Biking to a destination outside of NYC from NYC has its rewards. But first you must escape from New York.
On July 6-7, I went on another Micro Tour with the amazing shop crew of 718 Cyclery. At this point I’m 4/4 for these monthly weekend excursions. Has it been challenging? Hell yes, but I’m ecstatic about the adventures, learning how to pack my bike, and pushing myself on endurance and bike touring. Best of all, the ride leaders and crew have been nothing but amazing—a reason in itself to tickle your bike-camping fancy.
A Leisure Warm Up in Still Air
As if the mileage of the trip alone wasn’t enough, I decided to challenge myself and bike the 10 miles from my apartment in Borough Park to the starting point in Manhattan. My reward? An empty Brooklyn Bridge just after sun-up.
The air at 6:15 a.m. was unexpectedly thick and hot. A warning sign for the day ahead. I gulped the air more than breathed it. I pedaled through the neighborhood, into Sunset Park, then Gowanus and downtown Brooklyn towards the bridge.
My dogs it was hot.
After a quick break on the iconic bridge, I continued towards Manhattan. This was the easy part of the ride: straight down Chambers Street until you hit the river.
Escaping New York
Around 7:30 a.m., 42 adventurists set off along the Hudson River. It was hot. Everyone was visibly sweating and the sun continued its ascent above us.
I’ve come to love this segment of the rides — a group of loaded bikes barreling in a line through the city. I try to imagine what we look like from the view of passerbys and it makes me chuckle inside. What a spectacle we must be! I love it.
Changes on the bikeway
The bikeway along the river took an unexpected turn when a shiny new sign diverted us rightward away from the river. It gave pedestrians priority along the river pathway but it was a highly unexpected, hilly detour.
I wasn’t ready for that shit. This stretch was supposed to be a relatively flat warm-up before the corkscrew at the George Washington Bridge. Between the heat and the extra hills, I felt my body losing momentum. Will I make it?
South – North County Trails
Unlike our ride to Floyd Bennett Field—a clear sunny day with no shade to protect us—the ride to North Salem was more green. It was similar to our Croton Point Park ride… because the route is literally the same until you get to Briarcliff Manor Library.
The canopy of trees provided some protection from the sun, and maybe it was cooler than being without but it did nothing for the humidity and the overall feeling of being hot. And it wasn’t just feeling hot. You can also smell it in the decaying corpses of animals long forgotten in the greens. Some of them were right on the trail, like the two fly-infested chipmunks that gave us all a start. Each of us have an audible “ohmygaahhhhhhh” as we rode over or past the lifeless bodies. (R.I.P.)
The Rain Helped… A Little
Thunderstorms and rain were in the forecast, and we might have been hopeful that it would either rain early and leave us a dry-enough campsite to pitch tents on, or that it’d come hours after we’ve set up. We were still on the North County Trail when the downpour came. After a quick breather under a sturdy canopy of branches, we pushed on. The rain didn’t seem like it was letting up any time soon, and we still had miles to go. I struggled to keep my slippery hands on the handle bars and kept having nightmarish images of bashing my teeth on them.
The heavy rains did cool things down some but as soon as it stopped the heat came back with a vengeance. By this point we were on shared roads. The heat from passing cars and trucks combined with the asphalt and rising humidity made for a wonderful cocktail of extreme discomfort and I think I’m going to puke.
“Get a Horse!”
At mile 52 we made it to our Grocery Destination — a small business strip in Goldens Bridge with a grocery store (duh), a Dunkin Donuts, a pizza joint, a wine place, and USPS. Reminded me a little of Calvert County, Maryland. We took a long break here to cool down, fix some flats, and wait out a visibly incoming storm. Dark clouds, thick and fluffy, were moving above. Thunder was present. Lightning was sure to be nearby. For safety reasons, we waited.
The rain never came. The clouds, visible as they were, missed us in a weird doughnut shape. The skies were still menacing, and it rained lightly but not enough to be a concern. We decided to push for camp despite the risk of ongoing thunder and possible lightning. The heat continued to menace.
I struggled the last few miles going up hill. An old man driving past excitedly shouted we should “get a horse.”
I’m sure riding a horse is fun but that’s not what 42 sweaty folks on packed bicycles were doing that day. No, sir. We didn’t need a horse. Our horses were two-wheeled, human-powered machines that broke and made us. Actual horses are for a different adventure.
