Medford to Montauk: A solo road trip

Courtesy Vedant Modi
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A long weekend falling right at the end of midterms seemed like a great opportunity to unwind — perhaps to boot up a video game, watch movies or just sleep in. For this past Veterans Day, though, I had a plan. 

Over an intense 40-hour period, I traveled to Montauk Point on Long Island, N.Y., where I visited a historic lighthouse, found a special seltzer water at a grocery store and then squeezed in a few hours in Manhattan.

This trip was designed to be my personal lighthouse tour. Ever since coming to Tufts, I had been fascinated with the idea of lighthouses. They are a stark, magnificent landmark of the typical New England shoreline. I had always loved expansive coasts, and a tower filled with rich history and intricate construction enhanced the appeal.

Wishing to leverage the convenient transportation that is so prevalent in New England, I was eager to take a Zipcar to Montauk and then ride the Amtrak train back to Medford. Driving would enable me to explore freely on the way to Montauk, and the Amtrak would be a relaxing way to return. Moreover, I decided to rent an extremely cheap Airbnb in Queens that would allow me to spend the night in the area then go to Manhattan the next day. 

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The day started early — at around 5:30 a.m. — when I woke up about an hour before I planned to. My enthusiasm and lack of fatigue were a good sign to me. Each time this mindset emerges, I am assured that the day will be an adventurous one.

The first stop of my trip was The Fresh Market in Avon, Conn. This is where I knew I could find Rambler Sparkling Water, a water brand from my home state of Texas. I had discovered the company this past spring at a grocery store in my hometown, and I had gotten their attention on Instagram by aggressively tagging them in my social media posts. Then in October, I visited their small office in Austin, Texas where I got to meet all the employees. There, the founder told me about a grocery store that supplied Rambler Sparkling Water — The Fresh Market in Avon. It was an hour out of the way on my journey to Montauk but well worth it. At the store, I found the water immediately and went to buy it. I told the cashier about my story with this water, then we sat and tried it together — the perks of arriving at the store so early.

Then, the long haul drive began, which took five hours, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The drive to Montauk did not feel long at first. I prepared at least six hours of tech podcasts and a 24-hour music playlist, which entertained me until I reached the start of Long Island. 

Long Island, it turns out, was a lot longer than I anticipated when making cursory plans the day before. At least 2 ½ hours of the trip involved traversing those 118 miles to the tip of the island. I was very excited by the landmarks, though. Seeing signs for locations I had heard so much about, like the Hamptons, or seeing Manhattan across the East River was so exciting, for I had never been so close to these iconic sites on my own. I found myself feeling accomplished for having been able to generate the impromptu self-motivation to go on this trip.

Eventually, I reached Montauk. The first thing I did was marvel at the Montauk Point Lighthouse; after all, this was the main attraction that drew me there. As with every vacation I had taken the past year, I took some drone footage of the area.

Afterwards, I went to the museum inside the lighthouse and looked at the artifacts, which displayed the storied past of the Montauk lighthouse, dating back to 1792. I’d be remiss if I didn’t go up to the top as well.

At the top, I met Dan, a member of the Montauk Historical Society, who seemed to treasure introducing visitors to the lighthouse. We talked about the lights in the structure, and he explained to me how the staircase in the lighthouse had to be torn down in order to change the Fresnel lens that directs light out towards the sea. We chatted about my drive from Medford that morning and the Boston Light, which, in Dan’s opinion, was a lighthouse inferior to this one in Montauk.

Leaving Montauk a little after sunset, I needed dinner, which, once again, involved meeting a new person. I went to a marina in search of food but only found a tackle salesman and his trailer, as the nearby restaurant was closed for the season. He was so curious as to why I was there, since I was his fourth visitor that day and the only one he didn’t know. He recommended a great local diner — The Point — where I had my first real meal of the day, and it was the best Philly cheesesteak I have ever had. Sitting in this diner showed me that “small-town America” felt the same in Texas, my home, and here in New York. 

At this point, I had to drive back up Long Island to my Airbnb, during which I planned out the rest of my evening. When I arrived at my Airbnb in Queens, I realized that I was only 45 minutes away from Manhattan by subway, and decided I would be foolish not to take advantage of this change to be a typical New York City tourist.

I spent the evening in Times Square, went to the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue and visited the Plaza Hotel. At the Plaza Hotel, I asked the security guard if this was the hotel that famously featured in “Home Alone 2” (1992), after which he guided me through all the set pieces from the movie in the lobby. The next day, I worked my way through various museums, parks, monuments and stores of Manhattan before returning to Tufts that evening.

Before this trip, I wasn’t truly aware of the positive impact that one person can have, even in a seemingly insignificant or fleeting interaction. I would have not come to understand this if I had not propelled myself to plan this trip and had the courage to execute it. 

By taking a solo trip, I learned that people are usually open to having conversations with strangers and that such positive interactions can brighten their day as well as yours.

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