New York City Five Boro Bike Tour

 

Starting Line Wait

           On May 1st, 2005, I rode in the New York City Five Boro Bike Tour ...this being the very first time I have ever participated in a formal and scheduled bike ride.   I have to admit I was quite anxious about getting involved, especially if I would not be able to complete the entire course.    I could only imagine a headline in the New York Times the next day reading “Old Timer Collapses in Middle of Bike Race”, with a picture of me lying prostrate on the ground looking up at the rescue squad.   But that did not happen and I did complete the ride. 

            Now here is my story: Jack (a friend who came from Maryland to do the ride with me) and I were on the Subway train at 6:15am heading down to Battery Park in Manhattan from our hotel on the Upper West Side.  We knew there would be many others participating in the ride, but who would have expected this train station and our train to be full with riders and their bicycles all heading in the same direction.   They were generally smiling and happy and here I was nervous and concerned...well, they were all young and I was not.   

            Getting off at the Chambers Street station (doing what we were told) we soon arrived at the rear of the queue that was setting up for the ride.   We actually arrived reasonably early and were only about six blocks back from the starting line....a starting line that was about forty riders wide as far as the eye could see in front of us and rapidly filling in behind us.    

We were told that about 30,000 riders were registered for the event, and while it is one of the biggest rides in numbers of people, I had no idea just what that meant in the space that was needed to make it happen.   This was a massive number of riders and an enormous logistical support was required to make such an event a success.    

The details of the tour is a forty-two mile ride taking us through all five boroughs of the city, beginning at Battery Park and ending in Staten Island, where we would ride the ferry back to the starting point.   The ride officially began at 8:00 am and it took about fifteen minutes until I was able to get moving.  Unfortunately, it started to drizzle while we were waiting for the ride to begin and the rain soon became heavier as we started to pedal.   Our progress was in fits and starts for many miles as we rode up 6th Avenue waiting for the throng to spread out a little bit.   

The mass of riders did spread out as we entered Central Park, but by that time I was quite wet, having not dressed properly for the ride...look I believed the weather forecast that said the sun would be coming out and the temperature would be in the sixties.....now who doesn’t believe a weather forecast!   The wind from the ride was washing directly through my cotton shirt to my skin and with a temperature of about fifty-three degrees, I was freezing.  In fact, I thought seriously of quitting the race and heading back to the warm confines of my hotel room. 

But I did not want to quit and if the weather would improve I would then be kicking myself all over Manhattan.   So I continued and as we rode through Central Park, heading for the Bronx the rain slowed a little and I rode harder just to keep warm.  Some would have said that I rode with abandon, but it was with Jack and the 30,000 other riders that I shared the road.   I knew that if I was still cold, I could have quit after the ride into the Bronx, when we would return to Manhattan once again. 

So as we left Central Park, we rode through Harlem and then across the Madison Avenue Bridge into the Bronx (the second borough), where we could faintly see Yankee Stadium in the distance.  Pedaling faster, we soon came to the Third Avenue Bridge that would lead us out of the Bronx and toward the FDR Drive on the East side of Manhattan.  

 

Crossing the Queensborough Bridge

Waiting to Ride

 

An important note of clarification is due to here, so that all can understand that the route was not only choreographed throughout the city, but the NYPD did an extraordinary job of routing traffic away and protecting all the riders from any threat of other vehicles.   That is what made this ride so incredible.....we just had to follow those in front of us and not worry about traffic lights or other vehicles for forty-two miles. 

Returning to the ride, we now rode south on this highway...the FDR Drive that can scare you when you are driving in a car, but it petrifies you on a bicycle.   The ruts in the road, the potholes can swallow a biker in an instant.  In one part of the drive, we are riding through a covered area that is dark and only dimly lit by the daylight coming in from the side.   All I could do was watch the rider in front and see if he bounced signaling that he might have hit something in the road.   

But we made it through and I continued down the East side of Manhattan until we rode up onto the Queensborough Bridge at 59th Street, that would take us to ....yes, Queens....the third borough.   I was now drying up a little and not as cold so I decided to continue the tour.  Across the bridge we were in Long Island City ...I have not been there in many years and it looked absolutely no better now than it did then.   We then ride north to Astoria and had to make an obligatory stop at this rest site in Astoria Park.    We had to get off our bikes and walk through the stop where we were given water and bananas. 

I am sorry...I should have mentioned sooner that there were about five rest stops along the route in case we wanted to use the facilities.   But it was very cold; the lines very long and with that combination I would never have made it...successfully.   So each time a rest area was available, I plowed straight through...pedaling harder just to stay warm and kept my mind off other needs. 

Leaving Astoria on our way toward Brooklyn (Hooray, my hometown) I passed a White Castle hamburger place....I could not resist.   Went in and purchased a bunch of these small yummy, greasy pills...were they ever good and brought back some great memories.   Used the facilities, warmed up a bit and now with a full tummy off we went again.    Heading into Brooklyn, the fourth borough, we rode through Greenpoint, then Williamsburg and through the Red Hook sections.  

 

Riding on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway

 

I rode faster just remembering that in my day, even the policeman held hands when they patrolled these sections of the city.   But things were better now and we rode on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and then onto the Belt Parkway to reach the Verrazano Narrows Bridge that stretches across the Narrows Bay which links the Atlantic Ocean to the New York harbor.    The ride up to the bridge was long and steep and I huffed and puffed my way to Staten Island, the fifth borough.    

Once in Staten Island, we reached the Festival site...again an obligatory stop as we walked our bikes past the stands that offered food and other goodies.  But as with the other stops...rain from the morning and the previous days made the grassy areas a sloppy, muddy mess, so we just moved on.  By this time, we were just about four miles from the ferry ...the official end to the tour....we made it.  The sun came out and we soon reached the ferry landing that would take us back to Manhattan. 

We waited about thirty or forty minutes for the ferry, loaded on board where the cars and trucks usually go and were back at Battery Park in about twenty minutes.   Getting off the ferry, there were no more tour officials or NYPD keeping the traffic away...a very alarming situation......     After seeing a car and a taxi slam into each other, Jack and I decided to take cover...so we headed over to the waterfront and rode back to the hotel on the Riverside bike path...another six miles to the Upper West side of Manhattan.    

Well, that was it....I had a great time and was so glad that I did not quit.  Staying in the tour made it possible for me to see parts of the city that I have not experienced for many years.  The ride brought back many fond memories of life when I was young and I proved to myself that the ride was much easier than I had anticipated....   But that is what life is all about...challenges and experiences.

 

Looking toward the Verrazano Narrows Bridge Looking at Manhattan on the East River