Thursday, August 30, 2012

Day 76: Rochester, NY

My day started improving last night. And by that I mean, after a toughish day yesterday, my mood started improving when I arrived yesterday afternoon at the terrific Historical Victorian Bed and Breakfast in Medina, New York. Betty, the owner (with her husband, Reinhardt), was laid back, but attentive, and showed me to a huge room, with a huge en suite bathroom. She also directed me to Zambistro's for dinner (apparently a play on the owner's name, Zambisto, displayed on local realty signs), which was a huge step up from some of my recent meals. I wrote Day 75's blog there, while being waited on by a slightly overwhelmed waitress, who was dealing with a full house on her first day on the job. What she lacked in polish and knowledge (my family will know how much it hurts me to ask for a food recommendation and not be able to get one), was compensated for in her earnestness, youth and effort. Yes, I overtipped.

After a good night's sleep on an excellent mattress, and fueled by Betty's pancake breakfast and a quick dip in her outdoor hot tub (something I didn't even know existed when I booked), I was ready to go for a ride! To boot, the weather was picture perfect (no arm warmers needed), and I even had a brisk tailwind waiting for me.

Notwithstanding my plan, last night, to start on the Towpath, New York State Bike Route 5, with a huge 5 foot shoulder, was staring me in the face as I headed out of town. I went for it, and, combined with the tailwind, put in about 10 miles of extremely pleasant, low effort riding, to the town of Albion. Which must have more historic churches, per capita, than other town. Quite beautiful, architecturally. There was also a marker noting that Terry Anderson grew up there (remember him? -- held hostage by the Iranians for years).
For a change of pace, I then switched to the Towpath, crushed gravel and all, and rode into the town of Brockport, which, as a small college town (SUNY campus), was delightful. There, I hung out at a cafe, enjoyed a banana smoothie, and chatted with another biker who had ridden the Towpath its entire length, from Buffalo to Albany.

By the way, I'm not too proud to admit that I didn't intuitively grasp why it's called a towpath. When the Erie Canal was built between 1825 and 1832, they needed mules to tow the barges with goods and passengers -- no self-propulsion in those days. Doh. Eventually, the Canal was widened and deepened (is that a word?) for the advent of motorized boats, and then, around 1960, it quickly faded from commercial significance as the NYS Thruway was completed and, more significantly, the St. Lawrence Seaway opened. Today, it's mostly used for recreational boating and houseboats. End of short history lesson.

But reading the various plaques at each town about the Canal's building, and its significance to the town's existence, took me back to the far Western portions of this trip, where every town had a story about why it sprung into being as a trading post, garrison station or something else. Crossing America (and occasionally, Canada) by bicycle has really given me a much more attuned sense of -- and appreciation for -- how and why this country was built and expanded. Big infrastructure projects, like the Canal, had huge, positive consequences for the economy, a lesson I wish we were more capable of remembering and applying today. End of short (yes, anti-Republican) rant.

The balance of my ride from Brockport, into Rochester, my destination for the day (slightly over 46 miles), was less notable, as is often the case for me with the portion of the day's ride after 30 miles (I think I get tired, bored, ready to be there or all of the above). Except I was struck, riding into Rochester, by the tall - and quite beautiful -- building with large lettering on the top spelling out KODAK. And nearby, relatively empty, were Kodak-reserved parking lots. In terms of the world moving on and needing to be repurposed, not all that different from the Erie Canal, when you think about it.

Here are today's route and metrics:











Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Day 75: Back, Back in the U.S. of A!

Now I'm definitely in the homestretch. This morning, I crossed out of Niagara Falls, Ontario, on the "Rainbow Bridge," and found myself in....Niagara Falls, New York. Back in the USA for good (at least for this trip)!

Before crossing, I toodled around the Canadian side a bit, taking a picture of the sunrise over the Falls, and then biking north to see a bit more of the river (where it supposedly briefly becomes a class 6 rapids -- is there such a thing?) and the so-called whirlpool rapids (I didn't take the cable car ride over them, however, just a picture or two).

The border crossing itself, and customs, were uneventful, except in a couple of respects. First, the way the bridge works is it basically feeds into an array of toll booths containing U.S. custom inspectors. Not too exciting, except the bridge was jammed full and backed up well into the Canadian side. What's a self-respecting bicyclist to do? Act like a car, and wait an hour or two, or ride between the lanes pretending not to see any nasty looks? I'm sorry to say it wasn't even a close call. I weaved. And promptly ran into (not literally) two of the ladies from the Women's Tour group of the other day, who, I'm pleased to report, were also weaving. We chatted amiably waiting for the last few cars in front of us to clear (you don't want to weave right to the front - the customs inspector might send you back, do not pass "Go," do not collect $200), and then were waved through with no questions.

And I was back in New York State, just like that.

