How Biking From Brooklyn to Boston Helped Me Find Joy Through Pain

Reflecting on a 290-mile impromptu bikepacking trip where themes discomfort, kindness, and acceptance prevailed (alongside good food)

How Biking From Brooklyn to Boston Helped Me Find Joy Through Pain

Author

Joe Kanzangu

Photo courtesy Karlos Jeri

The first chapter of a new year always brings a need for new goals, ambitions, and pursuits. Though it’s also important to reflect on moments from the previous year that we can learn from—moments make us go whoa. Whoa’s can be positive or negative, filled with peaks or sunken valleys. Sometimes both. That’s the beauty, and deserves being remembered.

This past fall, just as the year began to end, sedated by the constant push for production in our overly industrial society, I decided to do something that promised to carry with it both highs and lows. Something just as difficult as the joy that it brought.

Living in the grandest metropolis in the world, New York City, has a lifetime of perks. It’s also easy to succumb to the embalming, saccharine element of the everyday hustle. People here are sycophantic on becoming. Becoming what? I guess whatever dream(s) that holds true to their heart. I’m evidently inspired just by living here. And whenever I find myself exasperated by the factorial grind, it’s been on two wheels, biking around Brooklyn that I’ve caught my breath again.

Joe-Kanzangu-Camp-Yoshi
Camp Yoshi | Photo courtesy Alex Forestier

My 2023 delivered an overpour of blissful whoa moments. From seeing some of my favorite bands, Jungle and Miloe, live again, to getting my backcountry ski legs under me with Mountain Trip. I went on my first Camp Yoshi experience, celebrated Black-owned Blackstock & Weber product launches, and hosted gigs, pop-ups, and seasonal commencements. All in all, I found myself steadily adventuring, even while at home.

Life can be garish for an adventure-travel writer, actor, and stuntman. Being human, we all need a shakeup from time. It had been awhile since I last caught up with myself. So I read up on the Japanese practice of Misogi, the spiritual tradition of resetting under a waterfall (think cold water immersion/plunge). The Western translation of the ritual has morphed into periodically doing something physically challenging that you have a high chance of failing at. I was deeply attracted to that proximity of failure. And I wanted it to be on two wheels.

As I brainstormed how to go about my own misogi mission to chase discomfort, my friend and producer, Alexis Gordon reminded me that oyster season had started up in Boston. After some consults, and a wee bit of planning—and practically no training—I decided to bikepack to Boston for the freshest and tastiest bivalves this side of the globe. I loaded my Cannondale Topstone Carbon gravel bike with a filled Moosepack tube, handlebar and frame bags. I folded my Mountain Hardwear Stretchdown jacket, Remote Org Kit, and REI toolkit into an ATP adventure pack. I strapped on my Salewas, clipped on my Kammok hammock, and looked at the road ahead. Intentionally underprepared, I cheered to the upcoming 290 miles.

Joe-Kanzangu-NYC-to-Boston-5-Bike
"Candy" the Cannondale | Photo by Joe Kanzangu

Ride

Pedaling away from a Brooklyn life of film screenings, media dinners, playing pool at suspiciously French bars, and homemade smoked sea salt butter, I felt myself flutter. I had never biked over 40 miles in one go. Ever. And here I was going over the Williamsburg bridge, on to the East River Greenway, racing trawlers, riding through the Bronx (where I thought deeply about stopping for a final chopped cheese) and making my way to Connecticut.

It was just the first hour of the first day of a three-and-a-half day trek, and I felt the soft rhythmic murmur of my soul’s groove coming back to me. Whoa.

Beyond the blue steeled Hutchinson river stream of the Bronx, I followed the shore road greenway trail into New Rochelle, home of the iconic Leno’s Clam Bar. I spent the night catching up with an old friend in Stamford, Connecticut. With 250 miles left, the cheese pizza at Bari167 turned out to be the cream on top of an already sweet day.

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Connecticut Discovery Trail | Photo by Joe Kanzangu

Pain

Riding out of Stamford early the next morning, I was greeted by the soft gentility of the town. Parents walking their children to the school bus stop, waves of courteous traffic, and a “thanks for stopping by” aroma accentuated the air. I passed through a still sleeping South Norwalk harbor. I took a breath in Westport, watching the Atlantic waves nestle onto the shore off Beachside Avenue.

Mid-afternoon, while in Stratford, memories of my first winter in the states ran up on me. It was again where I had stayed with distant relatives, far away from my family in Belgium for the first time. A wee grom big-eyed to the world in front of me. I guess I still am.

That night, I spent it cowboy camping just outside of Middletown in a state forest. The stars frozen in place; my achilles coiling up, hamstrings tight, and arms deflating. The night air dropped into miserable conditions. I went through two Cohiba cigars attempting to catch some remnant of warmth. It didn’t work—175 miles stood over me.

Suffering

Cracked by the emergence of dawn, my spirit became mangled by the reality of what I was doing. Even worse, I started having issues with the gears on my bike. In proper light-minded fashion, I forgot to pack a charger for my Sram eTap battery shifter. Pain.

At this point I found myself towing Candy (the Cannondale) along the road to the nearest bike shop. I realized quickly how not so subtle the hills in Connecticut really are. Thankfully, we found our way to Pedal Power. Brett and company took Candy in and shared with me their love for Middletown.

Healing as I heard about the buttery baguettes at The Cooking Company, the clam fritters in Rhode Island, buildings constructed during the Civil War, and the taste of sizzling spices at Typhoon Thai.

I hopped back on the saddle after the provisional recharge, eastward and bound. I zipped through East Hampton. I saw flashes of Tolkien’s shire at Cranberry Bog. I felt like Jordan, Game 5 of the ‘97 finals as I rode north of Colchester, through Windham, and into the night trying to make it out of Connecticut.

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Night riding | Self portrait by Joe Kanzangu

In my pursuit of a thrilling night ride, I forgot to charge my phone or lights. (I know what you’re going to say and yes I agree with you). Luckily, I got an assist from a kind stranger who allowed me to charge all my things at their house. Warranted, as a Black man adventuring solo through a predominantly white area, I was definitely cautious and nervy. Yet my faith in people exceeds my fear of history and proved me right. (Many thanks, and blessings to you and yours, Rick). Still, 125 miles to Boston.

Continuing in Connecticut the next morning, I felt Massachusetts creeping in. Yesterday's fortunes cooked into today’s misery. The hills arrived stretched out. I was pedaling up on reserves. Then it turned into me walking up on every incline. Struggling.

Unexpected sweetness came in the form of buzzing calls from dear friends. I shared delusional laughter with film-director Daddy (I promise that’s his legal birth name). Snowboarder and action-sport filmer, Karlos Jeri checked in and kept me company as I rode out of the East Coast Greenway, virtually welcoming me into Massachusetts. I was up again.

I took the Southern New England Trunkline Trail, passing Morse Pond, Douglas north, sputtering in Upton before finally adhering to my body’s limitation in Hopkinton. Ironically, my end point would be the official start of the Boston Marathon. Karlos came and picked me up. We were late for a reservation with ~54 miles left on the tracker.

I was a shell of myself. Not only physically depleted but sad from the inevitable feeling of failure I had come up short of my goal of 290 miles. We drove the rest of the way into Boston.

Joe-Kanzangu-NYC-to-Boston-1
Photo courtesy Karlos Jeri

The Joy

The Bar Harbor Blonde oysters at B&G Oysters reawakened my senses. Well, I did ride 236 miles. Chef Michael Serpa’s delicately detailed Little Whale oyster shack sliced into my abjected psyche. I did get to explore the world more intimately.

I received quality time with myself. Better yet, I got a chance to look around at the people in my life, and at that dinner and appreciate them even more. In 2023 I didn’t do all the things that I set out to do at the beginning. And that’s OK. I saw myself moving forward, no matter how slow it may have appeared from the outside.

In 2024 I’m pursuing more moments with people that make each year worth living, including myself. It’s a great year to try something that you’ll probably fail at, and embrace those odds. I know I will.


In Loving Memory of a Great Friend, Mohsin Behi

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