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When you're a responsible (or at least not criminally negligent) adult it can be tough to make time to ride. That's why the secret to maintaining a healthy cycling life is sneaking in those rides when you can--which in turn means knowing when to dispense with the formalities.
Sure, it's nice to wear the special clothes and brew the special coffee and apply the special unguents to your crotch and limbs in preparation for your time in the saddle, but sometimes doing so can be the difference between taking advantage of an open riding window and having the sash come crashing down on your head while you're still applying your chamois cream.
On a recent afternoon I had just such a window. Birds were singing, the sun was shining, and a pie was cooling on the windowsill. I knew I had to get out there while I had the chance. So I skipped the riding attire, hastily stuffed a vegan man-purse from Rivendell with some essentials, and decided to take a spin out to City Island, which bills itself as the "Seaport of the Bronx."
Here's what I packed as I ran out the door:
1) Mini Pump
Yes, a full frame pump is far more genteel and Brooksian, but, I've had this thing for like 20 years, it's proven itself time and time again, and it easily fits in my man-purse.
I have been known to break out in hives so I figure it's good to be prepared. Plus, in a pinch you can use it as a tire sealant.
When you're going to City Island you want to be able to de-bike and browse the antique stores for nautical curios should the mood strike you.
4) Action Wipes
You never know when you're going to want to "freshen up."
5) Nature Valley Granola Bar
Boutique energy bars and gels are overpriced, flatulence-inducing, and often offensive to the palate. The discerning cyclist purchases his alimentaire de cyclisme at the supermarket next to the sugar cereals. "Sweet and Salty Nut" is my favorite -- a condition, I might add, which can be easily remedied by judicious application of an Action Wipe.
As for the bicycle, I took my travel bike because it was the closest to the door:
Yes, the frame is a bit too small for me, and no I don't care.
The Bronx is a geographically diverse borough, and my ride would take me from its westernmost portion to its easternmost, and from the wooded bluffs overlooking the Hudson River to the salt marshes of the Long Island Sound. It would also take me from New York City's third-largest park to its largest, a route one can ride almost entirely via greenway--though first I had to follow the sharrows:
This looks less like a sharrow than an alien glyph, or at best a marking for Segways:
By the way, if you ever visit the Brooks factory, don't mention Segways. The people at Brooks hate Segways because they don't use saddles. In fact, if you so much as utter the "S" word, Eric the Chamferer is liable to cut you:
(Your body part here.)
You can thank me later for saving your life.
Soon I reached the greenway:
Note that our parks department is so efficient they don't even remove the signs before painting the lampposts:
By next spring that will be an inscrutable black disc.
Soon the greenway passes the ghost of the erstwhile Van Cortlandt stop on the old New York and Putnam Railroad, which has been out of service for something like 60 years:
It could really use some skeletons in fedoras checking their pocket watches.
I was unable to find a picture of the platform back when it was still in use, but I did find this rendering of what it could look like if they finally do end up turning the Putnam trail into a full-blown greenway:
So basically it's going to be taken over by zombie-like white people.
Not far from here is also the forbidding and mysterious “Bronxhenge:”
About 100 years ago, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt put these slabs here to test the durability of the various types of stone they were considering for the facade of Grand Central Terminal, and evidently he never bothered to come get them afterwards:
[Interesting side note: I chose my toilet exactly the same way.]
Anyway, the greenway continues on through the park, which is home to deer, coyotes, and roughly eleventy million species of birds:
So before leaving it I tried my hand at some wildlife photography:
See that? It's a bird! What are you, blind?
As for the type of bird, I consulted my field guide:
And concluded that it was red.
Leaving the park, the greenway then skirts the parkway, which slopes down almost imperceptibly as it heads towards the Bronx River:
The Bronx went from rural to urban very quickly (between 1900 and 1930 the population went from 200,000 to 1.3 million), so as you travel this stretch there's everything from imposing Brutalist residential towers:
This bucolic landmark happens to be a police station--and in New York City where there's a police station there's rampant sidewalk parking:
(Brutalist motor vehicle.)
