If you’ve spent any real time here, you’ve seen her.
Often referred to as the “Bike Lady,” Kay Ray is hard to miss out on the local roads. But she is always out there, steady and determined, as she wheels her way around Cape Ann.
You may have seen her pedaling on Nugent Stretch (the wooded section of Eastern Avenue that connects Gloucester and Rockport, along the MBTA line) or out on Granite Street near Halibut Point State Park in Rockport, or maybe over on Thatcher Road (Route 127A) headed to one of the beaches. When I see her, I marvel at her athletic ability and stamina and wonder: “Who is that woman?”
Ray lives on a winding, narrow dirt road in Lanesville. The house, which she shares with her husband, Martin, is a simple place, surrounded by trees and a fantastically beautiful garden adorned with whimsical sculptures, like the planted vertical granite posts with embedded stained glass that peek out from behind her flowers.
At the end of a garden path that takes me past her kitchen, Ray sits reading the paper. She is a petite woman in her late sixties with a face and smile that shines like the early morning sun. She is as magical as I had hoped she would be.
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Kay, you are known around these parts as the “Bike Lady.”
(Laughter) That’s right. That’s me.
Are you okay with that?
I’m perfectly fine with that. I think it’s funny. I like it. I guess that people see me all over the place on my bike. A lot of people think they know me, but I have no idea who they are! They see me on the bike so much that they think they know who I am.
How did you get started?
I rode a lot as a kid. I grew up in New York, on Long Island. I would go on long bike rides when I was in high school. I have always loved it. I feel very connected to the bike. And I prefer it for transportation in nice weather. The bike allows me to see all around. When I’m in a car, I’m closed in. Sure, I can see out the windows, but it is not the same thing. On the bike, I have scenery all around me. I go up and down hills and I can feel the wind and experience the beauty of this place. I love it.
When you get on your bike, do you have a plan for where you’ll go that day?
I usually have an idea of where I want to go. When I leave, I’ll call out to my husband, “I’m leaving now ... see you later!”
When I did my gardening work (Ray was a landscaper for years), I had more of a pattern. Once the plants were in, I would ride my bike to the jobs in different places on different days — usually Rockport, East Gloucester, or West Gloucester. Now that I’ve retired — this is my first year in retirement — I ride my bike whenever and wherever I want. At least a couple times a week, I ride around the whole Cape. I like Annisquam. I love Rockport. I ride in Rockport a lot.
Yes, and that is why I see you on Nugent Stretch so much. When I see you I say, “There she goes again — and this time she’s wearing flip flops!”
(Laughter) Yes, I do occasionally wear flip flops.
And you don’t wear a helmet.
I’ve never worn a helmet. I don’t have great vision, so it’s hard to see all the way around. I find it easier to ride without it. A helmet just does not work for me.
Were there any moments where you thought maybe you should wear one?
I don’t think so. People have been telling me this for years. And I do think about it.
Well, at least you’re not going very fast when you’re on the bike.
I like to go slow. Part of the thrill of biking for me is that I like to look around, to take it all in. Everything is so beautiful.
When you are biking, what do you think about?
I sing. I have a repertoire of songs that I go through, one of them is “Summertime” [from the Gershwin opera Porgy and Bess]. I sing out loud — but I do not have a good voice!
There is a book called A Course in Miracles [written by Dr. Helen Schucman]. Several years ago, a group of my friends and I went through the course, which has 365 lessons, one for every day. At this point in my life, I have 12 lessons that I like. I rotate them. When I am on my bike I will repeat one lesson to myself for the entire bike ride.
Is this part of your spiritual practice? Like a meditation?
It’s part of it. For instance, Love is the way and I walk in gratitude is one. Fear is not justified in any form is another. When I am singing or practicing my meditation, I’m not worried about how I’m going to get up a hill. I am just moving along to my own rhythm and it works very well.
You know that you are an inspiration to people.
Yes. I hear that all the time. People will say to me, “You are so amazing to be doing this,” but I love doing it. It’s not like I am pushing myself, saying “You have to get out and ride that bike today! Oh God, that again!” No, I love it. I love it. It is not a chore. It is not something that I have to make myself do. I am free on the bike. I feel so lucky that I have this opportunity.
Got any advice for people you’ve inspired who may want to get out there and ride?
Start off with short distances. If you like it, keep adding to it. Go places that you really love. Bike to a place where you can have lunch or go to the beach. I have a milk crate on the back of the bike. It holds more than most baskets do, and it doesn’t get in the way. I take my backpack, which always has rain gear, a bathing suit and towel, my wallet so I have money, or an extra jacket. But ride because it makes you feel good.
Can you tell me about any secret spots that you like to visit? I know you spend time on the main roads, but what about side roads?
One of my favorite routes is heading up South Street in Rockport to Cape Hedge beach. I ride down all the side roads, like Eden Road. Then I head back towards town and ride down Marmion Way and end up at Front Beach or Back Beach. As I work my way back home to Lanesville, I’ll go down Phillips Avenue off of Granite Street. It is so pretty there.
How long have you had your current bike? Do you have any favorites?
Yes, I do have favorites. I have two bikes right now that I like, one is a Schwinn and the other is a Ross (both hybrids). I do not like heavy bikes because they weigh too much for me to lift onto the car rack.
I had a pink bike that I loved, and had it for years, but I wore it out and had to give it up. I had to let it go.
We are sitting in your kitchen and the artwork that surrounds us is just beautiful, and many of these pieces are yours. How long have you been an artist?
I have always been an artist, even when I was very young. I spent hours playing with crayons. In the fifth grade, I had an art teacher who decided to give me private art lessons on Saturdays. She thought I had talent. Around that time I also took an adult art class. My mother was impressed, and she continued to encourage me to take art lessons through all the years I was at home. I still take art classes at the Rockport Art Association.
You are a gardener, an artist, an athlete…
...And I swim and run, too! After I swim in the ocean, I run to warm up, and then I get back on my bike. I’ve always felt very connected to the ocean, and I love the outdoors. Even when I lived in Brooklyn, during my earliest years, my mother took us to the botanical gardens and the parks and museums. We were always outside.
How did you make your way up to Gloucester?
I went to Boston University. I studied elementary education and art. I wanted to teach art. I had a friend who lived in Lexington, Mass., and one day he took me for a ride up to Gloucester. We drove around the whole Cape, and I just fell in love with the area. When I was married to my first husband we lived in Boston, but after a few years we decided to move here to Gloucester. That was in 1972. I had my two children here.
Henry Ferrini [a filmmaker and co-founder of the Gloucester Writers Center] told me that he remembers seeing you in the ’70s riding around Gloucester with your children on the back of the bike. You are fearless!
Yes. I did that for a long time. I had a back seat on the bike. All of my children came with me on the bike. And even my first grandchild! I had to introduce them to the joys of being on a bike.
What connects you to Gloucester and Cape Ann?
Physical beauty is very important to me, and I love all of Gloucester, even the urbanism of downtown. I also depend on the YMCA for most of the winter. I’m grateful that we have that Y here. I visit the Sawyer Free Library and Cape Ann Museum quite a bit all year round. I love the people here. Everyone says ‘hello’ to me! Back on Long Island, people were snobby. I just don’t find that in Gloucester.
Every day that I wake up I am happy that I live here.
Maureen Aylward is a Rockport-based writer. She produces the live storytelling program, Fish Tales, through the Gloucester Writers Center. Maureen is the host of Cape Ann Report on Cape Ann TV and is active in the local arts and writing community. Jason Grow is a Gloucester-based commercial photographer.