The Tale of Two Forks
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- 7 min
Bicycling on Long Island has a questionable reputation among New York City-area cyclists. One reason, I think, is because the terrain is a lot more challenging and varied in places like Westchester County and across the Hudson in New Jersey and the not-quite-upstate New York counties of Rockland and Orange. Also, let’s not forget that most of Long Island is in Suffolk County, an area regarded as the worst in the USA for bicycling. But Long Island is also suboptimal for long-distance cyclists because one can only ride so far on Long Island before reaching the end of either fork. Nevertheless, there are plenty of good routes available, and a common way to expand the riding options is to ride along both forks of Long Island.
Over the last two weekends, I rode along the south fork to Montauk and along the north fork to Greenport, on two separate rides. The first was the annual Ride to Montauk, which I have ridden in some form or other since 2008, except for 2011. The second was what’s becoming a standard ride from Huntington to Greenport. Since I’ve done these rides—and recounted them on this site—so many times now, I won’t cover all the details, except for a few notes that were novel and stick out after the fact.
South Fork to Montauk
For the second year in a row, I skipped the full 150-mile route and opted instead for the 108-mile route that starts in Babylon. This year, I took advantage of the check-in in Brooklyn, at Atlantic Terminal, since that would spare me having to travel to Manhattan at 3:00 in the morning. However, that does not spare me from riding past bars at 3:00 AM when people are still out from the night before.
As I arrived, I met a first-time rider who was doing her first century. Almost immediately, she admitted to being nervous to ride her first century. She said she trained with the New York Cycle Club, doing the C-SIG program, and that her longest ride was 70 miles in the hilly Bergen and Rockland counties region that seemingly every NYCC ride goes to every weekend. A few other riders and I advised her that the Babylon to Montauk route is significantly easier than what she rode on those club rides. However, Long Island can present one unique challenge that doesn’t factor as much as other rides in the area: the wind.
The headwind on this year’s ride was as bad as it was in 2014. We tried pace-lining to mitigate the effects, but I couldn’t keep up with my riding partners. I had a 16 MPH average speed for most of the first 50 miles, but once we got to Dune Road, the unrelenting headwind pushed that average way down. I was pedaling at almost full strength and the fastest I could manage was a meager 11 MPH.
Once I knew I couldn’t set a personal best for this ride and that we would be taking the 5:30 PM train home, I took it easy and kept a manageable pace to enjoy the scenery.
And to savor multiple slices of pie.
I finished the ride about fifty minutes slower than last year’s effort and managed a 15.1 MPH average speed, almost two full miles-per-hour slower than last year and about the same as what I did in 2014. However, because I took it easy, I wasn’t as exhausted afterward as I was in 2014. I told my friend Andre that I had another twenty miles in me. But aside from going to the lighthouse and back, I couldn’t go any further. I had really reached the end of the road. Besides, I really wanted to eat and have a beer.
North Fork to Greenport
This past weekend, I went with a small group from Huntington to Greenport, a ride that I’ve done a number of times now. Although you’re ever only about fifteen or so miles from the Montauk route, this is a significantly different ride. There are a few rolling hills on this ride, and Belle Terre east of Port Jefferson is certainly a noteworthy climb. Another way that this ride was different from last week’s Montauk ride was the wind on the Greenport ride was “favorable.” It was mostly from the north but later in the day, the wind began pushing us east. It was a welcome respite from the Montauk ride the week before.
The easy riding conditions made it so that we weren’t too hungry. Instead of eating at the crowded and expensive deli in Miller Place, we instead used the opportunity for a brief rest. A shaded porch welcomed us, but some big-city skepticism made us resist the temptation. We continued eastward.
As we usually do on these rides, we stopped for pie. Another group of cyclists also arrived at Briermere Farms in Riverhead at the same time as us. Their aim was to eat a strawberry rhubarb while we set our sights on a blueberry crisp.
When I asked where they were riding, one rider told me they were headed to Orient to catch a ferry. Their ultimate destination was Boston over a four-day period. It so happened that one of my friends was doing that same ride and, as soon as that thought crossed my mind, he rolls up to the pie stand. Hello Harry L!
About eleven miles later, partly on my insistence, we stopped at Lieb Cellars, a winery in Cutchogue. I had been there in January on a day trip, and I really enjoyed the dry sparkling cider. We split a bottle before heading out on our final eleven-mile stretch to Greenport.
After a few sandwiches and a few beers, and yes, that pie, we were on our way to the train.
The only thing that is a big minus about these rides is the amount of time one spends on a train at the end of the rides. Each ride, from Montauk or from Greenport, takes about three hours to return to New York. Doing this on consecutive weekends can test your patience.
It might be time to ride somewhere else this coming weekend.