Thursday, June 21, 2012

DC to New York City


On the night of my arrival in DC, Matt made us grass-fed local steaks for dinner. It was the first time I had eaten a large chunk of meat in several weeks, and it tasted very good. 16 oz steak, and I finished it off. I hesitated at first, due to the fact that my on-the-bike diet has been entirely vegan since I left Hendersonville, but my body handled the meat just fine, and my conscience seems to be OK with it too.

On my layover day in DC, I met up with Ren, a friend from work back in California, and she took me to some of her favorite places. Ren grew up in the DC area, and was familiar with some interesting not-so-visited parts of the capitol complex, like the sound dome fountain outside the Canadian embassy, and the US Postal museum. Surprisingly, we spent more time looking at the actual exhibits in the postal museum than in either of the Smithsonian museums we went to (Natural History and Air & Space). We at lunch at Union Station, the cram-packed train and bus transportation hub of the capitol. Ren is headed off to Melbourne, Australia to earn her Master's degree in tourism, starting in July, so I may not see her for another 2 years at least.

Matt decided that he would be able to join me for the ride out of DC, so after getting a new set of rear brake calipers for his bike the afternoon before our departure, he was ready to go. That night, after a fajita-burrito dinner that I cooked up in his one bedroom apartment, we went to a Major League baseball game between the Yankees and the Washington Nationals, a new team within the past 10 years. We walked there through the streets of DC, past rows of old brick houses and brick sidewalks. It had been about 3 years since my last MLB game at the Dodgers stadium for a staff fun day, and about 20 years before that. We sat in seats at the edge of the row, and were getting up constantly due to the fact that there was aisle to walk up on the other side, and all of the people in our row seemed to have to go to the bathroom or drink beer an awful lot. The game was a bit disappointing – Yankees 7 to 1 or some such score. There was one loud, drunk guy trying hard to rub the score into the faces of all the Washington fans. It was a much more hostile environment than I remembered.

Matt rode with me the next day until Baltimore (nearly 50 miles), and then decided his legs wouldn't carry him all the way to Philadelphia, our original plan. He said goodbye, found a box to put his bike into, and got on a train back to DC. Our ride together was very pleasant, switching back and forth between bike paths and bike lanes. At 10 miles out, we met up for breakfast with Courtney, a young woman whom I had met in Jackson, WY on my way through last summer. In Jackson, Courtney and I had connected on travel, environmental issues and generally just got along well. She did a great job of staying in touch until I made it out to DC, where she's been working as an environmental consultant for the past 3 years. We had greasy food at a Greek themed diner, and said goodbye again until our paths cross somewhere else on the road.

Biking through Baltimore was a mixed bag. First, Matt and I were on a long bike path that traversed the edge of the airport, and then we switched to a route that was paths and roads on and off until we got into downtown. Being a Saturday, the harbor area was packed with pedestrians, and the bicycle/pedestrian path was slow going after Matt went his own way. On my way out of town, I passed through some neighborhoods where people were openly cussing each other out on the sidewalks and front porches, and I kept pedaling without pause.


I am now sitting in the Memphis, TN airport on my way back to CA for 8 days, to visit family and friends before continuing on up to Maine. The last 4 days were spent in Philadelphia PA, New Brunswick, NJ and New York, NY.

In Philadelphia I stayed with my friend Calista, with whom I worked at Wilderness Ventures in WY as well as at Naturalists at Large in CA. Calista grew up in PA, not far from where she is living now, and enjoys the city very much. She bought a house there a few years ago when her mother started having health issues, and she is self-employed as a piano teacher. She is a consistently happy, smiley, laid-back and positive person whose company I have always enjoyed, and this visit was no different. We had a small pre-dinner of chicken breast and salad before heading out to a beer garden with her roommate Christine. There we met up with her friends Gideon and Ian, the latter of whom is a sous chef for the place we were at, so he ordered us several more dishes of tasty food as we sipped on delicious German beer on draft. We then made our way over to Gideon's house, and enjoyed more good conversation in his backyard, as he told me about his job as a pilot, and cranked on a toasty propane heater. I left the next morning feeling, again, like I wish I had more time.

