Back in February, I got in into my head that I wanted to ride in the TD Bank 5 Boro Bike Tour. I’m a beginner rider, and I wanted to try something new and fun. But also something difficult, that I had to train for, and could be proud of. Besides, it’s not every day that a greater part of the 5 boroughs is closed to car traffic. And I was thrilled to be part of a such a momentous annual event.
I’ve been riding around my neighborhood working toward longer and longer rides. Last weekend, I did just short of 20 miles, which was the longest ride ever. This ride, was twice that distance and in the rain. (I never rode in the rain before.) It was my first time doing any ride and unfortunately it rained from start to finish. And it wasn’t a slight drizzle either.
So I got up early because there was a lot of prep to get myself, and the family out of the door. my daughter was brought to the ride site by her grandpa, my husband rode in, and I, took the subway.
Despite having passes to the front of the line, I really didn’t want to be stuck walking the bike in a sea of riders in downtown Manhattan. I knew that wouldn’t be fun and I was concerned about the difficulty hitching a trailer onto my husband’s 8 foot recumbent bike. Instead, we decided to avoid the crush of 30,000 riders, and start the ride at 14th Street, which is only a short distance away from the start.
Everyone left a little later than planned and I was the last to leave the house. I rushed to the train and just made the M pulling into the station. Unfortunately, I fell while rushing my bike up the stairs and scraped and bruised my right knee pretty badly. (I have a lot of problems carrying my bike on steps.)
When I got to 14th Street, there were many riders there waiting for the ride to start, and my adrenaline started to pump. It was barely raining, and I took off my pants and my sweater because I was overly warm. I waited for my father and my husband to arrive.
They arrived, a little later than I had hoped, and it took some time to hitch up the trailer to my husband’s bike. I got a little anxious because I saw the tour had already begun. I really wanted to avoid the heavy congestion of riders. Unfortunately, we didn’t get going until about 15 minutes into the ride, and we ended up in that congestion.
I have never seen so many helmets and bikes on the road. It was a surreal experience. The glee I felt was tempered by the tight riding conditions. There were too many riders on the road, and not all of them making moves that were predictable. Even harder was trying to ride along side my husband. He definitely had his work cut out for him due to the width of the trailer and the tight spaces between the bikers. So he often could not pass. In order to stay together, I had to go slower than I would have liked.
When we got to Central Park, I had my first experience with stalled traffic. Four lanes merging into a two lanes didn’t quite cut it with this many people. I had to walk my bike for quite some time, (when I wasn’t just standing still), and at one point, I bumped my bike into another rider’s bike.
This congestion made me grumpy. I knew I had many hours of road ahead of me, and I was a little annoyed that the setup for the trailer took so long, relegating us further in the back, and thus with the larger group of people rather than closer to the front with less people.
The road got slightly less congested and I began to get some speed. I was starting to cheer up when I noticed that my bike felt very different. I attributed it to my new road slicks. (I took off the mountain bike tires the previous week.) It felt very bumpy. Unfortunately, the reason why it was so bumpy is because my front tire had a flat! I wonder if this happened when I bumped into that other bike.
So we pulled over and my dear husband was kind enough to change my tire for me. That’s where I took a few pictures.
I was basking in the thrill of participating in this ride, and I enjoyed seeing the various riders out in full force. Many had decorated their helmets with things that drew attention. Other rides were novelties in their own right. There were many different types of bikes outside of the usual road and mountain bikes; there were recumbent bikes both near the ground, and higher up versions, tandem bikes, triples, quads, recumbent tandems. There were many families with trailers just like us, or the other type of trailer that converts a regular bike into a tandem. I even saw a unicycle, a tall bike that looked like a bike built on stilts, and, a rickshaw biker, with his dog. There was a sea of unique individuals out there in full force. It was an amazing thing to see. All part of the NYC flavor of life.
Of course in any large gathering you have idiot riders. And that is where I was a bit grumpy. The conditions for the first half of the ride were very tight with riders being very close upon each other. I didn’t like when hotshots would ride in between an already tight space and not even bother to give notice. Or when one rider cut me off screaming “slow on the right, fast on the left” when it was clear by road conditions that no one was going to go fast. On the highway, cars usually get pulled over and ticketed for weaving in and out of traffic like that.
The traffic started to thin out, a little bit once we crossed the bridge out of the Bronx. I was amazed at the potholes! I really enjoyed the ride on the FDR drive, especially after my daughter woke up and was cheery again.
When we got to the 59th Street bridge, there was a long wait. We had to take turns with car traffic. This stretch was mostly standing still in the rain or walking your bike. Nothing like going onto an on-ramp from a dead stop. I’m happy to say that on all these occasions, I road up the hill, while many walked their bikes. I guess my training in Forest Park all these weeks came in handy for something.
We stopped in the playground near Astoria Park for a restroom break. The line wasn’t that bad considering how many people were coming through. I had a quick P&J sandwich. It turns out that my lunch had been left behind so my husband gave me one of his sandwiches. I also grabbed a few bananas in Astoria Park.
