People probably think it’s false vanity when I deflect their compliments and praise for having ridden my bike 105 miles in one day from Manhattan to East Quogue, along with my 10 Flying Point Foundation for Autism teammates and more than 300 other riders. They came from all over the metro region to participate in the June 7 Bike to the Beach ride, an umbrella fundraiser for autism programs and charities.
At 68, I am among the oldest people on the ride, which is a sobering fact. Beginning in March, fear of failure drives me to get out of the gym, where I do the bare minimum of lazy calorie burning two or three times a week, and ride to Montauk and back whenever I have a window.
Years ago, I used to ride a lot, all year, commuting from North Haven to Southampton and back. I also rode in an annual 108-mile fundraiser for Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck in Center Moriches. I was in pretty good shape, 15 to 20 pounds lighter than the relentless desk-sitting and copy-grinding of being a cub reporter again have helped put on my bones. Even so, I developed chest pains in the late fall of 1993 whenever I played paddle tennis.
It turned out to be angina and I wound up having a single-graft bypass in January 1994 (haven’t had angina since, knock wood, praise be to the Lord and Lipitor). My rehab required a structured gym routine so there was no more regular bike riding — not for 25 years. As I daydreamed at the gym, the idea of riding a bike on these jammed roads full of lane weavers even came to appall me.
Then Kim Covell started pestering me to join her big ride. In the early 1990s, when I was editing The Southampton Press, I had hired Kim as an editorial assistant. She’s still there. She and her husband, Tim Motz, have raised a fine family in Water Mill, including a son with autism. An energetic woman who rises with good cheer to every challenge, she founded the Flying Point Foundation for Autism in 2008 to raise money for programs to serve those with autism on the East End. Three years ago, she first started a team and entered it into the annual Bike to the Beach ride.
Last year, I finally said yes. I wasn’t sure how it would go and feared the worst. But we had a tailwind, the miles rolled by and I was wildly relieved to find the ride, though a little hard on my back, neck, shoulders and feet, otherwise pretty easy.
This year was different. I had spent a year working at The Express, a sure recipe for me to turn myself back into Lou Costello; and I had a medical crisis in March, when a surgical incision got infected and I landed in Stony Brook Hospital for a week, emerging with a “wound vac” that I had to tote around 24 hours a day for three weeks.
I did not begin training seriously until mid-April and even then it was spotty because of work, my other “job” flight instructing, a flurry of medical appointments, the usual household chores and social occasions. Despite all that, my bike and I were on the team’s chartered bus the afternoon before the ride, heading from East Quogue into the city.
Getting ready for the ride, packing the correct equipment and necessities, is like preparing for an Apollo launch. In the final days, I had been far more consumed with all the logistics than worrying about my physical readiness for the ride. It was a pleasant distraction.
Up at 3:45 a.m. in our Tribeca hotel Friday, we gathered at 4:15 in the lobby with our bikes and rode over in the soft dawn light and quiet streets to the starting point at Stuyvesant High School to grab a banana and a Clif bar but no coffee: the coffee was already all gone. Bummer.
The throng began rolling at 5:15 a.m. This year, we had a headwind the whole way, northeast at first, swinging southeast during the day. It was very light and unnoticeable in Brooklyn but as we got into central Suffolk County we could feel the air turn cooler with the wind off the bays and the ocean picking up.
The route took us from the west side at Chambers and West streets through City Hall park and across the East River on the rough wooden walkway of the Brooklyn Bridge, southeast through Brooklyn along side streets, the Eastern Parkway pedestrian mall, Pitkin Avenue and other streets to the Gateway National Park Greenway and its smooth paved bike path along the Belt Parkway heading WEST (that’s why it’s 105 miles to East Quogue, which, as the crow flies, is more like 80 miles from the city) along the rim of Jamaica Bay, then down Flatbush Avenue past historic Floyd Bennett Field and across the no-cycling-allowed bridge (hah) to the Rockaways and our first rest stop at Jacob Riis Park.
Ten minutes later, after another banana and Clif Bar, I and my teammates were back on our bikes, heading east into that headwind along the big wide concrete Rockaways boardwalk, then back onto the “mainland” through ritzy Lawrence and East Rockaway and then the gritty local streets of Lynbrook, Freeport, and Merrick, then on through Bellmore, Seaford, Amityville, Lindenhurst, Babylon, West Islip, on side streets when possible but as we got more east on or paralleling Montauk Highway, then with aching shoulders, neck and back and tingling hands onward through pretty villages one never sees driving the Expressway and the Sunrise: Bay Shore, Islip, Oakdale, Sayville, Bayport, Patchogue, Bellport, Brookhaven, Moriches.
I remember wondering after about 50 miles if I could make it. My thighs were burning. Thanks to regular rest stops and the pleasant distraction of chats with teammates, I had a second wind and, tasting the finish, actually felt pretty good as we rolled through Eastport and Westhampton, then — halleluiah! — back down to the barrier beach over the Jessup Avenue bridge to push through the final 4.6 miles on Dune Road (a bit sluggishly now and trailing Kim and the faster riders), finally arriving alone and anticlimactically at Dockers for the post-ride festivities.
I arrived about 4:20 p.m. (last year it was 3:30) so it took more than 11 hours including eight rest stops, about 9 hours actually in the saddle, so my speed averaged somewhere just below 12 mph, no Tour de France number. But these old bones and brain had pulled it off. My biggest feeling was relief.
Thanks, Kim, for hauling me out of my comfort zone. Thanks, tires for no flats. Thanks, bike for your inspiring beauty, efficient functionality and grace — you remind me of an airplane. Thanks strobe lights and rear radar for fending off and helping warn me of all the cement trucks, buses and distracted drivers. I had no close calls or incidents. Thanks, fellow riders for your camaraderie.
Thanks most of all you donors, including Ted Conklin and The American Hotel and the Menus of The Sag Harbor Express, for making me rider number 4 in fund-raising among the more than 300 Bike to Beach participants this year.
We tend not to remember pain very well. It fades away. So I have to say it was all absolutely terrific and great fun, every miles of it. Really! Onward now to 2020. If you want to join me on the team, Google “Peter Boody Bike to the Beach” or give me a ring.