I visited the Bronx for three days, and took the train into the city. When it was time to leave for upstate NY, I left directly north, crossing through a part of America I had never visited. In my 30 years of travel, in millions of miles, there are not a lot of untouched places left. But due north from NYC is one; that little sliver of land between the Hudson river and the Connecticut state line.
I started by heading east to the small village of Pelham, which I know only from the movie “The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3”. It turns out Pelham has an MTA terminus, and therefore would have a train that arrives at 1:23 pm. Hence the exciting movie name (first starring Walter Matthau then Vincent D’Onofrio then finally Denzel Washington). It was a scenic Bronx neighborhood with the large green area. Pelham Bay Park sits on the Hutchinson River, the far far western terminus of the Long Island sound. I didn’t get close to the water. However, my experienced eye quickly spotted that this area had previously housed a landfill, quite notorious (it turns out) for taking bribes and allowing toxic dumping. Lots of sick kids after that.
I crossed the line to New Rochelle (looking for Rob & Laura Petrie). What I got was a traffic jam in the tiny downtown. Hokey smokes! Westchester Co is literally protected by a moat of exclusive golf courses, creating a ring of greenbelt to keep riff raff like me at bay. The expanse of the fairways seemed to form a defensible sector that Churchill would boast about and Patton could easily hold.
Like many places in America, the rich are huddled here like animals on Noahs ark. It is carpeted in 1950s mansions: colonial, country style, tudor, english, modern, and on and on. They sit on HUGE lots with undulating lawns canopied by giant mature hardwood trees. Beautiful to the eye, reminiscent of country living, and costing a king’s ransom. But I always laugh out loud. These giant homes on their giant lots still sit in subdivisions, shoulder to shoulder down one street and up another windows facing neighbors’ windows.
I remember the day I first learned that the difference was just a matter of scale; of size, not of function; between America’s rich and poor. England may have country estates with fox hunts and even castles with tapestries to cover their rock walls. Middle east sultans live in fortress homes made gaudy by an embarrassment of gold-leaf. But in most corners of America, the “rich” live in the same stupid confining, expensive and wasteful geographic structures as the working poor, only they have 6 bedrooms and a 4 car garage instead of 2 bedrooms and uncovered driveway parking.
The uber rich may hide in “the country” and work in “the city”, but they still need a car and a tank of gas to go buy a head of lettuce or a tube of toothpaste. Of course in Westchester everybody (dad, mom, each kid ,even probably the nanny) has their own Lexus, and probably a personal mechanic that makes house calls. And the dry cleaner, dog groomer, and grocer bring their wares to those inexplicable mansions; probably because the wealthy are in the city figuring out how to pay for it.
I passed by Iona college, adding its picture (along with the Bronx’s Fordham) to my collection of non geographically named colleges. This is the one hobby I resurrected from my days of business travel. Then I stopped in Tarrytown and Ossining, just to punch my “been there” ticket. But you know I get it. While these places were beautiful, and certainly historic (by American, not European, standards), a certain predictability allowed me say I’ve seen enough and lets get going north. Besides rain was coming in.
Today I jumped on the Bronx River Pkwy (BRP) to the long northbound Taconic State Pkwy (TSP). They are twins of the scenic Sawmill Pkwy (SMP) that I rode into town. All of these are spectacularly natural ribbon shaped parkways, letting you make good time by shooting under aged overpasses while viewing trees and meadows instead of apartments and bodegas. Their historic rounded overpasses and curvy routes make them visually pleasing. By “ribbon” I mean 4-lanes 2 each way, the speed limit is usually 50, and the exits are so tight and short that exit speed limits are often 10-15 mph max. I tootled along until a rice burner buzzed by, waking me from my slumber and reminding me that I rode”tail of the dragon” just last week. So I grabbed tight on my grips and punched the Bergman’s throttle to drop in behind him, matching his speed and movements. Now THAT was fun, plus I made good time up to I-85.
Then the rain started.
At the onramp to I-85, I pulled off and donned my full rain gear. It was going to come down, so no reason to pussy foot around. Heading west to Newburgh the mist turned into drizzle then into heavy rain. Rain and drizzle took turns, but never heavy enough to pull off, until I crossed the major bridge over the mighty Hudson River at Newburgh. I could barely see the road and traffic had, of course, increased from light to medium. So after defying death, I exited and found a McDonalds for a dry seat, hot coffee and wireless internet to find myself a room for the night. It became quickly obvious I wasn’t going to get much farther.
The rain lightened enough to let me rearrange a little, but I still ended up hauling my soaking wet gear into the fairly empty lobby. I hung each item on its own char and let them drip. Even my hard sided helmet was soaked. Inside I was greeted by a bicyclist, his bicycle leaning against the barstools, his colorful spandex soaked to the bone. And I though I was a poor planner! Turns out he would be fine riding home right now, but had a flat, and his repair kit was somehow not working. He was waiting for a lift, sitting out the rain just like me.
I posted some whiney complaints on facebook, drank hot coffee, and waited, but the rain would not stop. I finally started to look into AirBnb. In nearby New Platz was a hostel with rooms available despite it being the weekend. I signed up for one, and dallied another hour hoping the rain would end. It didn’t. I eventually put on my wet gear, headed back to the bike, and pointed myself back onto the freeway. By now the sun was setting and the streetlights were on. It was getting dark, but my GPS was taking me on a direct route.
When I arrived at New Platz, my delays and dallying almost caused a catastrophe. Like many hostels (but not all), the caretaker doesn’t stay on site. There is a “latest check-in time”. At some places there is a penalty (one place its double the room cost). In New Platz, they just lock the door and go home. So nobody answered the door (making me call) or was helpful, and I was in my abominable snow monster rain gear, with soaked clothes underneath, trying to detach and haul in wet and sagging luggage. No help, plus a “c’mon lets hurry” did not help my attitude
Inside was a house full of nooks and crannys and the bunkbeds in common bunkroom already had tired hikers sound asleep. The living room had a family watching a movie and the kitchen, unexplainably, had a set of what looked like buddhist monks making and drinking tea. I checked my pockets to see if I had taken any hallucinogens. Being rushed to lock the door and go, I dropped wet luggage here and there, and went back out to move the bike and unfurl and place the rain cover. I had to ring the doorbell again to be let in, and the door was again promptly locked. Yes, I get it, I arrived very late by your standards.
My safety bike gear is large and clunky and noisy and smelly to remove, when its a dry sunny day done in a large hotel room. It was a nightmare in the dark, soaking wet, using cubbies and corners.. How to try to hang up a jacket, towels, jeans, even my helmet in a place where every corner was taken and people were planted in all the thoroughfares. So I just decided to bump around and make noise and trouble and didn’t care. I dug out some gym shorts (slightly damp) and changed in the rest room, laid my wet clothes on top my luggage, and crawled into bed. But first I enjoyed a “fourth meal” snack of beef jerky, trail mix, and a gatorade from my bike pack.
Wet, grumpy, achy, and angry. Time for bed.