Five Boro Tour 2016

The day dawned gray and wet. It stayed that way. Paul and I dressed for the worst and rode the three miles to the Staten Island Ferry. The boat was filled with bicyclists and their steeds. In 30 minutes we were delivered to Manhattan Island. I expected to walk to the start but everyone just hopped on their bikes and rolled out. We followed. Past the World Trade Center. I didn’t look up. It’s tall. You couldDSCN4784_1198 fall over.

In short order we were in a massive street-wide queue. We soon le
arned that this was Wave 2 leaving at 8:10. We were supposed to be in Wave 3 scheduled to launch at 8:45. Yea, well…

After a half hour of waiting we started. We made it two blocks and stopped. “Gonna be a long day” thought I. After about five minutes we were underway again. Only to stop after another couple of blocks. The organizers were trying to give Wave 1 a little more time to get away. Slackers.

Two minutes later we began, this time for good. We made our way up Church Street past a building that looked like a jenga tower to the Avenue of the Americas. Really, 6th Avenue was too useful a name, I suppose. In the gray of this rainy day, the Avenue of the Americas looked unimpressive. We were going through some of the most famous neighborhoods in the city but it all looked like the back of a pack of wet bicyclists to me. I focused on not running into anyone, dodging asphalt patches, metal grates, and manhole covers. New York City loves manhole covers. It’s the manhole cover capital of the free world.

We remembered ourselves through Herald Square and soon passed Radio City Music Hall. At Central Park we were slowed and told to go either left or right. I thought the route would take us on Central Park East but instead we went left into the park, itself. The curvy, rolling road made for a much more relaxing vibe. I found my flow and went with it. Somehow, even after walking nine miles yesterday, my pedaling mechanics were dialed in. It’d been months since I’d felt this way on a bike. Which would have been great but for the fact that the flow was interrupted again and again by the thousands of bicycles I was sharing the road with. Just gotta roll with it.

We wound our way through the park, taking in views of the museums on Central Park East. Soon we were rolling through Harlem on Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard. I grew up hearing horror stories about Harlem but, frankly, it was just about the most pleasant part of the ride. Clean streets. Well kept buildings. Friendly people. So much for Manchild in the Promised Land nightmares.

Soon we were crossing the Harlem River into the south Bronx. The Bronx has probably seen better days, maybe in the 1920s. Fortunately we were there for only a mile or two before re-crossing the river to Harlem Drive and FDR Drive. One thing became clear, the streets of New York are filled with debris. I saw several metal bolts, lots of glass, and other random junk. Word to the wise: don’t do this ride on a road bike with skinny tires, unless you want to get a lot of practice changing flat tires.

FDR Drive was hardly scenic. The rain starDSCN4804_1218ted falling harder. I passed a unicyclist. Seriously. Ev
ery few minutes some young dude would come blasting by in a big hurry. In the process he’d spray all he passed with the water coming across his rear wheel. Each time I said a sarcastic “Thanks” and suppressed my curses.

Along the way, we were occasionally stopped to let traffic get across the route. At the Queensboro Bridge we came to a stop because of a bottle neck. We turned right for a few blocks then left to the on-ramp for the bridge. I was surprised at how many riders had trouble climbing this bridge. I had no problem with it other than to safely ride around all the walkers and 3-mile per hour climbers.

A gondolla drifted by on wires above the East River. I hoped to see Spiderman save it from falling into the river but he was indoors making webs.

Once off the bridge we headed north into Astoria, a neighborhood in Queens. All kinds of famous people were born here. You could look it up.

At Astoria Hills Park we stopped to rest. We talked with a couple who were clearly underdressed for the raw weather. The woman was shaking but looking forward to continuing until Brooklyn where she planned to exit the ride and go home. Good luck.

Paul and I forged on. Heading south into a slight headwind down the east side of the East River. The pace picked up here as the crowd thinned and the rain came down.

Over the  Pulaski Bridge into Brooklyn. I imagine Brooklyn looks better when the sun is out. I spent most of my time trying not to rear end people. I’d ride as straight a line as possible until I had to get around an obstruction. I found that the dedciated, protected bike lanes had less debris on them than the main lanes of the streets. Right lanes were pretty torn up, probably because they carried more buses and trucks.

