Trip Log – Day 257 – New York, NY to Red Bank, NJ

NYC ro Red BankJuly 19, 2016 – Sun, 80 degrees

Miles Today: 21

Miles to Date: 13,274

States to Date: 34

 IMG_6943My Irish bard, host and tour guide was flat out when I slipped out of his apartment after 8:00 a.m. As a rule, New Yorkers are not early risers. I stopped at a Chinatown bakery for one of my favorite breakfasts: an assortment of buns. Then I rolled towards the Battery to see the new Calatrava Path Station. Perhaps it’s not fair to judge the winged sculpture that sits atop a station whose entrances seem as ordinary as any before it is fully complete, but did New York really need a bigger version of what Milwaukee already has? It is gigantic and it is graceful, but it is also arbitrary. It will make for dramatic photos among the angular crowd.


The ferry to New Jersey is a delight. I was pleased that it churned up the East River for another stop at 34th street, so I got to see the Brooklyn Bridge and Frank Gehry’s apartment tower, which required a custom window washing machine to clean 84 floors of curved glass. New York is the epicenter of one vein of architecture I detest: random forms of technical wizardry. Just because we can do something – technically – doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea – humanly.

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No matter. Within half an hour I was on the beach! Hooray for Sandy Hook National Park and the fabulous Jersey Shore. The beaches are so pristine.

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Along Sea Bright, a huge stone wall separates the beach from the rest of the barrier island. I’m not sure how much it helps in a storm. Seems to me the water will come in from the marsh and bay on the other side. But people have built their private decks up on the top of the wall just the same.

IMG_6967The next three days will be ripe in nostalgia for me as I head to Toms River, where I grew up. First bit of memory: I got stuck at one of New Jersey’s raised bridge. They are quirky as ever. Two people in yellow safety vests scamper across the roadway and close gates by hand before raising the dual cantilevers that allow a pleasure fishing boat to motor up the Shrewsbury River while dozens of cars sit in the stifling heat.

I pedaled through the tony boroughs of Rumson and Fair Haven, singing Springsteen songs (he long ago left Asbury Park for these greener pastures). I’m hungering for some Glory Days.

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Trip Log – Day 256 – New York, NY

Poughkeepsie to NYCJuly 18, 2016 – Sun, 90 degrees

Miles Today: 11

Miles to Date: 13,253

States to Date: 33

New York City is packed with people, even in summer. People are polite, if not exactly friendly, but we develop a veneer here, quickly, to give each other space in a place where space is scarce. I don’t approach many people with my question. It seems intrusive.

Still, there is much to glean by rolling through the city at my pace. New York may well be the most diverse place on earth. All ages and identities appear to coexist with more ease than I’ve witnessed elsewhere. The extremes of rich and poor are great, but less glaring than say, San Francisco.

IMG_6926I think about The Green Metropolis, in which David Owen postulates that Manhattan is the most energy efficient place in the United States. That may be true on a per capita consumption basis, but it really doesn’t translate to a sustainable model we should emulate. Yes, New York is efficient because it’s so dense and there are so few cars. But the density pushes human limits and disconnects us from, rather than links us to, the natural world. When you consider all the external energy it takes to make New York work – including major portions of New Jersey and Connecticut – the argument is not convincing.

I spent a leisurely morning in a deli, eating the world’s best bagel and the largest black and white ever. Then I rode over to Riverside Church and had a conversation with Michael Neuss of Orpheus Orchestra, a chamber orchestra that has developed a collective process in which all forty members participate in selection and interpretation. They have no conductor. It is a fascinating example of truly participatory democracy in action.

IMG_6928I got stuck in a torrential downpour along the Hudson River bike path, but fortunately part of it is under the raised West Side Highway, so I just waited it out with other cyclists and then pedaled on to the sunshine, among them a fresh graduate of The Actor’s Studio on the way to his second rehearsal of a new play. Now that guy was excited!

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I went by many of the new buildings near the High Line. Am I the only one who thinks the new Whitney is the 21st century version of brute force over elegance just as the original was in the 20th century? I find an unsettling correlation between the new metal monster and its concrete cousin.


And since when did Jersey City have a skyline?

imgresWhen I reached my host’s in the Lower East Side I was treated to a night in a true tenement – a five floor walk-up with a WC closet and a bathtub in the kitchen. Patrick took me on a two-hour evening walk through his neighborhood. The streets pulsed on the summer’s night breeze.

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Trip Log – Day 255 – New York, NY

Poughkeepsie to NYCJuly 17, 2016 – Sun, 90 degrees

Miles Today: 22

Miles to Date: 13,242

States to Date: 33

 In celebration of the initiatives that Mayor Michael Bloomberg did to encourage cycling in New York City, I rode the entire length of Broadway, from Washington Heights to Union Square, and photographed a slice of city life on a hot Sunday afternoon. Even without cars, Times Square is still claustrophobically dense.

Afterward, I pedaled through the Bowery, investigating sites that William Helmreich, a fellow adventurer at a slower pace and author of The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City, told me about when I asked him how will we live tomorrow.

I wrapped up Sunday afternoon in Central Park before proceeding to my evening’s host in Harlem.

