The next morning we went down to breakfast and again were glad we’d made the change of hotels. We had a good breakfast and chatted with people who were competing in the Westminster Dog Show which was happening in nearby Tarrytown. The Westminster is usually held in the city around Valentine’s Day, but it is just getting back after a couple of years of Covid delays and cancellations. It was a kick to see some very beautiful (and they knew it) dogs walking the hallways of the hotel. Another couple asked about our biking (we were kitted up for the coming day) and we had a great conversation with them – she asked if she could take our picture. It was a nice way to start the day.
We had only 25 miles to ride to the Bryant Park Hotel. 25 miles isn’t very far and we were now thinking about the coming day (Sunday) and what we’d do after we arrived in Manhattan. Normally, 25 miles would only take us a couple hours. Would we be able to check in early? Would we be able to find tickets to a matinee? We’d talked about going to the last show of “Girl From the North Country”, the musical written by Conor McPherson and using songs by Bob Dylan.
But those 25 miles involved riding right into the heart of one of the biggest and busiest cities on earth….! We had good maps, still following the Empire State Trail and Hudson River Valley Bikeway signs. It was a beautiful Sunday, Father’s Day, and it seemed like half the city was out on the trails and in the parks as we rode south to Van Cortland Park on a nice asphalt trail. The Sunday morning biking guys were zooming past us at 20 miles an hour, and families were out for a stroll, some with dogs. It made for a ride that required all of our attention. After riding through Yonkers, we ended up on streets in the Bronx, and after a couple of wrong turns, found ourselves walking across the bridge over the Harlem River, officially taking us into Manhattan.
The first encounter we had on the bridge, by the way, was with a rat. I wish I’d gotten a picture of him/her. It wasn’t as repulsive as I’d expected – kind of cute, in fact. After getting back on the trail, we rode along the Hudson, through Riverside Park, below the Cloisters and by Columbia University and the Upper West Side. We watched the street numbers count down, from the 100’s to the 80’s and lower, as we dodged ebikes and escooters and pedestrians and looked at New Jersey across the river. We rode under the George Washington Bridge and remembered biking here in 2018 when we rented bikes and circumnavigated the island on a similarly beautiful day in April.
Our plan was to get off the trail at 48th street and head over to Times Square on city streets. When we got there, we walked across the very busy West Side Highway and mounted up and rode into Hell’s Kitchen, on the street and with no problems. In a few minutes, we were at Times Square, so busy on this beautiful Father’s Day Sunday morning. It is always crowded there and on this day, there was a group singing Broadway songs and there were tourists and there was the naked cowboy and there was us, wheeling bikes and panniers through the crowd. I’d wanted an iconic photo at the end of our trip, and this was it. We asked a fellow if he could take our picture.
After soaking up the scene for a few minutes, we walk/rode over to Bryant Square Park, just a few blocks away. We like that park, with its grass and trees and flowers and the New York Public Library. It is close enough to Broadway theaters to walk, but just far enough from the craziness of Times Square. We awkwardly got through the doors of the hotel and leaned the bikes against a wall and walked over to the reception desk, where hotel staff Scott and Zaaul were staring at us. I greeted them and said we’d just finished a 600 mile bike trip from Buffalo. They had lots of questions about bike travel and what we were doing, and eventually asked “Wait, do you have a reservation here?” I said “YES! We like to have a nice hotel at the end of our trips and this is it! This is our reward.” I asked about storing the bikes in their luggage storage area, and Scott immediately said “Well, since we’ve never seen this before, I’m going to upgrade you to a larger room.” I asked if there would be room for our bikes (knowing how big the typical Manhattan hotel room is) and he said “Oh, there is room for thirty bikes in this one!”
We took the elevator up – one at a time as the car was small – and found the room on the 9th floor. We were amazed at the size – it was a suite, with a dining table, a living room, a very nice bedroom and a huge bathroom, all overlooking the library and the park.
