 1817. The grazing of cows ended in the 1830 and became more like a modern park.
The Common is one of the hardest working parks in the city. Thousands of visitors move through it every day. Some emerge from the subway buried beneath its perimeter. Some emerge from the parking garage buried in another corner. Some are just passing through on their way between the Back Bay and Downtown. Some begin their journey on the Freedom Trail from the starting point in the Common.
The golden dome of the Massachusetts’ State House gleams in the Boston skyline. The legislative and executive branches of the state government call it home. The State House is one of the several stops on Boston’s Freedom Trail and has a well-deserved listing in the 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts.
In 1713 the seat of the Massachusetts government was the Old State House. After kicking out the British American Revolution, state leaders wanted a new home to reflect the new government. They selected a site close to the summit of Beacon Hill, overlooking Boston Common and the Back Bay that had originally served as a cow pasture for John Hancock.
The “new” State House was completed on January 11, 1798 leaving it as the oldest building on Beacon Hill. There have been several additions to the building since then.
The original wood dome was covered with copper in 1802 by Paul Revere’s company. It was then gilded with gold leaf in 1874. During WWII, the dome was painted black to protect the city and building from potential bombing attacks.
A bridge so nice, they named it twice to the 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts. It’s listed under Boston as “Longfellow Bridge” and “The Longfellow Bridge.” My Librarian friends would be horrified to see how many items on the list are alphabetized using “The.”
Apparently, the Cambridge side of the Longfellow Bridge was not great enough to make the list.
The bridge spans nearly one-half mile across the Charles River. It consists of eleven steel arch spans supported on ten masonry piers and two massive abutments. The the shape of its central towers earned it the “Salt- and-Pepper-Shaker Bridge” nickname. The Longfellow Bridge is a vital link between Boston and Cambridge, with cars, walkers, runners, cyclists, and MBTA riders using its great span. Since it opened to traffic over 100 years ago, the bridge is showing its age. It’s steel is rusting and it’s stone is crumbling. To counter the decay, the state is beginning a six-year, $300 million rehabilitation.
The bridge is named for the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He regularly walked the earlier West Boston Bridge which was replaced by the bridge now named after him. In 1845 Longfellow published “The Bridge’’ a poem inspired by those crossings of the earlier West Boston Bridge.