I swore I would never do it again. The last time I rode in the annual NYC Five Boro Bike Tour, I decided that I stood a better chance on the open streets of NYC, playing chicken with cabs than trying to dodge the swerving riders who were a little rusty around the edges. Then my son changed all that. This year, I had one of the most exceptional rides I can remember because not only was it a hell of a lot of fun, but I discovered that my son is superman.
When I first proposed the ride to Eli back in March after receiving a flier in the mail, he instantly said, “sure – let’s do it.” He had just signed up for the Team Get Outdoors bike challenge and had fire in his eyes about logging in long miles. He had not yet ridden more than 10 miles at one time, but hey, how bad could it be, dad, we get to takes breaks, right?
Now training wasn’t exactly what I’d call methodical. In fact, it was tough to get out for more than 10 miles at a time together in the weeks leading up to the big ride. He found the rolling hills on Block Island to be somewhat daunting. I looked at his little circus bike the week before the big day and I began to think this might not have been the best idea after all. Since the 5 Boro route is a fairly tight loop and riders are never too far from a subway stop, it seemed like we had plenty of options if things should turn south. In fact, I had my eyes on the Brooklyn Bridge bailout at mile 25 as a real likely scenario.
My in-laws' apartment in Tribeca provides the perfect staging ground for this ride. We could wake up at a leisurely 7:00 and still get to the start in plenty of time. We filled our bottles, quickly dressed and brought the bikes to street level by elevator and headed out for our two mile ride to the start. The mass start of this event is well-orchestrated but the wait is a killer. After 45 minutes of waiting we rode off into the horizon. The atmosphere was pleasant and festive with riders passing beach balls across the avenue to kill time. The weather was dreadful, though, and it rained all day.
After we rolled out, we easily settled into a comfortable pace as we rode quickly through the Village and Chelsea on our way to Central Park. The absolute best thing about this ride is that the streets of NYC are closed to traffic for the full 42 miles. It’s simply magical to ride through one of the world’s major cities with 30,000 other cyclists. There’s nothing quite like it and the magic worked its spell on Eli.
The park itself was less pleasant than the preceding section because of the bottlenecks that the narrower streets caused. This was to be a recurring drawback on the ride. Due to the huge size of the field, whenever the road narrowed significantly, we were forced to walk our bikes like drivers in bumper to bumper traffic on the Long Island Expressway. This was especially challenging when soaked to the bone and chilled later in the ride. After exiting the park into Harlem, we hopped across the Madison Avenue bridge for a short 3 block foray into the Bronx and the headed south over the Third Avenue Bridge to the FDR drive.
The first official rest stop came at mile 15 at a school off the FDR drive at 116th street. Eli and I stopped to pick up a few energy bars and some water and use the porta potties. The FDR Drive down the east side of Manhattan was a major highlight of the ride. The large southbound lane was closed and we were able to take in the impressive vistas as we travelled downtown. Especially welcome was the tunnel under the UN and Tudor City which provided relieve from the rain. It was also exhilarating to yell and screech in a tunnel with hundreds of other cyclists. As we headed downtown, the route crossed the East River at the Queensboro Bridge. The bridge was a bit crowded which led to a delay at the entrance but the views were cool as was the ironwork and drop netting to protect vehicles from flaling debrius. The second rest area came at mile 18 in Astoria.
After riding through Brooklyn for a bit, we were presented with the 25-mile short cut crossing the Brooklyn Bridge back to Lower Manhattan. It was an option many riders were exercising. When I presented this option to Eli, he said, “What are you kidding me? And miss Staten Island?” We pedaled on with determination. The Brooklyn Queens Expressway was fairly pleasant, but also beset by lane closures that resulted in bottle necks and walking our bikes in the pouring rain. There were a few grades on the BQE and I was amazed to watch seemingly healthy adults walking their bikes. No mechanicals, just the result of exhaustion. Not Eli, though, he just kept on pedaling throughout the event. Eventually we made it to the base of the mighty Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. This was actually a pretty big hill. At one point, Eli slowed to the point where it became hard for him to sustain his forward momentum and we walked a bit. I pointed out to him that if I pushed him a bit it would be easier to pedal that to walk. He gave it a shot and rode the rest of the climb. After the crest, we both cruised down to the bottom where the festival awaited.
The festival is a bit of a tease, because after we reached it, there was still a 3-mile victory ride to the ferry launch where we met our ride home to Battery Park. The wait was about 20 minutes in the cold wet air, but the boat ride itself was warm and delicious. We disembarked in lower Manhattan like our ancestors before us only with this time with bikes. A short pedal up to Tribeca and we were home to family and a warm shower.
A few great Eli quotes from the road:
• “Once you’re’ wet, you can’t really get much wetter.”
• “Why do we keep stopping at the rest areas Dad, let’s keep going.”
• “This is so much fun. I can’t believe we’re doing this. I can’t believe how much fun this is.”
• “We never do anything like this, just the two of us.”
• “Let’s do this every year.”
What amazed me most about Eli’s performance is his absolute consistency and stamina. Pedaling away on that little circus bike, he never once suggested we bail out, turn back or even modify our goal in any way. He was like the Energizer Bunny banging that drum all the way to Staten Island.
Unlike the trophy Eli gets for simply showing up in his soccer league, he EARNED the right to feel immensely proud of his accomplishment. Other people were quitting. Grown-ups were walking their bikes. He hammered up the huge grade on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. At one point, we saw a young boy on a road bike and in that moment I saw some very exciting possibilities unfold for my son and me in the future.
What was I like as a nine year old? Would it ever have occurred to me to ride 46 miles on my bike? Doubtful. For me, that came later. For now, Eli is superman and I am in awe.