BROOKLYN to PEEKSKILL

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SUMMARY

Flat-Tire-Boy

You’ve fled north and escaped the confines of New York City.  You’ve discovered Van Cortlandt Park and the beginnings of the South County Trail.  Your legs have taken you as far as Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow.  So where’s next?

Another 20 miles up the river, tucked into a nook at the northern edge of Westchester County lies a city known for its Riots of 1949 and inspiration for L. Frank Baum’s famous yellow brick road.  And if you were born in the 1970s like me, you might know it best as the setting for The Facts of Life and its fictitious gourmet business venture, Edna’s Edibles.  This city, of course, is Peekskill, NY.  In addition to being the birthplace of Mel Gibson, Stanley Tucci, and Pee-Wee Herman, Peekskill is also one of the best cycling destinations along the Hudson River that’s within a day’s striking distance of Brooklyn.

But what truly makes Peekskill a great destination – what makes any destination great – is how you get there.  In this case, how we get there is largely accomplished via the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail (OCAT).

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The OCAT is a curious patchwork of dirt paths that lead you through tree-lined canopies, grassy meadows, village centers, and suburban backyards.  The roughly 25-mile network of trail begins in Yonkers and ends at the New Croton Dam in Croton Gorge Park.  The trail follows the right-of-way of the Old Croton Aqueduct which acted as New York City’s supplier of water from 1842 – 1955.  After making the roughly 40-mile journey from Croton to the city, the water was deposited into two above-ground reservoirs in Manhattan.

Today you might recognize these sites as Central Park’s Great Lawn –

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and the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.

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So when you’re traversing the OCAT, just think that you’re literally riding atop the tunnels that used to transport water to where they filmed Ghostbusters and where your ZogSports league now plays softball.

If you’re by any chance interested in a more detailed history lesson, you can visit the Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct.  A raucous and rowdy bunch of party animals, the Friends are a underground anarchist network volunteer, non-profit society dedicated to kicking ass and taking names the protection and preservation of the aqueduct.  Their website is a good resource for crystal-meth recipes historical and current information regarding the aqueduct and the surrounding area.

For a more intimate and introspective reflection, NYC-based artist and urban explorer Miru Kim has documented and photographed the aqueduct from the inside.  In the nude, obviously.

Old Croton Aqueduct, Bronx, NY (Miru Kim)

Old Croton Aqueduct, Bronx, NY (Miru Kim)

As I mentioned earlier, the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail begins in Yonkers near the intersection of Ashburton Avenue and N. Broadway but I recommend taking the South County Trail to Tarrytown and picking up the OCAT from there.  The primary reason for this is because getting to the head of the trail in Yonkers is kind of a pain-in-the-ass.  You either have to take the Henry Hudson Bridge to Spuyten Duyvil and work your way north to Yonkers (see Brooklyn to Tarrytown – involves climbing these stairs with your bike) –

Pain in the ass.

– or you have to exit the South County Trail early and muscle your way through downtown Yonkers on busy Yonkers Avenue.

Once you locate the trail at Ashburton & N. Broadway you’ll discover that the first portion from Yonkers to Hastings-on-Hudson is uneven, littered with debris and broken glass, and frequently interrupted by side streets.  If, against my best advice, you decide to take this route, your best bet is actually to ride along Warburton Avenue.  Warburton runs just parallel to the OCAT, is a relatively safe road to ride on, and periodically offers some nice views of the river.

The green line marks the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail.

The vertical green line marks the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail.  Warburton runs just west of it.

But either way you choose to go – once you arrive in Tarrytown – the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail becomes something of a necessity for continuing north.  If you were to look at a map it would appear that Broadway/Albany Post Road is the most direct route linking Tarrytown and Peekskill.  And it is.  For cars.  But once you get north of Sleepy Hollow, Broadway 9 veers off to the left and increases its speed limit to 40mph, eventually turning into a sketchy thoroughfare with no bicycle shoulder.

So despite the few minor hassles and interruptions associated with the trail, the OCAT is a fairly convenient and relatively painless ride.  A much safer and scenic alternative to hectic Albany Post Road.

However, it must be noted that road bikes with thin tires may have a miserable time of it.  The trail is good for mountain bikes, hybrids, and road bikes with wider tires.  I ride a Surly Cross-Check with 700x32c tires and it can handle the terrain which varies between hard-packed dirt, hard-packed gravel, loose gravel, and grass.

After you tackle the length of the Old Croton Aqueduct, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views atop the New Croton Dam as you stop there for a breather.  From the dam it’s about a one-hour ride on local roads into Peekskill where you’ll find the welcoming Peekskill Brewery situated just steps from the Metro North train station.  Take a load off and celebrate your accomplishment with a cold IPA and a plate of the brewery’s short rib poutine.  You will most likely miss your train for another beer, but don’t worry – they run every hour back to Grand Central.

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A heaping plate of The Peekskill Brewery’s poutine topped with fried egg and boudin noir.

I’ve ridden the OCAT three times during three different seasons: the spring, the summer, and the fall.  I think the best time to ride is the fall simply because of the changing colors of the leaves.  Also take note that the grasses that surround the trail grow incredibly high after the spring rains and the area is known to have deer ticks so be careful if you ride during the late spring or summer.

*If you don’t feel like doing the entire 60-mile ride from Brooklyn and would just like to check out the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, there are frequent trains from Grand Central Terminal that will get you to Tarrytown in about an hour. 

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This might be more realistic in the colder months, but otherwise I recommend doing the whole ride.  The beer will taste better.

Although this bike shop appears to have very limited hours during the cold season, the Sleepy Hollow Bicycle Center (914-631-3135) is located on Beekman Avenue in case you’re in need of parts or adjustments upon your arrival to Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow.

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THE RIDE – October 22, 2013

The OCAT can more or less be divided into three main sections between Tarrytown and the New Croton Dam:

Leg I. Tarrytown to Scarborough.

Leg II. Downtown Ossining to Croton.

Leg III. Croton to the New Croton Dam.

Since a detailed account of the ride to Tarrytown is provided in a previous post, we’ll begin our ride to Peekskill at the intersection of Main Street & Broadway in Tarrytown.

Broadway as it appears in Tarrytown.

Broadway as it appears in Tarrytown.  Where Neperan Road becomes Main Street.

OCAT I: Tarrytown to Scarborough

As you swoop down from the hills on Neperan Road into the center of Tarrytown, turn right onto Broadway and follow the road north for about half a mile.  Shortly you’ll arrive at an intersection that looks like this, with Route 9 shooting off to the left –

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Behind you and to the left is Beekman Avenue which leads back into town towards the bars, bike shop, and train station.

What you want to do is take a right onto  –

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– and climb the hill for about 500 feet.

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On your left you will find the entrance to the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail.  It looks like this –

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If you pass Webber Avenue and find yourself following the curve of Bedford Road to the left, then you’ve gone too far.  The entrance to the trail is just behind you.

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This first section of the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail is easy riding – flat, level, smooth hard-packed dirt.  After roughly 1,000 feet or so, you’ll encounter the first of many side streets that intersect the trail.  These minor interruptions to the path pose no problem – just keep an eye on traffic and follow the OCA signs to reconnect.

First interruption to the OCAT at Gory Brook Road.

First interruption to the OCAT at Gory Brook Road.

The first reconnection at Gory Brook Road is not completely obvious, since it appears that there are several roads you can ride on –

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These paved roads dead end and lead to private property.  So unless you want to get into a property rights debate with someone who has more money than you, cross all the way to the other side of the road and look for the OCA signs and the thin dirt strip trail.

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It’s pretty much as simple as that.  Locating the entrance to the trail is the hard part. Following the trail once you’re on it is easy.  Just follow the signs that are marked like this –

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– and look for the thin dirt strip path.

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After the Gory Brook Road intersection you’ll see some tombstones off to your left that are a part of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

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Shortly after this, the texture of the trail changes from a hard-packed dirt to a loose gravel.

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This is where the terrain might become difficult for thin tires.  The trail eventually changes back to hard-packed dirt but some sections of the gravel are looser and rockier than others.  Just take your time on the looser sections and you shouldn’t have too much of a problem.

Keep following the trail and the OCA signs.  You’ll cross a small footbridge next to the Rockefeller State Park Preserve that passes over Phelps Way –

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Phelps Way

Phelps Way

– and shortly after, another footbridge that passes over Albany Post Road – the road you are bypassing by riding the OCAT.

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Footbridge over Albany Post Road

View of Albany Post Road from atop the footbridge

View of Albany Post Road from atop the footbridge

Occasionally you’ll pass an odd conical-looking structure made of brick masonry like this:

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These were the ventilating towers constructed every mile or so to alleviate pressure and keep the water fresh in the aqueduct.

This is just a mossy phallus.

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Not long after crossing the second footbridge you will arrive at the only possible head-scratcher between Tarrytown and Scarborough –

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As you can see in the photo above, the trail diverges with one path shooting off to the left and another climbing up to the right.  The path on the right looks like it was created by ATV use and most likely leads to someone’s backyard.  Follow the strip to the left and you will shortly arrive at the second break in the trail: the affluent village of Briarcliff Manor and the aptly named road, Country Club Lane.

Country Club Lane

Country Club Lane

This is where the OCAT awkwardly begins to take you through people’s backyards.  At times you feel like you might be trespassing, half anticipating an old man to run out of his house shaking his fist and yelling at you to get off his lawn.  But don’t worry about it.  It’s all part of the charm of the trail.  At certain junctions you may have to search a minute for the trail, but it’s never far off and the reconnection is fairly obvious.

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Not long after Country Club Lane, you’ll arrive at River Road which marks the end of the first leg of the OCAT.

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With William T. Barnes Hall in front of you, take a left on River Road and head down the hill until you see a sign for –

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Bear right onto Creighton Lane –

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– and follow it around until it reconnects with River Road.

Creighton Lane & River Road

Creighton Lane & River Road

From here River Road remains true to its name as it hugs the edge of the Hudson. You will pass some spectacular homes and mansions along the way that will make you question why you chose to be an English major.

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You know you’re wealthy when you have to specify that your off-limits pond is made of water.

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River Road eventually ends and leads down a hill to Scarborough Park and Scarborough Station.

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At the top of the hill is the intersection of  –

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If you were to take a right on Scarborough Station Road and climb up the hill you would eventually reconnect with the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail.  However, this segment of the trail terminates after less than a mile.  The side streets in this area are very manageable, so I elect to use them until I hit downtown Ossining where I rejoin the OCAT.

Head down the hill past Scarborough Station and follow the road that runs parallel to the tracks and behind McGlew & Tuttle ( a law firm, not a pub).

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This road is called –

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– and leads up a hill to a stop-sign intersection.

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Make a left here onto Revolutionary Road.  Just like the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.  Except that the movie takes place in suburban Connecticut.

Continue climbing up the hill.  You’ll pass a housing complex on your left called Kemey’s Cove and arrive at the intersection of –

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Here you’ll make a left.  The road will loop around and bend in the direction of north where it becomes –

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As you ride up Spring Street, the infamous Sing Sing Correctional Facility lies out of sight, on the shores of the river just beyond the row of houses to your left.

Spring Street is a straight shot and will lead you into downtown Ossining.

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If you find yourself done for the day, there is a train station nearby (the one frequented by Don Draper).  And if you’re feeling a bit peckish, the unassuming Paradise Mini Market Deli serves up delicious heaps of rice, beans, chicken, pork, plantains, and stews that are easy on your wallet.

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OCAT II: Downtown Ossining to Croton

But let’s face it.  You’re not done.

Just steps past The Paradise you’ll find –

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Take a right on Maple and ride up the hill about one-hundred feet.  On your left you’ll see a small courtyard-plaza-looking area with public benches and a red-brick path.

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It may not look it, but surprisingly enough this is the beginning of the second leg of the OCAT and will take you into Croton if you follow it.  As you make your way through Ossining it will feel like you’re riding on sidewalks more than a bike trail, but once again – don’t fret – it’s simply the charm of the trail.

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After a few blocks you’ll reach the Ossining Double Arch Bridge which was just re-opened on July 20, 2013.  It was under construction for some time due to preservation efforts.

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On the other side of the bridge you’ll see a staircase that you, unfortunately, must ascend.

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At the top of the staircase it’s more paved path –

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– followed by a reunion with our old thin dirt strip.

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After a few blocks you’ll arrive at Snowden Avenue where there’ll be a firehouse situated in front of you.

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Find the path to the right of the firehouse –

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– and continue along –

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– until you reach this large construction site.

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Navigate your way through the construction zone and follow the signs and the trail.

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Before long, Albany Post Road will intersect the trail and you’ll have to cross over in order to continue.  Exercise caution crossing as it’s a busy section of the road.

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The trail continues where that sign is across the road.

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Forge ahead on the trail through people’s homes, interrupting family barbecues –

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– until you see this guy’s backyard with the kick-ass jungle gym and weird roof buried in the ground.

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Unless you have a rock-hopper, you’re going to have to Ferris Bueller it through this guy’s backyard to the street because the trail suddenly rises up steeply to the curb (with thick vegetation in the warmer months).

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View from the street.

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In June.

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The OCAT route continues across the street, but this time descends sharply down to a ventilation tower and the trail.

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View from the bottom

View from the bottom

I’ll typically throw my bike over my shoulder and carefully side-step it down the hill to the flat section of the path.  From here the OCAT is smooth sailing to the dam.

