Riding a bike into New York City is like purposely throwing yourself into Hell on Earth. I don't know what we were thinking. As we got closer and closer to the city, the traffic intensified, the quiet secondary highways we were riding on suddenly turned into freeways where we found ourselves trapped with no shoulder, speeding traffic and a police escort to quieter streets. I found myself wishing I was back in the corn and soybean fields of the Midwest that, only a week ago, I was praying to not have to see again for a long, long time. The inconsiderate, impatient drivers multiplied, the frequency of angry horn honks and profanities directed towards us skyrocketed and the overall friendly and helpful characteristics of people went down the toilet, which had actually been happening since we hit Ontario and continually worsening as we moved east. I'm not saying we didn't run into any wonderful folks from that point on (because we did), but there was a very apparent difference in people's attitudes towards us compared to the West Coast and Midwest.
Our final day of riding was undoubtedly the worst day of riding of our entire trek across North America and I wouldn't recommend riding into NYC to anyone. If I had to do it again, I would have chosen a small, quiet location on the east coast and ended there because by the time we made it to our final destination we were too stressed out and exhausted from the hair-raising ride that day to experience what should have been an exciting, joyous moment of accomplishing our goal. Instead, all I wanted was to crawl into a hole to escape the hordes of people, traffic and noise and find a peaceful, secluded place to hide.
Our bikes with NYC in the background.
Fortunately we had a comfortable apartment to call home for the few days we were in NY, thanks to our friend Cathy. Our first night was fairly uneventful – just a short walk to get dinner, a recap of the last 4,000 miles of places we'd seen and people we'd met and a celebratory drink (or pitcher of margaritas, rather) to commemorate the fulfillment of a dream and making it through our final day unscathed.
I have to admit I wasn't very excited about going to NY. I'm not a city person; never have been and never will be. There was a lot I didn't like about our visit and will never understand why anyone would ever want to live there, but there was plenty of interesting and entertaining aspects as well. New York is such a tremendous city. It goes on forever horizontally as well as vertically, with massive buildings everywhere, each one attempting to outdo its neighbors in height, girth, gaudiness and splendor. It's a concrete jungle of excessiveness and chaos, yet to think about the logistics of constructing a city with buildings that reach 100+ stories above ground and another 10 below, with subways, elevated freeways, massive bridges, tunnels and to make it all run on a day to day basis, it really is amazing that humans are capable of such a magnificent feat.
Every nook and cranny is filled with people, there is no sense of personal space as they cram as many as can possibly fit onto subways, buses and sidewalks. It is a game of Frogger trying to get from point A to point B, dodging vehicles as they run red lights or are jammed in the traffic jams of city streets, dodging bicyclists as they whiz and weave down the streets completely oblivious of the world around them and dodging pedestrians who all walk with their heads either looking up at the skyscrapers or down so stuck in their own personal bubble of blackberries, iPods and cell phones that they don't even acknowledge that anyone around them exists. Everyone is seemingly in a rush to get somewhere and when you bump into someone in New York, they don't flinch, apologize or even realize there was a collision. It's amazing and sad to see the lack of human interaction.
While the absurd number of people was one of the things I most disliked about the city, it was also one of the aspects that made it most interesting. There are people in NY from every single walk of life and corner of the Earth imaginable. If you can dream up a person; their physical characteristics, their mentality, their social behavior, their means of expression, every trait that makes them human, you are guaranteed to find that person in NY. It is fantastic people watching! I hate to stare at people,but I found myself staring a lot. I couldn't help it. There was everything from suits and ties, baggy, dirty bum-like outfits, glittery, glamorous, gaudy jewelry, over-the-top outfits, mismatched, obnoxious, displaying every color of the rainbow and every pattern imaginable all on one body outfits, solid colored outfits like the man wearing an all pepto-pink (including his shoes) to people dressed up in panda or other fuzzy animal costumes. All I could say was “WOW,” and we laughed non-stop as we wandered through the city playing a game where we made up voices and stories to go with the people we saw, wondering what their lives were actually like. One thing is for sure – you can be whoever (and whatever) you want to be in NYC and I could appreciate that.
There was no such thing as pure silence as there is always the noise of blaring horns, screeching brakes, sirens and the rumble of airplanes and helicopters overhead. My favorite sound is silence and it's one thing you'll never get in the city. There were bright lights, flashing lights and lights burning in every building 24 hours a day. There was no fresh air. Even though we were outside nearly the entire weekend, it was filled with scents of exhaust, sewer, dirty, fishy water, and more exhaust. The city is the definition of sensory overload with small pockets of “nature” found in several places throughout, and although some people can tune out all of the stimuli surrounding them and find peace, it's too much for me.
We could not have ended up visiting New York on a more perfect weekend. The weather was sunny and warm which allowed us to see and do all of the outdoor touristy things instead of being pushed indoors to museums and such, in which neither of us were overly interested. We got around by foot or subway, which I have to say is an insanely efficient people transporter and I wonder why every large city doesn't have a system like New York's. It's fast, easy, gets you anywhere you want to go and as long as I didn't think too much about the potential horrible things that could happen while being stuck underground in a subway system, I was happy riding it.
Down in the subway.
Our tour of NY consisted of a stroll along the Hudson River from Lincoln Center to the Statue of Liberty, past the construction site where the Twin Towers once stood and where they are now building a monstrous tower and memorial. We were surprised at the lack of information posted around the site. I would have thought there'd be something telling a little about where the towers had been, the destruction and reconstruction process after 9/11, drawings of what the new structure will look like or what kind of memorial will someday be at the location. Instead we found nothing more than a lot of visitors walking around with blank looks on their faces wondering aloud the same questions we were wondering and postulating about what had happened and what was going to happen with this area of the city. We stood at the base of the Empire State Building, blown away by its size, wanting to go to the observation deck to get an eagle's view of the city from what is currently the tallest building in New York, but were too cheap to pay the hearty fee for a little thrill. We wandered down Wall Street past one of the most expensive corners in the World, through Times Square, Chinatown and Penn Station. We walked across the iconic Brooklyn Bridge and got a beautiful view of the city from there instead. Although there were a million too many people walking across the bridge at the same time as us, the old architecture and beauty of the structure grasped both of our attention and became one of our favorite things in the city. We spent an afternoon in Central Park watching New Yorkers enjoy what was sure to be one of their last beautiful weekends before the weather turns cold. It was awesome how many people flocked to this park, each doing something outdoors that they enjoyed. There was something for everyone; carriage rides, rollerskating dance parties, musicians, people playing volleyball, frisbee and football, slack liners, runners, cyclists, dog walkers and balloon men. It was by far the best location for people watching we had found and it was free entertainment to just sit there and take it all in. Overall, New York was a better experience than I expected, but two days was enough chaos for me.
Construction at Ground Zero.
Statue of Liberty
Empire State Building
Mike on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Us on the Brooklyn Bridge.
On the Brooklyn Bridge with a view of the city.