As you round the New York Botanical Gardens you begin to appreciate the greenway system in the Bronx, which by New York City standards is expansive--so much so that it actually splits into various branches and takes you to different places you'd actually want to visit, instead of just heading in one direction and then dumping you onto an expressway which is what they generally do elsewhere in the city:
One of the Bronx's defining natural features is the river from which it takes its name (that's why it's the Bronx and not just Bronx) and which roughly bisects the borough, so as I approached it I turned off the greenway:
And headed down to the riverbank to take it in:
The Bronx River is the only true fresh water river in New York City:
Here's what the river looked like not too far from this spot when some guy painted it in 1851:
Here's what it looked like in 1906:
Here's what it looked like when I knelt before it, cupped my hands, and drank deep from the waters of history:
And here's what it looked like in my mind for five hours afterwards as I lay on the riverbank in a trancelike state due to all the toxins:
When I finally awoke, I had crossed the Rubicon and was now in a magical land called the "East Bronx:"
This is the so-called "Bronx Christmas House:"
Though as you can see it is spectacular no matter the time of year:
It was Nellie who originally came up with the idea of giving back to the community by hosting the incredible display, their gift to neighbors for a blessing which none of the Garabedian clan will reveal. Since then, what began rather modestly has gradually expanded, taking on a life of its own.
Hopefully their "gift to the neighbors" included blackout window shades, because at night it's a veritable yuletide supernova.
Soon after the Christmas House you leave civilization (such as it is) and run a gauntlet of highway interchanges, which are well-signed yet extremely awkward, since there's something highly disconcerting about crossing the roadway exactly where drivers are focussed on nothing except getting their cars up to ramming speed and psyching themselves up for the imminent merge:
In fact, this guy just said "screw it" and abandoned the greenway for the street:
At which point he was nearly clobbered by a late model sedan:
After that, though, it's clear sailing:
Though anywhere you have flat surfaces and fair weather you have amateur cyclists looking to set land speed records:
I was first over the phallic drawbridge:
But he soon overtook me, his t-shirt and aero helmet ostensibly canceling each-other out:
Finally, I crossed the bridge onto City Island:
Which despite being merely a mile and a half long and half a mile wide manages to contain more than its share of seafood reserves:
And picturesque ice cream parlors:
And quaint retail strips:
And charming dining establishments:
And inflatable blackbelts:
And storefronts you don't enter because you're not sure if it's even a business or not, and while it appears to be full of interesting stuff you also suspect someone in his underwear might appear and yell, "Get the hell outta my house, landlubber!"
And irreverent marine-themed decals on cars rusting in the salty sea air:
And then you reach the end of the island:
After that fence your only remaining option is to swim to Long Island:
So I locked up to what may very well be the only bike rack on all of City Island and went for a bite:
I'm not sure if this is awkward syntax or just disarming honesty:
Either way, this may very well be the largest offering of deep-fried marine life in the United States:
In fact, the only thing that isn't fried is the booze:
After much deliberation, I decided to get something light:
While I ate, I reflected on the fact that while at that moment someone in Lycra was doubtless fueling up on scones at a precious café, I was sitting in sweaty jeans and about to devour a squid:
Good thing I had an EpiPen.
After lunch, I strolled around and enjoyed the sea breeze:
Though I didn't use the coin-operated binoculars:
A quarter seems like an awful lot of money just to look at Long Island.
Then I contemplated the seagulls, which hover eternally overhead in the hopes that someone will barf up a fried clam:
Occasionally they'd make little adjustments with their bodies, like fixie riders trackstanding at red lights:
In the distance is Hart Island:
Which sounds like it could be a lovely place, but is in fact a mass grave filled with the remains of over a million dead- -a fact with which it seems appropriate to conclude this installment:
The ride back was much the same, only I added a beer stop.
You have time for that sort of thing when you skip the special clothes.