A bit further on the trail and you’ll reach Ogden Road, which marks the end of the second leg of the OCAT.

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Ogden Road

There appears what seems to be the continuation of the trail straight ahead of you, but the OCAT sign directs you to the left.

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Follow the sign and take the road downhill until you arrive at the intersection of –

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Old Albany Post Road is not to be confused with Albany Post Road.  It’s safe to ride on.

If you turn left here, you’ll hit Albany Post Road and find the bike path that heads in the direction of the Croton-Harmon train station and beautiful Croton Point Park.

But in order to find the third leg of the OCAT and continue towards Croton Dam and Peekskill, you’ll take a right at this intersection.  The OCAT entrance lies about 1/2 mile up Old Albany Post Road.

First, you’ll pass beneath NY 9A.

NY 9A overpass

NY 9A overpass

After you round the bend at Reservoir Road –

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– and pass by Gerlach Park –

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– you’re getting close.

The OCAT entrance is a few hundred feet past Gerlach Park on your left-hand side.  Be careful crossing the road to get to it.

OCAT III: Croton to the New Croton Dam

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This third leg of the OCAT follows the Croton River northeast for about two miles until it reaches the dam.  You’ll have to cross over Quaker Bridge Road a couple of times –

Quaker Bridge Road

Quaker Bridge Road

– but otherwise this leg of the OCAT is fairly smooth and uninterrupted.

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Once you see the power lines, you’re getting close to the dam.

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After a short while you’ll come to a sign that says “Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park”.

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– and there will be a split in the trail that looks like this:

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Keep to the right on the wide, upper path.  You’ll soon see the dam through the trees off to your left.

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The Old Croton Aqueduct Trail terminates at Croton Dam Road.  This road, open only to pedestrian traffic, runs atop the dam and offers spectacular views of the Croton Reservoir and Croton Gorge Park below.  After being surrounded by woodland for the majority of the ride, the sudden emergence from the OCAT into an impressive open expanse is dramatic.

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Croton Dam Road

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Croton Reservoir

Croton Gorge Park

Croton Gorge Park

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Check out the significantly brighter colors in June.

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That faded red bridge in the distance is the Taconic Parkway.

That faded red bridge in the distance is the Taconic Parkway.

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When sufficiently rested and re-hydrated, make your way across to the other side of the dam.  You’re now finished with the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail and it’s local roads the rest of the way to Peekskill.  Croton Dam Road loops around to the left and there are some traffic cones and barricades set up to block auto traffic, but you can easily pass through on a bike.

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You’ll soon come upon the main road – Route 129.  Take a right.

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This road is kind of busy, but there’s a shoulder and you won’t be on it for too long.  After about a quarter-mile the road will fork with 129 splitting off to the right and Mt. Airy Road E to the left.

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You want to bear left at the fork onto Mt. Airy Road E, but exercise extreme caution when doing so.  Route 129 is a two-way road and cars coming from the opposite direction fly around the blind bend at the fork.

Note the blind bend of Route 129 on the right.

Note the blind bend of Route 129 on the right.

You’ll be on Mt. Airy Road E for a quick minute before you reach the intersection of –

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Take a right on Colabaugh Pond Road and follow it around and past the pond.

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You’ll pass some quiet, secluded houses along the way and just after you pass a side street called –

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– Colabaugh Pond Road merges into Mt. Airy Road W.

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Follow Mt. Airy Road to the right until you hit the junction of –

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Take a right on Furnace Dock Road and you’ll shortly arrive at –

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At this stop-sign intersection you’ll cross over Furnace Dock Road and a small brook, following Washington Street straight ahead.

Cross the road.  Washington Street straight ahead.

Cross the road. Washington Street straight ahead.

Furnace Brook Pond on your right.

Furnace Brook Pond on your right.

Stay on Washington Street and after several miles it will lead you into the city of Peekskill.

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Trail leading into Blue Mountain Reservation off Washington Street.

Trail leading into Blue Mountain Reservation off Washington Street.

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The intersection of Washington & Welcher marks your return to civilization.

Washington & Welcher

Washington & Welcher

Taking a right on Welcher will lead you toward Blue Mountain Reservation.

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But in order to get to the Peekskill Brewery you’ll want to cross Welcher Ave and take Washington for about another 1/2 mile until you hit –

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Take a left on Roosevelt Ave and then a right on Simpson Place.

Roosevelt & Simpson

Roosevelt & Simpson

After three blocks make a left on Requa Street

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– and follow Requa beneath U.S. Route 9.

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Requa will lead you all the way to the river and Peekskill Station.  Just behind the station is Riverfront Green Park.  The brewery’s tap room opens at 3PM, but if there’s still some daylight left, the riverfront park offers up some great views of Peekskill Bay and Jones Point across the Hudson and is worth checking out.

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The large clump of land on the left is Jones Point.  The small clump of land in the center is Iona Island.

The large clump of land on the left is Jones Point. The small clump of land in the center is Iona Island.  The Bear Mountain Bridge is just out of sight behind the clump on the right.

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Just in front of the park and the train tracks is South Water Street.

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Take a left on South Water and just down the block you will find the –

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Bicycle parking is rather limited near the brewery, but there is a street sign just outside where I usually chain up.

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After a 60-mile ride from Brooklyn, the Peekskill Brewery is where you want to be.  The beer is amazing, the selection fantastic, the food delicious, and the staff very friendly.  The staff is also super knowledgeable and proud of their brew.  If you have any beer-related questions you will receive a thorough education from your barman.

The brewery is set up on two levels with the tap room downstairs and a dining pub upstairs.  However, food and drink are both available in the tap room so I usually just grab a seat at the bar.  If you’re with a group there are several tables scattered around the tap room where you can sit.

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Their house beer selection changes but some of the standard-bearers include the Hop Common, Eastern Standard IPA, Amazeballs, and Crack of Dawn.  If you’re lucky, they’ll be pouring their Dream of the 90’s coffee IPA.  Brewed with coffee beans locally sourced from Tarrytown, the Dream is a great after-dinner beer.  They usually also have a cask beer on tap.  The last time I was there it was the Chili Willie – a spicy cask ale brewed with jalapeño peppers.

As for food, their menu is compact with good variety and offers an affordable range of options.  Appetizers live in the $6 – $12 range and entrées somewhere between $14 – $25.  If you’re hungry and don’t mind splurging, the Jagerschnitzel with mushroom gravy, spaetzle, and braised red cabbage will not disappoint.

There is also the poutine, which I mentioned earlier:

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White bean and collard green soup:

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Baked Mac n’ Cheese with gruyere, cheese curd, tasso and herbs:

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PB Burger with Applewood-smoked bacon, grilled red onion, Grafton
cheddar, aioli and handcut fries:

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And Pork Confit Sandwich with pulled pork, kim chi, chili aioli, fried oyster, and fries:

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Enjoy your meal.  Have a few drinks.  Look through your photos.  Watch the game. Chat with your friends or whoever’s sitting next to you at the bar.  Brag that you rode your bike all the way from Brooklyn.  And then when you’re good and ready, stroll across the street to Peekskill Station and hop on a train back to Grand Central.

Or just have another.

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As always – any questions, comments, or updates to share please feel free to leave a comment below or contact me at asurlygentleman@gmail.com.  On Twitter @escapebklyn.  Keep rolling.

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The Passenger

Video

Some footage pasted together from Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Westchester, and New Jersey.

BROOKLYN to TARRYTOWN

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SUMMARY

Flat-Tire-Boy

A leisurely ride from Brooklyn to Westchester County that spans three boroughs and includes a pit stop at a delicious craft brewery, the ride to Tarrytown is one of my favorites.

This ride is also a great introduction to points north of the city along the east bank of the Hudson River.  Any rides you might do, for example, up to Peekskill, Poughkeepsie, or Albany can all follow this basic route in the beginning.  The journey has no serious obstacles and only takes about four hours to complete at a moderate pace.  Riders in a hurry can probably tackle the distance in closer to three hours.

The main road that cuts through Tarrytown is U.S. 9, also known as Broadway.  This is the same Broadway that runs through the famous theater district in New York City. It traverses the length of Manhattan from Bowling Green to Inwood, and continues north through The Bronx and Westchester County.  Broadway, by name, ends just north of Tarrytown where it becomes Albany Post Road.  But U.S. 9 continues for about another 300 miles up to Lake Champlain and the U.S./Canadian border.  In theory, if you have a thing for congestion and traffic lights, you could ride all the way to Tarrytown by just sticking to this one road.  But a much more preferable route is the combined duo of the Hudson River Greenway and the Old Putnam/South County Trail.

Tracing the west side of Manhattan Island from Battery Park to Inwood, the Hudson River Greenway escorts you beneath the George Washington Bridge and to the northern tip of the borough.  Crossing over the Harlem River via the Broadway Bridge, you roll through The Bronx neighborhoods of Marble Hill and Kingsbridge to Van Cortlandt Park.  From here you can find the beginning of the South County Trail, a 50-mile stretch of nearly uninterrupted bike path that runs past Tarrytown and all the way to Putnam County.

If you can plan your ride to coincide with the open hours of its tasting room, I definitely recommend stopping by the Captain Lawrence Brewery for a glass of suds.  The brewery is located in Elmsford, NY and just minutes from the South County Trail.  And though the distance from Elmsford to Tarrytown is only a few miles, it goes without saying to leave the brewery in decent shape to complete the ride safely.  You’ll have plenty of options for a drink and some grub near the Tarrytown train station.

Escaping Brooklyn

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I work in Chelsea and commute by bike almost everyday.  I alternate between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges for getting out of Brooklyn, depending mostly on the time of day and what kind of food I’m in the mood to eat before work.  Personally, I like the Manhattan Bridge because there is far less tourist foot traffic and the bike lanes are wider.  The trade-off is that I have to ride through congested Chinatown and SoHo to get over to the west side.  However, the Brooklyn Bridge is an iconic landmark and offers easier access to the Hudson River Greenway.  Therefore, let’s do our best not to hit the guy taking the perfect holiday photo of his family, and take the Brooklyn Bridge.

My ride begins at the SE corner of Prospect Park.  I enter the park and ride north along East Lake Drive, more commonly known as the Prospect Park Loop.

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Corner of Parkside & Ocean Ave

Going with the flow of traffic, I exit the Loop at Grand Army Plaza –

The Soldiers' and Sailors' Arch at Grand Army Plaza.

The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch at Grand Army Plaza.

and shoot down Union Street to Fifth Avenue.

Looking down Union from Grand Army.

Looking down Union from Grand Army.

Turning right onto Fifth, I follow signs for the Brooklyn Bridge –

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and make a left onto –

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The Bergen Street bike lane cuts through the neighborhoods of Park Slope, Gowanus, and Carroll Gardens where I finally turn right onto –

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Crossing over the busy intersection of Smith and Atlantic, I make a left onto Livingston just before hitting the Fulton Street Mall.

Livingston Street in Downtown Brooklyn.

Livingston Street in Downtown Brooklyn.

A blink of the eyes and it’s a right turn onto –

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Adams Street runs past the Shake Shack, the courthouses, the food carts and the business center of Downtown Brooklyn –

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– before connecting with the bicycle entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge.

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Manhattan and the Hudson River Greenway

Navigating carefully through the swarms of pedestrians and cyclists on the promenade, the Brooklyn Bridge ultimately spills out into City Hall Park and Manhattan’s Civic Center.  Exercise caution when negotiating the left-hand turn from the bike path onto Centre Street, as cars and taxis flying off the bridge are not likely to consider you their number one concern as they merge onto the streets of Manhattan.

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A cab entering Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge.

A cab entering Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge.

Turning left from the Brooklyn Bridge bike lane onto Centre Street.

Turning left from the Brooklyn Bridge bike lane onto Centre Street.

For cutting across Lower Manhattan to the west side, a left onto –

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– offers a straight shot.  However, due to all the construction under way –

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– one more past Chambers, is a much quieter and less bumpy alternative.  At the end of Reade, turn left on –

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at Washington Market Park.

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Then it’s a quick right back onto –

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From here Chambers will lead you across the West Side Highway and onto the Hudson River Greenway bicycle path.

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Entrance to the Hudson River Greenway at the end of Chambers Street.

Entrance to the Hudson River Greenway at the end of Chambers Street.

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve probably ridden the Hudson River Greenway before.  But just in case you haven’t, it must be said that this path is the cycling jewel of New York City.  As mentioned earlier, this path, dedicated to cyclists and pedestrians alike, hugs the Hudson River from the southern to the northern tip of Manhattan.  It is, in essence, separated from the rest of the city by the busy West Side Highway that runs beside it (middle finger slowly being extended to Robert Moses).  The Greenway provides easy access to parks and plazas along the waterfront and on any given day you will find hordes of New Yorkers walking, jogging, rollerblading, cycling, picnicking, or otherwise taking advantage of its recreational offerings.

After crossing the West Side Highway, it’s a roughly 12-mile ride along the bike path to Dyckman Street where the path terminates in the northern Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood.  As long as the river remains on your left-hand side you’re good to go.

Hudson Greenway looking south towards Lower Manhattan.

Hudson Greenway looking south towards Lower Manhattan.

Jersey City across the river.

Jersey City across the river.

Hudson Greenway looking north.  GW Bridge faint in the distance.

Hudson Greenway looking north. GW Bridge faint in the distance.

