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Sixty-Something: Those Long Wonderful Winter North Fork Sojourns

T.J. Clemente

Driving east on the North Fork off-season for me is always special. (Photo: TJ Clemente)

I am a lucky guy. Part of what I do for Hamptons.com brings me to the extreme corners of the East End on both the North and South Forks. I love driving through the East End in the off-season when there is both no traffic, and no rush to get to where I am going. This last weekend my destination was the North Fork. Driving east on the North Fork off-season for me is always special. Seeing once again the wineries, the farms, the historic towns with their inns, shops, and individual old-school main streets is a pleasure. I love seeing the old brick buildings that just have that 1880's feel.

My first introduction to the North Fork was a summer (1971) in my high school years as a guest of a school chum at his mother's rustic rental overlooking the Long Island Sound in the Village of Southold. I still remember driving through hot dusty cornfields feeling like I was in Kansas every time we had to go to the village to get supplies.

I really became intimate with all things North Fork in the decade of the 1990's when every year in September I participated in a New York Athletic Club Cycling Club 100-mile bike ride that was perhaps 70 percent North Fork from Riverhead to Orient Point State Park, before going through Greenport, across Shelter Island to Sag Harbor and ending at the Jitney location in Southampton. I think over that decade we stopped at almost all of the farm stands, to fix flat tires, use the restrooms, or buy water and power bars. You really build a relationship with the linear reality of the North Fork when you ride from one town to the next on a bicycle. I was always amazed how long it took to get from Greenport to Orient Point State Park on my bike, usually in a strong September wind.

Then when I started my East End professional writing career back in 2004, my first assignment besides Montauk, where I lived, was the North Fork. It seemed no one wanted to do the long drive to the North Fork to cover events and businesses. I looked at it as an opportunity and an investment in my writing future. I drove my convertible VW Cabrio to the most remote parts of the North Fork to write stories that were buried in the back of the paper. They even paid less! But I really enjoyed those days. Back then too I did the mid-winter Route 25E drives, usually for real estate stories that I can now confess were almost unreadable.

This last weekend, the drive on 25E was to see a play in Mattituck, yet I found myself leaving earlier then I needed to so I could drive almost to Greenport on 25E with my window cracked open to breath the always pleasant North Fork air. I am amazed how much more you can see in the winter when the trees have almost zero leaves and the fields are bare. Every slight bend in an otherwise straight Route 25E has vistas with the Long Island Sound visible over acres of farmland stretching northwest along with the streams, ponds, and eventually Peconic Bay facing southeast.

I always get a kick looking at the closed "snack bars" all boarded up for the winter and then use my imagination to smell the lobster rolls, clams, French fries, burgers and other summer treats, usually with lines of happy families awaiting their turn to order. Usually most East Enders have to take one long North Fork drive on Route 25E for some reason, and in the end I believe they too end up always remembering how charming and different the North Fork is from the South Fork.

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