Firstly, this blog is super late, sorry about that. We’ve been busy. But read on to hear about our adventures in the Empire State. (We are actually further north already, check the map Here)
We had imagined that the ride between Washington and New York wouldn’t be overly pleasant, even the East Coast Greenway cycle route goes through the middle of several big cities including Baltimore and Philadelphia. It didn’t overly appeal to us so Steph looked for an alternative, what she found was awesome. Rather than ride through the incredibly urban corridor between the Capital and NYC we could cross the Chesapeake bay, ride into Delaware and then more or less follow the coast up through New Jersey, with the finale being a ferry ride up the Hudson into the East River and onto Manhattan. It sounded much more appealing than riding through cities, though more expensive with the ferry tickets.
Our first hurdle on this route came after just one day of riding out of Washington. We reached Annapolis where the Chesapeake bay bridge begins, and cycling across it is strictly forbidden (cue flashbacks to the Rosario bridge fiasco!). Luckily our Warmshowers host Cindy had hosted plenty of other cyclists going our way so she let us know of a petrol station just before the bridge where we could try and hitch a lift. In completely the opposite fashion to Rosario the first guy we asked was happy to take us across the bridge, even though he wasn’t going that way! Mike turned out to be a total legend. Previously diagnosed with terminal brain and lung cancer he defied all the odds and had been in remission for the last 5 years. He was full of positivity and had plenty of stories to tell on the half hour drive across the bridge (which after crossing it we can see why you can’t, and would never want to, cycle it).
After our successful bridge crossing we were in good spirits and began to think that coming this way was definitely a solid idea. Both Maryland and Delaware are very small states so after just one very pleasant night on a farm in Delaware with Stuart and Delores we arrived at Lewes to get the ferry to Cape May, the town at the southern point of New Jersey and a previous holiday destination for US presidents. We met our hosts for the night, Carol and Mark who invited us to their weekly evening ride down to the beach to watch the sunset and have a beer. You can’t say no to offers like that, especially when it’s just a few miles ride and there is a selection of different bikes on offer to ride! It was such a cool evening hanging out with them and some members of their local cycling group.
We were so tempted to stay another night when Mark and Carol offered it as an option, but we had made a plan to get to New York in time for the July 4th fireworks, so we kept pushing on. The coast of southern New Jersey, known as the Jersey Shore is very built up with beach resorts and holiday towns and being summer holidays we knew it would be busy as. For this reason we mostly rode inland on less trafficked roads through some state forests, it was pretty quiet and enjoyable. However, we were a little disappointed that we wouldn’t get to see some of the sights on the coast. So when a great Warmshowers host named Tom not only offered to take us in for the night but also to drive us down to the Shore for the evening we jumped at the chance.
It was only a 45 minute drive down to Ocean City, but that equates to almost a full day’s ride by bike. As predicted it was busy, but it was a lot of fun too. We wandered along the boardwalk taking in the frenetic yet upbeat atmosphere. There were roller coasters and fairground rides, games and attractions, all kinds of delicious but entirely unhealthy treats and a plethora of shops. We were happy just to wander and eat caramel popcorn but Tom was a fan of the carousel ride so he treated us to go on it, which turned out to be pretty hilarious.
The biggest resort on the Shore is Atlantic City, just up the coast from Ocean City. It’s like a small Las Vegas with multi-million dollar casinos and hotels filling the skyline, and as it was dark by this point everything was all lit up. We grabbed a beer at Tom’s favourite bar and had a quick walk along the waterfront boardwalk which is similar to Ocean City, but with an entirely different vibe, more raucous, less family friendly for sure. To finish the night off we visited one of the newer casinos, more out of curiousity than an interest in actually gambling. The scale of the place was crazy and the interior design was totally extravagant, which goes some way to explaining the $2.4 billion cost to build it! It was an awesome night out, seeing some sights we definitely wouldn’t have seen without Tom as a tour guide, but by the time we headed home at midnight we were knackered.
Another day of riding and we had crossed the majority of southern New Jersey. We arrived in Red Bank in a massive thunderstorm, super grateful to Ann for agreeing to take us in that night to dry off. After spending the evening relaxing with Ann and some of her cycling friends we discovered that the ferry we intended to take wasn’t actually running the next day! After a minor panic we discovered that there was actually another service that also went to Manhattan, albeit the other side, crisis averted. So after 6 days of pleasant riding and a whole bunch of other fun activities with awesome Warmshowers hosts we were on our way to New York City.
The ferry ride into the city turned out to be intense. We had expected ‘ferry’ to mean a slow-boat with plenty of opportunities to take pictures as we made our way up the river, instead it was a passenger (and cyclist) only catamaran, akin to a giant speed boat. It did not hang around. Up on the top deck the wind and the spray were fierce, but we still managed to snap a few photos of the iconic downtown skyline and the Statue of Liberty as we approached.
After a surprisingly not terrible ride though midtown Manhattan and Central Park we arrived at our wonderful hosts’ apartment in the upper west side. Kathy and Ed were keen cyclists and they had lived in New York for over 30 years, so they had a whole bunch of amazing recommendations for us to help us get the most out of our visit. Unlike in Washington we didn’t really have much of a plan for NYC, we just wanted to visit the different neighbourhoods, experience the city and eat loads of good food. With this in mind we bought an unlimited metro card (it’s way too big to walk everywhere) and headed out to explore.
