Bringing Cliff Home – Final

August 17, 2016 § Leave a comment

When I first started to help Cliff plan this trip, we talked about his final day on the bike, and it just felt like that day should be a Bear Mountain to Sea Bright via Manhattan ride. Most of the route is very familiar to us already because we have utilized Fort Lee as a starting point for more than a few round trips to Bear Mountain. Cliff and others did once take the ferry to Manhattan, do the round trip to Bear Mountain, and then the ferry home again, so even the West Side Bike path is not unfamiliar territory.

With mileage for the day only in the low 70’s, there wasn’t any pressing need to do anything early. We all lazily arose when we wanted and agreed to meet for breakfast around 8 and we would depart for home no later than 9:30. The only question that still needed to be answered was whether or not we would start with a traditional climb to the top of Bear Mountain. The issue was not one of ability or desire, but one of timing. With the mid-week nature of this ride, we didn’t have a NJ crew to meet at Palisades Interstate Park, but we did want to be at the park by a certain time where Michael would trade in his SAG duties, and grab his bike for the final miles home. In addition we would rendevouz with Cliff’s daughter and son-in-law at the red lighthouse under the GW on the Manhattan side. Cliff just wasn’t feeling like we were going to make that if we climbed Bear Mountain, and in the end, we cut Bear Mountain out. Sorry Dougie, we will have to try this again another time.

Our route overlaps with a cycling super highway. Weekends see a steady stream of NY cyclists cross the GW and follow “bicycle 9” signs at least as far as Nyack, but many proceed as far as Bear Mountain. We ourselves, have done this route many times. The route is hybrid of NJ 9, Ny 9W and local roads and then Route 202 merges in. There are some dodgy shoulder areas, and there are other areas that are simply off-the-beaten-path local low traffic roads. There are two sections on 9 where I felt there might be alternatives, and after a scouting trip with John Lewer I found that there was only a partial alternative to one section, and no alternative to the other. On Google maps with the bicycle enabled shows a bike path from North Nyack all the way to Haverstraw, however, in reality the path is good only half way for a road bike. The rest requires something more sturdy. The other section is just south of Bear Mountain where 9/202 traverses Dunderberg Mountain at Jone’s Point. There is a bike path bypass, but it also is not for road bikes.

If you aren’t on a bicycle, and you aren’t from this area, you would probably never know the little towns that our route home. Until we get to Jersey, most of the towns are defined by the highway that runs through them, be that Rt 202, or later south, Rt 9W. Once around Jones Point the first small town you hit is Tomkin’s Cove. Blink your eyes and you could miss it. There is a small center to the business community, and the homes are old and in close proximity to the roadway. At Stony Point, the “cycling 9w” gets onto smaller local roads that hug closer to the river. There is contrast along these roads, as the toys of the rich are offset by the images of the poor disenfranchised who live along the flood plain that is north of Haverstraw. Haverstraw is another old town, and is home to marinas, riverside gravel deposits, sewage treatment and other riverside industries. Haverstraw does host a significant classic downtown structure to its economy, that is neither dead, but not necessarily thriving either. Haverstraw holds on.

I discovered Rockland Beach, because I was searching for it. It just seemed to me that there had to be a non-road route from Upper Nyack, to Haverstraw that could avoid the high traffic conditions of 9W and 202. Unfortunately the riverside trail that is the alternative, is only good for road bikes halfway, which brings you to Rockland Beach. In my book, halfway is better than no way, and so once we leave 9W behind for awhile, the beauty of this giant park that brings us right down to a smooth cinder trail along the river is awesome. There isn’t any real difference in the steepness of the climb to get up from the river in Rockland Beach vs. Mountain Ave in Nyack, so for all intents and purposes, that will be my chosen route from here on in.

Nyack thrives for many reasons. It is a major town on the West bank of the Hudson; Route 87 cuts through it on its way between Albany and New York City via the Tappan Zee bridge. It is the main destination of thousands of weekend cyclists throughout the warmer months, and many of the colder ones. The downtown thrives with many businesses including many fine food establishments. It’s a NYC suburb city. On its north side is Upper Nyack with beautiful estate homes that have remarkable river views. I am sure there is more to Nyack, but I am usually just passing through, and pass through we did today.

Piermont is the next town south, and though it is a thriving community, it is very susceptible to river flooding in very wet seasons. Much of the town is built upon fill that was dumped into the Hudson to create a ferry landing. That landing is now nothing more than a park from which a middle-of-the-river feel can be had. Inland, are many shops where many, many cyclists stop. Though their bottom line is enhanced richly by these cyclists, there is an attempt to corral the cyclists into limited regions, and always a call to “remove your shoes” when you enter.

Beyond Piermont the cycling route returns to 9W for its entry into New Jersey. It’s not a terribly scenic road but at least it has a nice wide shoulder and sits atop the Pallisades ridge and though it passes through towns, none of those towns businesses lie along the road. Except for the signs, you wouldn’t know you were even in a town. For a county, Bergen, that is one of New Jersey’s more populated, you wouldn’t know for the ruralness of 9. The original plan was to leave 9 and descend to the River along Henry Hudson Drive within the park borders, but it was felt, time was a consideration. Cliff had made arrangements to rendezvous with his daughter Colleen and her husband down under the GW on the NY side, so we wanted to get to the upper Pallisades Park entrance where we would meet Jane, and where our sag vehicle driver, Michael, would transfer to his own bike for the final miles home.

