Thursday, July 01, 2021

Riding Home from New York - Day 5 - Baltimore to Lawyers Hill

 The great Empire State Tour Ride Home from Canada is done. 

I am home with my dog who loves me.

It's just a quick 15 miles from the crash pad to home. I got in before 10, when the heavy rain was supposed to start. I had a couple nice refreshing showers during the ride.

Baltimore has made a wonderful separated cycle track running north-south through the city. It is really sad that the cycle track has become parking for work crews. I'm pretty sure that's not why it is there.









Two different Verizon trucks and another work truck. This is just sad.

Totals from the tour: 2 weeks, 650 miles. Really fun.

Here is the Strava Track.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Riding Home from New York - Day 4 - Delta PA to Baltimore

 I'm at the crash pad.


I'll ride the rest of the way to our main home tomorrow morning when it's cooler. I got here at 10:30, right when the heat was setting in. I left at 7:00 AM, it was only 37 miles. It was an nice ride.

I discovered this morning that my 18 year old Ortleib panniers have reached the end of the road. It seems that they are destructable.


That's a huge gash up the side of the pannier. I can't believe nothing fell out yesterday. I rearranged things so this pannier only has clothes in it, which are in stuff sacks. I made it fine, and I probably have some duct tape or a bungee around here somewhere to hold it together for tomorrow's short ride.

The Peach Tree Inn, my wonderful cheap motel from last night is only two miles from the Maryland line.


The route was very simple. Ride to Jarrettsville on 165, and cut over to the Jarrettsville Pike to Loch Raven, then ride home on Charles Street like usual. I've never ridden Jarretsville Pike, and it is not a great road for bike riding. No shoulders and heavy traffic. It is not relaxing, but it is direct and not all that hilly.

I went past the Ladew Topiary Gardens, which I have never visited, although it is often recommended. But I'm not stopping today, when doing so means I would be riding more in the extreme heat. (Currently 94 degrees, feels like 105, and I am in the nice cool basement of the crash pad and I already went to Eddie's and bought all the food and beer I need.)

Here's Loch Raven, from halfway across the bridge.


It's going to rain tonight and break the heat wave, and then rain most of tomorrow, but I think there is a window in the morning when I can ride home.

Here is the Strava Track.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Riding Home from New York - Day 3 - West Conshohocken, PA to Delta PA

 It's so incredibly hot. Unbelievable. Even if you leave early, it's crazy hot by 10, and I still had to spend hours in the heat. Climbing hill after hill. Climbing out of the Susquehanna River valley.

This was for sure the hardest day of the trip.


I have no appetite in this heat. All I had was a cup of coffee and a half an English muffin before I left, and a few quarts of Gatorade during the ride and a handful of peanuts.

I tried the strategy from yesterday about getting going early and riding flat, direct, roads. I got 15 miles of really nice rail trail (the Chester River Trail) to start the day, but it ended in disappointment.


And a half mile of backtracking. A sign saying the trail dead ends in a half mile would be helpful.

The last half of today's route was very direct - straight to the bridge over the Susquehanna at Holtville, but it's also very hilly. And rural, so few opportunities for a cooldown break. (Special thanks to the Atglen PA Public Library, you guys are so nice.) At the end, there is a monster descent to the river, and then a monster climb to get out, followed by another shorter but steeper climb to get through a small valley for a Susquehanna tributary.


This is looking back after I crossed the bridge.

The reason for having such a long, brutal day today is it puts me at the only motel for miles around, and sets up and easy 40 mile day tomorrow.

And what a motel it is. The Peach Bottom Inn. The bicycle tourist's dream. It is basic and cheap. The room is $60, and includes nothing I don't need. 

And it is attached to a bar and restaurant. The restaurant is outstanding! Totally creative menu. I had a seafood pot pie, and since I was still hungry for some reason, a calamari appetizer served with an amazing creamy pepperoncini dipping sauce. So much more interesting than the usual marinara. This place is great.

http://peachbottominn.com/

(I've found that even if I have no appetite at all while riding, if I sit, cool down, hydrate, and rest for a couple hours, my appetite returns with a vengeance.)

