Monday, May 14, 2012

Astoria to the Old Put Rail Trail, and the Old Croton Aqueduct (62 miles)

Still in the early stages of my foray into the cycling community, I felt an encounter with the members of the Five Borough Bike Club, would be the next logical step. I had approached the president of the 5BBC at Bike Expo New York, and told him of my idea to ride with, and film, the 5BBC if possible. I explained that I was interested in riding the Old Put Rail Trail, and the Old Croton Aqueduct on Mothers Day, and gave him a card so he could reach out to the ride leader, and other involved parties, to get the o.k. to film.

In the past while scouring the map for places to explore by bike, I had viewed some of these trails, but thought that navigation would be difficult without a guide. When I read the description of this ride I felt it would be the perfect way to see these trails for the first time, and decided that this would be a great first ride with the 5BBC as well. The Putnam Division Line, and the Croton Aqueduct were integral to the development of our fair city. For 99 years the New York and Putnam Railroad connected city dwellers to points North, for a reprieve from the hustle, and bustle, of big city living. The Croton Aqueducts construction was partly inspired by the Great Fire of 1776, which by some estimates leveled as much as 25% of the city, and by the urgent need for safer, and more abundant drinking water, for a city growing well beyond its means. The architects planning this aqueduct were wise enough to rely on the time tested designs the Romans used, and created pipes of brick aided by ventilators, and enormous looming arches spanning waterways, all flowing together from the Croton River 41 miles North, to New York City assisted by only a single steam pump located near Highbridge Park.

Riding from Astoria to 242nd Street and Broadway (the meeting point for the ride), would be a new route for me, so I left extra early to be sure that I would be on time. Crossing the bridge from Randalls Island to 132nd street, I made my way North on St Ann Avenue, and used 163rd Street to connect to Brook Avenue, which becomes Park Avenue. Once I reached East Fordham Road, I connected to Webster Avenue, and followed that to Mosholu Parkway until I reached Van Cortlandt Park South, where I carefully made my way down to Broadway, and finally the rides meeting point, 242nd street.

Descent down the Triboro Bridge to Wards Island, Icahn Stadium, and the foot of the 125th Street Bridge.

Walking up the 132nd Street Bridge.

Park Avenue in the Bronx, a commuter train passes; approaching 187th Street.

The sign for the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, the corner of Dickinson Avenue, and Van Cortlandt Park South.

Not long after arriving, Juan, a cyclist I had recently met through the web, arrived riding his mountain bike, and we chatted for awhile until Jose and Kevin came along, two friends with nice modern mountain bikes. Soon our ride leader Ed DeFreitas showed up also riding a mountain bike (I was the only rider on a hybrid), and he stated that we should give other prospective riders extra time to get to the start location, as construction was taking place on the nearest subway line. We all signed in for the ride, and made our introductions, and I explained a little about filming the ride, and my blog. Just when we were all getting a bit restless to begin the ride, our final participant Kelly arrived, riding his well equipped "lefty" fork mountain bike. After a 2 minute bike check guided by Ed, we set out through Mosholu Park.

Our ride started out North, along mostly hard packed dirt trails, with many patches of rail roads ties, a few small muddy areas, and various small bridges, and underpasses. Though the forecast called for cloudy conditions, the sun burned through, providing bright green views, warm sunshine, and occasional cool breezes. My exposure to off-road riding is somewhat limited, and I was careful to watch the terrain closely. At times along the route we had to skip over streets to continue along the trail, always being wary of traffic when we did. Ed made sure to signal often, and call out with cues about people, and cyclists on the path as well, and I tried my best to do the same. It was apparent that the ride leaders role was taken seriously by the leader, as well as the riders, and that anyone that was willing to follow the rules of the ride, was welcome along. We kept a purposefully easy pace, slowly making our way through trails of the Old Put/South County Trailway which had various other cyclists, and pedestrians taking advantage of the fine weather. At times during the ride, Ed would offer information on the old rail systems, sometimes as conversation during the ride, and sometimes at stops where he liked to highlight the significance of an area. Personally, I have an interest in most types of history, and enjoyed hearing about the railroads construction, and contributions. Once we reached Ardsley, we stopped at a deli for those people that did not pack lunch, and followed Ed past a waterfall to Woodlands Lake where we ate lunch, and viewed a monument in memory of the people who died during the potato famine.

