Day 63: The last day

Day 63, 8/15, Harriman State Park to New York City(!!): 70.6 miles, 3,467 ft elevation gain, 11.7 mph average speed.


Trip totals: 4,083.8 miles (75.6 mile daily average), 151,167 ft elevation gain, 12.5 overall average speed.

You guys, we made it!  

Fun semi-fact* before we get started: Our blog posts have been around 1,600 to 2,000 words each, and we’ve published around 60 of them, so if you’ve followed along with us all summer, you’ve read approximately 100,000 to 120,000 words, which is as many or more words than The Prisoner of Azkaban (107,000 words / 435 pages) and The Hobbit (95,000 words / 303 pages). In other words, you’ve read a decent-sized book! Congrats!

We started the day early to avoid traffic and to get home and see Ellie sooner. We came back down the hill we climbed last night, which was a nice way to start the morning, and reached Stony Point quickly. We continued on a highway with a decent shoulder (and saw a 10-person tandem outside of a bike shop!) until we reached Nyack, our breakfast stop. There is a restaurant in Nyack that caters to cyclists–they even have bicycle-themed breakfast sandwiches–and Ted knew about it from his previous bike rides to Nyack, so we stopped there. There were several bike racks outside that already had over 20 bikes parked on them, and it was exciting to know that they had come from the city this morning! We were so close!

  

   
 We ordered a lot of food, as usual, justifying the expense because we had Poptarts for dinner last night. After two breakfast sandwiches, a smoothie, a coffee, and a Chai latte, we headed out. As I grabbed my handlebar to board my bike, I grabbed a bee that stung my pointer finger, right on the part of my finger I use to operate my brakes! I took a Benedryl and ran a credit card over the sting to remove the stinger, then got on my bike. I couldn’t expect much sympathy from Ted because when he got a bee sting in Niagara-on-the-Lake, I told him to suck it up. He was still pretty nice, though.

The route took us through a nice residential street with large homes on the Hudson River, where we met and rode with a couple out for a Saturday morning ride that was very impressed with our trip. Not many people in New York have asked about our trip because of that general New York aloofness (which many people interpret as rudeness), but when they do ask, they are always shocked. People’s reactions to our trip have varied regionally, but the incredulous reactions of people in Michigan, Ontario, and New York have been the most fun. We think this is because we left the main bike route in Wisconsin (aside from a few days on the Erie Canal, where we temporarily rejoined the Northern Tier route) and there have been far fewer bike tourists around. The drawback of how uncommon bike tourists have been in these places, though, is that most people don’t even ask what you’re doing because they assume you’re a hobo. So the encouraging “Wow, what an incredible trip!” has been replaced with a suspicious side eye and a tighter grasp onto one’s handbag. The bright side of this is that, despite the fact that we’ve been in higher-population (read: higher crime) areas, no one messes with our stuff.

Anyway, it was nice that after two days of no one boosting our egos about how cool our trip was, we were at the receiving end of an empty-nester mother and father’s enthusiastic adulation for 20 minutes of our ride. We eventually parted ways as we continued on the bike route to the city.

We followed 9W for a while longer, entering New Jersey before reaching New York. 

  
9W puts all of the other 9s to shame. Large shoulder, little traffic, and tons of other cyclists, all doing day rides from the city to Nyack and back. It was really exciting to be around so many serious cyclists with fancy carbon bikes, clothes, and shoes (yet another way wealth can be expressed in New York, I suppose), and it was even more fun to actually be able to keep up with a lot of these guys! Very few people passed us, and we were passing people who looked like this:

 
It’s been hard to gauge how fit we’ve gotten over the course of the trip because it’s not as simple as calculating the distance you’re able to ride or the speed at which you ride it. The terrain, traffic conditions, weather, and wind all play a huge role in what you’re capable of doing every day, so some 60-mile 10-hour days felt harder than other 100+ mile days. But riding on 9W–a road that we used to ride on day rides–and passing the guys who would have zoomed past me on an unloaded day ride a year ago made me feel more fit than I’ve felt at any other part of the trip.

We left 9W for our favorite stretch of riding within a day of NYC–Henry Hudson Drive. The road is lined with shade trees and traces the Hudson River for about nine gorgeous miles. There are very few motor vehicles on the road–like, there were maybe three cars on the road for the whole nine miles–so it’s the most pleasant riding available anywhere near the city. It’s also where city cyclists come to do their hill training, so we were simultaneously eager for and dreading it.

   

  

  

 We crushed those hills. They barely felt like hills after our trip! Another touchstone for how fit we’ve gotten.

We rode under the George Washington bridge on Henry Hudson Drive, then over the bridge, victoriously entering our home city! We followed Riverside Drive for as long as we could, trying to avoid the Henry Hudson Greenway, a paved bike path that traces the Hudson from the George Washington Bridge all the way to Battery Park, 11 miles away. Avoiding an 11-mile bike path? Yes. As you might expect, this bike path is the busiest thing on the planet on a Saturday, so we chose a beautifully low-traffic road that many cyclists use to avoid the bike path on the weekends.

    

   

Someone on Riverside Drive told us that Summer Streets was happening until 1p, which meant that two of Manhattan’s busiest North-South streets, Lafayette and Park, were closed to car traffic. Yep, NYC shut down the streets in honor of our arrival! This was a better route for us anyway, because the Greenway leads to the Brooklyn Bridge–another place cyclists should avoid at all costs on a Saturday–while Park leads to the Manhattan Bridge, our bridge of choice. We rode across town to Central Park, bobbing and weaving through the madness that is Central Park on a summer Saturday, then rode to Park, where the streets were, in fact, closed!

