Spuyten Duyvel & Shorakkopoch

(Via the West Side Bike Path and Inwood Park -- 22 miles round trip)


According to legend, one very impatient and quite renown courier, Antony Van Corlear, was charged with the delivery of an important document to points north on the Upper Hudson.  Reaching the tip of Manhattan, he found the waters in a fury and no boatman present  to get him across.  Knowing  the importance of his charge, he dove into the churning waters and started to swim to the other shore, vowing he would deliver his document "en spijt en Duyvil -- in spite of the Devil."   He instantly drowned and the spot was renamed Spuyten Duyvel that very afternoon.

One eyewitness, an old Dutch burgher, much famed in the local ale
houses, testified before a 
grand

jury that he saw the Duyvel, in the shape of a huge moss-bonker, seize the dashing Antony by the leg and drag him beneath the waves. Local residents claim that on storm fearful nights,  Antony can still be heard haunting the skies, mixing the mournful wail of his trumpet with the howling madness of the tempestuous winds.
And , yes, this was the same Antony Corlear that managed to get a mountain named after his nose.  And, no, I never questioned the veracity of that story either. The missing boatman, by the way, later retired and started Fedex, much to the relief of other equally impatient couriers. 

 At any rate, those of you who have made the NY kayaker's pilgrimage and circumnavigated the island, know this spot intimately, or at least know the site of the old creek bed that was eventually re-christened the Harlem River.

So if you share the same curiosity that has led me to examine this area from both air (click here for aerial photos) and water, you too will want to grab your bike, pack a lunch  and finally experience  "The Duyvel"  from the  land side of things. 

Pretty much head north anywhere on the west side bike trail.  The bike trail is more or less intact and runs from the battery to the G.W. bridge area.  True, there are a few places where it bottlenecks down to a single-lane, dirt ditch, but for the most part the west side Manhattan bike trail is 98% complete, auto free, and a joy to ride.

The first problem area is right above the 79th Street Boat basin.  There is a sign which describes the terrain as dangerous and tells bicyclist to detour around. But truthfully,  while   the area is very narrow, with some pretty good sized holes and buckled cement layers, it is negotiable, especially during daylight hours, if you go slow and don't mind an occasional walk  where it bogs down. As your watch the traffic flow, it becomes pretty obvious that about 60%  of bicyclists followed the detour, while the other 40% ignored it, carrying over the small stone  barrier and sticking to the trail.  I suspect the sign is there for liability reasons -- also,  because the path is so narrow, it is simply easier to separate walkers and bikers. I suppose  a third choice is to carry over the barrier and simply walk the bike, as the whole problem area is only about 4/10's of a mile.  The detour itself is really not that bad and actually takes you through a lovely section of Riverside Park.  But typical of detours, the sign for the detour tells you where the detour begins but nowhere does it point the way back to the bike trail, so I've   heard a few complaints from people being unable to rejoin the trail. The trick is simple. As soon as you take the detour, right after the hill up into the park, stay completely on your left  and take the first turn that looks like it is headed back to the water. 


The next problem area is the massive North River sewage treatment complex and park.  The bike path appears to end here, but is actually just cut in half and continues on the opposite side of the park.  This was initially pretty confusing, but since I've put up these pages there has already been several improvements.  If you note the map below, you will see two separate routes. Currently, the way around this very necessary and life improving facility/behemoth, is to, immediately after the bike path ends, continue on through the parking lots and hang a  right on 133rd Street, immediately after the Fairview 24 hour supermarket, followed by a quick left on Twelfth Avenue, and then another left at 135th Street and take the D.E.P.  access road under the park.  Previously, however, there were problems with this road, and the D.E.P. controlled property was off limits -- unless you had a special visitor's path.  I have heard conflicting stories ranging from the road being closed because of liability issues to ego conflicts between the city and state agency controlling the area. Whatever the reason, the conflict seems to have been resolved and the access road is now open to the public. 
 

