June 27 2012 by Jason Fogelson
As if riding a motorcycle isn't enough of an adrenaline rush, waking up in Times Square ready to ride a motorcycle is enough to get the blood pumping quickly. I slept like a rock in my comfortable room at BEST WESTERN PLUS President Hotel at Times Square, Jack and Jackie Kennedy keeping watch over me all night long. I was concerned that the street noise from busy 48th Street below my fourth floor window might keep me awake, but the room was as quiet and serene as a room in the country, a true haven in the middle of the most populous city in the United States.
I check out of my room and check my luggage with the Bell Captain while I traipse over to retrieve the Electra Glide from its parking place a block away. It's early in the morning, but the streets are teeming with activity. There's a highly organized picket line of guys in pilot uniforms across the street. Horse and carriage rigs clop by on the way to nearby Central Park. Smartly dressed men and women rush to and fro, presumably on the way to work, while colorfully outfitted tourists snap pictures and gawk at the buildings. New York is ever-changing, ever-evolving, and somehow always the same. It's a great city to visit, and the BEST WESTERN PLUS President Hotel would be an ideal base of operations in Time Square.
I pull the bike around, and load my gear for the ride ahead.
I lived in Manhattan for a decade, and rode a Harley-Davidson Sportster for most of that time. I'm pretty comfortable in the rough and tumble traffic of the city, though I can see how it could be intimidating for some riders. The same rules apply in urban traffic as apply on the open road: Stay alert; ride defensively; and don't get flustered by what happens around you. A horn blast is not going to change your bike's course. Timid riding will result in other drivers crowding your bike in traffic. Claim your space, ride your ride, and everything will be fine. Other drivers don't want to hit you or knock you off your bike. Everybody just wants to get where they're going as quickly as possible. Keep that in mind, and you'll be fine.
I ride west and turn north on the West Side Highway, which runs along the Hudson River. I join the flow of traffic at the north end of Manhattan, and merge onto the upper level of the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey. There's no toll on outbound passages, which is a little insulting to New Jersey, but keeps traffic flowing.
Immediately upon hitting New Jersey, I connect with the Palisades Interstate Parkway. Back when the Palisades Parkway was completed in 1958, motoring was still an elegant undertaking. The road meanders along between the George Washington Bridge and Bear Mountain, a distance of 42 miles. Trucks and cars pulling trailers are prohibited from the four-lane divided road, and buses need special permits. There are no billboards or ads on the roadside, and the Parkway is considered "limited access," with entrances and exits spaced about a mile apart. There are several scenic overlooks along the way, pull-offs where you can pause and look at the river below. It's a step back in time, and a nice road to ride.
I'm going to make a stop in the Catskills today to visit Andrew, an old friend from my Manhattan days, at his country house in Ulster County. I'll also get to meet his four year-old daughter Amelie for the first time.
Lots of New Yorkers choose to split their time between the city and the country -- not nearly as unattainable an idea as it seems. Real estate in Manhattan and the other boroughs of New York City is very expensive, but it's highly desirable to stay close to work. Some folks chose to commute in from the near suburbs every day; others choose to escape to the country, where land is more affordable and the contrast is even greater. Going back and forth between city and country helps to balance life, and can make living in a crowded, adrenaline-fueled metropolis more bearable.
Andrew has it made. He and his wife found 5 acres of heaven, with a solid house nestled in front of the woods. I get a great tour of the house and grounds, with Amelie showing off the family garden and her own personal waterfall in the woods.
We head into the nearby town of Stone Ridge for some lunch at Jack and Luna's Cafe, a friendly little place that has won more than its share of "Best of Hudson Valley" awards from the local newspaper. The skies have been threatening all morning, and just as we sit down for some cold gazpacho (for me), a chicken, walnut and apple salad (for Andrew) and some homemade macaroni and cheese (for Amelie), it starts to pour down rain. I linger over lunch, even though I need to keep riding, I'm enjoying catching up with Andrew and getting to know Amelie. Finally, the rain lets up, the food is gone and it's time to ride. I bid my friends farewell, and ride off onto the wet pavement.
I'm geared up for the weather, as always. I'm wearing my waterproof Harley-Davidson FXRG Perforated Leather Jacket and FXRG Boots. I've added some waterproof Kevlar-lined Cordura riding pants for this ride, non-Harley brand, in an attempt to lighten my traveling load a bit. My FXRG Leather and Textile Overpants are great, but they're too heavy for the weather. Even though the rain falls in sheets at times, I'm warm and dry.
Because of the rain, I stick to the big roads for the next leg of my journey. I'm riding up to Lake George, NY for the night, and there are some great side roads along the way. This is no weather for sightseeing, however, so I'm riding directly up the New York Thruway and the Northway to get where I'm going. My ride takes me around Albany, New York's capital city, and past Troy, New York. I really wanted to stop in to visit the Monks at New Skete, just east of Cambridge, New York. The Monks are famous dog trainers, with several excellent books on the subject, including "How To Be Your Dog's Best Friend," which is one of my favorites. The Monks breed and raise German Shepherd dogs, and also train dogs and teach dog training to people. After having read their books, I really want to see their facilities in person to get some more inspiration, as I am in the process of training my 6-month old Labrador/Poodle puppy, Chet. Next time through, perhaps, on a dry day. Imagine the smell of a whole kennel full of wet German Shepherds -- not to mention wet Monks!
I exit the Northway at Lake George, and immediately turn in to the BEST WESTERN of Lake George. Kristi at the front desk is a delight. She checks me in, and is happy to recommend several nearby restaurants for dinner. I dry off and relax for a little while -- despite the fact that I have covered almost 250 miles today and had a great visit in the Catskills, I've arrived in the Adirondack region of New York in plenty of time to wait out the rain.
It's the second week of June, and up here in Lake George the sun doesn't set until after 8:36 pm this evening. Next week on the 21st is the longest day of the year, as the sun rises at 5:14 am and sets at 8:39 pm. The quality of light in the late evening is just beautiful. I sit out in front of the hotel for a while and admire the atmosphere. There's not a lot of sun with all the rain, but it's still beautiful. The forecast calls for clearing by morning, and with any luck, I'll have a few dry days this week.
I take Kristi's advice, and head out to the Log Jam Restaurant for dinner. A steakhouse with a log cabin look and feel, the Log Jam is a longtime favorite in Lake George, and just the place for a rainy night. I enjoy a medium rare rib-eye steak, and I manage to resist the house specialty "Adirondack Log" dessert -- a big, cylindrical brownie covered with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce.
Back at the BEST WESTERN of Lake George, I have a very nice conversation with Kristi. She's new to hotel work, but has a great attitude and a desire to succeed. I think she's a real asset to the place -- just the kind of efficient, friendly person you want to discover at the front desk.
I retire to my room to study my maps, and to get ready for my next day of riding. I'm going to explore Lake George in the daylight, then head across to New Hampshire to join a motorcycle rally. Should be fun!
Miles ridden: 242.6
NEXT: NEW ENGLAND BY MOTORCYCLE, DAY THREE: LAKE GEORGE, NY TO MANCHESTER, NH