Coming home–4,024 miles down the road.

I woke before dawn. I was a day ahead of schedule but what with New Jersey having been smacked around by Hurricane Sandy, I thought it would be worth my time to make the push into New York City on a weekend. Less traffic, less angry commuters, more happy me. If I was going to do battle with Jersey traffic, I wanted to give myself as many advantages as I could.

 

I was going to miss this: Not the getting up in the dark, cold, tired and hungry, no: the pace. I woke every day with a goal, and there was no procrastinating, no avoiding it. I had miles to ride, and if I didn’t do it, it was just that many more tomorrow. It may not have been the most high-minded purpose, to go ride my bike, but it was purpose, and I was focused. I didn’t wake up dreading to have to go into work, or trying to steal an extra ten minutes in bed to avoid facing the day. I woke, I rode. Single-minded, yes, but it was a single-mindedness I hadn’t felt in years and few people are lucky to ever feel. It’s a powerful feeling.

 

I was out and on the road with daybreak. Though cold, it was warmer than the day before. There was little traffic through these Philadelphia exurbs, an encouraging sign that my bet on Sunday traffic was worthwhile.

 

I was making good time, 35 miles in and it wasn’t yet 10am. Then I got into Jersey. Navigating Jersey was like playing a game of chutes and ladders, except all the chutes were fallen trees and all the ladders were downed power line. I managed to find the two mountains in the entire state, and climbed each, twice, because of roads that were closed off. I was constantly re-navigating, turning around, dodging tree limbs, riding carefully through messy jungles of wires, hoping that they weren’t live and careful to only touch the rubber parts of my bike. I rode on closed roads when I got desperate, and trespassed through golf courses and industrial areas.

 

I lost major time, and by the time I hit Newark, dusk was coming soon. I decided to change my plan: Instead of riding all the way up to the George Washington Bridge, I’d take the ferry across and ride up the bike path. I knew Manhattan better, it had bike paths, and lights. As I was looking at the best route on my phone, the damn thing unexpectedly died. I was in an area of Newark where it is less than good to be white, wearing spandex, and without a phone.

I grew up in enough of a hood to know the difference between an “I’m going to rob you” look, and a “this white boy better get his ass outta here before he gets robbed” look. It was a relief to get a lot of the second stare as I stood charging my phone at a bodega’s outdoor outlet.

 

My route took me through the deep industrial wastelands of Newark, desolate roads guarded by the barks of junkyward dogs hidden behind barbed wire fences. By the time I got near Hoboken, it was dark. Really dark. Darker than metropolitan NYC ever is–Hoboken was still largely without power, and it was creepy. Though it wasn’t the inky blackness of the desert, it was a far more eerie scene. Whole blocks were blacked out, people moved in the shadows. I couldn’t see the road. At some intersections the National Guard had set up generators, and I rode, blinded by the lights into these oases where people huddled, looking for food, a charging station, a respite from the darkness of their apartment. Being from New York, natural disasters were always something that happened elsewhere, and one didn’t see the details of the destruction. With climate change only to make things worse and less predictable, seeing this was only a haunting vision of the future.

Far beyond climate change was the fact that many of the stoplights didn’t work. Taking traffic lights away from New Jersey drivers is like taking all the guards out of a Supermax prison and opening the cells: You take an already lawless bunch and remove the scant few rules that keep them from killing themselves.

It was a nightmare to get through these intersections, and usually involved me riding alongside a car, figuring a two-ton shield would be a step in the right direction.

 

The ferry terminal at Hoboken was blacked out. So much for their website proudly announcing the return to ferry service. It was fully night at this point and there was no choice but to ride up the palisades to the bridge.

 

It turned out to be a nice way to go, and I got my first glimpses of a mostly whole NYC skyline. I didn’t expect any major emotional response, and I didn’t get one. There it was, the city, my home for the past two years, the place that so roughed me up that I felt compelled to spend two months on a bicycle to work through it. I wanted to be back. I was happy to be back. Ready to try again, but it wasn’t an overwhelming feeling. For two months, I’d slowly clawed my way back here, making incremental easterly progress towards this city, my memories here both the homecoming and the impetus to take this tri evaluate and change myself. When the skyline finally appeared, bristling in the night, looming, solidly anchored, so big that the perspective of distance was totally distorted, it wasn’t a major change, it wasn’t a triumphant return. It was just home, and I was back.