As I mentioned earlier, sections of the bike path are cut off from the adjoining communities by the highway, but as you ride north you will pass by a number of well-known neighborhoods that extend eastward into Manhattan.  Some notable neighborhoods and attractions along the way:

  • The West Village
  • Chelsea and The High Line.  Chelsea Piers along the water on your left.
  • West 30th Street Heliport
  • 39th Street Ferry Terminal which offers passenger service to Edgewater, Weehawken, Paulus Hook, Hoboken, and other points in NJ.
  • The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum (at the end of W. 46th)
  • Upper West Side
  • Morningside Heights
  • Harlem
  • Washington Heights

If you’re looking for a restroom or water fountain early on, the 39th Street Ferry Terminal has you covered.

39th Street Ferry Terminal

39th Street Ferry Terminal

Or, better yet, if you can hold it for 100 more blocks, the Fairway in West Harlem is a good first stop.

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Adjacent to the bike path around 132nd Street, I’ll usually pop into Fairway for a bathroom break and a couple of pieces of fruit before continuing north.

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At this point, there’s a small section of bike path that is closed until November 30th, 2013 because of construction.

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No big deal.  Just follow the detour signs around the back of the Fairway and reconnect with the bike path on 135th Street.

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Continuation of Hudson bike path after Fairway.

After a couple dozen more blocks, the George Washington Bridge comes into full view as the path rejoins the river.

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George Washington Bridge spanning the Hudson.

As you approach the base of the bridge, do yourself a favor and shift into a very low gear as there are a pair of short but significantly steep hills.  Passing underneath the bridge, you’ll leave the bank of the river and climb up over the Metro North/Amtrak tracks and to the level of the Henry Hudson Parkway.

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Palisades cliffs

New Jersey Palisades

After climbing to the top of the hill, pass beneath the faded green pedestrian bridge and continue north along the path.  For reference, this bridge will take you across the Henry Hudson Parkway and into Washington Heights where you can access the bike path across the George Washington Bridge into NJ.

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North of the GWB, the path runs parallel to the Henry Hudson Parkway.

North of the GWB, the path runs parallel to the Henry Hudson Parkway.

The path runs for about a mile north, passing Fort Tryon Park on the right which houses The Cloisters.  You’ll also pass a misplaced-looking structure on the left that resembles the ruins of some Roman palace left derelict to time.  Inspiration Point Shelter does not provide the function that the last word in its name implies, but it still offers some sweeping views of the Hudson and the New Jersey Palisades across the river.  For an interesting history on this structure, go here.

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View from Inspiration Point Shelter.

View from Inspiration Point Shelter.

The end of the Henry Hudson Greenway is obvious as there is a chain link fence blocking you from going any further.  There is also a staircase that descends down into the neighborhood of Inwood.  At the time of this ride (July 24, 2013), the stairs were under construction and there was a makeshift set of steps laid atop a bed of wood chips.

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At the bottom of the staircase, go left and find –

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Ride down Staff to the bottom of the hill –

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and meet –

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West of the Major Deegan Expressway, there are two main methods of crossing from Manhattan to The Bronx.  One is the Henry Hudson Bridge.  Two is the Broadway Bridge.  Here at the intersection of Dyckman & Staff you have the choice of going left towards the Henry Hudson Bridge or right towards the Broadway Bridge.

If you choose left, the road will lead you towards the river and the softball grounds of Dyckman Fields.

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There’s a bike path that circles the park, but in order to access the Henry Hudson Bridge you have to carry your bike up and down these stairs.

Pain in the ass.

Pain in the ass.

Then it’s another steep climb to the pedestrian entrance of the bridge.  Unless you’re heading to Spuyten Duyvil or have your heart set on a ride that continues closer to the river (e.g. Warburton Avenue from Yonkers to Hastings is a good ride), I’d avoid this route and instead take a right on Dyckman Street.

*If you find yourself in need of supplies or repairs, Tread Bike Shop is close by on the corner of Dyckman & Seaman.  It may be your last option for a while.

View of the Henry Hudson Bridge from Inwood.

View of the Henry Hudson Bridge from Inwood.

After turning right on Dyckman, make a left on –

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– and follow signs towards Van Cortlandt Park.

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Follow Seaman until it hits the Columbia University athletic complex at –

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Turn right onto 218th and then left onto –

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After just a few blocks, the Broadway Bridge will cross the Harlem River into The Bronx.

Broadway Bridge

Broadway Bridge

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Northbound Metro North railroad.

The Bronx

Broadway leads all the way to Van Cortlandt Park, but there’s a better route.  Stay on Broadway for a few blocks once you reach The Bronx side of the Harlem River and turn left on –

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There are a few twists and turns in order to avoid Broadway, but as long as you continue to follow the bicycle lane towards Van Cortlandt Park it’s a piece of cake. Make your next right onto –

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Passing Marble Hill Playground on your right, turn left onto –

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Then right onto –

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Follow Tibbet Ave through the working-class neighborhood of Kingsbridge and hang a left at Gaelic Park onto –

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Climbing to the top of 240th, you’ll encounter a pedestrian path that bypasses a construction zone and overlooks an MTA graveyard full of 1 trains.

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Look for the bike lane and follow Manhattan College Parkway down the hill to the right (it’s not really a parkway).

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At the bottom of the hill you will be at the intersection of –

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– and the much-awaited Van Cortlandt Park will be directly in front of you.  All you have to do is cross Broadway.  Congratulations.  You have reached the end of New York City and the five boroughs (well not quite, but almost).

The 242nd Street Station is next to the park.

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This is the end of the MTA subway line.  If you’d like to celebrate, or simply stock up on provisions, I recommend the bodega on the corner.  It may be a while before the next convenience store presents itself.

When you’re all stocked up and ready to go, follow the path into the park.

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Entrance to Van Cortlandt Park.

Entrance to Van Cortlandt Park.

The Old Putnam/South County Trail

The Putnam Division of the New York Central Railroad was an old rail line that provided freight and passenger service between The Bronx and the town of Brewster in Putnam County.  The “Old Put”, as it was referred to by its commuters, operated as a passenger line from 1881 to 1958.  It made its final freight run in August 1982.

The Old Putnam Trail, or South County Trailway, is located on the right-of-way of the old Putnam line.  The beginning of the trail can be found in Van Cortlandt Park. Finding it, however, is not the easiest task as there are many different trails crisscrossing throughout the park.  The simplest way is this:

Once you cross Broadway, enter the park through the entrance near the subway steps and follow the paved bike path straight ahead, keeping the Van Cortlandt Swimming Pool on your left.  After about 30 seconds, the path will fork.  Keep to your left.  After another 30 seconds or so, the paved path will run across a dirt patch and you will see a metallic blue overpass.

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Go underneath the overpass and follow the path to your left.

For a visual explanation, watch this amazing video.

After turning left beneath the blue overpass, you will soon arrive at a squat, gray-brick building with white roof that looks just like this:

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Follow the path around the building to the LEFT and you will be presented with this unassuming foot bridge:

Blue rails to match the blue overpass.

Blue rails to match the blue overpass.

This is the beginning of the Old Putnam trail.  When first searching for the entrance, I asked a park custodian where the trail was “that’d take you to Brewster.”  He led me to the foot bridge, pointed straight ahead, and told me to “just keep on truckin’.”  He wasn’t kidding.  If you follow this trail all the way to its end, you’ll wind up near the CT border in Brewster, NY.

Just be sure that the lake is on your right.  If it’s on your left, you’re on the wrong trail and likely headed towards Pelham Bay.  Let us know how it is!

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The Trail

The first 1.5 miles of this trail is hard-packed dirt peppered with the occasional stone, tree root, and railroad tie for good measure.  The dirt may also become incredibly soft after a decent rainfall, which can make this section difficult (but not impossible) for a road bike with thin tires.

Railroad ties next to a mud puddle.

Railroad ties next to a mud puddle.

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But if you’re able to handle the rocks, roots and mud, your perseverance will be rewarded. Not just with the occasional chipmunk scurrying across your path, but with eventual terra firma.  Good old solid pavement for the rest of the ride.

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In fact, when you reach pavement, you can now be assured that you are:

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Yes.  It’s official.  You have now left behind the last of the boroughs and are now entering what we can arguably call “Upstate” New York.

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Once you’re on the South County Trail, there’s nothing more to it than just sticking to the path.  You’ll come across the occasional interrupting road, but the path’s continuation is always clear.  Disregard any hand-written signs that are intended to confuse, such as this one at Mile Square Road:

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The trail is clearly across the road.  Not to the right as the sign would indicate.

You’ll be pedaling steady for the next hour as you traverse the first 10 miles of the path.  There’s not much change in scenery as the trail mostly passes through clusters of familiar-looking woods.  There is, however, the occasional neighborhood decorating the periphery and even a few private backyards that adjoin the trail.

The Yonkers neighborhood of Dunwoodie, east of the trail.

The Yonkers neighborhood of Dunwoodie, east of the trail.

My first rest stop along the South County comes at Woodlands Lake, just about 2.5 miles shy of Elmsford.  You can’t miss the approach as you cross over a creek bridge and hear the rushing white noise of a small waterfall on your left.  On the far side of the bridge you’ll find the lake.

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Woodlands Lake

Woodlands Lake

The fact that you will probably be hungry at this point is appropriate.  Across the lake, and accessible by bike or foot, is the Great Irish Hunger Memorial of Westchester County. Unveiled in 2001, this memorial serves as a tribute to the millions of peasants who starved during the Irish Potato Famine (an Gorta Mór) and commemorates the Irish immigrants who settled in Westchester and built the railroads, dams, aqueducts, and other critical infrastructure that serves the county.

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Grab one of the benches near the lake and stretch your legs.  You will have a fresh appreciation for the food in your backpack.

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When sufficiently rested, hop back on your whip and eat up the last 2.5 miles of trail to Elmsford.

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Terminus of the South County Trail in Elmsford.

According to Wikipedia, the village of Elmsford is the terminus for both the South and North County trails.  The confusing part is that there seems to be signs for the South County Trail even after Elmsford, and signs for the North County Trail don’t begin until much further north.  To be honest, I’m not 100% clear on the geographical boundaries of the northern portion of the trail.  But the southern portion does end in Elmsford and you’ll have to navigate through the village in order to reconnect with the upper part of the trail that leads towards Tarrytown and destinations further north.

But more importantly, Elmsford is also home to the Captain Lawrence Brewing Company.  So, let’s check it out.

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It’s important to note the hours of the tasting room if you want to include the brewery as a stop on your ride.  They’re closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and tours are offered on Saturday afternoons, if you’re into brewery tours.  Below are the full hours of the Captain Lawrence Brewery:

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The Captain Lawrence Brewing Company

Once you reach the end of the South County Trail, you’ll spill out onto the busy intersection of Route 119/E. Main Street & N. Central Ave/Saw Mill River Road.  The address of the Captain Lawrence Brewery is 444 Saw Mill River Road, so you could theoretically just take this directly to the brewery.  But Saw Mill River is a fairly busy thoroughfare with lots of traffic, so its best to avoid it on a bike as much as possible.

Directly in front of you, across E. Main Street, is the Elmsford Deli.  This is a good place to stop for a beverage or for one of their famous hot or cold “wedges”, apparently uber-specific Elmsford local dialect for “hoagie”.

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The best way to get to the brewery while avoiding Saw Mill River Road is to start on the service road that runs along side it.  This road is called –

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Vreeland Ave runs more or less parallel to Saw Mill River Road and ducks underneath the Cross Westchester Expressway where it changes its name to Hayes Street. This section of Elmsford is a kind of industrial wasteland, marked by a haphazard collection of junk yards, scrap iron heaps, and a morgue for decommissioned Hostess and Drake’s Cakes trucks.

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At the end of Hayes Street, your only option is to turn right at the C&F Iron Works yard.

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The name of this street is  –

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– and will lead you back to Saw Mill River Road.  Unfortunately, this is the only option from here.  Merge carefully into traffic and turn left on Saw Mill River Road.

Intersection of N. Payne & Saw Mill River Road

Intersection of N. Payne & Saw Mill River Road

Shortly after taking this left-hand turn, you’ll hit a traffic light.  Warehouse Lane is on your left and a Carvel Bakery is on your right.  Take mental note of this intersection as you’ll be turning onto Warehouse Lane later in order to find the beginning of the North County Trail.

It’s about a 1/2 mile climb up Saw Mill RIver Road to the brewery.  With a 45-mph speed limit and no real shoulder for bicycles, the road can feel busy.  When available, try riding through the business parking lots to shave some of the distance you have to travel on Saw Mill River.

Pass the Sam’s Club on your left and keep an eye out on the right for the Cross Westchester Executive Park and a large sign with the address “444”.

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Pull into the lot of the executive park and follow signs for Captain Lawrence parking to the right and around back.

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You’ll see a bunch of palates and barrels –

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– and maybe a large tank –

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– but unfortunately, no great place to lock up your bike.  I did a loop around the facility and the best I came up with was this hand rail behind a stack of palates that runs up the loading ramp.

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Follow the path that goes behind the building –

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– and you’ll come across the Captain Lawrence beer garden.

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Enter the tasting room to your left –

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– and purchase your chips from the table in front.

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The way that the tasting room works is this:

You have the option of either buying 12oz cups of beer from the bar; or if you’d like to sample a bunch of different kinds of beers, you can purchase chips.

