MANHATTAN (CN) — While much of the planet was in some state of lockdown, Judi Desire found herself traveling farther than usual.
Desire is a web developer and globetrotting cyclist. She leads bike tours through her Harlem-based organization, Uptown Boogie, to bolster interest in bicycling for convenience and community.
Since she first took to cycling during a trip to Europe more than a decade ago, Desire has toured six continents on her bike. Back in New York City, where she was born, the focus is on keeping it close to home.
“I wanted people to see themselves as a commuter,” someone who “takes a bike to go somewhere,” Desire said.
Since 2017, Desire has organized more than 100 local rides. Participants arrive with varied expertise; some enjoy cycling, but don’t have space or money to own their own bikes. Others are just curious. Ages vary, too, from 4-year-olds to seniors. Teenage boys with their moms are a popular combination.
Groups typically go on local outings: One tour viewed artwork at a church. Others have ventured kayaking, practiced yoga, shopped and dined locally, and volunteered to place food in community refrigerators.
Last year, perhaps unsurprisingly, was different.
Seeing her community affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and knowing she could not gather the typical fleet of cyclists, Desire decided to show New Yorkers how to “escape the city” while remaining socially distanced.
Throughout 2020, Uptown Boogie bike rides leveled up: Each ran at least 30 miles long, mostly to Westchester County or destinations further upstate like New Paltz.
The voyage was made possible in part by a yearslong, state-sponsored construction project, quietly completed at the end of a tumultuous year.
Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the Empire State Trail’s finishing touches, giving way to a record-setting 750 miles of contiguous trail.
As the longest multiuse state trail in the country, the trail’s completion offers cyclists a straight shot from New York City to the Canadian border. It also splits west, connecting Albany with Buffalo.
“Not only does it provide an opportunity to experience the natural beauty and history of New York, but it also gives New Yorkers from every corner of the state a safe outlet for recreation as we continue to grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic,” Cuomo said in a statement.
The governor encouraged New Yorkers to “put on your mask and experience it for yourself.”
Along the trail are markers bearing the Empire State Trail insignia, designed in the blue and gold state seal colors that Cuomo has embraced during his tenure.
For New York’s cycling enthusiasts, the end of the trail’s construction caps two decades of fighting for the state to close gaps in its trails.
Dylan Carey, project director at the Albany-based nonprofit Parks & Trails New York, said his organization began its annual Cycle the Erie Canal bike tour in 1999 to bring attention to the potential for a bike trail that spans the entire state.
“All it needed was attention and time and energy,” Carey said.
Lacking that attention, cyclists at first rode on grassy areas and abandoned towpaths for parts of their journey. Conditions improved over the next decade, as Carey’s organization released annual progress reports, but breaks in a bikeable path remained.
In 2015, cyclists from across New York and in other parts of the country signed postcards asking Governor Cuomo to “close the gaps” in the state’s trails. A group biked to Albany to hand deliver the notes.