I signed up to the Five Boro Bike Tour in NYC over last weekend. I took my folding bike on Amtrak and it was a pretty good trip. It would have been great, but Amtrak is definitely not the way to travel. (Next time I want to go somewhere on a train, I first need to go to Europe.) As this was my first vacation in a while, I was very much looking forward to it.
I arrived at Penn Station at 6:30pm on Friday night. Since I had just spent 20 hours on a train, I was a bit tired and had decided to take a cab to my hotel, since I wasn’t exactly sure where it was. But after standing in the ridiculously long line for cabs (that didn’t move much), it occurred to me that I was holding a bike. I had also looked around and had seen plenty of people biking. So I got out of line and assembled my bike next to Penn Station. I then put my bag of clothes in my bike bag and strapped it to myself. Since it was heavy, this was not the smartest thing to do, but I eventually got the hang to balancing it on my back.
I got onto 32nd street (I think, might have been 33rd) and headed toward Broadway, which I was happy to find has a bike lane. There was a girl on a mountain bike with a whistle that she used like a car horn approaching the intersection and I quickly decided to jump in behind her. I had to ride pretty fast to keep up with her and it was a great rush riding up Broadway. I got to 43rd street in no time and turned to my hotel. After finding I had to go around Grand Central Terminal to get to my hotel, I was there pretty quickly. I then texted my family about the awesomeness of biking up Broadway on a Friday night.
After checking in, I started walking around looking for someplace for dinner. Waiting to cross the street on the corner of 43rd and 3rd, I heard tires screech and plastic crack and found that a cab had just hit a girl on a moped. I heard it, but didn’t see anything because the bus stop was in the way. Suppose that could have been me a few minutes earlier, so I opted not to text anyone about that for now. And I was planning on doing more biking the next day, so I didn’t really want to think about it much.
The weather the entire weekend was beautiful. Saturday morning I had to ride down to “Basketball City” to pick up my packet for the ride. They had valet bike parking, which was nice and a big expo with packet pickup. I bought a t-shirt commemorating the ride and a light to attach to my helmet. I then thought I’d ride around the southern end of Manhattan and see some stuff before going back to my hotel. Plans were dashed when I pulled up to the Makerbot store and realized that I’d forgotten the key to my bike lock. Since I couldn’t lock my bike, I wasn’t going anywhere, so I just biked back up to my hotel to get it.
It was so nice out, that I jumped back on my bike and decided to head up to Central Park. I rode through the park and went to Columbia University. My sister got a master’s degree from there and I felt like maybe if I rode around someone there would stop me and say, “Would you like to get a master’s degree from here? Here’s a pile of money so you can do it.” Alas, that didn’t happen (so my dream continues) and I bought myself a t-shirt to make me feel better.
I then biked back toward Central Park and suddenly remembered that I was doing a 40 mile bike ride tomorrow and I probably shouldn’t overdo it today. So I went to the American Natural History Museum to see all the Theodore Roosevelt stuff, which was very interesting. (As an aside, I love Theodore Roosevelt.) Then I went to the Hayden Planetarium and walked around. I took a picture of all of Neil Degrasse Tyson’s books and texted it to Julie just to make her feel jealous.
I went back to Central Park and biked back to the hotel, where I debated whether to go to a show or not. I usually always go and see something when I’m in New York, but I wasn’t sure that I wanted to stay up that late (or spend the money). For the first time ever, I went to New York and didn’t see any show. I think it was the correct decision because I hadn’t been biking as much as I would have liked, though I have been running. So I think the rest was the right move.
Sunday! Ride day. I was up early and ready to go. Though my start time wasn’t until 9:15. After around 7:30, I couldn’t wait anymore and grabbed my bike and started riding down. My start point was at a little park in front of the “National Museum of the American Indian”. If Battery Park hadn’t been damaged in Hurricane Sandy, it would have been there. Since I was way early, I just sat on the ground and watched all the other cyclists gather. It was quite chilly and I didn’t wear a sweatshirt. There was a rule that no backpacks were allowed, so I had no way to carry it when I got hot.
I saw that some people started moving so I figured they were lining us up and I got in line. It was nice to move, though then I was just standing in the street with thousands of others for about 30 minutes, waiting for the start. Then we were off. We rode up 6th Avenue. Every so often you’d hear a bunch of whistles and know that you had to stop at the next light to let traffic cross the street. This kind of sucked because all the riders got bunched up again and some people weren’t so great at riding slowly in a straight line when we started again. After we got through Central Park and past Columbia University, I was laughing to myself that I was basically doing the same ride that I did yesterday.
At this point, I only had a general idea of where I was, as in the northern end of Manhattan. We made some turns and crossed a bridge and I figured we weren’t in Manhattan anymore. Looking at some signs, I figured that we were now in the Bronx. At this point, I was just following the people in front of me. I skipped the first water stop because I wasn’t really sure how fast I needed to be riding to make sure I finished in time. The directions said I had to be on the BQE by 2:15 to finish at Staten Island. It probably would have been good to have ridden with someone who knew New York so I would have had some idea of what that meant.
