Day 63, 8/15, Harriman State Park to New York City(!!): 70.6 miles, 3,467 ft elevation gain, 11.7 mph average speed.
Trip totals: 4,083.8 miles (75.6 mile daily average), 151,167 ft elevation gain, 12.5 overall average speed.
Fun semi-fact* before we get started: Our blog posts have been around 1,600 to 2,000 words each, and we’ve published around 60 of them, so if you’ve followed along with us all summer, you’ve read approximately 100,000 to 120,000 words, which is as many or more words than The Prisoner of Azkaban (107,000 words / 435 pages) and The Hobbit (95,000 words / 303 pages). In other words, you’ve read a decent-sized book! Congrats!
We started the day early to avoid traffic and to get home and see Ellie sooner. We came back down the hill we climbed last night, which was a nice way to start the morning, and reached Stony Point quickly. We continued on a highway with a decent shoulder (and saw a 10-person tandem outside of a bike shop!) until we reached Nyack, our breakfast stop. There is a restaurant in Nyack that caters to cyclists–they even have bicycle-themed breakfast sandwiches–and Ted knew about it from his previous bike rides to Nyack, so we stopped there. There were several bike racks outside that already had over 20 bikes parked on them, and it was exciting to know that they had come from the city this morning! We were so close!
We ordered a lot of food, as usual, justifying the expense because we had Poptarts for dinner last night. After two breakfast sandwiches, a smoothie, a coffee, and a Chai latte, we headed out. As I grabbed my handlebar to board my bike, I grabbed a bee that stung my pointer finger, right on the part of my finger I use to operate my brakes! I took a Benedryl and ran a credit card over the sting to remove the stinger, then got on my bike. I couldn’t expect much sympathy from Ted because when he got a bee sting in Niagara-on-the-Lake, I told him to suck it up. He was still pretty nice, though.
The route took us through a nice residential street with large homes on the Hudson River, where we met and rode with a couple out for a Saturday morning ride that was very impressed with our trip. Not many people in New York have asked about our trip because of that general New York aloofness (which many people interpret as rudeness), but when they do ask, they are always shocked. People’s reactions to our trip have varied regionally, but the incredulous reactions of people in Michigan, Ontario, and New York have been the most fun. We think this is because we left the main bike route in Wisconsin (aside from a few days on the Erie Canal, where we temporarily rejoined the Northern Tier route) and there have been far fewer bike tourists around. The drawback of how uncommon bike tourists have been in these places, though, is that most people don’t even ask what you’re doing because they assume you’re a hobo. So the encouraging “Wow, what an incredible trip!” has been replaced with a suspicious side eye and a tighter grasp onto one’s handbag. The bright side of this is that, despite the fact that we’ve been in higher-population (read: higher crime) areas, no one messes with our stuff.
Anyway, it was nice that after two days of no one boosting our egos about how cool our trip was, we were at the receiving end of an empty-nester mother and father’s enthusiastic adulation for 20 minutes of our ride. We eventually parted ways as we continued on the bike route to the city.
We followed 9W for a while longer, entering New Jersey before reaching New York.
9W puts all of the other 9s to shame. Large shoulder, little traffic, and tons of other cyclists, all doing day rides from the city to Nyack and back. It was really exciting to be around so many serious cyclists with fancy carbon bikes, clothes, and shoes (yet another way wealth can be expressed in New York, I suppose), and it was even more fun to actually be able to keep up with a lot of these guys! Very few people passed us, and we were passing people who looked like this:
It’s been hard to gauge how fit we’ve gotten over the course of the trip because it’s not as simple as calculating the distance you’re able to ride or the speed at which you ride it. The terrain, traffic conditions, weather, and wind all play a huge role in what you’re capable of doing every day, so some 60-mile 10-hour days felt harder than other 100+ mile days. But riding on 9W–a road that we used to ride on day rides–and passing the guys who would have zoomed past me on an unloaded day ride a year ago made me feel more fit than I’ve felt at any other part of the trip.
We left 9W for our favorite stretch of riding within a day of NYC–Henry Hudson Drive. The road is lined with shade trees and traces the Hudson River for about nine gorgeous miles. There are very few motor vehicles on the road–like, there were maybe three cars on the road for the whole nine miles–so it’s the most pleasant riding available anywhere near the city. It’s also where city cyclists come to do their hill training, so we were simultaneously eager for and dreading it.
We rode under the George Washington bridge on Henry Hudson Drive, then over the bridge, victoriously entering our home city! We followed Riverside Drive for as long as we could, trying to avoid the Henry Hudson Greenway, a paved bike path that traces the Hudson from the George Washington Bridge all the way to Battery Park, 11 miles away. Avoiding an 11-mile bike path? Yes. As you might expect, this bike path is the busiest thing on the planet on a Saturday, so we chose a beautifully low-traffic road that many cyclists use to avoid the bike path on the weekends.
Someone on Riverside Drive told us that Summer Streets was happening until 1p, which meant that two of Manhattan’s busiest North-South streets, Lafayette and Park, were closed to car traffic. Yep, NYC shut down the streets in honor of our arrival! This was a better route for us anyway, because the Greenway leads to the Brooklyn Bridge–another place cyclists should avoid at all costs on a Saturday–while Park leads to the Manhattan Bridge, our bridge of choice. We rode across town to Central Park, bobbing and weaving through the madness that is Central Park on a summer Saturday, then rode to Park, where the streets were, in fact, closed!
