Monday, May 23, 2011

Bicycling from Canada to New York City...Almost

May is Bike Month across America with many cities hosting events. New York City hosts many rides and activities. This is just one New York biking story. The bike pictured above is the bike that took the following journey.

My bicycle trip to New York City from Ottawa, Canada was supposed to start in Ottawa. It didn't. The bicycle trip was my 40th birthday present to myself and as I didn't think I'd be able to get my bicycle over the border I had my son drive me down to Ogdensberg, sans bike.

Since I wasn't bringing my own bike, I needed to find one in New York State. I could have picked one up at Wal-Mart in Watertown but I wanted my bicycle to have character, to have a history. Bike's from Wal-Mart have neither.

What I needed was a second hand bike that had its own character. It didn't have to be 40 years old like me. I didn't want it to be 40 years old like me. As the bike was going to be my best friend until we pedaled into Manhattan together it needed human qualities that only a bike with a history could provide.

There was no bicycle to be found in Pulaski. There were bikers however - not bicycle bikers but real bikers - and over the course of a few beers we mapped out my route to New York City. The next morning I said goodbye to my son, and started walking down the road. I had heard that there was a yard sale "a couple of miles down the road" with lots of bikes. Surely one of them would have the character and strength I needed for my ride into the Big Apple.

Williamstown is where I finally found my bike. I had walked into town just as the late June skies opened up. Fortunately the skies opened as I was passing the one bar in town and so I sought refuge and a cold beverage. The one patron at the bar couldn't believe that I had walked from Pulaski to there.
"That's 25 miles," he said incredulously. I shrugged, mileage didn't matter to me, I was on a quest. I told Mr. Incredulous my story and why I was walking. I had to find that one particular bike. An hour later and the barfly had sold me his 10 year old Huffy for $50. He had stopped riding it after his eighth heart attack two years before. My bicycle trip had officially begun.

As most of the day was behind me I only managed to make it to Rome that night, just as the skies opened again. But it was a good start - I didn't over-exert myself and I got a good night's sleep.
The next couple of days consisted of pedaling up some hill (in my mind it was a mountain) for 20 minutes then racing down the other side of that hill (in my mind it was a mountain) in 20 seconds. There was no time to catch my breath - 20 minutes up a hill, 20 seconds down - repeated ad nauseum.

Beaten from yet another day of little progress - I had expected to average between 14-20 miles per hour and I had been averaging closer to seven owing to the hills (in my mind they were mountains) - I checked into a rundown little motel in the middle of nowhere.

The elderly owner shook his head at me when I told him what I was doing. He wasn't impressed. "A couple of years ago we had this 80-year-old guy on a bike spend the night here. And he was coming from California," he said shaking his head in disdain for me. The old guy wanted to charge me $107 for my room. Until then I had been paying between $30-40 per night on the road.

"There's another motel 20 or so miles down the road," he offered with a wicked smile. We both knew I didn't have another 20 miles of cycling in me and it was now 9PM. I paid his rate and cursed both old men under my breath before falling asleep in my $107 bed which was as comfortable as the backseat of a '78 Camaro.

Fittingly, it was the Fourth of July when I crossed the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan. I quickly found Broadway and started to cycle down America's Main Street towards Greenwich Village and the end of my journey. My body was beaten up after five days of riding over the Adirondacks and the Catskills but I had a grin from ear-to-ear. I was 40 and I had just completed the longest bicycle ride of my life.

1 comment:

André said...

And then came the 41st-year quest, or was it the 42nd-year on the west coast of México? Nice reading. My 40-year present was a house, much more sedate than yours, Mark. I wanted to turn it into a home, but that didn't work out.