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THE WHEELS OF FRIENDSHIP by Ellen Donker

Biking my way through Manhattan

Now that warm weather is here, I have been yearning to get out for a good bike ride after spending all winter pedaling through imaginary lands on the smart trainer in my basement. The problem is, I’ve gotten a bit shy about riding locally. The streets are just too crowded and full of hazards, starting with my own which is lined with gulleys and a few potholes.


My friend Betsey, who lives in Bergen County, feels the same way and recently asked me if I wanted to meet for a bike ride. She suggested riding along the Hudson River starting in Washington Heights, just a few blocks south of the George Washington Bridge. Having just interviewed Maplewood resident Jon Michaud about his book about Coogan’s, a legendary bar in Washington Heights (see page 18), I thought starting our ride in that neighborhood on a beautiful Friday afternoon resembled synchronicity.


That morning, I interviewed Melissa Randazzo for our Finding Home column. She told me about moving here from Hamilton Heights, just below Washington Heights, so I had to tell her about my upcoming ride. She suggested I stop at the Little Red Lighthouse; her friend had written a musical about it. Delightful!


Betsey and I have known each other since our early twenties and had a lot of adventures, whether it was discovering music in the city or going down the shore, before we became distracted by having our own families. Now that our kids are grown, we’ve had more time to reconnect, and it feels like we haven’t missed a beat. That’s how it is with a lifelong friend.


Meeting up in Teaneck, we drove over the bridge to a small parking lot along the bike path that Betsey had scoped out. It was free, she said, and she hoped not too dicey. We got the last space next to a bunch of guys blasting music from their car trunks, laughing and yelling to each other while sipping beer from their huge coolers. Just in case, we took our valuables with us in our belt bags.


The plan was to cycle north to the end of the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway, which is part of the Empire State Trail that connects New York City with the Canadian border, and then go south

until we felt like stopping for lunch. The sky was blue and cloudless with a nice breeze – exactly what you want for a bike ride. Right away we found our way to the Little Red Lighthouse, a charming landmark known for improving navigation on the Hudson up until 1947.


We pedaled a bit more and there was the Grecian Temple at Inspiration Point, empty but for a woman staging clothes against its Doric columns for photos for – who knows? – some sort of online business. At the end of Fort Tryon Park, we turned our bikes south, pausing now and again to take in the water and varied parks.


Surprising to me, most of the paths were completely dedicated to cyclists, smooth, and clear of debris. If the way got bumpy, I just had to look for the green circles that someone had spray painted to point out the dips. In fact, once we got past the Intrepid Museum in the 40s, the path seemed brand new with the blackest blacktop and crisp striping, crosswalk signals for bikes, and lush gardens.


We didn’t quite make it to Battery Park. Our stomachs were telling us it was way past lunch. Plus we were getting short on time, so we ducked into Pier 57 for a sandwich. Then we got back on our bikes to return to the car. The breeze that had gently accompanied us downtown was now a strong headwind. Even so, the ride back seemed faster and we pronounced the day successful in every way.


Luckily Betsey’s car was fine, despite us feeling slightly threatened by the driver of a Lincoln Navigator who tried to block our way out of the lot. That’s what the city does to you: It snaps you into reality just as you’re tempted to romanticize it. But it seemed a fitting way to leave the Washington Heights that I’d read about in Michaud’s book. Although it’s not perfect, it granted me a glorious bike ride with a wonderful friend. And that felt mighty fine.


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