Two years in Rhode Island

It’s not worse. It’s different.

That’s the mantra I tried to force-feed my brain in 2019, my second full year in Rhode Island.

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This time last year, as I recapped the last 12 months, I realized I had few positive things to say about my new Northeastern home. That’s not totally surprising, given the way the year began: When Ian and I moved to Rhode Island in January 2018, we were greeted by a bomb cyclone and bitter cold — not optimal conditions for moving large, heavy boxes on our own! For a few months, we bounced from one temporary housing arrangement to another as we struggled to find a year-round rental. Due to work commitments, Ian was absent for days, sometimes weeks, at a time, leaving me alone with my thoughts. And when we finally found more permanent housing, it was a basement apartment with only four north-facing windows, and its darkness plunged me even farther into a seasonal funk.

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Those first few months had me wondering why anyone would prefer to live on the East Coast rather than in the West. To me, a native Californian who’d only ever lived in the Pacific and Mountain time zones, everything out West was better — the weather, the food, the lifestyle — and everything back East was worse.

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My best memories from that first year in Rhode Island happened in the summer, when I finally thawed out enough to start exploring all that this region has to offer. All the wonderful activities and scenery I discovered made me come around to the idea that New England wasn’t worse than the West, per se — it was just different, and enjoying Northeastern life to its fullest would involve a big mental shift.

And so, by the time the 2018 holiday season came around, I decided that my New Year’s resolution would be to adopt this mantra: Different, not worse.

I’m not going to lie and say that this mantra helped me learn to love winter in 2019. But I will say that the cold months seemed slightly more bearable than the year before. I learned that the New England tradition of hunkering down inside isn’t for me; instead, my personal best remedy for the winter blues seems to be getting outside whenever it’s clear, temperature be damned. I found that even a simple short walk around the neighborhood on a sunny day helped put things in perspective.

A few fun winter outings also lifted my spirits. There was my birthday trip to Salem, where Ian and I took in the town’s dark history and enjoyed a Valentine’s Day-themed ice sculpture and chocolate festival. There was a cozy day in nearby Newport, where we browsed the oldest continuously operating library in America, had afternoon tea and toured one of the island’s famous Gilded Age mansions. And in March, there was a nerdy date night in Boston celebrating Bach’s birthday with a concert and cupcakes.

That said, regional excursions alone couldn’t cure my perpetual shivering. I also needed family and old friends. Oh, and warmth.

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I escaped to milder climes twice over the winter, and it felt good. In February, while Ian flew to a conference in Puerto Rico, I flew west to spend a low-key week with my family in Santa Cruz. It wasn’t balmy by California standards, and it rained quite a bit — yet it still felt like paradise to me. A month later, I caught up with close friends for a long weekend in Las Vegas. I’m not a gambler, but I am a sun-worshipper: I almost cried of happiness the minute I stepped outside the airport terminal and felt the warm breeze on my face.

But enough about the weather. I realized that it wasn’t the cold alone that brought my spirits down that Rhode Island winter — it was also the struggle to find my own friends, something all adults grapple with when they move to an unfamiliar new place. That trip to Vegas, with friends around whom I felt so comfortable, motivated me to work a little harder to forge more geographically convenient friendships. I went out when I’d rather have stayed home with the cats. I invited myself to gatherings without knowing for certain that everyone wanted me there. I conjured group outings from thin air and asked people to go with me. All of this was supremely uncomfortable for this introvert…and worth it.

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With a newfound social life, my perspective on Rhode Island shifted. The people I knew turned me on to neighborhoods, bookshops and restaurants that made me realize it’s not such a bad state, I’d just been spending time in the wrong places. My blanket assumptions about cultural differences between East and West were dashed as I met ever more people who had more in common with me than not — ignoring their strange attachment to Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee, of course.

Another positive shift came in September, when Ian and I moved from East Greenwich to South County. I had long wanted to call this laid-back, beachy part of the state home, but I worried the long commute would wear on me. When we started to find ourselves coming to South County nearly every weekend in the summer, we knew we had to pull the trigger. Now I know that living a 15-minute bike ride away from the beach does wonders for my mental health.

Like in 2018, this summer was one heady highlight reel of bike rides, kayak paddles, ice cream cones and afternoons playing in the waves. The extreme seasonality of Rhode Island bothered me at first, especially in less populated areas where whole villages close up between October and April. Now, I enjoy it: I’ve adopted the New England tendency to save up my energy for summer’s long days. Like the natives, I squeeze every last drop of enjoyment out of every waking hour of warm sun through the end of September.

One last major perspective shift I experienced in 2019? The urge to plan big trips closer to home. I’ve only ever longed to take big, elaborate journeys through Southeast Asia, Central America and the Mediterranean. Now, a good portion of my travel bucket list doesn’t even require a time zone change: I dream of a week biking around Prince Edward Island, a kayak tour through the Everglades, a long weekend taking in the spring flower bloom in Charleston.

That’s thanks, I think, to Ian’s and my blissful few days in the tiny town of Sorrento, Maine, in August. It was here that I discovered my ideal vacation: One with no internet connection, no heat or air conditioning and very little on the agenda. Except for one fun day spent biking through Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, we had no plans for our time here. We whiled away the hours lazily canoeing from one tiny island to another, reading and collecting shells, boiling lobster, talking about music and reading up on local history. It was a reminder that, not unlike many New Englanders, I derive happiness from simple things — sun, saltwater, seafood. It was my favorite memory of the year. It was the moment I realized I might finally get this place.

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Finding joy in stillness: Our long weekend in Sorrento, Maine

Why do we go on vacation? What drives us all to save up significant sums of money, spend weeks on planning, wade through traffic and security lines, and monitor weather forecasts for days to determine exactly what to pack?

The common narrative is that there are two kinds of people: Those who vacation to explore, and those who vacation to unplug.

When I was in my 20s, I placed myself firmly in the first category. I traveled to experience other cultures, peoples and environments, and every day on the road was jam-packed with activity, a wonderful sensory overload. I looked down on those who had no desire to fill their vacations with museum visits and walking tours; I judged those who chose convenient private shuttles over colorful public transit; and I privately side-eyed families who preferred to lounge on a beach rather than go for a paddle or take a hike.

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I now realize that I once judged people who wanted a mindless escape because I was privileged. My everyday life was so carefree, I didn’t need an escape. I lived in places with mild climates. I worked in a fun, low-stress field. My colleagues were my friends, and the leadership encouraged a healthy work-life balance. I commuted by bike or bus in less than 30 minutes. I lived steps away from beautiful parks, airy cafes and world-class restaurants and breweries.

Today, my life is still marked by immense privilege and is relatively carefree, but it looks a bit different than it did before. My commute is long. I work harder. My state’s winters are cold and barren, keeping me mostly indoors for half of the year. Single-origin coffees and artisanal cocktails are 30 miles away. And so I’ve started to come around to the idea of a vacation premised on relaxation.

Which brings me to August 2019, when my husband and I headed to the town of Sorrento — not the overcrowded one on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, but the rural one on a tiny peninsula in a state that proudly proclaims itself “Vacationland.”

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Ian’s and my four days in Sorrento marked the first leg of a three-stop vacation; we were next headed to Quebec City, then to Montreal. I thought it would be a pleasant few days whose memories would ultimately be overshadowed by the culture and scenery of French Canada. But for me it turned out to be the highlight of the vacation — and, hell, the highlight of my 2019.

Both of us had been itching to get to Maine for years, long before we moved to New England. Like Vermont, it was a state we both knew we would love, if only for its rugged coastal scenery, which reminded us both of our West Coast homes. So when we found out that Ian’s coworker Celia owned a summer house in Sorrento, and that she was happy to let us stay for free in exchange for a bit of manual labor, we pretty much packed our bags on the spot.

After a slog through Boston traffic, a quick dinner at the legendary Great Lost Bear in Portland and a quick grocery run, we arrived at our destination in the dark and fell straight to sleep. Little did we know that in the morning, heaven awaited us.

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We spent a lazy morning lingering over coffee and wandering through the rooms of the worn, lived-in house. This wasn’t like the pristine, anonymous, nautical-themed vacation homes you can find in spades on Airbnb. It had been built more than a century ago and hadn’t been remodeled in at least two generations. Some kitchen appliances were more than a few decades old, and we puzzled over their unfamiliar switches and knobs. There was no upstairs hallway connecting the four bedrooms — which meant that most guests would find themselves traveling through other guests’ bedrooms to access the single bathroom. And there was no internet service whatsoever.

In short, it was perfect.

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That morning, over coffee, I holed up in the library/music room and read up on Sorrento’s history. Long home to the Penobscot and Maliseet Native American tribes, the small peninsula first became a summer colony for wealthy white East Coasters in the 1880s with the construction of a gigantic resort and several individual family homes. After the resort burned down just a couple of decades later, many moved on to new vacation hotspots, and Sorrento’s seasonal population decreased considerably. Today, the population of Sorrento hovers around 275, and the town has no grocery stores or restaurants.

We walked in a loop around Bean Point, the most densely settled part of Sorrento, to get our bearings. It was easy to picture the lively summer scene it must have been at the turn of the century. The small village green, where couples and friends used to gossip and people-watch in their long dresses and linen suits, is still there. So is the dock, where a ferry once stopped on the way to Bar Harbor and Hancock. The harbor is still packed with boats owned by part-time residents. And the elegant Victorian homes still line Ocean Avenue.

