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24 March 2016 14 comments

The Fragile Finger of Fate

Correspondence Friends Bicycles Monthly highlights Travel & Adventure Cycling Urban Cycling
By Bike Snob NYC
The Fragile Finger of Fate

Recently, at the very tail end of a ride, my friend and I made the fateful decision to take a little detour and tack on an extra dirt section. It was the sort of prolong-the-fun gluttony of which we've all been guilty, and with which we tempt fate, like accepting the infamous wafer-thin mint in "The Meaning of Life." Sure enough, fate took note of my greed, and she rewarded it with a crash and a busted digit.

Therefore, exactly one week later to the day, I resolved to redeem myself and avenge my finger (specifically my right thumb) by undertaking the exact same ride.

Only this time, I resolved, I would not crash.

I undertook my pre-ride preparations with near religious solemnity and even donned the same stretchy vestements I had worn on that fateful day. This was partly to acknowledge the significance of the journey I was about to undertake, but it was mostly because they were still sitting there on the drying rack from the week before. I did, however, select a different bicycle, since I figured bar-end shifters would be easier than STI levers to manipulate with my compromised hand:

This is my travel bike, distinguished by its couplers:

Its wildly inelegant braze-on front derailleur adapter clamp complete with shim:

And of course its mighty tower of unsightly spacers, intentionally bright because I live for nothing more than to offend the Velominati:

See, bike frames come in three sizes:

1) Custom

2) Stock

3) Too good a deal to pass it up so you do whatever to make it work

This bike is a prime example of number three, and it works beautifully, aesthetics be damned. Its purpose is to be crammed into a suitcase and onto a plane and then emerge in some semblance of rideable condition on the other end. Indeed, this bike has accompanied me on many journeys, and is every disproportionate inch the World Travel(l)er:

So there you go.

Anyway, given the bike's grimy appearance it will no doubt surprise you to learn this is after I've prepped it for the ride, and here are some thing's it's difficult or impossible to do without the thumb of your dominant hand:

--Open Presta valve

--Apply pump chuck to said valve

--Close Presta valve again

--Open and close quick release skewer in order to switch wheels

Fortunately I still had full use of my left hand, but it's not finely calibrated for bicycle maintenance like my right one is, so I worried that perhaps my skewers weren't closed properly or my Presta valve torque values were way off. (Improperly tightened Presta valves in particular can be extremely dangerous.)

Nevertheless, I set off, and while my valves did maintain their integrity another problem soon manifest itself. See, it was a very cold day, so in order to accommodate my unwieldy splint I'd cunningly slit open the thumb of a pair of worn gloves. Unfortunately, as soon as I went faster than 5mph the thumb flap blew back, leaving my poor wounded finger to freeze in the wind:

The discomfort was mitigated somewhat by the fact that my thumb was still numb in places, but I could see that in an hour or so this might become a problem.

I live in the Bronx, so by necessity any ride in a northerly direction takes me through our friendly neighbor, the City of Yonkers:

And Yonkers is basically everything above Van Cortlandt Park, which is of course part of New York City:

So when I made a right at the "Welcome to Yonkers" sign I was skirting the very top of the park and New York City--floating above it if you will--and here's what Van Cortlandt looks like from one of the various Yonkers streets that dead-end into it:

The section of the park that abuts Yonkers is more or less completely neglected, so in a way you're looking at New York City's untended backyard. Come in through our front door and the City of New York looks like this:

(I think the Statue of Liberty is technically in Jersey but whatever.)

Yet slip in through the back fence and the City of New York looks like this:

Hey, it's no Lady Liberty, but that fire hydrant does radiate a dignity that belies its diminutive stature.

