Want a Proper Vacation Right Now? Hop on Your Bike

The Four Percent


I HAD NEVER been so happy to be on a highway in New Jersey. It was noon on a Tuesday in mid-July and I hadn’t left New York City for months—since before the start of the coronavirus pandemic. I’d spent one of those months entirely in my Manhattan apartment, venturing out only to shop at the corner bodega. But as the weather gradually improved and public health guidelines emphasized the relative safety of being outdoors, I’d started to take masked bike rides that eventually extended to the waterfronts of Brooklyn and Queens. As I logged rides of 20, then 30 miles, I ached to venture farther: say, up the western side of the Hudson River, where the 9W remains the most-trafficked cycle road in the country.

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Routing held me back. No bicycle-accessible bridges crossed the Hudson until you reached Poughkeepsie—a far too arduous journey—and the idea of going back the way I came seemed distastefully dull.

WHEEL ESTATE The new bike path on the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, linking the Hudson River villages of Tarrytown and Nyack.



Photo:

Juliana Sohn for The Wall Street Journal

In June, all that changed. A new 3.6-mile-long bike path opened between Nyack and Tarrytown on the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge (formerly the Tappan Zee). I could now, theoretically, cycle the 20-odd miles from Upper Manhattan through New Jersey, to Nyack. Crossing the bridge and heading home via one of the designated country trails that snake through Westchester County would add another 30 or so miles. Add in a night or two’s stay at a carefully chosen hotel—one offering little interpersonal contact and stringent cleaning standards—and the journey could become not just a sportive exertion but the first proper holiday I’d taken since the start of lockdown: one that let me shun public transportation, eat exclusively outdoors and spend only minimal time indoors.


I’m a hobbyist rather than an athlete, capable of long rides only if they are punctuated by frequent café-stops.

Still, the thought of a multiday excursion was daunting. As a cyclist, I’m not an athlete but a committed hobbyist, capable of long rides only if they are leisurely and punctuated by frequent café-stops. I charted routes. I checked internet forums. I had my bicycle—a slightly rickety Craigslist purchase—professionally tuned up. I coordinated plans with my husband, who decided to meet me in Tarrytown after stopping for an outdoor visit with friends in Yonkers en route. And I set off in the late morning through Morningside Heights and Central Harlem, with a scenic detour along the ornate and ivy-strewn townhouses of Convent Avenue. A little before noon, I crossed the George Washington Bridge to Fort Lee, N.J.

Confetti restaurant in Piermont, N.Y.



Photo:

Juliana Sohn for The Wall Street Journal

Initially, I found the route unprepossessing. While leafy 9W, dotted with bike repair shops, enjoys fame among serious cyclists as a training route, it can be both monotonous and intimidating for inexperienced riders. You must share the road with cars; at some point into the ride, a welcome 8-foot shoulder appears, but often vanishes. After a few miles, however, I grew accustomed to the passing cars, the endless blur of trees, the occasional exit-stops. (A more scenic riverside route, Henry Hudson Drive, exists, but it’s significantly hillier). By the time I recrossed the state line just outside Palisades, N.Y., I was so engrossed in watching my mile count tick up that I nearly missed the turning-off-point to my lunch stop: Piermont, N.Y.

After months of quarantine, I found it surreal to be in the countryside: the cottontails, groundhogs and baby deer I spotted in my journey registered as an unexpected alternative to rats and occasional raccoons. I cycled along the Piermont Marsh, past colonial houses that backed straight onto the water on both sides, and watched people gather on their terraces for barbecues. I stopped for lunch at Confetti, a waterside Italian restaurant with outdoor seating.

A map of the Lower Hudson River Valley, a relatively easy cycling trip from New York City



Illustration:

TONWEN JONES

From Piermont I continued another hour into the aggressively adorable village of Nyack, stopping for coffee at the Runcible Spoon, a legendary spot among cyclists. Nyack’s house-museums—devoted to famed former residents including Edward Hopper and Carson McCullers—remain closed, but it’s worth heading a few miles north on Broadway to see the backs of dozens of imposing 19th-century mansions, as well as the picnic-ready waterfront at Nyack Beach State Park.

The highlight of the day, however, was the Mario Cuomo bridge bike path itself. A winding and beautifully signposted path, fully separated from the car lane, it runs from Clinton Avenue in South Nyack all the way across the river. With clear glass walls facing the waterside, and several designated stopping-points with seating and modern sculpture, the ride is as scenic as it is efficient. Even a concrete overpass is painted with sprightly green murals.

Piermont Marsh



Photo:

Juliana Sohn for The Wall Street Journal

I met up with my husband at the Tarrytown House Estate, a sprawling hotel a mile south of the bridge whose expansive layout made it ideal for social distancing. Ideal on that front, too, is its outdoor dining: an expansion of the exceptional hotel restaurant, Goosefeather, with a seasonal Cantonese-fusion menu. All guests undergo a temperature check at the host station, and leave behind a number for contact-tracing purposes. I ate a tomato-watermelon salad while seated next to a tomato plant.

We stayed an extra day in the region, doing shorter rides into the cheerily bucolic hamlets of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow.