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It costs $2 for a small sampling glass and $5 for 5 chips or $10 for 12 chips.  The chips do not expire, so if you don’t end up using them all it’s okay.  You can save them for your next visit.

I bought five chips and sampled a few beers including the coffee-charged Smoked Porter and the deliciously hoppy Matt The R.I.P.A.  The tasting room is spacious and conveniently designed with the bar at one end and a drinking area off to the side.

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There is also a glass partition that allows you to see into the brewing lab on the other side of the tasting room.

There are a few table tops and bar stools scattered around the drinking area, but most people stood drinking and chatting casually.  The walls are decorated with various best beer awards and newspaper clippings commending the success of the small brewery and its owner and master brewer, Scott Vaccaro.

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There’s also a fridge where you can buy sixers of beer to go and a merchandise counter if you’re interested in hats, hoodies, t-shirts or other CLBC paraphernalia. I’m not typically a huge fan of showing the world which beers I drink… but their gear is pretty slick… so I bought a hat.  Okay.  And a t-shirt.  But they threw in a stack of free chips, so I think I got a good deal.

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After having a few samples, I decided to buy a 12oz cup of my favorite beer in the whole world – Captain Lawrence’s Freshchester Pale Ale – and retire with my drink to the beer garden.  Outside, the beer garden boasts a number of benches and umbrella-shaded tables where people can enjoy their beer under the summer sun.

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And if you like a game with your beer, there’s a Cornhole court off to the side of the garden, which looks as if it could also double as a Bocce Ball court.

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The brewery doesn’t have a kitchen, but they’ve teamed up with an “artisanal” hot dog guy from Tarrytown called Village Dog.

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I know what you’re thinking.  Artisanal hot dogs belong in a Portlandia skit, not a brewery.  You are wrong.  Village Dog takes the “anal” out of artisanal and out of hot dogs.  At first I was skeptical about spending $8 on a hot dog, but I’ve never had hot dog toppings to choose from like mac-n-cheese, lamb merguez, or tzatziki.  I shelled out $7.25 for the Seoul Dog – a plump length of pork nestled inside a toasted, crispy and chewy rustic roll, smothered in kimchi and plum ketchup.  I don’t know if it was the 35 miles I had ridden, or perhaps the beer I had just drank, but it was probably the best fucking hot dog I’ve ever had in my life.  Take a gander:

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Village Dog menu

Village Dog menu

After finishing my beer and hot dog, I decided to bid farewell to Captain Lawrence and continue to Tarrytown.  Exiting the brewery back onto Saw Mill River Road, I carefully steered my bike down the hill to the traffic light and turned right onto –

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You’ll pass a Sam’s Club, ride over a few speed bumps, and find the entrance to the North County Trail at the end of Warehouse Lane on your right.

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Supposedly the beginning of the North County Trail

Hop on this trail for about 1.5 miles and you’ll soon come across a small car park on your left.

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Immediately after the car park you’ll cross a small bridge that passes over Old Saw Mill River Road and then another bridge that crosses the Saw Mill River Parkway.  After this second bridge, you’ll see a pole with an attached call box –

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– and a path rising up to the left.  This is the path that will take you towards Tarrytown.

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Straight ahead lies the North County Trail.  And two naked men running towards you.

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Continuing on this trail will propel you further north and all the way to Brewster if you so desire.  But we’ve had too much beer to drink.  So let’s take a left up this path and head to Tarrytown.

This short path climbs up a small hill and then down, emerging onto Neperan Road which skirts along the northern side of the Tarrytown Reservoir.  Cross the road towards the low, gray-brick building and find the path on the left-side of said building. This path offers a peaceful alternative to Neperan Road and hugs the southern rim of the Tarrytown Reservoir.

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This path is flat and paved and follows the perimeter of the water for roughly one mile before rejoining Neperan Road at the western seal of the reservoir.  The path will come to an end at the intersection of:

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Follow Neperan up the hill to your left –

Neperan Road

Neperan Road

– and bear left at the first fork, following signs for Route 9.

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From here Neperan Road sweeps down a steep hill into the center of Tarrytown, taking you back, full circle, to Broadway, which you last left behind in The Bronx.

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Neperan Road

Broadway as it appears in Tarrytown.

Broadway as it appears in Tarrytown.

As Nerperan Road crosses Broadway it becomes the shop and restaurant-lined Main Street, continuing downhill towards Tarrytown Station and the river.

If you’re still feeling peckish after your hot dog or don’t feel like getting on the train just yet, there are plenty of options.  On the corner of Broadway & Main Street sits Lefteris Gyro offering up Greek cuisine in an al fresco setting.  Grab a table out front and people watch over a plate of spanakopita.

You are also in striking distance of Sleepy Hollow and the famous Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.  Previously known as North Tarrytown until its residents voted to change the name in 1996, the village of Sleepy Hollow lies just to the north of Tarrytown Station.  The cemetery, well-known for housing the burial place of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” author Washington Irving, is easily accessible from Broadway.

Entrance to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

Entrance to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

The only problem is the limited visiting hours –

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Due to the fact that the cemetery grounds close at 4:30PM, you will most likely not be able to fit both the Captain Lawrence Brewery and Sleepy Hollow Cemetery into your itinerary if you choose to go on a weekday.  The weekend, on the other hand, you may be able to squeeze in both.

Just up the road from the cemetery, back in the direction of Tarrytown, is the Philipsburg Manor House.

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Considered a National Historic Landmark, the house is operated as a non-profit museum by the Historic Hudson Valley.  Tours are seasonal and limited during the week.  An admission fee is also charged.  But if you happen to be there at the right time and have 75 minutes to spare, you can learn about the Philipses – a family of Dutch assholes who got unbelievably wealthy exploiting the Atlantic slave trade and later sided with the British during the American Revolution.

Back towards Tarrytown Station, yet still technically in Sleepy Hollow, Hollywood North Pizza on Beekman Ave serves up a great slice if you’re in the mood for something quick and inexpensive.  The owner Benny is hilarious.  Just don’t ask him any stupid questions.  Like if he serves pizza.  Capiche?

Hollywood North Pizza

Chicken bacon ranch.

Chicken bacon ranch.

And if you just missed your train or otherwise have time to kill and are looking for a drink – you can take a short stroll down Beekman to The Huddle, a no-frills sports bar with friendly staff.

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Or, my personal recommendation  – Bridge View Tavern.

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Located on top of the hill at the end of Beekman Avenue, Bridge View Tavern is a stone’s throw from Tarrytown Station and offers spectacular views of the Hudson River and Tappan Zee Bridge, especially during sunset.

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The bar is attached to the restaurant and serves up standard pub fare in a casual atmosphere.

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The BVT burger.

The BVT burger.

But if you can score one of the tables outside, you’ll be sitting pretty.

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When you’re ready to roll, it’s just a 60-second bike ride down the hill to the station. Make sure you have your MTA bike permit and hop on a New York-bound train. Direct trains run frequently and the trip to Grand Central Terminal should only take about 45 minutes.  With any luck the Yankees are on the road and you get a quiet train.

Relax and enjoy the ride.  You’ve done well.  Next time we shall go further.

As always – any questions, comments, or updates to share please feel free to leave a comment below or contact me at asurlygentleman@gmail.com.  On Twitter @escapebklyn.  Keep on rolling.

ESCAPING PARIS

 

 

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I know what you’re thinking.

“Who in their right mind would want to escape Paris?”

That’s a good question. I certainly didn’t. If anything I want to go back and spend several weeks, if not several months or years.

During my recent trip to Europe, I only allocated one day from my schedule to visit the French capital. I don’t necessarily regret my decision since the places I opted to travel were equally exciting in their own right. But I have to admit, after spending just a few hours in Paris, I was seriously considering tweaking my plans to lengthen my stay in the City of Light.

Sometimes cities can be so rich in content that they’re daunting to visit. I was actually relieved that the Musée d’Orsay was closed on Monday since it narrowed down my choices to a more manageable selection. There can be so much to do and see that, even if I have a few days to get acquainted, I feel as if I’m just scratching the surface of a mountainside with my fingernail. The experience is akin to strolling through an aquarium versus scuba diving; being a detached observer of a beating pulse rather than being the blood pumping through it; watching those ephemeral moments of everyday life unfold and dissipate from the window of a moving bus or taxi.

Of course this is the burden of being a tourist. And tourists we generally are whenever we visit a city that is not our home. None of us have the time nor mobility to simply take up residence in whichever cities we find ourselves. We must play the role of the tourist and a significant role it is. As tourists we are the audience that shows up at the theater – eyes wide, mouths agape, hands poised for applause. We create the spectacle of the attraction with our gawking admiration, whereas the native will pass by daily some stunning achievement, attention diverted by whatever it is that’s playing on their iPod.

But if it’s the tourists who fill the seats, it’s the locals who are the stars of the show. We as visitors might say we’re in Paris to see the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, or the Arc de Triomphe – but what we’re really there to see are the people who make the city vibrate. Can you imagine how empty and lonely a city would feel without its people – the merchants, the buskers, the cab drivers, the old woman waiting for the bus, the flamboyant guy on rollerblades rocking the daisy dukes? From my experience the best travel stories come not from exalted landmarks but from personal interactions and connections that we make with our temporary hosts.

My relationship with cities has evolved over the years. There are only a handful of cities with which I’d say I share an intimacy. New York is my soul mate. San Francisco is my beloved paramour. I’ve exchanged flirtatious glances with Berlin, Florence, Kyoto, and Lviv. Okay, I’ll stop with these metaphors before they become too graphic. But the point is, as I get older, I’m drawn less to the thumping energy of the busy urban centers and more towards the peaceful solitude of the deep countryside…

Wait… this is a bike blog, right?  Okay.  Let’s get to bikes.

In one minute.  Back to Paris for a moment.

As I mentioned earlier I only spent about twenty-four hours in town, but I can attest that Paris is one of the most seductive and aesthetically beautiful cities I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.

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Not a painting.  Photo, perhaps, slightly edited…

I had booked a room at the Hotel Europe where a couple of friends were staying. Located in the heart of the Latin Quarter, the hotel was steps away from the Seine and many of the sights you’d want to see if you were only in Paris for one day. My room was snug and sported a sleek little balcony that overlooked the cafes on Rue Saint Séverin below.

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My friends and I shared a tasty meal that night at Le Temps des Cerises, a picture-perfect bistro on Rue de la Cerisaie.  Top photo is a dish of pork medallions, mashed potato, and haricots verts.  Below, a hand eagerly mops up parsley butter from a plate of escargot.

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Afterwards we ambled along the Seine with full stomachs, gazing at the exquisite French architecture sunbathing in the last vestiges of the late evening glow.

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Notre Dame de Paris

We walked along the river all the way to the Eiffel Tower.  It was no quick endeavor and the walk took the better part of an hour. As we complained about our tender feet, people chugged past us on clumsy gray bicycles. The centerpiece of Vélib’, Paris’s large-scale public bicycle sharing system, these drab yet pragmatic clunkers were lined up in rows all throughout the city waiting to be ridden.

A Vélib’ docking station.

A Vélib’ docking station.

The following day I was to catch a train from Gare de L’est at five o’clock in the afternoon and I thought what better way to see Paris in my limited time than from the panoramic window offered by one of these city bicycles.

Vélib’ was launched in Paris in July of 2007. It’s success has paved the way for similar bicycle programs popping up in cities across the globe, such as the Boris Bikes you find in London (2010), or the ubiquitous shiny blue citibikes that are currently steamrolling New York (2013).

The way that Vélib‘ works is this: bicycles are available at stations set up throughout the city. You check out a bike, ride it for as long as you want, then return it to any station that has an empty space. If you just want a short-term ticket, as I did, you pay €1.70 for a one-day subscription. This subscription allows you to use the bicycles as much as you want in a 24-hour period. But you have to pay if you want to ride the bike for more than thirty minutes. The first half-hour is free, but the second half-hour costs €1. The third half-hour costs €2 and any half-hour after that costs €4. So, if you want to use a bike for say three uninterrupted hours, it would cost you €15 plus the €1.70 subscription fee. Not exactly cheap, but probably a bit cheaper than renting from a bike shop and much less hassle considering that picking up and returning the bike is a cinch. Also, if you’re willing to stop every thirty minutes and check in at a docking station you can ride all day for the cost of the €1.70 subscription (very cheap compared to the $9.95 you pay for a citibike in NYC). Essentially, these bike-sharing programs are well-tailored for Parisian commuters and tourists who are interested in stop-and-go sightseeing. If you prefer a long-distance ride that will take you outside the city, or if you don’t want to deal with the inconvenience of stopping every thirty minutes, then a local bike shop rental is probably your better option.

Now, the method of payment is where things become tricky. In order to check out a bicycle from one of the Vélib‘ stations, you must have an EMV credit card or “chip card”. That is, a credit card that contains an integrated circuit “chip” which allows you to transact with chip card-capable ATMs and POS terminals, such as the ones at the Vélib‘ docking stations. This is the credit card you use to pay as well as to put down a €150 deposit on the bike. While prevalent in Europe, the system of EMV standards is only slowly being implemented in the United States and many American credit and debit cards (mine included) lack this chip. This makes certain routine business transactions a headache – like buying gas or participating in a public bike-sharing program.