However, if for any reason the road is closed, the alternative route is described below the map.  Also, please note that the "official" route takes you on to 12th Avenue immediately after the bike path appears to end.  I dislike that route because it puts you on 12th Avenue for a  longer time in a spot where the traffic is particularly bad.  My route takes you through the  parking lots, skipping most of 12th Avenue, and past the Fairview market where I generally  stop for a snack.

   
   
If the access road is closed:    Make the right on 133rd Street, the left onto Twelfth Avenue, but instead of making the right turn on 136 Street, note the macadam path on the sidewalk (see map) and walk your bike over the curb. The path spirals up to the street above and will bring you out one block north of the entrance to the park. Cross over into the park, but don't head towards the water.    Instead, hug the land-side edge of the park and head north. Keep going until you run out of park.   Around the carrousel, to your right, is the elevator tower that will take you back down to ground level and the bike trail. If the elevator is not working, the stairs will take you down, albeit in a more grunting and sweating style

Back on the Bike Trail
Once back on the bike trail, after the North River park complex, you will pass the volley ball courts on your right.  Immediately after the courts,  the road splits and the fork you are on continues straight, taking you into a baseball field -- do not go this way.  You must make the sharp right at the split, which doglegs past a huge broken and overgrown gate before swinging left and continuing north.  From here it is smooth riding to  the Little Red Lighthouse.

Just before the bridge,  the path splits and the left fork takes you towards the lighthouse while the right continues north. Throw your bike into your lowest gear and get ready for a climb. As you pass under the G.W.  bridge the road swings up and to the right and then up and to the left in a kind of rounded switchback fashion -- see map below.





When you reach the top, get on the sidewalk and continue north towards the footbridge. The bike path runs directly into the foot bridge -- but do not take the bridge.  Instead, slightly to the right of the bridge's base, the trail swings around and continues north.  This section of the trail is little known and obviously very little used, and while it is a bit rough, it is one of those secret sweet spots of New York.  When the trail ends a mile and a half later, on top of a small bridge, take the stairs on your left down and around and under the bridge, continuing north to the intersection. Crossing over,  take Staff Street ( a hard left, but not to be confused with the entrance to Riverside Drive ) north to where it intersects with Dyckman Street, which you follow towards the river.

At the entrance of Inwood Park -- on your right side -- you will notice a golden gate: this is the start of the next section of trail.  Peddle forward, bearing right until you come to a footbridge that takes you over the railroad tracks.  Prior to the bridge, you will pass a turn off to the left, which takes you towards the water's edge and several spectacular views of the Hudson River, the Palisades, and the old railroad swing bridge.

So, after all your scenic detours, and after crossing the railroad footbridge,  you will find yourself on a rather surprising, but negotiable section of trail -- that is if you continually keep to your left.   This section of Inwood park is a very pleasant maze of hiking and mountain biking trails, and while I have personally ridden all of them with my really heavy, self-built touring bike, I think I could loose several readers if I recommended the other trails to rider's without mountain bikes or mountain biking experience.  So, please, keep to the left by keeping the water to your left. You will know you are on the correct course if, after about ten minutes -- baring digressions -- you pass under the Henry Hudson bridge.  After that it's all down hill -- well, literally speaking, but certainly not figuratively -- as the best, as they say, is really still to come.  If  you haven't worn out your breaks on the decenscion, please try to stop at the display at the base of the hill. This is Shorakkopoch  -- a marker for the home of the  Reckgawawanc Indians and supposedly the site where Peter Minuet, in 1626, purchased Manhattan island for trinkets and beads then worth about 60 guilders.

If your follow the water around you will soon be looking across to the giant C painted on the cliff wall via the Columbia rowing team. To your right you will note said rowing team's boathouse -- a favorite spot for all who have paddled around the island.  Okay, end of the official tour, you're on your own for the rest.  But don't get started back too late as sometimes they close that damn D.E.P. gate and you don't want to get stuck hauling your bike up those steep stairs in the dark -- like I usually do!
 

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