Embracing Irene

When a great storm visits your city, you can either hunker down inside and watch it from your window, or you can go outside and be in it.

After an hour of watching from your third-floor window on Bank Street in New London as the waves creep up on and then start breaking over the Riverwalk, you decide to do the latter.

You shoulder your mountain bike and carry it down the stairs, then head out for a ride down to the Riverwalk, then down Bank, turning left on Howard and then all the way down Pequot and back.

First impressions at 9:30 a.m., just past high tide: The city looks like a scene from one of those end-of-the-world movies, absolutely deserted, trash and tree branches scattered everywhere.

Great gray waves are breaking over the Riverwalk and flooding the parking areas of the Fishers Island and Cross Sound ferries; City Pier is underwater, and the wind and the waves have torn up a couple of benches and littered the area with bottles, seaweed, chunks of wood and other debris.

The wind blowing through the bars of the steel fence that lines the Riverwalk makes a sound like a ghostly harmonium, punctuated by the occasional ringing of the railroad crossing bells, each time the poles are shaken by the bigger gusts of wind.

Those gusts blow the salty spray from the river so hard into your face that it stings like needles. And, it turns out, the city isn't deserted, after all. Yes, there are other fools out in the storm, all of them sporting the same huge goofy grins, and you suddenly find yourself in a sort of happy brotherhood, laughing as you pass.

Some try to film the waves with their cellphones, some have cameras, some shout out to you as you ride along, most of their words snatched away by the wind. (Words heard include "crazy!" and "yeah!" and one woman singing out "riders on the storm!")

Riding down Bank, you see the American flag on top of the Firehouse Square Gallery is shredded. Turning down Howard and heading out toward Pequot, you find yourself riding into a wall of wind, forcing you into your lower gears and throwing sideways gusts at you like roundhouse punches that almost knock you over.

At the roundabout in front of the Pfizer complex, police have erected a barricade to prevent anyone from driving down Pequot. Riding past it, the reason soon becomes apparent: Great stretches of the road are flooded, a section near Stash's is knee-deep, and riding through it you collect hunks of seaweed on your spokes and pedals.

Other sections of Pequot that are flooded are near the lighthouse and the intersection with Montauk. Several side streets off Pequot, including Lower Boulevard, are blocked by big tree branches and yellow police tape.

The sections that aren't flooded are covered with leaves and tree branches as the wind continues tearing at them, making them twist and dance. And the stop signs do the tornado wobble.

The houses along the river side of Pequot have huge 6- to 8-foot waves smashing at their foundations and the private beaches that line the road are all completely submerged. And again, in spite of the barricades, several people have found a way to drive down to the river's edge to watch the waves roll in. They stand and grin into the wind as they raise their cellphones over the heads to record the waves.

When an occasional police cruiser passes, the officer announces over his loudspeaker that people should "clear the area and go home," but nobody pays any attention, and the police are too busy with downed trees and power lines to chase them off.

Out at the end of Pequot the waves are at their largest, crashing up and over the road and soaking you and anyone else foolish enough to be out here. It's now time to turn around and head back.

And, voila, who needs to pedal? The wind pushes you home.

This is the opinion of Kenton Robinson


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