I’ll be honest, I had an initial desire to just enjoy this room, which was so much more than I’d expected. But it was early enough (the guys gave us early check-in as well) to clean up and run over to the Belasco Theater on 44th to see if we could get tickets for the show. So we showered, I ironed my linen pants and shirt that I’d carried in the pannier for the last ten days, and we made our way to the box office. I got in a line which stretched down the block and around the corner. Lisa found out that we should wait with the ticket holders and find out if there were available tickets when we got to the box office. This would be the very last performance of the show on Broadway, though it is scheduled to go on tour next year (after opening in Minneapolis, of course.) It was a friendly crowd and we were both just thrilled, still trying to grasp what was going on with this amazing day.
We did get tickets, and entered the little theater and just relaxed for a few minutes before the beginning of the show. “Girl from the North Country” takes place in Duluth, Minnesota in 1934, and tells the story of a family running a boarding house in those troubled times. It weaves portions of over twenty Dylan songs into the narrative, and it does that beautifully. The first song was “Sign on the Window” from 1970’s New Morning. I think I almost immediately got weepy. The arrangements and the vocals were so beautiful, and fit the story so well. I think I was a combination of weary (after riding 600 miles in ten days, with 200 in the last three) and overjoyed to have arrived at our goal safely, and amazed at our experience at the hotel, and just plain relieved and happy.
The Minnesota place names in the play delighted us, and the show went by so fast. At intermission, we chatted with a woman by the merch table – she was assistant lighting director. I asked her if Dylan had come to see the show and she said that she thought he’d seen an earlier version done by the Public Theater before it opened on Broadway.
I tried not to sing along, helped by a few pokes from Lisa. But I absolutely loved the show. We spilled out on the street afterwards, my eyes still a bit wet. As the actors came out of the theater, we mingled a bit. Lisa noticed that Mare Winningham and her husband, actor Anthony Edwards, had come out. Ms. Winningham had some fans there and she generously took photos and signed playbills. When they were done, Lisa approached her and said “We are Minnesotans, and we loved the show…plus this guy is the biggest Dylan fan.” I wouldn’t say I was star struck by Mare Winningham (who was very good and nominated for a Tony for her role), but I was still very caught up in the show, and she could tell I was affected by it. She came over and gave me a big hug, and Lisa told her about our bike trip. Anthony started to talk to me about biking, and Ms. Winningham told us how much she would miss living with Dylan’s music every day.
We walked away, kind of stunned by happiness, good luck and the random lovely connections that can pop up in an interaction with strangers, an experience that we’d had first thing that morning, which seemed so long away at that point. We’d left a little town that morning on our bikes, navigated into the city, found our hotel and were surprised by generosity and then experienced a deeply rich theatrical production. It was kind of overwhelming and, I have to say, one of the best days of my life.
We walked back to Bryant Park and had a beer and a bite to eat under an umbrella at the Bryant Park Cafe as we tried to process the day and the days that lead up to it.
The next two days included meeting my son Arne, who just happened to be in NYC for a friend’s wedding, as well as a classmate of Lisa’s from Luther, Daiken, who is a Buddhist teacher. We walked to the Village twice and had some lovely (expensive) meals and just generally took in the NYC vibe, which we both love, for a few days, at least.
On Tuesday, we loaded out of our lovely room and walked our bikes through the morning workers on their way to the office and to Penn Station. We found our train, loaded up the bikes and settled in for the 8 hour trip back to Buffalo, where our car was waiting for us. We arrived in Buffalo after 10 pm, and decided to get a head start on the next day’s long drive back to St. Paul. We made it to Erie, PA, that night and drove the rest of the way the following day. There is little to say about that drive, other than that the seemingly omnipresent traffic jams around Chicago were balanced out by the beauty of a drive across Wisconsin at dusk. I always like that. We got to our garage by about 9:30 PM, unloaded, and climbed into our own beds, another bike adventure in the books.