28-Feb-2012 -- As I had been attending the world's largest gathering of geographers, at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, a confluence visit seemed like the perfect capstone. I dedicate this visit to fine colleagues and friends of mine who staff and lead the AAG office in Washington DC. This annual meeting was the best yet, with over 8,500 geographers gathering, giving over 4,000 papers and workshops, covering topics from natural hazards to water quality, from migration to climate, and much more. At each AAG annual meeting from 2003 onward, I had visited a confluence point, considering it a perfect capstone to these gatherings, the largest gatherings of geographers on the planet. These spanned a trek into the marshy woods in New Orleans in 2003 to standing in a field in California all the way to a forested driveway in Washington state in 2011. At the 2012 annual meeting, numerous field trips were scheduled because geographers love to explore the physical and cultural environment. I was so busy with my own workshops and exhibit that I was not able to attend any of these. However, on the day I left for the airport, I finally got out for my own little field trip. Would my confluence streak endure? Read on to find out.
This also resulted in the longest bicycle trip I have made to a confluence point. Previously, I had bicycled to 40 North 107 West in the mountains of Colorado, and to 39 North 77 West in Maryland, which ironically was also during an AAG conference. There may have been another bicycling trip in the past decade, but this one was a round trip of 47 miles. Would I make it before my airport flight?
While in NYC a few weeks before for a performance at Carnegie Hall by my favorite clarinetist, I noticed a bicycle rental shop about a block south of Central Park. After working part of the morning, I had no further presentations to give or attend, and I walked four blocks to the shop. Twenty minutes later, I was bicycling north through Central Park. My goal was to reach the George Washington Bridge, one of the few bridges over the Hudson open to bicyclists and pedestrians. I love bridges and the vistas available from them. If things went well, I had an idea that I might be able to make it all the way to 41 North 74 West in New Jersey. After making it successfully west from the midsection of the Park to the street along the Hudson River, I headed north. The weather was clear, a bit cold (44 F) and a bit breezy, but quite lovely. After quite awhile, I could see the bridge in the distance. Knowing that finding the pedestrian/cycle approach could cost me valuable time, I spotted a group of about 8 men about my own age (but in much better physical condition) bicycling north. I asked the last person if they were heading west across the bridge. I heard the affirmative reply and further discussion, but I could not hear what the other sentences were, so I did my best to keep up. Sure enough, they made their way through the college campuses near the bridge and up we went up the pedestrian walkway on the south side, upper deck. They were soon ahead of me but I enjoyed the magnificent view of the Hudson River and noisy ride across. First leg accomplished! Onward!
I decided to keep going toward the New Jersey palisades, some magnificent bedrock outcrops, and was happy to find an easy way to exit the bridge to a fairly quiet street heading north-south. I headed north and found myself adjacent to the Palisades Interstate Parkway along the river to the east of me. When this street ended a few miles later, I switched to the northbound lanes of US Highway 9W, where conditions worsened. The wind was still steady and I felt like I was making poor time. I had no water with me and had not had any breakfast. I sadly had not put on any sunscreen either. Some ominous road damage and storm drains and heavy traffic made less than ideal conditions. But, north of East Clinton Avenue, the four lanes became two, and a decent bicycle lane opened up. I rode to Closter Dock Road, and took it northwest. The road was very narrow with no shoulder and heavily trafficked. I have written numerous confluence narratives about the amazingly heavy traffic in rural communities, and this was no exception, though we were technically in the New York metropolitan area. The road dipped steeply and the downhill component was welcome, into the delightful community of Closter. Now I was getting close.
I rode on a variety of streets north and northwest to the neighborhood where the jumping off point to the confluence would be. Despite the reasonably pleasant day, I encountered almost no bicyclists. I decided to approach from the same point as the last time I had been there, when I had driven down from Connecticut en route to Delaware in 2008. The reason why is because having bicycled over some wide rivers and marshes north of Closter, I knew the west approach would be very wet. Thus, I decided on the northeast approach. I made one wrong turn to Fred Street, only realizing later that the end of this street was closer to the confluence than the place I rode to, which was Forest Avenue. I locked my bicycle next to a telephone pole as a man was walking by. I quickly set out on the edge of the backyard there and south to the clear cut for the power line.
Along the powerline clearcut, I could see the end of Fred Street and realized that it was the closer jumping off point. Not to worry, though, because the marshy area I remembered seemed shorter than the last time I was here, and I was soon on the semblance of path near the confluence, rustling last Fall's leaves in the forest. I could not zero out the GPS receiver. I took photos and movie, and just when I was about ready to depart, I tried once more, and obtained the desired zeroes! The forest walk and confluence dance totaled about 45 minutes. The confluence was near the fallen tree, just as it had been the last time, on fairly level ground; air temperature about 45 F under clear skies. It was good to be back in New Jersey; it was in this state where I visited my 200th confluence point back in 2010. I then was in a big hurry to depart, and was, 15 minutes later, back on the bicycle. The same man was walking along the sidewalk. I suppose it did look a bit odd: Stranger bicycles to neighborhood, gets off bicycle to walk through forest, gets back on bicycle, rides away. But, it was all in a day's work for a geographer. Fieldwork!
I made haste but did stop for a very nice lunch at the local pizza establishment in Closter. Due to the rapidly advancing time along with my very sore thighs I called a taxi company to take me to the bridge, but it couldn't arrive for another half hour, so I declined, and got back on the bicycle. After the steep climb back out of Closter to US Highway 9W, I made much better time, with the wind nearer my back and the more frequent downhills. I now did encounter other bicyclists. Later, back on the bridge, I filmed two movies, one while bicycling and one discussing the geography of the Hudson River including the use of Geographic Information Systems. I thoroughly enjoyed my time back on the bridge, but since I was in a hurry, I was soon back in Manhattan.
I turned south to cut directly to Central Park, but was concerned about being struck by the heavy traffic, and thus made my way back to the street alongside the Hudson River. After a mile I turned east and then south past the magnificent St John the Divine gothic cathedral, south and then east to the northwest corner of Central Park. I then bicycled the length of Central Park, filming a movie for my channel along the way. This was an enjoyable way to end my trek. I bicycled two blocks in heavy traffic back to the bicycle rental shop, overshooting it and standing 100 meters away for a minute or two, looking perplexed, until I found it. I must have been a bit delirious. The shop was busy but I told whoever was interested there that the trip over the bridge was worth it.
The streak of confluence points during the AAG conferences lives on!