The Brooklyn stretch was by far the longest. We passed under the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges and rode onto the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, an interstate highway. There were grooves in the pavement that occasionally made it feel like I was getting a flat tire. Little Nellie’s little wheels were probably not the best for this pavement. The BQE was just plain dreary. Rain came down. Spray from cars on the other side of the road hung in the air.

As we approached the Verrazano Narrows Bridge a security officer motioned a cyclist to the side of the road. He had on a back pack. No-go since the Boston Marathon bombings. We were warned about this.

The climb up the bridge on the lower deck was long but very gradual. Again cyclists slowed to a crawl. Some walked. Avoiding them made the climb hard, not the climb itself. Near the top word of encouragement were painted on the road as if this were L’Alpe D’Huez. The big payoff for the climb is the views but not this day. You could barely make out Manhattan through the gloom.DSCN4847_1261

The ride down to Staten Island was fun but we held our speed in check thanks to the grooves in the pavement and the water on our rims. At about 1 pm, we rolled into a park and under a finish line banner. The park had food of every sort for purchase by the riders. Paul and I partook of chicken parm subs that were delicious. After about a half hour we rode the rest of the route back to the ferry terminal and, from there, back to the B&B.

48 miles for the day. No accidents. No flats. Lots of smiles despite the crummy weather.

My Flickr pix are here.

Some other comments:

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a big thank you to the organizers, sponsors, volunteers, and police and other public servants who kept an eye on us. There were scores of volunteers along the route. How they stayed cheerful on such a lousy day I’ll never know. The police were out in force. Some looked pretty unhappy; others cheered us on. Imagine that, hardened NYPD veterans whopping encouragement. Every couple of miles, we’d pass a band playing under a canopy. Rock, soul, country, marching band drums, congas, you name it. Unfortunately, some EMTs had work to do. We saw or heard many crashes along the route.

The rest stops had hundreds of porta potties and seas of snacks and drinks. Apples, bananas, pretzels, energy bars. Early rest stops were quite crowded, later ones weren’t. To get to and from the rest stop, you had to walk a a block or two. Not a lot of fun in the rain but clearly a smart move from a safety perspective.

Riding in this kind of crowded event is best done by holding a straight line. Don’t look over your shoulder; you’ll drift off your line and potentially into someone behind you.

I would think that you could see a lot more of the city on a clear day, but, in truth, you’ll spend much of your focus on the bikes in front of you.

This is not a particularly hard ride. It’s easier than any metric century I’ve done and far easier than the 50 States Ride in DC. Except for the bridges and Central Park, it’s very flat. Ride it on a hybrid, cross or touring bike. Single speed riders found the bridges challenging, not for their steepness, but for their length.





Five Boro Tour Warm Up

Way back in February I signed up for the Five Boro Ride in New York City. This annual event involves riding 40 miles through all five boroughs of the Big Apple on a lovely spring day with over 30,000 or so of your cycling friends.

On Friday, Paul, Amy, and I drove to a B&B on Staten Island on a cool gray day. We should have known the gods had it in for us when we saw that the Bay Bridge was closed because of an accident. This added about 30 minutes to our drive. The entire ride featured a truly  annoying buzzing sound coming from the bikes hanging off the rear of my car.  We found out two days later that it was caused by a dangling blinky light. Our annoying drive to the B&B ended up eating most of the day.

Our first impression of Staten Island was not favorable. It is incredibly run down, particularly given the fact that it is a 30-minute ferry ride from the biggest financial district in the western hemisphere. Fortunately, our B&B was down a quiet side street. The B&B owner is a pleasant Polish woman who showed us the ins and out of her home filled with antiques, reading material, and snacks. (Yay, snacks!)  She explained how she escaped from behind the Iron Curtain and eventually found her way to America.

