Well I turned 50 this week, and celebrated with a motel tour from Manhattan to Montauk, a total distance of about 150 miles.
It was an amazing experience, and thanks to everyone on the board who helped with some questions I had.
I went at my pace, about 25 miles per day, staying in motels of varying quality. My route went down thru Brooklyn, and was carefully chosen to deflect traffic as much as possible. I spent many fun hours poring over Google Maps to choose the streets up to Babylon; then the rest was a pretty standard Century route. My hat's off to anyone who does it from Babylon out in one day, and anyone who goes from the city in one day, that's a superhuman feat in my book.
I overnighted in Sheepshead Bay, Long Beach, Babylon (2 nites), Westhampton, Bridgehampton/Wainscott (2 nites), and Montauk (2 nites), then took the train back. (I'm limited to moderate mileage until I can get a knee problem accurately diagnosed.) All the motels were fine, except Babylon. I stayed at one of the cheap places up near Sunrise Highway, and it was just the bare minimum. I can't recommend it, except as an alternative to camping. On the bright side, there is an enormous 24 hour laundromat nearby.
And I had a great dinner in Babylon, at an amazing Thai restaurant called Rungsit. No kidding, the best Thai food I've ever had: soup, salad, appetizer, main course, and dessert all excellent. (This place is only open for dinner).
Best hotel was the last one, Hartman's Briney Breezes in Montauk: just outside of town and across the street from the ocean. Great room with all the comforts of home.
The Long Beach hotel (the Jackson) was interesting, because it's like a museum of hotel furnishings thru the decades, starting with the fifties. There's little chance of getting lost in your room -- but size isn't everything.
The route of course, has some spectacular views towards the end, and really all of it was fun. The weather was another story -- it was oppressively hot for 4 straight days, necessitating breaks simply to get out of the sun. I had full "Fred" kit including a bandana around my neck and towels covering my forearms, after the earlier overcast days had tricked me into a sunburn. At one point, I put a wet paper towel inside my helmet to keep my head from overheating.
This was my first try at self-contained touring, and I must say, the first time I rode with the panniers fully loaded, I wasn't sure if I had a bike under me or a brontosaurus. I basically had to relearn things like steering and stopping. Surprisingly, it didn't seem to affect moving forward all that much -- I guess inertia helps out. It definitely was much less a factor than the heat. My load turned out to weigh 34 pounds, on top of a heavyish bike (Trek 7300).
Babylon to Westhampton was the longest segment, 41 miles, and also the most eventful. It started out with scorching heat (90s) but I was happy to see the sun, as the previous days had all started overcast.
I powered out of Babylon easily enough, and sailed down Montauk Highway with its fine shoulder. However, from time to time, my left pannier would slip half-off and rub the tire a little. I'd get off and readjust it, then continue. But I didn't really fully diagnose the problem, and just pedaled along. Heat-addled, I guess.
Eventually I reached Sayville and noted the location of a bike store on the left side of the street. Might be useful some time. So I sailed along, and found a spot with a nice downhill. I powered thru the gears and hit, for me, a high speed, of 18, 19, come on, come on, there's twen-
Whoa! Hit a bump and the left pannier came flying off. Some fail-safe straps kept it attached, but it was swinging around and actually went into the spokes. I went into emergency-management mode and managed to bring the bike to a halt in maybe 5-10 seconds.
Relieved it hadn't been a full-on accident, I pulled over into a parking lot and inspected the damage. No broken spokes, but something was wrong. Meanwhile I figured out what was wrong with the pannier. The front hook had lost its shape, so it wasn't gripping the rack properly. I bent it back around with my bare hands and was relieved to solve that problem. (Later in the trip, I used zip ties to better secure the hooks.) But what about the wheel? I'd hold the bike up and spin the wheel, and it would just spin for a moment then stop.
I eventually realized it wasn't a brake problem -- the wheel was out of true. I pedaled around a little to judge whether it even seemed safe to ride, and, when it did, I decided to slowly pedal back to the bike shop and hope they could fix it.
It took awhile to find the store -- pedestrians are amazingly clueless about where bike shops are located. It was further back than I remembered -- in West Sayville. But I got there and rolled it in, extremely relieved.
They said they didn't have time to fix it, as they were closing soon. Then I offered to buy a new wheel -- did they carry Treks?
Okay then, can you just look at it and see if it seems safe to ride on?
So then this kid wrench, maybe 16, has me hold up the bike and he spins the wheel. Well this kid turns out to be the "House" of Long Island bike mechanics, because in 2 seconds he sees which spokes are loose, and he tightens them up and it spins almost perfectly. I thank him profusely, and he won't even accept payment (I later mailed them something.) He says it'll be fine to ride on for now -- and I resolve to get it fully looked over back home.