According to the Vélib‘ website, you can purchase subscriptions on-line up to two weeks in advance. Doing it this way, you receive a confirmation email with a user number and pin which you plug into the bike terminal when you’re ready to ride. Unfortunately, this requires the one thing I always forget to pack in my suitcase – forethought. As a result, my antiquated debit card and the soles of my shoes soon became acquainted with the Paris Métro.

See you another time La Ville-Lumière. We’re off to the countryside.

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GOOD LORGUES

IMG_2003The majority of my time in France was spent in the small commune of Lorgues (pronounced Lourjzhe – think Zsa Zsa Gabor).  Surrounded by vineyards, olive groves, and white oak forests, Lorgues is situated halfway between Marseille and Nice in the Var department of the southeastern region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.  The town center itself is beautiful and ancient.  The contemporary images of people wining and dining at alfresco cafes juxtaposes attractively with the narrow streets, medieval fortifications, and clusters of weather-beaten stone buildings with their faded pale-blue shutters.  If it wasn’t for certain sartorial cues and the occasional cars dotting the landscape, you might second-guess the century.

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Lorgues

My friends and I had rented a villa just outside the center of town for the week.  I was trying to convince several of them to join me for a ride I had read about in a “Cycling France” Lonely Planet book I had picked up prior to the trip.  The ride was called the “Mediterranean Promenade” and was described in the book as being an easy 32-km ride along a “curling coastal road [that] passes through idyllic Mediterranean summer villages and inlets.”  The response I got from my friends was lukewarm.

Part of the reason for this lack of enthusiasm was the relentless summer heat.  I suppose the idea of riding three or four hours in the baking sun is not appealing to everyone.  The other issue was logistics.  The ride was to begin in the coastal town of Saint-Raphaël and terminate in the coastal town of La Napoule.  The route was bookended by train stations, so the idea was to drive (we had rented a car) to Saint-Raphaël and hire bikes from a shop called Atout Cycles.  Then we’d ride along the curling coast up to La Napoule, take the train back to Saint-Raphaël, return the bikes to the shop, and drive back to Lorgues as new people, the idyllic Mediterranean etched in our hearts..  We would just have to make sure that we arrived back in Saint-Raphaël before the bike shop’s closing hours of seven pm.  This sounded simple enough, but while researching local train service I noticed something problematic.  I read on SNCF’s official site that TER trains (Train Express Régional) in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur do not accept bicycles on weekdays between the hours of seven and nine am and four-thirty and six-thirty pm.

Unfortunately the ride, if it was going to happen at all, was going to happen on a weekday.  And since there was no guarantee that we’d make it to La Napoule before four-thirty pm, we needed a train during “rush hour” in order to get back to Saint-Raphaël in time to return the bikes.  But the final nail in the coffin was when we phoned Atout Cycles and learned that all their stock was booked for the week.  Again, forethought – sitting next to my car keys on the coffee table back home.

Well, similar to the relief I felt about the Musée d’Orsay being closed on Mondays, so was the sense I got from my friends about the Mediterranean Promenade getting expunged from the list of things to do.  But not me.  I was bummed.  My trip wasn’t meant to be a cycling vacation and I hadn’t planned or packed for any epic overnight cycling excursions, but I was hoping to at least squeeze in a good ride in France as I was able to do in England.

The Vitamin

The Vitamin

As luck would have it, my salvation was stashed among the cobwebs in the garage of our villa: two 26”, 21-speed, Decathlon Vitamin mountain bikes that looked as if they hadn’t been ridden in years.  I dusted one off, gave some air to the tires and took it out for a spin around town.  The bike was smaller than what I was used to riding.  Also, plastic fenders held loosely on the front and rear wheels by shaky nuts and bolts rattled while in motion, giving the distinct sensation that the bicycle was going to break into pieces at any given moment.  But the Vitamin held its own.  The gears worked, it was easy enough up hills, and all things considered it was a smooth little ride.

Now the question was how I was going to get to Saint-Raphaël and the beginning of the coastal route without a car.  We hadn’t paid to include my name on the insurance and registration documents, and besides, I have little experience driving a manual transmission.  The car was not an option.

So I decided to ride from Lorgues to the coast.  It would add about 40 km to the journey, but I figured the additional leg would provide some interesting scenery and I had confidence in the Vitamin.  Still, I needed to figure out a way to get home.  I scoured a map of the local area and saw that the nearest train station was Les Arcs-Draguignan, about 15 km or so from the villa.  We had driven through Les Arcs earlier in the week on the way to the beach and the town was separated from Lorgues by a minor mountain.  Luckily, it was the only big hill between our villa and the coast, descending steeply from Lorgues towards Les Arcs and the other towns that lead out to the beaches of Fréjus and Saint-Raphaël.

My plan was to ride from Lorgues to Saint-Raphaël where I’d jump on the coastal road up to La Napoule.  Having reached La Napoule as my final destination, I’d board the train to Les Arcs-Draguignan, the last stop on the line.  From Les Arcs I’d ride the 15km back home to Lorgues.  I estimated the total trip would be about 90 km.

  • Lorgues to Saint-Raphaël = 40km
  • Saint-Raphaël to La Napoule = 35km
  • La Napoule to Les Arcs = Train
  • Les Arcs to Lorgues = 15km
  • Total: 90km

The Ride: Lorgues to Mandelieu-la-Napoule (via Saint-Raphaël)

August 9, 2013

If you’d like to skip the prose and just want a bare bones list of directions, go here.  The route is very simple and intuitive and you shouldn’t even need a map.

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Our villa was located on a small road named Chemin du Peylong.  If you exited the house and followed the road to the left, you could conceivably ride it for miles through country forest.  It was just one of hundreds of local roads in the area, scattered across the countryside, an intricate network of veins, connecting tiny pockets of farmland with main roads.  You could spend months getting to know all of these backroads and, in doing so I imagine, gain a fairly intimate knowledge of the area.  Unfortunately, I had only one day and about 90km in front of me.  So I opted for the main roads.

As in England, France’s major roads are divided into two kinds:  A-roads and D-roads.  England’s A-roads allow bicycles while the high-speed M-roads do not.  In France, it’s the A-roads that cyclists must avoid, such as the A8 that tears across Provence from Marseille to Nice.  French D-roads, on the other hand, are very bike-friendly and often have a wide rust-colored shoulder specifically for cyclists.

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I cobbled together a day-pack of bottled water, energy bars, fruit, sausage, spare inner tubes, a mini-pump, a lock, some padded bike shorts just in case, a towel, and sunscreen.  I made sure to bring everything I needed because many shops in this part of France like to take a midday siesta from noon until three pm.  I applied a generous coat of sunscreen on my face and arms, grabbed my helmet, and was out the door by ten in the morning.

A line through the sign means you are leaving the town.

A line through the name means you are leaving the town.

Running parallel to Chemin du Peylong on a south/southeast trajectory is the D10, or Route Des Arcs.  This is the road that escorts you out of Lorgues towards the sea and the rest of Var.  The D10 is a pleasant, flat and wide-open road flanked by grape fields on either side and forest extending beyond the farmland.  You’re on this road for only several kilometers before you come to your first fork.  Here you have a decision: continue on the D10 Route Des Arcs or bear right on the D48 towards Vidauban.  For the purpose of this ride you want to continue on the D10 and follow signs towards Les Arcs.  You will have the opportunity to visit the town of Vidauban on the way back if time and sunlight permit.

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Shortly after you pass the Les Arcs/Vidauban fork, the bike shoulder disappears and the D10 winds steeply down into the tiny commune of Taradeau.  At this point you’ve probably only been riding for about twenty minutes and this is more or less the first village you will encounter since leaving Lorgues.  Once you cross a 2013-08-09 01.09.14small bridge, the road leads you into the quaint center of town.  There is a church, a “tabac”, a small grocery store and a few other shops on this road if you’re in need of essentials (or divine intervention).  Otherwise, simply continue on the D10 following signs towards Les Arcs.

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The ride from Taradeau to Les Arcs is a flat, vast six-kilometer stretch of road that sees the return of the bike lane.  When you come to the major roundabout, you’ll see signs pointing towards the town center and the Gare S.N.C.F.  This is the Les Arcs-Draguignan train station that you’ll be arriving at later.  However, unless you have a need for going into town, you should just continue on the D10 – this time following signs for Le Muy.

Les Arcs-Draguignan Station

Les Arcs-Draguignan Station

The D10/DN7 merge point.

The D10/DN7 merge point.

Almost immediately after passing through the roundabout, the D10 merges with the DN7 which will be your road all the way to the coast.  Called Route d’Aix en Provence, the DN7 changes its name to Route de Fréjus after passing through Le Muy.  It’s also at this point that the traffic starts to become slightly hectic as you approach the massive Hyper-U.  France’s answer to Costco and Walmart, the Hyper-U is a mega-sized supermarket that looms almost anachronistically over the nearby vineyards.  Even if you wanted to stop here for a quick shop or a look around, I wouldn’t recommend it.  Although clearly visible from the DN7, the hypermarket is located several hundred meters off the road and the only access is via a high-speed exit ramp that obviously was not designed for bicycle traffic.  Patrons of the Hyper-U are meant to fill the trunks of their cars with crates of food and other retail items.  The business model is definitely not based on the stray cyclist wandering in for a toothbrush and a bottle of water.

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The Hyper-U

If you’re looking for a quick break, I’d recommend instead stopping at this fruit stand just outside of Les Arcs.  It comes up on your left-hand side shortly after joining the DN7.  They sell fresh fruit, direct produce, cold beverages, and local varieties of wine if you’re so inclined.

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Once beyond the perimeter of the Hyper-U, the DN7 calms down again and it’s a relaxing ride to Le Muy.  By the time you’ve reached Le Muy, you’ve probably been on the road for about one hour and you have 16km ahead to Fréjus and the coast.

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tumblr_ljj0z5HLG71qcv8nwo1_500However, these next 16km are not the prettiest.  You could describe it as a shit taco.  Every ride contains a shit taco and this is it.  It’s not that the terrain is bad or that there are ass-kicking hills along the way.  It’s just that the DN7 becomes busy and congested with beach traffic and you often find yourself relegated to the very margins of the road where there is not always a shoulder and the condition of the asphalt is frequently neglected.

This being said, a forty-kilometer ride along this type of road in the United States would be unimaginable.  French motorists do not look upon their cyclists with contempt.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that in France there is a mutual respect between motorists and cyclists.  Compared to my experiences of riding in the U.S. and England, my experience of riding in France felt much safer and more comfortable.  There seems to be a clear effort to establish bike lanes along the main roads, especially in certain areas of heavy congestion.  This, of course, results in the encouragement of more bicycles and less motor traffic.  A positive trend that hopefully will be copied in the U.S.  Also, I was able to accomplish this entire ride without a map.  I had studied the route before I left the villa, but I felt no need for a map once I hit the road.  Signs and directions were clearly posted all along the way.  So despite the approach from Le Muy to Fréjus receiving my disreputable “shit taco” classification, I never felt myself in danger of life-threatening injury or serious bodily harm.  How’s that for a ringing endorsement?  Besides, this 16km slog is a small price to pay once you reach the majesty of the Blue Coast.

Côte d’Azur

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I’m not sure how to describe the ride up the Blue Coast except to say that if you’re somehow allergic to the color blue you should, at this point, turn around and go home.

Frejus station.

Frejus station.

I arrived in the seaside town of Fréjus a little after twelve-thirty.  Passing by the Fréjus train station, I decided to pop in and pick up a train schedule.  There were plenty of trains leaving from La Napoule later in the afternoon and I also asked the ticket agent about their policy of bicycles on trains.  Contradicting what I had read on SNCF’s own website, the agent assured me that bicycles were allowed on all TER trains at all times.

Fréjus center of town.

Fréjus center of town.

Following signs to Fréjus Plage I finally wound up at the beach.  The sea breeze was indescribably euphoric after over two hours of inland pedaling and it took all my self-control not to strip down and jump in the water right there.  But I knew there were going to be plenty of beaches along the coastal road and I diligently restrained myself.

Just down the beach from Fréjus, marked by the recognizable dome of the Church Notre Dame de la Victoire, the view partially marred by a conglomeration of construction cranes, is the town of Saint-Raphaël.

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Saint-Raphaël in the distance.

2013-08-09 04.00.40Fréjus and Saint-Raphaël, although separate towns, combine to make a single lively beach community bustling with activity.  Having reached the halfway point of my ride, I stopped to run a couple of errands in Saint-Raphaël.  First, I needed some credits for my phone.  I found an Orange shop that was able to hook me up with a SIM card and some minutes.  Second, I needed to eat something.  All I’d eaten that day was a solitary peach and I hadn’t realized how hungry I was.

2013-08-09 04.28.46Just next door to the Orange shop was the friendly-staffed Emporio Cafe where I bought an Orangina and a chicken salad sandwich on a seeded baguette.  I sat in the shade of an umbrella in front of the cafe, people-watching and happily devouring my lunch.

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After lunch it was back to business.  Onward to the Mediterranean Promenade.

