Last Sunday, I organized a small group of cyclists from the New York Cycle Club on a ride from Newark, New Jersey to Philadelphia, as I had previously noted on this site.
When I boarded the PATH train at World Trade Center, there were about a dozen, mostly black cyclists that boarded with me, holding their bicycles as we travelled under the Hudson River. When we arrived at Newark Penn Station, we found that there were dozens more waiting in the lobby, and when we emerged outside, there were well over a hundred more cyclists waiting to start riding. Clearly, there we stumbled upon a some kind of cycling event.
One of the cyclists gathered outside Newark Penn Station asked us where we were headed and if we were going through New Hope. We said that we were going to Philadelphia and that, yes, we planned to ride through New Hope.
He then invited us to ride with the group, noting “we have a police escort.” The video below shows the peloton riding through the streets of Newark. You can see the NYCC cyclists scattered at the back of the pack at about 1:10.
The ride we stumbled upon was the annual New Hope Ride, organized by Major Taylor Cycling Club of New Jersey. This club traces its roots back to the 1970s when two sisters formed a cycling club in response to “the discrimination they experienced while riding with other NYC cycling clubs.” The club’s namesake, Major Taylor, was an African American cyclist who set numerous world records at the turn the of the twentieth century while facing racial discrimination and persecution.
Major Taylor, the namesake of the club we rode with on Sunday’s ride to Philadelphia.
After the rest stop in New Brunswick, at about mile twenty-five, I found that these cyclists could ride much faster than I could, so we detoured back to our planned route and continued on our way. Nonetheless, it was certainly an extraordinarily great experience to stowaway on this club’s event, taking advantage of their police escort and to blow through countless red lights through the streets of New Jersey. In this racially charged climate we live in today, especially after the violence in Charlottesville just the days earlier, we also rode in unity and in solidarity.
I lost count how many times I’ve ridden my bicycle from New YorkNewark to Philadelphia, but I’ll be doing this ride again on Sunday, August 13. The ride will run through the New York Cycle Club and is listed on their Upcoming Rides page (look for the “Cheesesteak Century”). If you are a member, you can sign up for the ride through this direct link.
After a ride to Montauk, I consider this to be a ride that every NYC-area cyclist must do at least once.
More likely than not, we’ll be doing the same route I’ve done the last few times, most recently in December 2015. However, if I have an intrepid group of riders with me that day, I’m tempted to try a more challenging route that crosses the Delaware River at New Hope, Pennsylvania and reaches Philadelphia through the northwest suburbs, instead of the usual route that crosses the Delaware at Washington Crossing.
The last time I tried to do this ride in the summer was as a first-leg of a ride to Baltimore. But this in the middle of brutal heat wave. Temperatures during the ride were as high as 103° so after I arrived in Philadelphia, I packed up my bike and shipped in home. I continued to Baltimore on a Mega Bus.
The ride is based on another “summer classic” ride by John Ferguson, author of the Riding the Catskills blog. Ferguson’s ride starts at Southeast station in North Brewster and goes through some very quiet roads, long stretch of gravel paths, and long descents. We also started our ride at Southeast station, but as city slickers, we adapted the course to follow more paved roads than the original course. (Thanks, Brian!) However, there was plenty of pastoral beauty among the rolling hills of the course.
And there were constant reminders that you’re riding through farm country, such as a rusted tractor that functions as a lawn ornament.
Some of those reminders, like the smell of fresh cow manure, didn’t photograph well so use your imagination for those.
Though both Ferguson’s route and our citified club version end in New Hamburg, I learned that some of my friends were hiking in Beacon that day, and I was drawn to meet them there for some après–hiking/biking activities. Failing in my role as a ride leader, I left the group at mile 67 and took the Dutchess Rail Trail to Hopewell Junction and headed southwest on NY-82 and NY-52 until I arrived on the eastern edge of Main Street in Beacon.
Nearly a decade ago, when I first went to Beacon, the falls near the (improbable) junction of Main Street and East Main Street, was only an abandoned factory.
On this day, there was a wedding on those grounds. I caught the tail end of the wedding party heading to the reception hall.
