Fall Cycling Epic
October 8, 2017 § 4 Comments
On Monday August 14th at 9:27PM I received a text from Cliff.It started with “let’s go to Princeton”, but it ended with “I’m thinking about a ferry to Bear Mountain Saturday October 7th with beer at The Tiki Bar afterwards”. It doesn’t take much more than that to get my planning habits working. As Cliff knows, a travel idea, once planted puts me in a single minded train of thought that won’t be satisfied until I have the route logistics all planned and drawn out. Before midnight I had used the “Create a Route” feature of Strava and mapped a route from the 11th St Ferry terminal in lower Manhattan, up the West side bike path, over the GW and then up the West side of the Hudson to Bear Mountain, and returning along mostly the same route. Of course I parsed Cliff’s original suggestion into what it meant. Let’s meet early at the Ferry Terminal in Highlands with our bikes, and then do a an epic ride to Bear Mountain and back, where we can catch an afternoon ferry back, and then we can party at The Tiki Bar in Sea Bright.
We lined up the players for this gig. Myself, Cliff, Charley R, Doug H, Bob M, and John L. To that I invited Terry D, and then eventually at the last minute we had room for Jack K to make a group of 8. When the idea started, the Sea-Streak schedule originally contained a Saturday 6:30 Ferry to Manhattan, but a week prior, we found that the first ferry was not until 9:30, and that just wasn’t going to work. Fortunately the councilman in our group had purchased a giant passenger van this past summer, and we decided we could fit all 8 bikes and people inside, and still have room for a driver, and that became our new game plan.
In the week prior to the event, I exchanged details with Ray V, and we arranged for some other friends to meet us in Nyack Beach State Park, where they could join us for the finale to Bear Mountain, and we would return them to their starting point, thus giving them the mileage they were looking for, and some added company to us.
We tried a number of times in late Spring and early Summer to get some long rides planned out, but as the 5-6 day forecast always looked promising, the 2-3 forecast brought a front of doubts, and the 1 day usually completely drenched our plans, and hence, we got no decent weekend rides in the books. So with Spring and Summer behind us, the dry weather of Autumn turned out to be our friend. We managed to get two Princeton rides (I wrote about a much earlier Princeton ride), a big Harriman loop, and a big Monmouth loop in as training rides. These training rides were limited to a few of us, but we got Cliff, and Charley out there, and Jack was able to go to Princeton a few weeks back.
With all that training behind us, and an excellent forecast ahead of us the final details were set. We would meet at Cliff’s house at 5:30 where we would all load into the van. We could leave our own vehicles there, as we would be returning there for a post-ride Octoberfest party of beer and brats courtesy of Cliff and Jane. That should put us in lower Manhattan by 6:45 and on the road by 7am. That would give us 2 and 1/2 hours to get to the meet spot at Nyack Beach.
Saturday morning my alarm awoke me at 4:30, though to be truthful, I didn’t sleep all that well. Butterflies. I made sure I had everything I needed for the ride, and grabbed the oatmeal I had soaking over-night. Blueberries and maple syrup would make a good breakfast to start the long day on. I carried a bunch of Black Mission Figs in my back pocket as well. With those, and that we stashed some goods in the vehicle we would meet 40 miles into the ride, and we should have everything we needed.
All the bikes packed nicely into the back of Charley’s van along with all our bags as well. Being the only one who was 6’4″, I was lucky to get the front seat, where I say next to Charley’s son Charley, or “Chuck” as the family called him. Chuck had no problems getting us into the city by 6:30. We pulled out of the Holland Tunnel and headed for the West Side Highway where we pulled off onto Greenwich St, a quiet cobbled SOHO neighborhood. Trash was out for pickup, and it smelled like urine, though to be fair, it smelled like dog urine, as we were outside a few residential buildings. We unloaded, changed, got our bikes operationally ready, and took care of our final needs before packing everything back into the van. Chuck took our picture in the street, and then we set off. The sun was just peeking above the horizon by the time we reached the West Side Bikeway. The earliest rays reflecting off the Jersey City office complexes shined back upon us like visual gold. It was not all that cold, so that could only mean that once all this moisture burned off, it was going to be a warm Fall day.