One thing that was almost immediately noticeable was the fact that you are anonymous in New York. It’s so big and diverse that no-one looks out of place or stands out any more than anyone else, and there are people everywhere so you are always just one in a crowd. Everyone is doing their own thing so just another couple of tourists don’t warrant a second glance, which suited us fine as we were doing our own thing too.
We visited plenty of the regular tourist places: Times Square, Grand Central, Wall Street etc. and walked until our feet hurt (the metro is great, but it doesn’t go everywhere!), but photos definitely do the city more justice than words can, so here you go.
A cool place to go for a stroll in the city is The Highline. It’s a section of the old railway/metro that is raised up above street level that’s been converted into a walkway/garden. You don’t escape the noise of the traffic but it separates you enough to make it feel like you are away from the general city chaos going on all around. Many people seemed to come here to eat lunch or just hang out away from the concrete jungle.
The 9/11 memorial is one place we really wanted to see. Both of us can vividly remember the news that day and watching the twin towers collapse. Seeing the site in real life really brought home just how devastating that day must have been for Americans, but particularly New Yorkers. All that remains on the site, at ground level, are the two memorial pools sitting in the footprints of the buildings that once stood there. Looking up you see one of the few open stretches of sky in downtown Manhattan.
Underneath the memorial pools is the museum which tells the story of September 11th. The hundreds of artefacts and personal stories are housed in what would have been the basement levels of the twin towers. You can see some of the original foundations and the engineering that went in to building them in the first place. Despite being an incredibly somber place, you can’t help but be impressed with the scale of the original construction.
To appreciate how vertically-constructed Manhattan really is you have to go up one of the tall buildings. There are several skyscrapers that have observation decks on top, and all have pros and cons. After a little research we decided to go to Top of the Rock, the viewing deck on the 70th floor of the Rockefeller center. It’s not the highest by any means, but it’s location means you get a good view looking both north, through Central Park, and south towards Downtown. It was amazing being up there and getting a feel for the scale of construction within midtown/downtown Manhattan, though if many more skyscrapers go up on the north side the great view of Central Park is definitely going to be blocked!
Kathy and Ed were going away for July 4th weekend so through one of the local cycling clubs we had arranged to move to a different host, James, off Manhattan island over in Queens. It was nice to stay in a different borough of New York and see more of the ‘normal’ part of the city. Manhattan is the iconic Empire State image that most people think of when you mention New York, but the other boroughs are all much lower and normal feeling. Queens has a reputation for being very diverse, with a large Hispanic population, we even got a couple of chances to practice our Spanish (it’s gotten rusty 😭). James was a really excellent host too, he put up with us taking over most of his living room for a few days. He was also a totally inspiring guy, having cycled from Scotland to Singapore a few years ago, and done a whole host of other shorter trips since then he had so many amazing tales from his bike adventures all over the world.
July 4th turned out to be a quieter day than we had imagined. In our heads there would be street parties and parades, but in our little neighbourhood in Queens everything was fairly quiet. This suited us pretty well as Ben wasn’t feeling so good after several exhausting days of touristing. We spent the day relaxing until it was fireworks time! After we realised that there was a chance of being in NYC for July 4th we knew we had to make it happen. The fireworks are probably the biggest and best in the country, and they definitely didn’t disappoint. After googling where would be best to watch them we decided to head to Brooklyn Heights Promenade, the other side of the river to the ‘Official’ viewing platform (and the inevitable tens of thousands of people), but up above the Brooklyn riverside park. There was an amazing view over the section of the river they used for the display and as we arrived several hours early we got right to the front with nobody to obscure our view (and photos). The show was fired from 4 barges in the river and from the Brooklyn bridge itself, it lasted for 25 minutes and reportedly used 70,000 shells! It was also set to music, but that was only played in the official area so we couldn’t hear it at all, we don’t think that detracted from the spectacle.
These were Ben’s first attempts at firework photography (and we don’t upload full-res versions) so don’t judge them too harshly all you actual photographers!
We spent a couple more days in Queens with James, but they were more relaxed days, planning our route north and stocking up on supplies, the usual road chores. For our final day in the city James did recommend a visit to Queens Museum and Flushing park. The museum had the famous scale model of New York, but it hasn’t been updated since the 80s so it was super interesting to see how things have changed, especially as we had just spent nearly a week in the city.
With our touristing done and goal of seeing the July 4th fireworks achieved we hit the road again. With seemingly a decent investment in cycling infrastructure getting around the city by bike is actually fairly easy and far less terrifying than you might think. We rode back over the river to Manhattan and then joined the Hudson valley greenway which would take us right out of the city. It was traffic-free awesomeness and a great end to our time in possibly the most iconic place we’ve visited.
As mentioned above we are way behind with the blog, so there will be another one soon-ish (hopefully).
Ben & Steph
But wait! A blog post with no doggos? Oh no! Here’s Hershey and Charlie to rectify the problem.