  
  
It was a little slow-going on this street. Most people were biking around 5mph and it was hard to navigate a dense cluster of people who don’t ride bikes very often. Some people were actually learning how to ride a bike here! In fact, I grazed the tire of an adult woman who was learning how to ride her bike. I felt a spider on my leg and went to brush it off, then she slammed on her brakes for no reason and I did not slam on my brakes. I apologized profusely. You can’t do much damage at 5mph, but her bike riding instructor gave me an earful, which I sort of laughed off because a) what a terrible place to teach someone how to ride a bike!, b) this was, like, the absolute least scary incident I could dream up for someone riding their bike through NYC, and c) I think it’s pretty funny that we made it all the way across the country without incident and on the last day I cause a low-speed crash with a novice bike rider on a street closed to car traffic. Ridiculous. 

Anyway, after that incident, the novelty of the closed streets wore off and I decided I’d rather ride down Second Ave. at a faster speed. This is when we officially joined our commute home from work, which felt surreal. We dashed down Second, then joined Chrystie, which runs through Chinatown to the bridge and which always has some sort of weird hazardous thing happening. Today, among other hazards, there was a cab parked in the traffic lane whose fare was about to open his door into the bike lane. I saw this happening, so I rang my bell, yelled, “watch out!,” and received my first angry response of the trip, in true New York style: “SHUT THE F*@$ UP!” Ah, welcome home.

We got on the bridge and got lots of questions about our bike tour, then decided to take a different route to Prospect Park so as to avoid passing within a half of a block of our apartment because we knew that if we passed our apartment, we would definitely not have the motivation required to ride eight more miles to Coney Island, not to mention the eight miles back. 

   
 We stopped at the Grand Army Plaza farmer’s market and drank a half-gallon of fresh apple cider, then continued through Prospect Park to the Ocean Parkway bike path to reach Coney Island. Yep, another bike path. And, by the way, we did not have to spend more than a block on a road without a bike lane from the moment we left Summer Streets to the moment we arrived at home, which was about 24 miles. Oddly enough, NYC has the best bike infrastructure we’ve encountered on our whole trip other than Minneapolis. NYC consistently ranks high on lists of the most bike-friendly cities, and I think we were starting to take the bike infrastructure for granted before we left for Seattle, partially due to Teddy’s scary bike accident in April. Of course it’s not exactly safe to ride a bike through New York due to the sheer volume of vehicles (moving and stopped with their swinging doors), pedestrians (jay-walking and crossing against the light, sometimes boldly looking you in the eye as they cross in your path saying with their minds, “you got a problem? what are you gonna do about it?”), and other distractions (you know, a bag of produce rolling into the road), but they really are trying to make it as safe as possible.

   
    Anyway, we rode our bikes down Ocean Parkway and arrived to another summer Saturday madhouse: Coney Island. It seemed like we were aiming for the craziest places in the city. We rode onto the boardwalk, then decided that in order to end a coast-to-coast trip right, we had to drag our bikes through the sand and dip the tires into the ocean. The beach at Coney Island is very wide, but it has never looked wider than it did after my first shove into the sand.

    Many minutes later, we reached the water, found a passerby to take a picture, then went for a swim. The water was the perfect temperature, but Coney Island isn’t known for having the cleanest water, so our swim was pretty short. We dragged our bikes back up to the boardwalk, looked at the ocean for a bit, then headed back home. Sort of an anticlimactic end to such a climactic trip, but that’s how I wanted it. I didn’t want to ride with people on the last day or make a big thing about it; I wanted to end the trip the way we’d spent 95 percent of our time on the trip: just me and Teddy, sitting together in silent thought, feeling so lucky that we’ve gotten to spend this time together.

Which brings me to another thought: I assumed that I was going to be a grumpy, hangry, whiny jerk for the whole trip and that the success of this trip–and, by extension, our marriage–would rest on Ted’s ability to tolerate my foolishness. To a large extent, I was correct. I could not have dreamed up a more supportive, tolerant, optimistic, fun person with whom to spend a sometimes grueling, sometimes frustrating, always challenging two months. I always expected to have fun (some of the time, at least) seeing the US, but I certainly did not expect this experience to be as life-affirming and beautiful (in every possible way something can be beautiful) as it was, and I have Ted to thank for that. Despite all of the opportunity costs and stress involved in taking this trip–which was, undoubtedly, an irresponsible financial decision for two people who’ve decided to live for five years in NYC on one nonprofit income while taking turns in grad school–I’m certain that taking this trip was the best decision we’ve ever made, as a couple or individually.

As hard as we tried to capture our experience in this blog, neither of us is a good enough writer to accurately express how this experience felt (and most of the time we were just complaining, anyway). Sorry about that, but I think everyone who can should go on a bike tour someday and feel it for themselves! It doesn’t have to be a two-month behemoth; there are a lot of one-week bike tours that are perfect for beginners, and there are a ton of companies who lead group tours, carry all of your gear, and arrange for you to stay in fancy B&Bs. This one is a great trip for beginners because it’s entirely on a well-maintained trail that’s relatively flat, and it’s on our short list for our next adventure. Once you try bike touring once, though, you’ll never turn back!

 

Home!

 
Thanks for reading our blog this summer! It was always exciting and motivating to look at our stats page and see hundreds of views in a day. We would have stopped blogging long ago if not for all of our faithful readers, which would have been unfortunate for us because this blog served as our journal and now we have a book’s worth of journal entries to help us remember this trip. So thanks for the motivation, and we hope you’ve enjoyed following along with us this summer! We’ll write some summary posts and write up journal entries from two of our other tours to post here for posterity, so come back in a while if you’re interested!

*I call this a “semi-fact” because I’m not exactly sure how many words we’ve written.

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Day 62: The worst day 

Day 62, 8/14, Hudson, NY to Harriman State Park, NY: 94 miles, 5,299 ft elevation gain, 11.3 mpg average speed.

Trip Totals: 4,013.2 miles (75.7 mile daily average), 147,700 ft elevation gain, 12.5 mph overall average speed.

