Yesterday I participated in the 2010 Five Boro Bike Tour and it was absolutely amazing. This was the first time for me and it proved to be very exciting, challenging and exhausting. I am a novice bike rider and this 42 mile trek pushed me to my limits. I awoke at 4 am and drove to my friend’s place, getting there by 5 am. After finding parking at 75th street and York, I joined Thomas and his friends for homemade pancakes, eggs, toast, fruits, OJ and coffee.
Riding down the avenues of NYC in the early morning hours with no traffic in sight on a Sunday was priceless. Totaling six in our crew (and naming ourselves “Team Awesome”), we all rode down to Chambers and Church streets. We managed to enter the tour at the last spot of the first wave. We waited in line with the rest of the other bikers for an hour before the official start. At 8:00 am the horn blasted and I could hear the distant voice of Cousin Brucie on the loud speaker.
The sight of 32,000 riders hitting the streets of NYC must have been an impressive sight. We were cheered on by bystanders and onlookers all the way through. We rode down Church Street and into 6th Avenue, all the way to Central Park where we experienced our first (and only) serious bottle neck. It was a little frustrating as we didn’t know what was the holdup all about. After waiting for close to 30 minutes, it was smooth sailing through the park.
Next we rode on through Harlem and shortly thereafter, into the Bronx. I had lost my comrades for a moment as I enjoyed racing downhill and across the bridge. Of all the boroughs, the Bronx was not represented very well at all as the route through it was extremely short and the surrounding neighborhood wasn’t really indicative of how beautiful the Bronx really is. Don’t get me wrong (before I get flamed), the area we rode through was nice albeit a little barren of residents (although a few cheered us on). The Bronx portion of the tour was over too quickly. Just look at the map and you’ll see what I mean.
Off we went to the FDR drive. This was a rare treat as I often drive down this highway jammed with traffic. Seeing it closed to cars and open only to bicyclists was great. Going through the tunnel was neat as everyone starting cheering, whistling and making noise inside. The first rest area was on 116th off of the FDR. Being slightly hardcore, we had agreed to bypass it and simply ride to the next rest area in Astoria Park, Queens.
Upon reaching the Queensboro Bridge (59th street bridge to the natives), there was some considerable slowdown. I had to dismount and walk the bike up the incline. The bike tour “marshals” were quick to dissuade anyone from stopping on the bridge. I was a little tired but still had enough “umph” to make it to the next rest area. I managed to crossthe bridge on pedal power. We all gathered at the base of the bridge but were missing one team member.
Taking a moment, we went to a local deli and got water and some food. I was about to order a sandwich but someone got on the horn warning us that they were about to open up the streets to traffic. A mad scramble of riders getting on their bikes quickly ensued. I wasn’t able to get lunch as a big bus started up on the road. Calling it the bus of death, Team Awesome bolted towards Astoria Park ahead of it.
I will state that all through out the tour, motorists were very kind and actually very supportive of us every step of the way. On one occasion however in Queens, one motorist stopped to ask for either directions or something to a cop who was directing traffic. He held up the cars behind him and prevented us from resuming our ride. Despite the officer’s urging to keep moving, he just stood there. That’s when the heckling from us began. “Move it buddy!” and other harmless jibes were thrown at him. He appeared to get really upset, starting the car and then abruptly stopping to address us, almost getting rear-ended in the process. He started to curse at us and we shouted back at him, just egging him on. That’s when he got pulled over by the police amid cheers from everyone. As I left the intersection, I saw the guy giving his license and registration to the cop. Hope he got a ticket.
At the Astoria Park rest area, we all picked a shaded area by a tree and relaxed. The Chiquita bananas were hard to come by as none were available but we had plenty of water and oranges and other light snacks. My buddy Thomas couldn’t find a single Lara bar despite the sponsorship. That was a running joke all day. I was hungry and the light snacks wasn’t going to do it for me. Thank goodness that William wasn’t going to eat half of his tuna sandwich he got from the deli so he gave it to me (thanks bud!).
We stopped at the Con Edison rest area (still in Queens) and managed to get water refills and some light snacks. There we found our missing team member. One rider asked me if I was thirsty and he gave me a large container of what seemed to be coconut water with mango called Zico. I saw that his girlfriend also had a container opened and she gave me a dubious look as I took it. One taste of it was enough. This thing was really bad. Zico turned out to be a major punch line to many jokes all day.
The rest of the ride through Queens and Brooklyn proved to be taxing for me. Despite the heavy water intake, I was very tired and getting affected by the heat. Making it worse, I suffer from mild asthma due to seasonal allergies so I felt that I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. I had forgotten my inhaler at home so I had to take it easy. I didn’t want to be one of the many casualties we saw along the way. Many suffered from either heat exhaustion, dehydration or collisions. One poor elderly man I saw had fallen down and lost his tooth in the fall. There was no shortage of sad stories on this tour. You really have to be in good shape to attempt this. I wasn’t fully prepared for this. I had only taken my bike out two or three times prior to this event. Even then, I hadn’t ridden more than 10 miles on a single ride. Marshalls and EMTs were readily available through the tour and if anyone needed serious assistance, an ambulance/bus was never too far away.
The last 12 miles were really tough but I was determined to cross the finish line. Thomas hung back with me as the rest of the team progressed towards the next rest stop. The BQE was still a pain in the ass for me even without traffic (Lord only knows how much New Yorkers hate the BQE)! When I finally made it to the John Paul Jones/Cannonball Park, someone got on the bullhorn warning us that if we wanted to cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, we had to get on our bikes NOW! I think they were going to open it up to traffic. I didn’t even get a minute to rest. Tired as I was, I got on the bike and headed towards that massive bridge. I had to dismount yet again and walk my bike towards the middle. Getting back on, I rode the rest of the way down and finally to the Festival at Fort Wadsworth.
Boy was it SWEET crossing that finish line!
At the festival, there was music, water, food, merchandise, free photos and massages and other goodies. We rested on the grass and soaked up the euphoric moment.
I was tired but I knew I had to get my second and final wind: it was three more miles to the ferry. After getting some free Snapple (totally bypassing the Zico stand) and Yage Greek yogurt, it was off towards the ferry. Looking at my bike computer, I had only a mile left to go when I got a severe leg cramp. I phoned the gang and let them know what was going on. After several long minutes, I was able to get back on my bike. It was great seeing the team waiting for me at the ferry entrance.
The ride was long but yet refreshing and restful. Back at Battery park, it was time to figure out how to get back to my car. Half the team wanted to ride back uptown (that’s just crazy talk!) while the rest wanted to take the train (ah, that’s more sensible). We boarded the train on Bowling Green station and transferred to the 6 train to 77th Street. By the time I walked by my Thomas’ building, the entire gang was there. We all got there pretty much around the same time.
I packed up my bike and rode up the FDR (getting a kick at how I had just ridden it mere hours before on bike) towards home. I got a quick Sicilian slice to go at my favorite pizza place at Dyckman and then went home where I promptly went to bed early after dinner.
Anyone who’s a bicyclist should try this tour at least once in their lifetime. Many riders from all over the world come to NYC to participate in this event. I felt very proud to be a New Yorker. It’s the best city in the world and there’s no better way to experience the sights and sounds and most importantly, the people of this city, than by riding on this unique and special event.
I wish I had taken more interesting photos. The photographer in me wanted so badly to take pictures but it was inconvenient taking my little point-and-shoot camera out of my backpack all the time. I wanted to bring my D90 but riding the tour was the priority, not taking pictures. Perhaps next time.
Do I want to do this again next year? Ask me again next year.