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Spin your wheels

Cycle your way from upstate New York into Manhattan

Posted: 05/3/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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A view of the Hudson River, with the Tappan Zee Bridge in the distance.

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A view of the Hudson River, with the Tappan Zee Bridge in the distance.

Life may be about the journey -- unless you're on a bicycle trip to New York City, in which case the destination is pretty interesting, too.

Our journey took us through rolling hills and waterfront villages along the historic Hudson River, a waterway staked out by early British and Dutch settlers, celebrated by painters and writers, and once an important shipping link between the Great Lakes and America's East Coast.

It was also a forgotten river. As big industry took root in upstate New York, the Hudson became its convenient sewer. Only in the past 40 years has there been a crackdown and a cleanup of PCBs and other pollutants, after activists such as the late folksinger Pete Seeger brought the river back into the public imagination.

Today, the Hudson is a playground for boaters, and the once-grim waterfronts of many small cities and towns are now home to restaurants, cafés and boutiques.

The lower Hudson Valley, between Albany and New York City, is a popular getaway for the urban crowd in Manhattan, whose spending helps propel the dining and shopping scene, and keeps more than a few richly appointed B&Bs in business.

This, we decided, would make for a comfortable itinerary on the road to the Big Apple: Cycle for a few hours a day along the scenic country roads, then relax with a good meal and a sleepover in a restored, grand home at night. We'd leave our car at the train station in the city of Hudson, south of Albany, and bike right up to the door of our hotel in midtown Manhattan, about 225 kilometres away. Four days of modest pedalling.

When, at the end of our first day of cycling, we arrived at the Looking Glass B&B in Rhinebeck, we were happy to ditch our bicycles on the wraparound porch and go by foot to explore the village's historic downtown.

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Walking was a pleasant change after a day spent on a bicycle seat. And Rhinebeck makes for good strolling. The town, founded in 1686, is small and charming, but because of the influence of the many big-city folk who weekend here, it manages to be trendy, too.

There are plenty of dinner options in Rhinebeck. Founded in 1766, the Beekman Arms and Delamater Inn has an elegant dining room and terrasse. It's said that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had a home in nearby Hyde Park, plotted out his presidential campaign on the hotel's porch.

We opted for something more casual, a bistro called Terrapin, where we sat outside and ate burgers and salad. An advantage of a bike trip is that you burn so many calories, there's no need to count them at mealtime.

After breakfast the next morning, we set off for Fishkill, about 55 kilometres farther down Bike Route 9, the designated cycling route we were following on the trip. The sun was stronger and the terrain hillier, making for a challenging ride.

After passing through Hyde Park, and right by the famed Culinary Institute of America (reservations strongly recommended), we stopped for lunch in downtown Poughkeepsie, where we spotted a promising sign: a lineup outside Rosticceria Rossi and Sons. Salad, sandwiches and cold drinks at this Italian neighbourhood deli fortified us for the afternoon.

The village of Fishkill has no B&Bs, so we settled for a room in one of the chain hotels outside town, and had a hearty, authentic Mexican dinner -- margaritas, guacamole and enchiladas -- at the nearby Maya Café.

Because we got an early start the next morning, we took a detour into picturesque Cold Spring. There's a long descent into town -- which meant a long ascent on our way out. But there was a big reward coming up: the view of the Hudson River as we crossed Bear Mountain Bridge. Built in 1924, the bridge was, for nearly two years, the world's largest suspension bridge -- until Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Bridge stole the record. We were now 67 kilometres north of Manhattan.

Of course, when we were admiring the view, we had no idea the most demanding part of our bike trip was just ahead. As we left the Bear Mountain region, Bike Route 9 began to narrow; there was virtually no shoulder for cyclists. This section of the road also happens to be full of sharp curves, making it difficult for drivers to spot cyclists.

The Bike Route 9 sign directed us off the road and onto a path through the woods. As the path became bumpier and overgrown, we wondered if we had made a mistake. But after several kilometres of this, the path led us back onto a paved roadway, with the familiar Bike Route 9 signs.

It was only a few more kilometres to Haverstraw, our destination for that day. Despite its proximity to the Hudson, Haverstraw remains a working town that is only beginning to shows signs of gentrification.

One such sign is the Bricktown Inn, where we stayed. This red brick mansion dates back to 1868, when it was the home of a wealthy brickyard owner.

Haverstraw may not have the quaintness of Hudson, Rhinebeck or Cold Spring, but it has a gritty charm all its own. Instead of cafés and gift shops, downtown Haverstraw has bodegas and barbershops. In the 1950s, most of the town's residents were Italian and Irish. These days, many of the people living in Haverstraw are Latino, a change reflected in the local cuisine.

We had an early supper at La Dona, a hole-in-the-wall on New Main St. The restaurant, which specializes in Dominican comfort food, was opened in 2012 by the Guereno family. We had oxtail stew with beans and rice, and stewed chicken.

The poshest restaurant in town is Union Restaurant & Bar Latino, also on New Main Street. It was opened in 2007 by the Parisian-born Paulo Feteira, and the chef is Salvadoran. Last spring, Feteira and his partners also opened UNoodles, a more casual resto-bar down the street from Union.

We were tempted to linger over breakfast at the Bricktown Inn, but we had places to go: Manhattan was 45 kilometres away. The map showed this was going to be our toughest day of hills.

The Runcible Spoon in Nyack was the perfect place to compare notes with other cyclists after a lot of uphill pedalling, most of whom tend to wear Spandex and ride their expensive carbon-fibre road bikes up from the city on day trips.

Before the terrain turned seriously hilly (and we had to walk uphill), the road that took us out of Nyack was one of the prettiest of our trip. On one side was the Tappan Zee Bridge, crossing a broad swath of the Hudson; on the other, lavish homes with lavish gardens.

As we left New York State, we climbed nearly 170 metres onto the New Jersey Palisades. Soon, we saw signs for the George Washington Bridge, now 15 kilometres away along a flat, fast road. I felt as proud as an Olympic medallist when I biked over the bridge. And though we'd seen the Manhattan skyline before, it looked especially striking off in the distance.

Those skyscrapers were still well south of us, along with our hotel on 36th St. Thank goodness for the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway, a 51-kilometre path around the island of Manhattan for cyclists and pedestrians.

We biked another 15 kilometres along the river before exiting the Greenway at 33rd Street. Because traffic was heavy and there were road repairs going on, we walked our bikes the last few blocks to the hotel.

After spending the next two days being typical tourists in the Big Apple, we packed our bikes into the hotel elevator and biked over to Grand Central Station, where we purchased bicycle permits that allowed us to take our bicycles on the Metro-North commuter railroad as far as Poughkeepsie. Because Amtrak does not allow passengers to take their bicycles on board, we parked our bikes in Poughkeepsie, took Amtrak to Hudson, collected our car and returned to Poughkeepsie for our bikes.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2014

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2014 E3

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