Also, even this motel room is very, very cheap, and has absolutely no frills, it still has some features in common with fancy expensive hotels in New York City.


Here is the Strava Track. So hot. So hilly.

Riding Home from New York - Day 2 - Martinsville, NJ to West Conshohockenton, PA

 It's so hot. It's ridiculously hot. I had to go a bit over 70 miles. Temps in 90s, heat index over 100.

The only way to do this is to get going as early as I can, and get as many miles in as possible before the heat sets in.

So I was on the road stuffed with coffee and cake at 7. I missed saying goodbye to Elliott, who was up at 4:00 for his job!

It was all about getting flat roads that are a straight shot to where you want to go. Traffic be damned. It was Millstone River Road 12 miles to Princeton, then the Princeton Turnpike another 12 miles to Trenton, and I'm in Pennsylvania before 10 and it's not hot yet.


Things get complicated in PA. The direct, flat route is this bike trail, which is a former canal towpath. Note canal next to it.


I had to Nope right off of that after a couple miles. It was too slow going. And it was getting hot. So I just rode clear to Philadelphia 20 miles on the shoulder of US13. Flat, smooth, direct. Today was not a day for worrying about traffic, or how ugly the scenery is, or taking pictures. 

My plan was to take cooldown breaks, but it turns out that most restaurants north of Philly are still takeout only, and all the convenience stores have removed their seating! So all I had to "eat" was the occasional bottle of Gatorade. Not so many opportunities for cooldown breaks.

In Philly, my route left US 13 and went onto Kensington Avenue, which is under an elevated commuter railway. This was a big win because of shade, until you get closer to the center city where it becomes a giant homeless camp. I rode all the way across North Philly on Allegheny Avenue until I hit the Schuylkill River, where there is a terrific rail trail most of the rest of the way to my friends Jim and Mary's, in West Coshohonkton, where they put me up for the night.

Like Lyn, Jim and Mary live on top of a mountain, with a super steep hill to get there. And again, I had to push my bike up. I got in around 3:30, and was roasted alive. All those miles were fueled by a few bottles of Gatorade, some coffee cake, and a cup of coffee. Also my belly fat reserves, to be strictly honest here.

But we went out to dinner down the hill from there house at a fantastic restaurant, the Gypsy Saloon. I stuffed myself massively with guacamole, and lobster mac and cheese. I am pretty sure that will restore the belly fat reserves.

Here is the Strava Track.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Riding Home from New York - Day 1 - Staten Island Ferry to Martinsville, NJ

 Back when Debra and I were dating, she lived in Brooklyn for awhile, and I would drive up to visit her. I'd take the Jersey Turnpike, and go over the Goethels Bridge, then over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Sometimes I'd stop off and visit my friend Bob, who lived in Port Richmond.

The Goethels Bridge used to be a rickety old horror show with super heavy traffic at all times. Since it was obviously about to fall down, they tore it down and built a new one.

With a bike lane.

You know what that means.


Today's ride starts with a lovely ride on the Staten Island Ferry. On Sunday morning there were three other people on bikes, and about a dozen passengers total. No social distancing concerns today.

I'm riding along the waterfront on Richmond Terrace, which is the same gritty mess that it's always been, except now it has a bike lane! With people riding bikes! So nice! But wait OMG WTF THAT DIDN'T USED TO BE THERE!


It's the biggest crane I've ever seen in my life. I spent the rest of the ride wondering what on earth you would do with such a crane. When I finished for the day, Wikipedia informs me that this is the Left Coast Lifter, also lately known as "I Lift NY", and it's on a barge and they use it to do stuff like build the new Tappan Zee Bridge. The boom is 328 feet long and it can lift 1699 tons. Zoom in on the picture to check out the teeny-tiny catwalks to get a sense of how unbelievably huge this thing is.