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It’s also easy to see why the place captured vacationers’ imaginations all those years ago. I could have spent hours gazing out at the Mount Desert Narrows, watching the dramatic receding tide and observing the shifting shadows on Acadia’s peaks.

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In the afternoon, we took the household canoe for a spin. The very second my oar hit the water, it was as if I had left the material world behind and entered some sort of weightless, timeless eden. The burden of every mundane preoccupation melted off my shoulders. All that mattered were the boats, the gentle waves, the trees and the breeze.

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Following the recommendation of Celia and her husband, Tom, we tied the canoe to a huge tree root on one side of Preble Island, then we took a five-minute hike across the heavily forested land to a rocky beach on the other side.

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We happily whiled away several hours there, looking at shells and floating jellyfish, following the flight path of a family of bald eagles, reading, peeling oranges and getting lost in thought. I never thought I could find so much enjoyment in lazing on a beach with no sand and water too cold to swim in. That afternoon felt, to me, like the very essence of a New England summer.

We finished the day by completing some simple chores we had been assigned by the homeowners. Ian found supplies for repainting the bathroom, and I chatted up some neighbors while pulling weeds in the front yard.

A painting-related errand took us to nearby Ellsworth, the main gateway to Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park. The trip down State Route 1 gave us an opportunity to take in the beautiful coastal scenery we had missed the night before — and a chance to stake out the best local markets, produce stands and lobster shacks.

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We made an impromptu decision to stop at one and order two live lobsters on ice. Thirty minutes of Googling later, we made our first attempt at boiling, dismantling and eating them at home, and what a joy it was. The simultaneous adventure and luxury of eating shellfish will never get old to me.

The next morning, we set off early for a day of biking Acadia’s carriage trails — a story for another post.

For our final full day in Maine, our only objective was to duplicate the lazy joy we’d felt on our first day. As Ian finished up painting the bathroom, I delved further into town history, reading about some of the families who had once owned some of the sprawling waterfront compounds and discovering that Sorrento’s old library, church and post office all still stand today.

We took the canoe further afield this time, circumnavigating Preble Island and gazing at some privately owned islands from afar. (I had read that nearby Calf Island has its own private chapel.) But soon we were back on our beloved rocky beach, reading and napping as before.

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In the late afternoon, I coaxed Ian out for a walk to find the landmarks I’d read about. We peered into the charming church and library and, to our surprise, stumbled across a perfectly manicured croquet court open to town residents.

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We took the long way home, lazily stumbling through the streets of Bean Point and fantasizing about buying one of the vacation homes for sale there and spending weeks on end in this magical place.

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On our final morning in Maine, I woke up early and sat with a cup of coffee and my thoughts. What was it about Sorrento that had captured my imagination and made me so deliriously happy? Maybe it was the weather — the cool breezes, temperate sunny afternoons and minimal humidity reminded me so much of home. Or maybe it was the peaceful joy I derived from gazing at the rugged coastal scenery from the bow of a canoe.

It was then that I tried to recall the last time I had gone offline for three unbroken days. Then it came to me: About a decade ago, when I was back home in California for the summer doing two newspaper internships, I spent a long weekend with my family at Echo Lake. The high-altitude lake in the Sierras exists a world away from 9-to-5 life. There are no roads around the lake, and many hike to their accommodations via the Pacific Crest Trail. The lakeside cabins aren’t connected to power lines, so you’ll see very few lights on after dark. I recall spending our days here fishing off the deck, sunbathing on the rocks, engaging in lively political debates, reading old history and nature books that previous guests had left behind, and hiking in desolation wilderness.

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I remember that long weekend at Echo Lake more vividly than I remember some vacations I took last year — possibly because, thanks to a lack of Wi-fi and poor cell service, I was fully present and engaged. And as I sat at the dining table that morning in Sorrento and drew a connection between the two internet-less experiences, I realized I needed to disconnect more often, for my own health and happiness.

It’s too dramatic to say our trip to Maine changed me, or that it transformed my relationship to the internet. But it did seize me by the shoulders, shake me a little, and deliver some much-needed real talk. I, like many millennials today, am addicted to the web and to social media. Without it, I feel a little helpless and strange, hobbled by the inability to look up nearby restaurants for dinner and worried that my meaningful experiences have less meaning if I don’t share them with friends. But the reality is, the days I spend disconnected from the internet are days I enjoy more thoroughly, without fail.

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I’ve since made an effort to carve out more time for internet-less days and weekends — Saturday bike rides in a neighboring county or state, outings to the Cape or a coastal Connecticut town, or simple days spent reading and lazing at the local beach. And I’ve begun dreaming of Wifi-free trips to the Adirondacks in New York, the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Prince Edward Island.

Of course, I’ll also be returning to America’s Vacationland for an unplugged summer vacation just as soon as I’m able.

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Two wheels, one island: A day of biking on Nantucket

Northeasterners never fight more fiercely than when they’re talking sports — except in the summertime, when they shift to arguments over which Massachusetts island is more idyllic.

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The rivalry between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket — the two major islands that lie just south of Cape Cod — isn’t quite as intense as the one between, say, Yankee and Red Sox fans, but it definitely exists. You’ll often catch a resident of one island insisting the other is inferior in every way. You’ll hear annual vacationers to one island tell you they’ve never visited the other and would prefer to keep it that way. In the local newspapers, you’ll sometimes spy writers making innocent jokes at the expense of their over-island brethren.

Countless thinkpieces and quizzes exist to help people decide which island is right for them, but I wanted to decide for myself. So in the midst of a long weekend on Martha’s Vineyard with my husband, I made the slightly controversial decision to, as the locals say, “get off the rock” and spend a day on MV’s easterly neighbor. (Our Airbnb host told us we were her first guests to ever venture to Nantucket during a stay with her, and she seemed a little disturbed by our decision.)

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For all their differences, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket have a major shared strength: great bike trails. Dedicated trails — that is, bike routes that are physically separated from car traffic — run up and down both islands, and because the terrain is so flat, it’s both possible and popular to travel between towns and villages by bike. Ian and I had brought our bikes along from Rhode Island and had already logged dozens of miles on Martha’s Vineyard. Now, it was time to check out Nantucket’s offerings.

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Though most of the island’s activity is concentrated in its one and only commerce center, which is simply called “Town,” I was dead set on kicking off our day here with an eight-mile ride to Siasconset. I’d been swooning over photos of the village’s signature rose trellises and classic red-and-white-striped Sankaty Head Light for years. Plus, I knew it was common to see seals bobbing in the waves on ‘Sconset’s beach, and I never pass up a potential seal sighting.

Our day began with an early breakfast on Martha’s Vineyard and an hour-long ferry ride from Oak Bluffs. There’s no denying that Nantucket makes a charming first impression from the water: Brant Point Lighthouse, wrapped in a giant American flag, protrudes from the harbor on a pristine spit of sand, and the surrounding shallows are dotted with colorful tall ships and fishing boats.

Tempting as it was, we didn’t stay in town long. After taking a few minutes to get our bearings and squeal at the adorable cobblestone streets, we began to travel away from the crowds. We stopped briefly to pick up some healthy snacks at Annye’s Whole Foods; then, we were headed due east toward ‘Sconset.

For most of the journey, our surroundings were sandy and scrubby, markedly different from the lusher and hillier terrain of Martha’s Vineyard. We let out amazed exclamations when, about halfway through the ride, we crested a gentle hill and were greeted with a sweeping view that bore a remarkable resemblance to the Serengeti. I had to remind myself that we were in New England, not Kenya, and a herd of gazelles would therefore not come bounding toward us at any minute.

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I know this photo doesn’t do it justice, but trust me — it looked otherworldly.

After a few more short miles, we journeyed from Serengeti to seaside village.

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“Village” is a generous term to bestow on ‘Sconset, which has little in the way of local businesses beyond a small grocery store, a sandwich shop and a clothing boutique. Yet on this particular day, the main intersection was jammed with cars, bikes and pedestrians milling around. It was a hot, humid day, and most of the crowds gathered under what little shade they could find, ice creams and ice waters in hand. Few of them were going where we were headed: to the sun-soaked Bluff Walk.

Once a fishing village with little more than a common well and a cluster of shingled shacks, ‘Sconset has evolved to become a community of mostly seasonal residents whose houses are considerably nicer than those fishermen’s huts of yore, though they’re still built with the same unpainted shingle siding. In July, though, that siding is slightly obscured…by mass quantities of roses.

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It seems that at some point, all the residents of ‘Sconset got together and decided to plant climbing roses everywhere. Almost every house has joined in on the fun, with many covering their shingles with giant trellises and coaxing the roses ever higher. On good years, they cover almost every surface of some houses.

One of the best ways to see ‘Sconset’s beautiful roses is by going on the Bluff Walk, a pedestrian path that begins not far from the village’s main intersection and continues north for about three quarters of a mile. The public path cuts through the ocean-view backyards of the 1 percent, which means your walk boasts not only sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean but also a peek into the lives of some of the fortunate families who summer here. The path ends near the historic Sankaty Head Light.

