Tuesday, June 12, 2018

New York Groove

We kind of skipped directly from winter to summer here in the northeastern U.S., with a few spells of very heavy rainfall thrown in, so on one cooler day with no precipitation predicted, I decided to put my bike in the car and head up to NYC for a long ride. As usual, I parked in Fort Lee, NJ, and pedaled over the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan. Originally I planned to board the Metro-North Railroad at Williams Bridge Station and then hop off at Brewster, NY, to ride the 50+ miles back down the connecting Putnam, North County and South County Trailways.
   Unfortunately, the upper trail of the Hudson River Greenway, which leads to the bike crossing on the Henry Hudson Bridge, was closed, and I would have had to do a circuitous route to reach my intended station. This would have put me way off schedule and eventually had me leaving north Jersey during peak rush hour – not a good idea.
   Luckily, I had planned an alternate ride, just in case bad morning traffic or some other mishap would pop up to cause a schedule change. About a year ago I had read about a group restoring the historic Kissena Velodrome in Queens, and I put it on my mental list of future riding destinations. I also wished to visit The High Bridge, a stone-arch structure over the Harlem River that is now a pedestrian/cyclist-only route but was originally built in 1848 as an aqueduct to bring fresh water from West Chester County to the booming young city of New York.
   The Bridge was (I thought) conveniently placed along my route, as I could take it from my location up on the eastern palisade of Manhattan, directly across to the Bronx, from where I could connect to the Queensboro Bridge. Unfortunately, the paved lower trail at Inwood Hill Park continued around the north end of Manhattan all the way back down to the bottom of the cliff side, not far from Columbia University’s Baker Athletics Complex on the south bank of Spuyten Duyvil Creek.

By the way, why is the upper end of the Harlem River called Spuyten Duyvil Creek? That just doesn’t seem to make any sense! It’s not like the creek is an entirely different body of water, or of a significantly different size in comparison to the river.

   Anyway, I ended up having to cross the river close to water level then weave my way up through University Heights and Roberto Clemente State Park. This Pirates fan found it a bit sacrilegious to have a park named after one of Pittsburgh’s all-time most loved players located in New York, but I didn’t dwell on it as the road pitched upwards.
   When I reached Morris Heights, I found myself retracing the route Sue and I had taken along University Avenue during our epic ride up the South County Trail to Sleepy Hollow and back via the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail. This time I continued over I-95, instead of making the right turn back to the G.W. Bridge and soon found signs marking the approach to The High Bridge.


   The 123-feet-tall span, which was part of the Croton Aqueduct, had been closed for over forty years and reopened in 2015 after a $61.8 million restoration. Originally there were sixteen stone arches, but to improve navigation on the Harlem River, the five arches over the water were replace by a single steel arch. The herringbone brick pattern of the walking surface is gracefully crowned to aid water runoff and features an antique handrail and attractive lamps that mimic old gas streetlights.


   I was soon off through another area I knew well, zig-zagging down 167th Street to head south on the Grand Concourse, not far from Yankee Stadium. I hooked up with the Willis Avenue Bridge to return to Manhattan, then headed down 2nd Avenue, which had a painted bike lane that, for much of the three miles I was on it, had a safety buffer zone separating it from traffic.
   My legs were starting to feel it as I climbed the noticeable arch of the Queensboro Bridge, but I thoroughly enjoyed the long downhill on the other side, as well as the impressive Greenway along Queens Plaza:


   From there it was a rather uneventful 5½-mile ride on local streets, although they were in really rough condition after the hard winter, and my butt was taking a beating! I later found that the Flushing Bay Promenade had a much better name than it deserved, as the surface featured many areas of broken or loose pavers. It was nice to be near the waterfront, even if it had seen better days, and to be away from the traffic for a couple of miles.
   I knew that I was into the home stretch, as I could see the Mets’ Citi Field on my right, and crossed over Flushing Creek. I was soon on College Point Boulevard, named after nearby St. Paul’s College (seminary), and made a left turn over to Kissena Boulevard towards the similarly named park, home of the velodrome.
   Known in the cycling community as the “track of dreams”, the Kissena Velodrome was built in 1962 by Robert Moses. Kissena racers dominated the 1964 Olympic Trials at the velodrome, taking five of eight places. Unfortunately, the popularity of track riding dropped off, and after a couple decades of neglect the concrete base of the track had fallen into a weedy, broken state until the city renovated the site in 2004. The velodrome now sees regular use throughout the summer with a twilight racing series. However, the track seems to be in need of another round of maintenance, as the surface coating is uneven and gaps have opened in the concrete sections due to winter heaving.

For an overview of the velodrome site, click on the video below. Give it a second to load, then hit the arrow again, and be sure to use the full screen icon in lower right:


   Although I had over thirty miles of riding in my legs at this point and lacked the “snap” that I would have wanted to sprint around the track, I enjoyed myself immensely on (comparatively) gentle banking. I’ve ridden on the Lehigh County Velodrome before, but the banking of the curves is higher and steeper - it can be pretty terrifying to even experienced cyclists. 
   After catching my breath, I unwrapped a half PB&J sandwich that I had stored in the back pocket of my jersey and enjoyed a quick lunch before starting my journey back to Fort Lee. I took a slightly different route back through Queens, heading across Flushing Meadows.


   I veered right and then, just to change the scenery a bit, returned on streets pretty much parallel to my inbound route.

Through the girders of the Queensboro Bridge I could spy the Chrysler Building, a personal favorite.
   When I once again reached Manhattan onto 60th Street, I was considering a ride through Central Park before connecting with the greenway near 100th, but I was making good time north along 1st Avenue’s bike lane, hitting green lights consistently, so I stuck with it for a while before finally cutting over just above the park.
   It had been a couple years since I was last on this section of the Hudson River Greenway, and I was disappointed in its condition, as this asphalt-paved section was consistently broken with tree roots pushing up through it. I was reminded of my miserable experience last year on the Henry Hudson Trail (name coincidence?).
   The climb up to reach the G.W. Bridge was pretty grueling, and I was reminded how much city riding, with the constant stopping and starting at intersections, takes out of your legs. I don’t remember ever having a cramp in my quads, but I felt a nasty seizing in my left leg on the last little rise up to the parking lot at Fort Lee. Good thing I had gained enough momentum over the top in order to coast to the car!