Today was the worst day of the whole trip, and I say that without reservation. The. Worst. Day. I had a full blown can’t-catch-your-breath panic attack on the side of the road, and started uncontrollably sobbing for almost 10 minutes during the day’s climax. I say this to warn you that this is not going to be a happy, positive post.

In fact, I’m going to say it again. We generally try to focus on the bright side when we’re writing our blog posts, but there really wasn’t a bright side today, and we decided that pretending there was would simply be dishonest.

Starting from the beginning, we woke up a little wet because we wanted to sleep without a rainfly last night to look at the stars, but apparently we’re in another heavy dew area. Not a big deal. It was actually kind of refreshing because it was already a bit warm.

After packing up, we rode a mile to McDonald’s because there wasn’t a toilet at our warm showers stay. Our host never showed up last night and it was a little weird to sleep in someone’s yard without their being home, but mostly it just meant we didn’t have access to a bathroom. We ordered breakfast and ate really quickly before heading out. We knew we had 93 more miles ahead of us and the most elevation gain since the Badlands.

A guy came out as we packed up our bikes to admire this other guy’s brand new bike with a motor attached to the rear wheel. He kept trying to get us to acknowledge how cool the bike was by saying things like, “isn’t this the coolest thing you’ve ever seen?,” but we weren’t commenting because I actually think it’s pretty ridiculous. If you want to ride a bike, ride a bike. If you want to ride a motorcycle, ride a motorcycle. But putting a heavy motor on a bicycle means you’re making it a clunky, heavy, difficult-to-ride bicycle and a slow motorcycle. Some compromises are not worth making.

We followed NY State Bike Route 9 down heavily trafficked, shoulderless roads through Hudson. The route through town took us up a hill to a stop sign, at which Ted didn’t clip out of his pedal quickly enough and fell over directly in front of a car. He wasn’t hurt, except for his pride, and luckily the driver he fell in front of was paying attention.

We continued on through town and quickly learned that the theme of the day would be super disrespectful drivers. While it was clear that while most drivers could see us, they assumed they could scoot past us at high speeds with less than a foot of space. Many drivers just couldn’t be bothered to even get to the far side of the lane and would ride the white line past us.

This whole trip, I’ve assumed that as long as it was clear that people could see us, which is generally pretty obvious in our rearview mirrors, we were probably safe. The people we needed to worry about were the distracted drivers who didn’t show any signs of recognizing our presence. Today was the first day that I thought someone could see us and still hit us, whether it was because they innocently misjudged the distance between us and their vehicle, or because they cared so little about a stranger’s life that hitting us would be a relatively small inconvenience in their day and that slowing down to pass safely was not worth the risk of losing 1.5 seconds during their commute. I know this sounds dramatic, but that’s how it felt.

At one point during this stressful morning of riding, a police car with its lights on passed us very slowly. A few seconds later we saw a group of cyclists coming up behind us. There were about seven cyclists on unloaded bikes who had biked from Oregon and were ending in NYC. There was a police car behind them as well. A police escort for seven cyclists doing exactly what we were doing? What?!?!

Only one of the guys responded to our greeting. We asked how they got a police escort and he told us they were riding for the American Legion something or other fund, and his tone suggested that he was very proud of this fact. I think it’s great that people do these cross-country rides for charities, but please save the self-righteousness for someone else. I happen to enjoy bike touring independent of any external goal or motivation, and as much as I would love for someone to carry my gear and to have a police escort on these crazy NY roads, what a tremendous waste of public resources! I wonder how much money they raised net of two police officers’ salaries for over a month, plus the fuel for two police cars? I don’t want to be so cynical, but they weren’t very friendly and I was already having a bad day, so that’s how it goes.

We pushed hard to keep up with them so we could benefit from the police escort, but were unsurprisingly unable to ride as fast as seven people on unloaded road bikes who had also just ridden across the country, and lost them after a few miles. To make matters worse, the police escort created a huge traffic jam that made our riding even more dangerous than it already was. I don’t know if it was the group’s unfriendliness or the police escort and its dangerous consequences, but those guys put us in an even worse mood.

We rode for 20 white-knuckle miles before our first stop in Red Hook. We were both miserable and just wanted a cup of coffee and a quick sit. We bought a cup at a commercial coffee roaster that did not have seating because it was primarily a retail store. We didn’t want to trek the additional mile into town to a real coffee shop, so we drank our coffee on the curb of a strip mall.

We reluctantly climbed back onto our bikes, still holding out hope that things might get better. They didn’t. The shoulders were either crumbling or nonexistent, and the traffic was horrendous. I can never get good pictures of the most terrifying situations because I’m too busy being terrified. Almost all of the pictures you see on this blog are taken from my bike while moving–I rarely stop to take pictures because momentum is important when you’re carrying weight–so there won’t be a ton of pictures today because all but about 10 miles were either scary or really steep.

We passed a lot of old buildings today, including New York’s oldest public school, Clermont Academy (white building below), and a lot of old houses. The towns are much older here; some were established in the 17th century!

We also started seeing a ton of roadside produce stands today, including a pick-your-own flower stand.

We turned onto a slightly better road for a bit, then turned back onto craziness. Ted asked me how I was doing and just before I gave a grumpy answer, a Rita’s Italian ice came into view. We had to wait for a few minutes for it to open, but there was a friendly casual cyclist also waiting who commiserated with us about how awful the drivers are around here. Misery loves company, as they say. My large Gelati and Ted’s large milkshake were delicious.

We continued on more terrible roads with terrible drivers, passing through some adorable Hudson River towns and beautiful views of the valley. We didn’t stop to hang out in these towns because we figured they are just a day trip away on the train (by the way, it was very very difficult not to take the Metro North back to the city, but we could not quit on the penultimate day of the trip) and 94 miles with lots of climbing is no joke.

