Monday, July 12, 2010

Riding the East Coast Dirtway: Let's Go Ride a Bike Summer Games

Is it right to say that I missed the boat? Maybe if it's a hybrid boat-bicycle the idiom would make more sense.

Really, I do not know how it happened. I read Let's Go Ride a Bike religiously, which for me is more often than sporadic, sometimes with vodka involved, and no dread of hellfire. Then again, I'm not getting younger and certain pieces of information go in one eye and out the other. What makes my neglect in this instance particularly odd is that prizes (that I would want) are involved.

I noticed that the LGRAB Summer Games existed sometime in mid-June, yet did not figure out until a few days ago -- conveniently during a heat wave -- that I could still participate. Just in time for the third part (new territory), I was able to go on a little adventure that incorporated three of the challenges, and provided for a possible new one that they might include in future competitions. I promise that I'm doing this for all the right reasons, but the possibility of winning a Queen Bee pannier sweetens the deal.

On Sunday, I met the following challenges:
1. Explore new part of town by bike
2. Ride a greenway
3. Have a bicycle picnic

That's the short version.

The recent heatwave kept me inside for days on end and before that the Jenny was making some unhappy sounds (still bitter about being strapped to the front of a bus I think) as well as automatically shifting through several gears, so I had not ridden in awhile. I took the LGRAB Summer Games as the incentive to make time on Sunday to go for a picnic just off the East Coast Greenway, and to get to the ECG, Interstatement and I would travel through a section of Hartford that I'm not too familiar with. This loop would take us through Hartford, Windsor, South Windsor, Manchester, East Hartford, and then back into Hartford.

Before fun and games, I agreed to accompany Interstatement to his church in the North End of the city, as it was on the way. To be more precise, it's in the North East neighborhood, which is terribly stricken with violence. This is where Hartford gets its reputation from. I was not thrilled to be going through here, but it was early on a Sunday morning, which meant that most of the troublemakers were probably still sleeping after causing problems all night. I had not biked in this area before, so this fulfilled one challenge.

I have also never evaded a cop before.

I did not mean to, exactly. As we were traveling past the site where a police officer was shot a few nights before, a cruiser rolled up. The cop rolled down his window and began talking. I had just gotten into a good rhythm and did not feel like breaking it. About a block ahead it occurred to me that maybe I ought to stop. By the time I did and turned around, I saw that Interstatement had satisfied the officer with some answer that caused him to go on his way. In my own neighborhood, I'm not exactly among the racial/ethnic majority, but I spend a bit of time outdoors and must look like I fit in more. The experience yesterday annoyed me, but I guess it is not horribly offensive. White people, traveling in that neighborhood, are most likely there to buy drugs. (Side note: the data is a few years old now, but only 1.1% of people living in the North East neighborhood are white.) And yesterday, before my day of riding, I was definitely white. Now, I'm more of a red hue.

We did the church thing and then fielded questions from churchgoers who were surprised to see bicycles (instead of cars) being used as going-to-church-transportation. (Hey, if you want to show respect for God, stop crapping all over the planet with your SUV.) From here, we traveled through more sections of Hartford that I am not too familiar with, but which felt far less blighted and dangerous than those we passed through to arrive at the church. We went through a section of Keney Park, which I had not been through before. Keney Park is one of the largest parks in New England and I had previously only seen about one-third of it.

Eventually we landed on Windsor Avenue and started searching for the side streets that would get us to the Bissell Bridge, which would take us over the Connecticut River and along I-291.

While I have traveled over I-291 numerous times by car, I have never done this on a bicycle, nor have I seen the part of South Windsor that is still farmland. This is exactly where the bike path took us. South Windsor, a town I grew up near, is a place I associate with the worst ills of suburban culture -- strip malls and cheaply-built McMansions. Despite what the graffiti on the bridge might want us to believe, it's not threatening enough to "run this shit."

After a pleasant ride through corn fields, we cycled through an industrial section, finally winding up at where I-291 begins/ends in Manchester.

We arrived at Wickham Park dripping sweat and more than ready for our picnic lunch of wine and cheese.

A lot of parks in Connecticut do not permit alcohol, a fact I had forgotten until we arrived. Not sure on Wickham Park's policy, we planned to do a quick photo shoot, pour the wine, and then put the bottle back in one of Interstatement's cargo bike panniers.

I took photos, poured wine, set out the crackers, and was just about the open the cheese when a ranger came over. I had already evaded a cop that morning, but I have the utmost respect for park rangers, so I took a deep breath and waited for it. We learned the area we were using was actually reserved, but that there were other non-reserved areas in the park we could go to. He suggested we "chug" the wine and find another table. What? No trouble?

Since the church group of 150 or so people were supposed to show up for their tables any moment, we quickly packed the crackers and smartly chugged the wine. Just following orders.

The new picnic area actually worked out well, if not better. There was a lot of shade from trees and it was closer to the side we would be exiting from anyway. After lunch we visited the park's Aviary (or "birdiary" if, like me, you can't ever remember the word "aviary"). My photos are not as awesome as they could be since the fence was in the way.

The last stretch of the adventure would involve riding on a greenway. The East Coast Greenway is described by its website:

The East Coast Greenway is the nation's most ambitious long-distance urban trail project. By connecting existing and planned shared-use trails, a continuous, traffic-free route is being formed, serving self-powered users of all abilities and ages. 3,000 miles long, the Greenway links Calais, Maine at the Canadian border with Key West, Florida. Alternate routes will add another 2,000 miles to the ECG trail system.

This green city-to-city travel corridor was launched in 1991 when the East Coast Greenway Alliance formed to make this vision a reality. The East Coast Greenway will be entirely on public right-of-way, incorporating waterfront esplanades, park paths, abandoned railroad corridors, canal towpaths, and pathways along highway corridors.

I had previously ridden on most of the section planned for that day, but it was when I rode less frequently; thus, I was looking forward to conquering the hills that used to be awful for me. No such luck. I rode it, but due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act the pavement was all dug up! Almost the entire section was dirt. Not hardpacked dirt, or even gravel, but loose dirt which made riding even on flat surfaces a challenge I was not expecting. We had to keep stopping because my thighs were burning. Little did I know, I was also getting wicked sunburn in spite of having diligently applied SPF45 sunblock that morning.

By the time we hit the street section of the ECG, I was happy to ride in traffic because it meant a hard surface. Next time, I am bringing more water and the bottle of sunblock.


Billy Hoyle said...

I like this post a lot. Thanks Schleppi and also Interstatement.

Schleppi Longstocking said...

Thank *you*, Mr. Hoyle.

Trisha said...

First entry to feature waterfowl. :) I like! Glad you're playing.