It is hot in North Carolina in July. Seeking to go cycle somewhere with less oppressive heat, I searched the internet for air travel deals. While not a summer destination as ideal as, say, Burlington, Vermont, I could travel nonstop on American Airlines to and from New York City’s La Guardia airport on a free ticket for only 15,000 frequent flier miles.
I came up with a plan to bicycle north from La Guardia the almost 200 miles to Albany NY in four or five days, take the Amtrak ($43.00) back to NYC, then bike back over to La Guardia airport for the flight home.
Tootie dropped me off at Raleigh/Durham Airport about 6:30 AM. The flight departed the new Terminal 2 at 7:45 AM.
On a sunny Thursday morning this was a painless journey, landing La Guardia about 9:00 AM
I had checked as luggage the PBW folding bicycle which fits in a standard suitcase. A complication of traveling this way is that the bicyclist has to find somewhere to store the hard plastic suitcase while bike riding.
Tootie and I own only one car, a 2004 Honda we inherited from her late mother. We end up renting cars a fair amount, almost always with Enterprise, where I have a frequent renter account. Enterprise has a company culture that encourages good customer service. I have rented cars many times as part of my bicycle tours, and on several occasions an Enterprise office stored my empty bicycle suitcase. On this New York trip even though I was NOT renting a car, I audaciously emailed Enterprise at La Guardia and asked them if I could leave my empty bicycle suitcase with them for five days. Jason Imperiale and the rest of the team at Enterprise La Guardia could not have been more helpful.
Having taken the rental car shuttle over to the Enterprise office about a quarter mile from the airport, I found a shady spot and put the bicycle together. I took this picture when I was 3/4 done.
I finished packing up. Enterprise accepted the suitcase with a smile and I bicycled off into Queens, NY. A residential grid of streets, which is ideal for bicycling, starts almost immediately in front of La Guardia airport.
I did a pretty lousy job of escaping the heat, at least the first day; the temperature by 2:30 PM in Queens was 93 degrees. (The temperatures did fall on following days.)
My brother Alex lives pretty far away in another part of New York City; Park Slope, Brooklyn. He took the subway up and met me for lunch at Telly’s Taverna in Astoria, Queens. There has been a large Greek population in Astoria for many years. We got grilled octopus, among many other things, including a bottle of Greek white wine.
My proposed four to five day route to Albany would mostly go up the west bank of the Hudson River. This afternoon, to get to the west side of the Hudson, I would need to cross much of New York City; from the borough of Queens across the East River to Ward’s Island, then cross the Harlem River into Manhattan, then across Manhattan to the George Washington Bridge, which crosses the Hudson River into New Jersey.
First I crossed the East River on the RFK bridge. I had had to circle the block several times before I found the bicycle/pedestrian path. A sign said to walk your bike but I gave up and biked most of the way.
The Ward’s Island Bridge across the Harlem River is reserved for only pedestrians and bicyclists, and it takes one into Harlem/upper Manhattan.
Although Manhattan is long and skinny, bisecting it through Harlem it still felt huge. There is dense city for several miles. Where in the past Harlem had a negative connotation, now it seems like a vibrant mostly African-American neighborhood. There were people hanging out on the street.
I finally got to the George Washington Bridge and the entrance to its pedestrian/bike path.
Once across the Hudson the scenery got rural quite quickly. The George Washington Bridge deposits a bicyclist into the northeastern corner of New Jersey. US-9W going north along the Hudson for first two or three miles was dangerous and busy, but after that Route 9W continued through a series of parklands, where it passed back into New York State. The highway safely had wide shoulders and there were other bicyclists on the road.
I had not made specific hotel reservations for this trip except for this first night, for which I had booked in advance an Airbnb in Nyack NY, about twenty miles north of the George Washington Bridge.
It started to rain about four miles from my destination. I texted my Airbnb person, and she said she was not home, she was at a bar having a drink with a friend! I was to stay in the basement apartment of a two story suburban house. She told me on the phone how to get in though her garage by punching in a code.
The apartment was quite nice, and I chilled for a while, trying to dry off. Dina, my hostess, had said she wanted to cook me dinner, even though this was not part of the Airbnb deal. She called me from downtown Nyack about 6:30 and said she and a friend were still there, did I want to come down to this bar? She said she would buy me a hamburger.
