Only Nine Miles to Go

That’s what I said to new friend Steve,
who I met at about mile 85
of a 104 mile, “century” ride,
yesterday, September 8, 2019,
about 2:30 pm at the last rest stop
in the northern Bronx,
Van Cortlandt Park.

Begun eight hours earlier,
starting in upper Manhattan, in Harlem,
to the Brooklyn Bridge,
getting lost with others
as we tried to follow the ride route
to get to Grand Army Plaza,
(eventually I just struck out on my own,
knowing exactly how to do so,
former Brooklynite that I am),

And after that GAP rest stop,
water, electrolytes and healthy food,
on my way down Prospect Park West
along the western side of Brooklyn
to an entrance onto the Shore Parkway
and for then many miles of
exhilarating riding with 20-25 others
toward the front of the whole ride,
zipping along next to the beautiful harbor,
passing pedestrians, a few other bikers,
seeing ships out on the harbor,
under the Verrazano Bridge,

and just going, going, going, no let-up,
15-16-17 or so mph,
just a wonderful, wonderful experience,

Finally arriving at the next rest stop,
Canarsie Pier, for more
food and drink and electrolytes,
using the bathroom, stretching,

and then off again,
down Brooklyn and then Queens streets,
down park greenways,
away from the water for a while,
hanging with mostly the same men and women,
most much younger than this near-70 guy,
riding like someone much younger
and just loving it.

Then at mile 50 came the three mile hill,
leading up to rest stop three,
Alley Pond Park in far eastern Queens,
almost missing the turnoff for it,
along with several others,
and almost getting plowed into
as I saw the markers and yelled
to those ahead while pulling hard
on the brakes,
and whizzing by me just to the left
is whoever it was who must have been
just behind me.

More food and drink and electrolytes
and a call home to Jane,
“All is well, though we just came up a
really long hill, but I’m having a great time,”
not mentioning the pain sensations
I began to experience here and there
in my 70 year old legs
as I struggled up that long hill,
hoping not to experience the same,
or worse,
once getting back on my bike
after leaving Alley Pond Park,

But it was not to be.

For the next 25 or 30 miles–
riding alongside of Flushing Bay,
going over two bridges to get to the Bronx,
through industrial areas,
greenways, under Throgs Neck Bridge,
temporarily abating at Astoria Park rest stop
as I stretched, ate, drank, worried–

All during these two, maybe three, hours,
one leg cramp after another, very painful,
stopping the first three times
because I had to, no other choice,
to slap on a special Amish linament
for just this thing
that Jane bought for me years ago;
drinking lots of water and electrolyte water
and eating the Cliff Bar I had brought with me,
maybe for just this situation,
and something must have worked
for the next 7 or 8 or 9 leg cramps
I began to feel as I was riding,
usually when going up a hill,
sometimes after going over a bad bump,
I thankfully discovered that if I eased back
on the constant biking,
pedaling round and around and around,
and stretched out my cramping leg,
or kept biking but bent the leg
out to the side, and back,
that these eased the pain
and allowed me to keep going.

Torture was a word that came to me.

And torture is what I kept feeling
as my very-slowed-down pace had left me
riding all by myself for long, apprehensive minutes,
hoping not to get hit with pain again,
hoping to get to the next and last rest stop,
hoping, hoping, hoping to persevere to the end–
I was determined to do so.

And then, up ahead a hundred yards or so,
I saw Steve, Steve in the bright blue jersey.

And little by little I caught up to him,
and we talked
about how we were concerned
about missing the street markers
(though I had with me printed out
route sheets, but too tired to even
think that I should pull them out to check),
and make a wrong turn, prolonging
what was already a very long, long, ride

And I said, we should ride together,
two heads are better than one and all,
and he agreed.

And for the next 10 or so difficult miles,
but not because I was cramping (!!!)
but because we were alone,
and because sometimes the roads
were very bad,
up there in the northern Bronx,
seeing signs for I-87 and other interstate roads
going up north into NY State,
Pelham Parkway, Boston Road,
greenway, Moshulu Parkway,
Van Cortlandt Park (is this where
the final rest stop is?)

Several other riders catching up with us,
and riding together,
me almost falling twice,
once when I turned, very slowly,
and discovered a very steep few feet long
downhill I was unprepared, too tired, for,
another when I went over four-five
consecutive high bumps in the greenway trail,
throwing my foot off the pedal and
almost me off the bike,
but I quickly stabilized–

And then, there it was,

We stop, I tell Steve
how much it meant to connect with him
on the trail,
to be road buddies for that long stretch
of difficult riding–
though the cramps had stopped!!–
how lonely I felt for what seemed like
a very long time
until we connected,
and he smiled and said, yes, I agree,
me too.

We learn, after food, drink, electrolytes,
(why couldn’t they have had the rest stop
But who cares now. Only Nine Miles to the End.

It was a cake walk.
No cramping.
Just a few pretty minor hills,
and no cramping going up them.
Working our way for a while
through Bronx streets
and a lot of cars,
to a bike path
that goes to one right alongside
the Harlem River on one side
and Harlem River Drive on the other,
‘til we come out onto 155th St.,
only two miles from the end,
back to 110th St. and Malcolm X Blvd.
in southern Harlem, right at the top of Central Park,
where we had begun nine hours earlier.

I made it—we made it.

I line up to get a 30th (and last, for reasons unknown)
NY Transportation Alternatives Century ride t-shirt and,
unexpected and surprisingly very important to me,
Century ride medal with orange ribbon
to wear it around my neck.

Hundreds and hundreds of other bikers hanging out,
arriving, getting their t-shirts and medals.
Loud music playing,
It’s a beautiful sunny day, some clouds, no rain
as has been true all day.

This memorable day.
This unforgettable day.
This day of high highs and low lows
That I have survived
And that I will remember and treasure forever.