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Unfortunately, two things prevented us from completing the whole Bluff Walk. One was the weather — we’d already spent about an hour biking in the hot sun, and we were too drenched with sweat to want to spend even more time fully exposed to the midday rays. Another was the slightly disappointing lack of roses. I’d been told that early July was the best time to see the blooms in all their glory, but it seemed they were blooming a bit late this year, as they were far less abundant than in the pictures I had seen.

No matter: When life hands you too much sun and not enough flowers, head to the beach and cool off in the ocean! We were thrilled to find a small public path that led us from the Bluff Walk directly to the sand below.

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Though we’d had bluebird skies on the bluff not 200 feet away, an eerie fog lingered right on the water. We were grateful to be shielded from the sun and promptly set up a little picnic with our supplies from the health-food store. Swimming, though, wasn’t in the cards: On this particular day, the waves were blood-red with kelp. We were unsure whether these were harmful algal blooms, but even if they had been safe, wading through them would have been uncomfortable and kind of creepy. Luckily, we stayed entertained from the shore as an adorable seal played hide-and-seek with us.

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After lunch, it was time to ride back to Town. For some reason — maybe it was the hot weather, or maybe the soreness from yesterday’s ride was beginning to take a toll —  the journey back felt much more difficult. Each little hill felt like an insurmountable mountain, and twice I begged Ian to stop and let us take a break. I was relieved when the trail leveled off and houses began to appear again.

We parked our bikes near the center of the action and spent a couple of hours wandering lazily down the Town’s cobblestone streets. The stately 18th-century brick houses lining Main Street, which reminded me strongly of Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood, seemed so out of place on a sandy island. I had to laugh, too, at the high-end urban clothing we spotted in some of the shops. What sort of person, I wondered, is in need of red-carpet formalwear, a full suit or a pair of equestrian boots while on vacation in the height of summer? Clearly I am not Nantucket’s target audience in many regards. But there were some things I did love about Town, including its abundance of adorable coffee shops and the fact that it has not one but two bookstores.

Nantucket was more crowded with visitors than anywhere we’d gone on Martha’s Vineyard — perhaps because there’s just one population center here — and after a while, we craved a little peace and quiet. It was about 3 p.m., too late to visit a cafe but too early to find many open restaurants. Finally, we found or, The Whale, a brand new restaurant with an attractive, shady patio, and posted up there with a glass of wine.

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Soon, it was time to catch the ferry back to Martha’s Vineyard. After browsing around some of the less preppy shops for a bit, we took our place in the ferry line, bikes in tow.

I came away from our day on Nantucket convinced that the island stereotypes I’d heard are mostly true: Nantucket is preppy, Martha’s Vineyard is bohemian; Nantucket is more corporate, the Vineyard is more artistic. As someone who grew up near a beachfront amusement park, I’m more partial to summer destinations that provide kitsch alongside class…so I’m probably more apt to stick to Martha’s Vineyard, where old-fashioned arcades and late-night donut counters exist alongside the million-dollar mansions and fine dining. That said, I’m dreaming of returning to this beautiful island in the fall or during the holidays. Is there anything better than a brisk, misty morning stroll down a cobblestoned street, especially a street that ends with this view?

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Recent work

It’s been a while — five years, to be exact — since I took time to reflect on some of my favorite recent stories. I don’t often get a chance to look back on past work. As a full-time writer at Brown University, I’m always juggling a few stories each week. Most often, I’m immersed in the story up until the moment it’s published, when I immediately release it from my thoughts and pivot to the next item on the agenda.

But there are a few stories that stick with me for a bit longer. Sometimes, the subject matter is so engrossing that I keep reading about it after the fact. Other times, I’ll hit it off with an interviewee and I’ll get inspired to dig into their past work. Still other times, I’m just plain proud of my writing, and I spend a day or two basking in the glow of a job well done.

Here are a few of the stories I’ve enjoyed sharing recently.

Creating a lifelong singer

Choral music is a longtime passion of mine — I’ve been singing in groups since I was 13 — so I was thrilled when Chorus America staff reached out two years ago and asked if I was interested in contributing to their quarterly magazine, The Voice.

I was especially thrilled to write this article on how youth chorus directors can turn their singers into lifelong choir enthusiasts. My parents practically dragged me to my first choir rehearsal kicking and screaming, but not long afterward, I became a true believer. Singing in groups has had such a positive impact on my life that these days, when I move to a new city, seeking out a choir to join is my first order of business.

This wasn’t the kind of writing I was used to. Over the years, I’ve turned out hundreds of 500- to 800-word stories that draw from a small handful of interviews and other sources. But six-page features involving a dozen interviews and hours of research? That was unfamiliar territory. I’ve learned some valuable lessons about scheduling, outlining and planning from this freelance experience — and I’ve carried those lessons with me to my new job, where I’m often engaged in big writing projects with multiple stakeholders.

A year in Rhode Island & Two years in Rhode Island

The nearly three years I lived in Colorado were probably the healthiest, most balanced and most contented years of my life so far. Perhaps that’s why the transition from the Rockies to the Ocean State has felt, well, a little rocky. Ever since Ian and I arrived in Rhode Island in the middle of the 2018 bomb cyclone, I’ve had mixed feelings about this place — its weather, its people and its traditions. How can a place be so proud of its past, yet so mired in corruption? Why are its residents so devoted to drinking iced coffee, even in the depths of winter?  I had fun thinking about the many contradictions and colorful characters of this state as I reminisced on one year of adventures. Then, a year later, I reassessed my relationship with the state and found it had grown on me.

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RaMell Ross heads to the Oscars

In 2019, four of the 10 documentary films that were nominated for Academy Awards were created by people with ties to Brown University — proof positive that this school’s reputation for welcoming and nurturing outside-the-box creative minds is well earned. The documentary filmmaker RaMell Ross, who in 2019 was a professor of the practice at Brown, had a whirlwind year following the release of his “Hale County This Morning, This Evening.” I snuck in a half-hour phone call with him just as he touched down in Los Angeles for a week of talk show appearances, dinners, galas and meetings leading up to the Oscars. Given the weighty subject matter of his films, I didn’t expect to be laughing through the entire interview, but that’s exactly what happened.

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Students find contemporary connections to ancient text in ‘Antigones’ course

It’s been 10 years since I graduated from college, and I still miss the undergraduate experience every day. I was one of those students who loved learning for the sake of it. Even though I majored in journalism, I ventured far outside my course requirements for my own pleasure, dabbling in German, paleobiology, Russian literature and music history. Today, as a staff writer at Brown, I’m lucky enough to get to relive that student experience on a regular basis.

The comparative literature course “Antigones” was one of those courses I would have been dying to take as an undergrad. It involved a close study of Sophocles’ 2,500-year-old play, along with several contemporary adaptations ranging from graphic novels to experimental theater scripts. It culminated in a short performance of students’ own adaptations. I loved how their performances shed new light on the play’s timeless commentary on gender, social class and protest.

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Azulejos and calçadas: The story behind Portugal’s tile art

The tiles of Portugal have become Instagram darlings in the last few years. It’s easy to appreciate their beauty, but it’s surprisingly difficult to find out much about their history. I spent a few hours researching the Portuguese empire’s historical preference for tiles, which dates back to one leader’s love of Moorish design. Then, I went down a deep internet rabbit hole trying to find out more about the history behind the intricate tiled sidewalks all over Portugal and its former colonies around the world. Turns out they came into being as a result of a king’s weird obsession with white and a subsequent catastrophic earthquake. You know you want to click on that link to learn more.

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Students, alumni celebrate accomplishments, anniversaries in procession

Working at the 250-year-old Brown University has introduced me to a fascinating world of quirky, venerable traditions that didn’t really exist at the University of Oregon, my alma mater. At Brown, there’s an annual holiday concert performed entirely in Latin; students and faculty alike embrace the legend of the fictional Josiah Carberry, professor of “psychoceramics”; and the logistics surrounding the century-old Commencement procession are so wonderfully complex that they need an explainer page.

The procession, in all its sceptered and top-hatted glory, is something you really have to witness to appreciate — which is why I felt daunted by the task of bringing this tradition to life in a story. I’m proud of the way I made it work by weaving together university history, inspiring student stories (including a father-daughter duo who graduated and walked in the procession together!) and fun bits of color.

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Cyrano de Bergerac is the hero we need right now

I love interviewing professional actors. I find that they’re not only incredibly honest and passionate but also incredibly articulate — which makes sense, given it’s their job! For three seasons, I managed public relations for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and I had so many compelling conversations with its actors and directors. I was particularly taken aback by the honesty and candor of Scott Coopwood, who played lead roles in “The Taming of the Shrew” and “Cyrano de Bergerac.”

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Notes from 1958

I was incredibly fortunate to be working for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival as it celebrated its 60th season and completed its second tour through Shakespeare’s complete canon of plays — benchmarks that few other American festivals have met. As we prepared to promote the season, I sifted through the festival history I could find — old programs, news clips and photos — and realized that many of the young actors featured in that first festival in 1958 were likely still alive today. I spent several hours tracking a handful of them down, and I’m so glad I did: They had some fascinating stories to share, and some had gone on to achieve monumental success. Over the course of the summer, I ran a short series of condensed interviews with the original cast and crew. I don’t know if they were my most widely read stories, but they sure were among the most fun to put together.