As I arrived in town slightly ahead of my friends, I stopped by the new-to-me Denning’s Point Distillery near the corner of Main and Chestnut Streets. Like most new distilleries, most of their products are “un-aged.” They offer two vodkas (one straight and one flavored), a gin, a rye moonshine, and an American whiskey, aged for seven years, that they bought from a distillery in Kentucky.
The rye moonshine was surprisingly smooth, especially considering how much trouble I had with another unoaked rye whiskey. I didn’t ask, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was filtered at least once to tone down the white-dog effect. I finished my tasting with the aged whiskey, which was the subject of a photograph I asked a fellow visitor to take of me.
After the distillery, I found my friends and headed to another new-to-me brewery. Beacon’s 2-Way Brewing is located in a multipurpose office park building, which reminded me a lot of what you see in Southern California.1 But what it lacks in architectural charm, it makes up in proximity to the Metro North station at Beacon. It’s about a five-minute walk to the station, making a convenient place to end a day-trip to Beacon. As for the beer, I only tasted their Beacon Brown ale, because I like alliteration, and Climb High PA, to salute my hiking friends.
Both were solid offerings, but nothing that stayed with me. That might be because the place smelled a lot like Pine Sol, which likely overpowered my senses, and because I had a really delicious Orangeweisse by Rushing Duck Brewing at Quinn’s earlier that day that really hit the spot, as they say.
But that’s not to say that we didn’t spend any time at the brewery. We kept missing trains until we finally caught the “ten oh-eight,” the last direct train to New York.
When I visited my cousin in Orange County late last year, I noted that most every cool place out there—a brewery, a music venue, a record store—was located in an office park. ↩
Remember how I seemed pretty cool to the whole Apple Watch thing? As certain as I was that this new piece of technology would be expertly designed, well-constructed, and very user-friendly, I could not figure out what function it would serve that my iPhone wasn’t already doing. After all, the wonderful thing about a smartphone is that it is the computer you always have with you. Reaching for it, I reasoned, will always be easy.
Or so I thought before going on a bike ride today.
Last Saturday, I had planned to ride to the Panera Bread in Northvale, New Jersey with the cycle club.1 But, bitterly cold temperatures, icy roads, and the closure of the George Washington Bridge pedestrian/bicycle path kept me off the bike for the entire weekend. Feeling restless, I rode to my various jobs this entire week, which I had not been able to do since mid-December, and, today, I scheduled a makeup ride to Northvale to eat that long-awaited soup–and–half-sandwich combo.
A “Bicycle for the Mind” for the Bicycle
It was on today’s ride through Bergen and Rockland counties that I recognized the utility of a smartwatch. I could care less about monitoring my heart rate, my speed/cadence, and elevation gain during a ride. At one time, that mattered to me, but in the last few years, I don’t consider it as important. No, as someone who likes to explore new routes and brewery tap rooms, it’s really important to not end up horribly lost. An Apple Watch would actually be really helpful as a navigation aid because, even on group rides, we often have to stop to find directions.
Decades ago, Steve Jobs called the computer a “bicycle for our minds” because he saw it as a tool that can elevate the human mind above its natural ability. Similarly, applications elevate the computer from a machine to a tool. What made iPhone different from all other smartphones and PDAs before it were all the apps developed for it. Although I never had a smartphone before getting an iPhone 3G in 2008, I did have a series of Palm PDAs. Those were useful personal organizers and decent notetakers. However, each one was really limited—not because it had a crummy screen or required a stylus to use, but because it simply didn’t do very much. Today, I have about 200 apps loaded on my iPhone, including task managers, an array of readers and writing apps, and apps for dozens of other functions. I may not regularly use all 200+ apps, but having them gives my iPhone purpose, especially compared to the PDAs and smartphones of yore.
For the past two cycling seasons, I’ve been using a Garmin Edge 200 on my long bike rides. I can track my speed, my distance pedaled, the time of day, and if I load my course before heading out on the road, which I almost always do, I can follow a route. I know I could use my iPhone with some app, such as Strava or Ride with GPS, to function like my Garmin, but there are a lot of drawbacks to this. On a warm day, the battery can power my Garmin for over 12 hours; the battery inside my iPhone might not. If I get caught in a rainstorm, my Garmin is water-resistant, whereas soaking my iPhone would be devastating. And, the plastic-and-rubber Garmin sits on my handlebars taking various shocks and shakes from our bumpy potholed roads: I’m not certain my glass-and-metal iPhone would fare as well.
