(This is the third installation in the “All The Things I Should Have Been Blogging” series. I didn’t realize this was going to become a series; if you need to catch up, here is Part 1 and here is Part 2.)
Every year, the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia (BCP) hosts a ride in memory of a long-time club member and ride leader, Peter Odell. I had been reading the website for the ride for a few weeks, nervously going back and forth about whether or not I could do it. I got a boost of encouragement from several club members, and from the fact that I realized I had to be able to do it; I needed to be able to complete the distance if I was going to be ready for my century. While the support on the ride would be limited, just having a map and cue sheet, planned stops, and knowing there were other riders out there made it more attractive than trying to get that kind of distance solo.
I signed up for the 70-mile route, then got an email a couple weeks before the ride: there were only two of us signed up for that route. Did we still want to ride it? The organizer put the two of us in contact with each other so that we could discuss our options, and after talking about pacing and recent rides, we eventually decided to go ahead and stick it out. Neither of us felt ready for the 90-mile route, and neither really wanted to drop back to the 50-mile route; our paces sounded relatively compatible, so it seemed worth giving it a try.
On the morning of the ride, I left the house at an ungodly hour and drove to New Hope, PA, which would be the start point for the vast majority of the riders. Only a few people were leaving from downtown Philadelphia for the longer (135 miles) route; most were riding the 90 mile route. Those of us doing either of the two shorter routes left our cars in the New Hope parking lot and hopped on a tour bus that would take us to our start points. I met Chris, my ride partner for the day, for the first time that morning.
The bus dropped us off on a small side street near Neshanic Station, NJ. We took a few minutes to make sure we had everything situated, and then we rolled out on sleepy, Sunday morning streets. We got our wrong turns out of the way early, but neither cost us more than about an extra mile. Before too long, we were rolling through beautiful countryside. When we had to pass through towns, we always seemed to do so on roads that kept us off the busiest streets, and we only saw real traffic a few times. We briefly followed the Raritan River, then slipped through Somerville and skirted Bridgewater. We dipped into the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, sped through Wachtung Reservation, Echo Lake and Nomahegan Parks. Even as the towns we passed through became bigger and more dense, we just seemed to sneak by the traffic on our own little streets.
As we entered Elizabeth, we met up with three other riders — and this was the perfect place to have a bigger group. Traffic was heavy, and one of the other riders was familiar with the area, knew the route well, and guided us through traffic snarls (the local mall on a holiday weekend) and onto a huge, deserted road that was lined on both sides by giant stacks of shipping containers. Next thing I knew, we were at the part of the ride I’d been worrying about: to cross the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers, we had to merge onto the Lincoln Highway. I was glad for the extra visibility that comes with a slightly larger group of riders, and also glad for the experience and confidence of the other riders, who had done this before. Traffic was flying, but we made it across the bridges without trouble. Before I knew it, we were flying through Jersey City and into Hoboken.
I will probably never forget coming down 1st Street and suddenly having the view open up: the Hudson River and, over the water, Manhattan. It was awe-inspiring and invigorating! I know my jaw dropped and my eyes got wider, and I know that I didn’t care a bit if I looked like a slack-jawed tourist. I was! It was a beautiful sight, and I drank it in as we rode up the waterfront to the 14th Street Terminal. There was a ferry pulling out when we arrived, but we only had to wait 20 minutes for the next ferry, and then we and our bikes were chugging smoothly across the Hudson River.
In Manhattan, we stuck to the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway until we reached the Brooklyn Bridge. Of all the places we rode that day, this ended up being the most harrowing! The promenade on the Brooklyn Bridge is divided by a painted line, with one side marked for pedestrians and the other marked for bicyclists — but there were plenty of people who paid no mind to those markings! Chris went ahead of me, and it was surprisingly slow going, as tourists stepped out in front of us to take pictures, or wandered down the middle without looking. Chris was announcing us as we came up the bridge, “Bikes! Bikes! Out of the bike lane!” and while most people moved out of the way, one woman just stopped in the center of our path and didn’t move. Chris was barely able to stop in time — and by “stop”, I mean that he rode into the wall to avoid her. Who knew the most stressful part of the ride would be this bridge?
It was a relief to be off the bridge and winding our way through Brooklyn; it was an even bigger relief to roll up to an intersection and realize that we were THERE: a quick left turn and we were at the final destination: Nu Hotel, where we could see our bus at the curb, and others from the club already gathering. I didn’t have to wait long before it was my turn to get a hot shower, and then a couple local friends met up with Chris and I to go to dinner nearby. It wasn’t long after that before we loaded our bikes carefully into a Ryder truck, loaded ourselves onto the buses and made our way back to New Hope.
I was home shortly after midnight, and it almost seemed unreal that I’d spent the entire day on my bike, and traveled to and through Manhattan and Brooklyn. Chris, who I’d never met before, ended up being an amazing ride buddy — we were well-matched pace-wise, and I had the benefit of a ride buddy who has traveled all over the world and had neat stories to tell (I felt like I didn’t hold up my end of the conversation particularly well, but I know I enjoyed hearing his travel tales!) The route was like magic; according to the club, Peter Odell first mapped out the route in 1993, and the ride ended in Little Italy and Chinatown. The ride was extended into Brooklyn via the Brooklyn Bridge in 1997 and, despite increased development along the route, it has remained largely unchanged since. That is some skillful route mapping!
Overall, that day — and its total of 78 miles — will probably always be one of my favorite days of cycling.