Half Over, Half To Go

by Matt Schiff

Since the early part of November we’ve traveled from Maine, through the northeast, into NYC, and now into Washington, D.C.

With plans to spend several days in New York City we skirted to the west of Boston and were glad to be biking on quieter country roads. We considered seeing the sights of Boston, but with no housing set up and rainy, cold weather, we preferred to stay clear. Instead of visiting historical areas in the city we visited the “Battle Road” in Concord, MA, the starting place of the revolutionary war. Learning about history can easily become boring, but with the exhibit being outdoors and a very well put together informational video at the visitors center, the experience was well worth our time. Over the course of a five mile biking paths we saw the site of numerous skirmishes as the colonists advanced upon the British, sending them retreating to Boston. With much of the landscape preserved, we felt we could more realistically imagine what it might have been like.

Every state has something to offer and many times it exceeds expectations. Coming from New Jersey I try to explain this to people all the time. There is only a small portion of the state that really sucks. The rest of the area is rural and even mountainous. This was our experience riding through parts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. We waited for the city to begin, waited for the congestion and miles of shopping malls to drive us nuts, but if we steered clear of the coast and the interstates we had some pretty good roads. Just 10-15 miles outside of White Plains, NY we were riding around a reservoir where the leaves were still in color and we must have passed 100 cyclists out for the weekend ride. It’s a much different experience than if you were traveling the quickest way from point A to point B in a car.

New York is unlike any other place in the country. There are the lights of Times Square, the theater and Broadway, a million food choices and of course the sky scrapers. For a day we hit all the tourist stops by taking the subway and walking around but found ourselves exhausted by early afternoon. We relaxed in Battery Park, exactly where you’d expect three people who love the outdoors to gravitate to, and gazed out at the water towards the Statue of Liberty. I remember from previous San Francisco bike tours the exhaustion of the City and the irony that sometimes doing less can be more fun. While in the city we had to take advantage of what it can offer so one night was spent seeing “The Phantom of the Opera” and another we went to a comedy club. Once we got on our bikes we found there to be a surprising number of bike lanes and the bike paths that go over the bridges and around town made it pretty easy. The riding is definitely not for the meek. People get run over all the time (anecdotal evidence).

After NYC we weren’t looking forward to the next day of riding. I was excited to get to my hometown of Highland Park, but the route from NYC to there involves riding though the towns of Newark, Elizabeth, and Linden – awful and dirty places that are responsible for giving NJ the bad rap. It had been 10 years since I’d visited Highland Park and 12 since I lived there so most of my memories had faded. There were memories of the hills being bigger, the town being bigger, the pizza being better, and the cops, well, they were the same, yelling at us to get on the sidewalk as we rode in, claiming all state highways in NJ are off limits to bike riding. We presented to my elementary school and to my surprise there were a few of the same teachers. Even more surprising was that they remembered me – most likely for absolutely loving gym class.

It was also in my hometown where we were rejoined by Sara! Back around Halloween the doctor took an x-ray of her ankle and the bone had healed. For the last three weeks she was slowly able to put weight on her it and get back on the bike. I’d have to say, the three of us were very nervous about her arrival because she still walked with a limp, but she rode up a few hills on her bike, I was convinced. The limp was just a function diminished flexibility and not from pain. After Highland Park it was the four of us again.

We were ready to leave the cities by the time we visited Philadelphia and with plans to eat a Thanksgiving dinner in D.C., we allowed ourselves only time to present to some students in the morning and leave by the afternoon. We still were able to soak in an experience in two very different ways. The first was spending the night in the oldest house in Philadelphia, the Wyck house. This house, originally built in 1690 was home to one family up until 1970. The house is currently preserved as a museum and we got to see a variety of things from quilts to chairs to rifles and wildlife. The family members were natural collectors. It seemed only appropriate that the current caretakers, (Matt and Aaron) and friends of Aaron were equally as interested in the outside world. Matt Halley gave us a demonstration of several instruments, showed us video he’d taken of wildlife around the world, and described the trips and opportunities he’s gotten to have.

The next morning we battled traffic to get to our school, riding on roads that looked more like highways, and ending up in places we probably shouldn’t have been riding. We arrived 15 minutes late to our classroom presentation after taking 75 minutes to bike 8 miles, but still fit it in. There’s nothing like trying to set up a projector and Powerpoint while keeping the kids entertained for 5 minutes but this time we ran set up in an empty room.

The Harrity charter school adds more diversity to the places we’ve presented at and we amusingly thought of how different culturally the Amish kids from Indiana were from the kids in West Philadelphia. This school had just this year been taken over by a charter company after dismal test scores and plenty of violence, so while we expected the worst the kids were really respectful and asked plenty of questions that showed us the wheels were turning. This is what the presentations are all about for me – go to a place where no one has heard of bike touring, expose kids to something new, and surprise them with what is possible on a bike.

Now in D.C., we’re still digesting what has happened after 4 ½ rest days but we made it in time for Thanksgiving. Check out Sara’s blog for her take on that day.