Unlike previous summers when I did more hiking and fewer bike rides, this year I’ve reversed that trend forever in search of a new thrill. As chronicled previously, circumnavigating Manhattan had a distinct downside (not a continuous nor especially scenic ride). Ditto for going up Manhattan’s East Side to Randall’s Island and then the shoreline in Queens and Brooklyn. Staten Island has a few good spots but nothing sensational. Inwood Hill Park similarly has a few moments but again, nothing orgasmic. But the CLOISTERS was a pleasant surprise.
I can’t remember the first time I discovered the Cloisters. But I imagine it was on a Sunday cab ride (while driving) that I first beheld the wonders of northern Manhattan. I’d always been curious about actually visiting the park (rather than passing through) but never had until yesterday when I decided to ride on up.
The first 90% of the journey was nothing new. I’d been to Dyckman Street and Inwood Hill on the Greenway just two weeks before – and a few times before that. Where I hit virgin territory wasn’t until the 181st Street bridge crossover from the Greenway, a quick uphill and over the highway ride. Against traffic for just a few yards, you’ll find 181st Street (make a left) a street I’d driven countless times as a cabby but never any other way.
Up 181st is very hilly (uphilly)…something I never realized while driving. Turning left on Cabrini and proceeding to its end was equally strenuous on a bike. By the time you at once arrive at Cabrini’s terminus and the entrance to the park, your legs have churned about 400 vertical feet. And you’ll know it…though I have to reveal that the entire ride back and forth does not even begin to equal climbing a mountain in the Hudson Valley. Except for your ass – which will begin to get sore on the way back.
Once in the park, you’ll experience a vast expanse of green lawn and a wonderful downhill which trust me, you earned on the way up. Maybe a mile later, Fort Tyron and the museum marks the main tourist attraction and the end of the road. I locked the bike to a parking sign and sniffed around the tourist area for a while and then descended onto a trail which didn’t impress until I took a left and ended up at a shady spot with a bench and surprisingly scenic view up the Hudson. Yeah, if you look right through the trees, you’ll see the Bronx in all its glory (or lack of same). And below, lies the visual and sound of West Side Highway traffic. But still, pretty impressive for New York City.
Often when I reach a climactic viewpoint after a commute and hike, I’ll call my buddy in Scranton and share the view. We’ve done some nature stuff together in the past and he can always relate. And therein lies the acid test. If I chill and think to call John, the spot is worthy. I called and he answered.
Again, this is New York City. And next to the bench I spied an empty mini plastic bag which clearly once held pot…and next to it, a curious unopened wrapper which I checked out. Back when I knew ghetto blunt rollers, they’d buy a Phillies…empty out the tobacco…and then fill it with weed. But apparently nowadays, some visionary upstart got the idea to sell just the blunt wrapper (no tobacco) individually packaged – and in the perfectly round configuration for filling with some chronic. I bet that guy’s a millionaire! Anyway…I stashed the wrapper which I’m sure will presently be appreciated by whichever recipient I choose. I’m not much into pot these days but I know people who are!
Satisfied with that spot, I did a little more hiking and found two more even more bucolic locations which looked only on the river and Palisades across the way – and no Bronx vulgarity. Clearly, this park exceed Inwood Hill for scenery. Who knew?
Confident that I’d found the “money” spots, I climbed back to the bike (not much of a climb) and headed back the way I came to find the premier park cafe (Greenleaf I believe is its name – or Briarleaf – I forget) and a surrounding area with many paths all considerably lush.
I perused the area briefly and then continued south the way I came arriving home 4.5 hours after I left. But wait a minute. I didn’t exactly go straight home. Once I’d found the route from the Greenway to the Cloisters, I figured I’d check out the George Washington Bridge as well. That route you can access by heading west on 178th Street to the bike ramp which will take you to New Jersey.
I’d ridden the 59th Street, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Triboro and Williamsburg Bridges previously. But never the GWB. The view is more amazing what with looking up and down the Hudson from a span that is considerably higher than the others. But the air is pretty disgusting. And the bridge shakes with all the traffic – which gave me an uneasy feeling (like the bridge was about to collapse). Additionally, I’d done no research on what lay bike path-wise on the Jersey side. So I quit in the middle and turned back having satisfied my curiosity for the day.
So that was yesterday’s ride. Totally worth it. Not just virgin territory…but fertile virgin territory as well. Again…not the real country. But about as good as it gets within the city limits.