The best terrain of the trip, however, was the return route: from Tarrytown to Yonkers via the state trail along the site of the Old Croton Aqueduct. Free of cars, the trail meandered through the backyards of more stately villas (among them, the ruins of the Untermyer Gardens in Yonkers), connecting at various points with the 19th-century thoroughfares of villages Hastings-on-Hudson and Dobbs Ferry, where we stopped for lunch. Learning of our journey, the waiter at Sam’s Italian Restaurant loaded us up with biscotti for the travel home.

Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge bike path



Photo:

Juliana Sohn for The Wall Street Journal

With the exception of a few nerve-racking miles in Yonkers—where the path gives way to traffic-clogged streets—the journey back into Manhattan was equally tranquil, taking us from a bike path alongside Van Cortlandt Park to the short and seamless Broadway Bridge into the Upper Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood, where much of Dyckman Street has been transformed into an open-air piazza. We stopped to buy mangoes at a street stand.

In the end, I calculated, I’d covered about 72 miles in three days—about 50 for the route itself plus another 20 for the scenic detours. That’s a respectable distance but the psychological change—the act of coming to know my own city as part of a wider terrain, of seeing how its boulevards could transform into rural trailways and back again—was more distinctive still. My world, so hemmed in by coronatide, had gotten a little bit bigger.

THE LOWDOWN / A biking escape from New York City to the Hudson River Valley

Getting There: The bicycle path on the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge can be reached from either side of the Hudson River The western route runs from the foot of the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, N.J., along Hudson Terrace and the 9W, to Piermont, N.Y., and from Piermont Avenue to South Nyack. The eastern route follows the Old Croton Aqueduct between Yonkers and Tarrytown, with several bike options connecting Yonkers to Manhattan. To shorten the trip, take the Metro-North, which stops at both Tarrytown and Yonkers, in one or both directions.

Staying There: The Tarrytown House Estate on the Hudson combines the efficient cleanliness of a business hotel with a slightly bohemian aesthetic (behold the wax sculptures and twig candelabras at their resident restaurant, Goosefeather). With plenty of outdoor grounds space for social distancing, a huge lawn for outdoor dining and a designated fire-pit area, it’s a perfect place to experience the open air while maintaining social distance. There are hand sanitizer stations throughout the hotel and clear plexiglass between customers and the concierge (from about $212 a night, tarrytownhouseestate.com).

Eating There: If you’re doing this route by bike, stop at cyclist mainstays the Runcible Spoon Bakery (37 N Broadway, facebook.com/RuncibleSpoonBakery) and Boxer Donut and Espresso Bar (18 N Franklin St, facebook.com/boxerdonut), 1 in Nyack to carbo-load at the beginning or end of your journey. For a more substantial mid-route meal, both Confetti Ristorante & Vinoteca in Piermont (200 Ash St, confettiofpiermont.com) and Sam’s Italian Restaurant in Dobbs Ferry (128 Main St, samsdf.com) offer affordable, high-quality Italian meals, and generous pours of Italian wine. And, for a late-afternoon open-air aperitivo, stop at Mint Premium Foods on Tarrytown’s Main Street (19 Main St, facebook.com/mintpremiumfoods).

BREAKING AWAY FROM OTHER CITIES

Susan Hack recommends three biking routes that offer eyefuls of scenery



Photo:

Alamy

CHICAGO The 56-mile, one-way ride from the Chicago Lakefront Trail to Indiana Dunes State Park is partly on USBR 36, part of the United States Bicycle Route System, an interstate network that links urban and rural communities on bike paths and quiet roads. You pass 37 miles of landscape that transitions from old steel mills to farm and black-oak studded prairie. If you’d rather not retrace your pedals, trains leave frequently from Beverly Shores and Michigan City.



Photo:

Alamy

LOS ANGELES The 22-mile paved Marvin Braude Bike Trail follows the Pacific coast, from Will Rogers State Beach to Torrance County Beach, passing Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach Boardwalk in between. Sea and sand are in view the entire route. Unless you want to race super fast (and super early) this ride is as much about people watching as it is sightseeing since you’ll be riding alongside a steady stream of other cyclists.



Photo:

Getty Images

ATLANTA The Silver Comet Trail runs 61.5 paved miles from the Atlanta suburb of Smyrna to the Alabama border. It crosses rural roads here and there, but it’s a mainly a worry-free, car-free ride along abandoned railway lines, including old tunnels and trestles, with tree-lined sections offering plenty of shade. Make sure your gears and brakes work well: there are steep, curvy hills, particularly between Grady and Cedartown.

The Wall Street Journal is not compensated by retailers listed in its articles as outlets for products. Listed retailers frequently are not the sole retail outlets.

Corrections & Amplifications
Nyack, Tarrytown, Hastings-on-Hudson and Dobbs Ferry are villages in New York. A previous version of this article called them towns. In addition, Untermyer Gardens in Yonkers, N.Y., was misspelled as Untermyer Gardens. The western route of the bicycle path across the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge ends in South Nyack. A previous version of this article incorrectly said the path ends in Lower Nyack. The Runcible Spoon Bakery and Boxer Donut are in Nyack. The article incorrectly said previously that they are in Central Nyack. (Corrected on Sept. 7)

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