The D559, the boring name for the “curling coastal road”, snakes its way beneath the impressive mountains of the Massif de l’Esterel, connecting Fréjus and Saint-Raphaël in the west with Mandelieu-la-Napoule and Cannes in the east.  The road is easily accessible from Saint-Raphaël – simply find the road that runs along the beach and follow it all the way,  keeping the sea on your right-hand side.  Some spots along the way worth noting:

  • Plage de Boulouris
  • Le Dramont: home to an extensive beach tucked in by a shady wooded area.  Here you will find a square dedicated to Dwight D. Eisenhower as this beach was the site of an amphibious landing by the U.S. 36th Infantry on August 15, 1944, part of the Mediterranean D-Day assault.
  • Plage des Pointes Longues offers up the first unspoiled view of the Massif de l’Esterel in the distance.
  • The popular horse-shoe shaped bay and beaches of Agay.
  • From Antheor to Le Trayas: the twisting and winding Corniche de l’Esterel and the unmistakable Pic du Cap Roux.
  • The palm trees and perched village of Miramar.
  • Théoule-sur-Mer and the hidden beach of Pointe de l’Aiguille.

I’ve thought about all the ways I can best illustrate this ride, which I can only describe as the French Big Sur, and decided it would be in the interest of everyone involved if I spared you all the inadequate comparisons and descriptions that are inevitable in a written account, and instead simply bombard you with photos.

The only thing I will say is that if you do end up doing this ride, you will want to stop.  Often.  And take pictures.  And go swimming.

Bon voyage.

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Fréjus as seen from Saint-Raphaël

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The best video I will ever shoot:

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Cannes in the distance.

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As difficult as it was, I rode past all these beaches stopping only for photos and the occasional gulp of water.  I wanted to save my swim for when I was close to La Napoule.  The “Cycling France” book had described this ride as “an easy jaunt” with “few serious physical challenges”.  It’s true that it’s not a very difficult ride, but there are definitely some hills.  Especially along the Corniche de l’Esterel between Antheor and Théoule-sur-Mer, so be sure to keep it in the back of your mind that the ride is not a cruise along the boardwalk at sea level.

By the time I reached Théoule-sur-Mer I was only about 2km from La Napoule and ready for a swim.  I came across a lookout point high on the road with a sign advertising “Pointe de l’Aguille, Sentier du littoral (Coastal Trail).”  There were steps leading down to a dirt path which eventually joined a stone staircase that descended steeply to two secluded beaches.  There were maybe two dozen people at most, sunbathing and swimming, families enjoying the afternoon.  I shed my sweaty and grimy clothes and stripped down to my boxer briefs (no one seemed to mind), hobbled awkwardly across the stony beach and dove into the cool sea.

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Cannes across the bay.

I swam for a while enjoying the view of Cannes across the bay.  Holy shit.  I had nearly ridden to Cannes!  But I soon had to continue on to La Napoule.  My friends back in Lorgues had made dinner reservations for 8pm and if I had any chance of joining them, I needed to catch the 5:45 train.  I had some time, but I didn’t know the exact whereabouts of the train station in La Napoule.  So I dried off, got dressed, and hit the road.

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I arrived at the Mandelieu-la-Napoule train station at 5:15 and discovered that the train was delayed by 25 minutes.  So much for hurrying.  I also found out, through trial and error, that the ticket machine didn’t read my credit card.  Or take bills.  Only coins.  So I went to the gelato shop next to the station and got change.  After purchasing my ticket I had some time to kill.  I walked up the street from the station and followed the aromas of rotisserie chicken to La Maison du Bon Poulet.  This shop and its animated owner specialize in dealing juicy roast chicken, frites, and other assorted vittles to its loyal customer base.  I bought a bag of fried potato balls, which may or may not have been dripped upon by the fatty juices of the slowly spinning chickens.

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Gelato shop next to station.

Potato balls in hand, I made my way back to the station to wait for my train.  I had heard so much about how European trains run with impeccable timing.  This was not my experience.  First the train was delayed by 25 minutes.  Then it was 40 minutes.  Then 60 minutes.  Then  75.  Then 90.  Then there was no estimate.  Had I known the delay was going to be so long, I would have ridden to Cannes.  Or sat down for a full meal at La Maison du Bon Poulet.

Where the fuck is my train?

Where the fuck is my train?

I started to get concerned.  The train ride from La Napoule to Les Arcs takes about 45 minutes and the bike ride from Les Arcs to Lorgues takes about one hour.  The reason for the longer journey back is because of the mountain that stands between Taradeau and Lorgues.  Also, there are no lights on this mountain road so it’s important that you return while there’s still daylight.  If the train didn’t come soon, I wasn’t going to have enough daylight to return to Lorgues by bicycle.  To be honest, I was starting to worry that the train wasn’t going to come at all.

I had to stare at this guy's laundry for almost two hours.

I had to stare at this guy’s laundry for almost two hours.

2013-08-09 11.03.47The train finally showed up at 7:15, fully loaded with frustrated passengers.  I was barely able to squeeze on with my bike.  I wasn’t going to make dinner reservations at eight.  That much was clear.  At this point, my primary focus was on my race with the sun.  We pulled into Les Arcs-Draguignan station a little after 8pm and the light was starting to fade.  Not even stopping for a drink of water, I hit the road fast, muscling it along the D10 to Taradeau and then along the D73 to Vidauban.

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IMG_2084The commune of Vidauban is only a couple of kilometers from Taradeau, and as I mentioned earlier in the post, it makes for a great pit-stop or even a day trip if you have the time.  The approach into town from Lorgues spills down the windy D48 onto a tree-lined lane boasting picturesque grape fields on either side.  There is a river just before you reach town where you can find people swimming, canoeing, and picnicking.  The center of town is adorned with a large plaza surrounded on all sides by bars, cafes, and restaurants.

The approach to Vidauban.

The approach to Vidauban.

River in Vidauban.

River in Vidauban.

D73

D73 from Taradeau to Vidauban

On this particular evening I certainly did not have the time to stop in Vidauban for a leisurely drink.  The reason for this detour is that the climb from Vidauban to Lorgues seems slightly more gradual than the disheartening ascent from Taradeau.  Thus I took the D73 from Taradeau to the D48 in Vidauban where I turned right towards Lorgues.

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By the time I got to the top of the hill it was about 8:45 and the last dim rays of sunlight were vanishing into dusk.  I plodded along the last few kilometers to Lorgues with hamstrings that felt like they were going to snap.  Once I was close to home, I guzzled the remaining bottle of water that was in my backpack.  I must have drank close to two gallons throughout the course of the day.  My friends were still at dinner, so I let myself inside the villa and took a shower.  Absolutely famished, I raided the fridge and cupboards.  Forging an appetizer plate of petit saucisson and cherries, I threw a pot of boiling water on the stove and cooked some farfalle with pesto and summer squash.

I thought of La Maison du Bon Poulet with every bite.

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As always – any questions, comments, or updates to share please feel free to leave a comment below or contact me at asurlygentleman@gmail.com.  On Twitter @escapebklyn.  Keep rolling.

ESCAPING LONDON

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Okay.  So this ride is technically a bit outside the boundaries of the five boroughs.

I recently returned to Brooklyn after spending the first half of August traveling around England, France, and Germany.  The first of three posts documenting my short time in Europe, “Escaping London” recounts my thoughts and experiences of riding in England on July 31, 2013.  The focus of my trip was more or less a reunion of sorts with old friends and riding was something of an afterthought.  Therefore my planning and expectations were minimal.  That being said, I was able to wrangle a bicycle in each country I visited, and as I discovered, a lack of planning can frequently lead to more interesting scenarios than if I had sketched out each step of the way.

LOOKING ON THE BRIGHTON SIDE

I arrived in London late on Tuesday night and took the Piccadilly tube line from Heathrow to Arsenal.  I was staying with my friend Martin who lives in a flat near Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal F.C., on the outer fringe of the northern neighborhood of Stoke Newington.

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The plan was to decompress in London for a couple of days before traveling to Paris via the Eurostar on Friday morning.  Thursday we were scheduled to meet up with some friends from San Francisco who were flying into London and also hopping aboard the Friday train to Paris.  So that left Wednesday’s itinerary wide open.  A perfect day to get acquainted with London, and possibly escape it, on a bicycle.

The week before my flight I was studying some maps of England and decided, if time and weather permitted, I’d like to attempt a ride from London to Brighton.  On the map the route appears to be more or less as the crow flies – a straight line following the A23, roughly sixty miles south to the coast.  London_Brighton mapI spot-checked some of the highlighted paths on Google street view and it looked like a nice and easy ride – bike lanes within the city and quiet country roads once outside.  My hope was to get down to Brighton in about six hours, grab some fish and chips, wash them down with a few pints of English ale, and then throw my bike on the train for the hour-long ride back to the city.

I contacted my friend Tom, a London native and adventure eccentric.  A public schoolteacher, Tom’s summer weekdays are free and I asked if he’d be interested in joining me to Brighton.  Tom replied that he’d done that particular ride before, that he’d be into doing it again, and that the only issue would be finding me some suitable wheels.  Local guide and riding companion in place, I packed my helmet along with a few other riding essentials and prepared for my three-week trip.

The Tuesday that I arrived in London had been a mess of rain and they were predicting the distinct possibility of more of it on Wednesday, putting a potential damper on our sixty-mile ride to the coast.  I had located a bike shop close to Martin’s flat that did rentals, and after a quick conversation with Tom on Tuesday night we decided to reconvene Wednesday morning at the shop and decide on our plan of action.  At the very least, Tom said, we could ride to his folks place in Croydon, a suburb about 11 miles south of central London.  His parents had some French maps and a self-breathalyzer kit that we needed for our trip to France (a bizarre new law put in place by the French interior ministry requires all drivers to carry their own breathalyzer.  Why not carry your own handcuffs?).

Waking up Wednesday morning with a heavy dose of jet lag, I was surprised to look out the window and see relatively dry conditions.  The sky was cloudy and the ground was a bit wet, but it wasn’t raining and it didn’t look like it was going to start anytime soon.  The air temperature was somewhere in the 60s, a marked difference from the 90-degree scorchers we’d been having in New York, and I momentarily regretted not packing a long-sleeved thermal.

THE RED BIKE SHOP

2013-08-01 01.44.37The North London bike shop that I tracked down online turned out to be a good find.  The Red Bike Shop, located on St. Paul’s Road in Highbury, rented me a Charge Grater for £20 per day which translated to about $30.  The two shop employees that helped me were friendly, unpretentious, and accommodating.  The rental period was for 24 hours, not just the day, so there was no extra charge involved if I returned the bike the next morning as opposed to before closing hours that evening.  They also waived the deposit charge to my credit card, and when I told them that I was planning on riding to Brighton they threw in a spare tube at no extra cost and told me to simply return it the next day if I didn’t use it.  I would definitely recommend this shop for short-term London bike rentals and will give them my business again the next time I’m in town.

THE CHARGE GRATER

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The Charge Grater that I rented was a simple, lightweight, 8-speed urban commuter bike.  The tires were 32c Charge Coasters.  Despite being all-weather grip, I found myself fishtailing a bit when braking hard on the wet pavement so I just tried to be careful with the sudden stops.  I found this bike to be well-suited for my purposes and the only minor gripe I had was with the pterodactyl-sized wingspan of the handlebars, slightly unwieldy for weaving through traffic.

LONDON VS. NEW YORK

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The first question that Tom asked me once we left The Red Bike Shop was, “So, have you mapped a route?”

Fair question.  No, I hadn’t.  “Isn’t it pretty straightforward?  Don’t we just keep the Earth’s sun on our right-hand side?  I thought maybe you knew the way,” were just some of my possible answers.  “Shit,” I started to think.  “Maybe I should have put a little more thought into this ride to Brighton.”

As I soon discovered, I had underestimated the ease of riding a bicycle inside and outside of London.  That’s not to say that a ride from London to Brighton can’t be accomplished with safety and comfort – in fact, from what I’ve heard, it’s a fairly popular ride among London cyclists.  But a detailed route is a necessity.  Relying solely on the A23 and other major roads heading south makes not for an enjoyable ride.

Coming from New York I think I’ve developed something of an ego.  People are always marveling at how scary and dangerous it is to ride a bicycle in the city, and as someone who does it regularly, I’ve come to think of myself as a kind of fearless soldier.  I’ve inherited a kind of “if I can ride here, I can ride anywhere!” mentality.  But from my perspective, London, with its left-hand traffic, schizophrenic layout, and chaotic roundabouts makes riding in New York City look like a leisurely cruise down Venice Beach.

sexycycling

Totally.

Unlike many other major European cities, and New York for that matter, London’s system of roads is not particularly well suited for cycling tourism.  Looking at a map of London’s streets is like looking at a map of the brain’s neural connections.

London. chklovskii picture

This is compared with the relative simplicity of New York’s utilitarian numerical grid.  Unless you have the internal compass of a local London cabbie, navigating the city’s side streets without consulting a map every fifty feet is an exacting task.  Luckily Tom has the internal compass of a local London cabbie and I was able to switch my mind’s navigational settings from manual to autopilot.

The elusive London bike lane.

The elusive London bike lane.

Screen Shot 2013-08-22 at 12.03.47 AMAnother aspect of London’s streets that works against cyclists is a low priority assigned and lack of resources devoted during urban planning.  For example, bike lanes in London seem to be more of the exception than the rule.  Bus lanes are the de facto bicycle lanes of the city, forcing cyclists to compete with London’s towering double-decker buses for road space.  However, London bus drivers seem fairly accustomed to cyclists sharing their turf and I personally did not witness or experience any aggression from them.  Riding alongside the city buses felt to me what it might feel like to swim alongside a pod of benevolent whales.  But the last thing you want is to get stuck beneath a whale, benevolent or not.

