Here's a blow-by-blow description of my Sunday on the Five Boro Bike Tour, in which 32,000 people ride the streets of New York in a simultaneous "happening" and test of endurance.
Saturday I treated myself to a new multi-tool for the bike, and some chain lube, in case I ran into problems on Sunday. And I treated myself to a fairly lazy day, or rather, a lazy three days before this event. I wasn't all that sure I would finish.
I woke up at 4:15 for the Five Boro Bike Tour as planned and left at 4:55, a little late. Right until the BQE exit I wasn't sure I was going to park in Staten Island or Manhattan. I was following an SUV toting bikes and figured he was headed to the tour, and he went on the BQE so followed him. I think he took one of the bridges into Manhattan but I kept going until I got to the Verrazzano, then parked near the ferry. In chatting with some folks later, as we waited to get started, I think that was the right decision. The only think I'd do differently is take the Bike New York brochure's advice and park south of the Verrazzano, so that leaving the festival would have been easier. It wasn't really a problem until I got lost in Staten Island on the way home, stuck in traffic in Bayonne and Manhattan. Geez, all I had to do was pull out a map, but NOOOOO.
Thanks to the SUV bomb in Times Square, we got off to an hour-late start: we didn't start until 9am instead of the usual 8. [Edit: my late start was more likely due to my far-back start location in front of Trinity Church.] Thanks to the crowds, the "Tour" was also a "Walk" and a "Stand" at times. The late start was the first "Stand" part of the event. I got some pictures of Cousin Brucie as we passed the gate, and made a quick stop at the first toilet. Riding and sipping, I didn't need to stop again until the next-to-last stop, which was in Brooklyn.
In Central Park we met up with other riders who apparently joined the tour late. [Edit: not true, we split from them before entering the park, and merged in the park.] As a result, about 1/3 of Central Park was spent walking because it was so crowded. The hills were OK, though. I think I could enjoy a trip around Manhattan and through the park one quiet Sunday.
There were half a dozen other places where everyone bunched up and had to walk: 135th street before the Bronx, 63rd St before the Queensborough Bridge, coming off the QB, climbing up from the Gowanus towards the last rest area at Cannonball Park. That's the ones I remember. The tour is a victim of its own popularity, and on a beautiful day like today, it's just too crowded to enjoy.
I think we were in the Bronx for about 8 minutes.
Unfortunately I was so intent on riding without crashing into anyone that I hardly looked up at the scenery. In less crowded years I bet that was a wonderful addition to the experience, but not this year, not for me.
On the way down the Harlem River and FDR Drives I briefly remembered other times I had been there, with Ronni to or from the hospital. The memories came back in several other places but I didn't dwell on them because I was dogging.
The Queensborough Bridge was quite a climb, and my lack of conditioning forced me to stop-and-go on the way up. I walked a bit, too. Once you start coasting down, it's easy to go too fast; marshalls were there with "slow down" signs and megaphones to keep us in check. At least the tour wasn't ALL pedaling.
I noticed that there was no option to head towards Astoria, probably because they closed the route at the usual time (whatever it is) despite the late start we all got. [Edit: more likely I was just too darned slow!] I guess only the fastest people got there. The vendors must have been pretty ticked.
Queens into Brooklyn is a blur. I know I was there, just don't remember a lot of it until we got to the Gowanus, where there's a very long, mostly slow incline on which I had to stop several times. That's a recurring theme - my legs and lungs still need work.
Somewhere in there I stopped at one of the rest stops, parked my bike unattended without fear of theft, and refueled with banana, yogurt, water. Too crowded to wait on line for anything good. I probably stayed a bit too long - have you ever exercised then stopped then started again and found that it hurt like hell to restart? Fortunately, the soreness faded.
Soon we were under the Verrazzano and close to the last rest stop (which I skipped). What I remember here is that we slowed to a walk, and that the crowd was booing some bikers who tried to cut the line on the way up the exit ramp (the marshalls sent them back in line). If we hadn't been walking I certainly would not have been able to ride without stopping.
Then there was the climb up to the closed lower deck of the Verrazzano itself, which I did as well as I could do in fits and starts. If I had "let go" over the top I would have been doing 30mph on the way down, but again it was too crowded. I noticed they put padding over the grates on the bridge (the gaps are probably too big for narrow bike tires) and I was grateful.
Finally at the festival, once again too crowded to enjoy - who wants to stand on line for a half hour for a drink after riding for 5 hours? But I did stand in line for about 45 minutes for a free photo of myself, because unless I got that photo nobody would believe me when I told them I completed this ride. Then I had to stand in line to leave the park, perhaps because there was a collision or someone collapsed from heat exhaustion - I only know there was an ambulance outside the exit, and nobody was allowed to ride away for awhile.
Once we got out, we rode 3 minutes and stopped again, for what reason I don't know. Eventually we got going and did the three mile ride to the ferry. I rode to my car while most of the others hopped on the ferry. I then proceeded to get lost in Staten Island and ended up in Bayonne, New Jersey and Manhattan, stuck in heavy traffic. Leave it to me to fail to stop and read the damned map. It's OK, I got in a little more sightseeing.
I am surprised that I don't feel too bad. Just wait till the ibuprophen wears off... and I didn't use enough sunscreen - I'll pay for that tonight!
I swear I spent two hours standing, between the start area, Central Park and the festival, and I spent another 45-60 minutes walking when it was too crowded. Finished near 5pm.
I really did at least 39 miles instead of 32 if you count the ride to and from my car. Would I do the Five Boro Bike Tour again? Yes, but not every year. Maybe it will rain next year and the crowd will thin - I should ask people about last year, because it poured. It sure was a hoot riding on those main roads with nothing to look out for except bikes. Maybe I can gear up for the Montauk ride - the 65 mile version sounds like a reasonable goal to shoot for.
I promised Ronni I would take care of myself, and I am. It's slowly becoming possible to enjoy things without missing her so intensely. I still wish she had been here to join me on the ride - I think I would have enjoyed that. But she was with me in spirit, and that will have to do.
A few pix: http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/sredir?uname=chris.ihm&target=ALBUM&id=5467473038224038929&authkey=Gv1sRgCPHjj42ngLfFygE&invite=CMH-_okL&feat=email