From Pennsylvania, I crossed into New Jersey, and immediately found myself on a 35-mile long bike trail which follows a canal from Trenton to New Brunswick, my destination for the evening. The trail was compacted dirt for most of the way, which makes for slightly slower riding than roads, but it was also completely flat and free of traffic. Not to mention that it was surrounded by a green corridor of trees along the canal, which made for very pleasant, if not inspiring, riding.

Upon my arrival in New Brunswick, I was greeted by Michael, my couchsurfing host at his home in a large house own by the Episcopal Campus Ministry at Rutgers University. He is the only one staying in the 4 bedroom house for the summer, so he has plenty of room for guests. He headed to a club meeting shortly after my arrival, so I took advantage of an invitation I had received from another couchsurfer, Mehpare, and met her for dinner. Michael is from Brazil, and Mehpare is from Turkey. Michael had been in New Brunswick for 4 years already, and is working on a PhD in mathematics. Mehpare had been in New Brunswich for 10 months, and is working on dual degrees in physics and economics. Mehpare told me to call her “Moon”, which is part of the meaning of her Persian name. She took me to “the grease trucks”, where we grabbed the most famous sandwich in the city, the Fat Darrell. This sandwich consists of breaded fried chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks and french fries all smothered in marinara sauce on a French role. It was not very good, and not very filling. Later, moon and I went back to Michael's, and I had some pasta with Michael while we all hung out in the kitchen.

In the morning, Moon made us all pancakes and Turkish tea, and I said goodbye to my good hosts. I had some anxiety about riding through the most urban parts of New Jersey, but my fears were alleviated quickly as I nimbly made my way along streets with well-maintained shoulders and uncrowded neighborhood lanes. Though the ride required more attention than I was accustomed to, due to traffic and the many turns I had to make to follow a not-so-busy route, it was flat and the weather was good, and I made it to the ferry terminal across to Manhattan in good time. After a short ferry ride, I rode up the Hudson Greenway along the East side of Manhattan. This is basically a highway for bikes, complete with a double-yellow line down the middle, and wide enough for bikes to ride double-wide in each direction. I made good time up to 44th st, where I turned east and cut right through the middle of Times Square at 4 pm on a Monday. It was absolutely packed with people, but in that situation, a bicycle turns out to be the ideal combination of small size and quick speed to navigate the crowded streets.

After getting keys from my cousin Dylan, I made my way to his Brooklyn apartment through the madness of Manhattan at rush hour. It was a good end to this leg of the journey, and I felt strong even upon my arrival at Dylan's Brooklyn apartment, after crossing the iconic Brooklyn Bridge.

That night, I took the subway into Manhattan and dined with Dorothy Le at Ulysses on Stone St, in the heart of the financial district. Dorothy and I went to UCLA together, and were some of the first members of the California Student Sustainability Coalition (CSSC) at UCLA. She just finished a Masters degree in Urban planning at Rutgers University, and quickly got a job doing transportation planning for the national park service, based out of Staten Island, NY. After catching up over dinner, she and her friend Kyle joined me in a short walk to the home of Cuyler Mayer, with whom I attended high school. Cuyler has been living in New York City for over 10 years now, ever since he started college there. We went up to the 50th floor rooftop solarium on Cuyler's building, looked out over the city, and chatted in some chaise lounges while catching up on old times. Cuyler has been working for a large marketing firm for the last several years, specializing in corporate crisis management. In September, he will move to Tokyo to open a new branch for the company; a big honor and responsibility on his part. It was great to see old friends, and feel as though we had not been apart for nearly so long as the reality. Despite my mild anxiety at seeing folks with whom I've not interacted in years, it always seems to be the case that we get along just fine, and I had no reason to worry in the first place.

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