The rain had stopped and I biked from her house about a mile into downtown Nyack. Dina, her friend and I sat at the bar while they watched me eat my hamburger. They both liked Trump and asked if I was a liberal. What else could I say but; yes?
I got up the next morning and looked outside. While the previous day had been North Carolina hot, the second day was predicted rain all day and high of 66 degrees!
I find that I can focus better on my reading while I am on these bike trips. Two days earlier, the night before I left North Carolina, I had seen my friend Daniel Wallace at a concert and talked with him about his new novel Extra-Ordinary Adventures. I told him that I hardly ever read novels. He encouraged me to read it anyway. This morning I sat with my Kindle in this Airbnb apartment listening to the rain outside and reading the interesting story of a “boring” guy at an apartment complex in Birmingham. I was to finish the book during this trip.
Dina, just to be nice, fixed me breakfast. Afterwards, she had to go someplace, and left me alone in her house, to let myself out when the rain stopped.
The rain had stopped for a while, so about noon I headed down the road. While the cycling on route 9W is fairly safe, I was able to get off and ride on side roads for much of the way, which made it more pleasant. I got a flat tire in the drizzle, and had to stop and fix it.
Towns and cities in upstate New York, even more than North Carolina, seem a land of haves and have nots. Some towns were benighted as being “cool” and were prosperous looking. Others, like Haverstraw NY were, to me, beautiful towns, but looked down on their luck. It probably would be even more abandoned if not for the Mexican immigrants. Maybe the locals leave when they feel the immigrants are “taking over.”
Looking for somewhere to eat lunch, one of the very few restaurants had a management and a clientele that looked entirely Mexican. I ended up sharing a table with this little guy who did not fit at his parents table behind him. I ate beef tacos and washed it down with horchata, all delicious.
After lunch, I headed back into the drizzle, biking near the river on small roads. At one point I ducked under a railroad overpass to check my map and get out of the rain.
Unless you go out of the way, one cannot bicycle along the west bank of the Hudson here without passing through West Point, the United States Military Academy. It sits on a high rocky bluff overlooking the river. I rode up to the guard shack and asked if I could bicycle through. He directed me back to a visitor center, where I had to apply for a “pass.” It was like going to the driver’s license office. I had to sit in a room for about 45 minutes and wait my turn, have them take my picture and examine my driver’s license, then print me a hard plastic “pass.” (It is good for a year!). I thought about taking snapshots of this security process, but in the current political/security environment I figured the authorities might not appreciate that.
I did ask at the guard shack if I could take pictures within the Academy and they said, sure. It continued to be a very gray day with light rain.
It was all uphill from the center of the campus to the gate exiting on the north side. After that, state route 218 for the next 6 – 8 miles north is one of the lovelier roads I have travelled in the eastern U.S. It passes not only through dense forest but winds high above the river like I remember the coastal roads on the French Riviera.
A little further up the road I stumbled onto New York Military Academy. The Donald’s alma mater! Don you remember during the campaign when he said that he had “military experience”? I have biked recently through a similar school in Virginia (Hargrave) , and it currently looks quite shipshape. This place did not, the grass was not even mowed properly.
On March 3, 2015, NYMA filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, facing serious financial difficulties from low enrollment. Instead of opening for the fall semester in September 2015, NYMA closed and was sold at auction to a group of Chinese investors who reopened the school in November 2015.
I had been bicycling in the chilling rain for many hours. I needed to stop. In the town of Cornwall-on-Hudson I paused for a hot decaf latte.
I looked at my phone for a place to stay in the upcoming larger town (population 28,000) of Newburgh. I telephoned a lady running a bed and breakfast in Newburgh. She said she was not physically in Newburgh but employed Mike who lived in the building and ran things. She said it would cost $155.00; I said that was way too much. She came down in price considerably. The B&B is in a formerly nice neighborhood near what used to be the downtown before they tore it down.
Newburgh is clearly on the wrong side of the winner/loser line that divides New York State towns. It used to be a prosperous place and has and used to have many historic buildings. It rivals my father’s hometown of Norfolk, VA for being a place where huge sections of an historic city were wiped off the map by clean sweeps of “redevelopment” financed by federal money during the 1960’s. Some sections of Newburgh were still preserved; I took this picture the next day.
