Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sunset at Robert Moses State Park







Sometimes I just need to get out of the house. I get wrapped up in myself, listening to music that makes me sad and surfing the net for nothing in particular. This afternoon I fought it off by making a salad with feta cheese and packing it to go.

As I left the neighborhood I asked myself, "Where am I going?" On a whim, or maybe under Ronni's influence, I decided I needed to see something different, so instead of turning left to go towards Sunken Meadow, I turned right towards Robert Moses. It's a 20-minute trip across two scary bridges - the lanes across the open water are pretty narrow. Once across, I circled the water tower and headed to the easternmost Parking Field 5. It was a little cooler than I expected but I had brought a hooded sweatshirt, which I had to double-back to fetch.

The sand felt soft under my shoes, and the ocean waves were loud but somehow soothing. I watched a few Piping Plovers, whose nests on the dunes are protected, scutter along the edge of the advancing and retreating water. There is actually a three foot cliff near the water, formed by what process I don't know. The birds felt safe from me, and didn't seem to mind as I passed them on the cliff above.

I walked along this little beach cliff towards the lighthouse, but didn't really plan to get there. A wooden jetty with a stairway to the beach jutted towards the cliff from behind the dunes, and I climbed the stairs, sat down with my legs dangling, and ate my salad. It's times like these, at the beautiful places, when I miss Ronni most intensely. Sometimes I can remember being in these places with her, and sometimes I must settle for wishing we had gone there together. If she were there with me, we would have said very little; we would have just listened to the sea and the seagulls, embracing side-by-side, with her head on my shoulder.

A couple had pitched a tent on the beach a few hundred feet west of the jetty, and they were wandering the beach looking for shells. I imagined Ronni and I would have talked about doing the same thing at another time; it would have been fun and romantic. This is the time of our lives when we would have been "empty-nesters", enjoying more time together and with friends and family, becoming a couple again after the child-raising years. I felt bitter that we were deprived of that life together.

Another couple approached from the dunes side of the jetty with two little white dogs and a baby stroller. For all I know, the stroller might have been empty - they behaved like the dogs were their kids. One of the doggies came to investigate me, not really interested in anything more than a quick sniff while he peered over the edge of the jetty. He let me scratch his head and neck for a minute or two, then retreated to his parents.

Soon it was time to go back to the car, since the sun would set and I didn't relish walking the beach in the dark. I took off my shoes and socks, rolled up my pants, and walked west at the very edge of the water towards the setting sun. The waves were cool but not uncomfortable, and I felt the sand and sea foam between my toes as I walked. Those plovers were still hunting for crabs and bits of food, but then I scared them off now that I was at their level on the beach. Finally, at some distance I passed a woman and her 5-ish child sitting high on the beach surrounded by toys and a kite; they were finished playing, and the boy was on her lap as they both looked towards the water. I wondered what their story might have been - a single mother, or dad's away this weekend? Happy, or is she longing for someone the way I am? I did not break their spell to ask.

I walked up the boardwalk toward my car, but stopped short and turned back to look east at a wonderful spectacle: two rainbows, one over the ocean, and the other alongside the lighthouse. The sun had sunk below the cloud deck, illuminating the clouds from below and reflecting the rainbow from the clouds and mist. I moved around on the boardwalk until I got a few good pictures of both rainbows. And then I turned around to look west at the most beautiful sunset I have seen in years. As I alternated between taking pictures and staring with my jaw slack, I had to fight back tears. I have long believed Ronni sees the world from whatever realm she inhabits, through my eyes. I felt her presence, and heard her ask me to stop crying because she couldn't see. I obliged, and I smiled that open-mouthed smile you get when you're so happy you're on the verge of laughter. She and I enjoyed the show together.

The drive home was anticlimactic. Here I am at home writing my thoughts and hoping the pictures came out.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Five Boro Bike Tour 2011

Last year I recall nicknaming it the Five Borough Bike/Walk/Stand. It was a little worse this year.

I parked in Staten Island again. I happened to follow two cars that seemed to know the area, into a small unmarked lot only one mile from the festival and bridge. From there it was a four mile ride to the ferry.

The morning ride to the ferry was cold and unpleasant. For me, this "tour" is early in the season, so twice in a row I have been less than prepared for it. From where I parked there is a steep hill towards the festival area, and it was almost the first thing I had to navigate. That said, I think my legs are stronger than last year, perhaps even stronger than they were after a season of riding last Fall. Or maybe the bike fits better after my handlebar and seat adjustments. Or maybe I'm no longer ashamed of using Granny Gears when I need to.

The ferry ride was nice. I carried my bike upstairs to Level 2 without too much trauma - had to carry it down also after disembarking. Since so few people did that, I managed to park it right up front of the ferry. Nice view of the skyline from up there.

I followed the crowd and found myself at Church St. and Park Place, three or four blocks closer to the start than last year. I was there at about 7; the ride was scheduled to start at 8, and we actually got moving at about 9, after walking at least 5 blocks north to the starting gate. They had some kind of ceremonial gas flame bursting from two nozzles at the gate, and I could actually feel the radiant heat each time they went off. The air was otherwise was pretty cool, so the flames felt good.

The trip to Central Park was slow and crowded, with a couple of stops and slow walks. Another necessary bathroom break put me further behind the leaders. Central Park itself also had some walks, though not as bad as last year. There were more walks and stops in Harlem, and along 135th street as we moved towards the Bronx. Just like last year, we were in the Bronx for all of 15 minutes.

