Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Off the Beaten Track

This one's pure photo album, folks. Just me and my friend L. on a bike ride.

We start at Manhattan's northern tip, Inwood Hill Park—the only place in Manhattan that looks as it did when the Native Americans were the dominant people here, L. tells me.

She's the intrepid visitor; I'm the savvy native.

I surmise from the map that there's going to be a way to get to the George Washington Bridge and the West Side bike path by traveling right beside the Hudson River. It all goes fine until we arrive at the Inwood Canoe Club, which is where the pavement ends. I decide we should forge ahead on the trail that begins beside it.

The path runs between the river and the railroad tracks that feed in and out of Penn Station.

Here's L., leading the way. (She's a much faster rider than I am. Later in the day, she calls me "turtle." I have a crisis.)

It's pretty cool—not the kind of scenery you would imagine in Manhattan. We stop and take pictures with the George Washington Bridge in the background, just to prove where we are.

Of course, it's not as bucolic as it seems. There are numerous subtle signs of human habitation, including the makeshift firepit we find along the shores of the great river. (So this is how the Native Americans lived!)

Various solitary men appear suddenly along the trail. There are odd things like wheelchairs hidden away under bushes.

There path has started out as packed dirt, but eventually it turns into a jumble of rocks.

I've brought us here, but now a little voice inside me starts jumping up like a jack in the box. "We should turn back!" I stuff it back down. "This is a dumb idea, this isn't safe!" Stuff. "Is this how you're supposed to behave when you're 50?" Stuff. I'd much rather be be 12, thank you very much.

L., who seemed apprehensive when we first went offroad, now seems completely energized. After half a mile or more, the trail peters out entirely. Our choice is now turn back or walk the rails.

We walk the rails. "I love this," L. says.

Imagine the two of us pushing our bikes beside the tracks. I'm waiting for the rush and slap of a train speeding by. The unwanted voice inside my head alternates between "I hope this is going to work out, I hope this is going to work out" and "Homeland Security is going to get us!"

There will be a happy ending. Up ahead, I can see the bridge that people who are actually on the bike path can take across the tracks.

And guess what? There's a narrow, well-worn path to take us up the embankment.

Even better, there's a hole already cut in the fence (perhaps by the crew of teenagers that L.—perhaps not as impervious as she has seemed—turns back to tell me is clustered beneath the trees just out of sight).

This stretch of bike path, ugly as it is, seems like heaven.

A few seconds later, we've arrived at the Little Red Light House and the Great Gray Bridge. Soon we'll be eating pizza and drinking beer. Whew! Our expedition will go down not as a fiasco, but as an excellent adventure and wonderful day.


ccc said...

Very cool. Life along the tracks is a world unto itself.

Joan said...

This is awesome. I love knowing there are still stretches like this in cities, and that you can still (barely) manage to not get killed navigating them.

Jane said...

Thank you for the picture of the Little Red Lighthouse!