Revelations from Revolutions: a Bike Ride to Troy

The last time I talked to a psychologist, y’know, one of those times of personal retooling, when your life is full of frustration or messy bits and you need to talk out your options and emotions with someone who is totally not affected by them, she told me an interesting physiological fact. Anxiety, agitation, and even uncontrolled tremors related to illness or age, can be calmed by alternate repetitive physical actions. Walking, jogging, bicycling, even crossing your arms and tapping on biceps back and forth will bring a greater peace as well as the ability to process emotions in a better way.

Bicycling opens my brain to new thoughts and lets me process and develop long-standing ideas more deeply. And it makes me happy. Each revolution of the wheels, every push of my foot against the pedals, even the quick grind of a gear change is good. I feel younger on a bike. Speed is good. Outside is good. Sweat is good. I feel good.

This morning I rode my bike to Troy, NY to visit the farmers’ market and Riverfest. Round trip is 24 miles, mostly flat along the west side of the Hudson River, with a long, lovely downhill at the start of the ride, which then challenges me on the way home. I took the Corning bike trail to get there, and rode the streets through Watervliet, Menands, North Albany, and Albany to get home. My brain was sometimes in the moment just processing the day and at other times reflecting on…all sorts of things.

Jodi’s brain on a bike trip:

People still aren’t used to bikes on the road. There are more bikes than I have ever seen, and pedestrians and people in cars are mostly accepting, but don’t always play nice. And the marked “share the road” streets have made some people think that those are the only roads bikes should be on. Not so. Share the road”S” please.

From Troy Architectural Program (TAP) and their work on Complete Streets

I love how happy people are out on the Corning Trail, in Nature. Bicyclists, walkers, strollers, families, a few dogs. The only people that don’t smile, nod, or say “hey” are some of the way serious speed bicyclists, and the one or two people I saw walking and chatting on their phones. I used to get mad at people on their phones…tainting the outdoors with their conversations about who did what with who, or what hurts, or whatever. I have come to realize it might also be the only way they feel safe out there. Whatever gets them outside is fine with me. It also may be their only time to relax and talk with people they need to talk with, alone, away from people they live or work with. Another bonus to being out on a trail, between two cities.

I wish Watervliet would grind down or pave over the root heaves on the trail: with the vagary of leafy shadows, biking at serious speed and hitting those roots could be disastrous. I knew they were there and still almost lost my stability and my tire pressure! Watervliet has repaired some of the potholes at the street edges in the city, for which I am grateful. 

The streets of the cities in this region illustrate a wonderful history. Troy is sometimes called the Brooklyn of the north not only for the great changes to the community and diversity in the shopping offerings, but due to the style of townhomes. It has been used several times to represent NY city in the late 1800’s and early part of the 20th century in movies, such as Ironweed (1987) and The Age of Innocence (1993). I pulled over to take this photo of some homes in Watervliet. This street is a little plain, but I love the brightness of the buildings against that incredibly blue sky. 

Uncovering our past is important. Down the street a bit I saw one of these brick townhouses that had been bastardized with an overlay of vinyl siding, and the siding was partially taken off near the roofline. I’m hoping they take all of it off and repoint and repair the brick. It’s amazing how often we default to covering things up instead of repairing them, even in ourselves. Not just physically, with clothes to hide our shape or dye to hide our grey, but with anger to hide our hurt, defensiveness to hide our lack of knowledge, or denial to hide our fear.

I hate the way the island across from Troy has been denuded for a development. It is now labelled “Starbuck Island” although it is officially Center Island of the Town of Green Island, and all of the trees have been stripped, which no doubt with negatively affect rainwater flow to the river and increase pollutant load. Yeesh. It’s also butt ugly from Troy, though that pat of Troy is already an eyesore issue since the city hall was demolished. I tapped into the Times Union archives when I got home to read about the history of this island. In brief, it was home to the Starbuck Foundry, producing wooden stoves through the 19th century, ad was taken over by an oil terminal that existed from 1918 until 2008. The current information says NOTHING about the environmental impact, or if the project is striving for zero net energy, green infrastructure approaches, or any other aspect to help us navigate our current climate crisis.

People still don’t know how to use crosswalks (people in cars, people on foot, no one gets it). If there is a walk signal, the signal is the law. Push the button and wait to cross in the crosswalk. If there is no button/signal, cross when the way is clear. Cars must yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk (when there is not a pedestrian signal) but walkers can’t just jump out there, regardless. And for goodness sake, watch for bicycles!!! I can’t stop when you randomly step out from between parked cars. We must share and respect.

