I’m sorry for taking so long for this update! My days have been very full and the Spanish sun inspires many siestas.
Greenville, NY to Monroe, NY
Now that I have arrived in the state of New York it seems my bike feels as though it has completed it’s task. While crossing a street in Monroe, NY today there was a loud snap from my rear hub and my cassette ceased to free-spin. While pulling into the nearest parking lot my chain wadded itself up into my derailleur.
I limped it to the nearest bike shop where i was told that I would have the part I needed(a new free-body) the following morning. I hid my gear under a staircase out behind the shop and walked into town. Monroe was 20 miles short of where I needed to be for the night to meet up with Hillary in New Jersey the next day. I called her and made plans to meet her somewhere in between there and here.
While eating my dinner in front of a grocery store I met a couple of store employees on their break. While one was almost convinced I would make the papers in NY for my undertakings the other just seemed genuinely inspired. It is hard to explain how rewarding of an experience it is to inspire someone to question the status quo life, and really consider taking the risk to follow a dream. I hope he comes to realize that the whole world is just outside his front door waiting to be explored.
Tonight I slept behind the bike shop next to my gear, wrapped up in a big blue tarp, and excited to ride to NYC the next day.
Monroe, NY to North Bergen, New Jersey
While waiting for the bike shop to open I had another wonderful conversation with a man who began riding his bicycle to work several months ago and discovered the joy of cycling. He told me that he started commuting on his bike to lower his cholesterol, and had already lost 35 pounds. However his main emphasis in our discussion was how much fun he had doing it.
The bike mechanic that was in today informed me that they did not have the part and wouldn’t be able to get it until friday. Unable to wait and confident that I’d be able to get it in New York City I called Hillary for a lift.
Hillary saved the day and gave my broken bicycle and I a ride to her hotel room in NJ. I immediately began calling around for my part, but got the same answer from all. No one had my part in stock and it would need to be ordered.
At around 9pm we decided to go into NYC. During our attempt to go out for dinner in Manhattan I got my first look at the City that never sleeps from the seat of a bus that took us straight into the heart of the NY subway system.
I say attempt because we were separated on the train, and never did make it to dinner. I found myself standing on the station platform face to face with her but separated by a train door that had closed abruptly between us. As the train lurched forward and carried her off to Brooklyn I smiled at our quandary unaware that we would not reconvene for another 4 hours. Waiting on a subway platform for an hour, getting swindled by a hustler, and waiting for a bus I found after much seeking had me dehydrated, tired, and longing for my bicycle.
North Bergen, New Jersey to Brooklyn
Without a bike to ride and 100 pounds of gear including the bike to carry around Hillary gave me a ride to my host in Brooklyn. This host I had contacted on warmshowers.org and had agreed to host me for the rest of my time in NY.
My first impression of the top side of NY was sheer chaos. Under the shadow of skyscrapers looming on either side we were stuck in a mass of cars packed bumper to bumper, horns blaring, taxis wedging themselves into the fray from side streets, and pedestrians walking through the tangle of cars. An absolute zoo. Merchandise of every type spilled out of store fronts onto sidewalks packed with thousands of people walking in all directions.
I was still in sensory overload from the Manhattan China town as we drove over the Brooklyn Bridge and didn’t even notice that I crossing the world famous landmark.
Gaylen, my host in New York, warmly greeted us and helped me bring my stuff in. The street he lived on had an autoshop across from his house. There were huge graffiti murals delicately laced with coils of razor wire in an abandon lot a few houses down. Conservative Jews in their old fashioned traditional dress walked amongst screaming neighbors in domestic disputes. In his basement he had an impressive collection of bikes of different sorts including a ghost bike that Gaylen and his friends were preparing in memory of a recently fallen rider.
After explaining my bike troubles to Gaylen I set off into the streets of Brooklyn with him on a bicycle he loaned me. During this outing I had my first real taste of New York and was taught how to bike proper in the big city by Gaylen. I kept up behind him as best I could as we rode between lines of cars and straight through the red lights they waited on. Swerving around busses into head on traffic then dodging back into another tangle of cars at the last moment kept my adrenaline flowing steadily. I was completely exhilarated by the blasting of horns and hundreds of near misses with cars squeezing around us and overtaking them again at the next congested intersection. I laughed as we swerved around a cop car and blasted through the red light he was sitting at.
We stopped at several bike shops but got the same results. The rear hub on my bike was oversized and was not kept in stock. I would have to pay an arm and a leg and get it over-nighted.
Exploring New York
Today I took the bike Gaylen loaned me and rode off into the city on my own armed with a bike map and my water bottle. My intent was to get hopelessly lost and find my way back with the bike map. Which more or less happened but in a different order. The only way I found my way back was by pure dumb luck. I’d write about all the things I saw today but I’ll just let my photos explain this.
This evening I joined up with the Brooklyn Critical Mass and met some really cool people. The mass ended in Prospect Park where Animal Collective was playing a huge show. My new friends told me of a good dumpster to dive and emailed me a list of happenings NYC.
