August 23, 2014 | ~52 miles
We embarked from our apartment in Jersey City on Saturday morning. Heading north through Hoboken, we stopped at Hoboken Bagels for breakfast before taking on the Palisades. It’s a great little bagel shop on Washington St., the main drag in downtown Hoboken. If you can tolerate the crush of hungover 25-year-olds reviving after a night out on Friday, it’s a great place to fuel up on a Saturday morning.
We’d done the ride to and especially from the George Washington Bridge many times. One of our favorite loops is to take the Ferry from Liberty State Park or Downtown Jersey City to World Financial Center in Lower Manhattan and then ride up the West Side of Manhattan up through Harlem to the George Washington Bridge, then ride across the bridge and back down along the Hudson to our home. During those rides we’d always see a steady stream of cyclists in spandex riding hard and fast across the bridge in either direction. When we reached the Jersey side and turned left to head towards home, we’d always see those cyclists riding down from the North, heading across the GWB into Manhattan. Several years ago, we drove up to Tallman Mountain State Park up US 9W. Along the way, we saw numerous cyclists riding up and down over the rolling highway up through the Palisades.
On this Saturday, we were ready to take it on by bike. The previous weekend, we’d purchased an excellent hybrid bike for Robin, sadly replacing her stalwart 7-speed which served as her steady steed all these years as we took on braver and more ambitious bike treks. The ~48 mile ride to the Rockaways earlier this Summer was approaching the limits of that means of conveyance and grudgingly, Robin conceded to the upgrade, bequeathing her now legendary ride of many years to her niece, Celeste, who would grow into her in suburban Rochester and its surrounds. So we rode our familiar ride past the coves and condos of Hoboken and Weehawken.
Spinning past the ferry ports and shopping malls that line the west side of the Hudson. We stopped off at Target to pick up sturdier footwear and a gel cushion for Robin’s seat. The old adage about being built either for comfort or for speed seems somewhat applicable to bicycle models. Onward past the Japanese Supermarket, the Driving Range, and the Trader Joes; past the Outback and PF Changs we rode along against a steady headwind, realizing this ride was mostly prologue to the meatier story to come.
After about 8 miles, we made it to the foothills of the Palisades and the approach to the Bridge. We’d struggled with this climb many times in the past, never fully surmounting it. We thought this time might be different with Robin better equipped for this sharp ascent. Once again, it proved too much, although we’re now convinced without additional training, we can make it to entrance to the Palisades Parkway which is bikeable and meets up with 9W further up in the Palisades. This time, though, we walked up to the entrance to the bridge in part to conserve precious reserves of energy since the remainder of the ride was a great unknown at the time.
After a brief break to hydrate and rest up a bit, we headed north again up through the suburban countryside of northern Fort Lee and Englewood Cliffs. We pedaled past parks and company campuses climbing hills of varying heights. CNBC boasts the toughest of climbs and other corporations like LG and IBM also rest comfortably beside the ride as we gradually climb to cruising altitude.
And soon, there’s nothing but trees and occasional glimpses of the highway to the right or left as all there is to do is ride. Rather than the steep climb by the bridge, this is a gradual ascent where each climb is followed by the reward of a descent where you can choose between a pure and blissful coast or a strategic shift into a high gear to gain speed to help with the subsequent rise.
Towards the end of the ride, you reach Columbia’s Lamont campus where its Observatory sits atop a hill. Tallman State Park is there with trails and hikes for the stalwart. But for us, it was the descent to Piermont that came next, and it’s quite a descent. First down from the observatory there’s a level period with a few cycle-friendly rest stops more designed for the return trip, we’d soon learn. Further down, there is an exit to the left to begin your final descent into Piermont along Bike Route 9 which continues up into Nyack, past the Tappan Zee Bridge, and up towards Bear Mountain and West Point.
We rode along the idyllic canalside on the way into downtown Piermont, past some lovely townhouses overlooking the road and across from it the canal. Many a neglected kayak or canoe rested in the overgrown grass under shade trees along the canal as the approach leveled off and headed towards the main street and the marina. The main street was a quaint and simple Norman Rockwell painting of a street. Piermont Landing had more shops and restaurants with outdoor seating catering to cyclists, tourist and urbanites seeking a peaceful getaway from the grind and bustle of city living.
We paused for a bit by the water, watching the ducks, geese, and children play in and by the Hudson’s shore there. Then we headed back to the main street for lunch at the Sidewalk Bistro, a French restaurant with a tasty if somewhat limited Brunch menu. The sidewalk seating on the main street of the small town made for a pleasant, relaxing lunch mixed with the vague sense of dread of the impending ascent impinging on our consciousness.
A quick stop at the marketplace across the street for water and snacks for the ride back and we were off, once again enjoying the pastoral beauty of the canalside road on our way towards the steep ascent.
That ascent was as rough as we expected. I very much recommend two stops on the way up, one at the 9W Market after the initial climb and a second by the Lamont Observatory to gird yourself for the remainder of the ride.
We attempted to power through and had a few challenges with our gears and our conditioning, but still made it through. With the return ride once you reach cruising altitude even more pleasant than the ride up. Since you’re heading down overall, it’s easier to ride through the descent to just about crest the next rise and power through it all as the spandex-clad cyclists on speedy roadbikes repeatedly demonstrated while racing past us.
We celebrated our successful return with beers at the GW Grill just above the bridge in Fort Lee. The place caters to cyclists with bike racks and friendly service. We didn’t try the food, but the bar’s dark and air conditioned atmosphere was just what we needed.
From there, we sped down the steep descent into Fort Lee below the bridge. We dodged the backed up traffic and attempted to share the road as best we could down along River Road on the way back towards Hoboken. Along the gully to the right we spied hedgehogs or groundhogs of some sort furrowing by the stormgrates as we rode beside the light rail towards the cove in North Hoboken.
Once there, we took one final break to let our legs rest a bit while enjoying a snack and the rest of our water before returning back home to Jersey City. In all, quite a ride and a turning point of sorts. Once you do this ride once, you know you’ll do it again.
Spandex and road bikes are all but inevitable.