It's possible that I'm starting to sound like a broken record on this subject, but New York City amazes and fascinates me, and I love exploring it by bicycle. When I'm somewhere I've never been before, I'm amazed that I'm still in New York City. The outer reaches of Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island feel like these little isolated suburban refuges that seem to be imbued with a bit more life and liveliness - if quiet - than the sterile, hypoxic repetition and grids of the suburbs that I am familiar with.
Sunday was Transportation Alternatives New York City Century
, which meant an opportunity to pay a couple bucks to ride upwards of a hundred miles around 4 of the boroughs, with checkpoints every twenty miles or so, in the company of friends and a couple thousand other people.
The bike - a street-worthy fixed gear. I chuckled, looking at it with its road drops and brake levers with hoods, and its low gear. Last week, it had track drops and a super high gearing, for velodrome racing. It is quite multipurpose, this bike of mine.
My alarm went off at 4.45 - after a cup or three of coffee, some whole wheat bread and peanut butter, and a banana, I strapped on my camel back and hip pouch, threw a leg over my bike, and set out. It was still dark as Heidi and I rode to Manhattan to the north end of central park. She left and I met up with some buddies, and after a few minutes navigating the confusion of the beginning - long lines of bikers of all types - we left the park, heading West. It was just light out by the time we started, and we all felt good. "What say we pick up the pace a bit?" I asked, and with a wink, we fell into a paceline and spun up to 25mph or so, passing by all the cyclists who filled the road.
We made our way down Broadway, to the Brooklyn Bridge, and eventually to Prospect Park at mile 15, where the first rest stop offered us bananas, oranges, bagels, and donuts. Not wanting to either bonk or overeat, I took some fruit but stayed light on the heavy foods. After staying around to regroup and with some of our number waiting in line to refill water bottles, we headed out.
The route took us down to the South Brooklyn waterfront, into Coney Island, and through Sheepshead Bay. I'm amazed at how often I forget that New York City has such an extensive and beautiful waterfront - but so many years of heavy industrial and commercial use (combined with Robert Moses' highways on just about every waterfront in the city) have left New Yorkers with surprisingly little access to the waterfront. Not so in South Brooklyn. It was a beautiful place to be at 8 AM, and we were all smiles rolling into the second checkpoint. Another chance to snack and refill water, and then we were off again.
The route turns north into Queens, and I start to feel the fatigue of the early morning and fitfull sleep. We start going through neighborhoods I am terribly unfamiliar with, street names I've never heard, and surprisingly high-numbered avenues. At one point, I grab a leaf off a low hanging tree, turn around, and toss it at Gabe, letting the wind carry it back to him - deftly, he reaches up and grabs it, and I shake my fists in the air triumphantly.
We reach Kissena, do a lap amid jokes ("match sprints, anybody?"), and head out to the Northest, Eastest corner of Queens, where some friends are mechanicing at the checkpoint. At this point, about sixty miles in, I'm hungry and much desirous of coffee. I wolf down hummus sandwiches before we head out. I could use a nap, but opt to get back on my bike instead.
We venture West through queens, along the waterfront, past LaGuardia airport, and I gaze longingly at the Bronx across the water. I wouldn't mind napping there.
How to pick up the energy? We stop at Gabe's house and get a couple beers. It's midday, or early afternoon - no problem! While we're at the Astoria checkpoint, flirting with a mechanic, we see a guy who's wearing chammois briefs. Unreal.
The diversity of bikes is terribly wonderful. Super-blinged out modern road bikes, time trial bikes. Gorgeous classic steel racers. Clunky mountain bikes. A softride time trial bike. Several tandems (hooray!), including one with a softride rear (weird!). Horrible jerseys. What a fashion show - I loved it!
We set off over the triboro bridge - my legs felt good but I wanted to sleep. It took us back into manhattan, and once again, as I got on first avenue, I went into alleycat mode, spinning madly up the avenue, grabbing an SUV to skitch... of course my buddies could all follow, but it was fun to ride hard amid a more casual pack of cyclists. Finally, there was a loop through the Bronx. The most trying thing about this last leg of the Century was the fact that there were a lot of turns through small side streets, which was just wearing to ride. I'd rather be on some open roads, some long straightaways. But alas - it was a tough twenty miles to the checkpoint in Van Cordtland Park, where stood an older (ex-military?) man in an ugly kit barking orders to nobody in particular, "Okay, you've got eleven miles to go. Food is there, water is there, use the bathrooms, they're over there..." He had a buzz cut. Tired of his drone after just a few minutes, we resolve to hit the road quickly.
Pleasantly, the route avoids some of the monster hills of Riverdale, and brings us over the Broadway bridge. I would have preferred a straightshot down Broadway - reminiscing from the Broadway Bombin' race - despite the hills, but we've internalized the authority of the spraypainted arrows on the street, and we follow the prescribed route. Finally, it turns us back on to Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, and Central Park is a half mile away. TIme to sprint again! Might as well finish strong, so I get out of the saddle and hammer, trying to stay smooth.
We enter the park, relax, stretch, give each other massages, and, before too long, agree that it is Beer O'Clock.
It's three thirty, and I'm pooped. We chill for a while before I head home. My arse is sore, my body is tired, but my legs feel good. I resolve never to ride long distances on that saddle
ever again. I think back on my eating, hydrating, and electrolyte-consuming habits, and think I did a good job of fueling my body.
I start thinking about what it would take to do some other long-distance rides... like a 200K brevet... or a 300K, or a 400K... or 600, and maybe, if I like it, if I grow to like it in four years, 1200K
Labels: bikes, friends, fun, new york city, rides