Boat Building GIF by Brown University - Find & Share on GIPHY

Boatbuilding course at Brown includes equal parts discussion and construction

Here’s another course I would have been eager to take as an undergraduate — although I’m not sure my construction skills would have been up to par! In “Boatbuilding: Design, Making and Culture,” students bonded as they read up on the history of boatbuilding and skilled labor and then made an actual wooden boat that floats. I loved that this course gave engineering students an opportunity to appreciate the role cultural context plays in the building process, while it gave students in the humanities a chance to work with their hands.

Sun, sand and sweat: Exploring Martha’s Vineyard by bike

I thought I was so clever.

I’d devised what I thought was the perfect affordable Fourth of July weekend with my husband on Martha’s Vineyard, the summer enclave that numerous presidents and celebrities call home. I had chosen to book a modest room in an out-of-the-way area to save money on lodging. I picked activities that were mostly free or cheap — beaches, parades, coffee shop lunches, happy hours. I had planned for us to park four miles away from the ferry terminal so we didn’t have to pay an exorbitant daily parking rate. And I chose a budget-friendly method of on-island transportation: cycling on our own bikes.

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On the morning of July 4, I was in smug self-congratulation mode as we pulled into our $0 parking spot, hopped on our bikes, strapped on our backpacks and pedaled toward the Martha’s Vineyard Fast Ferry in Quonset, Rhode Island.

And then I heard a loud POP! and a slow hisssssss.

We were, I kid you not, just feet away from the Fast Ferry’s ticket office when a giant rusty nail punctured my front tire. I let out a few choice expletives as my mind immediately navigated to worst-case scenarios. Was my bike totally out of commission for the weekend? Would I have to cough up untold sums of money for a replacement rental? It was a holiday weekend — would there be any rentals left? If not, how would we get around, and would bus tickets and cab fares end up emptying our wallets? Did one stupid nail just ruin our entire trip?!

Then, Ian brought me back down to Earth. There would be numerous bike rental companies near the Oak Bluffs ferry terminal, he assured me, and they’d have no trouble patching up the tire quickly. Everything would be fine.

He was right, of course. Once we’d docked, it took us all of 30 seconds to find Anderson’s Bike Rentals, where a very nice employee replaced my tube for just $20. Less than a half hour later, we were on the road toward our Airbnb in the town of Vineyard Haven.

The temperature was high and the sun was blazing. As we biked down East Chop Drive with several pounds of belongings on our backs, we began dripping sweat. Yet there was nowhere else I’d rather be. The sweeping ocean views, charming shingled houses and nautical decor around every corner reminded me why I’d fallen in love with the Vineyard on my first visit a year earlier, when I signed up to join a yoga and photography retreat hosted by my favorite travel blogger, Alex in Wanderland. The island has a way of easing troubles, slowing time and illuminating the truly important stuff in life — for example, the sine qua non that is tracking down the cutest lighthouse and snapping a million photos.

Our Airbnb was a modest but relaxing room in Vineyard Haven, one of the island’s six towns. Vineyard Haven, the main village within the town of Tisbury, doesn’t get much ink in travel guides. That’s partly because it’s less eye-catching than the other major population centers of Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, and partly because it’s a semi-dry community: There are no bars here, and the restaurants require you to order food with your beer or wine. But even if you like a tipple, I think there’s a case to be made for staying in Vineyard Haven. It’s more affordable, it has some of the best restaurants on the island, it’s just a short jaunt away from the nightlife in Oak Bluffs, and it boasts an artsy, bohemian community of year-round residents.

That said, we didn’t stay long in Vineyard Haven on this particular day. Once we’d dropped off our stuff, freshened up and met our lovely host Betsy, we were on the road again.

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First, we doubled back to the bustling, colorful, delightfully kitschy town of Oak Bluffs, where we dismounted our bikes and wandered around the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association. The name probably conjures images of tents and cinderblock bathrooms, but in reality, the MVCMA is a neighborhood of ridiculously Instagrammable gingerbread houses originally built in the 19th century. Once part of a summer religious colony, the houses are now privately owned — I stayed in one of them during Alex’s retreat! — and today they are unaffiliated with any organized religion. But the historic Tabernacle at the center of the neighborhood remains and still hosts regular religious services, concerts and talks throughout the summer.

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Mid-afternoon was upon us, and the temperature was approaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit; needless to say, we were more than ready for a dip in the ocean. We grabbed our bikes and set off on the dedicated trail connecting Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, with plans to stop at a stretch of sand somewhere along the way.

This trail is unquestionably the flattest, shortest and most easily accessible one on Martha’s Vineyard, so we expected we’d be sharing the road with mobs of other cyclists on this holiday. To our surprise, the two-wheel traffic was pretty light, and we were flying by cars sitting in gridlock. It was just a few minutes before we found the perfect spot on Joseph Sylvia Beach.

After a heavenly hour or so in the water, where nary a shark was to be found, we were back on our bikes and headed toward Edgartown, home of the island’s annual Fourth of July parade. We were a little early for the parade, so we killed time by checking off another classic Martha’s Vineyard summer activity: a lobster roll picnic lunch at the local church. We paid $20 each for a gigantic lobster roll, a bag of chips, a bottle of water and the best people watching of my life, which for this island is a screaming deal.

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We weren’t feeling the parade vibes, so we skipped the beginning of the procession to check out the town’s elegant and remarkably uniform shingled houses and shops. My first visit to Edgartown had been in late September, well after the end of the typical island season, and most of the million-dollar waterfront mansions had stood largely empty. This time, it was different: Every house on Water Street was filled to the brim with celebrating families and decked out in patriotic streamers. Even the beach at Edgartown Harbor Light, one of my favorite lighthouses of all time, felt festive that evening.

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Still not ready for the noise and crowds of the parade, we opted instead for frozen cocktails on the patio of the Quarterdeck Restaurant. In the spirit of the Fourth, they were handing out free bottomless chips and salsa. With nearly everyone in town lining the parade route at that moment, the bar was blissfully quiet. A light ocean breeze cooled us off. My entire body relaxed. It was official: We were on island time.

After catching the tail end of the parade, we made the short bike ride over to Bad Martha Farmers Brewery and grabbed a sample flight. Just like the bike trail, Bad Martha was surprisingly quiet when I expected it to be choked with crowds. We spent a leisurely hour chatting and watching butterflies flit around the brewery garden as late afternoon gave way to dusk.

We hightailed it back to Vineyard Haven, then we grabbed our bike lights and pedaled toward West Chop in search of a good sunset overlook. The neighborhood was fairly rural and nearly pitch black; for about a mile, our bike lights illuminated a heavy concentration of mosquitoes and little else. Then we came across a country club where people milled around in pristine all-white ensembles. Though we felt out of place in our T-shirts and lycra shorts, we followed the crowd to an overlook, just in time for a breathtaking sunset. When we could stand the mosquito bites no longer, we headed back to our Airbnb and slept soundly.

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The next morning, we woke early to nab a seat at Vineyard Haven’s Art Cliff Diner, an island favorite. I was extremely tired and sore from the 25 not-entirely-flat miles we’d covered the day before, but pleasant thoughts of hot, strong coffee lured me onto my bike saddle and spurred me to start pedaling. We arrived just a few minutes after the cafe opened, and I was surprised to see very few people queued ahead of us. (I’m still getting used to the fact that New Englanders just don’t seem to be as gung-ho as West Coasters about early-morning breakfasts — a comparable cafe in Santa Cruz or Seattle would have been packed by 7 with a 45-minute wait list by 8, even in the dead of winter.)

An hour later, fully sated and caffeinated, we were off to a day trip on Nantucket — a post for another day! We returned at dusk and completed our tour of Martha’s Vineyard breweries with a casual dinner at Offshore Ale Co. After sunset, we dragged our sweaty, sunburned selves to Alex’s darling yellow gingerbread house to catch up over rosé. Somehow, I forgot to grab a selfie with her — but I did remember to document this unfortunate sunburn. Fail.

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The following morning, our last on the island, we both woke up with screaming muscles and foggy heads. Though we used to bike to work every day under the often-intense Colorado sun, we hadn’t spent this much time on two wheels in at least a year and a half, and I think we had both overestimated our physical limits. Though we weren’t quite ready to call it quits, we vowed to take it easier today, stopping when we needed and taking cover in the shade when possible.

This time we set our sights inland, following arterial roads and smoothly paved trails to the West Tisbury Farmer’s Market. We hopped from one outdoor stand to another, sipping coffee, munching on pastries, admiring island artists’ work and sampling locally-grown food. We loved bearing witness to the commingling of people from vastly different backgrounds here: We spotted preppy young families, bearded fishermen, gray-haired couples clad in tie dye, and of course former Secretary of State John Kerry.

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After we’d tired of squealing about the John Kerry sighting (me) and sipping the Single Greatest Lemonade Of All Time (Ian), we walked our bikes down the road for a little town sightseeing. West Tisbury is much smaller and more rural than the three easternmost towns on the island, yet its three-block-long main road is still bursting with art, food and entertainment. We first stopped at the Field Gallery & Sculpture Garden, where some colorful abstract paintings caught our eye. Then we pored over endless entertaining piles of bric-a-brac at Alley’s General Store, an island mainstay for many decades.

