Sunday, April 6, 2008

Bike Ride - Complete!

There temperature was in the low 40’s and there was a light drizzle when I left in the morning, but not enough to put on my Halloween costume garbage bag rain vest. Worse yet was that twice within the first 15 miles I got lost. It is so frustrating when I have to stop, take out my laptop, turn it on, wait for it to boot up, open the map program, wait for it to open up and then try and figure out where I went wrong. It takes at least 10 minutes every time I have to check it. Covering as much distance as I do on a day, it doesn’t make sense to get paper maps. On the 2005 bike trip I found that the maps had to be at a county level to be of any real use and seeing that I can ride in and out of six or seven counties in a day, it was pointless to buy paper maps. I do however periodically sneak a peek at one when I stop at a convenience store.

I rode on Route 1 early in the morning. As it was a busy road, a highway, I had only planned on riding on it long enough to get to another road that split off and ran parallel. Rout 1 seemed ridable though, at least where I was, so I decided to ditch my complicated set of directions and ride on Route 1 all the way to Newark, NJ, a stones throw to New York City.

My first planned stop of the morning was at a Dunkin Donuts to grab a late morning snack. As I was there, numerous parents came in toting their children in soccer uniforms. It reminded me of my youth as my father used to take me out for breakfast after my soccer games on Sundays. Why is it though that so many children play soccer in the United States, yet no professional soccer league has had any real success?

There was a very definitive line of clouds in the distance that truncated light from dark. I was unfortunate enough to be under the dark section of clouds. My immediate goal was to make it across the line to the "light" side so as to improve my chances of not getting rained on. I kept looking up at the sky to check my progress as I rode along. My progress was slow as I was aiming for a moving target, but I was thrilled when I finally crossed the threshold. I knew that it didn’t mean that I wouldn’t get rained on; I just figured it would give me a better shot of staying dry.

Riding on Route 1 started getting a little dicey when it intersected the Garden State Parkway. Traffic started getting really heavy to the point where I knew a bicycle just didn’t belong on the road. The stretches of road with a shoulder for me to ride upon were vanishing. Also, I had to negotiate traffic using entrance and exit ramps. The area is an interchange for several major highways, so shortly thereafter I decided that it wasn’t worth risking my neck just so I didn’t have to remember a few extra directions.

As I was in the town of Woodbridge, NJ I climbed an overpass and from there, got my first glimpse of the New York City skyline. I knew it was still a long way off, but it was reassuring to see it. I have seen the New York skyline a million times, but for some reason I still get a kick out of it if I hadn’t seen it for a few weeks. It’s just so recognizable.

My Achilles heel was struck! I got a flat tire. I was being so careful about not running over things in the road, but to no avail. I think New Jersey has something against me. I get a flat on my last day of the trip. In 2005 I had my first and only flat tire on the first day of my trip in New Jersey. I wasn’t exactly in one of the nicer area of New Jersey, so I made quick work of changing the tube. I received at least a few curious glances from people milling about. I debated whether I should keep the bum tire on or switch to my emergency tire. I figured that I would keep my main tire on, being that if I switched to my emergency tire, I would be out of options if something else happened. What are the changes of having something hit the vulnerable three-inch section of my tire, I figured. I didn’t have another spare tube, but I did have a patch kit if necessary. The bigger problem would be to find the actual hole in the tube, though if I was in a bind I am sure I would have figured it out. I did ride quite nervously from then on though.

Throughout the day I watched planes landing at Newark airport. I gauged my progress by how much lower the planes would be when passing over my head. The lower the plane, the closer I was getting to my destination. It was frustrating at times looking up and seeing a plane way up in the air. To make myself feel better I tried to convince myself that they were landing at another airport.

In getting to Jersey City, NJ I had a route planned that would sneak me behind Newark Airport. I had some serious doubts that I would be able to get away with it, but if I did, it would be a major coup. The area behind the airport was essentially a container port. The container transportation route was coming full circle. First I was following the containers along the rail lines out west, then on the waterways down south and now to the air in the east.

The container port was desolate. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would have reason to be back there absent their employment in some respect to the containers. I was thinking that crossing through Philadelphia on a Saturday and hitting New York City on a Sunday worked out quite nicely. I had a feeling if it were a weekday I would be doing battle with hundreds of trucks carrying cargo through the container port. As it was though, I was able to ride along without worrying about traffic. The only semblance of traffic in the area was in the form of planes at the airport. For a little while I was riding right along the airport fence and watching the planes taxing on the tarmac.

