NEW YORK -- The map was little help, my bike helmet wouldn't have protected anything, and it was a very humid New York City day.
But getting an all-day bike rental last month to tool around Central Park -- a surprising amount of which remains quite wild -- was an excellent idea.
Central Park is where New Yorkers and tourists can go for fresh air and exercise, whether they're members of an aerobics class hopping a staircase on Bethesda Terrace or strollers along Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir.
Bikers, walkers, joggers, boaters, and occasional in-line skaters all seemed to be soaking in and storing up one of early fall's last sultry days recently before nippier temperatures signaled changing seasons. Horse-drawn carriages and pedicabs gave those who wanted to conserve energy a chance to see some of the park's sites, while lying on the grass in wide-open Sheep Meadow or elsewhere was another common pastime in the heart of a bustling city.
Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux won a competition in 1857 to design the nation's first landscaped public park. Roughly 20,000 workers were needed to create Central Park, which opened two years later in the center of Manhattan.
Many of 843-acre Central Park's sites are well known to tourists.
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Central Park Zoo and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are right off Fifth Avenue. Strawberry Fields -- a memorial to slain John Lennon of Beatles fame that features the black-and-white "Imagine" mosaic -- is off Central Park West.
Further infield are Wollman Rink offering ice skating in winter, Belvedere Castle for great views from the balconies, and Bethesda Fountain overlooking the Lake.
To get a better feel for Central Park on a week-long trip to New York, I decided to rent a bike for the day, although shorter-term options and guided tours also are available. Bikes can be rented from a number of shops in and near the park.
A $15 Travelzoo voucher and $18 Groupon secured after a friend decided to come along led us to Sayat Bike Rental at 117 West 58th St., where prices normally range from $15 for an hour to $40 for the day. (Purchased online, however, Sayat's prices range from $8 for an hour to $32 for a day.)
It was a bargain, but the deal had its downsides.
Come armed with a map, because the one Sayat provided didn't designate biking trails or all of the sites, and the $2 map I purchased from a park vendor didn't show the northern end. The Sayat employee who set us up was reluctant to provide us with locks and helmets included with the rental, and because we walked the bikes to Central Park to avoid tangling with traffic, I didn't immediately realize my helmet was too big and cockeyed.
After a gardener in the park warned us not to bike on even the widest foot trails or face fines, we spent a few hours alternately biking around the park and walking our bikes to sites within it. Some hills were a bit steeper than I had thought they would be -- the Great Hill area on the park's northern end deserves its name -- but that was part of the adventure.
The Ramble and the North Woods are good places for winding foot trails and a more wild feel. Plants and trees are abundant, while Conservatory Gardens offers a more formal setting.
Central Park has many statues, including those along the tree-lined Mall, and sports fields and courts. For youngsters, attractions include the three-acre Heckscher Playground, the Carousel, marionette shows at the Swedish Cottage, and the bronze Alice in Wonderland sculpture.
Water helps provide what is probably the most inspiring elements in Central Park. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir and the Lake are large water elements, but there also are Harlem Meer, Turtle Pond, and other picturesque sites.
Whether you want to cover a little or a lot of ground in Central Park, biking is a good way to get around and work off some indulgent Manhattan meals.
Contact Julie M. McKinnon at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6087.