When we reached Poughkeepsie, we entered the Dutchess Rail Trail, which was by far the nicest trail of the entire trip, and I’m not only saying that because any old trail would’ve been a stark contrast from the rest of the day (which it would have been). No. This was a genuinely wonderful trail. Wide, beautiful pavement without root cracks, beautiful shade trees, and flat terrain. Such a pleasant reprieve. We tried to force ourselves to ride more slowly to make it last longer, but that felt irresponsible given the mileage and 1,000 foot hill we had coming at the end of the day.

  

At the end of our time on the trail, a fellow cyclist told us that there was another paved bike trail that covered much of the distance into the city. The problem was that we had already paid for a campsite in a different direction for the night and if we took the bike trail in question there would be no lodging options other than paying $180 for a hotel. So as much as we were dreading getting back on the roads, we felt like we had no other option.

The roads felt even worse after we got that glimpse of how life could be, so we stopped after only a few miles to eat lunch at a service station. We then made our way to 9D, the most terrifying stretch of road since the four miles leading into Whitefish, MT. This was worse than that day, though, because traffic was constant, but not constant enough to slow anyone down.

We mentioned it in an earlier blog post, but it is unconscionable for the NY DOT to pass off this road and roads like it as “bike routes.” Encouraging people to ride their bikes on these roads is putting lives in danger. This may come off as over the top, but we’ve ridden over 4,000 miles across the continent, and this was far and away the most dangerous road we’ve ridden on.

9D is where I lost it. The shoulder was about eighteen inches wide, but NYDOT had repaved the road and all but about five inches of the shoulder, creating a little ledge on the shoulder. Since everyone was riding the white line, I was trying to stay on the far side of shoulder, but it was a tricky balancing act on a five-inch strip of pavement. I lost my balance a bit, my tire caught the ledge, and I nearly fell over into the traffic lane in front of a car. Luckily I was able to clip out of my pedal fast enough to rebalance before falling (PSA: keep your clip tension as loose as you can stand it!), but that was the closest I’ve come to dying on this trip, possibly ever. Then I started having a panic attack while riding, and tried to make my way to a driveway where I could pull off and calm down. I think what scared me the most was that it was my own mistake that put me in danger. I feel like a pretty competent cyclist, so to make such a dangerous mistake was frightening. That on top of the constant stress of the day caused a total meltdown.

I eventually caught my breath and stopped crying and we carried on, mostly because we had no other choice. Around this time we were passed by another bike tourist who was on a three-day trip into the city. He didn’t seem at all upset by the riding conditions, much to our amazement. We have met several people on this trip who are content to ride in the road, confident that no one will hit them. I can’t tell if I’m more envious of their composure, or scared on their behalf. Sure, you probably won’t get hit, but if you do, bye bye birdie. We’ve read multiple news stories of cyclists getting hit and killed on the very roads we’ve ridden this summer, and I have to believe that the people getting hit behave and have temperaments more like this guy than like us. Otherwise, I would have quit long ago!

In any case, we finally made it to the Bear Mountain bridge with a beautiful shoulder and such bad traffic that cars were going under 10mph. Such a relief!

We rounded a large traffic circle, and continued on more narrow roads, albeit with significantly less traffic than any of the 80-some miles we’d ridden today. We climbed and descended a few steep hills, and after about 5 miles, we came to the turnoff that went to our campsite. We knew this last hill was going to be a doozy. A little over two miles, and around 1,000 feet of elevation gain. Thankfully, the road had very little traffic.

On that huge climb we passed a mansion with a helipad. Shortly after the mansion, Ted, who was looking at his phone to see how much further we had left, accidentally ran into one of my back panniers. This happened at such a slow speed that he was unable to recover his balance, and he fell over for the second time of the day (and the second time of the trip). After all of the stress and fear of the day, he curled up on the ground, not wanting to move. But he eventually realized that laying in the fetal position on the side of the road next to his bike was not a viable long-term plan. So he got up, got back on his bike, and we continued on.

We were thrilled to get to our campground, the Beaver Pond Campground, which was completely booked (thank goodness for that reservation) and almost exclusively filled with New Yorkers who were camping for the weekend, making us feel very close to home. There was a vending machine there, which was excellent news because we were hot and tired. We bought all of the corn syrup-sweetened beverages we could with all of the quarters we’ve gathered over the last two months (which was, incidentally, three Minute Maid lemonades and a Powerade), then headed to our site. It was sort of exciting to camp so close to New York City. No one has space for an RV in the city, so for the first time of the trip, there were almost exclusively tent campers.

We had grand plans for our final camping dinner that were thwarted by the absence of a grocery store where we expected one (still missing those ACA maps!!), so we ate Poptarts for dinner, showered, and went to bed, hoping to forget that this day ever happened.

Day 61: The day of many small train wrecks 

Day 61, 8/13, Amsterdam, NY to Hudson, NY: 78.3 miles, 2,532 ft elevation gain, 12.1 mph average speed.
Trip Totals: 3,919.2 miles (75.4 mile daily average), 142,401 ft elevation gain, 12.5 overall average speed.

Note: We finished our trip on August 15th (as planned – yay!), but jumping back into real life has left little time or motivation to work on these last few blog posts. I’m really sorry we’ve taken so long to finish documenting the trip since we got back home, but I promise that we’re working on these last few posts.

We started out a little late today, as we tend to do when we stay in hotels, but it was okay because we only had 65 miles to ride. It’s funny just how much your perspective changes after riding every day for nine weeks. Sixty-five miles was what we were hoping to average at the beginning of our trip, and now it feels like an off day. The day started with a few miles riding on a highway with a massive shoulder before we hopped on a bike trail for 12 or so miles. We ended our time on the Erie Canal trail yesterday, but this beautiful paved trail led us all the way into Schenectady.

