Hudson, MA - I've run through quite a few cities on the course of this trip: Minneapolis, Cleveland, Rochester, Halifax, etc. But nothing is quite like riding in Manhattan.
Backing up: after completing the trip a little over two weeks ago, I spent an easygoing week or so relaxing at home with my parents in the Boston 'burbs. I had great plans to explore the whole area by bike (and my dad's kayak), but it rained every day, so I spent most of the time reading, cleaning out my old stuff (anyone want to buy a baseball card collection?) and enjoying a million other minor diversions.
After about a week of that, my father and I loaded up the minivan and drove the four hours down to our summer place in Breezy Point, New York, an incongruous community of beach bungalows and pedestrian walks jutting out into the Atlantic south of Brooklyn. Its technically part of NYC, but sure doesn't feel like it. As in visits past, I spent my time there swimming in the Atlantic, walking around the beach, and generally chilling out some more.
Breezy Point, NYC, NY - This WWII observation post, opularly just called "The Lighthouse," is Breezy Point's main landmark and the thing that shows up on all the T-shirts. Coney Island is across the bay in the background.
Most of my time, anyway. Because this time, I brought the bike down, which suddenly opened up the whole of New York to some two-wheeled exploration.
My first trip was just across the bay to Coney Island, a place I'd heard a lot about in college and in various documentaries. Its nothing like it was in its heyday: where once there were three enormous amusement parks and thousands upon thousands of merrymakers every summer weekend, now there are mostly high-rises, a thriving Russian community in Little Odessa, and a few tattered remnants of the glory days. The boardwalk is still there, a wide wooden plain running between storefronts and the sea. So is Nathan's original hot dog stand, though the crowds deterred me from picking up a frankfurter there. (I instead had one at Nathan's not-quite-as-original hot dog stand down the street, and found it rather pedestrian. Great cheese fries, though.)
Coney Island, NY - that's the Wonder Whel in the background. The freaky logo with all the teeth was the mascot of "Steeplechase," one of the three huge amusement parks that have all since closed.
There's still one small amusement park, "Astroland," now home of the famous and rickety Cyclone rollercoaster, and a little ways down the boardwalk is the frame of the original Parachute Jump, a giant contrivance whereby patrons were pulled up maybe 300 feet suspended from a parachute, then dropped right back down. Looks like it was a hoot.
Coney Island is a poignant reminder of what New York once was, one that brought up pangs of nostalgia - which makes no sense, as I missed out on its heyday. But back in the day, this was the place to be, sort of Cedar Point and Disneyworld all rolled into one, and featuring some amazingly dangerous amusements that you simply couldn't get away with today.
A few days later, after Hurricane Ernesto had finished dousing New York, I hopped back on the bike for a ride through Brooklyn and Manhattan. This was actually considerably easier and more enjoyable than it sounds.
Though it didn't start out that way; riding through Brooklyn on a main thoroughfare, Flatbush Avenue, was an adventure in tight traffic, poor pavement, and worst of all lots and lots of pedestrians. In fact, getting around walkers and bikers was he hardest part of biking in NYC; after all, none of the traffic is moving very fast, so there's a minimal chance of anyone running you down. This was certainly one of the few times on the trip where I seemed to be making more progress than people in cars.
But I made it through all of that, and found myself on a cordoned-off stretch of road that was soon to become a parade route (this was Labor Day, but it was actually the West Indian Day parade. Go figure.) Then I headed over the sublimely graceful spans of the Brooklyn Bridge - which has both pedestrian and bike lanes - and into Lower Manhattan.
Now, the last time I saw lower Manhattan, I took a stroll right past the twin towers, which tells you how long its been since I hit the Big Apple. Needless to say, I headed straight to the same spot.
Ground Zero is, to be honest, not an evocative spot. At this point in history, it's just a massive, five-story-deep hole, surrounded by high fencing and generally blocked from view. It's also engulfed by tourists like myself and taken sad advantage of by vendors selling some truly tasteless crap. The only real poignant reminders of 9/11 I saw were the famous debris cross, which they've left in situ, and the exhibits in St. Thomas' Chapel, a small church bordering the WTC site that was turned into a respite center in the months after the attacks.
Breezy Point, NYC - Not the famous debris cross, this is another cross of the same type, part of a monument to the Breezy Point residents killed on 9/11. A working-class kind of resort, Breezy lost 30 people, many of them firemen.
Nondescript spot though it may be, Ground Zero was my main reason for biking into Manhattan, and afterwards I went wherever the island's bike trails would take me. I headed down to Battery Park on the island's southern tip, home of the boats to Liberty and Ellis Islands. From there, I found a very well-kept and busy bike path that took me more than halfway up Manhattan's western shore until I cut across to Central Park. Closed to cars this holiday, the park was a zoo of bikers and walkers enjoying the sunshine.
Battery Park - Three, count'em three, street performers dressed as the Statue of Liberty. I bet they're all really annoyed at the other two for stealing their shtick. (Not sure about the perfomers' actual genders, by the way.)
From there I headed back down the east side, stopping in Chinatown to grab an excellent lunch of various rolls (and a mango milkshake) at a Chinese bakery. Good stuff, though they didn't seem to be in a hurry to serve me. I crossed back over the Brooklyn Bridge and down through Brooklyn on a different route, eventually ending up on a shoreside bike path replete with one of the highlights of the day, rollerblading Hasidim. (The journey was a remarkable glimpse of Babel: I think I heard more different languages spoken than in any other day of my life.)
From there I cut back through Coney Island and back over the Gil Hodges Bridge to Breezy Point. 71.5 miles later, I was back in Breezy at the end of a ong day of biking, but one of the most revelatory of the trip.
It was also the last day of biking on the trip: On Monday, I'm hopping on a train to South Bend Indiana, where I will spend a few days visiting with a friend before heading to Chicago for a few more days and a few more friends. After that I'll hop on the train to Seattle, spend a couple of days there, and fly back to Fairbanks and, um, whatever I'll be doing with the rest of my life.
For thosewondering, I'll keep updating the blog until I get home, so keep an eye out for more deails and photos of the trip back. But no more biking, as I will be packing up Mr. Homn this weekend in anticipation of shipping him out.