And just like that, it was time to pack up our stuff and go home. Before catching the ferry, we dragged our heavy backpacks into Mad Martha’s for a parting scoop of ice cream, then we briefly parked ourselves on a prime dog-spotting bench at Ocean Park to reminisce on the last few days.

We agreed that we had crammed too much activity, and too much bike mileage, into each day of this mini-vacation. Summertime in New England, in all its glorious brevity, tends to bring out the over-planner in me: I spend so many consecutive months in hibernation that, once the weather warms and the region explodes with events, activities and seasonal sights, I’m eager to do and see it all, to stock up on sunny memories that will propel me through the next hibernation period. But as I reflected on the long weekend, I realized that what endured in my memory weren’t the many pre-planned activities or the bike rides. They were the slow, spontaneous moments: our quiet happy hour in Edgartown, our afternoon swimming at the beach.

Was our long weekend celebratory and scenic? Yes, definitely. Was it relaxing and rejuvenating? No, not especially! Don’t get me wrong, I love being active while on vacation — but not so active that I wind up in a 24-hour stupor afterward. If we were to do it all over again — and I hope we do! — I would advocate for a week-long trip focused mostly on beachgoing, barbecuing, evening walks and one or two excursions to other towns. After all, in beautiful, seasonal, slow-moving places like Martha’s Vineyard, where the best moments involve sand, seafood and sunsets, the magic is in the dolce far niente — the sweetness of doing nothing.

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Celebrating love in verdant Vermont

In July 2018, on the eve of our second wedding anniversary, Ian told me he was whisking me away for a weekend. The destination, he said, was a surprise.

I was thrilled — I love a well planned surprise, especially when it involves exploring beautiful New England in my favorite season with my favorite person.

(That said — have you ever tried packing for a trip to an undisclosed location? I’m here to tell you it ain’t easy.)

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When we hit the road on Friday evening, I started narrowing down possible destinations in my head. I thought we might be headed to the Berkshires, which in the summer boasts not only natural beauty but also world-class culture: think classical music at Tanglewood and contemporary art at Mass MoCA. I also considered the possibility that we were on our way to the Hudson Valley, home of magnificent wineries, charming sleepy towns and an NYC-caliber restaurant scene.

But I was most convinced we were bound for Vermont, a state we both couldn’t wait to visit. On paper, Vermont seemed like exactly our kind of place: it had crunchy hippie roots, beautiful mountain scenery, a plethora of outdoor activity possibilities, and most importantly a lot of maple syrup and cheese.

As we crossed into the southeastern corner of Vermont — suspicion confirmed! — I was excited to see if the state would measure up to my Mt. Mansfield-high expectations.

Folks, it was love at first sight — literally. Within the first half hour, we hit this magnificent viewpoint:

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All at once, I realized why winter in Rhode Island felt so lackluster and why I missed Boulder so dang much: Because Rhode Island is as flat as a pancake! This was the first time I’d seen a mountain vista in six months. It was glorious.

As dusk descended, we pulled into the adorable town of Wilmington, where we’d be based for the next two days. “Town” is perhaps a generous descriptor of pint-sized Wilmington — it’s really not much more than a half-mile stretch of highway with a handful of restaurants, shops and adventure outfitters. Yet it has everything a discerning weekender could possibly want, including great food, an impressive roster of concerts and shows, and an amazing variety of handmade gifts to take home. Most importantly, it’s got that New England je-ne-sais-quoi about it — that woodsy, cozy quaintness I wasn’t sure existed beyond the pages of Yankee Magazine.

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After dropping our luggage inside the adorable Airbnb, Ian and I walked “across town” (read: two blocks away) for an uncharacteristically lavish dinner at Cask & Kiln, a relatively new restaurant housed in a historic brick building that had been ravaged by river flooding caused by Hurricane Irene in 2011. This place is as much about romantic atmosphere as it is about food, all low lights and leather tufted seats and Art Deco details. I loved that everything about the restaurant, including the decor, the menu and even the outfits of the servers, managed to feel at once contemporary and nostalgic, simultaneously casual and celebratory. The least classy thing about the place? Us — we had mostly packed outdoor adventure clothes and were easily the most underdressed people there!

The next morning, I woke up early to get the lay of the land. With a cup of coffee in one hand and a blanket around my shoulders, I read up on the area’s parks, attractions and seasonal events and consulted a map of the area. Soon I was fired up for a day of scenic hiking, kayaking, farmer’s markets and covered bridge peeping (it’s a real hobby!) — and I was already plotting return trips in the fall and winter, when the area appears equally gorgeous.

We kicked off Saturday morning with a Cajun-inspired breakfast at Jezebel’s Eatery and a brief tour through some of the town shops. Sometimes I feel like the same 50 books are on display in every bookstore, so I was pleasantly surprised by the eclectic and locally-focused displays at Bartleby’s Books. I think our visit here inspired about half of my holiday gifts in 2018!

After grabbing some local honey at a farmer’s market on the outskirts of town, we pulled into Molly Stark State Park — where we were stunned to discover we were one of just a handful of visitors that morning. After consulting a ranger and a trail map, we followed signs to the Mt. Olga Fire Tower, which promised sweeping views of the Green Mountains. Promise delivered.

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One thing I love about New England is its plethora of easy and moderate hikes. Many people who live in the West, particularly those in Colorado, approach hiking with a “no pain, no gain” philosophy and believe the best views can only be found by enduring grueling climbs. This 1.7-mile jaunt proves all those hiking snobs wrong.

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After Molly Stark, we reversed course, heading west on the state’s main southern highway with no particular destination in mind. Google Maps first led us to Woodford State Park, where we found a few-mile trail circumnavigating Adams Reservoir. Some families were paddling their kayaks and canoes on the calm waters, and we dreamed of returning here in the fall to do the same.

After relaxing for a while at the reservoir’s picnic area, we continued west and grabbed lunch at a bohemian coffee shop in Bennington. Wondering where to go next, we pored over the local tourism guides for inspiration. Almost immediately, we zeroed in on Bennington College — the alma mater of several big literary names, including Donna Tartt. We’d both recently read “The Secret History,” which was based on her time there, and we were intrigued to see if the place felt as mysterious as it had been portrayed in her novel.

The campus was beautiful, austere and almost disturbingly quiet in the middle of summer. We spent a pleasant couple of hours imagining spots where Tartt’s characters might have held their bacchanal or crossed the quad for Greek lessons.

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Back in Wilmington, we hit up Red Fox Shop, a local wine, cheese and gift store, to assemble our own ploughman’s dinner. The place was so unexpectedly delightful that we stayed almost an hour chatting with the owner, browsing funky cheeses and shopping for gifts. Then, we took our finds back to the Airbnb and lounged on the riverbank until the mosquitoes chased us inside.

On Sunday morning, we weren’t quite ready to return to the real world — so we took the scenic route home. Our first stop was a charming covered bridge near Brattleboro, the first one I’d ever seen on the East Coast.

After crossing into Massachusetts, Ian suddenly remembered one of his favorite area destinations from a previous trip here. Drawing largely from memory, he navigated us to the Montague Bookmill, a former 19th-century grist mill that is now home to a sprawling complex of used books, cafes, food stalls and local artists’ pop-up shops.

We had another three hours of driving ahead of us, otherwise I might have spent the entire day here. I loved everything about this spot — the sun-soaked reading nooks, the unpretentious vibe, the vibrant art, the friendly and talkative people.

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Needless to say, this weekend confirmed my assumptions that I’d love Vermont. Despite never having visited before, the Green Mountain State felt familiar to me. Maybe it’s because Vermonters seem so much like Santa Cruzans, filled to the brim with local pride and refreshingly far removed from the career-focused hustle of the I-95 corridor. Or maybe it’s that they spend so much more of their time outside, even in the depths of winter, like in our previous home of Boulder. Whatever it was, I know one thing: I’ll be back soon.

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READ NEXT: Two years in Rhode Island

Lifeguard posts at Bonnet Shores, Narragansett

A year in Rhode Island

A year in Rhode Island

Almost exactly a year ago today, two humans stuffed two cats, three plants and countless boxes of junk into an old Camry and drove 2,000 miles east into the eye of a bomb cyclone.

One of those humans, of course, was me.

Sunflower field in Providence

On the long drive from Colorado to Rhode Island, I spent a lot of time wondering what exactly we were getting ourselves into – fretting about the harsh winters we might encounter, wondering whether we’d make friends, hoping I would land a job quickly (Spoiler alert: I did!). Mostly, I wondered whether we’d just made a huge mistake.

As a lifelong resident of the West, I never thought I’d live on the other side of the country. Aside from the occasional daydream about moving to New York City, I had spent little time wondering what life on the East Coast looked like.

Then, in the fall of 2017, my husband found an oceanography opportunity he couldn’t pass up. Suddenly, I was spending tens of hours researching housing costs, scanning climate reports, and generally musing on what it might be like to live in a state whose biggest claim to fame is its minuscule size.