It was less exciting than I thought it would be. I'm still, by my count, at least 10 days away from being home (the route, as of now, goes: Medina to Rochester to Seneca Falls to Syracuse to Rome to Little Falls to Amsterdam to Albany to Rhinebeck to West Point to Home), and part of me just wants to be there already. I think I'll get excited when I hit Albany. That will feel close. The challenge, until then, is to make sure I stay engaged and excited about the days before that. This has been an amazing trip, and I don't want to be in the mode of not focusing on and enjoying the remaining days because I'm yearning to get home.

So I need to remind myself to stay in the present -- and try to get the most out of each day's ride. And part of that is figuring out and trying to optimize the specific day's route. A good route typically equals a good day. For now, the easy choice is simply to follow the Erie Canal Towpath trail, which runs through (or near) all the aforementioned towns and has no cars. But, and it's a big but, it's not paved. I took it for the last 16 miles or so of today's ride (which was a total of 46 overall, into the town of Medina, NY), and felt conflicted. The trail is definitely pretty, serene and isolated. But it's also just a wee bit boring mile after mile. And then there's the crushed limestone/gravel surface. Sigh.

New York State actually has a system of bike routes, one of which, Route 5, runs fairly close to the Towpath and also goes all the way to Albany. Most of the roads have wide, paved shoulders. But the roads can be fairly busy. And the scenery may or may not be better -- although it's likely to be more varied.
My guess is that I will do a combination of both the Towpath and Route 5, and also use my Garmin to try to find smaller and quieter roads that run fairly close by either or both. I'm always invigorated when that works out well (and even, some times, when it doesn't, just for having explored).

To be continued in the days ahead, for sure.

Here are today's route and metrics:







Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Day 74: Niagara Falls (Ontario)

Well, having never been there before, I'm willing to say that Niagara Falls is pretty neat. Yes, it's touristy and crowded, but it deserves to be -- it really is a spectacle of high order. It is a truly endless cascade of tons of water, pounding into the river below and billowing up non-stop clouds of mists. I'm not sure it tops Iguazu Falls in South America, but for something in my home state that I've ignored all these years, it's pretty terrific.

Of course, I did the obligatory touristy things -- riding the "Maid of the Mist" into the spray of the falls and taking the "Journey Behind the Falls," which takes you to vantage points beneath, below and behind the falls. And, continuing the two-day luxury interlude of this trip (last night's B&B on the shore of Lake Erie was the start), I'm staying at a Marriott directly overlooking the falls, in a 19th floor junior suite, with a 2-person in-room jacuzzi bathtub (unfortunately, overkill in this instance -- Laura, I miss you!) and a separate sitting room with sofa. I actually had not booked such luxury, but when I arrived at 1:00, seeking an early check-in with my bike, which, of course, necessitated a quick recital of the whole cross-country bike thing, I was given the free upgrade, as well as gratis wi-fi (otherwise $10 a day). Thanks for supporting us bicyclists, Marriott! Of course, they're still making a hefty profit margin, especially since I'm also eating in their highly-overpriced restaurant while composing this post (the sad entertainment of the solo cyclist - I miss you too Bob).

Oh, right, the biking. Well, it was nice, but it wasn't really what I was focused on with Niagara waiting. It was "only" 21 miles, so I allowed myself the pleasure of sleeping latish (7 a.m.) and the indulgence (necessity, really) of some overdue bike maintenance (rewrapping my slipping handlebar tape and cleaning/oiling my chain after the rain). I didn't get on the road until about 10:30. The route was right along the river, with low traffic, and it was kind of cool that the first sign of the falls, from about 5 miles away, was the plume of mist arising from their crashing into the water below. But the biking almost counts as a rest day -- I really didn't work up much of a sweat, especially since it was overcast, with the sun not coming out until I was deep into tourist mode in the afternoon. It may be in the TMI category, but I'm even going to wear the same socks tomorrow without washing them out (they're Smartwool, OK, so quit your gagging).

There's a lot of this area that I haven't seen, like Niagara-on-the-Lake and the tankers going through the Welland Canal between Lakes Ontario and Erie, so I toyed with staying put another day and doing a loop that would take me to both of the foregoing. But, in the end, my desire to get home (and my cheap gene - it's expensive here) won out, so I'm off to Medina, New York tomorrow. Yes, I'll be back in the U.S. (assuming customs doesn't hold me up over my Swiss Army Knife) and my home state. It's pretty exciting. I've even got an estimated home arrival date: September 8th (the Transportation Alternatives Century ride is September 9th. Hmmm.)

