2006-05-07 - 7:19 p.m.
"I want to ride my biCYLE! I want to ride it where I like!"
Today was the day of the New York Five Boro Bike Tour, a 42-mile tour with streets and bridges closed off to automobile traffic in all five boros. I've just woken up from a 4-hour nap following the exertion, and now K and I are engaged in mutual and simultaneous blogging.
Executive Summary: It was thrilling. The best way to see the City of New York. My legs hurt.
And now the longer version: K and I woke up at 5am in order to meet up with a friend and line up at the starting line. Although we were there at 7am - one hour before the race began - we were already lined up 2-3 blocks from the starting line. In both directions, more cyclists than you could ever imagine. The organization anticipated 30,000 people would turn out to bicycle.
Fortunately we were close enough to the starting point that we could actually see (and hear!) the announcers. After the start of the tour, it still took another fifteen minutes before we even started moving. We walked, and then rolled, and then finally we were off at a reasonable clip through the valley of the Avenue of the Americas. Incredible! There we were, spinning past Washington Square, Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall. And bicycles ruled the road.
Central Park was fabulously green. The marshalls were posted every 500 meters or so, making sure to keep us out of the "normal" tiny bike lane (which today was reserved for joggers). One of the marshalls screamed at us with the bullhorn, "SMILE! Today the road is yours!" And it was.
We headed northward out of the park and through Harlem. As we crossed our first bridge the marshall yelled into his bullhorn, "Welcome to the Bronx! This is no place for Mets fans!" We spent all of fifteen minutes in the bronx before speeding back south down the FDR Drive, smiling smuggly at the backed up traffic on the northbound side. And then we began our ascent up the Queensboro bridge, to enter (not surprisingly) the Boro of Queens.
I have been told before that the Queensboro bridge affords some of the best views of the Midtown Manhattan skyline. It's true. And at a biker's pace, you can truly enjoy it, and the river below. I expected there to be a constant hum from the traffic below, but all we heard was the wind, and the clicking sound of cyclists switching gears. K stopped briefly and snapped a few photos (before the marshall announced with the bullhorn that there was to be 'no stopping' and 'absolutely no jumping' from the bridge).
Our first mandatory stop was in Astoria Park, where all cyclists were required to walk through the park. Volunteers were essentially throwing bananas and fruit sticks at us. I'm not normally a banana kind of person, but this banana was a slice of heaven.
On advice from our friend who is a three-year veteran of this tour, we snarfed down the bananas and then moved along to the lesser-known rest area at the Con Edison parking lot on the water. Here the view was absolutely spectacular. There was no line for the (still-clean-smelling) portapotties. And did I mention the view? It was truly incredible.
Upon leaving the rest area we continued through a part of Queens that I've never seen. And the best part about it were the mothers and kids sitting on the sides of the streets - they had come out to wave and cheer us. One even blasted "BICYLE RACE" by Queen. Wholly appropriate. They were met with a chorus of ringing bicyle bells. One elderly lady came out and met us with a cheer entirely in Spanish (and given that I don't know Spanish it actually could have been a curse, but I don't think so). Anyway, we cheerfully waved and yelled back to the kids.
And then we maneuvered over the Polaski Bridge into Brooklyn. Here we rode through an Orthodox Jewish community with elderly men standing on the sides and nodding their heads cautiously at us - this group transformed seamlessly into the up-and-coming Bohemian / Yuppy mixture of Williamsburg and DUMBO. I have to confess that by this point (mile 28 or so), my leg muscles began to seize up on me. It became more difficult to concentrate on the ride, so much so that K and I buzzed past the Brooklyn Bridge stop where we were planning to meet up with our friend D. Fortunately we turned around soon enough and came back to the stop. Another fabulous fabulous view. And admittedly time for me to call it quits. Fortunately, I was not alone – D’s entire tour group decided that the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge were not worth it. I think K could have gone for another 30 miles without feeling winded. I still think that going over 30 miles makes me a hero, especially given that I haven’t sat on a bike in two years. Anyway, I felt no tragedy in missing the final stretch to Staten Island, or the impending battle with 30,000 other cyclists for a space on the returning Staten Island ferry…I was happy to take a ride back across the Brooklyn Bridge and then make our way home via the subway.
The Five Boro Bike tour has to be one of the best ways to see the City of New York, and more than anything I was impressed by the incredible organization of the tour, and the light-hearted, good-natured feeling of everyone I met. Oh, there were a couple of tense moments with cycling road hogs but certainly fewer than those experienced in a car. Overall, this was another experience when you get to see that crusty New Yorkers actually have a very soft filling… K and I dreamed of how wonderful it would be if Manhattan could dedicate an entire north-south avenue strictly to bicycle traffic. We heard the same idea expressed in many conversations that whizzed past us. What a dream that would be. Maybe someday.
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