South East Lighthouse, Block Island

Countless friends, most of whom have never lived in or visited New England, have asked about my experience here. “Do you like Rhode Island?” they ask. And I reply that I hate it and like it in equal measures. “Is it different on the East Coast?” they ask. And I reply, yes, completely, but also not at all. My split-personality answers illustrate how utterly confounding I find my adopted state to be.

Now that I’ve lived here a year, I wanted to share a few delightful, frustrating, absurd and strange things I’ve learned about the Ocean State. Maybe they’ll explain why I’m often enraptured one day and exasperated the next.

The beaches

Napatree Point, Westerly, Rhode Island

Beavertail Point, Jamestown

Any conversation about the best of this state begins and ends with its beautiful shores. Rhode Island boasts 400 miles of coastline – not too shabby for a state that’s just 37 miles wide and 48 miles long! There are so many places to lay your towel on the sand come summer that investigating all the options could take a lifetime.

Rhode Island’s beaches were a pleasant surprise to this snobby Californian. The pristine white sands you’ll find here make the beaches in my hometown seem grubby and gross by comparison. The Atlantic is substantially warmer than the Pacific, reaching 70 degrees in August and September, which makes long stretches of swimming a bit more feasible. And I love the windswept pines, roses and tall grasses that grow on the dunes and line each sandy pathway to the water.

East Beach, Charlestown, Rhode Island

Beachgoing in Rhode Island is practically perfect, which is why Easterners from New Jersey to Maine flock here for coastal holidays. The only flaw, in my mind, is the lack of free beach access. In Santa Cruz, it’s possible to park on the street for free within walking distance of nearly every beach, lock your valuables in the trunk, and take along little more than a towel and a frisbee. In most of Rhode Island, you really have no choice but to drive to the beach and pay $20 to park in the official lot, as there are usually no sidewalks, street parking spots or even bike paths nearby. As a result, a trip to the beach is often a bigger production out east: To get their money’s worth, families will fill up the car with full-sized coolers, tote bags full of games, and even wall-height windscreens and camp out all day.

The beverages

My husband and I moved to Rhode Island from one of the healthiest places in the U.S., so we were confounded to discover Rhode Island’s preoccupation with sugary drinks. Order a “regular” coffee at Dunkin’, the Northeast’s answer to Starbucks, and you’ll receive drip coffee that’s been rendered unrecognizable by the addition of large quantities of cream and sugar. Here and at other coffee shops around the state, it’s de rigeur to order a 20-ounce iced coffee year-round. Usually, you’ll be asked to choose from a dizzying array of flavors, from thin mint to blueberry to banana bread. Ask for unsweetened coffee, hot or iced, and you’ll often be met by a blank stare.

I suppose this is to be expected in a state whose national drink is Coffee Milk – which is not, as it sounds, coffee with milk, but instead a glass of milk with sweet coffee syrup mixed in.

That’s not to say all Rhode Island beverages are too sweet. My favorite state specialty is Del’s Frozen Lemonade, a summer treat dating back to the 1940s. It’s the perfect balance between sweet and tart.

The people

Providence, Rhode Island

West Coasters like to perpetuate the stereotype of the gruff, grumpy Northeasterner. New Englanders, in turn, say the West’s friendliness only exists on the surface, and that many of its residents are flaky and passive-aggressive.

I once accepted the former as fact and assumed the latter was misdirected jealousy. But now, a year into my time in Rhode Island, I’ve been forced to confront the fact that West Coasters are way off base – and New Englanders aren’t.

Throughout Rhode Island, you’ll be met with the kind of small-town charm that’s usually associated with the Midwest and the South. Everybody here “knows a guy” who can fix your broken plumbing, find you a rental house or direct you to the best bars in town. Rhode Islanders will go out of their way to ensure your happiness – even if they just met you five minutes ago, and even if there’s nothing in it for them. Sure, they may not greet you in L.A.-style singsong, but in the end, they often prove to be more genuine.

It seems the only place where comical levels of friendliness don’t exist is in most retail stores, and frankly, for that I am grateful. Walk into a nice department store in San Francisco or Seattle and you’ll be harassed by about five salespeople in as many minutes. Here, store employees let their customers shop in peace.

The driving

Signs on I-95 in Rhode Island

Drive down the I-95 corridor in Rhode Island and the billboards will convince you Rhode Island has major problems with drinking and aggressive driving. I’ve found neither to be true – but that’s not to say the state has no driving quirks.

One of the most aggravating aspects of driving here is navigating the so-called “Rhode Island left.” Imagine coming to a red light at a standard intersection where you intend to go straight and the person opposite you has signaled left. In most other states, you can expect the left-turner to yield to you when the light turns green. But here in Rhode Island, the natives believe it should be the other way around – and if you disagree, you may find yourself the recipient of an angry honk or a new dent in your bumper.

At first, I was surprised but sheepish, believing I was simply uneducated in state law. But now that I’ve consulted the Rhode Island Driver Manual and confirmed the law is consistent with that of California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado, I’m just annoyed – and constantly terrified I’ll get in a fender-bender.

The sightseeing

Newport, Rhode Island

The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island

There’s so much history, scenery and culture in this tiny state that it’s almost impossible to comprehend. I was a total New England newbie when we moved here, so it’s been a thrill to spend my Saturdays walking to picture-perfect lighthouses, strolling through 300-year-old villages and hiking by Revolutionary War-era cemeteries – all of which exist in abundance here.

Church in Narragansett, Rhode Island

I haven’t yet tired of exploring this state – good portions of Rhode Island’s East Bay and northwestern corner are still calling my name! – but whenever I want a change of scenery, I don’t have to go far. Massachusetts and Connecticut are less an an hour’s drive away, and weekend trips to countless breathtaking places are easy to pull off. Already, my husband and I have visited New York City, the Berkshires, the Hudson Valley and Southern Vermont for the weekend, and I’ve explored Martha’s Vineyard, Boston and Plymouth solo. There’s still so much of New England to explore – Acadia National Park and the White Mountains are at the top of my regional bucket list – that I’ve barely thought about destinations farther afield.

The weather

Treaty Rock, Rhode Island

Look, I’m just going to come out and say it: The weather here is truly dismal. Not just in January, when all the trees are bare and the damp, windy air whips through every layer, chilling you to the bone. Not just in August, when the relentless heat and humidity sucks the life out of your hair and your fitness routine. It’s dismal nearly all the time.

Snug Harbor, Rhode Island

I thought I was prepared for the seasons, having lived through snowy winters, record-breaking rain and blistering sun in other states. But I underestimated the power of dampness, something that’s less pervasive out West. Seattle didn’t ready me for the 63 inches of rain Rhode Island saw in 2018. In Colorado, I didn’t learn how to prevent summer mildew from damaging winter clothing while it’s in storage. And office work in Central California didn’t teach me how to dress for two seasons at once – the extreme one outside and the climate-controlled one inside.

Long Pond and Ell Pond hike, Rhode Island

While I would never dream of leaving New England in October, when the trees are ablaze in magnificent colors and temperatures are just about perfect, I think the other 11 months of the year would be better spent elsewhere. There’s a reason why so many Rhode Islanders prefer to summer on the Cape and winter in Florida.

The big picture

While so much about this place has been a pleasant surprise, it’s safe to say I’m not sufficiently in love with Rhode Island to consider it a forever home. But it’s only been a year, and I find that I warm to the the Ocean State more with every passing month. I love that I can eat freshly-caught seafood year-round. I enjoy living a five-minute walk away from a kayak rental shop and a 20-minute drive from spectacular Gilded Age mansions. And yes, even those sweetened drinks are growing on me. Who knows how I’ll feel at the end of year two?

Providence, Rhode Island

Fast ferry from Quonset to Martha's Vineyard

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 Have you visited or lived in Rhode Island? What do you like and dislike about it?

READ NEXT: Five Cities that Surprised Me

Photo by Jill Kimball

Where to eat and drink on Tulum Beach

Photo by Jill Kimball

Back in March of 2017, my husband and I spent a whole blissful week exploring and relaxing in Tulum, the Yucatán Peninsula’s most stylish and bohemian resort town. As the destination’s popularity among Americans has grown, so has the number of friends asking us for recommendations on what to do, see, eat and drink while they’re in Tulum. After drafting a couple of mile-long emails, I realized I may as well make my list of recommendations public and official here!

The thing about restaurants and bars along Tulum Beach road? They’re all beautiful. Some boast straw roofs, sandy floors and sweeping views of the impossibly turquoise waves. Others sit ceilingless in the dense, tropical jungle across the road, open to the stars and sultry air. But while almost every establishment in Tulum’s romantic, naturally aesthetically pleasing environment is Instagrammable to the max, only a few can claim both style and substance.

