Days 63 and 64: The NYC Experience
While yesterday’s ride through the middle of Manhattan was a little rushed and chaotic, Thomas gave me some good advice on some better biking right next to the Hudson. From the path, I could bike a few blocks back into the city to see whatever I wanted, and then return to the path to get to the next point of interest. That way I wouldn’t have to navigate quite so many lights or cars between locations. Thomas had to leave for work early, which was good because it got me out the door early enough to explore the city.
Times Square was number one on places I wanted to visit, so I biked from the Bronx back over the bridge and then across to the west side of the island where the bike path was. The bike path followed the river and was far more relaxing than riding the streets. It also expedited getting from place to place as I had to wait less for traffic.
I have never seen so many police on the streets as I did in NYC. They were absolutely everywhere. That being said, they seemed to mostly ignore all the cyclists running lights and stop signs. I just tried to do whatever everyone else was doing and I got by just fine. NYC has its own language with cars honking as well. Everyone seems to be honking at something, all the time, for no good reason. For example, some pedestrians were crossing the road with the right of way and a car turning right stopped to let them cross. The cars behind that car just kept honking at it despite it having nowhere to go. That was just one example of multitudes. The honks will also have different rhythms depending on whatever small thing is being honked at. I found the whole thing pretty funny.
On the way into the city I took a first stab at having some New York pizza. It was alright, but nothing special. I decided I needed to give it at least one more chance. I’m the last person to ask whether a pizza is actually good because I think pizza is the single most overrated food in the whole world, but just in case, I needed to give it another go.
By accident, I ended up biking right down Broadway and had a great time exploring the area. There is so much visual stimulation in NYC that I was more than happy to just bike and look at things rather than going into museums like The Met. I was also very concerned about leaving my bike anywhere outside as I had been told numerous times that bike theft was absolutely rampant.
Not long after the pizza, I also found a place with a bunch of food trucks. One of them was offering a broccoli rabe sandwich. I had been told it was something I should try before leaving NYC by Dan, from back in Baltimore, so I waited in line and sat down for my second meal in the last hour. It’s a good thing I’m still riding to burn off all these calories...
As I ate my sandwich (6.5/10), I got a text from Rob! He was going to meet me by the Hudson and give me a tour of wherever I wanted to go in NYC! I was incredibly excited to follow up on my connection made all the way back in Utah. While I waited for the meeting time with Rob, I tried another iconic New York food, cheesecake. It was also pretty okay, but nothing special. So far, I had been pretty underwhelmed by the recommended foods of NYC, but I was going to give the pizza another chance and there are no circumstances where I will not want to eat more cheesecake.
It’s amazing all the cool things you can find just biking the city streets. Because of all the skyscrapers, you can’t really see what’s coming up next. I had a great time doing a little more exploring before heading back to the bike path to meet Rob.
I had only just arrived when I hear a voice behind me, “Western Express!” It was a callout Rob had made us do back when we met in Utah. It was far less embarrassing to whoop in response in the middle of Cedar Breaks, UT with no one around than in the middle of Manhattan, but I’ll get over it... I had no real agenda for the day, so I told Rob that anywhere he thought was cool is where I wanted to go and we took off.
We mostly stuck to the bike path, but we went on a little detour to check out Washington Square Park and again to check out Wall St. before heading back to the path. At that point, Rob wanted to know if I wanted to go on an actual ride or just rest. I chose a ride... Rob took me across the Brooklyn Bridge to his favorite bar, where we got a drink and took this photo!
We chatted for a good while before resuming our ride. We decided to head all the way down to Coney Island. If not for Rob, I would never have made it to Brooklyn, let alone Coney Island, and it was awesome to learn about the city from Rob.
Rob told me about the flash mobs of cyclists that would sometimes hit the streets and how Rob joined a couple times and would have to run/ride from the police as they tried to get the cyclists off the roads. Rob also told me about the NYC unicycling scene and the longer rides they sometimes did around the city.
After Coney Island, we were running low on time as dusk was quickly approaching. We headed back up through Brooklyn and towards the Williamsburg Bridge. Just across the bridge is where Isaac’s friends lived in Manhattan, but they’re recent college graduates and up late, so I hung out with Rob a little longer and we got some food at a nice little Mexican restaurant. There, I got to see a New York rat for the first time and those things really are massive! We chatted until after 10 PM when I realized I should really head over to my hosts’ place and meet them before it became too late. Rob paid for everything. It was so much fun to have him as a tour guide and just someone else to talk to about cycle touring.