***My microphone is mounted on my left shoulder, I apologize for any inaudible speech when filming a rider on my right. I am working on ideas for alternative microphone mounting that will provide better speech from other riders, during rides.

The ride begins. Ride leader Ed DeFreitas points out the durability of structures from a bygone age. He explains the 3% grade rule for single engine trains, and how helper engines were employed where the grade was more steep.

Talking illumination, and audible signals, with Kelly.

Talking about night riding.

Ed explains the 3% grade rule for single engine trains, and how helper engines were employed where the grade was more steep.

Quietly following behind the pack.

Ed talks of how the rail lines were privately constructed, and shows us a small scale reproduction of a station built by a railroad buff.

Say, "Hi mom!".

Looking back on the pack.

Crossing a bridge near a waterfall, riding into Ardsley.

The Hunger Memorial in Ardsley.

Leaving the park, we continued on the Old Put North, rolling through some beautiful woodland areas tucked in between residential areas. When the trail approaches the Cross Westchester Expressway, we used a few paved roads to re-enter the trail at Warehouse Lane, in Elmsford. Once back on the trail we rode to our furthest point North, near the Eastern tip of the Tarrytown Reservoir on the North County Trailway. Here is a favorite photo-op location, near a rare section of exposed rail that still exists. Climbing a steep hill, now moving West, we rode along the Tarrytown Reservoir, before turning South into residential streets, to enter the Old Croton Trailway at South Broadway, to make our next stop at the Lyndhurst Museum. Once a wealthy families estate, this is now a state run park, and museum. After that brief stop we were back on the trail again, still heading South, large brick ventilators that once helped to introduce air into the aqueduct stood every mile or so, to remind you that this path once carried the water for a booming New York, thirsty to expand. We rode this trail for 10 or more miles before we came upon what was described to me by Ed, as an old carriage house. Completely engulfed by the woods around us, the structure struggles to be seen behind the growth and a large fallen tree. Continuing South, we wove our way through neighborhoods built close to the trail, and passed through Lenoir Nature Preserve, and Untemeyer Park, before reconnecting with the South County Trailway and arriving back where we started.

We said our goodbyes to Kevin and Ed; and Juan, Jose, Kelly, and I, rode to the West Side bike path to make our way further downtown. Juan left us shortly before Fort Washington Park, and Jose and Kelly accompanied me to 125th Street where I could ride across town to take the 125th Street Bridge to Randalls Island, the Triboro Bridge, and home to Astoria. My first experience with the 5BBC was great, so I became a member, for 20$ you get a years membership, and I felt it was a great way to show my appreciation, and a good bargain for all of the services, and resources they offer.

Geese gliding over the water as we exit the park.

Returning to the trail from the park where we stopped for lunch. Discussing tracking yearly miles, and "bonking" with Kelly.

Two underpasses, and two bridges.

Ed talks of how much the trail has improved since he first rode along it. Ed shares more about railroad culture, including how a pipe fitter from a railroad once replaced a hose on his Volkswagon, with pipe.

Crossing 2 bridges, to arrive at a photo op spot.

Photo-op at the Northern tip of our route.

Riding next to the Tarrytown reservoir.

A chimney to aerate the aqueduct still stands.

More illumination talk with Kelly, and discussing chain problems.

Passing another aqueduct chimney, and some nice houses. Discussing tread, and tube folding inside rims with Kelly.

The spooky carriage house on the Old Croton Trail.

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