My gamble of sneaking behind the airport paid off. The roads actually connected to get me north of the airport. I just had to cross two bridges and I would be in Jersey City, the town just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. I had called the police the day before to make sure that I was able to ride over the bridges and got the go ahead. I was told that it really isn’t all that safe, but it is legal. The first bridge was a non-event, but the second was an open grate bridge. I crossed the bridge at a crawl, which a few cars behind me took exception to, but I didn’t really care. I just wanted to be on the other side of the bridge. From the bridge I rode east until I hit the Hudson River and saw my destination just a mile across the river. Visually, my destination was a mile away, but by bike it was another 25 as I had to head north and cross over the George Washington Bridge, only to ride back down south. It was the very definition of “so close, yet so far".

I didn’t have a plan for getting north to the GW Bridge as I figured it was going to be a free for all. My plan was to keep the Hudson River on my right side and pedal until I came upon a large bridge. As I was riding through Hoboken, NJ I found myself riding right past my buddy Matt’s place. Matt was the third musketeer for the Vermont section hike of the Appalachian Trail in September 2007. I gave Matt a ring and he came out to say hello. Matt had a tough morning of getting out of bed, eating breakfast and spending the rest of the day on the couch. Busy day.

The ride up to the GW Bridge was quite easy as there is a somewhat established bike route. I had forgotten how steep the climb up to the bridge proper was. It was the second steepest climb of the trip, right behind that road in Delaware. I worked up a sweat just getting to the bridge. Not too surprisingly, the whole area was under construction, so I was in the way of traffic for a half a mile.

On the bridge I got the full view of the New York skyline. I got a little giddy when I turned off the George Washington Bridge and made my way for the west side greenway. I didn’t remember exactly how to get down to the greenway, so I stopped a couple of cyclists to see if they knew how to get there. They weren’t really sure, but we talked for a minute and of course I had to add, “I just rode here from California". I answered a volley of questions, fed my ego and continued on my way. I found the route down to the west side greenway path and it all came back to me. It was a steep descent down on to the path. Once on the path I was home free. I remembered all the ins and outs of the path; where to stay left so as to avoid a pot hole or where I needed to go right to stay off some bad pavement. The only curve ball and much to my delight, was that one entire section of the path had been completely repaved. I wasn’t necessarily zipping down the path, mostly because it was fairly crowded with other cyclists, rollerbladers and pedestrians. I also wanted to savor the last few miles of the ride. It was like a victory lap. I figured I had the best story of any cyclist I would come across.

I rode past the World Trade Center, my former place of employment. It didn’t look as if they were making much progress in building the Freedom Tower. They did however block off part of the bike path causing to me detour. As I rounded a corner I caught the first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. It gave me the chills. It was either that or I was really cold.

There was no entourage waiting for me in Battery Park. When I rode out of New York in 2005 I had some people sending me off and even ended up at a friends place when I finally arrived in Los Angeles. Now I was arriving in Battery Park amidst a bunch of tourists. I rode over to the very spot I left from in 2005, touched the railing and gave a fist pump while shouting "yeah!" I had someone take a photo for me and got into a conversation about the trip, but there was no fanfare. At that point it still hadn’t sunk in that the riding portion of the program had come to an end. Well, nearly.

I just had to ride back uptown to my buddy Scott’s place where I was staying for the night. First though, I had to grab a hot dog with the works from a street vendor. It just wouldn’t be New York without one. I didn’t have a set of keys to Scott’s apartment, so I had little choice but to sit and have a victory drink with a few of my friends that were beginning to gather at a bar nearby. At first I felt rather foolish wearing my cycling get up in a bar and even got a few odd glances, but it wasn’t like I dressed up specifically like this for a night out. Either way I had a good story. By the time the keys did show up I was firmly entrenched on my bar stool and was catching up with my friends. I had to tear myself away to go shower and change or I knew I would be spending the entire night in my bike clothes. It turned out to be a low-key night in comparison to the night out in Washington D.C., but it was good to have finished the first leg of my trip and see some friends again.

The final stats of the trip work out as such:

Days riding: 40

Average miles a day: 106.0

Total Miles: 4,241.8

Average time pedaling/day: 6 hours 50 minutes

Total time pedaling: 273 hours 57 minutes

Longest Day: 232.9 miles

Longest time pedaling/day: 12 hours 59 minutes

Shortest day: 65.6 miles

Shortest time pedaling/day: 4 hours 10 minutes

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