For most of this year, we enjoyed waking up with the sun, or when our bodies told us we were well-rested. However, there have a been a few times when we have had to use an alarm clock: a 4:00am wake-up to tackle a few mountain passes in Colorado, or 5:00am alarm calls to beat the late morning heat in Central America. While we are now far from the Rockies or the heat of the tropics, we once again found ourselves bleary-eyed at 5:30am the morning of May 6th. With snacks, toys and camera gear loaded and the bikes prepared the night before, it took us a mere 15 minutes to go from bed to saddle and roll down the hill to catch the 6:15am train from Scarsdale, NY to Grand Central Station in Manhattan.
Coffee and tea in hand, we squeezed our unloaded bikes and trailer onto the train, stuffing them into seats and along the aisle near the doors. Reuben’s Surly Big Dummy longtail made this a little difficult with its extra 18” of length – not to mention we weren’t the only people with bikes on this train. With a pile of bicycles behind us, we sat down and ate our breakfast, arriving in downtown NYC an hour later. We quickly navigated the elevators and stairs of Grand Central Station and rode out onto the eerily empty Sunday-morning streets of Manhattan towards the Westside Greenway, a dedicated bike path that was already teaming with riders. Most of the cyclists we saw were wearing bright green vests that matched our own, emblazoned with the Bike NYC logo. We were about to join 32,000 other riders for a 40-mile bike tour of New York’s five boroughs – and it seemed like every cyclist in the city was on their way to the starting line.
We were aiming to be part of the first of three groups in a staggered start of the ride. Despite our efforts to rise early, and the fact that we were riding unencumbered by our usual load of gear, as we approached the rally-point for the start of the ride, there was already a steady stream of cyclists heading down the course, which was closed to traffic for its length. Recognizing we would now be part of the 8:30am group, we continued riding to the second rally point and amazingly spotted a familiar face in the sea of green vests – Erick! Erick rode with us for a portion of our tour down the west coast in Oregon and California last fall. He departed on a second tour, riding up the east coast, a few weeks earlier and landed in NYC the same day we did, also managing to scrounge up a spare registration for this sold-out ride!
We all found our place in the line-up and were slowly packed in amongst thousands of others for the second release of riders. There was an amazing amount of energy in the air – and equal amounts of spandex on cyclists. The kids kept pretty quiet, awestruck while watching all the bikes around them. Or maybe they were quiet because of all the attention they were getting being the only ones on the back of a cargo bike in a midst of trailers, tandems, and trail-a-bikes – the more familiar way of carrying children on bicycles.
At 8:30am we were finally off – spinning up 6th Ave surrounded only by fellow cyclists. We flew down the corridors of buildings crowding Manhattan towards Central Park where we pulled off to enjoy a playground and a snack break with the kids while waiting for our new cargo-biking friends from Connecticut, who were in the 9:15 start group, to catch up with us. A solid mass of cyclists, made up of riders from all ages and stages continued to pour past us for 30 or 40 minutes while we played in the park. And then some familiar looking bikes came around the corner – Peter was riding a Yuba Mundo with Caleb and Sam – 9-year-old twins – on the back. Alongside Peter was his wife Sarah on an Xtracycle Radish with 6-year-old Finn on the back. We maneuvered our way into the stream and made our introductions while riding. We had only met previously through a cargo-bike facebook group.
North of the park, we hit a bit of congestion – the only bike-related traffic jam we have ever been stuck in! We were reduced to walking our bicycles for the next 45 minutes or so through a bottlenecked section of the route due to a narrow bridge up ahead. It was a good time to pull out snacks and chat with our new friends and other riders who were all very curious about the unusual bicycles in their midst. Erick took off on a side road to see if he could find a way around the congestion.
Soon we were back up to speed and reunited with Erick, who never found a way around the group and was waiting up ahead. We cut a short corner through the Bronx, our second borough, before heading back down the east side of Manhattan towards the Queensborough bridge, which funneled us into Queens – borough number three! It was truly unbelievable to be cycling in such an enormous group, tearing down multi-lane highways and through tunnels normally reserved solely for automobiles.
