Day 57, 8/9, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON, CA to Holley, NY: 79.7 miles, 1,558 ft elevation gain, 11.4 mph average speed.
Trip totals: 3,597.4 miles (74.9 mile daily average), 133,803 ft elevation gain, 12.5 mph overall average speed.
Spending the last two days hanging out with my family was amazing. The days weren’t necessarily action packed, but I wouldn’t have wanted them to be. We spent time relaxing on the back patio, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. We took long walks with my parent’s dogs, Maddie and Nelson. We explored downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake, visited the peach festival, and ate ice cream and peach pie. We watched a few races at a regatta, went swimming in Lake Ontario, and took a family ride on a carousel. We visited a winery and a brewery.
And we ate. And ate. Or to be more accurate and less polite, we stuffed ourselves like Vitellius on my dad’s amazing cooking. We started with spaghetti, as Dani mentioned, but we also had steak, roast chicken, grilled salmon, and a host of accompaniments. Going back for thirds and fourths was worth all of the work to build up a bike-tour appetite.
But all good things must come to an end, and today we had to get back on the bikes. It’s been a wonderful two days off, but we still have 530 or so miles to ride, and have seven days to do it in. On the bright side, that means that we only have to ride around 75 miles each day, instead of the 95+ mile days we’ve been pulling over the last week.
We slept in this morning. We just couldn’t bring ourselves to get an early start when we were sleeping in a super comfy bed and we just had two days off. We woke up at around 8:45 and started pulling all of our things together and getting packed. My family was also leaving this morning to go back to Pittsburgh, so they were packing as well. We got all loaded up, said our goodbyes, and got on the road around 10:30.
Canada has been impressing us the whole time we were here, and I guess it wanted to send us out on a good note. Our entire time in Canada this morning was along a dedicated bike trail that followed the Niagara River. The trail was well-maintained, and it offered a series of stellar views of the blue river winding its way along the bottom of a steep gorge.
As we approached the rainbow bridge, we passed a couple riding road bikes right before a steep climb. A few minutes later, as we were climbing, we noticed the gentleman of the couple mashing up the hill gaining ground on us. Now, even with our heavy, loaded bikes, Dani hates being passed, especially by someone she just passed, and I have a competitive streak of my own, so we both, without any sort of communication, put a little more energy into our climbing so we didn’t get passed. Thank goodness we had just rested for two days.
I tell this story because shortly after the climb, the guy on the road bike caught up to me and said, “My wife wants to know if you guys have motors on your bikes.” He then made another comment about how he wasn’t sure if we were carrying giant battery packs in our panniers. I know we’ve been getting stronger, but it made us feel great for a couple of serious road cyclists to be surprised by how fast we ride fully loaded.
We pulled into the Canadian Niagara Falls and it was madness. My family had warned, but it was just crazy. So much traffic. So many casinos.
It took us a little bit to figure out how to make it to the Rainbow Bridge, and then we were disappointed to learn that cyclists aren’t allowed to use the pedestrian walkway, but have to ride on the road. The Rainbow Bridge has an excellent view of the falls, but we weren’t really able to appreciate it too much because we were making sure that motorists weren’t so distracted by the view that they forgot to see us. Dani did manage to take a photo, though.
We stood in line with the cars at the border crossing at the far side of the bridge, and after a 10-15 minute wait, it was our turn. We handed over our passports to the border patrol agent, who started through the normal litany of questions. But he didn’t really make it past the first question, because when we told him that we were just passing through Canada on a coast-to-coast bike trip, his mind was blown. It was one of the most entertaining reactions of the trip, in part because he was so serious when the conversation started. But after we told him about our trip, his stern, professional demeanor was replaced with baffled amazement. WHAT were we doing? Why? For how long long? And we enjoyed it?
In the course of this, he forgot to ask us the rest of the standard questions other than how we know each other, gave us back our passports and shook his head at us as he waved us on our way.
America! New York! We’re almost home. Almost, but the kind of almost where we still have seven days of riding to cover 500 miles.
We thought that Canadian Niagara Falls was crazy. Oh my. I never want to go back to Niagara Falls again. Too many people. And remember that I say that as a person who works a block away from the Empire State Building and is used to masses of people.
We weaved our way through lines of traffic and groups of wandering people to see the falls. We saw them. They’re there. There are a bunch of casinos right behind them. We struggled to find an open space to get a picture of us/our bikes, but when we did we ended up right next to EJ Manuel, quarterback for the Buffalo Bills!
Confession time. We had no idea who he was. We figured out he was famous when some other guy came up to him and started gushing over him. Then I took a really awkward sneaky picture of him, which Danielle later sent to her family and her brother figured out who it was. Thanks Chris!
Anyways, we were eager to get away from the madness. We ended up getting a little turned around on our way out, but we eventually figured out which way to go. The original plan for the day was to find a cool diner or something for second breakfast/early lunch, but there was nothing cool. There was just craziness. So we rode on.
The area just east of Niagara Falls is not the greatest ride for a couple of people who just spent a week being impressed by Canada. It was a rough and run down area. Lots of abandoned buildings, lots of evidence of poverty and hardship. Lots of crappy roads with impolite drivers. We wanted to just turn around and settle on Lake Erie, but that would have involved going back through Niagara Falls, so there was no option but to ride on.
One last (maybe) Canada vs. US comparison: in Canada we ate solely in cute cafes and coffee shops, back in the states we ate at KFC. Bleh.
We followed New York State bike route 5 out of Niagara and toward Lockport, where we would meet up with the Erie Canal Trail. New York state bike routes generally follow state highways, but have huge shoulders. That was true through part of this section of our ride. The other parts were on a four-lane road through strip malls with no shoulder at all. Not fun.
We made it to Lockport, and it was not a cute town. We immediately passed a barber shop called Sanitary Barber Shop because apparently the thing the owners want to convey with their name is that they meet the absolute most basic criterium for a decent barber shop. There might have been a cuter main street area, but if so, we missed it as we headed straight for the Canal Trail. The Erie Canal Trail will be our home for the next few days. It’s a packed dirt trail that rides alongside the Erie Canal for several hundred miles.
Our options for the night were a) have a short day and stop at Middleport, or b) ride later than usual and finish at Holley. Both towns offered free camping right on the canal, so it was mostly a question whether we wanted today to be a hard day or if we wanted to put the hard day off until tomorrow.
We rolled up to Middleport, and it quickly became a question of whether or not we wanted to set up camp underneath the Confederate flag that was flying from the house next to the park. Turns out that wasn’t appealing to us, so we pushed on. We ride more slowly on dirt surfaces, so the miles didn’t tick away as quickly as we were used to, despite the flat terrain.
They did tick away though, and we made it to Holley just before 8:00p, and the campground there was absolutely adorable. Right on the canal, complete with showers, and free. Our kind of place. We dashed over into town, split a sandwich at Subway, drank some chocolate milk and Perrier water, and headed back to camp to shower and sleep.
The only problem with this campsite was a couple of teenage kids who were riding around the park, smoking sickly-fruity smelling ecigarettes, and blowing an air horn at random. I guess that’s what passes for making trouble in Holley, NY. Thankfully, they stopped around 10, and we were able to sleep undisturbed.