NYC to Lake Tiorati in Harriman State Park

Micro Tour #7 is my fifth overnight bike camping trip with the wonderful folks of 718 Cyclery. Our destination: Lake Tiorati in Harriman State Park, roughly 52 miles from lower Manhattan. Unlike the previous Tours where we traveled along the South-North County trails, this ride took us over the George Washington Bridge, onto 9W in New Jersey, and included the infamous “Hill” (more on that later).

The alarm goes off. It’s 5:30 a.m. Saturday. The morning sky is still dark. I get up and begin loading up my bike for the weekend ahead. I struggle. Why is this so hard? Securing the camping gear isn’t going well. I start getting anxious as 6 turns into 6:05. I’m going to be late.

Eventually I get it and haul my bike down to the building’s front entrance. My panniers get caught in the doorway. I readjust but it doesn’t quite work. The awkward weight of the bike is unsteady. The door won’t stay open long enough for me to get through. This is where tantrums are born.

I don’t remember what happened but eventually I got out. I’m definitely going to be late.

I roll off into the lightening day. As I begin the first down stroke with my left leg I drop my peanut butter jelly sandwich. I watch it fall, in slow motion, onto the pavement and then get squished by my rear tire. I stop to throw my bike down and walk over to my PBJ. I pick it up and carefully assess the damage. After removing the very squished part I pop the rest of it into my mouth. Every bit of fuel is vital.

I’m having a right one this Saturday morning.

Chambers Street → Stairway to Heaven the GW Bridge

Mile 0 – 11

I expediently bike towards the Brooklyn Bridge. Sunrise is typically a great time to be on the bridge. There’s very little people and you get to watch the sun come up, laying its orange blanket across the city, onto the multiple bridges, and, like a Reading Rainbow commercial, greet you geekily.

Manhattan Bridge
View from the Brooklyn Bridge, looking out at the Manhattan Bridge as the sun rises

7:05 a.m. I make it to the starting point on Chambers Street and the Hudson River. I take a moment to catch my breath and collect myself before the ride officially begins. Familiar faces make everything better.

The sun was still low in the sky as we — roughly 20 of us — pedaled along the Hudson River Greenway. The wind nipped at us icily and passersby stared at us. We are, after all, a sight to behold.

At 175th Street, we stopped to regroup and Joe quickly reexplained the route to us. We were to go up a spiral staircase and cut through Washington Heights to collect even more riders and continue across the GW Bridge.

Compared to navigating the Bronx to get to Van Cortlandt Park, this was a milder on-street experience which I appreciate. Of course, what moment of contentedness I had riding from the spiral staircase to the bridge completely disappeared once we stepped foot (wheels?) into New Jersey.

The George Washington Bridge

Mile 11 – 12

Similar to crossing the Brooklyn Bridge at the peak of sunrise, crossing the GW Bridge and seeing the early morning rays sweep across NYC on the east and the Palisades on the west was a moment of peaceful bliss. I couldn’t really stop to take a photo but I wish I did or, at the very least, had an action cam akin to a GoPro to just whip out and capture a moment.

Traffic crossing the bridge is loud, but when you look over the bridge railing off into the distance, the sounds are muted. I couldn’t help smiling as I looked across the sun-kissed horizon on a bike loaded with camping gear. I was, as some people say, “present.” I can’t believe I’m on this bridge and going camping by bike!

The Undulation of 9W

Mile 12 – 24

Whatever idyllic image I had of what biking to the 9W Market entailed was quickly shipped away on the nearby river and replaced with brunt reality.

The ride, albeit on a mostly generous shoulder, was aggressive. This feeling of aggressiveness was made worse by (1) commentating Roadies and stealth pelotons, (2) the erratic undulations of the road, and (3) your uncle’s Ford F150 pickup truck variation careening down the road a little too close to you and your mates.

It’s like you’re still trying to escape NYC to get to the calm trail but NJ decided to join the game and make it more miserable. (Sorry, Jersey folks.)

After nearly 10 miles of rolling inclines — each varying degrees of steepness — in the crisp autumn air, we arrived at the infamous 9W Market. From what I understand, this is very popular among bike folks and it makes for a great turning point if you’re looking for a relatively easy day ride from NYC. Coupled with the food on offer, I can see why this place is so popular.

In my mind, I saw the Market as a literal farmer’s market. A roadside field with farm stands of locally grown produce and homemade baked goods. It’s not a farmer’s market. It’s a roadside restaurant-type place with wrap-around parking enough for cars, motorcycles, and bicycles alike. The main building houses cold cases with sodas, teas, and beers; there’s a shelf full of packaged goods; and display cases of deliciousness from quiche and cookies to hearty-meal food stuffs like potato salad and mac n’ cheese. And they have coffee. Very important.

cyclists enter the 9W Market
The 9W Market: a popular stop for cyclists (718 Cyclery)

Further back in the building, there’s a sizeable dining area with two, four, and communal seating. It’s got a nice homey feel, perfect for relaxing in after over 10 miles of riding.

dog begging for food
Luna, doing what dogs do

If it’s crowded inside, there’s ample seating outside, including a fire pit which must be great on the cooler days. Around the other side of the building is a counter stand, which I presume is open during peak summer. I imagine this is where you get homemade ice cream and other summer favorites. Behind this stand is even more outside seating that gets direct sunlight. Despite being on a heavily trafficked roadway, once you sit down and relax, you don’t hear the road traffic.

Out of the Thickets and Onto All the ‘Views-on-the-Hudson’

Mile 24 – 32

After everyone was rested and refueled, we continued northward. A small group split off to do some gravel riding. It sounded fun and I would’ve preferred any route that took me away from the hills and cars but I wasn’t convinced my slim tires would survive the off-road adventure so I opted to stay on the road.

It was two more miles before the scene changed to something less annoying and arduous than silent pelotons and oversized, speeding, multi-ton death machines.

At about mile 26 came signs of small-town life.

Piermont. Grand View-on-Hudson. The Tappan Zee Bridge. South Nyack and its northern siblings regular Nyack and Upper Nyack. All abutted on the east by the Hudson River. Ironically, I have no words to describe the river, and even if I tried, it wouldn’t do the view much justice. But I’ll try in a moment. First, though, the homes along the Hudson.

It’s a quaint string of a dwellings that are erect in these towns along the Hudson. Some are simple wood-brick hybrids with a homey feel. Something your Nana might live in and you visit once in a while. Other homes, as might be expected on such prime real estate, were quite unbecoming. They belong, in my humblest opinion, in those godawful McMansionvilles I often encountered throughout Maryland. Just. God. Awful. And not just in their sheer size but architecture, too. They break the rules of good design and not in any good way. I’ll leave it that, and good thing there were less of those than humble river-side homes.

to be continued…

Published by Gina

Writer and photographer in Brooklyn, NY.

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