I learned as a child not to trust in my body.
I’ve carried that burden through my life.
But there’s a day when we all have to be pried loose.
Yesterday, I rode 40 miles on my bike through New York City, along with 32,000 other people, including my wife Kathy and my pals Andrew and Jay. Forty miles sounds like a lot, and I was nervous. I wasn’t kicking and screaming, but I can’t say I was wholeheartedly looking forward to it, either.
Kathy & Andrew set out first, with an earlier start time, necessitating a wake-up time for her that could only be described as “god-awful.” After riding down Victory Blvd. to St. George Terminal on our bikes, Jay and I made it onto the ferry and over to Battery Park in time for our ride to begin at 9:15.
From the start, I felt much better on the bike than I had on Friday. I was still recovering from being sick during the week, but my main problem was that my knees – the left on in particular – were in no mood to take me up a hill, and complained via explosions of pain on the first part of my training ride. But on the real thing, the knees were up for it. I still hadn’t had much of my morning coffee, but a banana and jelly donut were fuel for me to ride with Jay (and some 12,000 others) up 6th Avenue up past Herald Square and Radio City and into Central Park. And very quickly as we rode, I realized I wasn’t nervous at all. I was having fun.
In Central Park, we rode alongside an older rider with a tiny boom box strapped to a rear rack. It was blasting cycling related tunes; Queen’s “Bicycle” was the one that caught our ears, but there were others. I thanked him as we passed.
We stopped for a restroom break in Harlem, while gospel singers were belting music to inspire us on a corner stage. We emerged from that area into a blocks-long traffic jam where we inched forward, our bikes at our sides. Had we fully known how long the line would have been, I’d have given in to my impulse to stop at Doug E.’s Fried Chicken and Waffles. I’m sure I somehow could have managed a few bites with my bike resting on my hip.
After the jam turned a corner and finally dispersed, we rode a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it trip into and out of the Bronx, and made it to the first big rest stop…which we were told would be closing in 15 minutes. We scarfed down a banana, a bagel, and a box of raisins, and hit the road again, fueled and rested enough to skip stop #2.
People say the toughest bridge is the Verrazano, but the Queensborough seems steeper, if not as long, and it was brutal pedaling up it, but I refused to walk. Once over the hump and into Queens, I was able to stop and take some pictures from the freeway. It was a good day for skyline shots.
After a shorter jam-up in Queens, we made it over to Brooklyn. Somewhere along the ride, a woman in front of me dropped her sunglasses. I stopped to pick them up, and was lightly rear-ended by another rider—nothing major, just a slight bump. And when I rode up ahead and was able to hand the woman her (unbroken) glasses, it was worth it.
Throughout it all, the ride was easy and for the most part, flat. It just felt like a casual day, riding at pretty much our own pace. Jay and I were always passing people, and it’s not like we were fast ourselves. After a few minutes at the third rest stop—a sizeable parking lot that was bordered by a fantastic overlook—we got back to the ride.
Here’s where it started getting slowly more difficult. The Brooklyn Queens Expressway isn’t quite flat, and we were following its slight uphill grade for several miles. We passed a rider in a homemade Captain America costume, complete with a shield on his back. Also a guy with a bunch of Superman figurines on his helmet, one of them flying and planting the flag. Eventually, we stopped at the final water station before the Verrazano Bridge.
The bridge itself is long, and high, and chilly, because on the lower level you’re riding in the shade. But Jay and I didn’t have any trouble clearing it, and from everything I’d heard, I was expecting this bridge to do its best to break us. We climbed it in one go, shot some pictures at the apex, and then glided down into the festival at the foot of the bridge.
I started with a quote from one of my favorite Bruce Cockburn songs, “Last Night of the World.” As a kid, I was never very good at sports, and never much interested besides. I preferred not to trust in my body; it’s always tended to let me down. I’ve let it down, too.
But every now and then, we get pried loose.