I’ve been spending too much time lately at the Rapha website. Rapha make high-end cycling apparel and they have a sophisticated marketing campaign to get their product in front of riders. Part of the campaign consists of epic rides documented on film and in blog postings. The films are pretty cool and inspire me to get out and ride, even though my surroundings are not as picturesque as those depicted in the films. To the extent the campaign is designed to sell product, it’s not working on me as I cannot fit into their Euro-cut jerseys! But I sure like the website and it inspired me to document my own ride this Memorial Day weekend.
Each summer, the Bethpage Federal Credit Union sponsors an air show at Jones Beach. It’s suicide to try to go to the beach in a car since the event attracts tens of thousands of people but, a couple of years ago, I learned that the planes actually depart from and land at Republic Airport. For the past couple of years, I’ve driven out to the airport on Friday evening to see the Blue Angels planes parked next to the airport headquarters. This year, I decided to ride out on the bike Saturday morning to watch the Angels take off for the air show. I figured I’d have a better opportunity of getting near the airport on a bicycle than a car.
My journey started at the local ATM to get some cash. I allowed just over two hours to make the 23 mile trip.
I left the house around 11:30 am hoping to arrive in time for “wheels up” at 1:45 pm. My route was one I am familiar with; most of the route was along the LIE service road. What I did not anticipate was the extreme heat. Extreme compared to the forecasted 73 degrees.
Granted, the temperature on my Garmin was recorded in direct sunlight; but even in the shade it was 88-90 degrees. I’m usually good for a couple of hours on the bike before needing to refill the water bottles and take a breather. On this day, however, I made it about 15 miles before needed to pull over and wet down my head. Thank goodness for well-stocked gas stations.
The temperature eased a little as I moved toward the south shore and, by the time I hit Route 110, there was a pleasant breeze. And a lot more traffic.
I took this picture around 1:25 pm, certain that I would miss the take-off by about 10 minutes due to a headwind and ton of traffic lights. As I made the turn off 110 to the road leading to the airport, I could hear the sound of the Angels running up their engines. I’d arrived just in time!
As I expected, there was no place to park a car in the small airport’s lot. It looked as if people had been camped out here since the early morning. Shortly after dismounting the bike, the Angels began taxiing to the runway.
Most of the pictures look like this because I’m holding my point and shoot over my head. If only I thought to bring a ladder on my bike.
Taking off, the jets make a gut-vibrating noise.
In an instant, they were gone. Miles away down range and on the way to the beach. I hung out for a few minutes and was about to mount-up for the ride home when there was a thunderous noise from the north. It was the Angels’ supply ship, Ernie, a C-130.
Ernie is a spare, I think, as the front-line C-130 named Fat Albert is painted in the team colors. Ernie took off, circled back around to the north and disappeared. I figured the plane was taking an alternate route to the beach; on the contrary, it was putting on a show for the spectators at the airport. A few minutes later, amid the sounds of the crowd oohing and ahhing, Ernie descended at a 45 degree angle–nose pointed almost straight at the ground–the pilot at the last moment pulling the nose up and dropping the craft gracefully onto the runway. It was one of the coolest things I have ever seen.
I saddled up and pedaled 30 feet when my return trip was interrupted by the Geico Skytypers team. They flew a couple of laps around the field, keeping everyone entertained.
By this point, I’d spent more time than I anticipated at the airport and it was time to return home. I rode back out to 110 and noticed several dozen cars staking out a particular runway. I pulled over and was told this was the runway the Angels would land on. I couldn’t resist. A few minutes later, the planes appeared from the east and overflew the crowd, making a show of their landing approach.
They flew directly overhead, probably a few hundred feet off the ground. I could feel every organ in my body vibrate from the power of the turbines. A truly awesome experience. I’m convinced they have the coolest job on the planet (up to the point they have to go to battle and get shot at). The final maneuvers were executed to get the planes in proper position for landing. The planes taxied to the end of the runway and stopped.
I stood waiting for them to move forward and pass by my position on the way back to the parking area, but they didn’t. Instead they executed the most perfectly choreographed group U-turn I’ve ever seen.
These guys make a U-turn look like a work of art. In a matter of maybe 30 seconds, all six planes were turned around and heading in the opposite direction.
And as if on cue, the sun disappeared behind thick dark clouds and I got the distinct feeling that I was going to get caught in a nasty thunderstorm on the way home. I pointed the bike west, with two empty water bottles and no reserve snacks to munch on for the 23 mile ride home. I found a Seven-Eleven a couple of miles down the road for a beverage refill and hot dog. A hot dog, I should point out, is not suitable cycling food but it looked like the least offensive item at the time.
I caught a hint of mist on the way home, the heavy rain waiting until after I was tucked safely away in the house. It was a good ride. I got a few hours of exercise, got to see the Blue Angels and didn’t burn any fossil fuels. Next time I’ll bring a ladder.