June 20, 2023 at 8:10 a.m.

Travel Trails: Rhode Island Ride

By Renee Risk Strietelmeier

“Hold onto your hats ladies, we’re going for a ride!” Thus, began a weekend of females only fun. I was living in Rhode Island because Samsonite, the company I was working for, had just purchased our biggest competitor, American Tourister. I moved to Rhode Island to be the marketing and sales manager.

Rhode Island actually was my favorite state next to my hometown state of Indiana. Oddly, I was not really a huge fan of the east coast. Rhode Island held all the uniqueness of the east coast without feeling like the chaotic east coast of New York and Boston where I also had lived. I learned to garden in Rhode Island. I learned a person need not go to immediate cover for a hurricane warning as you would for a tornado warning. My favorite home I owned was in Rhode Island. It was a two-story colonial with shutters that actually shut. Oh! That’s what shutters are for thought this girl from southern Indiana.

This was my tenth move with Samsonite. I was used to living in big cities where I did not know anyone. Rhode Island was no different. I was also used to working with all men. The people I worked with were all men, both within my own company and my clients. I had already learned, if I wanted to do anything except travel for work, I had to make my own fun happen.

For the females only party I invited three of my closest friends and my sister to my house for a girls’ weekend. All four guests arrived with one intention, to have fun! With four successful women without a care in the world cruising the coast of Rhode Island, how could we not have fun?

Everyone knew the house rules. Leave your work and worries at your own home and no girl left behind. No matter where we might roam, if someone came up missing, the other girls had the duty to find the wayward friend. The first rule was easy. The second would test even the most ardent of friendships. Anytime a ferry was departing, someone was always missing.

Rhode Island is indeed a tiny state. Basically, it has only two main roads. One road takes you to land. The other takes you to water. For me, living and driving in Rhode Island was like being on a Monopoly board. You need not travel far before you are in a completely different state. Rhode Island might be small geographically, but the little state is big with things to do, particularly in the summer. Making one’s way to the fun means getting on and off any number of ferries.

Ferries wait for no one. The last ferry out means if you do not make it on, you stay the night wherever you are. The reality was not lost on us. On more than one occasion, two of us would have one foot on the ferry and the other on the ground in some vain attempt to keep the ferry from leaving until the other two friends jumped on at the last minute. One or two friends always had to go to the bathroom or pick up some trinket right before the ferry was set to leave.

Speaking of jumping, I have jumped ahead a little. First, is the Friday night arrival. My sister, Rhodie was the first to arrive from Columbus. Next in was Lorraine from Chicago. The third person to arrive was Roxanne, my previous boss, from Florida. Last came Beth. Time was never a factor when Beth traveled. We all knew ultimately, she would ‘rear her head’ at some point. This time was no different. Beth came waltzing in around midnight as though the party was just starting. So much for getting a good night’s sleep for a fresh start to our adventure. Friday night spilled over into Saturday morning. Coffee with just a splash of Irish Crème set the tone for the day. Everyone had showered and eaten breakfast when Beth came tumbling down the stairs.

Early mornings were not Beth’s friend. She toughed it out for the sake of the group. Watching my best friend get herself unpacked and ready for the day was nothing short of free entertainment. She would open her to-go bag and out would fall a complex mix of the current travel clothes and any recent past traveling attire. Whatever fell out, matching or not, is what she would put on for the day. She could pull this stunt off because she was beautiful. After a few cups of coffee, she was ready to roll, always looking like she purposely and perfectly packed for the particular adventure.

The day bags were packed. The car was full of gas; an important matter to remember for later in the story. Away we went. We were off on our adventure into the great unknown of the little state of Rhode Island. Our first stop was a jazz festival in one of the many parks. I had met a saxophone player while living in Rhode Island. It just so happened he and his three-piece band were playing at a festival that day. The sun was shining, and the music was flowing. There could not have been a better way to start our day.

My friends were getting to know each other. Back in the day, I had the ability to bring together people from very different backgrounds and from varying ways I came to know them in my life. From regional managers together with bikers for the Indy 500, to musicians with top salespeople for a hike in the Rocky Mountains, my house always welcomed an eclectic group of people.

My sister was getting to know my old boss, Roxanne. At one point, Roxanne asked my sister if her K Swiss shoes were from abroad. My sister answered, “No. They are from Columbus.” Beth was the first to start laughing, spitting out her coffee which made me laugh so hard coffee came out my nose. By then, everyone got to laughing. The laughing turned into snorts which made us laugh even harder. Our sincere laughter was infectious. People around us started laughing with us, even though they had no idea why we were laughing.