The Garmin is only useful because of the various websites that communicate with the device. The stock Garmin Connect is fine for beginners, but the third-party apps are much, much better. For example, Strava is for those who obsess over every esoteric metric imaginable, and Ride with GPS is for those who love to plan routes, as I do. In due time, I can see the latter two making apps for the Apple Watch, just as they do for iPhone and other smartphones. Their smartwatch apps could communicate with an iPhone, securely stored in a Ziploc bag and safely tucked away in a jersey pockets. In fact, I’ll bet dollars to donuts that both of these companies have at least considered developing for the Apple Watch. Sorry, Garmin.
Free to Escape
The great thing about going on a long bike ride is to escape life for a few hours, which is why I rode a lot during the latter half of 2014. Though I keep my phone stashed away in my pocket during a ride, I can still hear it dinging and feel it buzzing whenever I get a new message, phone call, or some other notification. Today, I heard a series of alerts as I pedaled through the relatively quiet suburban streets of Bergen County, New Jersey. I tried to put those distractions out of my mind, but as a product of the digital age, I simply could not. As soon as I encountered a red traffic signal, I hurriedly pulled out my phone to check who had been messaging and calling me. Fortunately, none of the callers had anything pressing to tell me, but right there, I recognized the value of having a smartwatch. Instead of kvetching about "who could be trying to reach me right now," I could have just glanced at my watch, saw that it was a doting relative, and continued on my way.
Part of me is bothered that I have cannot have a few hours on a bike without being interrupted, but I realized today that a smartwatch is a piece of technology that allows me to do what I want without being disconnected. Twenty years ago, when mobile phones started to become a thing, one of my mentors said that she would never carry a cell phone because she wanted to preserve the freedom from always being reachable. It was a sensible argument at the time. A few years later, after I got some Nokia candy-bar phone, I realized that the mobile phone didn’t tether me to work or other obligations, as I had feared. Instead, it allowed me to do whatever I wanted—and to go wherever I wanted. I didn’t have to sit by the phone waiting for someone to call me or, worse even, to keep calling my answering machine at home checking for any incoming messages.2 With a cell phone, I gained a new freedom from my landline telephone.
Maybe that’s what this new piece of technology—the Apple Watch with its plethora of apps and seamless connection to an iPhone—is supposed to do: ever-so-slightly liberate us from our older devices, even if one of those devices is only about eight years old.
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It’s something we did last year, and I thought it was funny that we were biking all that way just to eat at a ubiquitous bakery chain. ↩
Kids today—who probably never use voicemail—must presumably consider the practice of calling your home answering machine to retrieve messages a positively antediluvian ritual. ↩
A few days ago, the New York Cycle Club opened registration for its spring programs, including the SIG and the STS. The programs are the crown jewels of the club. The volunteer leaders run an instructional series, known as a SIG, for novice cyclists on how to improve their riding skills and a separate training series, known as an STS, to help more experienced types get in shape for the season. As a “B” rider, I did the B-SIG back in 2008, and have done the B-STS over the last two years…and again this year. If you find this interesting and want to signup, you’re probably too late. They fill up fast.
In addition to each SIG and STS at A, B, and C levels, the club president has added a new-for-2015 R-STS series for randonneurs. If you know me, you know I like to ride my bike for long distances and extended periods of time, but randonneurs are a whole different breed. It’s one thing to ride for twelve hours, from dawn to dusk, but it’s another to ride a 300K for twenty hours, mostly in the dark. That’s not for me, even if the final ride in May is only 200 km, because I know I’ll be beating myself for not having done a 600K in August.
But do you know what would be more to my liking? A Beer-SIG!
Although one club member led an “Autumn Leaves and Seasonal Hops” series, a Beer-SIG would probaby never happen as an official club series, but let’s make believe. It’s Friday the 13th; it’s a February day with a temperature of about 8° F outside; and tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. I say “bleh” to all these things. Instead, let’s imagine some places we would ride our bikes, in warm or even hot weather, with the intent to visit brewery tap rooms within our region.