At her suggestion we headed out to Bruno’s for some dinner. It was a little Italian restaurant with a bakery. Suffice it to say, the bakery case was a pastry orgasm and the dinner was so good I wanted to cry. Bloated we headed out in the car determined to find a posh neighborhood on the island. Sure enough, Todt Hill filled the bill nicely. Enormous, new mansions on large, impeccably landscaped lots with exterior lighting to show off all their opulence. Relieved to know that the American dream hadn’t completely bypassed Staten Island we headed back to shelter and readied ourselves for a Saturday in Noo Yawk.

After a sumptuous breakfast that couldn’t be beat, we took a cab to the ferry. I had some trepidation about taking a boat anywhere as I get motion sickness at the slightest tipping of a deck. The Staten Island Ferry is smooth as silk so I had no problems at all. The ride goes past the Statue of Liberty so the sight seeing was underway while we were underway.

Our first order of business in Manhattan was to pick up our event packets at the Bike Expo located on the waterfront two miles east of the ferry terminal. We decided to walk because the weather was splendid. Along the way, by previous arrangement, we met up with Susan, an old friend from my college days in Boston. Susan has lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn for most of her adult life so we had a great tour guide the day.

The Bike Expo was well organized. We picked up our packets without a wait and proceeded to browse to exhibits. There were scores of them. After getting some free ice cream we headed out to be shameless tourists.

Susan took us down Madison Street to Canal Street and Chinatown. We passed dozens of people hawking jewelry and purses and whatnot, all authentic brands no doubt. We somehow resisted making a purchase. Susan gracefully begged off when an eastern monk handed her a medallion and slipped a beaded bracelet over her wrist. Hare Krishna, Beauregard.

In Chinatown, Susan ducked into a bakery to buy a sweet rice treat. As we were sampling her purchase, two muscular thugs came bounding through the sidewalk crowd, looking over their shoulders as they slalomed through the mass of humanity. We all thought this was bad news until we started walking and found them talking to their cameraman and director. I don’t know what they were filming but we may be inadvertent extras in an epic crime fighting movie spectacular. Or maybe just a student movie short.

We walked to a square filled with court buildings. Susan pointed out that we should recognize them from movies and the TV show Law and Order. This would become a recurring theme. Basically Manhattan is a giant TV and movie set. This began a recurring theme for the day: everything seems to look familiar because you’ve seen it all before a million times on screen.

After our court date, we worked our way over to the World Trade Center area. Susan was in lower Manhattan on September 11 and she lived in a neighborhood where many 9/11 victims lived. She pointed out Saint Paul’s Church where pictures of the missing (and mostly deceased) people were posted, as well as a firehouse that lost all its fire fighters when the towers came down.

The memorial includes two deep square pits with water pouring down their black marble sides. On the top of the sides the names of the victims are carved into the stone. I couldn’t get over how many buildings so close to the twin towers survived the collapse. The new tower looms over the sight, reaching into the sky.

We sat for a while and rested our legs. Susan’s Fitbit read 10,000 steps. Good thing we only have to ride 48 miles tomorrow, I thought.

A cab took us to Chelsea where we walked the length of the High Line linear park, taking a break for lunch in the process. The park includes places where people sit in what look like grandstands. Perfect for people watching.

We exited the High Line and walked into the garment district back across Manhattan past the New Yorker, Madison Square Garden and Macy’s. We turned up the Avenue of the America’s just a block or so shy of the Empire State Building. Then we hailed a cab. And got a limo. Dead legs love limos.

We rode to Central Park South and walked through the southern edge of the park to Columbus Circle. In the Time Warner building we found a bar with comfy chairs and sofas and had ourselves a drink. Pooped.

After resting up, we headed back out and hoofed it past Carnegie Hall and into Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. I am a very lapsed Catholic but even a heathen can admire such an amazing building.

Spent, we hopped a cab back to the ferry. We thanked Susan profusely for wearing us out. (20,000 steps at least!) The ferry ride and a taxi ride later found us watching hockey on TV at the B&B. We hoovered a pizza and hit the hay.  The weather forecast called for rain and 50 degrees, all day on Sunday.

The ride would go on, rain or shine.

My pix from this crazy adventure on on my Flickr page.

Next blog will describe the ride.