The ride to Bear Mountain is long and hard. I did this on a whim to see if I could do it. It was an early October morning when I set out on the longest single-day ride of my life. 120 miles to be exact. I didn't know what to expect other than to follow route 9W, way north of the city. So with a saddle bag of tools, four Clif Bars, and two bottles of water I set out on a day long adventure into unknown territory.
New York City will always be an inescapable concrete jungle to me. For years since moving here I was content living within its confines, exploring its many cultural corners, however coming from the Northwest a sense of imbalance slowly crept into my consciousness. Where are the mountains and trees? How does one get out of here without a car? Get me out of here! I didn't realize how much of a country boy I was deep down inside till this year. The stress of city life have compounded and concentrated to the point of having to regularly seek refuge some 30 miles north of home.
Thankfully there lies a break from the honking horns, crowds of people and the smell of exhaust, but you really have to work for it, like most things in New York. Once you're on the other side of the George Washington bridge the land really opens up to some gorgeous landscape, full of rocky cliffs and endless tree-line. Surprisingly enough it begins in New Jersey, which is where the Henry Hudson Drive starts.
Following Henry Hudson Drive along the water is truly special. Maybe it's because I've been away from the Northwest, which has endless amounts of road just like it, but I can't help feel happy excited every time I ride it. I guess it's the novelty of having something so pristine and untouched just on the other side of the river that makes it so special to me. I'm not the only one who'll agree, judging by the crowds of cyclists it draws every weekend, especially the past few since the weather has been cooperating so well.
9W takes you through some really cute towns like Piermont and Nyack. My wife grew up in Piermont so it's really cool to see where she came from. But once you're past Haverstraw and beyond the roadway becomes really grim and tough. This is about 40 miles into the ride where it becomes apparent that you're out on your own, so you'd better be prepared.
Cars give way to semi-trucks as the trees and cliffs grow taller by the mile. I can't help but feel the weight of the city lift off my shoulders as I'm truly out in the wild, where cell-phone reception dwindles at every turn. You know you're out in the sticks when you only have a bar or two of reception.
The climb to the summit of Bear Mountain wasn't as crazy as I was anticipating. I'm not sure what the elevation gain was, but I recall climbing for a good half hour till I got a flat tire. I had brought an extra tube, which is something I recommend in addition to a patch kit if you're planning on riding more than 75 miles. Nothing is worse when you're completely stranded and miles from home. It's never happened to me, and hopefully it never will.
The view from the summit is amazing. You can even make out the city way out in the distance. It felt really good to have reached my destination surrounded by people who drove to the top. I'm sure they were all thinking, 'what's this guy doing up here? Did he get here by bike?'. I stayed long enough to finish my last bottle of water, knowing this is only the halfway point. 60 miles to go.
The ride back is where I began to suffer. With 80 miles into the ride and 40 more to go I realize I didn't bring enough food. I push through. I'm moving at snail's pace when I hit the bridge. I make it back into the city just fine, but had to stop for a hot dog, just off the Hudson River Greenway. The sun was setting and I wanted to make it home without stopping for more food.
Rides like this take time to recover from. I made the mistake of layering incorrectly and was pretty cold for most of the morning. I set out just as the sun rose, and spent half the ride in damp shade, later developing a congested cough I couldn't shake for a week. I was off the bike for a few days.
I look forward to doing this ride again as soon as the weather warms up. It's virtually the same course as the upcoming Gran Fondo in May, and I want to make sure I ride it again beforehand. It'll also be good training for the Leadville 100 in August.