  
Soon after we got on the trail, we realized that we both really had to pee. No problem, right? We were on a bike trail; we could just use the woods. But it turns out that we weren’t the only ones who were interested in enjoying a beautiful multipurpose trail. Which leads me to a fun fact: one of Ted’s greatest talents is writing impromptu song lyrics. On this trip, I’ll occasionally hear him singing about something we just did, something he wants to do, or something that’s frustrating him. Today’s song was about having to pee, but having too many people around to do so discreetly. But what made today’s song even better than normal was that it was in Bemba, the language we learned in Peace Corps! And now, without further ado, here is Ndefwaya Ukusunda (I want to pee):

Abantu bali kuli konse lelo.

Abantu bali kuli konse lelo.

Abantu bali kuli konse lelo.

Chena chabipa.

Ndefwaya ukusunda.

Teti ndolela.

Napapata.

Translation:

There are people everywhere today.

There are people everywhere today.

There are people everywhere today.

That’s really too bad.

I want to pee.

I can’t wait.

I’m begging you.

The song is meant to be sung on repeat to the tune of another song he wrote in North Dakota, but the tune sounds familiar to me so I sort of think it’s an actual song that neither of us can remember. The English translation makes Ted’s song seem pretty lame, but he pulled a few fancy grammar rules and uncommon vocabulary words out of the corners of his brain for the Bemba version. We sang that song all day and at one point we sang it in a round, perfectly, I might add. The things that entertain you when you spend two months on a bike.

We reached Schenectady fairly quickly on that pleasant trail, then entered city streets. Schenectady had some nice architecture downtown, but it was not well maintained. It’s been killing me to see all of these lovely old buildings go to waste across America. We’ve seen so many vacant and / or dilapidated buildings with beautiful architectural features that would sell for millions in NYC. When we were in Escanaba, MI, I saw my dream apartment above a shop with large arched windows and the loveliest brick work. It was vacant, and I can’t even imagine how low the rent was. Location, location, location, I suppose!

We were aiming to make it to Albany for breakfast, roughly 30 miles from Amsterdam. We entered the Albany suburbs pretty much immediately after leaving Schenectady, and the riding got rough. Schenectady was only 15 miles into the day, so we were riding through suburban sprawl for a painfully long time. The route went through suburban strip mall, four-lane road, no shoulder land (with a couple brief respites of portions of the road that had inexplicable bike lanes connecting nothing to nothing) and it was the tail end of rush hour. We continued to ask ourselves how on earth roads with these conditions could constitute a bike route, and spent our time watching the traffic in our rear-view mirrors, ready to bail if necessary. It was necessary to bail twice, or at least I thought it was necessary to bail, being the overly cautious half of our team.

The 15 miles of unpleasant riding ended at a cute street with restaurants and shops near downtown Albany. I was not willing to go further before I ate something, so we were lucky that a place Ted found on Yelp last night was on that street. We parked our bikes and got a table on the patio of Cafe Madison. We ate an excellent breakfast and got mostly good service, except for when Ted went to the restroom and a waiter came outside to watch me suspiciously, not leaving until a waitress came out and asked if I was “with the man with the…uh…running suit on.” The waiter went inside when I answered in the affirmative. I think he thought I was homeless thanks to my winning combination of tattered clothes, dark skin, and general filthiness. Another nice brunch spot’s snooty image tarnished by our filth.

   
 We rode through the beautiful, historic part of Albany and stopped at the state capital, and we appreciated that it didn’t follow what seems to be the state capital trend of mimicking the national capital building. We then headed to the bridge that would bring us across the Hudson and onto NY state bike route 9. We had high hopes that this bike route would be better since we’d ridden route 9 before near NYC and the section we’d ridden had much safer riding conditions.

   
      We walked up the large, steep ramp to the bridge (we only walked because there was a sign instructing us to walk, but I was secretly happy to avoid climbing the ramp), then saw that the bridge was closed to traffic. There were about 40 cops scattered in a few clusters on the bridge, so we assumed there must have been some sort of crash. We got on our bikes and started riding, though, because no one was blocking the bike lane, so we assumed it was okay.

It was not okay. A cop on the other side of the bridge saw us and screamed over to the cops on our side, who ran toward us, yelling at us to stop immediately. They were initially mad at us for coming on the bridge (thinking we broke through a police barrier like a couple of dummies, I suppose?), but when we told them that the bike lane wasn’t blocked, they calmed down a bit. The cops told us that the bridge was closed because a man was sitting on the bridge ledge, considering jumping. The man was getting agitated every time someone came close or passed by, so they had to scream at us to let him know that they were taking it seriously and wouldn’t let people pass.

Needless to say, I’m glad they saw us in time to stop us from startling him into jumping. The cops told us that they couldn’t predict how long the bridge would be closed, of course, so they suggested that we turn around and “ride up the road a bit” to the next bridge that we could cross. “Up the road a bit” in driver speak equals “over an hour detour” in touring cyclist speak. So much for that short day (which isn’t meant to sound insensitive; it’s just a fact).

We headed down the ramp, contemplating waiting out the situation, but decided to add 14 miles to our day. We later learned that the cops managed to talk the man down, but not until almost 5p, so it was definitely wise not to wait.

When we got to the bottom of the bridge, we had to cross the street in a crosswalk at the bottom of a freeway off-ramp to get to a bike path. We were distracted for a second after the walk signal lit up and a Penske truck blew through the light at about 40mph as we were about to enter the intersection. Had we gone when the light turned, we would have gotten t-boned. This is the third time since April that we’ve hesitated at a light and had someone blow through right in front of our faces (twice on this trip, once at 4th and Union in Brooklyn). Please, if you are riding a bike, make sure to expect people to be idiots. Even though people are paying attention most of the time, it only takes one mistake to kill a cyclist.