The farmers market and river fest. WOW. I was, no I am, amazed at the activity and variety, and local, local, local. The typical market is a bit smaller yet still incredibly impressive. On this Riverfest day the estimate is that 30,000 people were at the market. 30,000 people. The population of the City of Troy is just under 50,000. Three band locations. Easily 10 blocks worth of booths and so many local shops open as well. Food – everywhere. Local beers, wines, whiskies…sidewalk art, fiber arts, jewelry, crafted wood, delicious baked goods, aromatic soaps and oils, and cheeses and bread spreads and flowers. Info on local efforts, such as community solar. TAP was there (Troy Architectural Program) in its 50th year with its doors open on a Saturday to offer free architectural advice and to share with the community the work they are doing to preserve, make useful, and celebrate the buildings of the city, and the fabric of the community. There were hosted conversations on our climate crisis. Troy Bike Rescue was there with tips and with bike parking, which I appreciated. And there were massage stations (next time I am doing that after the wine).

I know farmers markets are tough for vendors. It is hard to travel, set up a booth, spend the whole day away from the shop or farm (especially a day that is a day of fun for most everyone else) and smile and smile and smile. I know rainy, stormy, windy days suck large. I also worry about the waste burden from all the travel, packaging, and on-the-spot foods. I don’t know if the profit is there, or if the system will sustain. I know, as an attendee, a community member, and a shopper, that I cherish it. I cheerfully spend money at a farmers market. I explore new tastes and new things. I don’t hate the shopping experience (as I do everywhere else). But maybe this is because it is a different than normal festivity of a day? When I lived in the Netherlands, going to the market in the center of town was a weekly normalcy, where we bought cheese, fruits and vegetables, bread, and flowers along with the occasional skirt, package of socks, or special dinner meat. Can our societies, in cities anyway, move to a weekly market that does this… and maybe is still a bit fun and frivolous? 

Maybe we are finally “getting it”, this working with Nature. After some wine and a delectable, fresh-made cheese and spinach crepe I headed home on my bike, through the streets of the cities, and encountered some green infrastructure installations in Watervliet. Impressive job! I look forward to the day when we no longer have to explain why and how we are reconnecting Nature’s systems, and in the meantime I appreciate the clarity of the signage, and encourage people to read up. 

My last stretch was through areas of Albany that are “economically challenged”. Small bits of investment have happened here, including the additional of marked bike paths up and down Clinton Avenue. I got the same amount of nods from other bicyclists and motorcyclists (that was cool) as on any other street, nods of solidarity and understanding. I saw more people out on their stoops, blasting music, barbecuing with friends and family, and more kids playing on the sidewalks than I saw elsewhere. Maybe my part of town, with its privilege and control, is a real detriment to community connections. Maybe our planned events, playdates, tepid bowling nights, and committee meetings are, in many senses, a poor substitute for hanging-out on the front porch or the stoop, and waving to the stray bicyclist as she huffs her way up the hill. Just a thought.

Final thoughts –

I have ridden to Troy and back the last three Saturdays, and I hope to make this a somewhat regular habit, not just for the exercise, which I love, but for the discoveries. This effort gives me license to engage my brain and ponder the life I am living. I almost never stop my frantic activities or my access to external media enough to spend time thinking. Just thinking. Formulating thoughts that I also strive to share and discuss with my husband and son, and, sometimes, with my readers (you, the few, mighty, and greatly appreciated). I am also discovering things about my community that I would never, ever understand from being in a car. From the simple revelation of contour to the connection with people different and then the same as me, to a reconnection to the flow of history, to a finding of new shops and stores. 

  • On a bike, I understand the way water will flow in an area, as I have put in the muscle to get up that hill. That hill that is unnoticed in a car. I understand why the potholes always appear there, at the street edge, and why there is concern in this part of town about flooding. I see the small streams, and plan to access the bigger ones, someday, with my kayak and my curiosity.
  • I talk to actual people. I said a quick hello and “enjoy the day” and received a “be blessed” from a guy in Troy who was carrying his life in a bike trailer behind him. I hope my smile was a positive note in his day as his blessing was in mine. 
  • I learn stuff about where I live. I see the names on old buildings, such as the Frear Building in Troy, and old painted signs advertising Uneeda Buscuits, and ponder the barge traveling down the Hudson (where had it been docked?). Sometimes I bother to find out more about these glimpses into our past and when I do I am invariably amazed at how they are the signposts to our future.
  • I find a growing, diverse, local economy. I found last week the new location of the Albany Distillery and stopped in for a beer and some reading time. This week I unexpectedly pedaled past the Fort Orange Brewery, and felt as if it had magically appeared there, just for me. Who knew?! And I recognize that I maybe have a part in keeping these places open, active, connected, and part of MY community.
The courtyard at Albany Distillery, with games on some tables!

It maybe doesn’t have to be by bike. I highly recommend finding your way to tap into your thinking-self, to learn more about where you live and what makes it or can make it your community. We are too often good at what we do in the way we do it. Too often reliant on shopping where we have always shopped (amazon?) And buying what we have always purchased. 

It’s not just about discovering your community, its about discovering yourself.

Revelations form Revolutions (JSA 2019)

Seek some revelations, and be greener,

Jodi

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