The Morning started out laid back enough, as Dan and I watched the surface of Official Rain-o-meter pool dancing in the diffused light out my back window. The pitter, patting of tiny rain drops creating ripples as they finished their suicide plunge into the chlorinated abyss told the story. Metro Traffic and Weather droned on with its endless two minute mantra repeating, "Only the insane will attempt outdoor activities today!" Nonetheless, in the face of all this encouragement, we ultimately decided that since we had no way of contacting directly any of the city riders, that we should take the train in and wait at the assigned spot. This in case there were any foolish enough to ride out into the teeth of the storm, basically so we could tell them that the ride was off! But from somewhere deeply hidden a bubble of optimism rose and we took the bikes anyway. After all, ride out was still an hour and a half away. So the weather could improve right? It was then that Kevin called and said he'd meet us at the station. Was this a sign?
As we stood on the platform in the rain, I became more, and more convinced that the 5 Island Curse was doing its thing again! We would not ride! We boarded the train and as the doors closed, Orville and his Cannondale squeezed through onto the train, "I never thought I'd make it he exclaimed!" It had become obvious that the cards were stacking up against me here.
"Make what?" I mused as our steel snake swam its way toward the Big Apple through the air turned liquid.
We disembarked at Penn and walked to the 34th Street entrance, our clips echoing from the silent walls, free wheels click click clicking. A virtual clockwork marking the passing minutes and measuring our stride. All present seemed ready to make the return trip on the 9:36. Somewhere along our voyage in they had returned to their senses! We clack, clack, clicked through the station past the waiting room, lofting our bikes shoulder borne up the stairs to where the Staples Office Supply Store lay closed and abandoned in the early morning gloom. We leaned the bikes against the cold and abandoned wall. We took turns watching the bikes, standing there collecting wondering glances from the sea of anonymous faces passing by and ascending to the street their waiting, heated, dry cabs. Alternating, we attended the appointed meeting place 33rd & 7th waiting in the rain, watching the blowing mist as the Empire State's spire ducked in and out of the gray scudding clouds. We took turns buying coffee warm, steaming and aromatic. We also took turns disposing of its by-products! The appointed time for our intended ride out approached relentlessly. Yet I remained safe in my conviction that a hot breakfast and the warm companionship of my wife awaited me back in Baldwin, only a short train ride away.
And then it happened, The Insurrection!
I guess it began when I left my younger compatriots standing unsupervised in front of the Staples. I came back after buying my croissant to the disharmonious sounds of their feeding upon one another's bravado like so many roosters. "Well, I'm up for it," and "I'm sure it's gonna clear, and "What are we anyway, wooses?" While I suggested that woose status held a certain intellectual high ground here, the assertion fell upon testosterone deafened ears. With chests puffed and muscles pumped, they collectively assailed everything from my dedication to the sport, to the allegations that another had to have been the father of my children.
As we continued the discussion of my childrens' ancestry, squandering the minutes in wait for the appointed time, the first nail was driven deeply into my soon to be rain drenched coffin. The hammer took the form of a lovely cyclist angel who called herself Dani, Danni or Danny. I have to guess at the spelling. Wanting a final picture of our assemblage for posting on the site, to accompany the brief description of how our ride was called through the collective influences of The 5 Island Curse and the wettest, coldest spring in Metro New York history, I called our group together in front of our forlorn bikes and surveyed the crowd for a likely victim to hand the camera. Right there in front of us walked Danee and her hybrid bike.
She was the epitome of casual wearing jeans and a black long sleeve T, she was accessorized with a 30 lb. Kryptonite NYC Bike Chain and Shiny 3 lb. American Padlock as her belt. As I asked her to take out picture, I opined, "Hey you're really gonna get wet out there." She merely shrugged her shoulders and smiled dismissing my prophesy as "No Big Deal!" We captured her visage here! My position regarding the exercise of discretion was further weakened by her blatant indifference to moisture. The deadly estrogen spark had been laid down in the volatile testosterone pool and the fire was rapidly moving toward out of control!
