Saturday, January 07, 2006

Exploring Old King's Highway

Fine Living Channel has named Wellfleet as one of the ten most perfect summer getaways. This designation is certainly merited and comes as no surprise. Such attention-grabbing publicity does not make me rejoice, however. It only promises more gridlock on Route 6 from Memorial Day on.

In the past, summer folk chose Wellfleet for its quaint cottages, sandy beaches, and open space. Mothers would come with children in June and not leave until Labor Day. Today women work, kids go to camp, and couples, straight and gay, buy the cottages as second homes which they rent out in July and August to help pay the mortgage. No longer do these Wellfleet homeowners live on Cape Cod for weeks at a time. Their tenants are constantly coming and going in cars, spewing fumes. A one-week vacation has become the norm.

Now, in the summer, natives do their shopping at dawn. They know all errands must be completed prior to 10:00 am when tourists finish breakfast and head for the beaches. Most rentals require the use of Route 6 to get anywhere: art galleries, shops, restaurants, flea market, WHAT, beaches, ponds. Not to forget the traditional day trip to Provincetown!

Many natives resent having Route 6 turn into a massive traffic jam. Sitting in his truck for several hours made a friend, in construction, opt for retirement in New Hampshire. Others shrug it off as the price one must pay for the success of the tourist industry. They hunker down for July and August and don't come out until Labor Day when the dust has cleared.

Chez Sven is located off Route 6, on Old King’s Highway. Luckily we can access the town center via Long Pond Road and reach ocean beaches by going in the opposite direction. No traffic lines for us!

Old King’s Highway was once the main thoroughfare in these parts. The tax collector used it. Native Americans probably did too, judging from the midden on the edge of a neighbor’s property.

Last June The Cape Cod Voice did a cover story about our road. The writer suggested readers walk that portion of Old King’s Highway which runs from Route 6, past our house, to Truro where a plaque commemorates one of the first schoolhouses in Wellfleet. A few people actually did come by in the following weeks, on their way to find the plaque.

My mother was mentioned in the article. She and her friend Ruth Clapp petitioned the town in the early seventies so Old King's Highway would become a scenic road, unpaved forever.

I told guests about the Cape Cod Voice article all summer long. Yesterday Sven and I decided not just to talk the talk, but to do the walk. We would search for that plaque in the deep woods.

The path beyond Gull Pond Road was narrow and ran parallel to the National Seashore boundary. Once upon a time wagons had gone this way. If you listened closely, you could almost hear the creek of their wheels. Tracks in the sand indicated coyotes or maybe deer were the only recent travelers. In the distance, we could hear the ocean roar. Sven commented that we were up high, since the oaks and pines were smaller than usual. Not a soul did we see, although there were two discarded tires abandoned at the intersection with Old Hay Road, distressing signs of un-civilization.

Sometimes it was difficult to differentiate which path was, in fact, Old King’s Highway. We always chose the branch with the sharpest embankment. It crossed my mind that the National Seashore might want to put up a few signs, like along European hiking trails, to show people the way.

We walked for 40 minutes until we reached a tall, picturesque home by the side of the road. Feeling like Hansel and Gretel, we tiptoed across the mossy lawn and peeked in a window at the painted floors. The shingles and front clapboard were new, but the crumbling brick foundation indicated the house was as ancient as ours. A great old apple tree stood guard in the middle of a circular driveway. Someone had treated the entrance to a light blue screen door with gingerbread work. This was a well-loved place, without a doubt. Whose wonderful little house was this? How close to Truro had we come? What road did the owners use to access this enchanted spot?

We returned home for a pot of tea, warmed by our hike and adventure.

The following day we went to the Assessor’s Office at town hall and discovered the house belonged to the Matsons. More research revealed Philip Hamburger spent summers there. Hamburger is the writer who described the joys of Wellfleet in the New Yorker. From the map, we realized we had walked almost all the way to Truro. The homeowners drove in from the opposite direction on Black Pond Road to reach their house. We had not found the plaque, however. Perhaps it was at the end of Old Hay Road instead? Further searching would have to await another day . . .