Day 6: Queens to Watchung, NJ
This morning I woke up to Phil making blueberry pancakes for breakfast. I made peanut butter sandwiches with the leftover pancakes, and discovered that they are a surprisingly tasty and satisfying snack when you’re in the middle of a long bike ride. Getting out of the city was a challenge. I realized when we got to Central Park that Garmin was not cooperating, and insisted that I was off course. Stopping to investigate, I saw that all of the courses saved in Garmin were actually maps of the course we had done on Friday on our way into the city. That didn’t help. We continued through the park and made our way to the nearest Starbucks so we could use their free wifi to sort out the map issue.
Even with Garmin programmed correctly, finding the proper route to the George Washington Bridge was tricky. I kept missing turns, and then when I paused to consult more closely with Garmin, the orientation would change and I would have no idea which way to turn until I started going in the wrong direction. It must have been frustrating for Phil to follow me in circles. At one point, I saw a way onto what I thought was the bridge, up two long flights of steps. We struggled with our heavily loaded bikes to climb the stairs, only to find that we could have ridden around a block and ended up in the same place without involving the stairs at all. When we did finally reach the bridge, the experience was breathtaking. There was an excellent view of Manhattan from a distance, and we were so high above the water. We could feel the bridge shudder with every passing vehicle.
If the ride out of the city was bad, the next bridge we ended up crossing in New Jersey was a nightmare. Garmin had led us along the river on a pleasant pathway for a few miles, but then we were forced onto a main highway with no shoulder or bike lane, and with several lanes of high speed, heavy traffic. After this, we were led into an industrial area, past a prison and straight into a train that was sitting idly on its tracks. We waited for a few minutes as the train started to move forward. Unable to see the end of the train, we weren’t sure how long we’d be waiting. Before we could see its end, the train stopped in its tracks and started to slowly roll in reverse. This continued for a few cycles, where the train would go one direction, stop, and then go in the other direction, but it never went far enough in either direction for us to get around it. Phil was getting impatient and contemplated jumping between cars while the train was stopped for a few minutes, but a man who had approached from behind in his SUV saw his intentions and warned against it. He did tell us how to get around the train, but it sent us back in the direction from which we came, to the main road.
Once again, large trucks whizzed by us while we maintained our course on a busy highway lined with garbage and other debris. From diesel fumes to chemicals to garbage, there were all sorts of horrible smells in this part of New Jersey. We had a bit of trouble relocating the route from where we had deviated but we did pick it up again. An ice-cream truck drove behind us for a while in the run-down industrial neighborhood outside of Newark, playing an almost eerie tune that got stuck in my head for a few miles. Another point of confusion was when Garmin directed us to a commuter rail station, where we had to cross the tracks and take an elevator up to the street on the other side.
Eventually the roads grew more residential as we approached Watchung. Watchung is actually a mountain, and the roads through the park area are really quite nice, albeit steep. We had a great climb about 6 miles from the end and were rewarded with a really pleasant descent. Then, about a mile before we reached our destination, it got steep again. In our lowest gears, we pedaled hard to reach the top of the mountain where Liz and Brian live. Liz (also called Mike) is a friend of my step-mom, Paulette, who is from New Jersey. Brian invited us in and showed us our rooms. After showering and eating Chinese food, we both retired to our rooms and found books to read. Feeling content, but slightly sore from the climb at the end of the day, we prepared our route to our next host in Pennsylvania. Depending on the weather tomorrow, we might delay our departure by a day and leave on Thursday.