Biking Across NYC w Team #SomeNerve: 5 Boros, 5 Bridges, 32k Riders, 1 Life-Changing Day

I was in way over my head. After I declared in January that I would buy a bike, learn to ride it, and captain a team for the 40-mile TD Five Boro Bike Tour (route map) in the span of 4 months, I did what any panic-stricken Chinese American would do: homework. While some cyclists said they didn’t need to train, I had no bank of experience to draw on and instincts (closing my eyes, for one; braking with my feet, for another) that were the opposite of what was called for. Plus, my natural anxiety was in overdrive at the thought of riding with 31,999 other cyclists.  So I took Bike New York classes and did training rides and workouts through the endless winter (Team #SomeNerve training recap: “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” ). With 3 days to go I’d built up to 24 miles. I was hoping to do one more ride before the big day –  30+ miles to feel really ready – but then this happened:

10254015_10152444870492780_3309189275025095421_n

I fell off my bike. In my own driveway.  I’ve always been afraid of going downhill and crashing, perhaps because I did that once in my twenties on the way to a booze cruise. I stayed away from bikes -but not booze cruises – after that. I never considered the dangers of going uphill with no speed into one’s own driveway.  “If the bike is no longer moving, your feet should no longer be on the pedals,” an experienced cyclist shared, a day late. So I wouldn’t get a final practice in – I’d have to leap from 24 to 40 miles and now I was worried about all the bridge on ramps as well as the offs. I spent the night before praying.

May 4, Tour Day, we got up at 5 am and drove into the quiet of Manhattan on an early Sunday morning. The only other people out were heading to the Tour Start wearing matching helmet covers.  “I feel like we’re members of some secret society,” I told my husband, Kent. An extremely large secret society:

TD Five Boro Bike Tour Start - PattyChangAnker.com

TD Five Boro Bike Tour Start – The view in front

 

TD Five Boro Bike Tour Start -PattyChangAnker.com

TD Five Boro Bike Tour Start – The view behind

Seeing the smiling faces wearing our bright yellow “I’ve Got Some NerveT shirts and bike jerseys filled me with happiness. Our team – over 30 friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, book/blog readers and people we met on the internet (!) – was there to support Bike New York’s free education programs and to promote the idea of becoming our best, bravest selves. We ranged in age from 20s – 70s, from experienced cyclists to beginners, hailing from as far as Costa Rica, IL and MD. Over half of us were doing the Five Boro for the first time.

We were all a little excited:

TD 5 Boro Bike Tour Ken and Brompton -PattyChangAnker.com

TD Five Boro Bike Tour Team #SomeNerve Flowers -PattyChangAnker.com TD Five Boro Bike Tour Team #SomeNerve Friends -PattyChangAnker.com TD Five Boro Bike Tour Team #SomeNerve Excited -PattyChangAnker.comTD Five Boro Bike Tour Team #SomeNerve Start -PattyChangAnker.com TD Five Boro Bike Tour Team #SomeNerve Wave -PattyChangAnker.com

I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous, or as thrilled, as the moment we pushed off into a huge, cascading wave of bicycles fanning up Church Street to the sound of music and cheers. “The moment we pushed off brought tears to my eyes,” said Becky Saletan, my editor and a seasoned NYC cyclist who had never experienced the Tour before.  We slid though a canyon of buildings until reaching Central Park, and then it was spring, flowering trees, the MET, the Guggenheim, and Harlem.  When Sam Slaton, the Communications Director of Bike New York first told me details of the Tour, we were looking at the Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn.  “Manhattan is a very long island!” I’d said, more than a little daunted.  “You’re going to bike the length of it,” he’d replied with utter confidence. “It’s going to be amazing.” It was.

Biking NYC -PattyChangAnker.com

We took bridges in and out of the Bronx that I’ve driven countless times – I wish we’d stayed in my home borough for longer –

TD Five Boro Bike Tour Third Ave Bridge -PattyChangAnker.com

and then we were on the FDR drive, going, I daresay, faster than traffic usually does. The Queensboro Bridge loomed above and was the one everyone had warned would be a bit steep and curvy getting on and off.  The sight of cyclists moving across the bridge and the highway as far as the eye could see was amazing.  In all the times that we took the Roosevelt Island tram to Kent’s home growing up or the subway to Queens, I never thought I’d bike across the East River.