Next I accessed the old railway line that has been converted into a multi-use trail and will spirit you northward through Westchester County and beyond, free from molestation by motor vehicles:

The county is serious about that "No Motor Vehicles" edict too, because anybody with a mind to open that gate and drive on would first have to defeat this forbidding bag lock:

At this point in the Trailway the poor, trash-filled Tibbetts Brook meanders under it, and if you squint it's almost bucolic:


From here Tibbetts Brook continues to flow south, where it enters Van Cortland Park and then heads underground, fulfilling everyone's low expectations of it by joining the New York City sewer system:

There's talk of rescuing Tibbetts Brook from the sewer system by "daylighting" it, which sounds great, though I'm pretty confident in saying the ice caps will melt and New York City will be completely submerged before this ever happens.

Heading north onto the Trailway I continued along the brook when, being the keen naturalist I am, I sensed something through the brambles:

So I lay down my bike:

And bravely made my way in:


See that?

Of course you don't. You don't have my trained urban naturalist's eye.

Okay, look closer.

See it now?

It's a great blue heron, standing knee deep in sewage:

At least I think it's a great blue heron.

Hey, what do you want from me?

Returning to my bike, I pressed on:

As you continue northward the Trailway gradually becomes more pleasant:

And instead of following Tibbetts Brook you follow the Saw Mill River. Second only to the mighty Bronx River in stature around these parts, I stopped to pay homage to it:

Walking along the path I passed under this tiny birdhouse:

This being Westchester I'm sure property taxes on that birdhouse are at least $20,000 a year.

I then stepped out onto the rocks and listened to the babbling of the Saw Mill:

It was then that I had a mystical moment, for the river whispered to me the solution for my frozen thumb.

Use the tape, it whispered.

And I did:

Yes, I took a flap of the tape holding the splint to my finger and stuck it to the glove. It seemed to be holding too, and I figured that unless at some point I needed the tape to boot my tire I'd be good for the rest of the ride.

And yes, I plan to upgrade to a carbon or titanium splint as soon as possible.

Roughly twelve miles from Van Cortland Park there's a break in the Trailway by the industrial section of Elmsford, which at the moment I arrived was under a pall:

And it was soon clear to me that a truck had exploded on the highway:

It must have just happened too, because now debris was falling and landing around me with the soft crunching sound of autumn leaves:

The stench of smoke, the wailing of sirens, and the proximity of certain death began to overwhelm me. By this evening, at the very least a trucker's wife would be telling her children that their father wouldn't ever be coming home. I suddenly felt guilty and self-conscious for standing there and gawking at such misery, and so gloomily I continued on my way.

It was only later that I found out exactly what had happened:

Police say the tractor-trailer was traveling in the westbound lane of I-287, when it experienced mechanical problems that led to a small inferno near Exit 2 in Elmsford.

Officials say the driver escaped the mishap unscathed, but the 41,000 pounds of frozen carrots he was carrying were torched by the fire.

So yeah, not exactly a tragedy, but certainly a dark day for carrots and the people who love them.

Anyway, bearing in mind that at this point I still didn't know about the carrots, you can imagine I was still feeling a bit doleful when I picked up the Trailway again after running the Elmsford gauntlet:

Though once Elmsford's safely in your helmet mirror you can leave the Trailway behind if you choose and expect to find actual scenic open roads:

It helps that much of this area is protected as part of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve:

So even though you're only about 20 miles north of the Bronx there are rolling fields:

And barns:

And well-endowed horse crossings:

It's also criss-crossed with streams:

Dotted with old signage:

And striped with lots of tantalizing trails you're not allowed to ride bikes on:

Though fortunately the roads offer good riding too:

Oh, and our water's up here, so back off:

Indeed, it's quite peaceful up here, but since I was technically standing on New York City property I was nearly run over by three yellow cabs, two green ones, and an MTA express bus.

Anyway, you don't even need to pilfer our water because there's also free Natty Light:

I'd say it was dropped by a local farmhand, but this is farm-to-table country so I'm sure they wouldn't be caught dead drinking anything but craft beer.