Then I went by Bob's old house (actually his mother's) to find that it is not there any more. 


My first dog, Nipper, was born in that house. I am sad now.

You think I don't like change? Fine. Get off my lawn.

Anyway, continuing on around on Richmond Terrace, the next sight is the renovated Bayonne Bridge, which has bike lanes now! Both the Bayonne Bridge and the Goethels Bridge are part of the East Coast Greenway.

I could actually see people riding bikes way up on that bridge.

And then you cut over to the ever busy Forest Ave, which now has a bike lane, so NBD, and you get to the incredibly fabulous new Goethels Bridge.


I love it so much. It is just amazing. You don't even hardly have to climb much to go across.



And it has a great view of Manhattan.


That's all the pictures, because it started to get really, really hot and humid and my brain started melting too much for me to operate the camera. Luckily, I only had to go forty miles for the day to get to my destination, which was my friend Lyn's house. It's 10 miles to the western New Jersey end of the bridge from the ferry terminal, so I had 30 miles to go through central New Jersey.

I had some trepidations about this, since my only real experience of this part of Jersey is what you can see from the turnpike. Will I be gassed by fumes from the refineries? Will I be run over by a container truck? Will I catch fire?

Turns out none of those things happened, and it's a really nice ride through small railroad commuter towns. I followed the ECG map as far as I could. Low traffic, nice shoulders, really easy riding.

Until I got to Lyn's. She lives in a valley between two mountain ridges. The road choices over the ridge are really steep. I picked Washington Ave. It was shortest.

Lyn's 18 year old son Elliott lives with her. He rides his bike a lot, all over.

Elliott: What road did you take to get over the mountain?
me: Washington Avenue.
Elliott: <laughing> I've never ridden up that one.
me: Me neither.

I couldn't make it. I ended up pushing the bike up the hill during the really steep parts.

Here is the Strava Track.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Taking a Day Off in NYC

Our Empire State Tour is complete, and we have a day to spend doing stuff in New York City before Debra and Max drive home, and I start riding home.

Debra planned a day jam-packed with activities, like a tour of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, and a visit to the top of the Empire State Building.

On the other hand, at dinner the night before, our friend Wendy said she had an old bike that's been in her closet for 8 or 10 years, and she wanted to start riding it again.

I offered to go over to her place and check out this bike, and do any easy maintenance it needed, and tell her what she needed to get for it to make it rideable. Because what is more fun, doing tourist stuff or tinkering with bikes? 

Max and Debra did all the tourist stuff. They had a great time. I did my laundry, got a corned beef sandwich from the deli downstairs, and headed over to Joe and Wendy's. Which was a great opportunity to see of you can actually get around the city on a bike now. They live on 14th Street on the East Side.

So I headed around the island on the bike trail that runs along the waterfront. Here is a nice row of warehouses near South Street Seaport.


I headed inland at the Williamsburg Bridge, up to one of my favorite bars from back in the day, King Tut's Wah Wah Hut. 


The Wah Wah Hut hasn't existed in about 25 years, and there is a different bar there now. It was playing "Swinging Party" by the Replacements when I rode by, which made me happy, and got me thinking. The Wah Wah Hut had amazingly eclectic music, a mix of then-current (circa 1990) alternative (e. g. Replacements) and stuff going back to country from the 50s and 60s and jazz from the 40s. I realized that when we were in the Wah Wah Hut 30 years ago, the Patsy Cline songs they were playing were as old then as the Replacements song playing as I rode by is now. I feel really old.

A bit later, I got to Joe and Wendy's building, and checked out the bike.


First thing, it's in great shape, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with it besides flat tires, and it's ready to ride. It's a Raleigh Capri 12 speed, probably mid-80s. It has 27" wheels. It horizontal dropouts in back, so it could be easily converted to a single speed. It's steel, and pretty heavy. It has flat handlebars and thumb shifters. It's a nice vintage bike. Wendy told me later she took it to the neighborhood bike shop to borrow their floor pump, and they were all condescending to her because of the bike. Sorry bike shop guys, this is a perfect city bike.

