Bike touring is a worthy challenge even for riders with decades of road experience under their belts. For youth cyclists from Sunnyside Community Service Center’s riding program, however, taking on a four-day trek across state lines was a natural next step toward cultivating a life packed with healthy, active adventure. Bike New York’s Education Director, Rich Conroy, went along for the ride, capturing scenes, snaps, and memories from the road.
During the last week of August, Bike New York’s Education Program dipped its toes into the exciting world of youth bike touring, leading a team of nine teens from Woodside, Queens on a journey covering hundreds of miles across the tristate.
The intrepid young cyclists hailed from Sunnyside Community Services and Woodside Cornerstone, a pair of Queens-area community organizations which both have participated in Bike New York’s After School and Summer Programs for years. As a matter of fact, several Woodside Cornerstone members were selected to act as Youth Ambassadors in the 2018 TD Five Boro Bike Tour.
Woodside Cornerstone’s site director, Diane Adlam, recognizes the unique value cycling possesses for the kids and teens she oversees. For some youth participants, Bike New York’s programs offer their only opportunity to get outside of everyday surroundings to explore new neighborhoods. For this reason, groups of kids from Woodside Cornerstone commonly end up enrolling in Bike New York programs in the Bronx, northern Manhattan, and other spots beyond their home borough. When we approached Diane with the idea of organizing a four-day, three-night biking and camping tour for the teens, she leapt at the chance, even offering to assist as a SAG van driver, grocery runner, and cook. But the idea came as something of a shock to many prospective riders: During our first meeting to gauge interest in the idea of a tour, one attendee asked in surprise, “You mean we’ll be leaving New York?!”
And leave we did! Our team designed a route favoring the Delaware and Raritan Canal Trail in New Jersey and Pennsylvania’s Delaware Canal Trail, chosen for their scenic terrain and historic landmarks; much of their original infrastructure—the canals’ locks, lock-keepers’ houses, aqueducts, and overflow dams— remain intact. (Having easy access to New Jersey Transit trains along the route was a big plus, too.)
Diane selected our final group of nine teen riders based on their involvement in previous Bike New York education sessions and their eagerness to face challenges. To help build the in-the-saddle endurance required for this demanding form of bike travel, the soon-to-be touring cyclists made it through four weekends of training rides led by two of our most capable instructors, David Hong and Isabella Bustamente. Before long, David and Isabella offered to extend their support by accompanying the kids and our small team of ride leaders on the trip.
By far, the first day on the road was the most difficult for our crew–not to mention the longest, with more than its fair share of headaches. The trouble began with an F train glitch that caused our group to miss our scheduled train. Once past mass transit woes, we quickly learned that some of the kids, having only ridden on New York City pavement, weren’t sure how to handle gravel paths; we had three minor crashes, one of which resulted in boy riding the SAG wagon the rest of the day. To make matters worse, said SAG van caught a flat tire, leaving us with no choice but to wait for hours until a replacement van arrived. To top it off, there were numerous busy road crossings between Bound Brook and Trenton, NJ, and by the time we arrived at our campsite, we had to set up camp in the dark.
Every tour has its ups and downs, though, and our team proved to be amazingly resilient for a band of first-timers. Thankfully, the three days that followed went much more smoothly, treating the riders to an array of wildlife including deer, turtles, geese, and herons along the way. We made camp at Washington Crossing, NJ, and Tinicum County Park, PA.
By the third day, we felt that the group had gained enough confidence to choose their level of challenge: riders could opt for a “short route” totaling 20 miles between Tinicum County Park to Riegelsville, PA, and a “long route” to the north end of the Delaware Canal Trail at Easton, PA. Excitingly, about half of our youth riders selected the more advanced route. As Aaron, one of the teen riders, stated: “The long ride on the third day was a lot, but it made me want to challenge myself to do more. And we did it! It was a great source of pride.”
Nature’s wonders and rewarding obstacles aside, several participants found themselves struck by how friendly folks were along the trail. At our first evening’s dinner stop, diners on the restaurant’s outdoor deck were filled with good-natured questions, asking the young riders where they were from, what brought them out, and where we were headed. All along the route, the people we passed waved and greeted us–an eye-opening change of pace from the city’s hustle and bustle.
All in all, our tristate bike tour and camping quest was a huge success–not only in the eyes of our Education team and ride leaders, but to the kids who got to break away from their habitual routine for a jaunt into inspiring new terrain. In the words of teen rider Kaila, “I think the Youth Bike Tour was a great opportunity for kids who love biking or love to push themselves past their limitations and love challenges.” She and Aaron concluded, “This trip built our courage, tested our strength, and exposed us to places we never would have visited if it wasn’t for your program.”