Bicycle Built for Two (Labor Day III)

Before the weekend began, our next-door neighbors offered us their bike to use: their tandem, 1960s-era, vintage Schwinn cruiser. Ashley had a single Schwinn just like it in college—with a two-tone seat and sparkle handles—but it weighed a heck of a lot less! They were so nice to trust us with their bike and we were thrilled to be its stewards for a time.

We actually had biking in mind for Sunday, but we had been looking at rides in the 30 mile range. With the tandem, we decided to look for a less ambitious route. The ride we settled on would take us 5 miles in each direction, from the Long Island Railroad stop in Wanagh to Jones Beach and back. The ambitious part, we discovered, was getting a very long bike to Penn Station, down onto Track 17, onto a car and out of the way of people with suitcases getting on or off for JFK at Jamaica station. We figured that our saving grace (besides a bike permit) would be that we were traveling on a Sunday on a three day weekend, and it definitely helped!

But there was more to getting started than just the train ride. We actually had to practice our biking skills a little by Stuyvesuant Park first! With me in front, however, we got going quite easily. Still, Ashley couldn’t see ahead of her at all; something she found understandably quite unnerving. But when we tried the reverse, with me in the back, Ashley couldn’t keep the bike going straight–and I could’t seem to get my feet to stay on the pedals. It was ridiculous. We’d peddle a few revolutions and then tip over. A man and his young child, who we tried to wave on and out of the path of danger, declared that they would be staying on the curb to watch us—it was “just too good to miss.” With Ashley unable to steer, and me unable to pedal, and both of doubling over in laughter at our pathetic attempts, we decided that a limited range of vision for Ashley was preferable (to complete and utter failure) and so I would be in front. And that really did work just fine.

After honing our skills by the park, we began the ride to Penn Station. Ashley pointed out our reflection in the glass sided buildings as we rode by and, frankly, I loved it. There was something wonderful about this old bike in the city. It reminded me of Butch Cassidy and Etta–only without the soundtrack. After the hour train-ride, all the while struggling a bit with how to keep the over sized bike out of the way, we were at our destination.

We followed the directions I’d found on from the stop, about two blocks, to a park that would lead us to the coast. Riding the bicycle-built-for-two was like I imagine walking with a puppy must be. Nearly everyone smiled at us, and several people called out to us: “I love your bike!” or some such exclamation. The bike path paralled Wanagh State Parkway for most of the way, but we were impressed with how scenic it felt in spite of it, particularly as we crossed over the various barrier islands in the sound. Looking down, we could observe the many boaters and could look back to the main land.

Far too quickly, as the ride was not too arduous, we reached the end of the parkway and reached Jones beach. A stiff wind was blowing off the chilly water, but those New Yorkers determined to enjoy the last summer holiday were not deterred. We walked the length of the beach, stopping for a brief wade in the water. Along the boardwalk there were posted signs showing the Jones Beach of the 1950s and, at the end, the bathhouse where people can still swim in the pool and thereby avoid the open Atlantic. After our tour–and a couple of Nathan’s hot dogs–we walked the two miles back to where our bike was parked and started the ride back to the Wantagh train station. This time we quickly stashed our bike, having become experts in its positioning.

Back in New York, we decided it might be fun to stay on the coast and bike down the west side, around Battery Park, up the east side, before returning to our place. Biking in New York–particularly lower Manhattan with its throngs of tourists–was a different experience then biking away from the crowds of the city, but I think we did great. It just took a lot more breaking, weaving, and accelerating than did the open paths to Jones beach. Nonetheless it we had fun zipping around, admiring the sailboats in the harbor and the Brooklyn Bridge, and seeing Alphabet city’s scene picking up for the evening.

at Later that night we went over to our friends’ place in Queens–for drinks with them and some other friends. They have a lovely apartment with a view of the city from across the river, and it was great to see them and enjoy a (final?) out-of-doors evening on the their roof deck.

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