A few weeks into the beginning of my relationship with my (now) wife Sarah, my friend Matt started pestering us about going on this 50 mile bike ride through all 5 of the boroughs with him and his wife, also Sarah. I had not been on a bike in probably 10 years at the time, nor had I thought about exercising since moving to New York 7 years earlier. But this was a new relationship and a new me and if all it took to convince my future wife of my manliness was a day biking around New York, than that’s what I was prepared to do.
I didn’t actually even have a bike at the time, so I went with Matt to a used bike shop and bought a beat-up 3 speed for $75. It was rusty and heavy as a corpse and the brakes weren’t quite as responsive as I would have liked, but it seemed like it would do for one day. As long as I didn’t have to brake, I should be fine.
The morning of the ride, we started out in my neighborhood, Greenpoint. We had to wake up at 5 in the morning to get to the start of the route by 6:30. It was drizzling, which should have been our first clue that the day was not going to be the pleasure-cruise we were hoping for.
It took us much longer than it should have taken for us to get downtown. The first two subway stations we stopped at were not equipped to allow bikes in at 5 in the morning. Finally, after biking five drizzling miles away from my apartment, we found the one platform in the Greenpoint/Williamsburg area that had a bike-friendly entrance.
Which, as a side note, is precisely why I finally left New York for good: every day, it was something like that. You buy groceries and the bag rips on the way home. You get in a taxi and $30 into the ride you realize the guy thought you said “Bronx” instead of “Brooklyn.” New York is a never-ending parade of people and things getting in your way and preventing you should easily be able to do anywhere else in the world. Which is what many people love about it: it’s certainly unpredictable. Unpredictable like a brain aneurysm, if you ask me.
After transferring seventeen times (an exaggeration) we eventually got to the right subway stop and found Matt and Sarah in the massive crowd of people. This was not some kind of fly-by-night affair; it was a massive city-sponsored event that attracted tens of thousands of people, all of whom were currently surrounding us and preventing us from moving.
We spent the next hour sitting on our bikes in the rain, waiting for the people in front of us to move. Another classic New York experience: the blind wait. We were at the starting lineup right on time. But New York doesn’t care how miserable you are. New York starts the ride when it’s goddamn good and ready.
When we finally got moving, things improved slightly. At least we were that much closer to the day being over. I had no gloves and had to bike with my coat sleeves pulled down over my hands because it was freezing. I tried to put on a happy face for the sake of appearances, but in my head I kept shouting, “BE … OVER. BE … OVER.”
We rode from downtown to uptown to the Bronx with the rain drizzling down all the while. Lest I make the experience out to be a total bust, let me say this: it is pretty amazing having control of the streets of New York. I am in full support of fixing our cities so that people can bike in peace and harmony on a regular basis. They even shut down one side of the highway for us, which was amazing. Biking on the highway is something I recommend everyone do at least once. Try to divert the rest of the traffic somehow first, though.
The rain finally abated when we got to Astoria, my old stomping grounds. We stopped and had a picnic lunch in a park near my old apartment, and things seemed to be looking up. From there, we merely had to bike through Brooklyn and down to Staten Island. Supposedly, we’d be done and home in a couple of hours.
After lunch, we biked through Long Island City and into Greenpoint. We were exactly 1 block from my apartment and could have easily called it quits right there. I asked Sarah how she was feeling. “I don’t know,” she said. “How are you feeling?”
“Well, it looks like the rain stopped, anyway,” I said. “And they do say it’s only going to be a few more hours.”
“I say we do it,” she said.
And so we did. We breezed past my apartment and kept on riding.
About ten miles later, we were on the Gowanus Expressway, headed toward the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, which would take us to Staten Island. Matt and I were talking and I guess we’d gotten ahead of the Sarahs. So we decided to pull off on to the shoulder and wait for them to arrive.
We waited. And waited. Bikers drifted past us by the hundreds, none of whom were our Sarahs.
Finally, after a panicky 15 minutes, during which for some reason neither of us bothered to check our cell phones (the story falls apart a little bit right here), the Sarahs rode up on two very wobbly-looking bikes. Right after we broke away from them, Sarah and Sarah were having a leisurely bike experience next to each other, when some cockface decked out in head-to-toe racing gear decided it would be a smart idea to try to zoom between them. His spokes caught on their spokes, and they were both tossed from their bikes onto the ground. My Sarah’s tire was bent, not enough to make it unrideable, but enough to make the experience very, very annoying. She was bruised and scraped up and we still had about five miles to go before reaching the promise land.
We redoubled our efforts. We were this close to the end of the ride; failure was not an option. We had to take it slow — kids on tricycles were lapping us –- but after awhile, we made it to the bridge.
And that’s when we gave up. The bridge was a windy wind-beast forged in the winds of Windlandia. We were pedaling so hard against the wind we were in tears. (Please note: when I say “we,” I am referring to Sarah and I. Matt and Sarah were breezing along effortlessly, because they know how to do things.)
We didn’t give up, as in turn around. But we couldn’t bike any more. We were done. Our asses were on fire, Sarah’s bike was a mess, my brakes didn’t work, and we’d had it. We walked the rest of the way up the bridge and wobbled to the ending area, where the ride organizations had conveniently set up several booths of overpriced food and water stands for us to enjoy.
Little did we know, we STILL were nowhere near the finish line. Due to some fight between the Bloomberg administration and ferry operators (or so the rumor went), the city was woefully unprepared for the number of ferries they would need to take everyone back into Manhattan. We waited in a giant mass of people for two and a half hours as nothing happened. The crowd grew restless. At one point, I thought a riot was going to break out. More specifically, I thought Matt was going to start a riot. He has a low tolerance for poor city planning.
We finally made it back to Manhattan around 8:30. By the time we were settled back in Brooklyn, it was almost 10:00. The day wasn’t a waste of time, of course; for a first big date, it makes a pretty good story. And if we made it through that, we can make it through pretty much everything. Cue “My Heart Will Go On.”