Getting out of the park again, was a big stand still. I think this is where I reached the height of crankiness. There was a long line. Some riders decided they were going to cut across that line and jump ahead of several hundred riders patiently waiting in line, by going through grass and skipping the designated path. Sheesh! No one likes waiting in lines, especially in the rain. So because they skipped the line, it made the rest of us, who played by the rules have to wait even longer. It’s totally uncool, selfish and inconsiderate to do that, although I’m sure they thought it was a harmless act.
Parts of Astoria were very pretty and I enjoyed the people coming out and sitting on their porches to cheer us on. The path went further and became rather industrial until we got to the ConEd Learning center. My parents were waiting there to retrieve my daughter, and this is where my husband decided that he had enough. He was wet and cold and was worried that the cold he was coming down with would get worse. So we decided to say adieu. I was determined to finish, no matter what.
It’s tough riding in the rain. It had been raining the entire ride. I didn’t mind it so much. I hardly even noticed it. But at this point, it started to rain harder and I started to feel a chill. So I decided to put my sweater on. (Previously, I was riding with a sleeveless athletic shirt underneath my rain slicker, and bike shorts.) I was riding with full confidence, that if I got too cold, I had dry clothes in my backpack.
At around mile 25, the rain got worse. At 30, it was pouring. By this time, I had already gone through Dumbo, past the Brooklyn Bridge, the Brooklyn Promenade, and I was on the BQE. I was going quite a bit faster now that the bike congestion had cleared up. I was surprised that my average speed was faster than the average biker since I consider myself a rank beginner. There was at least one hill on the BQE that was a challenge. It was slippery and a bit steep. I saw an ambulance on the side of the road. Some rider had a terrible spill and was seriously hurt. That freaked me out a little bit, but I kept going. At one point the rain drops felt like they were slicing across my cheeks, pelting me in the face. My moisturizer on my face started to drip and sting my eyes. I kept going at a nice clip but not too fast since the road was so wet. It wasn’t only rain that was hitting me in the face. It was dirty road water too. It’s not fun getting road gunk in your face.
Somewhere between Park Slope and the Bayridge turn off, I felt water start to pour into my sneaker. (I don’t recall riding through a large puddle.) My legs were covered in road guck, my feet were drenched, and my socks were black. It wasn’t long before my toes were numb. My husband always told me not to wear panties underneath my riding pants. I never listened. That was a mistake! My saddle or my pants, or both got wet as well as what was underneath. So I started to get chaffing from my wet cotton panties. I should have listened to his advice. I kept going. I was mostly dry in my upper body, thanks to my waterproof jacket.
We had a stand still / slow down at the Bayridge turn off. By this time, I was starting to feel very uncomfortable, but I was determined to finish what I started. Riding along this next stretch was pure joy. I had used this path (though not the highway itself) many times when I lived in Bayridge. I know the area well and it reminded me of how much I miss living in Bayridge. I was able to go fast, and there was plenty of space on the road without the obnoxious hotshots on the road.
I was very excited on the ramp for the Verazzano bridge. Woo hoo! The home stretch. This part of the ride was the hardest. The on-ramp (hill) was long. Many riders walked their bike up this steep climb. I rode, albeit slowly. Unfortunately, visibility was poor due to all the fog, but at least we were dry for awhile.
Immediately exiting the ramp we were at the Festival. I thought this was the end of the tour. I was so happy that I completed it, but so sad that I was alone and didn’t have anyone to share this with. I cried a bit with both happy and sad tears. I spent less than 15 minutes there because I was cold and wet so there was no reason to stick around. I got on my bike again to head toward the ferry. I had no idea I had a few more miles of riding to go.
This part of the ride was nice. People were cheering us on from the houses, and the scenery was very pretty. I have never seen Staten Island like this.
When we got to the ferry site, I was surprised how long we had to wait for the boat. We probably just missed one. We must have waited 20-30 minutes. That doesn’t seem like much, but it was pouring rain and we were all soaked. My riding gloves were so wet that I could make a fist and squeeze water out of them. I saw lot’s of people with chattering teeth. Some people had lips turning blue. I was definitely very uncomfortable, especially my feet, but I was surprised I wasn’t shivering like that.
After the seemingly longest wait in history, a boat arrived and we got onto the ferry. The heat felt amazing. On the boat, I couldn’t wait to put on some dry clothes and I immediately went for my dry clothes in my back pack. Unfortunately, my dry clothes were drenched too. So, taking each setback in stride, I relaxed for a few minutes and ate a banana until we got to downtown Manhattan. It took awhile to get home by subway because I had trouble finding a train station that was open, and one that would accommodate bikes etc. I had to do more carrying the bike on steps than I wanted to.
When I got home, my husband had a hot bath and some tea waiting for me. My daughter was so happy to see me and I was glad to be home. I never really shook that chill for the rest of the night, and I went to bed early.
Despite weather that was about as bad as it could be, wretchedly cold with a steady rain, the ride was astoundingly fun. I can’t wait to do it again next year. I just hope for sunny weather.