After a while, we crossed a very pretty bridge (might have been the Queensborough Bridge, though I’m not sure) and we ended up at a big rest area. I overheard people saying that this was the big rest stop. Looking at the signs in the area, I figured I was in Astoria in Queens. Everyone had to go to the rest area so the place was packed. I finally found a banana and then spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to find the exit so I could continue the ride. At this time, I also overheard people referring to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and got the BQE reference.
We were basically redirected to a little bike path along some water. So there was quite a bit of walking since there were so many bikers trying to fit. We started riding again and at this point I had absolutely no idea where I was anymore. After riding for a while, I saw some signs that said Brooklyn. So I figured we were in Brooklyn and whatever street we had been on was the BQE. Since it was not yet noon, I thought I was in great shape. I found out later that I was nowhere near the BQE, but ignorance is bliss.
We kept riding and as things started to spread out, it was great. Now, it was just biking and there wasn’t any walking. I finally got to a rest stop in Brooklyn, which was really pretty and a bit more spread out than the one in Astoria. Since I thought I was way further along than I was, I hung out in the rest stop for a while. I got to eat another banana and some pretzels, which was great. I finally got back on the ride and had a good few miles. As far as I can tell, this is when I got on the BQE. Fortunately, I was still pretty early, so I was going to have no problem finishing, but I was a bit disgusted with myself for not knowing the route better.
The BQE was a pretty straight route and it was into a decent headwind. So I wasn’t riding that fast and I was getting a great workout. Read that, as I was starting to get tired. After riding this for a while, I kept seeing signs for the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, which I guess I had to cross. I had just heard the day before that there was a horse in the Kentucky Derby named Verrazano, after this bridge. So I was thinking this was going to be a beautiful bridge. When we finally got to it, I didn’t think it was anything special. After riding into the wind for a while, I would definitely say I was tired. I got on the bridge and started riding, up, up, up… Stupidly, I looked over to the side to see where I was and suddenly realized that I was up HIGH. Really HIGH. The wind was still blowing, but now it was blowing across the bridge. I didn’t like this at all. My hands were gripping the handlebars as tight as they had been. There was a guy announcing that slower riders needed to get to the right and even though I was slow, there was no way I was going to the outside edge of the bridge. I was staying right in the middle. I continued climbing up and trying to calm myself by noting that cars are usually on this bridge so it’s not going to fall down. And that I wasn’t that light so that I wasn’t going to be blown over the edge. And trying to remember anything from my structures classes in college that would make my rational self take over. Eventually, I started going down and just as quickly I was off the bridge and at the end of the ride festival.
I had read that it takes a while to get on the ferry to get me back to Manhattan, so I had no desire to stay at the festival. A lot of other people felt the same way, so I was just following the group through the festival to the exit. I was thinking that the ferry was going to be by the water right by the festival. But when we had left the park and everyone got back on their bikes, I realized I was wrong. I should have looked at the route to see that I had another four miles or so to ride to the ferry. So I finally got there and waited in a crazy long line. I think I got on the second ferry that came in. It wasn’t that long of a wait, but I was really in no mood to do it. Around this time is when I found out the battery on my phone was almost dead. I decided to turn it off so that I’d have some power when I got back to Manhattan so I’d have my map. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. The phone died right before we passed the Statue of Liberty, so I didn’t get a picture of it, which was fine. I was just happy that I finally got to see it.
After we got off the ferry, I wasn’t sure which way to go, so I just started riding. I’m sure I weaved my way around lower Manhattan until I found a street name I recognized that was going to take me north. I think it was around 3-4 that I finally got back to my hotel — tired, but pretty content with how things went.
I didn’t do much Sunday night because after I had been sitting down to eat, every muscle in my body felt pretty sore. So I didn’t feel like doing too much. I walked around for a bit and bought myself a post-ride cupcake to celebrate. And then basically went to bed.
My train left Monday at 3:30 and I had to check out by noon. I decided that instead of riding to the station, I’d just strap my bag to my bike and walk to the station. I was still beautiful out and I had plenty of time. So I got one last walk in before I got on the train to come home.
All in all, it was a great trip. Thanks to my sister Julie for telling me about it! Perhaps next year she’ll be in the country and can do it with me. I don’t take nearly enough vacations and this reminded me that I should take more. It also reminded me how much I enjoy riding my bike. I’m now very much looking forward to Bike the Drive at the end of the month and am looking for other rides that I can do this summer. I already found the “Pumpkin Pie Ride” in Starved Rock that’s the day after my birthday. I think I’m going to try to do that one for sure.
I’ve been very lax lately about posting pictures. I didn’t take very many during the ride because I was riding. But the few I did take are here: