When I biked to Montreal that high school summer long ago, we passed so many pretty sights, so many pretty fields and towns. If a landscape is going to be ugly (think of a German Expressionist poster you don’t like), it’s best if it’s interesting. Ugly beautiful is acceptable. What if it’s just plain ugly, or two parts ugly and one part mediocre?
My group rode 35 miles, and between paying attention to the bike clips, traveling unfamiliar terrain, and trying to keep in a tight enough line while biking into the wind, it took more concentration than simply circling Central Park.
There were three main points of interest:
1.) Magnolia Avenue
3.) Churchill Road
Magnolia Avenue was the first streetscape since Morningside Drive to give me the feeling that I was on a bike ride, out of the city and somewhere pretty. It appeared slowly, not like the jagged tear in a Clyfford Still painting. We had been riding in air that was clear, cold, and marred by red brick houses with reflective windows that looked out upon small lawns. Tenafly seemed a ghost town of sorts, though one could sense upholstery life somewhere beyond the ramparts. Then came Magnolia Avenue, with a house that in passing seemed Victorian Gothic or Eastlake. It’s easier to breathe (we rode 14 m.p.h. on the flats and 10 m.p.h. on average) when traveling a pretty street on foot or bicycle.
We broke for lunch two and a half hours from the city at (as predicted) Café L’Amour. I had what turned out to be a perfect cycling lunch for a chilly day: beef stew (served in a variation on the traditional onion soup pot—one person asked if it was French onion soup I was eating) followed by a crêpe with butter and sugar. The place had decent enough batter. (The best batter I ever had was made by a Reuters reporter, many years ago.)
Churchill Road. Churchill Road was so difficult to cycle up—was it the hill, or can I attribute my failed ascent to a 12 speed bicycle which couldn’t downshift to a low enough gear?—it should be called Chirchill Road, since not all of us made it up without dismounting. I made it about a quarter of the way (our leader said it was about a half-mile long), dismounted, walked, and then rode for the last sixteenth or so—for the final rise. Our leader had forewarned us, saying that cyclists who had biked the Rockies would frown at the thought of going up Churchill. So we should do whatever we do, and do it however we do it.
It was quite a hill. It made Heartbreak Hill look seem like a bunny slope hill. Our leader told us that we would have maybe one other like it in the weeks ahead.
After some NYCC cycling exercises in a school parking lot about a mile from the bridge (this included my falling, courtesy of my clips—far less exciting than my close call in traffic at a stoplight back in Washington Heights), some A-SIG riders passed on our left (the Colnago with the Gazzetta among them) as we rode into the parking lot of a popular bike shop called Strictly Bicycles.
There I discovered a stroopwafel mortared with honey. This was a cousin of the organic honey “energy chews” (whose stained glass coloring relies less, I wager, on petroleum than on black carrot juice concentrate and annatto) I’d been chewing on at breaks.
By the time I arrived home, at 4:45 p.m., and began to stretch, I could have eaten two bowls of fettuccine Alfredo and a small mastodon. Instead, I commenced with a creamy herb cheese and crackers and sherry and water, and then moved on to pasta with lamb sausage and a hummus and a little crudité plate. Eventually came milk and butter cookies. Next week I will know to have food prepared ahead of time—perhaps a large potato casserole with ham, mushrooms, and cheese.
One thing is clear: I’m going to be eating a lot more food.