Susan and I were in New York City at the end of September, meeting some friends from London. We took the Circle Line ferry around the island on a beautiful late afternoon/evening cruise (and saw Lady Liberty) and the next morning I got up bright and early to ride the Manhattan Greenway, a 32-mile trail that follows the waterfront and is mostly on dedicated hike/bike paths.
I had arranged to rent a bike at Pier 84 on the Hudson river, coincidentally right next to the Circle Line ferry terminal. Our hotel was at the other end of 42nd street and I planned to get breakfast and then hop on the Cross-town bus. I managed breakfast OK but waited twenty minutes for the bus, before deciding to start walking. Of course, as soon as I was too far from a stop to catch it, the bus rolled by. I ended up walking all the way, but it was a pleasant morning (if chilly!) and I arrived just as the shop was opening at 9.00am.
They gave me a pretty crappy comfort bike, but it looked sturdy enough. Sadly they had no helmets and advised me to pick one up at another of their locations. I headed south, to round the island counter-clockwise, just like the ferry. The path along this portion of the Hudson river was well laid out, with clearly marked bike and runner lanes, and dedicated traffic lights. I made the out-of-towner's mistake of stopping at one of the lights - the locals all whizzed through without a glance.
After a few miles I was diverted off the trail and onto the street, presumably due to construction. The roads were very quiet and it was easy to follow the diversion. I arrived in Battery Park, the southern tip of Manhattan, pretty quickly and found the bike rental place's other location, where they gave me a helmet. I headed on, feeling a lot safer.
The ferries to Liberty and Ellis islands leave from Battery Park and the lines were already very long. The Vietnam Veterans' Memorial is right by the ferries.
The trail was not very well marked through this section and I was pretty much just following the water front. After a while it got better and I began to enjoy the view. It was quite a thrill to ride under the storied Brooklyn Bridge, too.
There were a few other cyclists on this stretch along the East River and a fair number of walkers and runners. I passed Stuyvesant Cove, with its seating areas in little groves of trees, and saw a few people deeply engrossed in their reading, despite being well wrapped-up against the chill. Another man was going through a Tai-Chi routine, perhaps a little half-heartedly.
The trail moves away from the Water Front at about 30th Street and you're on the street for a few blocks. Another rider was with me as I turned west against the traffic and I asked him if he knew the way. He didn't, but lives on the West Side and enjoys little cycling adventures (less than 5 miles from his home! Come down to Texas some time, pardner). He told me that he rides year-round, which is impressive given the winters here. I turned north on 1st Avenue, which was fortunately still pretty quiet and has a bus lane.
I stopped at a light at 42nd street and was asked for directions by two young women. Luckily they wanted to go to Grand Central station, which was just a few blocks away. Further up 1st, I started looking for the path back to the Greenway but it was not very obvious (I found myself on the access road to the Midtown tunnel at one point!). As I needed to answer a call of nature, I stopped at a Dunkin' Donuts to look at my map, get a coffee (surprisingly good, even for a coffee snob like me) and strain the spuds, if you know what I mean. The bike rental included a D-lock so I chained my steed to the railings and marched in, head held high in my Mules shirt and cycling cap.
Much refreshed and with a better (but actually misguided!) idea of where I was, I set out again. I couldn't find the access point that appeared to be quite near, but the next (at 79th street) was a bit more obvious - an overpass over the FDR - and I was back in business. The trail was wider and better laid-out along this section, but the wind was right in my face and had picked up quite a bit. The Willis Street bridge appeared, marking the entrance to the Harlem river.
The next stretch involved quite a long run through Harlem at street level, to the northern-most point of the ride. I left the Greenway at 120th street and quickly picked up a bike lane. The next few blocks were very pleasant, going past brownstone after sunlit brownstone, with the smell of Sunday lunch being prepared. I got to Frederick Douglass Boulevard and turned north. No more bike lane but the road is wide and there wasn't much traffic. Every few blocks there was a large, shiny SUV double-parked, with windows open and hip-hop music blasting. Towards the end of this stretch I heard some loud music and looked around for the SUV. Instead I saw a young man on what looked like a home-made trike with two enormous speakers. We rode side-by-side for a while, boom-boom-a-boom and some very salty language, until he saw a friend and pulled over.
I reached what I thought was the turn that would put me back on the Greenway, but it dead-ended at the base of the supports for a large bridge. A look at the map confirmed that I was in the right place, so I scouted around for the trail. There was a path leading into a housing project (The Polo Grounds Housing Association, built with a donation from baseball great Willie Mays) and I took it, in the hope that it would lead to the Greenway. It didn't, but I rode around the project for about 10 minutes looking for it. I eventually found myself back on Frederick Douglass heading south.
Another look at the map and I saw an alternate route, going round the south end of Jackie Robinson park. I decided to ride one block off Frederick Douglass, which was starting to get busy. No signs of a route through the park so at the south end I turned right and immediately hit a pretty sharp climb, which got my legs warmed up nicely. Half-way up I saw signs for the Greenway, quite a relief after wandering around Harlem aimlessly for what seemed like hours.
I was now in Hamilton Heights, which sits atop the ridge of volcanic rock that is the spine of Manhattan. A few blocks north and I picked up entrance onto the Harlem River Speedway, one of the highlights of the Greenway ride. I crossed the bridge that had blocked my way earlier and realised that if I had climbed the stairs by the side of the supports, I would have been back on track. Oh well, I was in good shape now, and enjoyed the run down to the river front. I couldn't resist a shot of this nice exposure of schist.
The Harlem River Speedway was delightful - a wide, smooth surface, great views all around, hardly anyone else in sight - but it was over all to soon, and I was dumped out on Dyckman Street in Inwood. A few blocks in this busy neighbourhood and then I picked up the Greenway for the run down the Hudson river, the final section of my ride.
I joined the trail right by The Cloisters Museum and Fort Tryon park. It runs parallel but separate from a busy highway. You run down hill for the first mile or so and there are breathtaking views of the Hudson River between the trees that line the trail. I caught a glimpse of the George Washington Bridge (sadly in the public eye at the time, due to the gay student at Rutgers who killed himself by jumping from it, after bullying by his room-mate). You really wouldn't know that you were in Manhattan up here - no houses to see, just river and trees.
Back on the flat and I detour to look at the Little Red Lighthouse, apparently the subject of a children's book, sitting under the GW bridge. No longer used, it once was an important navigational aid along the Hudson, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It's a must-see landmark on the Greenway and here it is.
The trail winds its way south, in and out of trees, playgrounds and sports fields. It was getting busier with every mile and pretty soon I was back at the bike rental shop, ready to get off the bike and eat something. I managed to get the cross-town bus pretty quickly and was soon back in the hotel.
Despite getting lost twice, I enjoyed the ride and would do it again in a New York minute, as they say.