This early in the morning you almost have the Bikeway to yourself. Only a few joggers, and on this day, it was still a little early even for the Manhattan cyclists who migrate north to the GW, as we were doing and into Jersey for their regular mating rituals. Once we got above 63rd street, there was no one, and that turned out to be important, as the city parks department, as it turns out, doesn’t open the damn bathrooms until long after we needed them. So here we are, wanting to do the right thing, and then finding the doors locked. So, once we made into territory where there was no one, we all took to the bushes. Oh well. We didn’t know it, but there was actually a festival planned up near the GW, and is so happens that there were porto-johns there we could have used. We didn’t know.
We all have happy places. Those places where we can go at any time, and we have memories associated with that place that just simply bring a smile to our faces as we recall the good times. For Cliff, one of those happy places is The Little Red Lighthouse underneath the GW. I usually turn into Manhattan at 158th street, up to Broadway, and then onto Fort Washington Blvd. to the pedestrian bridge. That is on the South side. There is a North side approach, but it is a lot steeper, but it allows us to hit Cliff’s happy place, and it turned out to be a happy place for all of us. The bridge was fantastic and mystical shrouded in early mist. We couldn’t see the tops of the towers, and could barely see Jersey clearly. Because the DOT was installing suicide fencing on the South walkway, it was closed, so we had to use the North Walkway. I guess i should have known there was a North walkway, but I had never used it. Cliff said it is usually closed, but today it was open, and that is how we got across. A little more challenging then its southern twin, the northern side has stairs on both sides of the hudson. Steel stairs and bike cleats are not a match made in heaven. Riding over the bridge was quite magical. There was hardly any wind, but there was mist, and just like on the ground, you couldn’t see the towers through the mist. The giant suspension cables just faded into nothing. Eerie it was.
Once we had all gathered on the Jersey side, we headed South to gain entry to the Fort Lee Historic Park and the Henry Hudson Drive. If you have never ridden/driven this road, it is a gem. Carved out of the Pallisades the HHD navigates about 8 miles north to the Park Headquarters in Alpine. Zero to no traffic in early am, and usually just cyclists heading North. The elevation oscillates and I always get fooled into thinking “this is the last climb” but then tricked again I am. Finally though you emerge onto 9W just south of the NY state line and the entrance to Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.
As I look at a map of this area I see now that in the future we can actually avoid 9W completely here, but on this trip, 9W is fine, and we take that to the entrance to Tallman State Park where we can cut down Rockland Road to Peirmont, a quiet flood prone bicycle oasis that actually isn’t all that cycling friendly. I stopped there once, and will never do it again. However it offers more riverside riding and it is a quiet traffic free approach to Nyack. In Nyack we used to climb out on Mountain Road, a steep grind back up to 9W, but map study had revealed an alternate safer route by staying low all the way to Nyack Beach State Park. This is where we picked up Larry C, Dave Z, Ray V and Johnny C. and from there we had 2 miles on wide cinder track that was probably an old rail line, but was not a path with gorgeous views. Our view was still obscured by the mist, but pleasant it was.
In reality, there is a path all the way to Haverstraw, but I haven’t ridden it by myself yet, and I was reluctant to take anyone that way until I had, so it was up and into Rockland Lake State Park and onto 9W. This is not my favorite section of 9W, but it isn’t the worst either. Avoid it I would like to do, but there is sufficient shoulder to ride, however on this day, there was construction along the approach to Short Clove Road, and that made for nervous riding. Once past that we descended down into Haverstraw. What Haverstraw used to be, I don’t know, but today it seems like a very Hispanic/Latino town with a main downtown, and neighborhoods both North and South of downtown. There is nothing but rocks and cliff to the West, and the Hudson River to the East. Here, the passage by bike winds through many roads. I recognize them when I see them, but fortunately there are “Bicycle 9” signs to follow as well. After riding through a lot of flood prone areas and marinas, you end up back on 9W/202 coming off Tomkins Ave. in Stony Point.
