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I first saw the gleaming metallic skull, then the horn, then the silver headlight. A few men sat nearby on foldout chairs, not minding my presence. The bike was gorgeous, even among a row of similar-style cruisers. One of the men motioned behind him, and pointed out the bike’s owner, who then noticed me and bolted forward. His name was Juan, and he looked about 60.  Like the other men, he wore a black leather vest, decorated with scores of pins—various military insignia, Puerto Rican flags, and a seaming hodge podge of affiliations. He rummaged through his wallet to try to find a card that identified his bike club—they meet every week, and he’d been working on his bike for eight years, he said. He spoke in a mix of Spanish and English, and even though I could’ve answered in Spanish I inexplicably chickened out, and mostly nodded my acknowledgement throughout the conversation. He couldn’t find the card, but asked if I’d come tomorrow. The crew would be there again. I said I’d try.

(Further investigation revealed the club is called Dueños de Bicicletas, or Classics Bronx Bicycle Club. A bit of background (and a shot of Juan circa 2007), here.)

Juan and his Schwinn, painstakingly built over 8 years

Juan and his Schwinn, painstakingly built over 8 years

This was my second time visiting Orchard Beach, located in Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. The first was this winter, and unsurprisingly it was empty then—sad and dirty looking. But yesterday? Yesterday was a different scene. Every few feet a group of four of five sat on foldout chairs along the promenade, listening to salsa music, with those standing moving their hips ever-so-slightly. Looking out towards the water, I spotted several girls wearing Puerto Rican flag bikinis, and paying a bit more attention, those groups on the promenade? Most had long rods attached to their chairs, flying the Puerto Rican flag. Vendors sold shirts that said—“Orchard Beach—the Riviera of the Bronx,” and “Orchard Beach—little Puerto Rico.” All of a sudden I was in a Spike Lee joint, feeling more New York than ever.

We came to Orchard beach on the recommendation of the May issue of Backpacker Magazine. Hidden behind the party atmosphere lay Pelham Bay Park.

Sample rocky coastlines, beachside boardwalks, and brackish wetlands on this five-mile dayhike in Pelham Bay, the largest park in New York City“

I’d only heard the name during traffic reports ”…bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Pelham Bay Parkway,” but nary had an idea where or what it was. Turns out the shoreline and accompanying rocks out-date the Long Island Sound by millennia; the quartz, garnet, and feldspar bedrock exposed by moving glaciers during the last ice age. It’s the largest park in the City, however only a small fraction navigable by human foot. Wildlife, however, seem to feel quite at home in the salt marshes, coves, and along the crop of islands. We walked inside the ranger booth to ask about the trail, and the enthusiastic man inside told us to go around the perimeter of Hunter Island, that it was his favorite spot in all of NYC. Animals seen en route: herons,  breeding horseshoe crabs, horses (ok, those were technically in a stable where we parked), and one very peaceful looking rabbit. Worth the trip from Brooklyn? Most definitely. Am I sorry we didn’t instead go to Bear Mountain? Nope.

Detailed trail map and GPS coordinates, here.

View from Twin Island

View from Twin Island

View from Hunter Island

View from Hunter Island

Horshoecrab mating season @Orchard Beach

Horshoecrab mating season @Orchard Beach

More pics and a vid of the crabs getting all crazy: here.

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