MARTHA’S VINEYARD — At some point during the 40,000 miles that Ruth Weiner and Judy Lipsky have bicycled together over the last 40-plus years, they developed a saying.
Sometimes, they look to the heavens and utter it as a way of asking for serendipity — at an unexpected fork in the road, say, or when threatening weather looms.
Other times, they use it to define that serendipity, an exclamation when the answer they need lands perfectly in their palms, as it did recently when they were lost on Martha’s Vineyard, trying to find a youth hostel.
“Molly-Beas-Del!” Weiner exclaimed after she stopped to look at a map and just happened to spot a tiny sign indicating the hostel was hidden just through the trees.
The story of Ruth Weiner, 69, and Judy Lipsky, 72, is a story of friendship, one that has been defined, from the get-go, by bicycling and this feeling they came to call Molly-Beas-Del. (The phrase is an amalgam of the names of their “guardian angels” — their late mothers and mothers-in-law: Molly, Adele, and two Beas.)
It was serendipity that brought them together in the mid-’70s, after Lipsky answered an ad that Weiner placed in the local paper in Sharon, looking for moms to join a play group, and they discovered that they both shared a love of “three-speed Raleighs from the bobby socks days,” as Weiner puts it.
They started bicycling together, short, leisurely breaks from the demands of motherhood that soon grew in length and ambition, right along with their friendship. They moved on to better bikes and bigger trips, lugging Blukey and Brown Bear — as they nicknamed their rides — on planes and trains and buses and boats as they explored Iceland and Ireland and Holland and just about every inch of the Northeast coast, from Rhode Island to Nova Scotia.
But time cools all jets.
Weiner developed a bad hip. Lipsky had trouble with her knee and her neck and her back. Both survived battles with breast cancer. And as the years added up, Blukey and Brown Bear saw less and less action, on routes that were short and flat and not at all what had defined their extraordinary bicycling adventure.
It was winding down. And then . . . Molly-Beas-Del.
It came at first like a whisper, and then a shout — “Go electric!” — and so this spring they marched into Landry’s Bicycles in Newton, plunked down $2,300 apiece, and began the new chapter in their story.
“This is so much fun!” Lipsky exclaimed as she set off screaming down the bike path after dumping their bags at the youth hostel. (Youth, for them, is a fluid concept.)
The three-day, 112-mile trip to the Vineyard was to be their first big adventure on their new Trek Verve+ hybrid electric bikes. The bikes still require them to pedal and change gears, but an adjustable controller near the left grip adds boost from a battery mounted on the down tube. The motor allows them to always pedal at a leisurely pace, even when they’re cruising down flats at more than 20 miles an hour or smiling up hills that would humble the fittest cyclists.
On the agenda for day one is a 37-mile route, starting in a parking lot in Falmouth, then to the ferry in Woods Hole, across to Vineyard Haven, then the hostel in West Tisbury, then through Chilmark, a quick ferry across to Menemsha, around Aquinnah to the cliffs at Gay Head, then back to Chilmark. There they looked for the grave of John Belushi — a bit of Molly-Beas-Del helped them find the headstone with the skull-and-crossbones on it — before heading back to the hostel.
‘We still have the adventure in us. We still have the spirit. We still have the desire to “say yes to the road.’’’
“We still have the adventure in us. We still have the spirit. We still have the desire to ‘say yes to the road,’” said Weiner, an English teacher who retired from Stoughton High School. “So these bikes were like an epiphany for us.”
Lipsky, who was a photographer and tennis coach and is now “retired from everything except having fun,” was the navigator for the day, with paper maps clothes-pinned to a bag mounted on her handlebars, because GPS takes all the fun out of it.
There are, of course, some things they miss from their pre-electric era, like competing on hills or playing games to make them go by — such as shouting out adjectives that begin with an “A,” or screaming every curse word they know — but it’s clear they simply adore their new bikes and relish the chance to show them off to anyone who asks about them.
Bicycling was a gift to their friendship. It defines and facilitates their ongoing bond, providing the consistent activity that psychology identifies as one of the keys to maintaining lifelong friendship, through the ups and downs of life. On their bikes, they have dealt with the passing of their parents, celebrated the arrival of nine grandchildren, and relished in the occasional bits of grandmother naughtiness. “We don’t pay much attention to ‘No trespassing’ signs,” Lipsky said.
But above all, it has been a chance to see the world at a leisurely pace, to point their tires down roads less traveled, a constant discovery of what’s ahead on their path through life.
So they pedal on, together, with no end in sight and no idea what’s to come. And for that they have another saying, one that they both mention at various points on this day, as they pedal and power around Martha’s Vineyard.
“You never know what’s over the next hill.”Billy Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.