Here are today's route and metrics:


Monday, August 27, 2012

Day 73: Fort Erie, Ontario

Today's post will be brief, because there's not much to report. I rode a little over 40 miles, from Dunnville, Ontario, to Fort Erie, Ontario -- unfortunately, most of it in the rain. The silver lining is that the predicted scattered thunderstorms didn't materialize. And I had a tailwind. And it was never a downpour. And my rain gear mostly kept me dry. So, actually, not so bad after all.

One consequence, though, was my camera was tucked away in a dry bag -- so I didn't take many photos. Nor, given the weather, did I actually feel like stopping very much. Plus, even though much of the route, like yesterday, was along the scenic Northern shore of Lake Erie, there are only so many ways you can take a picture of a lake with a point and shoot camera, especially when the sky is a mono-grey. But I very much enjoyed the ride and scenery, and the high degree of freedom from car traffic that the route offered -- rain and lack of photo ops notwithstanding. Indeed, the last 15 miles or so were on the Friendship Trail -- a paved (and, today, quite deserted) bike path that connects Port Colborne with Fort Erie (to its East). A very nice way to while away some mileage on a rainy, dismal weather, day.

Actually, the trail wasn't fully deserted. Right outside the town of Ridgeway, I came across a group of about 20 bikers, standing around the trail conversing. Being the shy guy I am (not), I barged right in and asked what was going on. It turns out it was a supported tour of the Niagara area, covering 4 days, for women only. Put together by a biking tour company, based in New York, I believe, called Women Tours, but drawing its clientele from all over the States and Canada. They were very welcoming and, conditioned on my agreeing to assume honorary woman status (which I donned enthusiastically), invited me to lunch. Which, I, and the zillions of hornets buzzing around, very much enjoyed (I can't ever remember having to check my sandwich, before each bite, to make sure I wasn't also ingesting a hornet -- Stephen, that story was for you).

To my dismay, however, I was so enjoying the conversation that I forgot to pull out my camera and take a picture. So, if any of you biking ladies are reading this post, please email me a group shot if you have one, and I'll add it to this post. My info, I think, is with Amy, on a napkin (assuming it didn't bleed into an unreadable mess).

One photo I did manage to take is from the bedroom window of the lovely B & B I landed at in Fort Erie -- the Lakeshore Bed and Breakfast (thank you, Tripadvisor). Perched right on the edge of the Lake, you can see the skyscrapers of Buffalo across the Niagara River to the Southeast, and the endless waters of Lake Erie itself, noisily lapping at the shore, directly South. Good stuff.

Here are today's route and metrics:


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Day 72: Dunnville, Ontario

Today was another excellent biking day. I traveled from Simcoe, Ontario, to Dunnville, Ontario, a total of just over 50 miles. The weather was good, I felt good, and the roads and scenery (a lot of Lake Erie) were all good. Good + good + good = excellent.

First, a coda to yesterday's post. While having dinner at the bar of the restaurant attached to the Best Western at which I was staying, the bartender --- in response to my question -- told me the biggest crops in the area were tobacco and...get this, ginseng. There's a photo from yesterday that has furled black nets -- that is (or was) a ginseng crop. She further said that it takes 7 years to come to fruition, and then the land is ruined for anything else. Apparently the first farmers of it made a fortune, but then market economies took over and it got over-planted.

End of farming lesson.

Today's ride started out on the Lynn Valley Trail, which runs about 11 kilometers (I'm getting into this Canada metric thing)  from Simcoe to Port Dover on Lake Erie. I was a bit wary, as a touch of online research confirmed that it was unpaved, but a waitress at breakfast, a biker herself, reassured me that it was well worth doing -- and doable on anything other than really skinny tires.

She was right. It was a delightful trail, with a surface very much akin to the best of the Ontario unpaved roads -- only very marginal additional rolling resistance -- which definitely was repaid by the forests, with rivers and wildflowers, through which I rode. Lovely.

At Port Dover I got my first good view of Lake Erie. I pulled into the parking lot of a closed restaurant that touted a water view and, from it, could see basically forever, in any direction. Lake Erie sure is large. But gorgeous too. I particularly enjoyed all the hawks, soaring above me on the winds coming from the Southeast across the Lake.

The rest of the day was spent basically bicycling along the shoreline, East, on low-traffic roads. Good stuff. Initially, out of Port Dover, I was struck by the amount of industry. A U.S. Steel Canada plant. An Ontario power generation plan (4 years with no accidents!). An Esso refinery. All taking up a lot of real estate, and with "No Trespassing/Entrée Interdite" signs. And all juxtaposed against this striking body of water.

There were a lot of good-looking houses along the water, but no McMansions, and as I got further along, the lots and houses both got smaller, until one story ranches with postage-stamp size yards took over. It struck me as very egalitarian -- a whole lot of folks were getting their water view; it was not just reserved for the few and fortunate. And, it being Sunday, there were tons of people out and about, sitting in comfy chairs on their porches, or playing games on the beaches or in their yards (e.g., frisbee, volleyball, horseshoes), or strolling or, gasp, even bicycling.