There was a unicycle on the FDR drive as I rode down. The guy had to pedal rapidly to keep up.

Just like last year there was another walk towards the Queensboro Bridge. Although I stopped a couple of times to catch my breath, I managed to ride all the way up, which is better than I did last year. Hooray for those Granny gears!

I had mixed feelings when I found that Astoria had already been cut off by the time I got there: on the one hand, I had wanted to go, and this proved that I was in the last 1/3 of the pack again. On the other hand, I was getting tired already so I felt it was just as well.

I skipped the Con Ed Learning Center rest stop and kept moving over the Pulaski Bridge, a moderate hill which I was proud to have navigated without stopping. At Commodore Barry Park there was time for a banana and some water refills before I headed onward.

Just like last year, I have nothing but unhappy memories of the Gowanus Expressway. Yeah, it's nice that it was closed and carried bicycles exclusively. But there were a couple of tough hills, and when I tried to startup after resting at one point, I took a spill by grinding the rear wheel of the guy in front of me. It was entirely my own fault, and I assume I had little effect on the other guy, since I don't even think he knew I went down. I earned a skinned elbow and bruised palm (lightly because I had recently found my padded gloves), but no serious injury except perhaps to my self-esteem. Then later, after a couple of pauses to catch my breath, the entire parade went into standing/walking mode. There was construction further ahead, so everyone had to squeeze into one car lane. We were delayed by about an hour.

As we started to move past the road construction area, we noticed that every piece of Rebar (hundreds of them) had been capped with little red cone-shaped bonnets, probably to prevent injury to the workers. Someone nearby yelled to his friend, "Hey Jim, look at that! I love Spring in New York City, with the Rebar in bloom!" Yes, they looked like flowers. Got a good laugh out of that one.

Once we got going, the period of standing had taken its toll on my muscles and joints, and I found it tough going for the rest of the trip. On the flat Belt Parkway I had to pause several times, and although I made it up the ramp towards the Verrazzano and the Cannonball Park rest stop (just water and potty for me), I completely gave up trying to ride up the bridge. I walked about 2/3 up the Brooklyn side, then mounted my bike and fit-started to the highest point. Going downhill on the other side was quite a relief.

At the festival, "I rode 34 miles and all I got was this t-shirt." Well, I also got some chocolate milk, but there was no way I would wait an hour on line for a free picture. I found my way out of the park after about 45 minutes and headed towards the car.

Now, where was the car? Here at 3pm I had absolutely no memory of the area that I had left at 5:30am, and I ended up passing the little parking lot where my car was. I rode about 3 miles past it, then back - a very sore 5+ miles after the previous 38. I stopped to rest, then on a hunch, instead of going back along the same route again I went further back towards the bridge. And there it was, less than a mile from the festival site. It turns out that this morning I had parked in the closest lot to the festival.

On the drive home I saw that the last few hundred feet of the Gowanus bottleneck was still occupied by bikes, with people mostly standing, not moving. Then behind them, there was a monumental traffic backup that extended all the way up towards the Brooklyn Bridge. There must be a better solution: I think someone opened the road to traffic before it was cleared of bikes. People were leaving their cars to try to figure out what was the problem. Hours earlier, I was through the area fairly quickly by comparison, for which I am grateful.

Takeaways: I should not do this event again unless:

1) I figure out how to get much closer to the front at the start of the ride,
2) I am in good enough condition this early in the season to consistently keep up with the pace.

Since you have to register in early February for this early May ride, I can't know about #2. Perhaps I could figure out #1, but if I'm going to fall behind, why bother?

Also, this really is not a ride, but a ride-hike. The negatives outweighed the positives in my eyes: I did not get enough of a rise from the scenery and from being able to bike on major NYC arteries, to overcome the irritation of waiting, walking, and waiting some more. Next year, it would be better use of my time and money to sign up for the 50-mile version of the Montauk ride, if it's available, which runs in the middle of May. Last year I did the "metric century" and paid for it with knee and elbow problems afterwards - WAY to much of a ride so soon after the Five Borough tour. In fact, the problems I developed after the Montauk ride are still bothering me - especially my left knee.

Anyway, it's done, I completed it, I'm satisfied. I came home and took a nice, hot shower, turned on my bed massage, and got a good nap.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Status

After a long, painful battle with esophageal cancer, my daughter and first child, Allison, passed away on July 20, 2010. It has been 8 months, and I still cannot get a grip. I have said that, in terms of mourning for my wife Ronni, who passed away in August, 2008, I feel like I've gone back to square-one. Some people don't agree.

Well, now there's a whole new situation to deal with: I have left my job of 23 years effective March 3. My position disappeared in Dowling's ongoing reorganization. Believe me, I would have preferred to stay. I have a little time before I need to get serious about job-hunting. Those lemons are going to need a whole lot of sweetening before I can taste the lemonade.

Sweetening: besides my continued enjoyment having Allison and Mark's son Zachary living with me, I've now got another wonderful grandchild thanks to Jason and Bracha. In fact, I'll be babysitting on Sunday evening. And yesterday we went to New Jersey to attend a bris - Miriam is Ronni's niece, so I guess that makes her my niece-in-law? Who cares, little DJ was beautiful. And my son Jonathan is marrying the love of his life at the end of May, so simchas abound.

At the moment it feels like I'm shipwrecked, rowing to islands of joy in a sea of sadness. The sea can't rise any higher, can it? Oh, gack, I need to work on my writing skills some more...