Tuesday, October 14, 2014

New York City 200K - The touch of light.

New York City has a gritty veneer. Its wrinkled hardened exterior wraps its core, its people, in tarnished armor. A thick skin's worth of impenetrable distance that keeps the oppressive crush of humanity at bay. It muffles the sirens and dims the brights lights. I grew up in New York City but left it a long time ago. I have returned for a bike ride.

Crossing the George Washington Bridge to enter the city, the sun lies just below the horizon. Even now there are walkers, riders and, of course, cars on the bridge. It is just after 6 A.M. on a Sunday morning but, the city that never sleeps - never sleeps.

NJ Rando Mordecai is heading to New Jersey as I am heading to New York and we cross paths on the bridge. He is one of the volunteers on the ride. He rode his bike across the length and width of Manhattan, from the lower east side to the upper upper west side, and will ride his bike to staff two controles during the ride, crossing Bear Mountain in the process. And then he will ride home. But before all that, he stops to give me directions to the start. Thanks Mordecai.

The group meets at the Starbucks at West 181st street. Outside, a single bookcase on the sidewalk, guarded by a stuffed doll, serves as a neighborhood library. A waist high pile of trash, bagged in clean white plastic, goes almost unnoticed on the curb. Quietly, unobtrusively, almost apologetically, dawn filters in through the spaces between the omnipresent apartment buildings.
Inside the coffee shop, the riders' mood is light, festive, eager. For the employees, however, it is just really early on a Sunday morning. We prop open the bathroom door that has a numeric key pad for a lock to save the barista a few extra trips. The bathroom is a popular place before an all day ride. 

Joe and Jon check us in. I scan the list of 43 attendees and see lots of new names. Hmmm, this is not a day to follow someone you don't know. I check my cue sheet to review the first few directions.

JB gives us the pre-ride instructions. Then we are off. Or should be. No one is leaving. I double check that we are good to go and take off, slowly threading through the city streets and the ever present traffic - working my way back to the George Washington Bridge and the adventure that lies ahead.

Crossing the bridge, the light of the new day paints a red orange glow on the distant spires of the city. At this height and distance, the coarse details fade into beauty. The gentle curves of the Hudson River flow to the horizon. The apartments become cliff dwellings at the end of a wilderness road.
A quieter world lives on the other side of the river. We ride north through smaller towns and riverside opulence. The hardness of the city diminishes in the distance. It is Sunday in the suburbs. A day to close the streets to traffic to hold a street fair.

My cold toes bring a sharp and clear reminder that Fall is here and Summer had its days. The chill brings a benefit though; in the cool air, I ride stronger than years ago when I first rode this course in the full heat of summer. Mordecai meets us at the first control. I touch and go - leaving soon after I arrive. It is early and there are mountains to climb.

Ten miles later, I remember the climb to Bear Mountain even as I am climbing it. I  climb in deja vu - remembering the forgotten, reliving the past, reveling in the present. Compared to the first time, I am stronger, faster, more experienced. In the last four years, I have ridden to greater heights and finished longer climbs. Those memories tame the mountain and give me the confidence to climb without fear of failure. The last bit of the mountain pitches steeper. I find a gear to press through and settle in to enjoy the climb and the views of Harriman State Park.

Jon meets us at the top. With cliff bars in the bag and refilled bottles, I am soon ready to go. Another touch and go. I'd been riding for a bit with Chris S. from Toms River, NJ. He catches up to me on the road through Harriman State Park. The road roller coasters past mountain lakes. Up down, down up. Chris and I have a rando conversation, changing topics spaced by terrain and the need to breathe.

In the last few weeks, I've started my off season strength training. I lifted the evening before and the effects linger in my legs. But I tell myself that this is just like the second, or third, day of a multi-day ride and to just find a gear I can manage. On hills, my granny gear comes in handy.

The day is clear. In midday, the colors of the woods are bright and sharp. After yesterday's rain, droves of tourists have come out to stand along the same vistas to take the same pictures. Groups of curvy road seekers - sport motorcycles, corvettes, BMWs and even a Lotus, roar through the sweeping S turns of the park. Our pace is slower and quieter, slow enough to see the colors of the trees kaleidoscope on the wind rippled lakes, quiet enough to pass within inches of a deer nibbling at the small green edges of the road. But fast enough to cover ground like a winged raptor crosses the expanse of the sky, efficiently, effectively but with an eye toward the details.

By the next control, hunger demands my attention. 65 miles in, I sit down for a late breakfast of an omelette, bagel and coffee. Many riders overlap at the controle and sitting to eat is a popular decision. 

I leave between groups and ride the slow, easy pace of post meal digestion.

We return to Harriman Park. Between the parking areas the roads are generally quiet and mostly empty.

I ride on my own. Desiderata comes to mind. I remember what peace there may be in silence. 

The return trip to the City must be earned in the rando way, by strength of leg and of will. To reach the finish we cross the George Washington Bridge, with its skyscraper pillars, arching roadway and majestic views of one of the world's great cities. The bridge even has its modern day Bifrosts who guard this passage from one realm to the next.

Ride organizer, JB waits for us in a park just north of the bridge. The last rays of the setting sun touches on the park's pond, piercing the gritty veneer, illuminating the beauty just beneath.


  1. I did this ride and it was wonderful. I can't wait to do it again. Thank you for writing this that I can share with family and friends.

  2. The first ride report of yours that I ever read was the 2010 version (pre-blog days, posted on NJ Rando), and I thought that was one of the best write-ups ever. Not only has your ability to ride a bike improved, your literary and photographic skills have soared. Bravo! Although our paths have crossed only a few times, it's a pleasure to ride vicariously with you through your prose.
    Tom Bardauskas
    Florence, SC

    1. Tom,

      That is quite a compliment. I don't know what to say beyond, thank you for reading and for your comments.