Vault Brewing. This brewery is in the quaint town of Yardley, Pennsylvania in an old bank vault. It’s made for an excellent finishing point on the ride when I had a bad allergic reaction in October. It could also be a great lunch stop on the Cheesesteak Century because not only do they serve food, they serve a four-ounce pour for $2 to power you through the remaining thirty-five miles to Philadelphia.
Second Story Brewing. There’s a ton of places to choose in Philadelphia, but this one was great because it was big, they let us bring our bikes inside, and it was a short ride to SEPTA at Market East Jefferson Station.
Two Roads Brewing. We stopped here in November on club’s ride to New Haven, but it’s easy enough to make a ride that ends at this Statford, Connecticut–brewery. For one thing, the Metro North station is only about a mile away.
Crooked Ladder Brewery. Located in Riverhead, this was supposed to be the finishing point for the North Shore ride that I led in November. It’s easy enough to get home, if one doesn’t mind taking the 6:45 PM train home and getting back to NYC around 9:00 PM.
Greenport Harbor. One of my dream rides is a midseason Greenpoint-to-Greenport ride. It would be about 110 miles, and it would rule!
Blind Bat Brewery. This brewery is moving to Smithtown, Long Island from Centerport, and could be part of a short ride from Jamaica or a longer loop from Port Jefferson or something.
Captain Lawrence Brewing. Located in Elmsford, New York, it is sadly not near any train station, but it is about a mile or so away from junction of the North and South County Trails in Westchester County. From there, one can do a hilly five-mile ride to either Tarrytown or White Plains. Or one could head south on the trail and finish at the Bronx Brewery and take the 6 train home.
And these are just the ones that immediately come to mind.
When posting a ride for the New York Cycle Club, the ride leader is supposed to rate the rides based on the riding style (A, B, or C) and cruising speed we expect to maintain. I listed Sunday’s ride to Philadelphia as a B-ride, meaning that we would ride as a tight group but wouldn’t be pace-lining, cruising at about 17 MPH on flat terrain. However, I didn’t count on there being a really strong wind out of the north. That 10-15 MPH wind was at our backs the entire day and when it would gust to about 30 MPH, it was like a divine hand pushing us closer towards Philadelphia.
Five of us started pedaling from Bound Brook, New Jersey, at around 8:30 AM. At the beginning of the ride, we got a nice start, averaging close to 17 MPH. That was due to the fact that we were riding at 17-18 MPH and that we had open road ahead of us: there was no reason to slow down or stop. We made really great time to our first stop in Hopewell, twenty-three miles from the start, and continued at an accelerated pace towards the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border. We arrived in Washington Crossing, 35 miles from the start, at about 11:30 AM, where we encountered a dress rehearsal for a reenactment of Washington crossing the Delaware on Christmas night in 1776.
We didn’t have time to watch the whole thing, but we did stop to take a photo with a soldier.
We grabbed lunch in Yardley and even had time to each get a small four-ounce pour at the Vault Brewing, a personal favorite of one of our riders. Afterward, we sped through Pennsylvania, taking a different route than I did in July. Instead of riding through the industrial wasteland between the Delaware River and the Northeast Corridor railroad line, we rode along Trenton Avenue between Morrisville and Bensalem. It turns out that this particular road is designated as bike route PA-E and part of the East Coast Greenway. Over the twenty or so miles west of Yardley, we cruised at around 22 MPH. One guy in our group quipped, “I didn’t realize that this was a B22 ride to Philadelphia.”
Our hustle paid off, we arrived in Old City at around 2:45 PM. It was 15 minutes before our target time, and it gave us almost two hours in town before catching the ghetto train back to New York City.
When our waitress asked me if I rode to Philadelphia from New York often, at first I said, “no, not often.” But then I realized that this might be a worthwhile ride to keep doing. As long as there’s enough daylight, a swell group of riders, and beer at the end, this really is the best way to get to Philadelphia.
Earlier this year, I ticked off a ride that appears on most every New York City cyclist’s list of “Rides to Do.” It was a century ride to Philadelphia in mid-July.