So now I pedal along, unbelievably relieved that I didn't have to abandon the ride or do some lame train-to-Westhampton thing. I biked along and everything was fine until Patchogue, when the clouds turned ominous. It clearly was going to be a thunderstorm, just not clear when. I considered hanging out at the train station proactively (for the overhang, not the train!). But ego got the better of me and I tried to out-race it.
Well, you know what happened then. It started pouring buckets and lightning-ing when I was in a pure residential area, without so much as a bus stop for shelter. I huddled near some bushes, and attempted to get out my rain gear, which turns out to be much harder when it's actually raining.
I was about half-done covering the panniers, when someone called to me from inside his home --
-- "Hey bike guy, ya wanna come inside?"
So now I'm dealing with a natural fear of trusting a stranger, mixed with a strong desire to get out of the lightning. Something about the guy reminded me of guys I knew in college at Stony Brook, back in the day, so I felt okay about him, and went inside.
Steve was a very chatty guy, and he basically told me his life story and I explained what my trip was about. I think he was glad someone in distress happened by, so he could strike up a conversation.
He also gave me water and chocolate-chip cookies, and I was glad for the hospitality. The storm cleared up in about 30 minutes, and I left and continued my tour.
I got as far as the South Country Road detour, which again is basically residential, when the skies opened up again. And there was lightning, both the general flashes of light, and the classic jagged vertical strikes with that sound that just crackles the sky.
So I decided to take the first available shelter and pedaled like mad. And luckily, I arrived at a shopping district and went under a supermarket overhang. I stayed there about 45 minutes and talked with a guy, asked him where the nearest motel was, etc. I figured maybe I'd sleep there and eat the cost of my Westhampton reservation. Better than getting hit by lightning, or doing a lot of riding in pitch-black. It was maybe 6 pm and not really dark, but getting more so.
He said the nearest motel was in Shirley, and I remembered the internet reviews on that place weren't so great -- but still I filed the info away just in case. Just as I decided to go eat at an Italian restaurant across the street, the storm seemed to break. I waited a few moments -- it seemed clear -- and I said, F- it, I'm going. I pedaled strong, glad for the opportunity -- and was glad to hear birds chirping. Generally when birds chirp, the storm is over. They know.
At long last, I arrived in Westhampton and asked a lady biker on an English 3-speed for restaurant recommendations as we rode along. (Can you do that in a car? No, I didn't think so.)
She was still giving me advice when my turn came up, so I excused myself and headed for the motel. Well it's a dandy place, the Seabreeze Westhampton Motel, with a nice design sense, and only unfortunately lacking a bathtub.
I check in, unpack a little, mix up some Endurox and sit down for some stretching.
Then the smoke detector does a little beep, and everything goes dark! The lights come on maybe 30 seconds later, and last for a minute -- then another little beep and everything is dark again. This happens 3 or 4 times, and the last time the blackout holds ... and holds.
I'm sitting on the floor in complete darkness, my glass of Endurox is nearby, and I'm afraid to reach out for it, for fear of spilling it. I don't even have any paper towels left to mop it up.
Eventually I decide to grab my bike's cheapo headlight and use it as a flashlight.
Fine idea, except the batteries are dead. And no matter how much I rummage through my bags, I can't find the replacement batteries.
So I manage to find my little book light, the one for reading in dark restaurants, and I open that up and use it. I manage to take a shower by book light, relieved that the shower works, so powerfully I can't put it into words.
Then I decide to head out for some food. I ask some people milling about, and they say "all of Westhampton is out." I mention that some places sometimes have their own generators. I don't detail for them the fact that I have a biker's hunger after really just snacking all afternoon and skipping lunch. I just say I'm gonna go look for a little bit, and if it's too hard to see, I'll turn back.
So I'm hand-holding my book light and pedaling along. Everything's dark as only the countryside can get. I do see some workmen up ahead, working on some powerlines. So maybe there's hope. Then over to the side, what's that? That looks like some light! It was like in a Spielberg movie, a beacon of light in the darkness. I pedal over, and it is ... a 7-11!
A microwaved burrito never tasted so good! I stuff my face also with 3 desserts. Then I pick up some batteries, paper towels, and a bag o' ice to take back to the motel. For some reason I'd not brought my backpack -- so I had to arm-hold the bag o' ice with one hand and handhold the booklight with the other, while I pedaled back the half-mile or so.
I settled in -- the motel's lights were back on by now. I cranked up the air conditioning, iced my knees, took another shower, stretched, and went to bed.