The kids snuck in a good hour-long nap before we stopped at the first break spot and filled up on water, bananas, bagels and Luna bars. As we were riding towards the back of the pack, we discovered the break spot was already closing and the sweep vehicles were immediately behind us re-opening the route to traffic. We had to hurry on!
As the ride continued, we were pleasantly surprised at the realization of how fit we had become over the course of the last year. We barely broke a sweat keeping pace with other riders, often having conversations and casually eating snacks one-handed while heading up the small hills and bridges that left others winded or forced them to push their bikes. I guess a year of riding around the country will do that to you!
In Queens, we were joined by Reuben’s Aunt Tamara, who cycled with us for the remainder of the ride. It was her dream to ride her bike over the Verrazano bridge connecting the fourth and fifth boroughs – Brooklyn and Staten Island, and this was the only chance she would get to do it on two wheels! The views of the Manhattan skyline from the bridge were stunning despite the much colder temperatures and higher winds out above the water. We bundled up the kids and cruised down the other side, welcoming the sunshine and warmth that greeted us after exiting the lower level of the bridge.
The party at the finish of the ride on Staten Island included some much needed porta-potties and food vendors (which were all out of food by the time we got there) and some more friends (who gave us their food – thanks!). Adam and Christy, who we first met in Wisconsin on their Give-a-Bike tour, now work for People for Bikes and they were manning a booth for the ride. We said goodbye to Peter and Sarah and their boys, knowing we would see them again in a few days when we passed through New Haven, CT (check out their write-up of the 5-boro ride on their blog). We hung out on the grass for a bit before also saying goodbye to Adam and Christy. It was already 4pm and we still had a bit of riding to do before reaching the ferry that took us back to Manhattan. After the ferry ride, we also said a good-bye to Erick – I’m sure we’ll see him again on a future tour!
We rode the six miles back to Grand Central Station, opting again for the Westside Greenway – even after a day of cycling around the city; it was much easier to continue on bikes to the station instead of trying to get everything on the subway. We stopped to pick up some falafel sandwiches, rode through Times Square and arrived with minutes to spare before our Metro train was bound to depart back to Scarsdale. We took the elevators down, and despite a few mishaps on the platform, got everything loaded just in time (actually we delayed the train for about two minutes trying to get everything situated). We settled in for the ride home and enjoyed our second meal of the day on the train.
Once we unloaded onto the platform in Scarsdale, we were greeted by yet another familiar face – Reuben’s Uncle Joel, who had flown in from Utah to meet with Aunt Tamera for a vacation. He had arrived a day early and had actually been on the same train as us, only a few cars down. By the time we all got back to the house it was 8:30pm – making for a LONG and action-packed day for all of us. We took the next day off the bikes altogether and just hung out relaxing at the house. Despite a lot of riding (86 km – 53 miles), an early start and late finish – we look forward to participating in this ride again in the future. It’s a great way to see the city by bike!
The next few days whizzed by in a whirl of excitement – we traveled to New Haven CT by train to skip the congested and impatient traffic surrounding NYC. We met up with Sarah and Peter and their boys and were treated to a wonderful BBQ with some of their cycling friends. In New Haven we rode Sarah and Peter’s Bakfiets around town, and then borrowed their van to make a trip to Branford for an evening presentation highlighting Adam and Christy’s 50-state tour. The next morning we had the treat of once again riding with Adam and Christy – this time to their home in Guilford, CT. Afterwards, we continued down the road to Rocky Neck state park where we pitched our tent for the first time in over a week. We had done the math a few days before and realized that this would be our most easterly destination. We had wanted to make it out to Boston, but the days were counting down to the end of our trip, so we said our goodbyes to the Atlantic Ocean and turned our wheels north along the Connecticut River to begin the final stretch towards Hamilton.