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Overnight Camping Ride to Floyd Bennett Field

Fritz Van Orden | Published on 10/1/2015

Synchronized sweeping, friendly procyonids, aerial symphonies; what's not to like?

I recently sent an email to some non-cyclist friends to give them an idea of my exciting life here in the Center of the Universe.  I decided to share it as sent, and omit the names of the guilty



My bike club, the No Crazy Left Behind Bicycle Club, advertised an end-of-summer overnight camping ride to Floyd Bennett Field last weekend.  Cycling, camping, stay in Brooklyn:  what's not to like?  On Friday night, we ride out to the National Park campground from Grand Army Plaza, eat food brought by the ride leaders and sleep in tents also provided.  We just bring our bikes and sleepingbags.  On Saturday we ride to the Rockaways to The Famous Fish Taco Joint, then ride back to GAP.  I signed up.

I was very excited because I hadn't engaged in bicycle touring for over a year.  I filled my panniers and also brought my little tent just in case I didn't want to sleep in a canvas dormitory. 

All went well; we met at 6pm and negotiated the 10.4-mile trek down Bedford Ave.  It got dark just as we paralleled the rush-hour Belt Parkway.  One of the most satisfying things about riding a bike is being able to ride next to an expressway faster than the nearby motor vehicles. 

Floyd Bennett Field is quite the multimedia extravaganza on a Friday night.  We rode through the Secret Gate and right by a High-School football game.  Then we cut over to one of the landing strips, only to confront a battalion of strange vehicles making strange maneuvers on the runway.  They were ... street sweepers!   Right!  Floyd Bennett is also home to the NYC Sanitation Dept Training Academy, and they were in full synchronized-sweeper mode.  Hey, most street sweepers work at night; night?  Makes perfect sense!  They were riding in circles and doing that diagonal-alignment thing they do when clearing snow.  The only problem was they were putting water down in strips on the tarmac, which turned it a dark color, and which we assumed was the roadway.  We should've been going around them on the pale surface.  But we really couldn't see much, what with their headlights and whatnot. 

We survived that and took off down the other runway to the campground, only to pass a convoy of tractors in line coming in the other direction.  The ones with the huge front scoops you see out there picking up snow, salt, crud, and those metal plates they put down on the roads to kill unwary cyclists.

It was quite dark by the time we got there.  One of our enterprising leaders had ventured out earlier in the day and set up the tents.  Whew!  Watching people learn how to pitch big tents in the dark can be amusing, but this just wasn't the time.  We built a fire, cooked and ate our food, and relaxed.  Those of us with foresight nursed the beers we brought.  The high point was making s'mores using the 1-square-inch Teddy Grahams our leaders provided.

Being an early-to-bed type and a Native Californian who only uses tents when Absolutely Necessary, I decided to neither sleep in a provided tent nor pitch my own, but rather to roll out my sleeping bag right there on the ground and ... sack out.  Before doing so, however, I made a casual remark to one leader: "how are the raccoons out here?"  "Well, she said, funny you should mention it..."   While I relaxed in my bag, the rest of the gang amused themselves shining their flashlights into the reflecting eyes of our four-footed friends lurking in the bushes.  Before they went to bed, my fellow campers warned me about the raccoons hovering about. 

When all was quiet, I shone my lamp around and made a few quick movements.  The couple of big raccoons and the ton of little ones ran off and I only saw them once more before morning.  I snoozed for a bit but various sounds grew and grew.  Oh!  Airplanes!  Right!  Of course, we're in the JFK flight path!  Well, they were landing so they weren't as loud as they could be, and didn't fly precisely overhead.  But there were other sounds as well.  Helicopters!  Just what every National Park campground needs!  When there was a gap in the jets landing, it would be filled by a helicopter flying Directly Overhead.  Then there were the campers in a nearby site making the usual late-nite drunk camping sounds.  A bit further off was a large group of campers really partying down with their PA system playing our favorite autotune hits.  Number one:  "B**ch Better Have My Money!" 

At what I guessed to be about midnight, the JFK flight path changed.  Now we were in the path of jets taking off.  They usually swerved one way or the other before getting to us, but once in awhile one went right overhead.  JFK is a 24-hour airport.  What's louder, a jet takeoff 200 feet above you or a helicopter 20 feet above? 

By morning I must've gotten at least ten minutes of refreshing sleep.  Fortunately I had brought my own breakfast, and ate before the rest of the gang arose.  No coffee, but none was promised.  On a trip to the facilities, I ran into a NatParks staffer, who said he'd never seen helicopter traffic like that before.  I figured it must've been Homeland Security for the Pope, who was scheduled to fly out of JFK at 8:00.  Gotta make sure His Eminence doesn't suffer an attack by aquatic terrorists on a sabotage mission across Jamaica Bay.  Only later did I learn the NYPD has a heliport out there. 

The plan had been to go kayaking in the morning, but there was too much chop and the gang decided to visit nearby Deadhorse Bay.  I had long since decided I was going to bail out and ride back home, but I did have to visit my friend Barbara's plot in the Floyd Bennett Community Garden.  We stopped by but she wasn't there and I couldn't identify her garden.  The last time I'd been there it was next to a hut with a Turkish flag on it and it had fifty overgrown bok choy trees in the corner, but that was a few months ago. 

I bade farewell to my more adventurous companions and headed back home, where I went to bed and slept for the rest of the weekend.