There is a successful looking strip of restaurants on the Hudson waterfront of Newburgh. The area is wedged between railroad tracks and the river, separated from the original part of town. It feels more suburban, less “ghetto” than the original Newburgh, even though it is within walking distance to my B&B. There is lots of parking.
On that strip I ate at a large, flashy, expensive restaurant called the Blu Pointe. Spelled this way, Blu Pointe. Billed as “steaks and seafood” the dining room overlooks the river. Coming from North Carolina I just don’t see restaurants like this and I don’t see people like this. Men dressed in tight fitting and expensive looking clothes, with slicked back hair. I would think these people had nothing to do with organized crime, but about the only place I have seen people dressed like this was watching The Sopranos. Entrees were like $ 43.00. The place was packed on a Friday night with people waiting for a table.
I stood around for about twenty minutes before a seat opened up at the bar. I ordered a bowl of clam chowder ($10.o0: delicious) and then an appetizer sized octopus salad($15.00: also delicious) and with the free bread and accompanying free caponata, it filled me up nicely. I sat next to a retired Delta Airlines pilot and a similarly aged guy who bragged about the number of Italian restaurants he owned back in “the city.” We all had a nice chat. As I was leaving, I pointed my phone camera back at the crowd at the bar.
Since I was staying at an actual B&B instead of the Airbnb variety, breakfast was included. Mike said that breakfast was to be at 9:00 AM. I awoke much earlier and had some time to kill. Honestly, I had never figured out how to watch television on my I-Phone until this very day. I spent some time fiddling with Amazon so I could watch Claire Danes in episode 10 of Season Five of the series Homeland.
Yes, this B&B was in an old house and was quite ratty around the edges. The electrical plugs in my room were a disaster. But the view out the window of the Hudson is lovely. And Mike is a good cook. There were only two other guests here, women from Salt Lake City who talked about their liberal politics. They were in the Hudson Valley to look at art museums.
I had a nice talk on the porch with Mike about Newburgh and its problems and safety issues (“just don’t walk in THAT direction”) before I bicycled down the road. I told Mike I was headed to Kingston NY as the day’s destination (“in that town, watch your bicycle carefully”).
Even though Newburgh has lots of abandoned buildings, just north of town there were brand new houses sprouting up the hillsides.
The ride north, angling slightly away from the river, was lovely but involved steep hills, passing through miles of apple orchards. Before Kingston I would have as an intermediate lunch stop in the town of New Paltz. Home of a State University of New York campus, New Paltz is a winner among small upstate New York towns. The streets were filled with people who looked like students, prospective students, and their parents, plus the typical young eccentric looking people who would hang out in a college town. I found a coffee house where I could chill a while after lunch and read more of Daniel Wallace’s novel.
Biking north of New Paltz the scenery was just as lovely as the ride before lunch but this time there were almost no hills as the terrain flattened out along the Wallkill River. Although it is not continuous, there is a rail trail much of the way to Kingston.
The gentle twisting country roads along the flat landscape were even a more pleasant cycle than the bike path. America has become so politically polarized that I could see how people were voting just by the brand of cars (or trucks) in their driveway.
As Mike had said it would be, Kingston is a rough looking town. Kingston was once the center of America’s cement business.
Kingston NY : 25,000
Raleigh NC: 13,700
Kingston NY: 27,000
Raleigh NC: 25,000
Kingston NY: 28,000
Raleigh NC: 94,000
Kingston NY: 23,000
Raleigh NC: 458,000
Enough of statistics: let’s have a drink!
I have a new theory, if you bicycle up to a place and just want a nice friendly place to drink a beer, look for a brewpub. They are popping up all over America; they are in almost every town now. All kinds of people like bars that make their own beer.
Sure enough, on Google Maps I found Keegan Ales in a “transitional” neighborhood. There was delicious beer and fascinating people of all political persuasions and ages.
At the bar, on my left were two seventy something guys that had worked most of their lives in blue collar jobs. They liked Trump, but were really nice about it. On my right was a fifty something couple that lived in New Jersey and thought Trump was crazy, but they were nice about it also. There were younger guys across the bar that I did not have a chance to talk to.
After the drink at Keegan’s I got back on the bicycle and rode to another part of Kingston where I had booked an Airbnb. It is in a house owned by a woman about my age who moved a year and a half ago to Kingston from Manhattan. The said she was a “minister” but this was the business card she had available in the room. Because I left so early the next day I did not have a chance to talk to her much.
It was a really nice room, on the second floor in this picture behind the leaves. The house is bigger than it looks.
North Carolina has almost no old-school Italian-American restaurants. Frank Guido’s in Kingston does fill that bill.
There were celebrity posters on the walls. Wood paneling. Gambling machines. Red sauce.
This guy I sat next to was the chauffeur of a limo.
Of course I got eggplant parmesan.
The next day was predicted to be sunny, so I got up and out early, to beat the heat. It was clear and 61 degrees when I bicycled off at 6:50 AM. I was to cross the Hudson River on the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, from where I would cycle the rest of the way to Albany on the east side of the river.
The village of Red Hook, and pretty much everything else on this side of the river seemed what Kingston and Newburgh had not been; cutesy, wealthy, pretty.
In Red Hook I got a coffee and a roll at this coffee house.
Just a couple miles west of Red Hook is an area called Barrytown. It is not even a real town, about as much of a town as Calvander NC, if you know that area. I thought of Barrytown because of the 1974 song by Steely Dan which I have had in my head for the last 43 years. Steely Dan lyrics are always difficult to decipher. I remember that the two principals of Steely Dan went to Bard College, about five miles north of Barrytown NY. I know now that the song is referring to prostelytizing by members of a religious cult that lived there.
I’m not one to look behind I know that times must change.
But over there is Barrytown they do things very strange.
I can see by what you carry that you come from Barry…town.
It is such a great enough song that over twenty years after its initial release, North Carolina’s own Ben Folds Five played their version of Barrytown on Late Show with David Letterman.
I spent this night in Hudson NY, a pretty little town that is clearly on the positive side of the winner/loser divide of New York towns, with art galleries, fancy restaurants, and real estate offices,. There were upper-class looking people walking around.
For a late lunch, at least in terms of decor, the Italian-American scene at this place called Oak could not have been more different than Frank Guido’s the previous evening in Kingston. Good but pretentious $ 17.00 clam pizza.
My Airbnb was an entire small apartment down the main street in Hudson on the third floor. The stairs up to it reminded me of certain scenes from The Godfather.
The view from apartment window
The next morning as I rode out of town, Hudson looked beautiful in the morning light.
My plan for the day: I was going bike the thirty-something miles to Albany, catch an afternoon Amtrak all the way back to New York City, then sleep the night in Alex’s apartment in Brooklyn.
I cycled through lovely country roads.
In the town of Kinderhook I stopped for my morning decaf. I have never been a huge fan of bagels. Broad Street Bagel Company makes their own; and toasted, with hummus spread on top, I cannot remember a better bagel.
Further I cycled through the streets of Renssesalaer, across then river from Albany.
I crossed back across the river into downtown Albany; the 1960’s Brasilia-esque Empire State Plaza rising up from the streets of the old city.
The two and a half hour Amtrak ride into New York City was a breeze. At the Albany station, I ran into two bicycle people; Paul Winkeller, Executive Director of New York Bicycling Coalition; and Harvey Botzman, an author from Rochester NY. Ten years older than me, Harvey has been doing the kind of bicycle touring I have been doing, but more or less full time, for over twelve years. He has bicycled around all of the Great Lakes, some several times each. His folding Bike Friday is in the black case on the left. He rode with me on the train and we had lots of time to compare notes.
Because of congestion at Penn Station, our train deposited us instead at Grand Central Station. I had never been there before. It is what a train station is supposed to be like.
My sister Betsy had come up from Princeton NJ to meet me. She held my bicycle while I took pictures.
Betsy and I had a nice meal at a Sicilian restaurant in Manhattan.
I slept that night in Alex’s apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I got up around seven and headed out by bicycle for the thirteen miles to La Guardia airport. I bicycled through all kinds of neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, some residential, but many commercial and industrial.
This felt like a scene from The French Connection.
I biked up to the Enterprise office and retrieved my suitcase. With the bicyclist inside I got over to check in at the airport. I was home in Chapel Hill by mid-afternoon.