A brake from quarantine: The Joe Michaels Mile

By Nate Cohen

Seeing the same people, working in the same room, eating from the same kitchen. To put it bluntly, staying home every day can be incredibly boring. And eventually, as the band Smash Mouth put it in their hit song All-Star, “we could all use a little change.” Luckily, quarantine doesn’t require us to stay indoors completely, but rather we stay a minimum of 6 feet from each other. Enter the bicycle, the perfect quarantine contraption to satisfy the common desire for a change in scenery. While you could always ride around in Great Neck, why not try a local bike path? And there is no path more convenient for Great Neckers than the Joe Michaels Mile.

Situated along the Cross Island Parkway, the trail may not sound that appealing. Besides, who would want to bike beside a row of noisy and polluting cars? Although the busy cars usually detract from the biking experience, in the age of Covid-19 this is barely an issue. On all my recent rides down the trail, the highway was near empty with only occasional traffic passing by. This reduction in traffic has allowed the trail’s best component to become more pronounced: Now as bikers ride along the Joe Michaels Mile, their senses are no longer engulfed by running engines or honking horns but by the blue waters of Little Neck Bay. And given the lowered air pollution surrounding the bay, the water is quieter and more beautiful than ever before. But it won’t stay this way for long. In just the past few weeks, as social distancing restrictions have decreased and more look to get out of the house, the amount of traffic has rapidly risen. It is still relatively empty compared with the usual conditions, but it may not be for long. So if you are ever to bike the Joe Michaels Mile, now is surely the time.

The fastest route to the trailhead from Great Neck is to ride west for two miles on Northern Boulevard. While it is impossible to entirely avoid this road, you can bypass the first section by paralleling it through a nearby neighborhood. One option would be to take Van Zandt Avenue west to Douglaston Parkway. For those living north of Northern Boulevard, it may be more convenient to cut through the Douglass Historic District. If you do choose to take these detours, be aware that it will increase the length and hilliness of your ride. Additionally, you will need to head back to Northern Boulevard once you hit Douglaston Parkway. From there, a dedicated bike lane emerges on the northern side of the intersection. Continuing westward, you’ll reach the Joe Michaels Mile just before the entrance to the Cross Island Parkway.

While the name may have you believe the trail is just a mile long, in reality the name functions only as alliteration, as the trail runs nearly 2.5 miles in length. As you head down the trail, you’ll pass bikers, joggers, walkers, and rollerbladers all enjoying the beautiful spring weather. To your right lies majestic views of Little Neck Bay. On a clear day one can see out to the shores of Saddle Rock, Harbor Hills, and Great Neck Estates on the distant Great Neck Peninsula.

When the trail comes to an end near Bell Boulevard, riders are greeted with stunning views of the Throgs Neck Bridge separating Queens from The Bronx. To get a closer look, cross the street to enter Little Bay Park. With beautiful views and a plentiful number of comfortable benches, this is the perfect place to catch your breath and enjoy the scenery. For the dessert addict, this is the perfect time to grab a scoop from the Mr. Softee truck that maintains a nearly constant presence at the parking lot. If you are more of a history nerd, a stroll to nearby Fort Totten might be of interest. This Civil War-era fort, strategically built at the mouth of the East River, was designed to defend against a confederate attack on New York City. Nearly 160 years later, the fort has become a popular public park offering tours and a unique local perspective on the Civil War. While the fort is currently closed for visitors, it makes for a great mid-bike break upon its reopening.

When you are ready to head back, just hop back on the bike and retrace your steps home. 

You may be tired when you get back, but I bet you’ll also be satisfied. You’ll be satisfied to have gotten out of the house, to have admired glorious views, and to have gotten a great workout. That’s the experience of biking the Joe Michaels Mile.