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Which perhaps explains the remarkable etiquette exhibited by the majority of London’s two-wheel commuters.  While riding through the city I looked on with bewilderment as cyclists actually stopped at red lights and paused at crosswalks (locally referred to as zebra crossings) to let pedestrians pass!  These occasional breaks allow one to compose, adjust, recalibrate, and reel in the pace of the ride – in my opinion, a much safer (and enjoyable) alternative to the frenetic head-down, mad-dash style of riding you often see in New York.

ONWARD TO CROYDON

Not London Bridge.

Not London Bridge.

From the bike shop in North London we grabbed Upper Street at the first roundabout and sliced our way southeast through the city towards the River Thames.  Crossing London Bridge into the southern part of the city you can get a good glimpse of Tower Bridge to the east, the iconic fairy tale-looking structure that many tourists (myself included) often confuse for London Bridge.

I confidently remarked to Tom that the original London Bridge was sold to an American and reconstructed in Lake Havasu City, Arizona where it stands today.  Tom corrected me and pointed out that it was the previous London Bridge that I was referring to, not the original.  The original London Bridge was made of timber and built by the Romans thousands of years ago.

“Damn,” I thought to myself.

London is old.

London is old.

Traversing south through the neighborhoods of Elephant & Castle, Camberwell, and Brixton I kept my eyes on Tom’s hand signals as we nimbly drifted and floated through London’s morning rush of traffic, avoiding car doors and negotiating with city buses as we left the confines of the London Underground system behind and approached Croydon.

Tom and his folks outside their home in Croydon.

Tom and his folks outside their home in Croydon.

As you’d expect, the more of London we left behind, the quieter the streets became.  After about an hour of riding, we rolled upon Tom’s parents’ home – a skinny, two-story building with an impressive garden in the back that stretches out into a dazzling emerald corridor. 2013-07-31 04.21.02

We collected the French maps and breathalyzer kit and sat down for some lunch with Tom’s folks.  At this point we were still on the fence about trying all the way for Brighton as rain was still something of a possibility, we had no clear route in mind, and we still had at least forty miles ahead of us.  But reinvigorated by hummus sandwiches on soda bread we decided to go for it.  Tom’s folks gave us some old maps and a couple of flapjacks for the road and we were off.

English flapjack.  Not a pancake.

English flapjack.  Not a pancake.

BELLIES FULL, RIDING IN CIRCLES

A23, Kennington

A23, Kennington.  Bike good.

England’s major thoroughfares are more or less divided into A-roads and M-roads, the main difference being that A-roads are generally no more than two lanes per side and allow bicycles.

M25

M25.  Bike bad.

M-roads, on the other hand, are multi-lane, high-speed parkways that do not permit bicycles.

Now simply because you CAN ride your bike on an A-road doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea.  A-roads often transform quickly from mellow main streets bisecting a town to quasi-highways with no bike lanes or shoulders.  Therefore, in addition to figuring out the right direction, you also have to decide on the best roads available for your bike.

Upon leaving Croydon, Tom and I jumped on Brighton Road (A23) heading south.  This manageable piece of the A23 led us to the town of Purley where we were faced with our first directional decision: continue on Brighton road (A23) to the southwest or switch to Godstone Road (A22) to the southeast.  We both agreed the A22 looked less hectic.

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The A22 turned out to be ridable, though narrow with almost no shoulder.  We stayed on this road through the town of Whyteleaf and soon met our next quandary at a major roundabout in Caterham.  From an aerial view, this intersection resembles a malformed octopus, gesticulating six tentacles of road option in every direction.  The center of this octopus looks like an abandoned gladiator arena, offering its participants a variety of tunnel escape routes to each road.

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Did I mention that Tom’s London cabbie internal compass ceases to be operational outside of London?  Well, not a big deal.  Navigating without a compass!  To hell with smart phones, GPS, and sat maps!  Armed only with our flapjacks and a stack of old maps (probably from the days of the original London Bridge), we didn’t need any sophisticated tools to tell us that continuing on the A22 was going to be a nightmare.

Placing forefinger on the tongue and raising it to the winds of chance, we descended into the gladiator pit and picked our door.  It turned out to be a nice choice.

Woldingham Road

Woldingham Road

Emerging from the tunnel onto Woldingham Road, flanked on both sides by grazing horses and rolling farmland, it was dramatic in contrast to the city and suburban landscape that had previously surrounded us.  That being said, despite its being a country road, cars flew past at a rapid clip, and with no shoulder, the margin allowed for bicycles was slim. 2013-07-31 05.32.32

Therefore we elected to ride on the skinny strip of sidewalk that curved along the right-hand side of the road, having to dodge the occasional clump of brush jutting out over the path.

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Woldingham horse.

The road not taken.

The road not taken.

We followed Woldingham Road to the east where it briefly forked at a large red brick overpass.  Although we didn’t know it at the time, following the road to the right would have put us on a pastoral country lane that more or less winds due south through tiny picturesque farm communities, crosses the ineludible perimeter of the M25, and shepherds you almost all the way to Blindley Heath.

In other words, the exact road that we wanted.

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Woldingham Station.

Without question we bore left and continued on Woldingham Road to the east and then to the south where we arrived at Woldingham Station.  I think it was at this point that we both realized our goal of reaching Brighton might not happen, and we accepted with open minds the reality of Plan B – that is, not stressing over a destination, riding wherever the hell we wanted, and generally getting lost in Surrey.

Marden Park Farm.

Marden Park Farm.

At the station, we continued south along a small road named Church Lane which eventually turned into a dirt path.  However, just before the dirt portion of the road we crossed a small pedestrian bridge which opened onto a quiet street that passed through the elegant Marden Park Farm.  It almost felt as if we were trespassing on private property and the alternate road mentioned above, had we bore right at the earlier fork, was visible off to our right.

2013-07-31 05.52.53The paved section of this road soon turned into a rocky dirt trail that rose up to a ridge and traversed its way through a narrow crop of trees.  Once again we found ourselves in the company of cows and horses and rolling green hills.  Parts of the trail were muddy and uneven due to the previous day’s rain and we were forced at times to dismount and walk our bikes up the steeper sections of the path.

Oh yeah – did I mention that Tom was riding a fixed gear?

A proper nuttah!

A proper nuttah!

An artist's representation of the area.

An artist’s representation of the area.

Eventually this trail tumbled down to the grounds of Woldingham School where there was a small cemetery and a road called Horse Chestnut Avenue.

South Lodge.

South Lodge.  Another decisive moment.

We followed this road to a fork where there stood a diminutive, white stone A-frame called South Lodge.  Here the road split off into two directions with a sign post advertising National Cycle Network 21 to the right.

National Cycle Network 21

National Cycle Network 21

Again, there was no way of knowing it at the time, but we had briefly rejoined at Horse Chestnut Avenue the alternate road that we had missed earlier.  Had we gone left at this fork in the road at South Lodge we would have continued more or less due south across the M25 towards Blindley Heath.

But in the end we could not resist its sweet siren song and headed west along Quarry Road into the labyrinth of trails that is National Cycle Network 21.

According to Wikipedia, National Cycle Network 21 is a route that runs from Greenwich to Crawley where it connects with National Cycle Network 20, which in turn connects Crawley and Brighton.  Also according to Wikipedia, “several sections are not suitable for road bikes.”  Yes.  Once again, hats off to Tom and his fixed gear skills.

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I’m not exactly sure how the UK National Cycle Network perambulates throughout the country, but from my experience it dispatched us in loops through the woods until we came across a misplaced-looking, metallic pedestrian bridge in a clearing of tall grass.

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Vistas from National Cycle Network 21 Vistas from National Cycle Network 21

2013-07-31 06.42.35The bridge escorted us over the A22 and onto Tupwood Lane.  Dutifully following signs for Cycle Network 21, we meandered through the forest of Fosterdown Wood until the road finally spilled out of the thicket onto the majestic plateau of Caterham Viewpoint.  Here we grabbed some bench and waxed philosophical about the economic collapse of 2007 while devouring our flapjacks and gazing out at the towns of Bletchingley and Godstone in the distance.

Perspective from Caterham Viewpoint

Perspective from Caterham Viewpoint

We also decided that this would mark the end of our ride and we called it a day.  Brighton would have to wait for another time.  Picking up our bikes we headed onward, following Gravelly Hill briefly to the right and reconnecting with good old National Cycle Network 21.  Finally escaping the ring of the M25 we rode south through Bletchingley and crossed over the M23 into Nutfield where we found the train station.

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2013-07-31 09.29.15A straight, uninterrupted shot from The Red Bike Shop in Highbury to Nutfield is about 25 miles, but I suspect we rode closer to 40 miles if not more.  The train ride from Nutfield back to London Victoria Station cost £10 and took roughly 30 minutes.  It was approaching late afternoon by the time we returned to the city and the masses were all leaving work.  The ride from Victoria to Stoke Newington was a hurried contest as we were absorbed by the herd of commuting cyclists, racing from their offices like chased prey.

OKAY, LET’S HAVE A BEER

Back in Stoke Newington we picked up a few tall cans of Kronenbourg 1664 in spirit of our upcoming trip to France, a couple bags of chips, and a took a load off in the comfort of Tom’s flat.  It felt good to eat and drink like a maniac after all that riding, not to mention sitting down in a chair and resting your elbows on the table.

Outside the Clapton Hart.

Outside the Clapton Hart.

After our beers and chips in the kitchen we walked over to The Clapton Hart, a beautiful English pub located on Lower Clapton Road.  With its plush furniture, exposed brick, high ceilings, and open fires it’s the perfect place to lounge with a beer after a long day of riding.

Interior of the Clapton Hart.

Interior of the Clapton Hart.

2013-07-31 14.12.55Although we didn’t make it to Brighton it had been a good day.  I had the frenzied experience of riding in London and then getting charmingly lost in the bucolic parts outside the city.  Pretty much exactly how I wanted to spend the day.  Tom, too, had seen new parts of England that afternoon for the first time.

We had eschewed smart phones and Google maps for instinct and gut feeling and it got us precisely nowhere.  Which is exactly where we sometimes need to go.  Nowhere can be beautiful and fascinating.  It can be marvelously raw and lonely.  It can surprise and confound us and stir the ingredients of our everyday recipes.

Ironically enough, the next day I was emptying my pockets and pulled out Martin’s set of keys which he had loaned me for letting myself in and out of the apartment.  I laughed when I saw what was attached to the key ring that had been in my pocket the entire day:  a functioning compass.

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Next time, Brighton.  Next time.

As always – any questions, comments, or updates to share please feel free to leave a comment below or contact me at asurlygentleman@gmail.com.  On Twitter @escapebklyn.  Keep rolling.

This Buoy’s Life

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The following is the tale of a journey.  Not a journey by bike, but an involuntary journey caused by the entropic forces of nature.  This is a story of serendipitous discovery, heart-wrenching loss, and miraculous recovery.

This is a story of buoyancy.

Or, to get directly to it, this is the story of a big-ass buoy that was swept across the South Oyster Bay by a hurricane last year.

I wrote about Charlie’s beach house in my previous post, “Brooklyn to Jones Beach”.  Sitting as sentry in the front yard, this buoy serves as the unmistakable landmark to Charlie’s property.

The story begins just before sunrise; an ordinary morning on Gilgo Beach in 1974.

Charlie’s eldest son, Paul, and two friends, Mike and Phil, were on their way home after a night of drinking at the local pub.  Paul, the oldest and wisest, decided to call it a night.  Mike and Phil, on the other hand, hungry for exploit, made their way to the beach to see if the ocean was still wet.  It was on this beach at Gilgo, in the wee-hours of this Nixonian-era morning, that Mike and Phil discovered the buoy.

Not satisfied leaving this strange flotation device to the whimsy of the sand crabs, the two men thought it best to make irrefutable proof of their unearthed treasure by rolling the massive ball through the underpass, across the parking lot, and down the street to Charlie’s house, waking up the entire beach community with the celebratory sounds of a boulder scraping against pavement and crushing atop gravel.

Despite its initial clumsy introduction to the neighborhood, the buoy developed something of a landmark status over time, and another of Charlie’s sons, Charlie Jr., took up the mantle of artist-in-residence, making the buoy his palate of sorts.

Under Charlie Jr.’s creative eye and careful brush, the buoy underwent many transformations as the seasons passed – Eight-ball, fishing bobber, baseball, Christmas ornament, and WWII naval mine to name a few.  He continued until his death and it was subsequently painted as the globe by a family friend and dedicated to the memory of Charlie Jr.

On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy roared off the Atlantic coast and swept over the narrow strip of barrier island where Charlie’s beach house helplessly sat.  The ferocity and magnitude of the storm’s surge washed much away, including Charlie Jr.’s famous buoy.

Lamenting the loss and hoping for a miracle, two of Charlie Sr.’s granddaughters, Meredith and Jacqueline, took the cause to Facebook where they posted pictures of the recognizable blue-green monument.

Demonstrating its usefulness for more than reconnecting people with their first-grade classmates, Facebook came through when one of Jacqueline’s friend’s parents noticed a misplaced-looking, Earth-painted buoy in her neighbor’s backyard in Massapequa.  Somehow the buoy had floated four miles across the marshy bay, finding new residence in the suburbs.

buoytrajectory

Jacqueline’s husband was able to get his hands on a crane and a flatbed and hauled Charlie Jr.’s keepsake back to its proper home in front of the beach house in Gilgo.  There was an impromptu neighborhood celebration as people from up and down the block watched the unloading and restoration; a small, but substantial moment of levity in the otherwise sobering aftermath of the storm.

