Boston to New York By Bike: Do You Know the Way to 25A?
Cyclists tend to travel in packs. I know many that will only do group rides, never venturing out on their own. There is strength in numbers, which can help when traveling at fairly high rates of speed. And cycling is easier in a group, since you can often take refuge from the wind behind other riders. Runners on the other hand, are more likely to fly solo. I still consider myself a runner who cycles, as opposed to a pure, dyed-in the-wool cyclist, so I suppose it is not surprising that most of my bike rides are done alone.
Given my predilection for riding alone, I have no problem organizing my own treks, which I attempt every once in a while. In training for my cross country ride this summer, I recently decided to cycle from the Boston area to New York City. Two friends were participating in a Six Day running race (yes, you read that right) in the Big Apple. My plan was to complete my ride, stay for a day at the run, and then head back to Boston by train and/or bus.
After studying maps for weeks, I decided on a route that would cover southeastern Massachusetts, northern and central Rhode Island, and southeastern Connecticut, ending in Mystic. The next day I would take the ferry from New London to Orient Point in Long Island, and then traverse the length of the Island, finishing in Queens, the site of the running race. I estimated each day’s distance to be about 100 miles.
To keep the first day’s distance from being more than that, I took the local commuter rail train from Quincy to Brockton, the so-called “city of champions.” (Boxing greats Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler hail from Brockton.) I hoped that would be good omen. My primary concern was the wind: the prospect of fighting a headwind for hours on end was not appealing. The weather Gods smiled upon me, however: Sunday turned out sunny and not too warm, with a steady tailwind.
I had several maps with me, but had the planned route pretty well memorized. Even so, any cyclist knows roads can often look a lot different in reality than they do on a map. In addition, a missing or misplaced sign can send you off course quickly. On this day however, everything went smoothly; only once did I need to stop and review the map to find the route. I was zipping along at 16 miles per hour and enjoying life. I kept cranking along until I had covered nearly 60 miles, stopping in a familiar place: Coventry, the site of the Nifty Fifty races that I have directed since 1997. After a snack and re-hydrating, I continued toward Mystic.
The ride got much more difficult in the second half, with some pretty steep climbs. At the top of the ridge line there were wide open farms and fields. The crossing wind was so strong it was hard to keep my bike upright at times. Combined with the increasing temperatures and the fact that this was my longest ride of 2006, I started to struggle some; the miles were not passing so quickly anymore. After another quick stop in the ghost town-like Voluntown, Connecticut (populated by packs of motorcyclists that reminded me of swarms of ants) I was headed for the finish. Wheeling into the Comfort Inn parking lot a little more than six and a half hours after leaving Brockton, the cyclometer read 99.7 miles. My S.O. Charlotte drove down and met me there. We had a nice evening in the seaside town of Mystic, as I prepared for day two of the trek.
The first thing I did on Monday morning was to check the flag in front of the hotel. Still out of the north! It would not be as much of a tailwind as Sunday, but still in my favor as I edged my way in a southwesterly direction. Charlotte dropped me off at the 8:00 a.m. ferry; I was headed for eastern Long Island, a place I had never visited. The idea of covering brand new, unknown territory on the bike was exciting. I rolled off the ferry ahead of all of the cars, even though they all quickly caught me down the road. It was cool and overcast as I headed out. The roads were quiet in stately Orient Point and I easily clicked off the miles. It seemed too easy, too good to be true. Of course, it was.
After two hours, all of a sudden route 25 turned into a full fledged highway, so I was forced to exit the freeway by tossing my bike over a fence into someone’s backyard. Threading my way northward I eventually located 25A. That too turned from a country road into a busy three-lane beast, but I was forced to stick with it into Port Jefferson. A stop there indicated I had covered nearly half the distance to Queens, but I was already feeling the effects of nine hours of cycling over the past two days. My pace had slowed markedly. I was committed to getting there though, so I pressed onward.
Shortly thereafter, I spied a green “bike route” sign. I debated exiting the traffic-filled 25A and following the route. In the end I took a chance and did that. The route was very well marked as I zigzagged the back roads, but after about 10 miles came to an abrupt end on the campus of SUNY Stonybrook. My maps were of little help, so I had to stop and ask how to get back to 25A. Few students had any clue. Finally a security guard got me back to the road. It was frustrating to have spent more than a half-hour going nowhere.
After several more miles I was once again faced with a decision between routes 25 and 25A. The former seemed shorter, but the later might be less heavily trafficked. I stuck with 25A. It was not long before I regretted my choice. The road continuously climbed skyward for several hundred feet then dropped precipitously, over and over again, as I traversed Long Island’s north shore. Who knew Long Island was so hilly? The towns of Huntington, Cold Spring Harbor, and Oyster Bay passed slowly on the bike, unlike the cars that whizzed by as I tried to negotiate the tricky roadway. Nearly 100 miles from Orient Point, Queens still seemed a long way away. It was hot and I was beginning to feel defeated. And the worst was yet to come.
Metropolitan areas are meant to be driven into, or perhaps reached by public transportation. By bike? Forget it. As I got closer to the city, the roads became more crowded and dangerous. Potholes the size of Montana, kids on skateboards, trucks, construction, commuters double-parked to run in and get their dry cleaning, and traffic lights every 50 yards, made Northern Boulevard in Queens a route of nightmares. I was reduced to gliding along with one cleat out of the pedal, ready to stop at a moment’s notice. When I saw I was on 220th street, my heart sank. I knew I would have to get down to 39th to reach Corona Park, my final destination.
Eventually it did arrive. Of course, locating the Eden Park hotel was another challenge. It took a call and directions from the desk clerk to get me to the entrance. Later I learned I was the first person in the history of the hotel to ever arrive by bike. That’s something, I suppose. The distance from Orient Point, which I had departed 10 hours earlier, was 120 miles.
Would I recommend this ride to others? Sure, at least the first 200 miles of the route. When you get to the outskirts of Queens however, you might want to call a taxi. Any cyclist will tell you it is easier to travel into the jungle of the city with the pack.