A photo essay of my trek along Broadway:

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Trip Log – Day 254 –Poughkeepsie, NY to New York, NY

Poughkeepsie to NYCJuly 16, 2016 – Sun, 90 degrees

Miles Today: 80

Miles to Date: 13,220

States to Date: 33

 IMG_6860In the west, I counted how many times I crossed the Continental Divide (six total). In the East, I’m tallying how often I cross the Appalachian Trail (three times to date). Today I met up with a through hiker, trail name Shaggy, at a convenience store during a Gatorade stop. Shaggy was heading north, traveling solo and looking forward to entering Connecticut, while I continued south to The Big Apple.

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The day was hot, but I had many miles of very nice rail trail. Unfortunately, I got off track at the snarly intersection of I-287 and I-87 (a bike path gets lost in all that spaghetti). So, I simply rode west until I hit the Hudson and came into the city on US 9 south, through lovely river towns along the Palisades.

IMG_6864When I reached The Bronx, I stopped for a well-deserved malt at the first old school luncheonette I came upon. My waitress, Rudi, was a great introduction to the city: a sassy immigrant grandmother with great stories about tomorrow.

I meandered through Riverdale to my host’s for the night. Hillary Brown is a fellow architect and Haiti enthusiast. Lucky me, Hilary has an apartment with a lovely garden, where we enjoyed appetizers, an outdoor pool, where we took a refreshing swim, and a balcony with phenomenal Hudson views, where we ate a leisurely supper and talked and talked until, all of sudden, it was late.


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Trip Log – Day 253 – Danbury, CT to Poughkeepsie, NY

to PoughkeepsieJuly 15, 2016 – Sun, 90 degrees

Miles Today: 55

Miles to Date: 13,140

States to Date: 33

 IMG_6843Connecticut is a state of beautiful, hilly terrain, lavish suburbs, and poor cities. ‘Home rule’ is big in this corner of New England; it shows through giant contrasts from place to place. I managed to get turned around in Danbury today (I seem to tack on five miles of misdirection every day) but rather enjoyed the inner core of this city rich in Brazilian immigrants. Fortunately, Danbury is not nearly so desolate as other Connecticut cities. Entrepreneurism triumphs, as in this house with a front yard cornfield.

IMG_6844As soon as I crossed the New York State line, I was happy to leave the serpentine climbs through dense woods as the landscape opened up to the majesty of the Hudson River Valley. The slogan, ‘Empire State’ seems appropriate.

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I reached Hyde Park after one, and treated myself to an incredible lunch at the Culinary Institute of America. My Danbury host studied cooking there and recommended the Apple Pie Cafe. Food so good even a guy who ‘eats to fuel’ can appreciate. CIA is as much tourist attraction as school – the place was hopping on a Friday afternoon.

imgresTwo miles upriver, I visited the FDR Museum and Library, where I met with an archivist at the first presidential library to talk about their work.

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Trip Log – Day 252 – Hartford CT to Danbury, CT

to NewtownJuly 14, 2016 – Clouds, 85 degrees

Miles Today: 79

Miles to Date: 13,085

States to Date: 33

My navigation strategy – plotting a route on goggle maps for bicycles the night before, writing it down in my small pad to cement it to memory and provide a written reference as I ride – works pretty well everywhere but in the Northeast, where traffic on the main roads is fierce and unmarked side roads twist upon themselves like wisteria vines. I left Hartford with four pages of directions, and knew it would be a day of constant reference to my pad and my phone as I missed turn after turn.

IMG_6836I visited several more post-industrial cities in this land of bygone manufacturing. Waterbury, the Brass City which I explored in depth for my novel, Weekends in Holy Land, is toothless as the glazed over people with bad teeth wandering its streets. The drug problems here are immense.

I rode to Newtown for the incompatible objectives of visiting Sandy Hook Elementary School and eating at the Blue Colony Diner, one of my all time favorites. Unfortunately, I hit so many snags on my route I couldn’t stall my hunger that long. I ate lunch on a bench along the bikIMG_6838e path in Middlebury, but held out for an awesome Blue Colony dessert when I got there about 3 p.m.
A light rain began to fall by the time I got to Sandy Hook, which has been renamed and has no reference or memorial that I could decipher. A full-blown thundershower followed. By the time I got to Newtown Center, I was drenched. Then, the sun came out. I wrung everything out and dried off during my final ten miles to Danbury.

My host, Rick, is a chef. After a shower that washed away the trials of travel, we enjoyed a superb dinner, including homemade brew. Good food and good company evaporate hardship.

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Trip Log – Day 251 –Mansfield, CT to Hartford CT

to HartfordJuly 13, 2016 – Sun, 90 degrees

Miles Today: 36

Miles to Date: 13,006

States to Date: 33

IMG_6808The only thing better than a solid breakfast – is two solid breakfasts. My vegan host Tony made me an awesome smoothie with so many ingredients I can’t begin to recall: thick and creamy and just a tad chocolaty. Then I pushed myself over one hill to enjoy another breakfast with an immigrant mom and her daughter at the Thread City Diner in Willimantic, which makes the largest and tastiest pancakes anywhere.

imagesBy the time I rolled out of town the day was already hot, so I opted against the paved route along US 6 for the gravel bike path through Bolton Center. Not speedy, but shady and cool. I persevered East Hartford and took the snazzy pedestrian bridge over the Connecticut Rive to downtown Hartford. I had an afternoon appointment at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, which is unique among house museums in having a strong focus on social justice and putting the author and abolitionist’s work in today’s context.

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