Sunday, August 29, 2010

200K - Biking from Brooklyn to Bear Mountain

- NYC  July 18, 2010
Pre-dawn summer Sunday in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY, comes with waves of heat and throbbing sounds of an all night reggae-thon. Today’s brevet will start under the George Washington Bridge at 7 am. That’s two hours and 17 miles away. Traffic is light for the city. The thought of a subway ride with at least one transfer seems a poor way to start the day plus, it’s a chance to ride the length of Manhattan at dawn. So I start an easy pace toward Prospect Park and flow into the warm humid embrace of July.

Prospect Park has a hill. As a kid, it was a big hill, a slog to the top bragging rights hill. Its gotten flatter. Worn down by miles of road, eroded by perspective, now it’s a gentle rise.

At 5:30 am on a Sunday morning, the Brooklyn Bridge has company. Young love holding hands walks across its length. Photographers wait to greet the sun with a devotion as old as the Mayans. Runners run riders ride the wooden planks.

The west side greenway is new for me. This morning I am an explorer and have discovered a new path through Manhattan. It is a curvy paved path that takes you along the Hudson without dodging cars. Young love holding hands walks across its length. Runners run riders ride the asphalt. A scattered few sleep off the last of the night. The city is so gentrified these days.

Names turn to numbers as the road goes north. Cocktail dresses and high heel shoes ending the night counterpoint orange vests and work boots starting the day. The sun rises in the east silhouetting the George Washington Bridge. Blocks roll past by the score.

177th and Amsterdam. The gathering of riders beneath the bridge draws curious looks. Many of the Randonneurs seem to know each other. I am still new to this but there are a couple of faces I can name. We collect our brevet cards, eat and drink and wait for the start. At 7 am, a NY cop spontaneously stops traffic for our departure.

The line of riders slowly snakes across the bridge. On the Jersey side, the speed picks up after the bridge gate as the road turns north. Pacelines form. Reminding myself to save something for later I find a group to ride with. Speed comes easy in a paceline. Tuck in and spin. Most of my riding is solo so this is a treat. The ride to Bear Mountain goes quickly. By mid-morning we are there. The mountains are waiting. And the heat. And the humidity.

It takes 4.5 miles of uphill to climb the 1300 feet to the top. I am not prepared to quickly climb a climb like this in heat like this so I crawl up the hill like a locomotive creeping through the mountains. One pedal at a time repeat ad nauseum. At one point, the road goes so steep and I go so slow that I wonder if the tire traction will fail and I will just start sliding backwards. The granny gear is my friend.

The view from the top is welcome. An extended break to take pictures, refuel and hydrate. There are about 70 more miles to go. I ask one of the other riders if that was the worst of the ride. "Yes, there are only two more difficult climbs and neither is as bad as this one," he lies to me.

Re-energized by false promises, the downhill is a welcome respite. Hang on scan ahead and trust that the parts won’t fail.

Harriman state park is dotted with lakes. Kayaking, fishing, swimming lakes. The roads around them are light with traffic and twisty with steep long ups and smooth downs.

It takes a while for it to dawn on me that I’ve been had. As the world around me heats up and goes up, for the fourth and fifth and sixth time ,I think THIS must be the hill he meant before another appears to take its place. Then I lose count. The granny gear is definitely my friend.

Dunkin Donuts has a coolata. It is slushy icy and sugary and brain freezy. It is worth stopping for when the day is hot long hilly and your mind starts to wander. How much water can you drink and sweat out? For me the answer is gallons.

In the course of the afternoon, there are different folks to ride with. We leapfrog up and down the hills and overlap at control points. Share water at rest stops. Offer encouragement and humor. Trade stories. Keep on course. The miles pass.

The return trip across the George Washington bridge gives us a NYC skyline view. I think about taking picture then the numerous security signs and personnel bring makes me think that 9/11 may have taken away that option.

A small group waits at the finish to check us in and collect our proof of passage. I briefly think of a ride back to Brooklyn before walking down into the raw heat of the subway to wait for the A train.

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