After making it across the street alive, we jumped on a beautiful bike trail. We rode the trail six or so miles north, crossed a bridge, then rode on non-bike friendly streets south. South and up. And then south and level, and then south and down, right back to where we would have ended up without the detour. Except for the fact that right before we made it back to the official route, we were detoured yet again, this time because a semi-truck ran off the road and into an electrical pole. We momentarily panicked when the fireman standing in front of our path told us we had to go a different way (mostly because we had just lost a lot of elevation and did NOT want to climb it again), but it turned out that this detour didn’t add more than a couple of tenths of a mile to our trip, and no big hills.

   
    After getting onto NYS Bike Route 9, we had roughly 10 miles of lovely highway riding, and were cautiously optimistic that our hopes about Route 9 would come true. It was a mostly level, nearly deserted two-lane highway with a six-foot shoulder. This was, in our minds, what a “bike route” should be. Then those 10 miles ended (right around the enjoyably-named town of “Castleton-on-Hudson) and the road turned into a shoulderless, winding, and hilly, but thankfully still low-traffic two-lane highway. This road went on for a while, and in the interest of honesty, I want to say that if it had been a different day, or if we didn’t have that big detour, or if there were a shoulder, we might have really enjoyed this part of the ride. We had occasional glimpses of the Hudson (which was milky brown, by the way; no more sparkling turquoise water for us!), lots of big beautiful shady trees, and some beautiful old farmhouses. But we were frustrated and unhappy, and we still had longer than we wanted to go.

   
      Anyway, we had planned on getting to Hudson early and exploring the town, but by the time we finally made it, we were absolutely exhausted. So we grabbed a Subway sandwich and cold drinks and headed to our Warm Showers host for the night.

Our Warm Showers host texted us directions to his place that included a gate code to a nature conservancy, a “left past the junk van and Lincoln,” and a “right at the junk Jeep Cherokee,” before reaching a large field with a vintage Airstream, where he lives. Our host has quite a property. Aside from the Airstream, our host has a box truck that appeared to have been converted into a water reservoir, a chicken coop, an old grain silo with a vintage recliner sitting on top, and a desk perched up on a fallen-down barn overlooking a beautiful field. It was a strange place, but it had all of the necessary things and was very private and peaceful. 

   
       

Our host told us that he wouldn’t be home for a couple hours, if at all, so we made ourselves at home. We took showers in the outdoor shower, ate our sandwiches, and set up our tent in a mowed section of the field, choosing not to use the rainfly in order to stargaze. No outhouse, but otherwise, it was a great campsite! Our host never came home, which made Ted nervous, but I sort of enjoyed being able to go to bed early and stargaze from the tent.  

  

Day 60: The day of the magnificent mile and a half 

Day 60, 8/12, Verona Beach State Park to Amsterdam, NY: 99 miles, 2,267 ft elevation gain, 12.3 mph average speed.


Trip totals: 3,840.9 miles (75.3 mile daily average), 139,869 ft elevation gain, 12.5 mph overall average speed.

I woke up without Ted’s prodding today. What, you ask, could pull me out of my deep slumber before 6? Five mosquitoes biting my forehead. Ted hadn’t fully closed the tent door when he got up this morning and those jerks found the opening. I killed all five, then started packing up. 

We got on the road pretty quickly this morning and got on the trail after a few miles. The dirt was still wet and lose at some points, so the riding was slower than usual. We decided to hop onto the road that paralleled the trail to see if the speed made up for the stress of riding with traffic. Unfortunately, this road was a busier state highway that led into a large town (Utica) and it was rush hour, so it was not pleasant. Then a motorcycle with the loudest muffler I’ve ever heard zoomed past without leaving us much space, and that was the final straw. We were willing to sacrifice five miles per hour of speed for the tranquility of the trail. 

   
 After about 20 miles we reached Rome, at which point the trail had a gap and we got lost. The town was large enough that getting lost was an ordeal, and the town was bike unfriendly enough that it was a slightly dangerous ordeal. After riding past an old fort that is an NPS site, we found the trail again. 

  
We met a bike tourist named Chris on the trail. Chris is from Harrisburg, PA, and he was riding a Schwinn bike that he bought 39 years ago with his newspaper money when he was 16! Chris has brought his bike on many tours and has updated the important parts of the bike (including recently adding a Shimano internal hub that Ted was curious about) over the years. I hope to still be riding my surly frame in 39 years. Chris is traveling ultralight with only 11 pounds of gear, a fact about which he is very proud (and should be!). He has an ultralight hammock for camping, but has mostly been staying in hotels. I’m intrigued about hammock camping, but I’d be too worried about having to find two strong trees that were well spaced. Chris is also the guy who told us about yesterday’s peanut butter trail that we were grateful to have avoided. 

   
 We rode the trail through some industrial areas on the outskirts of Utica until we reached the city, about 35 miles into the day, and ate breakfast at Top of the Morning Cafe. Breakfast was delicious and filling. 

   
        We got back on the trail and enjoyed the riding for several miles. Near Little Falls, we saw a sign for so-and-so’s Magnificent Mile-and-a-Half, and we figured it was going to be more of the same scenery, but maintained by so-and-so (sorry, I can’t remember the guy’s name). We were wrong; the scenery changed completely! Everything became more lush and green, and there were tall rock walls on either side of the trail. Truly magnificent! 

  
We also saw another confederate flag in Little Falls, bringing NY’s total to five. 
Shortly after the magnificent bit, I think trail maintenance got turned over to someone who’s never ridden a bike because we hit miles of thick sand. I came the closest I’ve come to falling a couple times when the sand was paired with a hill. Sand and hills don’t mix when on a bike, friends! And you could tell there was good packed dirt under all of that sand and that the sand was a relatively new addition. Why?

   
 It started raining during this sandy section–our first actual non-drizzle rain of the trip–which exacerbated the sand problem, so we decided to jump off the trail and eat lunch in Fort Plain. The rain stopped, so we ate lunch in a park in town. It’s not the fanciest thing in the world, but I don’t think I’ll ever tire of tuna, cheddar, and Mrs. Renfro’s Habanero Salsa on a Triscuit. 

  
We got back on the trail, but after that rain shower, the trail was in poor shape. We spotted a frontage road with minimal traffic between us and the interstate, so we jumped off the trail at the first opportunity. The road was actually New York State Bike Route 5, the route we’d been following whenever we got off the trail. The roads were mostly pleasant, bringing us through very cute Canajoharie and a couple other towns before we reached a couple of massive hills that would bring us to Amsterdam. We saw our first sign for NYC on the interstate we paralleled, and also saw a sign telling “the father” to stop discriminating against the Chinese, which must be part of some local argument, but seemed odd without context.   

         
There were no campgrounds or warm showers hosts anywhere near us, so we had to find a motel. After cleaning up, we headed to Moe’s to get burritos. Moe’s was over 3 miles from our motel and up a massive hill, so we called a cab, which happened to be the only cab in the whole town. The driver reminded us of a guy you’d find in NYC: brash, but friendly, and quick to share his strong political opinions. It made us feel like we were close to home. 

The employees at Moe’s were all either rude or bad at their jobs, but we eventually got our food. After dinner we bought some groceries and called the cab again. A different driver arrived with someone already in the cab, so we were a little confused. Apparently when you are the only cab in town you operate as a group shuttle service. We went a couple miles in the wrong direction to pick up another customer, then drove around for 25 minutes dropping everyone off, and we were dropped off last. Everyone else paid $5, but we were asked to pay $7 because we were the furthest destination (which, mind you, was less than a five-minute drive away when we were the only fare, which is less time than it took to get to either of the other fares’ homes). We complained about how unfair it is to be dropped off last and pay the most money, but the guy was unapologetic. It’s only two dollars, but it’s the principle of the thing! It felt like we were in Zambia again. 

We tried to be productive, paying bills, writing blogs, etc., but fell asleep pretty quickly. 

Day 59: The day we missed the ACA

Day 59, 8/11, Clyde, NY to Verona Beach State Park, NY: 71.4 miles, 2,023 ft elevation gain, 13.6 mph average speed.

Trip Totals: 3,741.9 miles (74.8 mile daily average), 137,602 ft elevation gain, 12.5 overall average speed.

We slept in this morning, in part because we had a relatively short day ahead of us, in part because we like to get our money’s worth when we stay in a motel, and in part because Mark said he’d prefer to take us to breakfast later (the breakfast part of the Erie Mansion B&B is him taking us out to a diner in town).

The first thing on my agenda was to fix my yet-again-flat tour tire. I don’t think I mentioned this in my last post, but the dollar bill I put in my tire in Traverse City lasted a week until it was eaten through right before we made it to Niagara-on-the-Lake. I replaced that one with a combination of duct tape and a new dollar bill, confident that I could get through another week to make it home. Turns out I was wrong. The other dollar bill was eaten through now, so I replaced that along with my tube.

  

Dani packed up our stuff as I was changing my tire, and it was time for breakfast when I finished. Mark drove us the few blocks to the diner in an antique rat rod, and we were disappointed to see that he had a Confederate flag sticker in the back. He didn’t seem the type, but I guess some people surprise you. That also brings New York’s Confederate flag count up to four, challenging Michigan (six) for the title. It’s crazy, but we didn’t see a single one in the six states before Michigan.

  
Anyway, the diner in town is called the Hillbillies Paradise Diner [sic], and we were served breakfast by the seven year old child of the proprietor. Breakfast was typical diner fare, but if I had suggested to Dani before this trip that we go eat at a place called Hillbillies Paradise, she would have laughed in my face.

   
 We were eager to get on the road after breakfast, but our plans were temporarily derailed when we discovered that our jar of salsa exploded in our food bag. Salsa everywhere. Yeesh.

We finally did get started around 10:30. We decided to follow the on-road New York state bike route because we didn’t think massive thunderstorms and flooding would make for pleasant riding on the dirt and crushed stone canal path. We found out later that our fears were justified and that riding on the path after the storm was like “riding through peanut butter,” according to a bike tourist we will meet tomorrow. 

The only problem with following an on-road bike route is that you’re on the road with cars and variable shoulders. So the riding was a lot less relaxing today than it had been the past few days. We rode through Weedsport, and then turned a bit north and bypassed Syracuse. We stopped for lunch at the beginning of Baldwinsville, and ended up eating at Subway because we were hot and sticky and wanted to take a break someplace with air conditioning.

   
   Lunch was fine, but then, only a few miles later, we saw our first Chipotle of the entire trip. We love Chipotle. We were already feeling a bit down and stressed out because the shoulder had been minimal and poorly maintained for a while, but the knowledge that we missed our first opportunity for Chipotle was actually pretty devastating. It seems so ridiculous for something so small to have such a big emotional effect, but it did. At least there was a Wegman’s across the street, so we were able to recover a bit while we shopped for dinner food.

Then came some truly terrible and frightening riding. A few miles of no-shoulder, three-lane, strip mall traffic. Cars buzzing by us at very unsafe distances. We’ve met a few people who are plotting their own route instead of using the ACA maps, and I can’t help but think that’s a terrible decision. Yes the maps are a bit expensive, but comparing our experience today to our time following the maps, I think the peace of mind that comes with knowing you won’t be riding on horribly dangerous roads is worth it.

We made it through the scariest section and started the last 30 miles of the day. We were feeling a bit drained and it was later in the day than I would have liked with that much distance left, but luckily we had a great tailwind pushing us along and we were able to average around 16 mph all the way until five miles from our campsite, where my tire went flat AGAIN! Turns out that I was wrong to assume this morning’s flat was the result of the dollar bill failing. There were actually several small metal pin-like things embedded in my tire, and one was poking through the inside wall just enough to puncture the tire. We removed everything we could find, and hopefully NOW it will last until we make it home.