From there it is just a short distance to Tomkins Cove, and then around, up and over Jones Point before you find yourself at the base of the climb to Bear Mountain. From there it is 4.9 miles and 1100′ of vertical gain until you reach the Monument upon Bear Mountain. Most of the grade is pretty easy to pedal. It is just a lot of pedaling. Once you reach Perkins Drive there is one stretch where the grade adds a few more percent, but then it eases for the final mile to the top. On this trip, Johnny C and I were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, and what should we see on Bear Mountain? A big ole black bear just moseying along just West of the road in the vicinity of the Appalachian trail crossing. There was a park ranger parked on the roadway, probably making sure that people and the bear stayed separated. I failed to grab a picture, but I should have tried.
Everyone achieved their Bear Mountain summit. For Doug H, it was his first, as well as Jack K, and maybe perhaps Bob M. For the rest of us, another BM notch in our belts. On top it was starting to clear. We took some time to recover and rest, grabbing drinks from the credit card vending machine where Johnny C observed a startled visitor who thought the machines would make change for a twenty. Well it did make change. A lot of change. Johnny always has a funny was to present those stories and we all laughed pretty hard.
We were also waiting for a former Monmouth County resident, Mark W to arrive. Mark moved to The Amityville Horror House on Greenwood lake a year back, and knowing we were on our way, he set out to meet us and join us for some part of our return journey where he could branch off and return home.
The return home was pretty much the reverse of our journey there except that the mist finally cleared and it was a lot warmer now. We were obviously more tired but except for Charley R, we all felt pretty good. Some of us were starting to get hot foot, but the leg were still turning. The last big climb from Piermont to the NJ state line just about did Charley in. He struggled but we kept the encouragement up. The problem is it is not flat along 9W, and there are 15 miles of rollers, with a general loss of elevation. By the time we reached Englewood Cliffs, Charley was DONE. “I’m getting an Uber, I’ll meet you at the Ferry” was all he said. Charley has some history along these lines, so we left him, and finished the ride. The West Side bike way was A LOT more crowded, and we had to way more alert as we threaded our way South. We had plenty of time and soon found ourselves navigating through Battery Park, and the Staten Island Ferry, and then we were on the 11 street pier and our journey was over. We had an hour till the ferry departed, and we grabbed a table, secured some beers, and recovered while we waited for Charley.
Where was Charley? If he had grabbed an Uber, he should be here already, or at the very least he should be there soon. With about 15 minutes before the ferry departed, I started to get worried. I texted him first, but then I called and got his message. Charley has the keys to the van, so we needed him.
As it turned out, he couldn’t figure out how to get an Uber using his Wife’s phone which was with his wife, and Charley didn’t have the app on his phone, so he found new life in his aching body, and he pedaled the final miles in behind us, pulling in with about 10 minutes to spare. Fortunately he took pictures along the way to prove to us that he did in fact ride the final miles. :).
On the Ferry, we got some more beers, and found some chairs to relax in. At some point myself and everyone on the lower level passed out for a spell, and were brought back to life when we docked in the Highlands. We elected to simply pile everything back into the van, which was there waiting for us, and then we drove over to Cliff’s house for the party where we all changed into cleaner, more comfortable clothing and chowed down on an awesome spread of brats, and pretzels, and many other fine calorie rich foods that our bodies were craving. Beer? Yes, there was a lot of that as well, and desserts. Chocolate brownies, and other sweets. It was a super duper nice end to a fantastic day. We accomplished what we had set out to do, and we kept the group together the entire ride, and there were no major malfunctions except for Charley’s little “I’m done!” escapade.
I have said it before, you can’t ever tell for sure when a ride begins that it will be an epic ride, though this ride certainly had the potential, based simply on the goal, but it is always the riders that make the ride, and for this ride on this day we had some great riders and a good time was had by all.