The final nail was apparently driven home or the final spark was struck (depending upon which metaphor you favor) when I once again stood my watch on the appointed meeting corner. Observing the peak of the Empire State duck into the clouds of gray, as if in a trance, I was awakened as I felt the mist blowing horizontally into my face and updrafting into my helmet. When, wonder of wonders, Eric emerged from the billowing mist. He had already navigated the paved rivers for about 60 blocks on his way down from the upper west side. I escorted him, dripping, down to our Staples Enclave walking secretively behind him as I described small circles in the air with my index finger pointing toward the temple of my helmet, only to discover that the rebellion was now in full swing. I had lost control of the situation, the coffin was sealed, the flammable liquid was hopelessly engulfed in flame, there would be no retreat!
I conjured safety issues. I claimed woosedom as my lair. I recklessly tossed common sense into the crowd and they devoured it ravenously and completely with the typically male suggestion of allowing the fates to seal our future through the mechanism of a coin toss. In the face of growing opposition I went for the 50/50 chance and lost miserably.
We rode out!
Down 7th Avenue we pedaled, slipping and sliding on the rain and oil mixture running in rainbow hues into the flooded gutters and down the gurgling storm drains. The rain also pooled into black coffee seas of unknown depth through which we navigated hoping against hope that the mother of all potholes was not lying hidden in their murky depths like some Marianas Trench waiting to claim our fleet. Our slick tires left sailboat wakes as they threw rooster tails of salt, oil, grit and God knows what else into the face of the following rider a full fifteen feet behind! We were having a ball! Where else could a fella have this much fun. Certainly not in a nice warm, dry, music filled church!
We soon attained the lofty goal of Chambers Street and made a left thus beginning our journey East. We ultimately ascended Brooklyn Bridge and crossed the East River. Although I was concerned about the wooden planking which comprises the bike and pedestrian ways, it's basically a boardwalk, our crossing was without incident.
The sound of our crossing was a cacaphony, a unique auditory experience. Our tires whizzed across the rain soaked planks, as they thumped bounding from board to board. The loose timbers clanked, klunked, and rattled thumping the steel infrastructure as we disturbed their rest. The counterpoint and baseline were supplied by the tires of the vehicles passing beneath us sluicing through the water and playing the tympani across the bridge plate seams. The clashing cymbal accents rang from the passing subways wheels. And then, a sudden silence, as we paused to admire the view, a rest between movements.
Our front wheels followed the bike path their nose to the ground like bloodhounds following their spoor for as long as they could, curving left and right after the bridge guiding us through the clover leaves for gas guzzlers, ultimately depositing us on the street.
Then we took Flatbush Avenue to Prospect Park. Flatbush was busier that the adjacent Jay Street. Somehow oddly reminiscent of a silent movie scene of old New York, busses and trolleys weaving, pedestrians passing in their black suits and ruffled collars. It was an illusion but one which fit, oddly generated by perhaps the sea of umbrellas and the faceless forms drifting along the pavement beneath, namelessly. Traffic lights, busses, cars, cabs, spray in the eyes, salt running in rivulets, a mixture of rain and the product of effort, strangely refreshing as the body tasted of itself. And, having it to do over again I would take Jay. Which is what Orville and I took when we first did this route on the Burley more easily.
Our modest band agreed that once around Prospect Park would be a good idea. Prospect park, a sudden and complete divorce from traffic and urbanism. We are thrust into something more closely resembling an upstate side road except for the silent city traffic lights blinking on and off for the benefit of the ghosts of the cars banned from our warren.
The Park is a wonderful ride and actually a great training venue. In one small loop you experience the wind at your head and back. You begin to understand how to make it our friend or defeat it as our enemy. The hills, the down hills show you once again why you ride the thrill and joy of going ever so slightly too fast, the fun of scaring yourself! The flats, flats with plenty of room for sprints, some into the wind and some with it, racing along under the boughs of the over hanging trees dropping their collected water onto your helmet and face! The hills the uphills, short but significant, we realize our fragility. The quick dissolution of our energy in the face of gravity against us, we learn patience and head down perseverence!