Today the buoy rests back where it belongs, welcoming guests on their arrival to Charlie’s house.  It is inscribed with the message “in memory of Charlie Jr.” and the sage truth, in case you ever forget, that YOU ARE HERE.

BROOKLYN to JONES BEACH

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July 6, 2013

Summary

Flat-Tire-Boy

This is a relatively painless, good summer beach route that skirts along the southern edges of Brooklyn and Queens into Nassau County, LI.  The terrain is as flat as an old keg of beer and you should be able to accomplish the ride in 3 – 3 1/2 hours.  That being said, this ride is exposed – which is to say there is very little tree cover and the summer sun beating down on your neck and arms can be unrelenting.  Be generous with the sunscreen and water when assembling your day pack.  The day I rode the temperature got up into the mid-90s in the city, but it was probably 5-10 degrees cooler along the beaches.  The good thing about this route is that you never really leave civilization and there are plenty of opportunities to refill your water bottle or stop at a bodega for a drink and some A/C.

What to bring

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I have a Timbuk2 messenger bag-style pannier that hooks onto the side of my rear rack.  There are certain essentials I bring on any ride and they are as follows:

bike lock

spare tube(s)

tire levers

pump

hex key (for seat adjustment)

pinhead key (for wheel removal)

water

energy bars and fruit

bungee cords

cue sheet

camera

MTA bike permit

cigarettes (if I have any)

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For this particular ride, since I was going to be spending the night in Long Island, I packed an additional backpack with extra clothes which I secured with bungees to the top of my rear rack.

The Truth

I must come clean.  My final destination for this ride was not Jones Beach, but in fact Gilgo Beach.  About 8 miles east of Jones, Gilgo Beach is a small hamlet tucked in between West Gilgo and Cedar Beach on the barrier island that runs along the southern edge of LI.  My friend John’s legendary and octogenarian grandfather, Charlie, throws an annual Fourth of July bash at his beach house right near Gilgo Heading (imagine a Sons of Anarchy party minus the strippers).

My original plan was to bike from my apartment on the south side of Prospect Park all the way to Gilgo Beach.

bk_gilgo

Needless to say, this plan needed modification.

When planning out the last leg of this route, I chose to start on the Jones Beach bike trail.  Running alongside the Wantagh Parkway, the Jones Beach bike trail is a 5-mile paved path that connects Cedar Creek Park on Merrick Road with the Jones Beach amphitheater.  After passing the amphitheater, Google Maps put me on a short trail that hugs Zachs Bay zachsbay and winds its way into some marshland that, after a couple of miles, spills out into the Tobay Beach parking lot.jfkmws  At the eastern end of the parking lot it appears that, with some ingenuity, one would be able to trespass enter into the small neighborhood of West Gilgo, wgilgoride on quiet roads for a few hundred feet, then embark on the grassy shoulder of the high-speed Ocean Parkway oceanpkwy for less than a mile to Charlie’s beach house in Gilgo.

Seems entirely doable, right?  Not really.

It was fortuitous I decided to do a little extra research into planning this route or I would have found myself either rolling the dice on the Ocean Parkway or disassembling my bike in the Jones Beach parking lot and calling one of my drunk friends with their small car to come pick me up.

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The marshland I mentioned above that connects Zachs Bay with Tobay Beach is actually the John F Kennedy Memorial Wildlife Sanctuary.  Besides being one of the infamous bone depositories of the Gilgo serial killer, the wildlife sanctuary is also home to dozens of species of waterfowl and a haven for bird-watchers.  Entry is free and open to the public, but necessitates a permit from the Town of Oyster Bay Parks Department.  Curious if there was a way I could bypass the red tape, I phoned their offices and asked if cyclists were allowed to use the trails in the sanctuary as a way of getting to Tobay.  The answer I received from the incredulous Parks Department employee was an uncompromising “NO”.  He also assured me that hunting was prohibited in the sanctuary, quickly dashing my hopes of bringing fresh heron and egret to the beach party.

Even if I wanted to be a maverick and slip past sanctuary security, I would have been out of luck.  As the guy from the Parks Department kindly pointed out, despite the omniscience of Google Maps, there is no trail that leads from the wildlife sanctuary to Tobay.  Upon closer inspection there is, in fact, a clear break in the trail at the northeastern end of Guggenheim Pond where a small inlet leaks in from the bay above.  Small, but plenty big enough to interrupt a bike route.  And then there is the question of the quality of the trails that run throughout the sanctuary.  From what I’ve read, some are paved but others are of dirt and sand.

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So that leaves an 8-mile ride along the sandy and grassy shoulder of the Ocean Parkway, putting my tires to the test and competing with 65-mph motorists hurrying to get to the beach.  I spoke to a mountain-biker at Jones Beach who said he’d ridden the 14 miles out to Captree State Park before.  It sounds like fun, but with a potential $500 price tag from eager-to-ticket troopers, it didn’t seem worth it.  Unfortunately, points east of Jones Beach are not tailored yet for cyclists.  In an ideal world there would be a bike lane along the Loop, Meadowbrook, and Ocean Parkways making it possible for someone to cycle all the way from New York City to Fire Island without leaving the beach.  But I digress…

So, in short, if you want to ride from Brooklyn to Gilgo you have three options:

  1. Ocean Parkway with possibility of death and/or hefty fine.
  2. Piss off the Town of Oyster Bay Parks Department and numerous species of waterfowl.
  3. Ride to Massapequa and convince your friend Ray to drive you to Gilgo.

I chose option #3.

The Route – Leg 1 – Brooklyn

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The first leg of the route to Jones Beach is a straight-shot south from Prospect Park to Sheepshead Bay.  From my apartment I grab the Bedford Ave bike lane @ Church and just keep on truckin’ for 5 miles through Flatbush, Ditmas Park, Midwood, and Sheepshead Bay until I finally hit the harbor at Emmons Ave.

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*Ocean Parkway (different from the one on Long Island) is another option with a dedicated pedestrian path, but Bedford Ave seems to move quicker, has less traffic, and is closer to my place.  Save Ocean Parkway for trips down to Brighton Beach and Coney Island.

Turning left on Emmons, you ride alongside the harbor for about 1/2 mile until you see the entrance to the Belt Parkway.  Just before the entrance ramp there is a small street on your right-hand side named Brigham, and it is here that you will find the beginning of the bike path that will lead you to the Rockaways.  Look for the Lyghthouse Inn (no, that’s not a typo), formerly known as the Windjammer.

Shore Parkway Greenway

Shore Parkway Greenway

Get on this bike path.  Known as the Shore Parkway Greenway, this paved path runs parallel to the Belt Parkway for about a mile until it reconnects with Flatbush Ave in Marine Park.  Like most places in this area of Brooklyn, the Shore Parkway Greenway was FUBAR’d by Hurricane Sandy.  But despite what warning signs you may come across, the path is navigable minus one 50-yard stretch of sand that you’ll need to dismount for and walk your bike across.

The only hiccup on the trail.

The only hiccup on the trail.

As mentioned above, this path loops around and joins Flatbush Avenue.  If you continue northeast on the path it will take you into Howard Beach and towards JFK airport.  But for this ride you want to keep right and head south towards the Gil Hodges Bridge.  Flatbush Avenue in Marine Park is worlds away from the Flatbush Avenue that bisects the rest of Brooklyn – that is to say it’s wide open and green.  But not so green…

Transco Natural Gas Pipeline

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Construction is currently under way of a 16,200-ft natural gas pipeline running from Avenue U to a proposed gas metering station to be built at Floyd Bennett Field.  The goal of the project is to tap an existing pipeline off the coast of the Rockaways in order to increase supplies of energy to the city.  The project has been a considerable source of controversy among local residents and questions are being asked about its potential impact on the community and ecosystem, especially in light of last year’s hurricane.

In any event, due to the construction, you will have to cross over Flatbush Ave to the Floyd Bennett Field side where the bike path continues, and then cross back over again once you reach the Marine Parkway (Gil Hodges) Bridge.

The Route – Leg 2 – The Beaches

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The second leg of this ride with its beaches and bridges is the meat in the sandwich of this trip.  The MEAT!  Crossing the Gil Hodges bridge, you leave Brooklyn and the New York City skyline behind while the Rockaways and Queens comes into full view ahead.  This bridge’s somewhat narrow pedestrian path is on the western side and accommodates two-way traffic, so be mindful of people coming from the opposite direction.  Take a breather at the apex and check out the surrounding views.  Off to the left is Jamaica Bay, Broad Channel, and the Rockaways extending eastward.  To your right you can see Breezy Point, the Coney Island Astro Tower, the Verrazano Bridge and even Sandy Hook, NJ out in the distance.

Gil Hodges Bridge as seen from the Queens side.

Gil Hodges Bridge as seen from the Queens side.

Once you descend from the bridge, you’ll follow the path/sidewalk briefly to the right and cross over the moderately busy Rockaway Point Blvd and head down Beach 169th towards Jacob Riis Park.

Breezy Point and Fort Tilden

If you’re looking for a diversion or just want to call it quits for the day, this area is a destination in and of itself.  Following Rockaway Point Blvd to the right will lead you out towards the tip of Breezy Point, or you can find the entrance to the grounds of Fort Tilden on your way to the beach.  Built as a defense against German U-boats during WWI, Fort Tilden today is largely a natural area of dunes, beaches, and forest.  But the haunting, abandoned military installations are worth a look and some of the old buildings have been renovated as art galleries by the local Rockaway Artists Alliance.

Graffiti on an overgrown gun casemate.

Graffiti on an overgrown gun casemate.

Jacob Riis Park and onward

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Keeping the grounds of Fort Tilden on your right, Beach 169th is your gateway to Jacob Riis Park.  Before you wander in be sure to look for Maria’s milkshake truck, usually parked on the corner of Beach 169th/Rockaway Point Blvd.  It’s worth shelling out $5 for one of her 100 signature shakes.  Besides, you still have 30 miles to go until Jones Beach – so plenty of time to ride it off.

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Named after the late 19th-century journalist and champion of the poor, Jacob Riis Park was designed by Robert Moses (also designed Jones Beach State Park) who supposedly envisioned the beach as a recreational area for poor immigrants who lived closer to the city than Jones.  Today you can find Rockaway locals and hipster transplants sharing the spoils, a good 1/2 mile stretch of sand and ocean that is also home to the Rockaway Beach Volleyball League.

The day I rolled through, business seemed to be returning to some level of normalcy with a trio of food trucks slinging dumplings, tacos, and pulled-pork sliders to eager picnickers and beach-goers.

This is also a good spot to cool off for a minute and load up on water before continuing.

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The Rockaways

Eventually, the boardwalk/promenade along Jacob Riis beach will terminate and you’ll have to get on bike-friendly Rockaway Beach Blvd in order to continue east.  You’ll begin at 149th St. and take it to 108th where you’ll hang a right onto Shore Front Parkway (also bike-friendly).

Before Hurricane Sandy you used to be able to connect with the boardwalk at 126th St. and ride it all the way to the Atlantic Beach Bridge at the end of Far Rockaway.  But sadly the storm decimated the boardwalk and, with the exception of a few stretches of beach, has been reduced to nothing but endless naked rows of concrete support beams.

Remnants of the Rockaway boardwalk.

Remnants of the Rockaway boardwalk.

As you make your way east, you’ll cross 116th St – one of the main drags in Rockaway.  In addition to being a vibrant strip of shops, bars, and restaurants this street is also bookended by two morbid historical reminders.  At the bay end is a memorial dedicated to the victims of the September 11th attacks and at the ocean end you will find a memorial honoring the passengers of Flight 587, a Santo Domingo-bound airliner that crashed in the Rockaway community of Belle Harbor on November 12, 2001.

Shore Front Parkway runs alongside the beach from 108th to 67th and is your alternative to the absent boardwalk.  A concrete partition separates motor vehicles from pedestrians and the pedestrian half can be somewhat slow-going with occasional patches of sand to veer around and groups of bathers making their way to the beach in no particular rush.  A small apron of boardwalk (actually, more like a paved promenade) is open from 86th to 74th with brand new bright yellow-painted concessions houses set up on 86th and 106th.  You will also find the majority of surfers hanging out in this area as a result of the jetties and good beach-breaks located around 90th street.

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*If you’ve had it at this point and feel like resting your legs and drinking a cold one, turn left at 94th street and head towards the bay.  Located on the waterfront, Bungalow Bar sits adjacent to the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge and has an outdoor deck in the back perfect for a beer and a snack.

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Nearing the end of the Shore Front Parkway, turn left at the circle at Beach 73rd and reconnect with Rockaway Beach Blvd.  Take this to Beach 69th where you’ll turn left once again (an ultra-modern Chase Bank looms here if you need it) and then after a few blocks make a right onto Beach Channel Drive.  The road splits at 62nd and either direction is fine as both roads eventually merge into Seagirt Blvd which will take you all the way to the end of the Rockaways.  However, the boardwalk is intact starting at 35th Street and will take you to Beach 9th where it dead ends.  From here make a left and then a quick right onto Seagirt Ave until you reach a traffic circle at Beach 2nd.  Go left at the circle and work your way up to the Atlantic Beach Bridge toll booths.