Camp and Jabronies
Arriving at camp is the sweetest ever experience. It signals the end of the ride. It’s your reward for lugging all that weight on your own pedal power. It’s a time for relaxing and sitting with a few good folks, talking nonsense, and eating each other’s foods (or in the case of one incident, bulldozing a grilling zucchini with a log).
(Oh, and the incident with the potatoes.)
Camp was beautiful. It was right next to a large pond (or was it a lake?) blanketed with Lily pads. Storks and herons, among other fowl, were mingling about. There was a beaver damn on the opposite shore but I didn’t see any beavers. Joe managed to anger a flock of birds with his drone, which was actually hilarious if not nerve-wracking. If the drone tumbled into the water, would that have been it or would someone have gone into the murky green water to attempt a rescue? These are questions to which we’ll never have a definitive answer.
No two camping trip is ever the same. One trip we got shaken down for donations. On another trip it got unexpectedly cold overnight. This trip was an experience unlike any other.
We just wanted water
Water and fired wood had to be got so a group of us went off to find the spigot and the park office. With bags of bottles and bladders in our arms, we went off along the loose trail, past a gate with some signs. Something about private park and summer camp. We didn’t think anything of it. To us, it was all part of the same park.
We walked by a yurt village, a kitchen gazebo with a faucet, and some tiny cabins. Eventually, we found the water spigot only to discover a fat lock on it. What the hell? The only thing we could do was keep walking until we found something else.
We walked passed a swimming pond set up for a summer camp, and a dining hall-style cabin. Next to that was another cabin for offices. No one was home. Someone ran into the dining hall and after a few horror movie jokes we all went in and retrieved water. Once that was done, a handful of us walked back towards camp while four others went to find wood.
Three young women, likely in their late teens or early twenties (whatever the common age is for camp counselors) jauntily walked up to us and greeted us in a friendly enough way. We were allegedly trespassing and legally not allowed to be in their area when camp was in session. (We saw literally no one on our walk to the water.) To get back to our campsite, we can walk back and around about two miles. (Oh, hell no.)
Our campsite was literally down the road from where we stood all sweaty, hungry, and weighed down with 30 full water bottles for our other sweaty and hungry compatriots. I guess they saw our faces. They escorted us to the gate with the too-small-sign about private property and summer camp.
The best part?
A Ford F150 pick-up truck came ambling up behind us, driven by some “jabronies,” as Chombo described them. They stuck closely behind us, revving the engine to spook us. The camp counselors escorting us were our only barrier between the damn truck and our lives. We were snickering among ourselves at the incredulity of the whole affair. It was some serious country bumpkin shit. We were being run off.
Who the fuck does that?
We reported the incident to Joe, and a few minutes later, a patrol SUV pulls up. Did they call the cops on us? We definitely weren’t allowed past that gate with the too-small-basically-invisible sign. Joe explained the situation, and either the police were bored or they felt bad for us. They offered to get us water but we just got it so we were good.
Then, something happened, and a few minutes after that the patrol SUV returned with a five gallon water jug. Whaaaaaat?! That was gone before morning. We were very appreciative if not still bewildered by the water-retrieval experience.
It was a strange evening. I went to bed and discovered I forgot my camping pillow. doh!
Sunday, Melty Sunday
Sundays aren’t anything special to write home about. We all wake up at different times and leave at different times. I’m usually with the slow-rollout group, taking it easy and leaving mid-morning. There may have been some incentive to try to leave earlier: the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team was playing the Dutch for the World Cup Final. If you caught the train at Goldens Bridge early enough, you definitely made it back to NYC in time to catch the game. I know. I saw Julia’s Instagram stories. 😉
I couldn’t get my body to move fast enough so I stayed. I somehow managed to avoid spoiling the tournament results long enough for me to watch a recorded stream of the game and had my own celebratory dance in my apartment.
I’d like to say that riding back was much easier than riding to camp but I’d be lying.
It was just as bloody hot in the mountains on Sunday as it was Saturday, and by the time we got on the North-South County Trails my legs were shot. My hips started to hurt. My body wanted to sleep and hibernate for the rest of summer. Any level of elevation was a challenge. I’d like to shout-out Cat for riding sweep and staying in the back. I appreciate you.
When we got back into Manhattan on the Hudson Greenway, we all pretty much split up. I made it to Chambers Street, where the ride started the day prior. I really wanted to bike back home to Borough Park. After all, I did a total of 130 miles over two days. What’s another 10 miles?
I couldn’t. Just thinking about climbing the Manhattan Bridge made my muscles seize so I gave in. I biked to the nearest station and took the train. From Church Avenue, I biked the two miles home. Shower and bed never felt so good.