Pallisades Park would have simply been the Pallisades had it not been for the efforts of a few, and the monies of the Rockefellers to buy up the land along the ridge and take it out of private hands and put it into the public trust as a truly wonderful cliffside park. There are two main hiking trails, one high and one low, with at least 4 opportunities to move from one to the other to make various sized loop hikes. In addition to the hiking, Hudson Drive is scenic quiet roadway that offers access to river level picnicking sites along the lower 6 miles of the park.

We met our sag vehicle, and took some needed refreshments and took a walk out to the bridge lookout for some scenic portraits. We didn’t all leave the park at the same time. Cliff didn’t want to leave Coleen and his son-in-law waiting too long so he and Michael headed over early while the rest of us finished our refreshments, and topped off our tires with air. That was it for the sag vehicle, as Jane would take it from there and drive it to our end point in Sea Bright.

The GW is more than a commuting path for automobiles, as today, a steady stream of bicycle commuters cross the bridge all days of the year. Most of the pathway is fairly wide, though there are regular hazards in all the suspended cables that hold the bridge decking up. At each tower, the path makes 4 90 degree turns before continuing. I have found that like some drivers, there are those cyclists that just seem to ride like they are the only ones on the road, and attention needs to be paid when navigating those towers. At the NY terminus, the path reduces to an extremely narrow access path that barely allows two cyclists to pass each other. Fortunately, because of the commute, most riders are riding the same direction during those hours. For us it was early afternoon, and it didn’t matter.

After exiting the bridge, to get down to the West Side Bike Path, you simply have to follow the bike lanes. Down Fort Washington Blvd to 158th and Broadway, and then ride 158th down to Riverside Drive where you can cross and then descend the final meters down the back-and-forth ramps till you are on the path. We picked up Cliff and his gang, and together the ten of us headed South. While the path is considered a single path, it is actually an interconnected assemblage of different segments that have all been joined as part of an effort to establish a cycling and running path around the perimeter of Manhattan. There are distinct sections that are defined by the sights along the way. For example the early section lies within the bounds of Riverside Park, and so has a park feel to it. After passing a sanitation transfer center you enter the piers where the cruise ships and The Entrepid are berthed. Beyond that you pass the ferry terminals, and then the Chelsea Pier and then into lower Manhattan where Ground Zero looms.

The plan that was forming was to give our friend Walter Valentine a ring up and he would meet us outside his work location across the street from Ground Zero at World Financial. Unfortunately, Walter had a meeting develop and we simply headed over to Ground Zero for some reflection before continuing on. A visit to Ground Zero is always a personal experience, and for me, I always think of my friend Tim Betterly who was lost that day. The other two Little Silver residents were a neighbor around the corner, and the father of one of my daughter’s friends.

After our moments of repose at Ground Zero, the final Manhattan miles lay ahead. They aren’t fast miles by any means, but a simple romp around the tip of Manhattan past Battery Park, the Staten Island Ferry, and then finally Pier 11 our destination.  We arrived early and it wasn’t long before we had paper bagged beers in hand awaiting the departure of the ferry. Early enough for a couple of beers! Meeting us at the Ferry terminal was Ray’s wife Claudia. At this point, bicycles were optional, and we only had a few cycling miles left.

It was a beautiful day for a ferry ride, and as if it is no surprise to the reader, they served beers on the ferry, and we were customers. The ferry pulls out of Pier 11 and moves out past Governors Island on the East, and the Bayonne shipyards on the West and on to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and out into the Raritan Bay. Most of us spent the journey time atop the roof deck in the wind taking in the sights. Out on the open water you find all the pleasure and working craft before rounding the Coast Guard installation at Sandy Hook.

Docking in the Highlands, we gathered our belongings and met in the parking area for the final mile and a half. There were a few more riders who met us at the terminal, and together we embarked on those final miles. We stayed low through the Highlands passing all the local pub establishments, which we ignored, and pushed on up the short climb to the Rt. 36 bridge. We had agreed to wait atop the bridge span for Cliff, and Cliff would lead the final stretch to our destination. From the top of the bridge, you probably don’t really have to even pedal the final stretch as you can pick up a pretty decent head of steam dropping down into Sea Bright. It wasn’t long before we could see that the Sea Wall was not vacant, but contained a welcoming party of friends and family awaiting Cliff’s return. We dropped our bikes and headed for the Atlantic where Cliff dipped his bike into the waters, and then the celebrating began with flowing tears. Those of us in the entourage took an opportunity to cool off in the surf, while Cliff engaged all those that came out to welcome him home.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at The Tiki Bar at Beachwalk at Sea Bright where “Surprise!” we drank a few more beers and snacked on Hors D’Oeuvres. Music blared, speeches were made, beer was consumed, and then quietly this author slipped out and went home.

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