Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Bicycle Diaries: Episode Five

I should have written this months ago. The last diary I wrote was about the ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. This one happened last December, on the US Virgin Islands. We had taken a cruise and booked some shore excursions, oddly most had transport connections. There was a cable car ride on St Thomas, a train on St Kitts and a bike ride on St Croix.

The ship docked at Fredricksted, which is at the western tip of the island and somewhat remote from the capital Kristiansted. Most people on the cruise seemed to think this a disadvantage, but then they seemed to be mostly interested in shopping.

pano St Croix Frederisksted

The picture was taken from the stern of the ship and is actually several images stitched together: if you click on it and then select the original size you get a pretty good virtual tour of the route we cycled. Mostly level and along the coast. It was run by a cycle shop that was based in the town square literally steps away from the pier. About a dozen people had signed up for a guided tour. I cannot say that aspect appealed to me very much, but what we paid for to Celebrity Cruises was roughly what we would have paid to rent two bikes for the morning. This way, we didn’t need a map or a guide book.

We were fitted out with helmets, given a bottle of water and a mountain bike. They told us that we should not worry about the front gear – just use the seven on the back. There are one or two steep bits, but really nothing of concern. My only issue was that I had got used to my thumb shifters, and going back to twist grips was a bit of a let down. The bikes were more basic than the ones we had rented in San Francisco and on mine the indexes of both shifters had been rubbed away in use. I ignored the advice and shifted both front and rear, since I kept looking for a lower gear than middle and 1.

Frederiksted isn’t very large. It used to be Danish before being bought by the Americans, and very curiously drives on the left of the road even though all the cars, trucks and buses are left hand drive. Otherwise the rules of the road follow US practice. There are no bike lanes but plenty of “share the road” signs. There is not a great deal of traffic to worry about on this route.

Our guide took us around some of the historic buildings, but not the fort since that is just across the square from his shop.

Fort Frederick

Adjacent to the cruise ship berths, its guns never fired in anger. It was supposed to have been the centre of town but is now on its northern edge, as the place never grew as expected.

St Patrick's Church, Fredericksted

Here is a small group of us outside the church. The guide is the chap in the bright green shirt – without a helmet. He had obviously done this tour many times, and from his interest in trees I suspect may have been a biologist of some kind

The Danish School

The school is not architecturally very distinguished perhaps but has an interesting history.

After two or three stops we set off along the coast road, which was pretty flat, to the highlights of the tour. A former sugar plantation, with the ruins of a factory built in 1787 – and of course, in those days worked, by slave labour.

Sugar Factory 1

And a huge beobab tree – not native to the islands but imported from Africa and quite important to the health of the workers on the plantation

Beobab tree

The guide knocked down one of the beobab nuts and broke it open. The interior of the seed pod has more vitamin C than oranges and more calcium than cows milk. We were encouraged to chew the white powdery stuff off the seeds – which had to be spat out. It was not universally applauded.


Then we continued along the coast and the road got closer to the shore. There were many small coves and beaches where I might liked to have stopped. I thought I would have done if we has just hired bikes. But then I would have missed out on fresh coconut juice. Bare feet (and apparently a bare chest too) are essential for scaling palm trees. And very strong arms!

How to climb a coconut palm

To get to the “milk” (actually mostly water) – and of course to remove the nut from the tree – you need a pocket knife. Not something I carry now thanks to the TSA.

Smaller nuts are likely to have more to drink than the more mature, larger nuts. And the best bit is the “jelly” which is scooped out with a bit of the shell.


We eventually came to the end of the road, which by then had become just a dirt track.

Virgin Island bike park

We left the bikes here and went to explore the beach.

Actually the real interest was in the rocks and the tidal pools. Although I will suggest that the west coast of Vancouver Island around Ucluelet has better rock pools. Interesting how, once you put on a bike helmet, if it fits properly you don’t really see any need to take it off.

sugar mill

The ride back was much more spread out than the gang on the way in. I stopped to get this shot of the former sugar mill – arguing with the guide about the best angle. He stayed with me as “tail end charlie” to make sure nobody got lost, but when we caught up with my companion he quickly transferred his attentions to her. So I got in a quick burst of speed and top gear. But the ride back was no more than 20 minutes anyway. A very pleasant way to spend a morning. They did make sure we had enough water for the ride back, but I did not really need it. I much more enjoyed the local beer after we had dropped off the bikes.

Not exactly "local" brew

Written by Stephen Rees

April 19, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Posted in cycling

%d bloggers like this: