NYC Century Bike Tour 2004
Jodi and I spent the weekend of September 10 - 12 in New York City. On Sunday morning we got up before the crack of dawn, met a friend that came in from New Jersey, and rode the New York City Century Bike Tour. We rode a bit over 100 miles in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. Here's a bit about the ride:
Chapter 1: We're Hungry. Tom is late.
Jodi and I set the alarm, and asked for a wake-up call, for 4:30 AM. As is usually the case in such situations, I slept fitfully due to worrying about over-sleeping. I was awake at 4:15 and hopped in the shower to help bring me fully awake. Jodi rolled out of bed reluctantly at 4:30, and by 4:40 we were out the door and jockeying our bikes with full panniers into the elevator to get down to the lobby. Needless to say, the hotel lobby was desolate at this hour on a Sunday morning. The doorman was outside hosing down the sidewalk. He stopped and said good morning to us as we emerged from the lobby with our bikes. We climbed on and headed down Lexington Ave to 47th St, which we took across to 6th Ave. Then it was up 6th to Central Park South, west to Columbus Circle, and north up Central Park West until we got to where Jodi's car was parked just below 77th St. We took the panniers off the bikes and stowed them in the car.
Sometime during this ride, my phone rang and I looked at the caller ID to see that it was Tom calling. He was on his way, but running a bit late. He said if all went well, he should arrive at our agreed upon meeting place, Broadway & 110th St., by 5:30. Good enough.
Once Jodi and I finished dropping off the unneeded baggage at the car, we cut west to Broadway and headed uptown to 110th St. We arrived there in short order only to discover that the deli Tom promised would be on the corner was no more. We hadn't seen anything else open on our way here, so were quite disappointed. We were about to start a 100 mile bike ride with no breakfast in our bellies. Not a good idea.
While waiting for Tom, we saw lots of cyclists riding by on the way to the ride start a few blocks east. And we saw lots of cars with bikes on board driving around looking for parking. As promised, Tom drove up just at 5:30. He took off to find a place to park, and we settled in to wait a bit more. A few minutes later Tom rode up, and after a brief get acquainted chat we all headed off to the start of the ride.
There were throngs of people at the ride start. Jodi and I had registered early, and had gotten our ride bibs in the mail. We were shunted off down the express line. Tom had registered a few days before the ride, so had to get in a very long line to pick up his ride bib. Luckily the line moved quickly, so we were all together again in a few minutes. We missed the very first group to go off at 6:00 AM, but were in the second (or maybe the third) group that went off a few minutes later. By now the sun was just starting to come up. The city was quiet, cool, and peaceful in the early morning light. We rode east along Central Park North, then turned down 5th Ave. There were dozens, if not hundreds, of cyclists in our group, so we filled a large portion of the road. The terrain was gently downhill for us here, so it was easy cruising as we headed down the length of Central Park, past the Plaza Hotel, and continued on towards southern Manhattan.
As we got further downtown, Jodi and I were keeping a sharp eye out for a deli that might be open this early. Finally we spotted one and stopped to get a bagel. Bagels are good and firm, and lend themselves to eating on the go. Unfortunately, their bagels weren't ready yet. We settled for muffins instead. The problem with eating a muffin on the bike is that you can't hold it in your teeth while using your hand to shift gears. So I should have shifted the bike into a bit higher gear before taking off, but didn't. So I was riding with my bike in it's lowest gear while steering with my left hand and holding the muffin in my right. In this low gear I can pedal like crazy and only go a few miles per hour. I shoved that muffin in my face as fast as I could, then got back to the business of riding.
Chapter 2: Brooklyn Bridge. City vs. Country Riding.
Soon we were approaching the Brooklyn Bridge from the Manhattan side. The sun was still rather low in the sky, and the soft light streaming through the pattern of the bridge cables and shining on the towers of lower Manhattan was beautiful as we climbed the slope of the bridge and then finally coasted down the Brooklyn side into downtown Brooklyn.
We rode through some lovely neighborhoods in Brooklyn, then we headed up to Prospect Park, Brooklyn's equivalent to Manhattan's Central Park. By now all the water I drank before leaving the hotel, coupled with the bottle of water I had consumed while cycling, had me urgently looking for relief. I now realized one of the big differences between riding in the city and riding in the country. In the country, it's a lot easier to find a place to pee. Anyway, as we rode into Prospect Park we passed a couple of porta-potties on the side of the road. Whew! Saved.
Prospect Park was the first rest stop of the ride. We got in line for bananas, oranges, bagels with peanut butter & jelly, and water. Once we left Prospect Park, we headed down to the water and rode along the waterfront greenway, finally reaching Coney Island and passing the Astroland amusement park. After that, we were off for Queens.
Chapter 3. World's Fair. Tom saves the day.
We rode into Queens on an absolutely terrible, horrendous, hideous excuse for a bikeway that paralleled a highway. Crossing a bridge with no divider between the bike route and the high-speed roadway, somebody fell and landed in the right traffic lane. Thankfully there wasn't a car coming at that instant. She hurt her ankle, and it took a few minutes for her, with the help of some others including Tom, to get out of the road and up onto the sidepath. Meanwhile I and several others were frantically waving traffic to merge left. After that got sorted out and the ride marshals were in charge of the situation, we continued on into Queens. Here well-manicured suburban neighborhoods replaced the brownstones and apartment buildings of Brooklyn. As we rode on, I asked Tom what that neat building over there was. "That's from the 1964 World's Fair," he told me. Cool. As we got closer, I noticed the large globe that I've seen in so many pictures. I never realized it was right there in Queens, in Corona Park. And right behind it loomed the bulk of Shea Stadium.
Later, after leaving the park, we were cycling along through one of Queens' neighborhoods when I heard a ting! and looked back to see one of the lenses from my glasses lying in the road. Oh no! I stopped and backed up to retrieve it. Of course one of the problems with trying to fix my glasses is that when I take them off to look at them, I can't see anything. But Jodi and Tom both assured me that the screw was loose, but wasn't missing. By some quirk of fate, Tom had decided to add a very small screwdriver to his repair kit. Small enough that it worked to tighten the tiny screw that held my glasses together. Three cheers for Tom!
Tom and Jodi in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens.
Chapter 4. The Bronx & Harlem. I liked it!
Being able to see was a great advantage as we still had a good 30 miles more to go. We left Queens via the Triboro Bridge to the South Bronx. Getting over the bridge (actually two bridges) was a trip. The first one had flights of stairs going up and down. Picture a line of hundreds of cyclists each carrying their bike up and down the stairs. The next bridge had ramps at either end, but there was some kind of construction going on and the pathway was extremely narrow with warped plywood walls on the outside. It was quite tricky riding the super narrow pathway across the bridge, but we did it.
Jodi at the last rest stop. 99 miles down, and she's still smiling.
I'm not sure what I expected from the Bronx. My image of the borough is gleaned from driving the Cross-Bronx Expressway with it's views of burnt-out shells of buildings. But of course that's not the whole picture. The areas we rode through were tidy, and we got more cheerful hellos from kids and adults both than we did in any other borough. I'm sure glad we didn't wimp out and skip this last 20 miles of the ride. After our last rest stop at 99 miles (8 miles to go), we crossed from the Bronx back onto Manhattan by riding Broadway across the bridge. We rode down through Harlem, along more surprisingly nice streets. Tom tells me it wasn't always like this, and when he went to high school here he wasn't always comfortable walking on the streets.
We were now only a few miles from the finish line back in Central Park. We rode the greenway along the Harlem River, then straight south through the center of Harlem until we finally turned into the finish area. It took us a total of about 11 hours for the ride. About 8 hours actually pedaling the bike, and another three hours at all the rest stops. After getting our souvenir T-Shirts and water bottles, it was time to go. Tom had to get to his rehearsal, and Jodi and I had to drive home in time to pick up Anju.
Since we were both parked west of Central Park, we rode together along the park loop road for a bit. Amazingly, I felt good enough to even sprint one of the hills. It felt good to fly by all the other cyclists on the road knowing I had well over 100 miles in my legs already. Finally, it was time to shake hands and say goodbye.