Ironically, almost every water-side home had signs posted against wind turbines, with explanations such as "Test health effects first" and "wind turbines decrease the value of your home by 25% to 40%" (which I suspect is getting closer to the truth of why the turbines are not wanted -- the homes across the road from the Lake had far fewer signs). But it was surprising, given the other ample and intrusive industry in evidence. And I thought Canadians were supposed to be smarter than us Americans on matters like these ( is the site cited by all the signs -- so feel free to go there for what I assume will be a one-sided presentation on this issue).

About 38 miles into the ride, I was hot and tired from the heat (about 32 degrees centigrade) and battling the fairly constant oblique headwind, and began looking for a good entry point to the Lake. I soon found one and took an extraordinarily refreshing dip. Changing into my bathing suit (yes, still the Speedo), using nothing but one of those tiny camping towels for cover, however, was a bit of an adventure. I feel it was an accomplishment not to get arrested for indecent exposure.

Feeling renewed (after an equally risqué change back into my biking togs), I covered the remaining mileage to Dunnville in no time -- where I'm staying at a small, four-room, bed and breakfast. I was to be the only guest tonight, but at the last minute I was told by the hostess that a cycling couple had called and were coming. Turns out it was Pete and Romona, also traveling across the country (to Vermont, where Romona's sister lives). Bob and I met them for one night back in Winnett, Montana, and surely did not expect to see them again. Small world (even when you're going across the country).

Here are today's route and metrics (total mileage is slightly over 3,350 miles -- I admit, I haven't done the kilometer conversion):


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Cumulative Route (through 8/25)

As a second of two posts tonight (don't miss scrolling down and reading about Day 71: Simcoe, Ontario), here is a cumulative map of our/my route, both in RidewithGPS and Google Earth (changed to stills, to speed the load time, if you saw an earlier version of this post). Definitely entering the home stretch!


Day 71: Simcoe, Ontario

What a difference a day makes! Today's ride was 52 miles, from St. Thomas, Ontario, to Simcoe, Ontario, and I had good legs from start to finish. But, as importantly (and, likely, part of the reason for feeling strong), I was successful in navigating almost the entire way on low (or non-existent) traffic back roads, all of which were nicely paved (with one trivial exception for half a mile).

I relied primarily on Google Maps, although, when it hit a bump in the road (so to speak, but also  literally in the sense of not being paved), my Garmin GPS unit (which, with some modicum of accuracy, depicts which roads are paved, unpaved, large, small, etc.) was pretty good at finding a work around. Indeed, the very first smaller road on my Google-generated route, once out of town, was....wait for it...loose gravel (it was even signed as such). I wasn't going there. But the Garmin showed a paved, small road nearby, that worked perfectly.

Although my Google Maps route didn't have any further mishaps of that magnitude, I wish I could figure out Google's bicycle routing algorithm (of course, if I could, I'd be a gadzillionaire). Clearly it relies on their traffic data to find low-traffic roads for biking. But the priority it gives to distances, and whether or not its database distinguishes between road surfaces and/or scenery (or even knows about either), are all things I'd love to know.

In any event, it was lovely to pedal, with the sun out and nicely warming me, the breeze in my face from my forward movement, and be able to listen only to the sounds of my tires whirring on the pavement, the birds overhead and the crickets in the fields. It was really excellent and enjoyable riding.

As an aside, not having extraneous bicycle-related noises is an important factor in my book to a good ride. Leaving aside that various noises might indicate you have something wrong (or about to go wrong), for me they become a constant distraction to staying in the moment and enjoying where you are riding. So, if my chain is creaking, or my derailleur clicking, or my disc brake rubbing, I'm typically right on the job to eliminate it. Of course, wanting to do that is not always the same thing as being successful in doing it. On this trip, probably the most basic and frequent maintenance, especially after riding in the rain or on an unpaved road, is chain cleaning and oiling. I probably do it at least once a week -- even more than I re-inflate my tires. It makes a huge difference in having a quiet ride.

As for today's scenery, it continued to be top-notch: a ton of farms and crops, open fields, silos, farm machinery, horses and buggies (I rode through some Amish country), cattle and sheep -- and, equally nice, the absence of anything eye-jarring (e.g., ugly houses, power transmission lines, etc.).

As a second aside, the thought also struck me today that Canadians are better at training their dogs to stay off the road. I managed to stir up a handful today (one of the downsides of back roads), but not a one actually left its yard. Safer for them and for me! Now, admittedly, this conclusion of mine, hazarding an opinion on a particular nationality characteristic, is based on a pretty small sample size and may not have much validity. But, if you'll excuse me, I'm not all that interested in expanding the testing!

Here are today's route and metrics: