Sunday, June 29, 2008

A bike ride around NYC

Saturday dawned, well, for me, though I was up way after dawn, warm and humid. After a leisurely brunch, I slowly got ready and went out for a bicycle ride. My plan was to cross the Queensborough and Triboro Bridges. I got it all done, but not quick and easy. It was a long ride, circuitous, and a lot of work -- and fun.

First stage was from home to near LGA. As I neared East Elmhurst the sky began to drip, and then to rain; espying the roof of a rental car agency, I crossed 23rd Avenue and got under cover just before the rain fell hard. About 4.2 miles. (All distances are going to be approximate.)

As the rain stopped, I got moving. The streets began to dry up fairly quickly as the hot sun came out. The humidity rose. Riding along 23rd Avenue, I went to 80th Street, turned south and crossed Astoria Boulevard, dodging some puddles, splashing up water with both bicycle wheels. The next 3.5 miles to 59th Street and 37th Avenue in Woodside went fairly fast. I stayed on a designated bike route.

Got on to Skillman Avenue (also designated as Lewis Mumford Way). A one-way street, it is four, maybe five lanes wide. Riding along, I spotted a kid of maybe thirteen standing in the bike lane, an earbud on, looking to his left at traffic. He was so zoned in on his music and the traffic that he didn't register seeing me. I had to jam on my brakes and jump off the seat. The back of my bike fishtailed, and I got a mite angry, telling the kid that he was standing in the way and to keep his eyes open. I might've used an expletive, did, and didn't delete it. Crossed Queens Boulevard, went into a Citibank branch, and got money. This stage was about 2 miles.

Doubled back to Skillman, turned right, went up 35th Street, took Honeywell Street to Northern Boulevard, crossed it, went up three blocks, turned right, and approached, then rode across the Queensboro Bridge.

That's the Queensboro Bridge, not the 59th Street Bridge!

The northernmost lane is reserved for pedestrians and bikers. It's uphill to about halfway across, then downhill the rest of the way. Below, the East River moved languorously, as if itself affected by the hot humid day. I was.

Arrived in Manhattan. Rode down to 1st Avenue, got off my bike at the corner of First and Sixtieth, and cooled down some. Sweat was pouring off me head. I was breathing heavily. I just rested a few minutes after a 2.6 mile ride.

Manhattanites seemed content to be in their world. Urban as there is urban, it is all concrete and steel, filled with traffic, buses, taxis, cars, people on cell phones, store after store, everything densely packed, all close-up. It occurred to me how little I care for this sort of thing now. I would much rather be out in the open country, as in Chichester, perhaps in the Mexico I've gotten to know in Zihuatanejo or Puerto Escondido, even Ajijic. Heck, even Queens and Hewlett-Woodmere are much quieter, have much more greenery.

Went into a pizzeria, ordered a slice of white pizza and an Orangina. Six bucks. 3.25 and 2.75 -- the three and a quarter for the slice, I guessed. I didn't much care for the ricotta cheese on it, but the drink was great.

Rode up a ramp across 1st Avenue, but that turned out to be the way to a concrete park with a concrete dog run. I went back down to 1st, turned north, and finally found the ramp to the promenade running alongside the East River (which is actually an estuary, but that's a whole other thing).

FDR Drive at 81st looking at Triboro. This photo shows a cantilevered layout, with Carl Schurz Park on the top layer, the northbound FDR lanes on the middle layer, and the southbound FDR lanes on the bottom layer.

This stage of the promenade runs above the FDR Drive; to get there I had to carry bike up three stages of stairs, which wasn't that much fun.

Running between the FDR Drive and the River, the promenade was filled with people strolling, with some people pushing baby strollers, many people sitting on park benches, and a few bike riders. Again, all concrete. Looking east, houses did protrude from heights above the other side of the FDR: those are very expensive bastions, and they did have some greenery. Weird to think that it takes wealth to have greenery, but that's how it is in Manhattan.

Along the East 80s the crowd was predominantly young and white. There's a concrete park somewhere around 86th, where there actually is green: lawns, plants. The promenade narrows as it passes Gracie Mansion, then deteriorates in quality as it reaches 98th Street. The look and feel of the people also change. There are no more bunches of young whites enjoying the sun in their leisurely ways; now there are clusters of black and brown men, their fishing poles resting on the iron railing, small groups of brown or black families resting in the shade.

The change was noticeable, but, to me, not startling. That is how it is.

A couple of weeks ago I rode my bike to Flushing Meadow-Corona Park. I rode along the LIE north service road, turned at the Van Wyck, and got into the park. In that part of the park there were a lot of people barbecuing, kids playing, music blasting from a plethora of radios. Clearly these were Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. Even without their flags I knew it: I know the music and the food. As politically incorrect as it might sound, this is what PRs and DRs do: barbecue, music, everything loud, passionate, completely unsubtle, obvious. In the center of the Park Mexicans, Salvadoreans, Colombians, were playing futbol, watching futbol, hanging out. Some were eating, but it wasn't as prevalent as with the Dominicans and Puerto Ricans. Curious thing. I've seen Argentinians and Uruguayans, aside from the other Central and South Americans mentioned; and along Roosevelt Avenue I know there are Peruvians and Chileans, which covers the gamut -- except for Brazil, Venezuela and the Guyanas. There are Guyanans over by Ozone Park, Richmond Hill.

So the changeover as the FDR reached 99th Street was no surprise. The same change is obvious in the inner Manhattan: as Madison, Park, Fifth and other Avenues reach above 96th, 98th Streets, there is an obvious change. A prime example is how the East Side IRT emerges from underground in the upper 90s.

At 107th Street a little pier juts out into the River. I saw an ice cart as I passed, decided to stop, and turned back. Right after getting a coconut ice, the rain opened up. I enjoyed my refreshment, stayed under a tree, and stayed mostly dry. The rain slowed some, then came down really hard. I changed trees, and waited it out. After about fifteen minutes, I got on my bike and rode on.

I rode over the 103rd Street footbridge to Randall's Island. It's an old bridge, and not in very good shape. Were it on 73rd rather than 103rd, it'd look and smell much better.

Randall's-Ward Island is a strange thing. The Parks Department lists it as having 273 acres. I dimly recalled it as having a psychiatric hospital. Turning left as I arrived, I rode along a path that was far smoother than the promenade in Manhattan. There has been a lot of landscaping work done: flowers, plants, looking lovely. It got quiet, especially after the constant din of traffic on the FDR.

Drizzle began falling. I kept riding. Saw several jet skis on the River, the same ones I'd seen earlier, racing along at what seemed high speeds. A few clusters of people sat under trees, for shade and for cover from the rain. A couple of families, even a couple of homeless guys. It was quite an idyllic respite.

I rode around the Island. Paved ways ended at construction. I found myself alongside the Hell's Gate Bridge that takes Amtrak trains from Queens to Manhattan, Bronx and the Northern states, a concrete and steel arc built in the early 1900s. Got next to the Icahn (used to be Dowling) Stadium, doubled back. Kept riding, couldn't find a way to Queens, kept riding, and wound up back where I'd started.

How many miles in this stage of my ride I can only begin to guess at being around 5 miles; just a guess. The distance from 1st and 60th to 1st and 125th is about 3.6 miles.

Crossed back to Manhattan, and rode up the FDR promenade to 125th Street. Had to double back, ride over to 1st, and eventually found the promenade running on the Triboro Bridge that pedestrians and bicyclers can use. After a very short bit, I had to get off the Bridge. I wound up in Randall's Island. And it began raining hard.

I waited out the long, hard rain, and tried to figure out where to go. A sign reading "To Bronx and Queens" pointed in a general direction. When the rain stopped, I tried to figure out what that general direction was: I rode around to the left, got back to the spot I'd started, then went right, all to no avail. The ground was very wet. There were puddles everywhere, and even avoiding them, as I rode both wheels kicked up water. Futilely, I kept looking, searching, all to no avail.

Finally I just went right, and kept going, figuring something had to (I hoped) turn up. Yes! A sign announced "pedestrian walkway to Bronx". If that one wen there, then there had to be one going to Queens on the opposite side. I rode on, and eventually found a sign saying "pedestrian walkway to Queens". Right after, another sign, not blue, but orange, announced "Detour to pedestrian walkway to Queens".

Followed it, and others, and ... I suddenly realized I was mere yards from where I'd been something along the lines of an hour ago: proximate to the Icahn Stadium. Yards.

Finally found the ramp to the walkway to Queens. Covered in mesh, it sloped gently up; I rode in relief. I then had to walk up some stairs, and emerged onto the Triboro Bridge proper. A concrete walkway perhaps four feet wide, with a tiny gap between the concrete and the steel of the bridge on the (my) right side, it rose above the roadbed, and sloped up as I walked toward Queens. And walked I did; no way I was going to ride.

On both sides a wire mesh curved in, supported by steel arms curving in. I walked slowly, glad to be going home. The walkway kept sloping up, further away from the roadbed. Then, as it reached the roughly-halfway-mark, the wire mesh on the left, the river, side, ended. Now there was only a wall about four foot high.

I stopped. I swallowed. I look, and I pondered. Ahead, Queens, Astoria, mere miles from Flushing. Behind me, wire mesh, yes, but miles and miles to retrace my steps, back to Randall's Island, to Manhattan, to the Queensboro Bridge.
View of the pedestrian path on the East River section crossing from Astoria Queens to Randall's Island.

"I can do this," I said, swallowed, kept a hand on the handlebar, one on the seat, my eyes looking ahead, and walked. Gingerly, slowly, I made my way across. At just about exactly the halfway point, up ahead I saw a man. A few wild fantasies and fears skipped across my mind; I released them, and walked on. As I neared him, I saw an anemometer. I nodded to him, and kept going. The wire mesh began again on my left side, and I relaxed enough to take one hand off the bike.

The walkway now slopped down. After some time, the walkway was blocked, I supposed under repair. A temporary way led out, encased in wire mesh, but clearly out over the river, away from the bridge proper. There were a few sets of steps. I manged them, gingerly; up, then down, and finally back to the regular walkway. In a bit, I was back on Long Island, in Astoria.

The ride home was all that remained. By now I was exhausted, my ass sore. I rode along the Flushing Bay promenade, over to Northern Boulevard, up the The Great Wall supermarket, bought a six-pack of Kirin Ichiban beer and a pint of ice cream, and went home.

This last stage of my ride was perhaps 10 miles. So the total ride was at least 31 miles.

I had left over pizza and left over moo-shoo pork, a couple of beers, and some ice cream, and watched the film Water.

This view of the pedestrian path on the East River section crossing from Astoria Queens to Randall's Island was what I saw mid-way across. No wire mesh.

This second view (both pictures from a blog I found) shows the wire mesh that I found so protective.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post.. It really gave me some nice memories of when I used to do some of these similar bike rides. For me, long bike rides in New York City have been the only way to keep myself "grounded" - even though it keeps me in touch with the same City elements that tend to cause stress during other parts of my week, there's something about connecting to the City via a bicycle that changes everything.