During our time at the festival, we mapped out our general direction and destination for the day. We were going to Block Island to explore. This meant leaving Providence and getting to Newport in order to take the ferry to Block Island. Newport is an amazing town with an incredible ocean drive and cliff walk. Both of which we would come back to later in our journey.

First, we were headed for Block Island. Block Island is the lesser-known island off the southern coast of Rhode Island. Although it is less famous than Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, Block Island is what the other famous islands used to be. It’s quiet with long stretches of secluded beaches connecting dramatic cliffs which provide swimming, rock climbing and spectacular views of an unending ocean on one side and rugged cliffs on the other side. Adding to the beautifully rugged cliffs are amazing homes to kick the imagination into gear. Actually, the homes are not permanent residences. They are summer homes for the rich, richer, and richest.

We arrived on Block Island from the ferry without fanfare. We left our car on the ferry. No cars needed. We would forage for fun by foot. After getting our bearings of the island by foot, we stop for lunch at one of the best little restaurants at which I have ever eaten. The name escapes me but the tasty seafood I will always remember. Another simple but memorable activity was just sitting in the Adirondack chairs outside the oldest hotel on the island. We talked about the same stories but somehow the old memories took on new life at this setting.

Once we were back on our feet, we decided we would try the scooters to make the north loop around the island. Oh! The adventures we had scooting our way down hidden paths. Getting lost and finding our way back to what we thought was the path on which we came. I was quite sure we never took the same path twice, making our return to the scooter rental place nothing short of miraculous.

Speaking of miracles, while we were riding around on the scooters, we saw where the non-stop movement of the ocean waves knocked against the jagged rocky coastline. Unbelievably, some of the famous lighthouses have had to be relocated due to erosion. Water trumps land every time. Seeing the rocky coastline, we had to go rock climbing. Up close rock climbing became boulder climbing. We certainly enjoyed our rugged adventure but we were sorely prepared for an afternoon with the sun blazing off the rocks. We climbed up one side and then would climb down the other side. Up and down, we went in search of one of the many secluded beaches we knew we had seen on our scooter ride. Just when I was sure, I was going to be found dehydrated without any memory of how I got where I was and no recollection of the friends with whom I had come, I saw a beach. A wonderfully secluded beach not on private property.

I was ahead of my friends. I had only one down hill climb to get to the water. The ocean was beckoning a refreshing welcome to me if only I could make it. My friends all know I am not a good swimmer. Thus, I am not a big water person. I prefer land. However, having been rock climbing for most of the afternoon, seeing the water gave me the strength to take off running. My friends watched as I reached the ocean, plunging into an enormous wave, clothes over bathing suit, shoes and all. Nothing on me was dry when I came up for air. We all played in the waves like we owned the beach. We never saw another person the whole time we were there. What a delight!

When we realized the day was turning into evening, we knew we would need to hurry to get back to the ferry in time for departure. As tired as we were, our mental state had been renewed giving us the strength to make the trek back to town. We knew we would be cutting it very close to make the ferry. So close, we had already conjured a contingency plan. If we didn’t make the last ferry to Rhode Island, we would take the last ferry into New York. Rent a car. Drive back home and redo airline flights in between the traveling. The plan would take a little doing but at least we had an alternative. As it turned out, we arrived just as the ferry’s distinctive horn was blowing signaling departure. Perfect timing. Wait. Rhodie is missing! Beth and I were begging the boat itself not to depart until we had her. The huge vessel was just starting to leave port when Rhodie came running along and jumped onto deck. We made it!

Once back on land and at my house, Saturday night was dress up and out to local hot spots. We mixed and mingled using pseudonyms. It is always entertaining to me to take on a completely different persona. When we were on our way back home my car died. We tried everything to get it started without any luck. We were at a light and it was late. There were no other cars. Still, it was the middle of the night, and we were stuck.

Beth worked as a sales representative for Ford Motor Company. She started babbling on about all the workings and parts of a car engine. Clearly, her knowledgeable expertise was not helping the situation. I was near tears thinking I had stranded my guests and fixing my engine was going to cost me a fortune. Then, out of the backseat, my sister barks, “Hey, Rennie! Looks to me like you’re outta gas!” The laughing and snorting started again as we realized she was right. Obviously, in my excitement to get everything ready for my guests, I had not filled the car up with gas. Luckily, an all-night gas station was just on the other side of the intersection.

We each remember different parts of our girls’ only weekend making it fun when we reminisce. Interestingly, we all remember the almost missed the ferry moment, Renee diving into the ocean moment, and the "we are out of gas" moment. These are the moments memories are made.

** In loving memory of Beth Sayer **