After the show ended I rode off in search of the Trader Joe’s dumpster they told me about. Despite taking a few wrong turns I found it just in time. I rode up to the back of the store to see two men pawing through a dumpster being rolled out onto the street by an annoyed looking Trader Joes employee. As I had no prior experience I stood back a ways to observe how the regulars did it. After the clerk went back in to retrieve another one I cautiously advanced to look for a meal in the big metal bin the two men dug through. Nothing. Just garbage.
The next one yielded far different results. After being pushed up to the back of the waiting garbage truck the garbage men backed away to let us have our pick from it. Before the first bag of fresh strawberries was pulled all the way out about five other people had appeared out of nowhere. One older gentleman saw to it that the food was generously distributed and that everyone got what they needed.
In all there were four dumpsters that were full of perfectly good, fresh food that were just being tossed into the back of the garbage truck. After spending so many days on the road and in the wilderness hungry, being refused small discounts on food from multimillion dollar companies, and refused expired food from grocery stores it was appalling to see such large amounts of food just being thrown into the garbage.
With the bike loaded up with potatoes, humus, strawberries, cherries, bananas, and broccoli I rode back to Gaylen’s as fast as I could to eat my garbage truck treasures.
Today Gaylen and I went into downtown Manhattan to take part in some special events. An annual event in which a major street downtown is closed off to cars in appreciation of cycling took place today.
We rode down the street in a huge group with Times Up New York to the campaigning headquarters for Rev. Billy Talen who is running for NY mayor. On the back of my bicycle facing opposite of me I carried the founder of Times Up while he filmed the group as we lead the pack.
Rev. Billy Talen is a Green Party candidate who is well known for his enthusiastic activism as a comedic mock evangelist. His campaigns are geared towards community and economic issues. From what I gathered from the locals who support him he is viewed as something of a Peoples Hero who has a lot of really good messages.
After hanging out in the campaigning office for awhile watching people silk screening and broadcasting music and announcements I headed off to Brooklyn in search of the Water Pod Project.
After an hour of searching I finally found what was to be one of my most important experiences in NY. The Water Pod is a self-sustained barge. Growing food, using solar energy, recycling water, and hosting educational events this project is a wonderful example of sustainability.
On board I met many wonderful people who were using the Water Pod as a platform to present sustainable practices to the public. From solar ovens to vertical hydroponic gardens to sub-irrigation I gathering a lot of terrific information on a variety of subjects that centered around sustainability. I befriended the crew who invited me to stay past closing time for a dinner that was comprised mostly of food grown on the Water Pod.
After a long night of tearing up the town with Gaylen I mostly relaxed today and lounged in his house in Brooklyn. I picked up my back wheel from the bike shop and paid them the rest of the ungodly sum they wanted for the repair.
Today was crazy. I severely underestimated the amount of time it would take me to get ready for my flight at 10pm tonight. I needed a big duffle bag to put my panniers in and packing materials for my bike. The duffel bag I found easily and had great conversation with the shop owner. The packing materials were a bit of a different story. I pedaled to about 5 different bike shops this morning. One of them I was able to get a huge box from which I strapped to my bike with used inner-tubes. The rest I got generally the same apology of “We usually have packing materials we’re just out today, come back tomorrow”.
By now I was beginning to get a little worried. I had one hour to get back, one to pack, and once to get to the airport by the time suggested by my airline. Where was I going to find packing materials? How was I going to get them back? What if I miss my flight? These questions started circling like a closed loop in my mind, and I began to feel a bit of stress welling up, something I had gone a really long time time without. So long in fact that I decided that since I had made it this far without it I probably could make it through today as well in it’s absence.
A wise man once said, “You are always in the right place at the right time. If you truly believe this you will always be happy.” I stopped and pulled up on to the sidewalk to remember this. I began to leisurely stroll down the sidewalk looking around at all the people coming and going, cars jockeying for position, and the raging horns voicing the tempers of their occupants. I walked up to a trash can overflowing onto the street and looked at it for a moment. It didn’t take me long to notice the foam sticking out of it, and realize how I was going to find what I needed.
Again I found myself in one of those situations where if I just cut it out of the events leading up to it and look at it by itself it would either make me laugh or terribly worried. I was riding my bicycle through the streets of Manhattan rummaging through garbage cans and tying bits of foam and paper to my bicycle. I thoroughly enjoyed the looks of disgust and bemusement I got from suited stooges.
I rolled back into Brooklyn on a dumpster on wheels. The rest of the evening consisted of sweating in the heat of the east coast summer, taking apart my bike piece by piece, and trying to get rid of anything I possibly could. As the hours ticked by my patience and faith were tested to their limits. My bike just wouldn’t fit in the box and I was supposed to be at the airport 10 minutes ago. Yet still I knew I was in the right place at the right time.
It turned out that I was even though I ended up leaving 2 hours later than I was supposed to. I got my bike packed my stuff into a cab that took me to the wrong airport. I could have really freaked at that point but decided to enjoy the car ride instead. Looking out the window I realized I was taking my last look America, my country, and all that was familiar to me. The reality of it hit me there in the cab when I saw signs for JFK.
This was the next big leap. I was nervous, yet excited. “I just have to do it” I thought to myself feeling as though I was perched high up on a ledge gathering courage to jump into the water below. The cab came to a stop in front of the gate, I opened the door, and jumped off.
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