Here’s a Cape Cod factoid that you can use at parties during the holiday season: “What is the only town on Cape Cod that has a pedestrian sidewalk running continuously from one end of the town to the other? Think about that for a moment or two. Got an answer?
Most people guess towns like Chatham, Provincetown, Brewster or Barnstable – reasonable choices, but wrong. Even residents of the town in question usually guess wrong. The answer: Eastham.
That’s right. You may have never noticed it, but running from the Orleans rotary on the south to the Wellfleet town line on the north, there is a continuous curbed walkway on the west side of Route 6, the only Cape town that has such a sidewalk. My guess is that it was put in when Route 6 was double-barreled sometime in the late 1940s or early 50s, which forever divided the Town and its historic center with a four-lane, high-volume traffic highway.
Ever since I first noticed it, I thought it would be interesting to walk this sidewalk, or a portion of it—primarily because it would be such a contrast to the walks I usually take in more natural surroundings.
So, one Friday morning last month, I drove to the Stop n’ Shop parking lot in Orleans, parked the car, and set out to walk north along the Route 6 sidewalk through Eastham. I started by taking my life into my hands, for though the sidewalk separates the walker from traffic, there is no sidewalk, or even a marked pedestrian crossing from one side of the Rotary to the other.
I made it across safely, however, and began a 2-1/3 mile walk to the Eastham Town Hall. It was a strange experience, walking against what feels like a non-stop stream of traffic. Though actually, this time of year—mid-morning on a weekday—the traffic is comparatively “light.” I counted about one car every 6-7 seconds, which, coincidentally, is about the rough frequency of waves breaking on the ocean beach.
In fact, walking this sidewalk is, in some ways, similar to walking on the beach, odd as that may sound. Both produce that rhythmic, accelerating roar with the passing or breaking of each car or wave. In both cases you have to keep your wits about you, separated by only a few feet from lethal force. Both walks require a faith in an apparent barrier—one natural and one artificial—a belief that the vehicles will not suddenly jump the curb barrier, nor a rogue wave leap up out of the predicable surf and claim another victim. Both have happened before and both will likely happen again.
After several minutes, however, my attention shifted from the vehicles roaring by me to what lay on the left side of the sidewalk, away from the highway. And when it did, what I saw surprised me. And I’ll tell you what that was—in next week’s program.
This piece first aired in December, 2017.