Because I strayed so often from the established routes across the USA, Claudia and Rob were really the only tourists I had seen for any amount of time on my trip. It was a pretty big coincidence that I met both of them at the exact same time back in Utah. Maybe in the future I’ll stick to more regularly ridden routes to establish more friendships, like I did with Rob and Claudia, as they absolutely made my experience much more memorable. Thanks to Rob, I had biked 48 miles in NYC and had a fantastic time instead of not knowing where to go and fumbling my way around.
I said goodbye to Rob and biked back over to Manhattan. I found the apartment building and at the bottom there was a pizza place, Two Boots, which had been recommended to me by Isaac. I decided it would be my second chance for New York pizza.
Despite the late arrival, I received a warm welcome from Ryan (Isaac’s friend), and everyone else in the apartment. There were four guys in the apartment and I would be able to take the couch. It was a small couch and shaped like an L, but beggars can’t be choosers when you’re staying for free in downtown Manhattan. We talked for a bit and watched some Breaking Bad before everyone got tired. During this time, I also connected with the high schooler, Jakob, who had approached me all the way back in Missouri about doing a podcast with him. Now that I was at an apartment with stable internet and a computer I had permission to use, I had time to record with him. We arranged to do the podcast the next day before I left for my last ride in downtown NYC.
Curled into an L, I went to bed!
The sleep wasn’t great, but I was able to record the podcast with Jakob in the morning. You can listen to it here!
The podcast was wisely cut down from its original length of about two hours. I knew I wasn’t going to get very far the next day with the traffic, so I had arranged to stay about 20 miles away in Hempstead, with my host, Morris.
Before I left Manhattan, I had two very important things to do first. First, try Two Boots’ pizza. Second, get a bagel from Russ and Daughters. I hit the pizza place first. While it was significantly better than the pizza I had the previous day, it was still just pizza and I can’t say I understand the popularity of it.
What was even more popular was Russ and Daughters. Having had sub-par food experiences so far, I had been asking around to everyone I knew about where to try the famous New York bagels. Isaac, Thomas, Dustin, and Ryan all endorsed Russ and Daughters, so I was going to get a bagel to go and eat it on the way to Morris'.
Knowing I didn’t have far to ride, it was a very slow day, and I didn’t get a start until after 2:30 PM. The long line and Russ and Daughters just made it even slower. If the bagel didn’t blow me away, I was going to be very disappointed considering how much time I was investing to buy it.
The shop itself was pretty cool, at least from the outside where I stood waiting in line. They sold a bunch of gourmet foods such as mushrooms, dried fruits, and handmade chocolates.
When I finally got inside, the prices were gourmet too as my lox bagel (specifically non-toasted as required by everyone I talked to) was nearly $20. But I did finally get my bagel and set out towards Long Island.
After about 10 miles, I decided I would eat my bagel and the strudel I bought. You’re basically always hungry while cycle touring, so eating meal after meal after meal was all good by me. It also would make me less biased about whether or not the bagel was actually good considering when you’re truly hungry, nearly anything is delicious.
That being said, it was easily the best bagel I have ever had. If you are going to charge nearly $20 for a bagel, it had better taste exactly like the Russ and Daughters’ bagel. I would absolutely go back again next time I make it over to New York and I am very happy that the last shot New York City had at impressing me with the food was wholly successful. My mouth is watering slightly at the memory...
After my short break, I kept up the pace and found a nice bike path. Unfortunately, it ended abruptly due to construction. Despite trying to navigate around it, I was again forced onto roads until I arrived where I would be staying the night with Morris.
Morris was a fantastic host. When I had contacted him, his mother had recently passed away and he was in the process of clearing out her house for staging. My family had just gone through the same process with my grandmother, so I knew how hard it was to clear out a house that had been lived in for years.
Despite that, Morris warmly welcomed me and we quickly bonded over our love of baked goods. We would both be staying at his mother’s house as he was living there until everything was cleared out. Morris had crossed the country himself as part of a guided tour. Somewhere in Kansas, I saw a large group of riders going the other direction and I wonder if that was one of the tours. He also gave me his electronic massage gun and I just got to relax and massage my muscles while he made us a salmon dinner. It was delicious. My time with Morris was brief, but he was absolutely one of the best hosts on my trip and I stay in touch with him these days!
He had some work to do, so I got ready for bed. I had a bedroom to myself, which was his mother’s guestroom. Tomorrow, he had some people coming over to help with staging, but he said I could leave whenever I wanted and not to rush. He also recommended a bakery I should hit before I left the area...