I decided to ride back to the hotel on regular old city streets, instead of following the bike trail along the waterfront. Turns out, this was super easy. Almost every street has a bike lane now. You can ride anywhere no problem.

And at one point I felt especially right at home! There was a Black kid riding down Broadway on a dirt bike. Just like Baltimore. I couldn't believe it.

Here's the Strava Track.


Saturday, June 26, 2021

Empire State Tour 2021 - Day 7 - Mahopac to Battery Park

 We have completed the Empire State Trail.


That's the Statue of Liberty next to proud Max's cheek. We are in Battery Park, at the end of the trail.

It was a really nice day today, 55 miles, almost all bike path. There was about 3 miles on roads in the Bronx and in the north tip of Manhattan. It's all rail trail in Westchester County, and there is a bike path the entire length of Manhattan along the Hudson River. It was a terrific day to end the tour. (For Max, it ends the tour. I'm riding the rest of the way home.)

The Budget Motor Inn of Mahopac does not have spurious fripperies like coffee machines in the room. Or in the lobby. In fact, it does not even have a lobby. So we had to get going early to get some breakfast, which was at The Bagel Emporium seven miles down the trail in Yorktown Heights. The bagels were excellent.

I was surprised to find a Rita's in Yorktown Heights! I thought Rita's is a local Maryland thing.


I was pretty sure we were on a rail trail since Brewster, but the trail does a lot of twisting around and going up and down for a rail trail. But yeah, I guess it's a rail trail.


Here is where we entered New York City from Yonkers. This is Van Cortlandt Park in The Bronx. The trail continues for another mile or so in the park.


We stopped for lunch at a nice Italian place in the Bronx.


Max is annoyed that I keep taking his picture when he is eating. Or maybe it's the New Yorkers constantly blowing their horns in traffic. "I've heard more people blowing their horns today than in the last year at home." Welcome to New York, Max.


The trail goes along the entire west side of Manhattan. It's right next to the river most of the way. It's fantastic. 


The picture above is just below the George Washington Bridge.


"Hey Max, wanna see where Mama lived when she was your age?"


Debra's parents lived in the corner apartment on the 13th floor at the far end of the building. This is on West 70th St. near Freedom Place.

Back when we were dating, Debra lived with her father here for awhile after her mother died. I would drive up to visit, and park on Freedom Place, which was basically the edge of the street grid. It actually hung over an abandoned rail yard next to the river a couple hundred feet below. I was always afraid I would go out the next day and find my car gone because it was swallowed up by one of the massive potholes on Freedom Place, which looked like it was going to collapse at any minute.

That was then. Now, there is a massive new residential development there, and Riverside Drive has been extended south a block west of Freedom Place, and the waterfront has a linear park with the bike trail and waterfront dining. It's really shocking to see for the first time. Manhattan is just a Disney-fied playground for billionaires now, I swear.

The next photo-worthy site is the Intrepid Museum. 


This shows the rarely documented deployment of an SR-71 Blackbird on an aircraft carrier.

Max didn't know about the SR-71, so I told him what the Blackbird was and why this is a ludicrous scene.

Here's the Freedom Tower coming into view, at Pier 41. Back in the day, we used to go on the Circle Line Blues Cruise from here. This is another area that is totally unrecognizable now. You wouldn't know it from this particular picture, but the bike trail is extremely popular in the southern half of Manhattan. Riding your bike on a crowded Manhattan bike trail is disconcertingly similar to driving in New York City traffic.


Eventually the bike trail goes right next to the Freedom Tower and the memorial park where the World Trade Center was.


We got in at 3:00. Debra told us we were not to arrive before 3:00, because he had an important work call until then. In fact she would not even tell us the what room we were in at the hotel until the call was over. So we hung out in Battery Park eating ice cream.

