EASTHAM — Sheri Cocchiola greeted me with a smile in the parking lot at First Encounter Beach on Saturday morning. She leaned against the split-rail fence in a faded yellow Eastham Recreation T-shirt, her bicycle resting beside her. Attached to her bike was a picnic basket and a child’s seat, filled with manila folders of newspaper clippings, old postcards, and faded photographs.
“I just love history,” said Cocchiola, who lives in Eastham and has been leading historic bike rides through the town for 11 years. Sponsored by the recreation and police depts., the ride covers a 5.5-mile route from First Encounter to Nauset Light Beach and includes stops along the way — not just for taking in views but for learning the history of the town.
Cocchiola visits the Eastham Public Library often to check out books that might contain interesting additions to her repertoire, updating her notes and folders to share with riders.
Looking out at Cape Cod Bay from what once was Bayshore Beach, Cocchiola described the history of the Wampanoag and the early colonization of the town and surrounding land by European settlers.
Jacob Congel, assistant director of the Eastham Recreation Dept., pedaled with us past places where saltworks and shallop boats once could be seen.
From First Encounter, Cocchiola led us to the shore of Great Pond, where we stopped to examine photographs of old Cape Cod, its landscape clear of trees, its roads dirt, and its railroad intact. Photos of the Eastham Windmill, the town hall, and Coast Guard Beach from the early 1900s were nearly unrecognizable.
We continued past the pond before turning onto Locust Road, where we entered the Eastham Center Historic District. Along Locust, we passed historic buildings such as the Knowles-Doane House, built in 1765, the John Knowles House, erected in the late 1700s, and the Capt. Barnabus Chipman House, built in 1869.
At the Little Capistrano Bike Shop, we were greeted by Melissa Ayala and her son Alex, whose family has owned and run the bike shop for over 50 years. Melissa offered water and showed us a framed black-and-white photograph from the early 1800s of the old barn structure that has since become the shop.
Next stop was the 1869 Schoolhouse Museum, where Cocchiola told us about the Three Sisters lighthouses and showed diagrams of Coast Guard Beach and its receding shoreline. We continued along Schoolhouse Road until we reached our destination: Nauset Light. There, Cocchiola doled out bags of Cape Cod Potato Chips, whose label bears an image of the lighthouse.
Even better, the real thing stood before us, its red and white bold against the blue sky.
“Eastham is close to my heart,” Cocchiola said. This trip reminded me that it is close to mine, too.
Cocchiola and Congel will offer two more Saturday rides, on Aug. 13 and Sept. 10 at 10 a.m. Rides are free and open to all. Call or visit the Eastham Recreation Dept. to register, or sign up the day of the event at First Encounter Beach.