The Aging Adventurer Survives the 30,000-Cyclist Ride in NYC

Active & Adventurous - Fitness & Competition

Bike New York: The Five Boro Bike Tour

Aging Adventurer Emily Kimball on her bikeI have always been frightened of riding my bicycle in crowds. Therefore, I am amazed to find myself one of 30,000 cyclists pedaling the 42-mile, five-boro, New York City bike ride. The thought of riding through the streets of the Big Apple with no traffic seems too good an opportunity to pass up, and wins out over my fears.

Marie and I duck under the marquee of the Millennium Hilton Hotel directly across from the World Trade Center subway stop, attempting to protect ourselves from the rain. We have just pedaled eight miles from the Youth Hostel at 103rd and Amsterdam Avenue, following the lovely Hudson River bike path to The Battery where the Tour begins. On the way it starts to sprinkle—by the time we get there it is a steady drizzle. Arriving at The Battery we find ourselves about midway in the mile-long line of 30,000 cyclists waiting to begin the Tour.

The crowd is raring to go. Starting time is 8 a.m., but since the starts are staggered, we don’t move until almost 9 a.m. Thirty thousand cyclists stand shivering in the rain—many dressed in jeans and cotton sweatshirts; others wearing green garbage bag ponchos. This doesn’t seem like a good omen to me.

 

People are very tightly packed. When our section is called to begin the pack spreads out providing a little more riding space. Bikers range in age from eight to eighty, though those under forty predominate. Many languages are being spoken, and there are people from many different backgrounds. Every kind of bike is in evidence—balloon-tired Schwinns, off-road bikes, racing bikes, recumbents, and bikes with trailers carrying toddlers.

We are off, riding down The Avenue of the Americas and right through the center of New York City. Pretty heady stuff! I feel eclipsed by the huge tall buildings on either side. As we ride into the springtime beauty of Central Park and over the Harlem River into the Bronx the sun begins to shine. We pass the first rest stop but it only has First Aid and Bike Repair. Where is the food? With the rain and the tension I am starving!

Returning to Manhattan we cruise along the East River on FDR Drive and arrive at our first real rest stop. Volunteers hold two bananas high in the air for us to grab and pass out Balance bars and plastic bags of cut orange slices. Yum. We think we might make it now. After a long wait in the line for the toilets we continue on FDR Drive over to the 59th Street Queensboro Bridge and soon are in Queens. This is usually the busiest bridge in Manhattan; today it is ours. We ride through Queens and over the Pulaski Bridge into Brooklyn, then up and over the Verrzaano Narrows Bridge into Staten Island. The final celebration is at Gateway National Recreation Area.

Have you ever ridden in a crowd of 30,000 cyclists? Boy, I haven’t and it is intimidating. There are the hot-doggers sprinting through the crowd, leaving a trail of near misses. There are the non-bikers, just out for the day, who aren’t used to riding on city streets much less in crowds. It is daunting to ride beside them with their weaving bikes and cell phones. One high-school-age girl on a wide-tired city bike rams Marie hard. She is able to recoup and not fall over––though she is shaken.

Going over the bridges is especially trying. People stop to take pictures of the great views below—when would they ever again have a chance to be on these bridges with no traffic? Others walked their bikes up the incline to the bridge because they can’t manage the hill.

For me it is a tense ride. My back hurts from leaning over with my hands on the brakes, prepared to stop. One has to be super alert as people pass you on the right and weave in and out in front of you. On the Pulaski Bridge a lady bumps into me and we both hit the side wall, but it is not serious. On the Verrazano Bridge, I am so busy trying to avoid walkers and photographers that I don’t see a small rail-like indentation that fits my road bike tire perfectly. My wheel catches in it, and I fall slowly to the ground. Thank goodness for a marshal who immediately directs everyone around me to avoid a pile up. I only bloody my knee and bruise my elbow. It is no big deal. I move to the side and continue. Believe me, I am glad to see the end of the bridge that signals the end of the ride.

People have unique ways of keeping track of the group they came with. Most have something affixed to their helmet–magenta feather dusters, iridescent orange soda bottles, plastic American flags. I am sure there are many accidents. I saw only one. A girl went down, and about ten bikes went down with her. She appeared to be the only one seriously hurt. It is scary to behold.

After celebrating our accomplishment at the festival we begin to pedal the three miles toward the Staten Island ferry, but only go about a mile before becoming part of a huge mass of bikers. There must be a problem because we wait for two hours. By the time we return to The Battery it is 7 p.m; we are exhausted. We pedal our bikes toward home until darkness sets in, and then ride up 34th St. to catch the subway.

The final straw occurs on 34th street where huge amounts of trash are blowing. Suddenly my pedals won’t turn. Luckily I am able to slide out of my toe clips without falling. On examination we find an eight-foot by two-foot long piece of plastic wound around my derailleur. It takes about ten minutes to unravel it. Up the subway stairs and down the subway stairs and up again and down again and finally by 10 p.m. we arrive back at the hostel.

The Event T-shirts reads, “I Survived The Five Boro Bike Ride.” These were exactly my sentiments.

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bikehelmetEmily Kimball, the Aging Adventurer, makes her dreams happen. After retiring from a career in Parks and Recreation she rode her loaded touring bike 4,700 miles across America, and hiked the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.  Now approaching 80, she continues an active life of biking, hiking, backpacking, tennis and water sports––though at a slower pace.

Emily is also a writer and speaker. Her recent book, Appalachian Trail Stories and Other Adventures: Living Your Dreams at 60 and Beyond, describes many of her exploits. It can be ordered from her web site www.TheAgingAdventurer.com. In her professional speaking business, Make It Happen! Emily relates life lessons learned from her adventures in powerful presentations on Risk Taking, Creative Aging and Making Dreams Happen. She can be reached at  etkimball@aol.com or 804-358-4959.

 
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