TD Five Boro Bike Tour Queensboro Bridge -PattyChangAnker.com

Queens and Brooklyn were a blur of music (live bands played every few miles), potholes, rest areas (I have never in my life seen so many bananas), meeting up with teammates, and incredible views:

Biking NYC -PattyChangAnker.com

Chiquita Bananas -PattyChangAnker.com

Ahoy there teammate! -PattyChangAnker.com

Manhattan skyline -PattyChangAnker.com

The best of which was the sight of my family at Brooklyn Bridge Park, around Mile 30. Thirty miles was farther than I’d ever gone. I was happy but also scared. What lay ahead was what everyone who’s ever ridden the Tour would say in a voice of doom: the B.Q.E. (Brooklyn Queens Expressway) and the Verrazano Bridge. Cindy P, who’d done a 10 Mile/2 Bridges training ride with me, had said this was what she was most worried about: “I don’t know how I’ll handle a 2 mile bridge after riding 38 miles.”  People who’ve done the ride before said things like ‘Beware of sunburn,” “Beware of dehydration,” “Beware of wind,” “Beware of tired cyclists,” “Beware of broken glass,” “Beware of the long incline” and “Just be careful.”

Our day was cold and cloudy so sunburn was not going to be a problem.  The wind, on the other hand…

“When I hit the 20+ mph headwinds on the Gowanus Expressway I had two thoughts,” said teammate C. Feng after the ride. “1) Patty’s gonna weep when she realizes there’s five miles of this before getting to the bridge. 2) She’ll gut it out and grind it out because she’s not going to give up”

The process of gutting it out and grinding it out was not a pretty one. I pedaled and pedaled against the wind, feeling no forward progress whatsoever. My friend Ken biked alongside and put a hand on my lower back and pushed me for a stretch. More and more cyclists were dropping to the side to walk their bikes.

By the time we got to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the longest bridge span in America, I was spent. “Are you bonking?” Ken asked. Bonking is the biking term for hitting a wall, the point where you can’t physically go any farther without rest, water and calories. I didn’t know if I was bonking – I’ve never bonked before!  Yes, I was crying and whimpering  – but after 5 hours of cycling my legs were still moving, and I did not want to get off the bike. After all the things in my life I have quit or never started for fear I would quit, this I wanted to finish. “I’m okay!” I said. Except I can’t see. Crying as a coping mechanism was not helping.  How many times before, when I’ve started crying, have I stopped doing the activity? This time, I stopped the crying and kept pedaling.  U2’s “Beautiful Day” was blasting from the top of the bridge, spray painted arrows on the pavement said “Keep Cranking” and “4 Down 1 to Go.” People on megaphones shouted “ALMOST THERE! THE FINISH IS AT THE BOTTOM!”

Biking the Verrazano Bridge -PattyChangAnker.com

Here’s Katie (who also just learned to bike this past winter) at the top of the Verrazano, with her roommate Diana who did the entire course on a single speed while cheering her on:

Bike to the Top of the Verrazano Bridge -PattyChangAnker.com

I had just burst into tears I was so exhausted! But proud, too, and grateful for Diana,” Katie said afterward of the picture.  

There was no way I was getting off my bike for a picture, because then I’d never get back on.  So I cruised what felt like the sweetest, shortest downhill of all time into Staten Island, the 5th borough and finish line:

TD Five Boro Bike Tour Finish -PattyChangAnker.com

Verrazano Bridge -PattyChangAnker.com

And a Finish Festival to remember:

TD Five Boro Bike Tour Team #SomeNerve Finish -PattyChangAnker.com TD Five Boro Bike Tour Team #SomeNerve Finish -PattyChangAnker.com nlw8ihk54qoa

Team #SomeNerve TD Five Boro Bike Tour Finish Festival -PattyChangAnker.com

Pictured here is about half of Team #SomeNerve (many teammates finished before or after) Everyone on the team but one (who stopped as planned for a work commitment) finished, including Cindy P!  New friendships were formed, new ways of seeing the city were revealed, old limitations in thinking were shed. I, who have always viewed myself as non-athletic, klutzy and too often a quitter, felt for the first time in my life like a champion. I don’t think I’ll ever be the same.

