It’s been over a year since the American Rivers Tour’s been on the road. Covid restrictions closed the airports and quarantine regulations kept me close to home. When I heard that the Empire State Trail had opened, the next river adventure was right in front of me.
On the first Wednesday in March I set out on day one of what will be referred to here, moving forward, as The Hudson River Ride. Over the next few months I intend to ride my bike from Manhattan north to the Canadian boarder. The attached Empire State Trail map’s been marked with 15 stars, each star represents a day on the adventure I started on Wednesday. The first day called for an early start on the east end of Long Island, I pulled out of the driveway at home as the moon set and I drove my pick-up truck to the southern tip of Manhattan. At 11am my trip began on a new Diverge gravel bike by Specialized. It was 40 degrees, the sky was blue, no wind, just right.
New York’s Empire State Trail starts out at Pier A on a walkway that hosts an oyster bar with a perfect Lady Liberty view. On this particular day the tables were empty and I was on my way north.
On the south end of Manhattan the trail literally hangs out over the river, an appropriate beginning for this 300 mile journey. Starting the ride solo (with my new friend cameraman Bill Moulton recording the first leg on a Citibike) gave me a chance to pedal my new bike, dodging mommas with baby strollers, crazy teens on electric razors and Lululemon clad joggers. I had to get on and off the bike several times to walk through “dis-mount” zones, in no time I was riding past Chelsey Piers, then the Intrepid aircraft carrier and on to a series of west side parks.. Signage for the Empire State Trail is abundant on this part of the trail, I found those signs helpful.
One of the highlights from my first bike ride was seeing the river view of the George Washington bridge—riding under it is spectacular. Upriver from the bridge I hit the trails’ first rise, it is gradual, a simple start. After the rise a quick drop brought me into a parking area for Inwood park. Good for a bathroom break (just to the right as the trail transitions to the street). Inwood park is worth considering as a destination if a shorter ride is in order. There’s a sweet riverside deck supporting a BBQ/Sushi spot called The Hudson, another seasonal business like the oyster bar in Battery Park that I plan to return to. There’s also a classic riverside park that could provide a perfect resting spot with a view. On this Wednesday in March I chose to keep going.
Riding through the Bronx was an eye opener.
Like a concrete jungle with roaring construction projects on every corner, the Bronx section, about a mile long was exciting and a little dangerous but well worth the effort. It’s not likely to be like that again for the next 280 miles. Following signs to Van Coutland Park is easy, there’s an Empire State Trail sign at every turn, it’s well marked.
After crossing the Harlem river (watch out for the giant bike tire eating teeth on the bridge) a quick left under the subway tracks, then a right a left and another right brings you to a train yard next to a baseball field in the midst of student housing for the kids at Manhattanville college. It’s a surprisingly calm spot on the edge of what seemed to me to be the chaos of a NY city borough. After a brief downhill coast I saw what seems to be the last of the round yellow Empire State Trail markers and the trail transitioned into soft dirt for several hundred yards. For me, this is where the real magic begins.
After Manhattanville College the bike trail transitions from urban to suburban, I found myself surprised by the natural beauty. Riding through wooded marshland on the immaculate blemish free trail, riding through the woods into Yonkers and beyond I just couldn’t believe the diversity I’d biked through in just a few short hours.
Trail signs no longer reference the Empire State Trail specifically as I’d seen earlier. Moving forward, at intersections heading northward I found maps showing the trail and streets along the way, on the bottom, logos representing organizations that have done a wonderful job maintaining and clearing the trail. The Empire State logo is included on each one, which I found helpful ensuring that I was in fact in the right place.
So once again I’ll remind you that this particular ride was on the first Wednesday in March. Last week we had a major snow storm and regardless of several days over 50 degrees there was still snow in the shadows of the trail once I reached Westchester. This is where I learned that while it’s faster to ride through the snowy, icy spots than walking, it can be dangerous. The trick I learned was to keep peddling, don’t try to coast. Those peddles have to keep moving, pushing the tires so there’s no chance of slowing down, I still fell twice regardless.
After a few hours of secluded peaceful riding I came up on the village of Ardsley. Actually, I saw a motel called Ardsley Acres, that was the best clue. The trail runs contiguous to the parking lot of Ardsley Acres Motel and that’s where I stopped and lifted my bike over the railing. After exiting the parking lot onto a main road I took a left and rode under a highway bridge for just a few hundred yards and then up a quick hill that took me directly into the middle of the village. It was easy to find L’inizio just across the intersection in a classic store front location next to a tire store.
Just in time for dinner service, I caught up with chef Scott Fratangelo and enjoyed a few of his specialties, a “Seafood Marinara”
with squid ink fettuccine and a wonderful “Creste di Gallo” with mushrooms, kale & Parmesan. Simple and filling, I looked forward to that dinner all day.