We get off to an early start; by 8:30 a.m. Troy and I are astride our mountain bikes and ready to go. Troy, a long-time St. Croix resident and experienced cyclist, is one of the regular guides at Freedom City Cycles, a bike shop in Frederiksted which rents bikes, leads tours and sells gear.
The air is still fresh and traffic is light as we pedal first around town. Frederiksted is full of lovely old buildings including no less than four remarkable historic churches which are scattered around the town. But even though I love to hike, walking to them has never been very appealing: a combination of the heat, the hill and the distances I suppose. But as it turns out a bicycle is the perfect means to tour around the streets of Frederiksted.
Troy stops to talk about the history of the town, and the momentous events which took place here: the 1848 slave uprising which led to emancipation and the 1878 Fireburn labor riots. We stop at each of the town’s historic churches and take some time in the churchyard at the Spanish-style St. Patricks Roman Catholic Church, where Troy tells me about the tidal wave that struck in 1867, pushing a U.S. warship inland and killing 14 sailors. In the churchyard there is a memorial to those who perished.
Troy also points out a few of the lesser-known historic buildings: Apothecary Hall, the Old Danish School, and Liberty Hall, a historic townhouse where Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were once guests.
Following the town tour we strike off up the coast. The road seems built for cyclists like us: it is flat and pleasantly curvy with dramatic sea views and lots of beautiful inland scenery as well. All it takes is a bit of care to avoid the worst of the potholes, and car traffic is generally respectful giving us a wide berth as it passes. We move at a comfortable pace so Troy and I can chat as we pedal.
After about 15 minutes Troy guides us to a grassy spot next to Sprat Hole beach where we pause for a drink of water and to enjoy the view of St. Croix’s southeastern tip. We are looking down at Frederksted and, farther south, Sandy Point, a lovely sandy beach and turtle nesting spot. It is also where the final scenes of Shawshank Redemption were filmed years ago.
Our next stop is at Butler Bay where Troy talks about Buddhoe, the leader of the 1848 slave uprising who is believed to have lived on this estate. Interestingly (to me at least), Troy recounts a story that Buddhoe, who history agrees was not a slave at the time of the uprising, originally came from Tortola, the British Virgin Island where I live and where slavery was abolished in 1834. As we talk we stand under the shade of a huge baobab tree and later Troy gathers genips for a refreshing treat.
Back on the road we push on, pedalling to the end of the coastal road: it narrows and then dead ends at a rocky cove where waves crash loudly, churned up by a tropical storm that passed by a few days before. We are at Hamm’s Bluff and look upwards to Maroon Ridge, the wild mountainous territory where escaped slaves lived off the land for generations, eluding the bands of militia who were sent to hunt for them.
Following this final pit-stop we make our way back to town. In total the 12 mile trip takes us just over two hours and the sun is just starting to bore down as we make our approach to town.
I de-bike, sweaty and glad for the cold water I left in the bike shop fridge. It has been an exhilarating trip—an ideal combination of physical exercise, beautiful scenery, and sight-seeing. The western coast of St. Croix is always beautiful, but even more so from the seat of a bike.
Freedom City Cycles is located one-half block inland from the Frederiksted Pier near N2 the Blue dive shop. Contact them on 340/277 2433 or www.freedomcitycycles.com. In addition to the coastal tour, Freedom City Cycles offers a downhill rainforest bike adventure and customised mountain and road bike tours led by experienced St. Croix cycle guides. Call ahead to reserve your tour.