As great as that ride, and the accompanying weekend with some of my greatest friends, was, my life more or less went south since then. It has been plagued by one big suck after another:
Sarah broke up with me.
I moved out of Long Island City. That was difficult because it’s where I lived the longest since leaving my parent’s home.
I couch surfed for two months. Then I moved into a place on the other side of the Newtown Creek.
A month later, I moved again. My new room doesn’t have a ceiling and has only some floor coverings. I now have to wear shoes or thick socks to walk around my own room. (But, hey, at least, I’m paying below market.)
During most of that time, I could barely walk because I had an ingrown toenail. The new toenail only grew back a few weeks later to cause even more pain and a nasty infection. It’s gross, I know.
The softball teams I played for this summer all lost. The Librarians and The Robots lost in the finals, and the Ball Busters did even worse, losing in the semi-finals. And likely one of the reasons the Librarians and Robots did as well as they did was because I was an emotional wreck and didn’t play in the playoffs
The softball team I quit won its league championship. That’s great for them, but it sucks to know they were better off without me.
I won’t be going to Greenport as much anymore. The reason I was riding towards Greenport, as often as I was, is moving to Nevada.
And let’s not even talk about “satisfactory academic progress.”
At this point, all that is keeping me going is some irrationally primal instinct to not die, a handful of great old friends (and some really nice new ones), and bicycling. The latter is why this blog has turned into an informal record of my rides. It’s the only thing I look forward to doing each weekend, and it’s the only thing that I enjoy doing all week. I’m even looking forward to riding in the rain for the first time ever.
In the spirit of revisiting a personal highlight and exorcising the demons that I might have agitated the last time I was in Philadelphia, I will be leading a ride to Philadelphia this Sunday with a small group of riders who are as obsessed with cycling as much as I am.
The ride will not be a full century as it was in July. For one thing, it’s December, and the days are short. Moreover, it’s going to be cold with a daytime temperature hovering around 40°. To make the ride a more palatable seventy-file miles, we’re going to start in Bound Brook, New Jersey, where I made my first food stop on July’s ride. Not only does that cut out the junk miles outside of Newark, it will also save all the day’s hills.
Since Philly is a lot more fun when you actually spend a bit of time there, we’ve charted a few places to go once we arrive. Current possibilities include 2nd Story Brewing in Old City, Strangelove’s near Center City, and the City Tap Room in University City. After that, we’ll head back on the ghetto train: the combination of SEPTA and NJ Transit trains back to New York, with a connection in Trenton.
And instead of being as sad as I’ve been over the last few months, going to Philly might make me angry. That has to be better, right?
Over the course of seven Thanksgivings together, Sarah and I would go to as many as three Thanksgiving Day dinners in a single day. We would eventually pare that down to one because the travel would be a bit draining, but even then, there was still a lot of food to eat. It was early in that period that I started to ride about fifty miles or so on Thanksgiving morning. A turkey trot, even one on two wheels, is one of the best ideas ever! I did one last year, and despite the temperature being well below freezing, we all pushed on and burned a couple of thousand calories in anticipation of all the food we would be eating.
This year, I volunteered to co-lead a ride to Piermont on Thanksgiving morning (membership required to view listing) because the usual leader is out of town. But this Thanksgiving eve, we had a Nor’easter pass through the region that threatened to blanket the area with freezing rain and snow, making the prospects of riding to Piermont seem grim.
Despite all the hoopla over the storm, the snow didn’t actually materialize. But my co-leader and I were concerned that the rain and freezing temperatures throughout Thursday would create icy conditions between the city and Piermont.
We were not interested in riding in such nonsense. As I said to him, I’d rather be called a chicken (for being scared of possibly non-existent icy roads) than a turkey (for slipping and sliding all the way to Piermont and back).
I was thrilled to have the chance to ride it again as it could very well be the last long ride I do before March. I even started in Greenpoint all the way to the start in the Bronx.