Dodging tree limbs, Hurricane aftermath

I sat it out for two days, though the worst of the storm and an extra day to allow for clean up and dodge the rain. From north of DC, I only have roughly 300 miles to New York, so I had some time to play with. I read a book. I napped. I shouted at the news with my uncle.

I left Wednesday. All I needed to ride was some 50 miles and change a day and I’d be back in NYC by Monday. I left a bit later in the day, figuring it would be worth it to dodge some of the DC traffic. Besides, I figured the first miles would be quick: It was all bike path until I got well north of the city.

Within half a mile of the bike trail, I realized riding was going to be slower than I thought: A tree three feet in diameter lay across the path. With some adult dressed in a lion costume and–disturbingly–walking alone watching, I lifted my bike over and picked my way through the branches. The next 15 miles were like a cyclocross race: deep mud, washed out paths, jogging through thorn bushes to get around fallen trees. I got to the end of the bike path muddy, wet and scratched up, but happy to be done with that section.

It was at this moment that I realized I’d dropped my map, “Fuck!” I shouted.

The guy blowing leaves shout me a wounded look.

“No, sorry, not you.”

He glared.

I went back up the trail in search of the map–I’d be out of luck for the next four days if I didn’t find it.

After two miles of riding, looking, asking people on the path if they’d seen it and enduring their advice on how I should find it, I got lucky enough to find it. By the time I got back to where I was it was 12:30 and I’d only ridden 20 miles.

I was still in the DC area, and the route took me sharply east into the exurbs of Baltimore. Those roads were busy, and people were driving like assholes. For the third time this trip, I was run off a two-lane road by an oncoming car passing traffic in my lane. By now I’ve had the practice, and was able to get off the road with more than enough time to proudly brandish my middle finger.

The rest of the ride was uneventful, though I did realize oncee serious problem with riding in one of the most populous regions of the U.S. For two months now I’ve been peeing with gleeful abandon, hell, on roads so quiet that I wouldn’t even pull of the road before letting lose. It’s been a glorious few weeks of shitting in the woods and answering even nature’s quietest whisper.

This is no longer possible, and the more people there are the less inclined I am to leave my bicycle outside while I run into to relieve myself. Twice on this ride I found myself making desperation pees on the sides of busy roads, hoping I wasn’t giving too many people a free show.

Although, to be fair, camping sites are also becoming scarcer and being arrested for public indecency might be a nice way to get a cheap place to stay for the night.

Racing the Hurricane

I hate to jinx myself, but for you, my dearest fans I will: I’ve made a habit this trip of racing in a storm, and have been mostly successful. I’ve tucked into shops ahead of brewing storms, just gotten lucky and taken a day off when it was racing, and even, as dark and angry storm clouds knotted themselves above monarch pass in Colorado, managed to outrace that booming front some twenty miles into a warm café.

Jurricane Sandy was a different story, and though I am, unlike my compatriot Mr. Armstrong, one who is dedicated to fair play, I didn’t mind giving myself a head start on Sunday..

The last weather report had left it moving North between 10 and 15 miles an hour and schedued to start hitting the DC area by the afternoon.

I rode out early, figuring that I could at least keep pace with the big bad lady, and thus stay a bit ahead of her.

I rode up route one, a nasty four-lane highway that was less trafficked early on a Sunday morning. One driver missed me by inches, rolling further on to the shoulder before swerving and heading back out to the center line. Not everyone was used to being up as early as I was.

The skies grew darker, and the winds picked up, and not in my favor. I was hoping that the one benefit of riding in pre-hurricane conditions was a nice tailwind. Instead the wind fought me. I may have played dirty by getting a head start in the Hurricane race, but the hurricane had it’s own tricks.

I turned east, towards the Atlantic. The wind was picking up. For the second time in two days, my directions tried to send me through a military base. I wanted ahead of the storm, and rolled up to the security guard. Suprisingly, he politely waved me through.

I put all thoughts of upgrading to a tank out of my mind, and headed for the Mt. Vernon bike path. The rest of the ride was easy, even as the wind picked up. Mostly bike trail, quiet and peaceful, except for one guy who insisted on trying to race me down the path. He passed me, laboring mightily on the pedals. I slowly caught him, passed him, and then he spent the next two miles drafting off of me, enjoying the considerable blocking my big-hipped bike did, and then, as the wind picked up again, passing me. I assumed he was a Republican.

I got in to my aunt’s house, my shelter from the storm. Soon it started raining. Like Jonah, I retreated to the basement and took a nap.