Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Day 1: New York City to Wurtsboro

August 30. Some projects you don’t talk about; you just do them. It’s not exactly bad luck to air one’s plans, but people are going to react and say whatever comes into their heads; you don’t always want to hear that. I didn’t tell many people that I was going to ride my bicycle to Toronto, and they’re probably just as happy that they didn’t know in advance. Now I’m going to discuss what happened, and we can all enjoy it.

The main route north out of the city is on the Jersey side as the George Washington Bridge is the only crossing with pedestrian access until much farther up the Hudson River valley. Bikers use 9W all the time to have a vigorous ride along the invisible Palisades, and the towns of Piermont and Nyack are chock full of cyclists in all their gear every weekend. So I wasn’t surprised to be passed by several whizzing past on their Cannondales and Treks just after dawn while I labored steadily with my kit tied onto the back.

I’ve always done these trips with any old plastic bag stuffed with an extra tee shirt and an inner tube, but this time I decided to get something really built for the road. It fit neatly onto the rack with two bungee cords and worked wonderfully, side pockets for the little things you need regular access to, and a second little case that fits under the seat with velcro straps for my electrolyte fizzy tablets, the wheel lock key, tire repair stuff, cash. After hitting a sharp bump, I couldn’t help reaching back to feel that everything was still tied on there. It always was.

The downtown New York skyline [above] looks terrific from the bridge at that hour, and I stopped to take a quick snapshot to record the moment of setting out, scarcely believing the plan I had hatched. My habit on trips like these is to cover as much ground as possible starting as early as it is safe to set out, partly to beat the afternoon heat, but also to convince myself that the plan is actually viable. When you’re having a second breakfast in a local diner with people barely awake and realize you’re already 30 miles from home, it all starts to seem more plausible.

However, the first major hill I climbed into Harriman State Park was extreme, one of only two moments in the entire trip where I had to dismount and push the bike. Long, punishing grades are manageable as long as the bike can be propelled forward steadily, even if it’s only at 2 mph. But when the rise is so steep that each turn of the pedals nearly brings you to a halt, I can’t continue, not if the plan is to stay mounted for 10-12 hours a day. At the top, inside the park, I encountered two guys getting their bikes off a car rack, who greeted me cordially. A doe and her fawn crashed through the woods next to us, the fourth pair of the morning, they said. I asked them about water access as I was already running dry, and they told me there was a tap in the picnic area up ahead. I said my destination was Monticello, which surprised them; one handed me an energy bar. The lake water was warm, and the beach at Welch Lake, one of seven in that short stretch, looked inviting. The descent out of the park on the west side was long and steep as well, and I saw day-trip bikers struggling their way up looking quite put out.

The next stretch upon exiting Harriman involved back roads winding around route 17 into a series of towns that I don’t recall much. A few were heavily populated with orthodox Jews in their regalia as those areas are popular with them, some for rural getaways but many who prefer to live there permanently. In the late afternoon a nice local guy walking his dog in the town of Goshen gave me directions for a good back route to Wurtsboro and said he had moved up there 20 years before while still commuting to his job in the city, one of the first to do so. Then 9/11 occurred and many more decided to decamp to a quieter, more suburban life. I told him that my final destination was Toronto, since he asked, but at that early stage I usually keep mum. I had consulted him after trying the Indian family that ran the local general store in that town, but they had no idea what I was talking about and did not appear to be fluent in English. It’s odd that people in charge of such a strategic resource as a store like that would be so cut off from the town’s life.

It was getting late by the time I coasted down the mountain into Wurtsboro, named after Mr. Wurts, an early immigrant settler. It has a long main street with shops for city tourists, and a Mexican restaurant where the kindly waitress gave me a glass of water even though I wasn’t yet a customer. The motel on the corner was just right, lots of families out for the Labor Day weekend preparing their barbecues, children everywhere, the attendant cordial, no problem with the bike.

The route: From my flat in Inwood @ 214 Street down Broadway to the George Washington Bridge pedestrian access ramp @ 176 and across the bridge. The exit gate on the New Jersey side is not opened until 6 a.m., and I’m the first to go through it from the city. I take 9W north towards Nyack but cut west onto 340 before Piermont into Sparkill and Orangeburg, then pick up 303 to Blauvelt and 59 west to Nanuet and Spring Valley, tracking the NYS Thruway on side roads. Missed the turnoff and ended up on U.S. 202, Haverstraw Road, a rural route through the woods bordering Harriman State Park, hardly any traffic at that hour. Eventually took Call Hollow Road to Willow Grove Road (County Road 98) into the park, then a killer climb up to Lake Welch where I had to dismount. At Welch Lake I stop briefly to enjoy the beautiful, clear autumn day, lots of people fishing. Emerging from the park I’m forced to take busy route 17 for a few miles until escaping the highway onto secondary roads, 17M to Chester and Goshen, where I get directions for back ways into Hasidic Bloomingburg and Wurtsboro. Too late to continue to Rock Hill and Monticello. Total distance Fort Lee to Wurtsboro, 79 miles, add 3 for the access to Fort Lee, total 82 miles through mountainous terrain.


Anonymous said...

I am very impressed! Geri

Taaj Jaharah said...

great start