We are staying at the innovative Sonder Hotel, across from Battery Park. They have a brilliant new approach to reinventing the lodging industry, where you can get a room and check in and everything without any interaction whatsoever with another human being. (Debra: "I figured this way there would no issue with you bringing your bikes in the room.")

This is clearly a case where some guys wrote an amazing proposal and business plan, and got a ton of funding, and then reached the limits of their competency. Because this is what we found when we arrived in our room:

It seems that Debra didn't arrive until 1:00 AM the night before, and was too tired to deal with the disassembled bed and then she slept on the couch. Then she was in nonstop work calls all day until we arrived.

I pointed out to her that the bed is actually broken and not usable (note twisted support crossbars) and she needs to call the (virtual) hotel staff to have this addressed.

So she calls the hotel number, and waits on hold for 20 minutes with the repeating message about how "your call is very important to us". Eventually someone picks up, and Debra proceeds to demonstrate her complete lack of Karen skills by saying how the disassembled bed was OK last night because she just slept on the couch, but now her husband was here and she thought I would be able to put the bed together, but I said the bed was actually broken because some 600 lb guy jumped up and down on it, and it wasn't her because she is a very small person, but I made her call them to get this problem fixed and....

At this point I jumped in and said it is completely unacceptable to arrive at a hotel room to find the bed broken and disassembled and you will put us in a new room immediately. And what kind of COVID room cleaning protocols are you following when somehow it goes without notice that THE BED IS IN PIECES AND UNUSABLE?

So the nice man on the other end of the call puts us on hold for another 20 minutes and says he has found a new room for us, and he is mailing us the key code for the new room. Which fails to arrive for another half hour, after repeated attempts on his part to send it.

So at last, we are in a new room, with an actual bed that is assembled and available to sleep on. There are still portents and omens of doom in the new room. Which is actually a suite now, instead of a studio. "A significant upgrade" said the virtual hotel staff guy on the phone.


Why is there a bare sprinkler and the smoke detector hanging from the ceiling by wires?

Sure enough, after a couple hours, the smoke detector in the other room starts the dead battery chirp. I climb up on a chest of drawers to investigate. This smoke detector is also wired, but for some reason has batteries as well, and a button that says to push once a week to test and reset. WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU PUT A SMOKE DETECTOR LIKE THIS IN A HOTEL ROOM?

I pushed the button to reset it, and it stopped beeping. Until the middle of the night.

This is the stupidest, worst executed "hotel" in the universe. We were much better off at the Budget Motor Inn in Mahopac. Even if it doesn't have coffee. I'm expecting the building to catch fire and burn down at any moment because the frustrated guests have disabled all the smoke detectors.

Here is what the hotel looks like, in case they try to trick you in to staying in it by changing the name:


It's the ugly modern glass building stuck on the side of the attractive old buildings.

OK, enough ranting about this horror show of a hotel.

One cool thing is our room has a nice view of the entrance to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.


This is a great example of how infrastructure in New York is much grander and monumental than is necessary. This building houses the ventilation fans for the tunnel. It could be utilitarian, like similar ventilation fan buildings at every other tunnel everywhere. But it's clad in granite. It has a giant clock. It has cool art deco ornamentation above the clock. It's a really neat building.

I looked it up on Wikipedia to learn more about it. It seems that it was designed and approved in the late 1930s, but it did not open until 1950 due to construction delays caused by WW2. There is also a picture of this building from the early 70s, with no clock and ornamentation above the clock. The mystery deepens. Wikipedia also says this was the Men In Black headquarters from the movie series.

I am also wondering how it is that NYC can have a beautiful cool building to house tunnel ventilation fans, and nonetheless allow a butt-ugly glass wall with a mish-mash of room shades to be plastered on the side of historic buildings across the street. WTF.

We went out to dinner with our friends Wendy and Joe a few blocks over at a nice waterfront seafood restaurant. I got this great picture of the Statue of Liberty on the walk there. 


