Ken's story about the GWB to 
Bear Mt Great Westside Ride

  
This ride was my first great bicycling adventure from Manhattan. 

Tony and I were grad students then, and he heard about this 100-mile ride organized by American Youth Hostels.  I had never ridden that far before, and riding to the Bear Mountain Bridge sounded like a worthy achievement.  This was not a "sponsored" event -- no SAG, no food stops with volunteers.  Just a couple of lines on an AYH calendar that said:  "Bear Mountain Century -- hills, more hills, and a bridge.  100 miles.  Start Fort Lee Historical Park."

With a description like that for my first century, it was obvious that I better do some training.  I had been riding laps on the Central Park loop a couple of times a week on a beater bike I kept in my grad student office.  But Tony and I now decided to look for the hilliest roads upstate we could find -- and found more than we were planning on.  We ended up pretty exhausted after what turned out to be a longer and hillier predecessor of the New Paltz to Ashokan Reservoir route.

The next weekend we showed up in Fort Lee for the start of the ride.  I think there were about 15 of us.  I didn't have a road bike, so I was riding my mountain bike with slick tires.  This AYH route went in the opposite direction from the one here on this website.  They took us up right along the river, and returned through the interior.  

We started off going down under the George Washington Bridge on a sunny morning -- I think it was my first time riding there.  It was pleasant riding, and then came the first of those hills from that brief description, and I was keeping up OK, and then a big long hill, and I was still keeping up fine with the guys on their road bikes.  

We turned onto Route 9W and on the big downhills I demonstrated that a heavy mountain bike with slick tires could go pretty fast with a serious rider tuck position.  I think we followed the GWB to Nyack "River Road" route until it entered Nyack.  There we got onto Route 9W and simply rode on that all the way to Bear Mountain.  I don't remember much about that part -- but there must have been less traffic and shopping centers on it than today.

We had a lunch on the grass by the Bear Mountain Inn with some pleasant conversations with other riders, including one who liked to ski out West like me.  I don't think we actually rode across the "bridge" in the AYH calendar description.  

We headed out west and then back south through Harriman Park -- definitely pretty.  Then down Gate Hill Rd -- which was too steep for me to really enjoy, and then that route made a turn immediately at its bottom (one of the reasons the route on this website goes in the opposite direction).

We kept going south and it was getting hot in the afternoon.  But after I got some liquid at a convenience store, me and another guy felt energetic and went out ahead fast together into New Jersey and then back east to the GWB.  No one else caught up with us, so I guess I overdid it with my training.  It was fun to ride fast with that guy, and he said I should try racing with the Century Road Club.  (A few days after that I diverted some of my meager grad student assets into the purchase of a road bike and started training with some racers -- but I never did a road race.)

Then Tony and the rest of the group arrived, and we were rather tired but satisfied.  It was a great adventure.

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Things changed from that route:  In further rides, Sharon and I built on that route, toward the form it takes now on this website.  The main changes are:

  • Reverse the direction -- Enjoy better downhills up north in the state parks.  Get through the New Jersey traffic early in the morning.  Save the nice river views for later.

  • Find some quieter and nicer roads through the interior of New Jersey and southern New York state (not always possible).

  • Find some interesting alternatives to Route 9W between Nyack and Bear Mountain.

The result of those refinements was the route with what is now Variation X. But . . .

Then in 2010 I heard that it might be illegal to go across the Palisades Parkway, so I explored more alternatives, and modified the main route to avoid that, and added some other Variations as alternatives.

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