This year, I was deputized as a co-leader of ride and leader the “fast” group, riding at about an 18-MPH pace. As an official co-leader of the ride, I, in turn, deputized another rider as a co-co-leader of the fast group. Knowing that she is a beer aficionado, I asked her if she wouldn’t mind stopping by the Two Roads Brewing Company’s tap room in Stratford. Our route passed right in front of the brewery about 55 miles from the ride’s start in Pelham, and she agreed that we could not afford to miss an opportunity to fill our growlito for the train ride back to New York City.
After stopping in at the brewery, our small, “fast” group of four riders became even smaller. Our fearless co-leader had to return to the city for an important evening engagement, and another rider was taking it easy as he was returning from an injury earlier in the season. That left just me and one other rider to finish the route at our accelerated pace. The “slow” group, consisted of five riders, and rode at a more leisurely pace.
In all, I rode 92.8 miles, finishing in New Haven at about 4:20 PM. For as fast as we were going, the “slow” group must have finished no more than ten minutes behind us because they caught the 4:45 train back to New York. One of things that frustrates me about club rides is after traveling for many miles, we seemingly always arrive at our destination only to take to take a train right back to New York. It’s safe to assume that as cyclists, we’re an intrepid group and wouldn’t mind exploring a little.
My fellow rider agreed that we should at least grab some food and a beer before boarding the train in New Haven to New York City. Upon the recommendation of a staffer at Two Roads, we went to BAR on Crown Street, a huge restaurant-bar that welcomed us with a pint, a pizza, and a place to stash our bikes inside.
It made for a more interesting destination than the New Haven train station.
I arrived at Woodside to catch the 8:03 train to Huntington and met Harry, one of my fellow riders. As he and I spoke about the ride and the modifications I made, he said something like, “too bad we couldn’t go to Greenport.” I knew that we had a small group of four guys (including me) for this ride, and I knew one of them well. I said that if everyone was game, I was fine with going to Greenport and taking the late, 6:11 PM train back.
On the Huntington train, we met up with the other two riders, Brian and Joe. Harry and I asked them if they would mind riding an extra seven miles to go to Greenport, instead of Riverhead. Without hesitating, they both agreed.
After arriving in Huntington and exchanging Westhampton-New York train tickets for Greenport-New York tickets, we got on our bikes and, at around 9:30 AM, pedaled east toward Greenport.
Sunday was by far the warmest day of the weekend, with highs around 55° and, for the first time this year, the wind was coming from the west not the east or northeast. That’s right, I finally rode on Long Island without the wind in my face for the entire day.
A fellow club member, who I referred to as a club elder because I’ve seen his name on rides for years, emailed me earlier in the week to suggest taking a few back roads to avoid NY-25A and NY-25. I adopted about half of his suggestions, which added about 400 feet of climbing, and the modified route was absolutely worth the extra effort. The roads had rolling hills, which I personally love to ride, and were for the most part bucolic, tree-lined roads that wound around Long Island Sound. I didn’t take many photos because we were hustling up and down those rollers at a pleasant but accelerated pace.
Ducks on a Pond.
Because of the tail wind and the rolling hills, we progressed along our route at a very quick pace. For most of the ride, we averaged around 14 MPH and, as usually happens on a Long Island ride, we increased that average as continued further east. Because I was leading the ride, I purposefully kept a slower-than-usual pace, but I still finished with a 15 MPH pace.
We stopped for lunch at a market in Miller Place and, because I promised everyone pie, we stopped at Briermere Farms in Riverhead for a blueberry crisp pie that we all split.
Four guys. One Pie.
We left Riverhead at around 2:30 and continued for the final twenty miles along Sound Avenue and then on to Main Road in Mattituck. It’s hard to believe that even with a quick bathroom break at a winery in Peconic, we still rode the last 20 miles in about 75 minutes. We arrived by 3:45.
Because we arrived so early, we had over two hours to spend in Greenport. We had our customary burger-and-beer post-ride meal. The other three guys watched football. And then we went to the Greenport Harbor Brewery for a couple of pints and bought a growler for the train ride home. I even had time to greet a friend.
Speaking of Ducks… Black Duck Porter from Greenport Harbor Brewing.
One of the things I like about the New York Cycle Club is its structure. But it’s great when you gather a group that’s up for some spontaneous (and extra) riding. It makes for an unforgettable day.