765034-1072-0008s

There are so many more stories to tell, which I will tell in time. Because every member of the team was, in his or her own way, on a quest. Like Big Joe, for example.  His story deserves its own post (or chapter) – you can get to know him at his blog Big Joe’s Soapbox.

With Big Joe -PattyChangAnker.com

When you’re on a quest, if you’re lucky, you meet extraordinary people, see unforgettable things, do what you never dreamed you could do. You get in way over your head, weep, gut it out, smile at the end knowing you gave it everything you had and it was enough, and go home seeing yourself and the world through new eyes. I started my quest because I wanted to confront my many fears around physical challenges and so I could share an activity my husband loves with our family for decades to come. I finished with a completely new sense of self and new adventures to look forward to. I can’t wait for us to bike with G & R.

What will your #SomeNerve Challenge be?

** Check out this great video by Kate Semizorova, a film student who biked the Tour with Team #SomeNerve on Vimeo here **

What a ride it has been!

“From O to 5 Boros in 4 Months: Team #SomeNerve Takes on the Tour” Closing Credits:

Endless thanks to

– Everyone at Bike New York who taught me to ride and helped our team (it definitely takes a village) including: Sam & Sam, Anne, Rich, Marilyn, Barry, Dan, Clyde, Ross, Tim, Robert, Jenny, Patrick.

With Sam Slaton of Bike New York --PattyChangAnker.com

He was right! With Sam Slaton of Bike New York

– Ilya and Kasia at Redbeard Bikes, Stan and Bob at  Hastings Velo for bike and gear know how.

– TEAM #SOMENERVE – you rock, roll & plank with the best of them:  The Bravest People in Publishing: Becky, Katie, Darren, Deb, Diana, Steph, Holly, Rachel R.;  Blog readers/Guys I met on Twitter/radio listeners/book club-ers:  Joe, Brian, LaRah, Gerry, Gary, Kevin, Nicole, Kate M, Cindy P., Cindy W., David, Kate, Natasha, Rachel S.;  Margaret who started it all; Neighbors: Lewis, Rhiannon, Penny, C.Feng; Family/friends: Kent, Ken, Matt, Michael, Yolanda, Bernadette, Glen; Kate, the college journalism student who rode everything we did while balancing a camera. Sidelined this year but back next time: Sarah W, Crystal, Julio, Dan, Esther, AmyLynn, Rachel T.

P.S. For a great 5 Boro preview read Brian Stephens’ blog:  IWearSpandex

P.S.S. Mark your calendars for next year’s Tour: May 3, 2015

21 Comments

  1. Great article, Patty! So sorry to have missed it. Maybe next year?

  2. Absolutely next year, Cheryl!

  3. Congratulations Patty! You go girl – there’s nothing you can’t do! You look positively radiant!

    • Thank you Susan, it was an incredible day and so good to spend it with the best of friends 🙂

  4. Patty,
    I was grinning the whole time I was reading your article, because your narrative brought back all of my memories and experiences along the Tour that day! Just an incredible, fun and tiring journey!

    At first I looked at the Tour as a “bucket list” item: do it, cross it off the list, and move on to the next thing. But the Tour has become much more than that. Yes, I completed the Tour this year – but next year I plan to do it BETTER!

    • LaRah, I will always be grateful to the internet for bringing you to Team #SomeNerve! What a positive presence you were through the entire journey – really looking forward to looking forward 🙂 to the next Tour with you.

  5. Patty!! You are AMAZING!! And so’s your #SomeNerve team!

    • Thank you Kim – let’s form a team in St Joe’s!

  6. Not only did I feel like I witnessed your whole adventure (amazing) but I also learned about BONKING. Congrats to you and your team, you accomplished more that you realize.