It was now time to head back towards home, so I dropped down to the river:

And headed onto the Old Croton Aqueduct trail:

The choicest portion of which runs right through these parts:

Discreet rest stops can be difficult on the OCA owing to lots of suburbanites in yoga pants walking Golden Retrievers with bandanas around their necks, but I did find one of these:

Where I discovered that yet another difficult thing to do with a busted thumb is urinate while wearing bib shorts.

Finally, just a few miles from home, I came to the fork in the road where it had all gone wrong on the last ride:

Had we continued straight ahead I'd have arrived home shortly thereafter with ten intact fingers. But instead we decided to make a left and pick up a particularly scruffy stub of the Old Croton Aqueduct. I had to make things right again, and the only way to do that was finish what I had started the week before.

So I made the left toward the eerie sentinel's station:

And past the creepy troll bunker:

My thumb throbbing ominously as I crossed the Rubicon or Styx or Night Ranger or whatever it's called.

And there it was, the final section of trail that had been my undoing:

It may look deceptively tame, but before long I was at the dreaded spot where I had crashed:

Just kidding, it was this small patch of rocks:

One second I had been flying along and congratulating myself on adding some "bonus dirt" to the ride, and the next I was flying over the bars.

How do you like that? Some lazy pre-Civil War-era worker doesn't clean up after himself and 170 years later I bust my goddamn thumb. It never would have happened if I'd been on an industry-approved gravel bike.

On the day of the crash, after pulling myself together and straightening my brake hoods with the help of my friend, we'd climbed over the guardrail at this spot and continued the rest of the way on the road. However, what I failed to appreciate at the time was the delightfully ironic name of the street:

Yeah, I Wendover the bars all right.

But this time, instead of retreating to the road, I went back and rode over the crash site without incident. As I did this I felt the profound sense of untying a great cosmic knot, and of truing the Wheels of Fate, and thus realigned I followed the trail the rest of the way back to New York City and home:

Though it totally would have been better if I'd crashed into that rock and broken my other thumb.

so nice always enjoy your ride blogs, feels like i got some good miles in just reading it...
George Cantstandya 23 May 2016 at 19:34
"At least I think it’s a great blue heron."

First of hundreds to tell you you are correct.

Ardea Herodias 23 May 2016 at 19:34
My guess is the Snob wouldn't do so well on the cobbles given his propensity to fly off the rails on meer pebbles. Yet another ironic ride.
Billfrommoosejaw 23 May 2016 at 19:34
Did the fire hydrant radiate a dignity that belied its diminutive stature, or was it just glad to see you.

I agree that's a great blue heron. (Not to be confused with the pretty-good blue heron, or the perfectly-adequate blue heron.
dancesonpedals 23 May 2016 at 19:35
You didn't have your presto valve torque wrench?
tobeistobex 23 May 2016 at 19:35
Are those recent photos of the brambles greening up? Nice. Still all brown and white here in VT.
Matt 23 May 2016 at 19:35
Esteemed Commenter DaddoOne 23 May 2016 at 19:35
...good thing you didn't rip your thumb off ...that would have been messy...
Winemaker 23 May 2016 at 19:35
Podium across the pond.

Yes we have no carrots. We have no carrots today.

(Apologies to the estate of Harry Chapin)
Bryan Dotson 23 May 2016 at 19:35
wait, there's a mole station in Westchester?!
NG 23 May 2016 at 19:35
Hey snobby, don't panic! You can still hitchhike with that thumb.
Grego 23 May 2016 at 19:35
Does it count if you re-ride it without fenders? You may be entering woosie territory...
BikeTode 23 May 2016 at 19:35
Why is this fun to read? I don't know but I enjoyed it!
Stephen 23 May 2016 at 19:35
Am I the only one here? Think it is time for an OCA/S-N County Trail Ride! Geding Varm as my imaginary Transylvanian aunt says.

-Nada Robot
Gideon 23 May 2016 at 19:36