The park is used virtually non-stop by all sorts of athletic events. And today proved no exception, there was a race going on. It inspires you to compete with yourself quietly in your mind with your legs, lungs, and heart! Prospect Park, there is always a race going on! This one was a walk-run for some charity or another and as we skirted the crowd with room to spare we recalled our reason for being there and strengthened our resolve. Imagine Cedar Creek under the same circumstances? The skies opened for real, chastening us for our distracted departure from attention to the here and the now. Our eyes blinked ceaselessly to clear the fog of water delivered there from the heavens. I thought at this point, "We're finished!"
I was wrong! By the time we headed out from Prospect Park the weather gods had done their worst and we rode on with barely another drizzle. The skies threatened, cauldrons of gray embroiled in smoke and steam, and hollow threats, they never delivered for the balance of the day. The ride benefitted from their empty promise by keeping the crowds much smaller, non existent really. All the beaches we visited vacant stages set for a cast absent, ghostlike shells of a summer held captive by the clouds and chilled wind.
The first was Coney Island, where during beach season bikes are restricted after 9:00 am. But, the officers we passed seemed hard pressed to have cared less that we were there, sleepily passing by in their beacon festooned SUV in Blue and White. So we continued our journey riding the boardwalk. Had it been a busier day, we might have been shooed to the road. Instead, our friendly officers merely smiled and waved, their dreamlike stupor worn like a comfortable overcoat pulled close at the neck to ward off the cold.
We passed from Coney Island to Brighton Beach pedaling, non-stop circles of effort, resonating circles in the air at right angles to the expanding ripples of the occasional droplets falling into the puddles. Then finally to Sheep's Head Bay where our bloodhound front wheels took up again, only this time with the Belt Parkway Bike Path. Yes, Nassau County it can be done! A bike path along the parkway, wow what a concept! We rode this narrow path through the bullrushes and Plumb Beach reconnecting with the South end of Flatbush Ave. A schizophrenic kindly version of it's northern sibling, it was a pleasant road which took us over the Marine Parkway Bridge, past Floyd Bennett Field onto Jacob Riis Park and total, complete desertion! No one was around, just the same hot dog vendor, Orville and I had met there our first time through. On the beach, the occasional surfers clad in their rubber underwear strutted their athletic manliness to an indifferent naked expanse of wet sand. The bored lifeguards huddled withdrawn into their hooded sweatshirts using their umbrellas to shield themselves from the chill damp wind rather than the sun. No lives to guard - no one was there. We passed silently unwilling to break the spell of the tableau.
We pedaled the Board walk, our endless circles churning us down through Neponset, Belle Harbor, Rockaway Park, Seaside, Averne, Edgemere, and Far Rockaway, resort names, but largely deserted streets, ever nearer to home. We enjoyed watching the raging surf pounding an empty beach, passed a bike race in progress and handed our PPOL cards to the few riders we did pass on the boardwalk. We made the day for the many State Park Rangers stationed every hundred yards or so standing bored in their yellow slickers and green baseball caps with absolutely nothing to do! Our good mornings generally evoking smiles and waves as we passed by their dreary morning posts where they were left standing in the weather.
Ultimately we arrived at the Atlantic Beach Bridge.
Now at this point in our journey I stood ready to do the Long Beach Loop, but our crew opted for the more direct overland route back to Baldwin. The difference in geography may make a mile or two difference, but I guess the idea that we were heading toward home rather than away was appealing. Breaking the spell we were once again immersed in Nassau County hustle and traffic. So we wrapped it up and turned for the barn. Now why was there was no coin toss for this decision? Oh Well!
When we got to Baldwin most of us rode on over to D.J. Houdeks expecting Brunch, but it turns out (and I recollect this now) they don't do the Brunch thing from Memorial Day to Labor Day. So we suffered through glorious French Onion Soup (cheese a full 3/4 of an inch thick at least) and Great Bacon Cheese Burgers with steak fries instead. Oh well, sometimes life is rough!
For those of you who missed out, well you missed a good one. WE HAD A LOT OF FUN EVEN IF WE DID GET WET! Try and make it next year, when the dream will undoubtedly be sunny and warm. We have thrown the virgin into the volcano and appeased the gods. The curse has been lifted. The journey has been made! I am glad we have overcome!