Before I dive in, I’d like to share a few general tips about eating and drinking along Tulum’s beach road:

  1. Always, always bring cash…in pesos. Many restaurants take debit cards, and almost all take U.S. dollars. But if you pay using either of these methods, you’ll be charged significantly more, as restaurants calculate the dollar value of their dishes using an unfavorable exchange rate. Save your hard-earned money by hitting the ATM regularly and withdrawing local currency. Note that you’ll have better luck at the ATMs in the actual town of Tulum; along the beach road, the density of foreign tourists causes machines to run out of cash and malfunction regularly. We always used the machine inside the gas station at the intersection of Avenida Coba and the Tulum-Cancun highway.
  2. Don’t wear high heels. As I explained in my last post, Tulum isn’t a dressy town. You’ll look and feel out of place if you try to go full glam. (Plus, who really wants to ruin their nicest shoes on that dusty, gravelly, pothole-ridden beach road?) Stick to flip flops, flat sandals or espadrilles.
  3. Eat early. We found that Tulum’s dining schedule is pretty much the opposite of Portugal’s. It isn’t a late-night town — probably because it’s not on the Mexican electrical grid and thus is quite dimly lit at night — so its best restaurants fill up well before dark. If top-notch food is what you seek, plan to eat dinner around 5:30 or 6 p.m., unless you’re able to make a later reservation. If you’re full of energy after your meal, fear not: There are a few places where you can grab post-dinner drinks before turning in for the night.

And now, without further ado, here are some of my Tulum favorites!

Photo by Jill Kimball
Margarita at Eufemia in Tulum, Mexico, Photo by Jill Kimball

TAQUERIA LA EUFEMIA

Situated right on the best stretch of sand in Tulum, Eufemia is the ultimate destination for those who need midday sustenance but don’t want a break from beach-bumming. The sandy hut serves up a variety of fruit juices, margaritas, brunch foods and delicious yet extremely affordable tacos. Customers who opt for meat, fish or veggie tacos can visit Eufemia’s extensive toppings bar to add fresh salsas, fruit and crema to their food. From there, they can choose to sunbathe on the beach, sit at an umbrella-shaded table or stay cool inside the hut, where the most coveted seats face the waves. Visit closer to lunchtime and you’ll practically have the place to yourself; visit around 3 p.m. and you’ll find yourself competing for space with dozens of scantily-clad, sunkissed and chic twentysomethings who have biked in from town.

Photo by Jill Kimball

Casa Jaguar

Looking for post-dinner drinks? Allow me to recommend Casa Jaguar, an open-air restaurant on the jungle side of the beach road. I can’t comment on the quality of the food here — reviews of the eats were so-so, so we skipped out — but I can say that the cocktails were creative, delicious and beautiful. The decor, all southwestern-print pillows, candles and young palm trees, wasn’t too shabby, either!

Photo by Jill Kimball

Casa Banana

We may never have visited this Argentinian restaurant had it not been so conveniently located right across the road from our hotel, Nueva Vida de Ramiro. Argentinian food, after all, tends to be beef-forward…and I’m, well, not. Lucky for me, red meat isn’t all they do well here. I ordered a whole roasted fish and was delighted with it: the buttery flesh melted in my mouth, and the skin was perfectly crispy. Like many other excellent destinations in Tulum, the cocktail list was adventurous and aesthetically pleasing; my mezcal drink came with a sparkler that doubled as a stir stick when the flame died down.
Photo by Jill Kimball

I Scream Bar

Walk by this funky, casual place after dark and you’ll hear locals and tourists luring you in with chants of “I Scream Bar! I Scream Bar!” Answer the call and you won’t be disappointed. This wonderfully unpretentious shack sells bottled beer for $2 and offers a variety of ceviches and tacos. But the real star of the show is its vegan ice cream, which is served in creatively upcycled beer bottles and comes in both traditional and wacky flavors, from cacao to coconut to mango ginger. Pay a little extra and the bartenders will mix in some mezcal or tequila.
Photo by Jill Kimball Photo by Jill Kimball Photo by Jill Kimball

Hartwood

Tulum’s most popular and buzzed-about dinner spot absolutely lives up to the hype. The menu changes daily, but you can always count on fresh seafood, unexpected herbs, homemade juices and cocktail mixes, and impeccable flavor.  Our ceviche, octopus and local fish dishes were scrumptious, and our cocktails were lovely and refreshing. Hartwood opens daily at 5:30 and doesn’t take reservations, and you’ll see a queue start to form quite early. To guarantee a table for two, show up 20-30 minutes before opening; if your party is larger, try to get in line by 5.
Photo by Jill Kimball

RESTAURARE

As a lifelong vetegarian-recently-turned-pescatarian, I’ve always loved seeking out great meatless restaurants. Restaurare, an entirely vegan establishment, was one of the best I’ve visited — and not just because it was drop-dead gorgeous. The coconut ceviche and mole-inspired curry were to die for, and the restaurant’s own all-natural, homemade bug spray at every table was such a nice touch! Sadly, I just learned that Restaurare closed last year after its landlord hiked up the rent. This happens to far too many vegan and vegetarian restaurants in hip, desirable places, and I find it heartbreaking. If you’d like to give vegan food a try, I encourage you to patronize places like Raw Love and Charly’s Vegan Tacos while you’re in Tulum. Let’s work together to keep these healthy, inclusive and yummy restaurants in business!

Drinking a coco frio on Tulum Beach, Photo by Ian Bishop
So there you have it — my top eating and drinking picks for Tulum Beach! What’s at the top of your list? And if you’ve visited Tulum before, what were some of your favorites?

READ NEXT: What to pack for a week in Tulum

Chasing classical music history in Paris

In Paris, art is everywhere. It’s not an exaggeration to say every block inside the city limits boasts a little bit of eye candy — whether it’s a world-class museum, a row of elegant Haussmann-designed apartments, a sweet arbor covered in pink roses or just an attractive café.

With all this visual stimulation, visitors to the City of Light may momentarily forget the other four senses. (Okay, the other three: In this town, you won’t soon forget taste!) But doing so altogether would be a mistake, because this magical place is as sonically pleasing as it is aesthetically pleasing. After all, it’s been home to some of the greatest composers who ever lived.

Though Paris’ reputation for world-class art is due in large part to Debussy, Rossini and other famous music masters who resided there, few tourists will learn much about their legacy. That’s because sites dedicated to the city’s musical history have to compete with world-class art museums, shopping and restaurants. And not even the biggest classical fan wants to spend a day stalking Satie if it means missing the Mona Lisa or Moulin Rouge.

Luckily, as my most recent trip to Paris proves, it’s easy to make time for the classical alongside the classics. If you’re a music lover, you can have your macaron and eat it too. Here’s how to walk in the footsteps of Debussy, Chopin and other classical greats while still staying on the tourist trail.

Artwork at the Musee D'Orsay in Paris, photo by Jill Kimball

MUSÉE D’ORSAY

A trip to the Musee D’Orsay, where some of the world’s most famous Impressionist paintings are housed, is a must on any trip to Paris. Luckily, the museum houses a few delightful classical-themed gems for those who are as excited about Liszt as they are about water lilies. Here you’ll find portraits of Erik Satie and Hector Berlioz, Degas’ rendering of a night at the Paris Opera, and Franz von Stück’s arresting Beethoven mask, which I’ve hoped to see in person since childhood. Even when the D’Orsay isn’t paying outright tribute to the most famous Parisian composers, it still feels as if you’re floating through the visual equivalent of Debussy’s “Afternoon of a Faun” — especially on the museum’s famous fifth floor, which is all dreamy water lilies, soft lines and pastel landscapes.

Outside the Moulin Rouge in Montmartre, Paris, photo by Jill Kimball

MONTMARTRE

If you’re a first-time visitor to Paris, you’ll probably end up in Montmartre at some point during your trip. Home to heavyweights such as the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur and the Moulin Rouge, this hilly neighborhood was once the international capital of bohemianism and creativity. Among its famous residents were the painters Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh and Henri Matisse. Naturally, writers and musicians flocked here, too, holing up in cabarets by night and philosophizing over coffee and cigarettes by day. More than a century later, it’s still easy to see why Montmartre’s romantic, winding lanes and colorful storefronts attracted artists of all kinds.

Here in the 18th arrondissement, fitting in a taste of the belle époque musician’s life between visits to major tourist sights is easy. Just blocks away from Sacre-Coeur is Rue Cortot, where Erik Satie — he of the dreamy “Gymnopédie” piano pieces — once lived. And right around the corner from the Moulin Rouge sits Le Carmen, an elegant nightclub that was once the home of Georges Bizet. The grand foyer opens up to a massive bar area, which offers opera-themed cocktails (spicy “Habanera,” anyone?) and countless flavors of infused gin.

Chandeliers at the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, Paris, photo by Jill Kimball

VERSAILLES

A day trip to this over-the-top palace, built just outside Paris by King Louis XIV in the late 17th century, is popular for a reason: Its interiors are jaw-droppingly opulent, and its acres of manicured grounds provide hours of free entertainment. For more than a century, Versailles residents’ fashion sense and food tastes set international trends, some of which persist to this day (macarons, anyone?).

So, too, did Louis XIV’s tastes in music. Jean-Baptiste Lully, the composer of the lively, balletic operas “Armide” and “Phaeton,”  was the Sun King’s composer-in-residence for decades, filling the palace with incomparable music on a regular basis. Versailles quickly became a must-visit destination for the biggest names in the biz, including Mozart and Charpentier.

Today, there are several ways to soak up Versailles’ classical history. If you’re already planning to tour the palace, simply grab a free audio guide on your way in and you’ll be treated to clips of the same music Marie Antoinette once heard, along with a few facts about the concerts that took place in the palace’s heyday, from sacred music in private chapel ceremonies to big parlor concerts. But the best way to connect with this estate’s classical history by far is to attend a live concert on the grounds. Held in the evenings after the crowds are gone, these concerts include music from the 17th century and today and often feature big-name soloists. In the warmer months, the palace sometimes moves the festivities outside, pairing the sweet sounds with a lighted fountain show.

