Cycling the sights in Washington DC and NYC; Kill Devil Hills (North Carolina) to New London (Connecticut)

Leg; 905 miles / 1,456 km
Total; 10,826 miles / 17,423 km

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As soon as we crossed the North Carolina-Virginia border we felt at home. The Virginia countryside is so English! It’s green, quaint and understated. We have really enjoyed the American landscape, but there is something beautifully modest about England’s green fields, partitioned by hedgerows and dotted with small colourful flowers. Virginia has that. It also has hills! The first hills we’d found since Austin, Texas. And probably the first hills we were actually grateful for, as they did a wonderful job of warming us up as we got hit by an east coast nor’easter; a colloquialism for a winter storm! We escaped the worst of the snowfall but still had to traverse what had settled the further north we got.

We timed our arrival into historic Williamsburg with the bad weather, so we holed up for a day and explored the colonial town and fortifications of Yorktown. We stayed with an incredible Warm Showers host called Nick who spends his spare time and disposable income flying his small plane around the country rescuing dogs from certain euthanasia. It’s a noble hobby and he regaled us with amazing stories of the places he’d been and the dogs he’d rescued, up to 17 at a time!

From Williamsburg we took the recently completed Capital Trail to Richmond. We rant and rave about the USA’s cycle paths but this is the best we’ve been on so far. It’s over 50 miles of continuously paved, dedicated cycle path. The route goes through ancient forests and passed numerous plantations and historic landmarks. Once we arrived at Richmond the nor’easter struck again, dumping ‘ice pellets’ on anyone brave enough to be outside. We took another rest day, spending the day hanging out with our Warm Showers Robbie, who was restoring and building bicycle wheels. Robbie runs the local bicycle co-op and is a genius restorer of any components that are donated. Check out his handiwork on Instagram (itswheelsimple).

We couldn’t delay any longer and we pedalled onto Washington DC over the next two days. DC has a complex network of cycle paths that enter the city limits from the west. We took the Washington & Old Dominion and Curtis Trails for 20 miles all the way to the Lincoln memorial. Practically all the memorial and Smithsonian museums in DC are free, and most of them on The Mall. We were very lucky to have our own apartment in Columbia Heights (via the daughter of a previous Warm Showers host!) so we spent a few days exploring numerous museums, galleries and memorials. It was one of our favourite cities of the trip and such an easy place to explore on a budget with the free museums and cheap buses.

From DC we had several options to get to NYC. While we were keen to explore Philadelphia and Baltimore, we couldn’t find a feasible route to cross NYC’s many bridges or tunnels from the west. We decided to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to the Delmarva peninsula, take the Lewes-Cape May ferry to New Jersey and the Atlantic Highlands-Wall St ferry to NYC. This turned out to be a great choice! The Delmarva states of Maryland and Delaware were largely remote farmland and small towns. In Greenwood we stated in a cute cabin on the grounds of a Warm Showers host, shared with their awesome basset hound, numerous chickens, two goats and a donkey! In Lewes we met up with fellow cycle tourer Alex, who we’d tried to meet in Texas, but never quite timed it right. And in Forked River, New Jersey we stayed with Diane and Steve; the parents of another fellow cycle tourer who we spent several days cycling together along the Californian coast. Small world!

We joke that everywhere we go, people tell us the ‘next place’ will be the most dangerous for cycling. This is true, but there are also a few places that people have warned us about far in advance. The Jersey Shore was one of those places. And like all the other places we were warned about, it was unwarranted. There are quiet roads that hug the coastline, exquisite Victorian(style) beach boardwalks and tree covered country roads and bike paths. The people are very friendly too. Like everywhere we’ve been on this trip!

The ferry ride from Atlantic Highlands was expensive but undoubtedly worth it. It saved us negotiating the commuter highways and dropped us right onto the Hudson River Greenway; a remarkable bike path that extends the length of Manhattan. We cycled as far as the 9/11 memorial and then took us chances with the roads to see more of the sights. We followed bike route signs till we hit 6th Avenue and cycled all the way to Central Park. We found NYC a very easy city to cycle around. If you’re nervous you can stick to the bike lane and Greenways, but if you want the full experience, hit the roads. The traffic moves very slowly and there are so many bolshy bicycle couriers that you can draft them as they stick their front wheel in front of turning cars and yell at pedestrians!

We spent three nights in Washington Heights staying with a cycle tourer we met crossing the desert in Texas! We met up with Ties’ Uncle Mo and saw as much as we could on our limited budget. Another myth buster; you can holiday in NYC very cheaply. We effectively had a tour of Uptown, Harlem, Central Park, Midtown and East Village just by taking a $2.75 ride on a local bus. Hardly anyone uses the bus so it was pretty empty the whole time, and we had a great view of all the sights. We spent another couple of hours exploring the Highline – a park developed on a disused, elevated freight train line – meatpacking district and Chelsea Market. All free activities fuelled by some of NYC’s finest slices of unfeasibly cheap pizza.

After a few days in Manhattan we planned to cycle over the Brooklyn Bridge to Greenpoint. We fumbled our way to the entry ramp but the bridge itself was like a human zoo. Utter chaos. We chef as angry cyclists tried to make their way through the crowds, and didn’t fancy our chances with fully loaded. So we trundled up towards the Williamsburg Bridge and had a blast hurtling through the metal stays to Brooklyn. The weather didn’t play ball on our first day in Brooklyn so we raided hipster castoffs in the nearest Goodwill thrift store. We were lucky enough to find two Warm Showers hosts in Brooklyn so we spent a few days in Williamsburg and another few days checking out Red Hook, Brooklyn Museum, Prospect Park and Coney Island.

After a week in NYC we cycled the length of Long Island to the Orient Point ferry. Long Island is an interesting night mix of edgy urban sprawl and country bumpkin villages. We exited Brooklyn via Coney Island to the boardwalks of the Rockaway beaches; a very interesting Art Deco area that was like a ghost town in April! The Long Island highlights were undoubtedly the woodland Bethpage Greenway and quiet country roads of the North Fork. The ferry to New London passed several picturesque islands before depositing on the southern shore of New England’s famous coast.