Monday, September 12, 2005

Marshaling the Century

Sunday's NYC Century bike tour was my sixth time on the ride but my first as a marshal. Last year, after seeing a few "bad" marshals who rode past cyclists with bike problems or who appeared lost or led riders the wrong way, we decided that we had to step up and volunteer for this year's ride. Also, to avoid the problem we had last year where James didn't get to the Central Park start until almost 7 AM (thus preventing us from completing the century and forcing us to do the 75-mile route instead), James stayed over at our apartment on Saturday night.

Even though I jumped out of bed at 4:40 AM when the alarm went off, somehow we were still late getting to the start and arrived right at 6 AM instead of 5:45. We signed in, got our bright orange marshal vests and our packets of first aid supplies and injury forms, and barely had time to stow everything before they called our start time of 6:15. I hadn't even stretched when James said he was leaving and he wasn't waiting for me. So my warmup was the first 10 miles of riding in Manhattan. Because the NYPD wouldn't let the bike tour use Fifth Avenue this year to get to the Brooklyn Bridge, the ride route went north out of Central Park and west to Columbia University, down Riverside Drive to 72nd Street, then south on Ninth Avenue to Broadway at 14th Street. After that it was the usual route to Brooklyn and Prospect Park. The Krispy Kreme donuts were back this year at the rest stop, so of course I had one (along with some real food).

The next rest stop was Floyd Bennett Field near the Rockaways, once one of New York's main airports. It's been closed for years and exists now as a minor tourist attraction. I was disappointed that we couldn't ride on the old runways, but we did leave the rest stop via an old runway or taxiway as we headed for the major new point of interest for this year's tour: the Rockaways. Previous tours have taken the Brooklyn waterfront to Canarsie Pier and then north into Queens, but this year's tour took us to the boardwalk in the Rockaways and along a long stretch of near-beachfront property before going into Queens proper. Since the next rest stop was thirty miles from Floyd Bennett Field, James and I stopped about halfway along and took a short break in Forest Park. We rode a lap around the Unisphere in Corona Park and rode to the Kissena Park Velodrome. Unfortunately we couldn't ride a lap around the velodrome itself (as I did on the pre-ride) because there were actual bike races going on. But I'll be back to ride some laps another time. Maybe it was the experience of the pre-ride two weeks ago, but the long rolling hills getting to the Alley Pond Park rest stop weren't as bad as I thought they would be. Normally the Alley Pond rest stop is roughly 50 miles into the ride, but with the Rockaways and the extra miles in Manhattan it was at the 62-mile mark.

The route from Alley Pond to Astoria Park and the next rest stop was only 18 miles, but there was, as always, a nasty hill about a mile out of the rest stop that forces most riders into their "granny" gear. Despite our plan to try and stay close together, James and I got separated at a stoplight and the next thing I knew, he was about 20 minutes ahead of me. I rolled into Astoria Park (the 81-mile mark) at about 3 PM and took about 20 minutes myself to refuel and relax before going to the Bronx.

To get to the Bronx you have to take the Triboro Bridge, which has a narrow bike path and concrete stairs you have to climb to get to the path. It's always a choke point and this year was no exception. But everyone was in good spirits and didn't mind waiting their turn to hike up the stairs and inch along the path. On Randall's Island and the 75-mile/100-mile split we didn't hesitate and immediately took the 100-mile turn for the Bronx. The Bronx itself was largely unmemorable. About half the route doubles the Tour de Bronx route and goes through some bland residential neighborhoods. The good and bad part about the Bronx on this tour is that only the most experienced riders go there, so you get some extremely good riders, but there aren't many of them. Once again I got separated from James and got to the Van Cortlandt Park rest stop (98-mile mark) about 10 minutes after he did, around 5:10 PM. He was anxious to leave and get back to Manhattan by 6 PM, and even though it was only 9 miles away I needed a few minutes to rest my sore ass and tired legs. Around 5:30 we left the rest stop and met up with about 30 other riders at an intersection at the edge of the park. The direction arrow on the ground indicated that we were supposed to ride up the hill in front of us, so we all slogged up the hill, many of us in "granny" gear. When we got to an intersection near the top, I saw the entire group of cyclists looking lost. Another marshal looked at the cue sheet and figured out we were supposed to turn left at the bottom of the hill instead of riding up it. So we all coasted back down the hill and took the correct turn. I felt particularly stupid, as I could tell from the cue sheet that we weren't supposed to go up the hill, but I saw the arrow and followed everyone else knowing that we weren't getting any closer to the Broadway Bridge and Manhattan by going up the hill. But the rest of the ride back to Central Park was easy, and I pulled into Central Park at 6:20 PM, 12 hours and 5 minutes after we left. We turned in our vests and injury reports (nothing to report, thankfully), got our free t-shirts and water bottles, and went home. It wasn't my best time on a century, and I felt worse when I got home than I have after previous rides, but after 8 hours of sleep last night I'm feeling a little better. My quads and butt are still killing me, so it will be a few more days before I get back on the bike. Just walking up stairs right now is painful.

As for the actual marshaling of the ride, I didn't have too much to do. I answered questions from other riders, most wanting to know how far it was to the next rest stop and how long the entire ride was. One group of riders wanted to know how to skip about 20 miles of the ride and I told them to cut across Corona Park. Another guy had a problem with his back wheel and needed directions to the subway. James supplied his bike pump to a few riders with flats and gave another guy his spare inner tube. We both stopped at a few intersections to point out the turns to other riders, but most of the time we just rode and tried to look like we knew what we were doing. We had a good time as marshals, so we'll probably be back next year to do it again.

No comments: