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48° Good Afternoon

Ups and downs of pedaling to Montauk Point

Florence Hardgrove, left, Valerie Policastro and Veronica Peterson

Florence Hardgrove, left, Valerie Policastro and Veronica Peterson in 1984 during a four-day bike ride with Vermont Bicycle Tours. In 1979, the three kicked off their biking adventures, pedaling from the Nassau-Suffolk line to the Montauk Point Lighthouse. Credit: VALERIE POLICASTRO

The 1979 challenge: At the approximate ages of 45, 55 and 27, two friends and I planned to ride bicycles (Gears: 10; Training: none), from the Nassau-Suffolk line to the Montauk Point lighthouse.

Why? Because it was there.

Ronnie, Flo and I, the youngest, could do this. After several energetic miles on the shoulder of Sunrise Highway, a state trooper advised that if we did not get off at the next exit, he’d come back around and give us tickets. An auspicious beginning.

We swung into a diner on Montauk Highway in Shirley. For once, no guilt enjoying a very high-carb breakfast! When we told the waitress what we were doing, she was the only one in the place who encouraged us. Others laughed until they choked.

She promised us breakfast on her when, not if, we came back, and we promised her some sort of tchotchke from the Montauk Point gift shop.

We continued along the delightfully flat South Shore, stopping a few times to work the steadily increasing kinks out. Friendships remained solid despite the pain and different recollections on who thought up this crazy idea.

At about 5 p.m., we flagged mightily. We literally fell into the driveway of a motel. They had hourly rates, but we just didn’t care. We showered in our socks due to the condition of the tub, and were glad we brought extras so the wet ones could dry — flying out of our packs like little flags.

We made it to Montauk hamlet. How far beyond the old hotel could the lighthouse be? Waaaay far — we were told about eight miles. Of hills. Big ones. Downs to thrill you, but ups to kill you. (I made that one up just now, when I can have a sense of humor about the whole thing.)

I remember like it was yesterday. Ronnie in her red sweatshirt with the pointed hood up, looking like a garden gnome on wheels; and Flo bringing up the rear. From that distance I couldn’t see if she was smiling or grimacing from the strain.

We entered the state park screaming like banshees. We frightened people. We danced, yelled, sang, and started a tradition, lying on our backs and raising our arms and legs straight up in the air. There is somewhere a picture of grown women expressing their joyous physicality by posing as dead bugs.

After visiting the gift shop and telling anyone who would listen what we’d accomplished, we started back. At a nice motel in one of the several Hamptons, two of us waited outside in solidarity while one went inside to beg for a discount based upon our awesomeness. When that didn’t work, I tag teamed Flo, who mother-shamed him into agreeing. Oh, the joys of a sockless shower.

Next morning we rode silently past lovely homes and unexpected territorial dogs. The fight or flight rush really got us going. Miles later, we lolled with our roll until a big truck came by and let go with its air horn. We hoped the blast was in solidarity.

In Shirley, our waitress met us with a big smile and her hand out for her souvenir. What a celebration!

At the original rendezvous point, I offered Flo and Ronnie a rest at my apartment, but they were afraid they’d call a cab to get home and lose their round-trip bragging rights.

I pedaled home, dropped my bike, and slept for 20 hours. I thought I’d never get out of bed, but the urge to spread the word (no electronic media in those days) was strong.

My simple reward was great: I had done it.


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