Last February, I closed the account of my last tour, Breaking Out 2021 (https://freewheelingfreelancer.com/2022/02/12/breaking-out-2021-the-erie-canal-trail/). Welcome to the first report on the 2022 Tour.
The last tour ended at the TD Tri-Boro Bike Tour, which Cheryl and I discovered by accident whilst wandering around Battery Park last August. It was so much fun that I resolved to participate in the event whenever I happened to be in North America. When the emails arrived to register in March, I was among the early ones to register. I thought No. 8045 was a high number, until I saw the numbers on my fellow riders’ jerseys and bikes.
With Sunday, 1 May 2022, as a fixed point, I built this year’s touring around that. To start with, the former associate rector at our church in Charlottesville invited me to stay with them in Hoboken. That was both the perfect place for the tour and an ideal launch point for the later riding.
On Wednesday, the 27th of April, I made sure the garbage was out, that all perishable food was consumed, and all the lights were out. The bed was freshly made, and the last bit of laundry hung on the rack (what I wore on Tuesday). I locked the door and rode to the Amtrak station at Harbor Park in Norfolk, Virginia.
This was the first time that I have taken the train from Norfolk. In the past, I had to ride city bus 961 across the Elizabeth River to Newport News and board the train there. This is part of a continuing effort by groups like Virginians for High-Speed Rail to extend passenger rail throughout the Commonwealth. The first Northeast Regional train from Roanoke just started. I am delighted that Amtrak service to Boston now starts from two cities so close to the North Carolina border.
Just before nine in the morning, the Amtrak conductor helped me lift my bike into the coach. The bike fit easily on the hooks at the end of the car, but hanging my helmet and jersey on the bike helped passengers avoid it without surprises.
It has taken six years to refit the coaches, but Amtrak trains now offer bicycle transportation in either the baggage car or hooks in the coaches. Not very many hooks, so all the bicycle spots on Northeast Regional trains close to May Day were taken. No surprise there.
That afternoon, I wheeled my bike out to the street in front of the Amtrak station at Newark International Airport and rode to my host’s home in Hoboken. For the next three days, I enjoyed good company, pleasant riding, and excellent Italian food. I learned that Hoboken is a very livable place, with the conveniences of New York City at half the price. I found the diversity stimulating and pleasant. Hanging out in Spanish, Italian and English is more fun than just English.
On Sunday, the weather promised to be sunny but cool. Perfect for a bike ride. My start time was 08:50, and I was assigned a window between 07:50 and 08:20 to report to the corner of Morris and Trinity Place. I rode to the PATH station in Hoboken at dawn. Surrounded by other riders, I debarked at Christopher station as instructed, to find that “not accessible” also meant that the exit turnstiles did not have a large one on the end. The others easily lifted their bicycles over the turnstiles, but I waited for everyone else to exit before attempting to hoist my twenty-kilo steed above my shoulders. I made it, but only barely. Next time, I will take the train all the way to the next “accessible” station and ride back!
Finding my way to the Hudson Greenway, I turned south on that familiar path and sped toward Battery Park. Hundreds of riders on all sorts of bicycles and wearing all sorts of clothing surrounded me. Before we reached the recommended exit, ride marshals stopped us at Canal Street and directed everyone east toward Broadway. Instead of the staggered waves that had been planned, all the riders ended up filling six blocks of Broadway for a massed start.
Standing there pressing against the starting gate (several blocks from me), I reflected that riding with 36,000 of my closest friends would not be simple, even with the motor traffic removed. Last year, 12,000 riders survived the various postponements to make the ride.
Still, it was fun to ride north on the Avenue of the Americas, through Central Park and Harlem, then east to the Madison Avenue Bridge into the Bronx. We rode south quickly to the 3rd Avenue Bridge and back to Manhattan on FDR Drive.
The 3rd Avenue Bridge gave us the first of four major backups after the start. It might have been alleviated if the organizers had enforced the start waves, but I am not sure.
The contrast between Manhattan and the Bronx was obvious even to cyclists zipping by at best speed. Yet, the roads were no better (or worse) in one borough than another.
Back on Manhattan, we rode south and took the Queensboro Bridge to –you guessed it– Queens. A quick ride north to Astoria Park gave us a five-mile loop around the park and back under the Queensboro Bridge.
Often, groups of teenagers and local families would gather on the sidewalks and cheer us along. Considering the number of riders, intense and competitive types seemed rare; most of us were just enjoying the beautiful day.
Some riders rode with smartphones and Bluetooth speakers broadcasting their favourite music. There were few enough of them that I never had to listen to competing genres. Also, the speakers were never as loud as those on large motorcycles.
Rolling through Central Park, one bicyclist explained to me, “I find it’s more effective than a bicycle bell or shouting rudely ‘On the left!’ Pedestrians don’t seem to know what to do with that sudden warning, but the radio makes them aware of me long before I get there.”
Riding the BQE (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway) provided a different interaction with motorists. The automobiles on the opposite carriageway were backed up, bumper-to-bumper. It wasn’t our fault; the BQE is always backed up and we were going the other way. There were a few sour faces, but also many waves, friendly toots and hollers from the stranded drivers.
The traffic on Interstate 278 over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge was moving in both directions on the north-bound span, so the motorists took scant notice of the river of bicycles flowing over the entrance to New York Harbour. Despite the prohibition from doing so, many cyclists stopped in the breakdown lane to snap a photo of the city from an angle that they could never capture elsewhere. I got my photo last year when there were fewer riders and no prohibition.
Soon we were meandering around the northeast corner of Staten Island. Many parked their steeds and went into the shopping center, where various booths catering to the biking crowd were set up. Those who had donated at higher levels than I were treated to lunch and free beer. The rest of us could buy a New Belgium Fat Tire® beer or enjoy free Häagen-Dazs® ice cream while waiting for the ferry.
If you are ever stymied by the choices in the beer cooler, remember that New Belgium is a woman-owned company that actively supports cycling, and that Fat Tire is a good amber ale. So much for unpaid testimonials. 😊
The line for the ferry stretched for a quarter mile from the pier, but I enjoyed spending an hour watching the infinite variety of people and machines. The ride back to Battery Park was uneventful, as was the ride north on the Hudson River bike path to the NY Ferry. Hoboken was celebrating its first Arts and Music Festival since the pandemic, so the festive atmosphere reigned on both sides of the Hudson River. That evening, I enjoyed the company of my hosts and packed.
Come back in a couple of weeks to see what happened to my plan for the 2022 Tour. “The best-laid plans of mice and men” applies particularly to bicycle touring.
Smooth roads and tailwinds,