  7. Living vicariously through your posts…and getting inspired, too!

  8. We’re so proud of you and Team #SomeNerve, Patty! Your story is truly inspirational and very relatable for so many people. Wish we had more like you!

  9. Truly an inspiration, Patty! Love the luminous yellow jerseys! You totally ROCK!

  10. What a great blog post about a great experience!!! I very much enjoyed riding it with you! I’ve been meaning, as you suggested, to write up my experience of it, but I haven’t done it yet. Hope to soon!

  11. Bravo, Patty! I’m so glad I was part of Team #SomeNerve and I hope to ride with you again soon.

  12. After we rode the 5 Boro Bike Tour in 2002 we figured that was it. Then when Patty asked us to join Team Some Nerve, we had to say yes. It turned out to be a great day, but it started badly. We got lost at the start and couldn’t find Patty and the rest of the team. So we spent the first part of the ride wondering how Patty was doing. The more the wind picked up the more we wondered.

    Then as we passed the last rest station, Yolanda yelled, “There’s Patty.” Soon as I saw her face I knew she was going to make it.
    What a privilege to be part of Patty’s journey.
    Yolanda says, “Patty turns her weaknesses into a strength.”
    I say, “With Patty conquering them, fears are in trouble. If I were fears, I’d be scared.”

  13. Great article! Patty, we meet you leaving the expo that Sat, I knew you could do it!

  14. It was such a shame that I couldn’t find the team after accidentally bringing a backpack and having to find a place to store it BUT you got me to the tour. And it was one of the best days of my life, too. I still can’t believe I did it!

  15. Patty you are such an inspiration! Joining Team #SomeNerve took the amazing experience of the TD Five Boro Tour and amped it up to 11! I had some much fun riding with your team and being able to help support some of the riders. You were not the only rider to learn about bonking that day, but we all finished and the pride on everyone’s faces at the finish festival was so rewarding. I can not wait to do this again next year with the team and take even more people over the Beast!

  16. Patty, First of all, Bravo!! You are an inspiration to all. I’ve been wanting to ride this Bike Tour for many years, but failure to draft any partners sidelined me. This year, I decided, it’s NOW or NEVER, so I planned to go it alone. That is, until I found team #SomeNerve. Thank you for all your encouragement and companionship throughout this journey. This was truly an unbelievable experience. Many thanks to you and Rich, from Bike NY, for the 2 bridge practice ride. Perfect weather–perfect day– and I learned a few things from Rich, too! It really calmed my nerves and made me feel a little more confident to face “The Beast”. I was amazed how organized Bike New York was. The packet pick-up was quick and painless, and the Expo was superb. When we rode past Radio City Music Hall and thru Central Park, it was magical. I’ve walked those streets so many times and felt so special to be bike riding thru the 5 Boroughs, without traffic. All the views were mesmerizing and absolutely breathtaking. The bike stops along the way were well stocked with refreshments, to give us that extra burst of energy to get over those 5 bridges. The cheering sections were just what we needed to keep us powering onward. Many thanks to Margaret, who kept me company during this fantastic trek. The NYC skyline was such a magnificent site and highlight of the ride. Last, but certainly not least, “The Beast” (The Verrazano Narrows Bridge), which took me forever (on a mountain bike, yikes) but I DID IT and NEVER walked my bike! Thank you for the VIP lunch at the finish festival, where you kindly allowed us to replenish all those carbs we burned, and it was delish too. Even after all my skiing and scuba diving ventures, biking the TD 5 Borough Bike Tour was my most thrilling ride, a ride of a lifetime! I recommend it to everyone. Patty, if we can do it, anyone can!! Think like a winner. I can’t wait till next year! Great Blog, I was laughing the whole time.

  17. I really enjoyed your article! I can’t even imagine going from learning how to ride to a 40 mile bike tour in 4 months.
    My wife and I are signed up for the 2015 5 Boro Tour (first time!) so this gives us some insight into the ups and downs we can expect along the way. We’re 59 and 64 years old so our attitude is “If not now, then when?”. We’ll look for your team along the way!

    • Wonderful, Jason! Message me if you want to join the team – I bet you and your wife would look great in yellow!