Here is the Strava Track.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Empire State Tour 2021 - Day 6 - Poughkeepsie to Mahopac

Mahopac is pronounced Mayo Pack, like a single serving package of Mayonnaise. I just need to get that right out there first.

It was a pretty short (47 miles), easy (1300 feet of climb) day with perfect conditions. It was almost entirely rail trail.

It was basically an easy, steady climb from Poughkeepsie to near Pawling, then down to Brewster, than up again to Mayo Pack. What's neat is we crossed the Appalachian Trail at the high point near Pawling.


We are in the Budget Motor Inn, which is very old, cheap, no frills whatsoever, and well maintained. It wins the Red Dot of Quality for sure. (It is an Indian-owned "Patel Motel").


RDOQ motels like this are my go-to when bike touring. I don't need any fancy stuff, just a place to sleep. This is the first one I've come across this trip, and I am very worried that these motels have not survived the pandemic. All hotels like this are either out of business, or housing the nearly homeless. The hotels that are left are all much, much more expensive. Which also pushes up the price point for AirBnB. 

Another nice thing about old motels, is they are typically right next to a restaraunt. This one is just a short walk from the Olympic Diner, which is a classic Greek diner. Huge menu with 1000 items, food is edible but not great. This one made good margaritas, so I'm happy.


I really like how they made the outdoor pandemic seating festive with strings of colorful plastic flags.

Now we have to get going early, because there is no coffee. Not in our room, not in the lobby. I can barely write this.

Here is the Strava Track.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Empire State Tour 2021 - Day 5 - Hudson to Poughkeepsie



One thing that uniquely characterizes New York, is the transportation infrastructure is monumental. Why build a utilitarian bridge, when you can build a huge, spectacular edifice of iron beams with a sense of occasion? This is most obvious in New York City, where even highway overpasses are more cool and interesting than is strictly necessary. But even as you go upstate, it's evident.

Today was bridge day. 

First, we crossed the Hudson going west over the Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge. I figured the spot where the "No Stopping For Any Reason Whatsoever" sign was a good spot to stop and take a picture. 

We had lunch in Kingston at Savona's Trattoria, a fabulous Italian restaurant down by the waterfront. 



It was a perfect day, so dining with our friend Al was a delight.

Then we had a monster climb up out of the valley to the west, were we picked up the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail (which is part of the Empire State Route). So would an obscure rural New York railroad from the 1800s have a spectacular bridge? You bet!


It also has lots of ruins, especially of furnaces. I believe these were used for making cement.


We got off the Wallkill Valley trail at New Paltz, a small town that is best known as an exit on the New York State Thruway. And rightfully so.

Then there is another climb and you get to the gloriously smooth, wide, and flat Hudson Valley Trail, which leads to the spectacular Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge, which is now a walkway!



That's Poughkeepsie down there. This bridge is the bike tourist's dream. The rail trail continues on the other side, so you cross the Hudson without going up or down any hills!

There were many people enjoying the beautiful day by just hanging out on the walkway. It is very popular.

So today was a perfect day of bike touring. Sunny, beautiful, temperature in the low 70s, no real wind. We mostly stuck to the Empire State Route, except for about 8 miles in the morning where we missed the sign and accidentally took a shorter, flatter route with no traffic instead. We were on rural roads for the first half of the day until Kingston, except for a stretch through a wildlife reserve (steep hill!!) and Bard College.


(Are you thinking WTF? I'm thinking WTF.)

(I went onto Wikipedia to figure out what this building is, and it's a concert hall, the Fisher Center for Performing Arts. Designed by Frank Gehry)

(On Wikipedia, I also learned that Walter Becker and Donald Fagan of Steely Dan went to Bard, as did Adam Yauch "MCA" of the Beastie Boys!)

I have my own story of Bard College. Around 1983, The Minutemen played a concert there, and I went to the show. Or I tried to anyway. I never figured out where it was. I drove around looking for Bard College all night with no success. I eventually gave up and went back to Troy. Now, at last, I have found Bard College.

Here's the Strava Track for today.