Sometimes riding in the rain is nice. The pattering of droplets against your body as you cruise around has a meditative quality that’s different from cruising around on a beautiful sunny day. Sure, it’s inconvenient but what really gets you, what really chills you to the core and makes you wish you were anywhere else but the flat surface of 9G is the wind.
Combine the wind with camping gear strapped to your steel bike, and you have a recipe for “I’ve made a huge mistake.”
Of course, my first overnight bike-camping trip in April was anything but a mistake.
Micro Tours – a primer
What is a Micro Tour? It’s a weekend-long, overnight bike-camping trip hosted by 718 Cyclery, a Brooklyn-based bicycle shop specializing in bike adventures.
I’ve been following this shop since I first moved to NYC almost five years ago, and have read their “Ride Reports” longingly. It was the perfect marriage of bicycling, touring, and camping — things I grew up on but haven’t partaken much as an adult.
In addition to these weekend excursions, 718c also does one week-long bike-camping trip, as well as numerous workshops and clinics. The shop folks are really friendly, and what better way to get to know your local bike shop than to go on a weekend trip with them?
Grand Central Station
There were about 20 riders on this trip, four of whom were women (represent!). We met at Grand Central to catch the 8:30 a.m. train to Poughkeepsie. Not an easy feat for a first-timer living in the ass end of Brooklyn.
I haven’t biked regularly in almost two years — shameful, I know — and so biking across a bridge, into Manhattan with camping gear seemed a bit daunting. Of course, even taking the train in NYC can be easier said than done.
Schlepping my heavy bike up and down steps was out of the question but I also wanted a straight shot to Grand Central. I knew carrying my bike down stairs was going to be easier than trying to carry it up so I biked a few blocks to the Fort Hamilton N station. This would’ve been a one-seat ride with a short walk to Grand Central.
Of course, this was too good to be true.
The MTA had different plans. There were no N trains running along that line. They were running on the D line — the stations of which are not wheelchair accessible and do not have elevators. At least, not the ones anywhere near where I live.
Flustered. Annoyed. Shaking an imaginary fist at the MTA and cursing Governor Cuomo, I take my phone out to map out the closest station with an elevator. Good thing I left earlier than I needed to.
A quick 12-minute ride up to the Church Avenue F station became my go-to solution for this tour and the next.
I switched to the 6 train at Broadway-Lafayette, and got to Grand Central. I wasn’t counting on the elevator to be out of service here. Perfect. I looked around the exits. One staircase up to Grand Central terminal. I guess that’s not too bad.
Except for the homeless woman watching me at the top of the stairwell, I was alone. I did a few quick breaths to pump myself up and hoisted my bike. I pushed myself up the stairs as fast as I could. I almost fell backwards — all the weight being towards the back.
I made it. My arms felt strained. Holy shit, this is heavy. I caught my breath and rolled along.
Train to Poughkeepsie
The group spread out along the train, being mindful of other passengers. After doing a bit of puzzle work with our bikes, we settled into our seats.
It’s amazing how many bikes you can fit into a train car, and it’s comical to watch people’s faces as they boarded and saw all these bikes strapped to the train car.
It’s a smooth two hours to Poughkeepsie. We learned that the trails on Breakneck Ridge are closed because of a mudslide. I hoped those people found alternative activities.
When we pulled into Poughkeepsie, our group did the elevator dance — packing as many stuffed bikes as possible and getting to the street.
Too Many Hills Too Soon
After a few minutes to regroup in the parking lot, we made a detour to the Walkway Over the Hudson. The weather was pleasant, and the bridge was nearby but wasn’t expecting the hill, or any hill so soon on the ride.
This was my first “I’ve made a huge mistake” moment.
I trudged along and took my time. I willed my legs to move, to push on the pedals and carry my body and gear ever upwards. I quickly learned that on this ride, “no drop” is no drop, and you go the pace you’re comfortable with. I continued up the hills. The ride leaders knew this was my first serious ride in a long time.
The wind was strong on the walkway. Strong enough to throw us over the railing and into the waters below, if we were any lighter. The view was serene. The sun was shining, the wind visible in the aggressive ripples on the river’s surface, and a bunch of wind-swept adventurers itching to get on. Heavy droplets began falling from the sky, staining the light concrete of the walkway. It was our cue to get out asses going.
Ice Cream, Always
There’s an unofficial rule among cyclists on group rides that dictate we stop for ice cream, always. We didn’t get far before we stopped at a small stand akin to Rita’s. The rains started soon after we stopped.
The Road to Rhinebeck
The ride to Rhinebeck was an uneventful affair. The rains came in spurts, the cars kept a wide berth. It was cold but nothing like it would be the next day.
It’s about 15 miles from Poughkeepsie to Rhinebeck. I kept mostly to the rear of the pack. I was slow. My legs burned. My lungs ached. I was ready to give up.
When we arrived in Rhinebeck, I immediately thought of Frederick, Maryland. Except, maybe Rhinebeck wasn’t as old-timey looking. It just had a similar small-town feel with cute shoes and food.
The group stopped at Bread Alone (and the neighboring liquor store) to rest and replenish.
This is when I first realized there was a 120 pound dog in our midst. One of the riders had a dog trailer with dog and camping gear loaded. He kept exclaiming, “180 pounds!”
This guy wins an award.
The last 5 miles was brutal. My legs were jelly and the added 1-2 pounds from the nearby grocery store stop wasn’t doing me any favors.
My hamstrings were on the precipice of shearing. They’ve been hinting a mutinous pull since the town stop. I kept pedaling. Almost there.
I dismounted when we got to the park. The gravel path felt unsteady under my wheels and if there was a moment for a fall, this was it. I walked my bike to the camp site — another uphill struggle.
A weight lifted when I pulled up to the covered picnic area. I made it. I looked around, took in the green of the field around us and the rippling of the oversized pond (to call it a lake would be error). I felt good.
Just off to the side of the picnic area was a raised shelter. In a feat of mixed craziness and genius, five us fit our tents in the cozy space. We thought the walls, plus our collective body heat would keep us warm but alas, that setup had nothing on the low 40s overnight temp.
It. Was. Freezing.
R.I.P. Breakfast Food
The next morning was grey and dreary. Two groups set off before 8 a.m. to beat the coming rain. I stayed with the last group and took my time packing and stretching my legs.
As more people woke up and prepped for breakfast we discovered an inconvenient truth. Someone had taken all the breakfast ingredients. Eggs. Spinach. Tortillas. Spices. Even a knife and bottle of oil.
Text messages were sent. No answers were found. Jokes on the (accidental) thief because my group rode into Rhinebeck for a diner breakfast.
With our bellies full and bodies caffeinated we set off towards Poughkeepsie. The rain followed.
A Pack of Wet Pups
That’s how I’d describe us, spread out at the Poughkeepsie train station, drying off our soggy jackets and socks.
The rain came down in large droplets, the impact of which felt greater than it probably was because of the wind and wooshing of cars. The extra spray from the passing cars along 9G was unpleasant but as long as we were moving, everything felt warm. When we stopped my legs revolted and the warmth dissipated into nothingness.
Despite the layers, I was cold. My hands, my face, my core. It was a mix of delight and misery. Like I said, the biking in the rain isn’t so bad. It’s the fucking wind that kills you.
The station house was a sight of relief. We had two hours to relax and warm up before the next train, and another two hours to Grand Central.
I was beat but I enjoyed every bit of the ride. So much so that I signed up for Micro Tour 2, two weeks later, at the last minute.