Rossini's grave at Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, photo by Jill Kimball

PÈRE LACHAISE CEMETERY

Most tourists visit this beautiful park to pay their respects to rock star Jim Morrison, probably the most famous figure buried here. That’s good news for classical fans, who might be more interested in the cemetery’s other rock stars. Chopin, Rossini, Cherubini and Poulenc are among the composers who rest here — and their intricate, hand-carved mausoleums don’t disappoint. Once you’ve gawked to your heart’s content, walk to Belleville or Le Banane for a bite — these neighborhoods are home to some of the city’s hippest bars, restaurants and coffee shops.

Arc de Triomphe in the evening, Paris, photo by Jill Kimball

EVERYWHERE ELSE

While you’re touring around Paris, keep an eye out for other tiny hints of the city’s rich classical history. While walking between the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, I spotted a street sign dedicated to Léo Delibes, whose lush Flower Duet has found its way into countless commercials and films. And as we strolled near the Moulin Rouge, we turned a corner and came eye to eye with a large sculpture of Hector Berlioz. And Chopin is everywhere in this city, from monuments in the Luxembourg Gardens and Parc Monceau to an entire small museum within the Polish Library.

Of course, the best place to see classical history come alive in Paris is at the Opéra National. I wasn’t lucky enough to attend myself…but it’s at the top of my list for next time!

Have you been to Paris? What was your favorite experience? Sound off in the comments!

Read next: Five cities that surprised me

Photo by Jill Kimball

Different spokes: Test-riding Seattle’s three new bike shares

Photo by Jill Kimball

 

 

Seattle is a famously bike-friendly city, yet in the five years I lived there, I probably went on a grand total of five bike rides.

I have numerous excuses for this error in judgment, some of them silly (exercise is too hard; I don’t have any padded shorts) and some legitimate (the weather is terrible most of the year; the city is famously hilly; Seattle isn’t quite as bike-friendly as many would have you believe). Since moving to Colorado and becoming a full-blown cycling addict, I’ve wanted to return to Seatown and rectify the mistake…but I haven’t quite known how.

Until now.

This summer, it became insanely easy for anyone–visitor or resident–to cycle around Seattle. No fewer than three bike-share startups popped up in the Emerald City this year, and they’re so eager for your business that they’re practically giving bike rides away. (By “practically,” I mean “literally”–my husband and I took about 10 rides in three days, and the companies’ generous free-trial policies meant we never paid a penny.)

All three of these companies–Limebike, Ofo and Spin–operate in much the same way: They’re all dockless, meaning their bikes are scattered across the city, parked on sidewalks, in parking lots and along multi-use trails. Once you’ve unlocked one with a simple QR code scan or smartphone tap, you’re free to ride as long as you please. When you’re done, you can leave it pretty much anywhere that doesn’t obstruct car or foot traffic. Well, except in the middle of a lake or up a tree.

So, to recap: It’s easy. It’s convenient. It’s cheap, if not free. In other words, there’s literally no reason not to try out a bike share the next time you’re in Seattle. (Well, except for the helmet issue…which I’ll address later.) But which bike should you choose? Read on to find out what I thought about each company!

LIMEBIKE

If you live in Seattle and haven’t yet seen LimeBike’s green and yellow frames gracing the sidewalks, driveways and trails of the city, you probably live underground. Back in the summer, LimeBike boasted the biggest presence of any bike-share company in the city by far.

Limebikes are classic cruisers with swept back handlebars and Dutch-inspired step-through designs, which means it’s easy to hop on and off whether you’re in slacks or a skirt. A Limebike comes with eight gears, and shifting between them will be painless and intuitive for pretty much anyone who’s ever ridden a bike. The bike comes with a loud, satisfying bell, and it too is easy to use.

There were a few things I didn’t like about LimeBike. For one thing, I had to add payment information as soon as I downloaded the app, even though the company immediately granted me five free rides upon download–and that slowed down my momentum a bit. For another, the suspension on LimeBikes is terrible…although they’re not alone in that regard. And finally, there’s my least favorite feature: the seat post. While the seat of a LimeBike is adjustable, it doesn’t move up high enough to comfortably fit anyone who’s even remotely tall. I’m 5’8″, and I sat so low on my LimeBike that every little hill was a slow, laborious climb. (Update: Limebike has now fixed this issue, and biking around town is much easier! However, pedaling will still feel a bit laborious to anyone who’s used to sitting up high on a road bike or hybrid.)

COST: $1 per 30-minute ride. Your first 10 rides are free, and you can earn another few free rides by swapping promo codes with a friend.
BEST FOR: People who love the feel of a beach cruiser
BAD FOR: Tall people

OFO*

Unlike the other two Silicon Valley startups, Ofo is based in China and already has robust dockless bike share systems in 170 cities worldwide. Ofo differentiates itself from LimeBike with a solid yellow frame and black handlebars, boasting a look that’s a bit more sophisticated and less cartoonish. The design is something between a Dutch step-through and a commuter hybrid, which appealed to me–I’d love to see more companies designing cute commuters. I thought adding a cup holder to the basket was a fun touch, especially considering Seattle’s coffee fixation.

Ofo impressed me in the areas where Limebike fell short: Its seat actually adjusts to fit a variety of heights, making for a much less physically demanding ride. And rather than asking for payment upfront, Ofo let me get on a bike immediately after I downloaded the app.

However, Ofo, too, had its drawbacks. Like LimeBike, the suspension was terrible. The basket was too shallow to hold my purse. I found the handlebars to be a bit too close together for someone of my height. The gear shifters worked fine, but they were a little bit less intuitive than those on LimeBike. I didn’t like that the app asked me to enable Bluetooth, and I found it annoying that I had to shuffle between my Settings and the app to give Ofo permission to use my camera, when for the other two all I had to do was press “allow” within the app.

Yet even with all these drawbacks, I’d choose Ofo over Limebike in a heartbeat for the better seat adjustment alone.

COST: $1 per hour, with a first-timer promotion of five free rides
BEST FOR: Tall people and coffee drinkers
BAD FOR: People who carry large purses

SPIN*

At the time of my visit, Spin’s bright orange bikes were probably the most difficult to track down. For every dozen LimeBikes I encountered, I’d see a handful of Ofo bikes and just one Spin. Yet I was the most interested in trying this company, as their bike design probably hews closest to that of a standard commuter bike, my preferred model.

So you can imagine my frustration when my search for a Spin was unsuccessful.

It’s true–I never actually got to ride a Spin bike at all. After a pleasant Ofo ride to Golden Gardens Park one afternoon, I downloaded the Spin app and spotted one of their bikes near the beach parking lot. But when I arrived at the bike and scanned its QR code, I found out someone else had already reserved it.

With reservation capabilities, Spin has made itself a two-wheeled Car2Go, giving it an edge over the competition. It’s great for, say, commuters who want a solid transport plan in place before they head out the door. But it’s not so great for spur-of-the-moment riders or first-timers like me–people who don’t yet know the rules and are destined to be confused and annoyed to find the only bike nearby is already taken.

Like Ofo and unlike LimeBike, I didn’t have to provide my credit card information up front on Spin’s app, which was a plus. I liked the bike’s nice deep basket–it’s perfect for a purse or a grocery bag. My husband, who was able to ride on a Spin, noted the gear shifter was a bit sticky (a common complaint); I, panting behind him on a LimeBike, noted with envy that his bike frame was larger and his seat higher than mine. But given I didn’t actually give Spin a test ride, there’s not much more I can say.

COST: $1 per 30-minute ride. Over the summer, Spin was giving away 10 free rides to new customers.
BEST FOR: Commuters and regular riders
BAD FOR: One-off riders

Photo by Jill Kimball

THE HELMET ISSUE

That visitors and locals alike have taken to bikes with abandon thanks to dockless bike share is really exciting. That none of these companies plan to offer helmet rentals in the future is…mildly concerning.

There’s always been a debate about whether wearing a helmet while biking really is safer. But regardless of what you believe, the irrefutable fact of the matter is, it’s illegal to bike without a helmet in Seattle.

That obviously poses a problem for almost every potential bike share user, from local residents looking for a spur-of-the-moment ride home after a night out to tourists looking for a fun way to cruise between sights without the hassle of traffic and parking. Most people don’t pack helmets in their carry-on luggage, nor do they stash one in a purse or backpack on the way to work every day. I admit that even I didn’t wear a helmet during any of my rides around Seattle, and I felt a bit on edge without one–back home, I wear one every day during my commute to work.

There’s a huge disconnect between the city’s bike laws and its open-armed welcome to these three companies–and that has to be addressed sooner rather than later. Until then, tourists and casual riders will have to choose between flouting the law or making a temporary investment in a helmet.

Jill Kimball

My Seattle biking getup.

Have you ridden any of Seattle’s shared bikes? What did you think? Sound off below!

*Update: Both Ofo and Spin announced in August 2018 that they would leave Seattle, citing high permit costs. For now, that means Limebike is the only bike-share option in the city — however, Curbed Seattle has noted that electric Jump bikes may soon be available there.