It was a little slow-going on this street. Most people were biking around 5mph and it was hard to navigate a dense cluster of people who don’t ride bikes very often. Some people were actually learning how to ride a bike here! In fact, I grazed the tire of an adult woman who was learning how to ride her bike. I felt a spider on my leg and went to brush it off, then she slammed on her brakes for no reason and I did not slam on my brakes. I apologized profusely. You can’t do much damage at 5mph, but her bike riding instructor gave me an earful, which I sort of laughed off because a) what a terrible place to teach someone how to ride a bike!, b) this was, like, the absolute least scary incident I could dream up for someone riding their bike through NYC, and c) I think it’s pretty funny that we made it all the way across the country without incident and on the last day I cause a low-speed crash with a novice bike rider on a street closed to car traffic. Ridiculous.
Anyway, after that incident, the novelty of the closed streets wore off and I decided I’d rather ride down Second Ave. at a faster speed. This is when we officially joined our commute home from work, which felt surreal. We dashed down Second, then joined Chrystie, which runs through Chinatown to the bridge and which always has some sort of weird hazardous thing happening. Today, among other hazards, there was a cab parked in the traffic lane whose fare was about to open his door into the bike lane. I saw this happening, so I rang my bell, yelled, “watch out!,” and received my first angry response of the trip, in true New York style: “SHUT THE F*@$ UP!” Ah, welcome home.
We got on the bridge and got lots of questions about our bike tour, then decided to take a different route to Prospect Park so as to avoid passing within a half of a block of our apartment because we knew that if we passed our apartment, we would definitely not have the motivation required to ride eight more miles to Coney Island, not to mention the eight miles back.
We stopped at the Grand Army Plaza farmer’s market and drank a half-gallon of fresh apple cider, then continued through Prospect Park to the Ocean Parkway bike path to reach Coney Island. Yep, another bike path. And, by the way, we did not have to spend more than a block on a road without a bike lane from the moment we left Summer Streets to the moment we arrived at home, which was about 24 miles. Oddly enough, NYC has the best bike infrastructure we’ve encountered on our whole trip other than Minneapolis. NYC consistently ranks high on lists of the most bike-friendly cities, and I think we were starting to take the bike infrastructure for granted before we left for Seattle, partially due to Teddy’s scary bike accident in April. Of course it’s not exactly safe to ride a bike through New York due to the sheer volume of vehicles (moving and stopped with their swinging doors), pedestrians (jay-walking and crossing against the light, sometimes boldly looking you in the eye as they cross in your path saying with their minds, “you got a problem? what are you gonna do about it?”), and other distractions (you know, a bag of produce rolling into the road), but they really are trying to make it as safe as possible.
Anyway, we rode our bikes down Ocean Parkway and arrived to another summer Saturday madhouse: Coney Island. It seemed like we were aiming for the craziest places in the city. We rode onto the boardwalk, then decided that in order to end a coast-to-coast trip right, we had to drag our bikes through the sand and dip the tires into the ocean. The beach at Coney Island is very wide, but it has never looked wider than it did after my first shove into the sand.
Many minutes later, we reached the water, found a passerby to take a picture, then went for a swim. The water was the perfect temperature, but Coney Island isn’t known for having the cleanest water, so our swim was pretty short. We dragged our bikes back up to the boardwalk, looked at the ocean for a bit, then headed back home. Sort of an anticlimactic end to such a climactic trip, but that’s how I wanted it. I didn’t want to ride with people on the last day or make a big thing about it; I wanted to end the trip the way we’d spent 95 percent of our time on the trip: just me and Teddy, sitting together in silent thought, feeling so lucky that we’ve gotten to spend this time together.
Which brings me to another thought: I assumed that I was going to be a grumpy, hangry, whiny jerk for the whole trip and that the success of this trip–and, by extension, our marriage–would rest on Ted’s ability to tolerate my foolishness. To a large extent, I was correct. I could not have dreamed up a more supportive, tolerant, optimistic, fun person with whom to spend a sometimes grueling, sometimes frustrating, always challenging two months. I always expected to have fun (some of the time, at least) seeing the US, but I certainly did not expect this experience to be as life-affirming and beautiful (in every possible way something can be beautiful) as it was, and I have Ted to thank for that. Despite all of the opportunity costs and stress involved in taking this trip–which was, undoubtedly, an irresponsible financial decision for two people who’ve decided to live for five years in NYC on one nonprofit income while taking turns in grad school–I’m certain that taking this trip was the best decision we’ve ever made, as a couple or individually.
As hard as we tried to capture our experience in this blog, neither of us is a good enough writer to accurately express how this experience felt (and most of the time we were just complaining, anyway). Sorry about that, but I think everyone who can should go on a bike tour someday and feel it for themselves! It doesn’t have to be a two-month behemoth; there are a lot of one-week bike tours that are perfect for beginners, and there are a ton of companies who lead group tours, carry all of your gear, and arrange for you to stay in fancy B&Bs. This one is a great trip for beginners because it’s entirely on a well-maintained trail that’s relatively flat, and it’s on our short list for our next adventure. Once you try bike touring once, though, you’ll never turn back!
Thanks for reading our blog this summer! It was always exciting and motivating to look at our stats page and see hundreds of views in a day. We would have stopped blogging long ago if not for all of our faithful readers, which would have been unfortunate for us because this blog served as our journal and now we have a book’s worth of journal entries to help us remember this trip. So thanks for the motivation, and we hope you’ve enjoyed following along with us this summer! We’ll write some summary posts and write up journal entries from two of our other tours to post here for posterity, so come back in a while if you’re interested!
*I call this a “semi-fact” because I’m not exactly sure how many words we’ve written.