Screening The Call Of The WildCorrespondence Friends Bicycles Monthly highlights Travel & Adventure Cycling Urban Cycling
Some years back, fellow Brooks blogger Jack Thurston sent me this video:
It took me awhile to figure out that I wasn't watching a Monty Python skit, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
I too have been known to mix trains and bikes, and recently I decided to combine the romance of the rails with the thrill of offroad bicycling. To that end, at daybreak I headed to my nearest commuter rail station, where the Hudson Valley called to me through scratched Plexiglas®:
(Suck it, famed 19th century Hudson Valley landscape painter Thomas Cole.)
Outside, the early morning light glowed with promise, and inside it smelled vaguely of pee:
I have always heeded the call to two-wheeled adventure, even when it summons me to the furthest reaches of the greater metropolitan area, and by choosing my ticket type I entered into a binding contract with both fate and the MTA:
Within minutes, my bicycle and I were boarding a northbound train:
Unfortunately, unlike British Rail in 1955 (or at least their propaganda films), the MTA makes no effort whatsoever to accommodate cyclists. Instead, you've got to awkwardly wedge your bike into the handicapped seating area:
I have no idea what happens when someone in a wheelchair boards, but I'm guessing the conductor politely invites you to get the hell off the train.
Given all the great cycling day trips you can make outside of New York City you'd think the MTA could at least spring for a couple of bike hooks. It seems to me that promoting these sorts of trips would benefit everybody: the railroad, the region, the cyclists, the other passengers... Instead, all you'll find on the trains are are these tiny coat hooks, which no passenger has ever used:
It looks like the stick figure in the wheelchair is relieving himself in my helmet.
Alas, my institutional surroundings were seriously threatening my romantic mid-century reverie. My wardrobe wasn't helping, either. In the British Rail video they're wearing tweed, whereas I was sporting a jersey emblazoned with the logo of some dumb bike blogger:
As well as socks from some other bike blogger:
Indeed, the only thing that wasn't threatening to undermine the illusion of glamor was my saddle, which at this moment was regarding me with considerable disdain:
Though this aloofness seemed disingenuous coming from something that spends most of its time beneath a sweaty posterior.
Nevertheless, in a desperate attempt to salvage the situation, I turned to my streaming music service. After all, I was still traveling along the Hudson by train in the soft golden light of the early morning, so perhaps the appropriate soundtrack would help tease the charm out of the situation and vault me back into a more rarefied realm. What would it be? A little Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune?
Or perhaps the stirring portent of the opening strains of Beethoven's 9th?
After much deliberation, I finally made my choice:
When dignity is slipping from your grasp, sometimes it's better just to let it go.
With that out of the way, I turned to admire the scenery, which required considerable neck-craning on my part since my bike and I were crammed into the windowless handicapped area and I had to get my head past the partition:
As I did my best to ignore my cramping neck muscles, I wondered what Henry Hudson must have thought as he sailed up this majestic waterway for the first time. I imagine it was something like "Northwest Passage, baby! We'll be in China in no time! I'm gonna be RICH!!!"
(Nice mustache, hipster.)
Instead, he was set adrift by mutineers, where he probably froze to death if he was lucky:
(When you're marooned, your shaving regimen is the first thing to go.)
I'd been worried about my phone battery lasting until I got back home, so this helped put my little mountain biking trip into perspective.
Soon we passed the Tappan Zee bridge, which is a prime example of America's crumbling infrastructure and should be collapsing any day now:
This is why they're building a new bridge right alongside it, which is supposed to be finished by 2018, but at this rate will probably be done sometime in 2199:
Stupidly, the current Tappan Zee provides no pedestrian or cyclist access. This is because it was built in the 1950s, and apparently in postwar America nobody could conceive of walking, riding bicycles, or bridges that last more than 60 years. The new bridge will at least have this access, which means my future descendants will have some great new cycling routes available to them--assuming they haven't relocated to Mars by then, where despite having my lousy genes they'll all be able to climb like Alberto Contador because the gravity is only 38% that of Earth.
Very generally speaking, the Tappan Zee is sort of the de-facto line of demarcation between the wealthy suburbs known as the "River Towns" and the Hudson Valley proper:
From here, it's only a few more stops before the tracks are no longer electrified, because you can add "rail travel" to the long list of things America gave up on improving in the last century. Once you're past this point, it's exclusively soul-crushingly loud diesel engines pulling train cars of Don Draper vintage:
That's when things get really romantic:
I didn't have long to savor the romance, however, for soon I'd arrived at my destination:
Where I contemplated the purpose of this brown orb:
I'm guessing it's either: 1) Somebody's idea of art; 2) Some sort of waterborne pathogen magnified 10,000 times (or, more distressingly, not at all); or 3) An alien space probe controlling the minds of everybody within a 20 mile radius.
Brown Orb of Mystery notwithstanding, the surroundings were quite lovely. Across the water I could see (and hear) my train disappearing into the distant valley. Also, two amorous roadies canoodled beneath a willow tree:
I was glad to see they were still wearing their helmets.
Safety first, kids.
Next, I crossed the tracks:
It may seem as though I'd traveled a long way, but my insatiable hunger for adventure is rivaled only by my intense desire to remain inside my comfort zone, and ultimately the two cancel each other out. Therefore, when I leave the city, I only visit places that have been charmingly profiled in the Real Estate section of the New York Times:
"I love it here, I don't miss Brooklyn at all!," you can hear every one of them saying, their voices breaking beneath the weight of the lie.
At this early hour though the downtown was still sleeping it off:
And from there it was just a short ride to the park containing some of the area's best mountain bike trails:
Along the way I'd passed this fine automotive specimen:
It would be fun to arrive at a mountain bike trail in something like that, but this is New York, where all you'll find at the trailhead are pickup trucks and late model crossovers and SUVs with hitch racks carrying dual-suspension bicycles:
Finally, my tires alighted on dirt for the first time that morning:
I found everything I wanted. There were rocks:
And wooden bridges over babbling brooks:
Best of all, there was the comforting knowledge that I was in a county park, where it's pretty much impossible to get lost. If I did get disoriented, I had a laminated copy of the Times article in my jersey pocket, so if I encountered a local I figured I'd just point to the picture of the independent bookstore and smile. All I really had to worry about was accidentally venturing into the shooting range:
As I rode, it was disturbing to think that somewhere in that range was the shooting equivalent of me: a lousy marksman with a fancy gun. If we were to encounter each other it would merely be a question of who struck first. Either he'd mistake me for a target and shoot me, or else I'd go tearing around a blind corner and run him over from behind.
In the end, I'm pleased to report that the two most inept people in the park did not find each other that day, and after my ride I caught a train back home:
Chronicling adventures this thrilling is difficult work:
Fortunately I'm up to the task.