   
   After changing the tire, we hustled to the campsite (with a brief cold drink stop at a convenience store) at Verona Beach State Park on Oneida Lake. It was a lovely campsite, and we saw a magnificent sunset over the lake. Dani made spicy chicken soup for dinner and then we washed up, showered, and hopped into the tent.

   
 Tomorrow we’ll approach century territory again, hopefully for the last time!

Day 58: The day we slept in a haunted mansion

Day 58, 8/10, Holley, NY to Clyde, NY: 73.1 miles, 1,776 ft elevation gain, 12.1 mph average speed.


Trip totals: 3,670.5 miles (74.9 mile daily average), 135,579 ft elevation gain, 12.5 mph overall average speed.

Ted woke up and looked at the weather first thing, saw a huge storm on the radar, and developed a storm avoidance plan for the day. We would ride to Rochester to eat breakfast, then ride until the first bit of storm caught us, seek shelter, then race to our final destination before the giant storm caught us.

   
    The morning ride was beautiful, but a little monotonous. Canal on the right, trees on the left, dirt trail ahead. I know I sound like a spoiled brat complaining about this beautiful dedicated bike path, but the problem with monotony is that the miles tick by slowly, which is a problem when you don’t plan to eat breakfast until you’re 25 miles into the day. As we approached Rochester, the trail got nicer and nicer until it became paved about seven miles before we hit Rochester. We immediately picked up speed on the pavement, and the scenery diversified a bit, too, with some densely forested sections, A few large parks with tall trees, and some rusty vestiges of an industrial boom. It was lovely riding. 

   
         The good restaurants in Rochester all seemed to be 4 miles away from the trail and since we were racing a storm, we didn’t want to add 8 miles to our day. We found a popular cafe on Yelp in a town 7 miles down the road, so we decided to deal with the stomach pangs a little longer. 

The trail continued to be paved and beautiful all the way to Pittsford, where we left the trail for breakfast. We ate at the Village Bakery and Cafe, a modern artisanal establishment at which we spent far too much money. Everything was delicious, though, so we have no regrets. 

   
    While we sat at the cafe, we looked into motels for the night, mainly because there was a flood warning in the forecast, but also because there were no campgrounds the right distance away. We called two places, one with a number that was out of service and another that didn’t answer the phone. So we figured we’d just ride to the first town with a motel and see what happened. 

We continued on the Erie Canal trail and arrived in Fairport after about seven miles. We noticed that we were passing towns every seven miles on the dot and we were told that there’s a town every seven miles on the Erie Canal because mules used to tow barges down the canal, using the same path that we’re riding on now, and a mule can tow a barge seven miles in a day. That being said, the Erie Canal Song talks about going “15 miles on the Erie Canal,” so there is a bit of a discrepancy. 

   
    
  
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  Fairport was very cute, but we didn’t stop because we had just finished a long break. There’s no way to know if a town is going to be a town with a gun and pawn shop / grocery / gas station / diner or if it’s a cute town with fancy coffee shops and such. So every once and a while we make a mistake, but it’s more fun to be surprised by a nice town than to dread a less nice town. 

At Palmyra, about 58 miles in, we got a call from one of our lodging options, the Erie Mansion B&B. They had plenty of space for the night!

   
   We continued on and that first bit of rain Ted detected on the radar had caught us in Newark. We knew it was coming, though, and were already on our way to shelter at Wegman’s, a grocery store with a cult-like following among people who’ve lived in upstate NY. As a lover of grocery stores, I was excited to see what all the fuss was about. I understand the obsession now; Wegman’s is wonderful. We both got hot deli sandwiches, cut pineapple, and a cookie, and ate in their nice cafe with free wifi. Everything was great, but the cookies were the star of the show. They were the perfect chocolate chip cookie, so we bought a pack of six for the road. 

As we sat at the cafe, both of our phones started buzzing and some alarms started going off in the store simultaneously – there was a flash flood warning until six. The big storm was catching up to us! We had 14 miles left to the mansion (two towns away!), so we scrambled to buy some groceries, ran outside, and started pedaling. We opted to stay on the road because the dirt trail makes for poor riding in a storm. We rode quickly through a gentle sprinkle to Clyde, home of the Erie Mansion. 

  
The Erie Mansion is gorgeous and sticks out in the dying town of Clyde. We waited on the porch for the owner, who arrived in a vintage pickup truck. Our host, Mark, is a fascinating man. He’s been collecting antiques for over 35 years and has enough stuff to at least fully furnish a mansion, as well as 12 cars and several motorcycles, mostly vintage. The mansion is stuffed to the gills with his furniture, and he’s got a valuable armoire sitting in the utilitarian stairwell leading to the side entrance, so the man’s got fine wood furniture coming out of his ears. 

   
    Mark bought this mansion for $75,000. That is not a typo. Mark owner finances real estate and currently has around 80 homes in his portfolio, so he knows a thing or two about buying houses. Apparently people can’t keep up with the maintenance and taxes on a place like this, so folks are selling their mansions for pennies. This mansion was formerly a retirement home and an apartment. The lady who lived here before Mark wrote a bunch of grants and put $750,000 into maintenance and improvements, so it was in pretty good shape when he acquired it. Bring in a crazy amount of antique Baroque and ornately carved East Asian furniture and you’ve got yourself a proper mansion!

   
    We settled into our room, the Eerie Suite (we got a free upgrade because he hadn’t had a chance to clean the cheapest room), which was death themed and easily twice the size of our apartment. There were many taxidermied animals, many skulls, a “coffin table,” and a wall full of alligator skins. The sitting room had a snake skin border. It was intense. 

While we showered, a heavy storm began and the whole town’s basements started flooding, apparently, because we could hear pumps and sirens in all directions. During a break in the storm we headed to the Save-a-Lot to pick up groceries for dinner. We settled on two boxes of cereal because we didn’t feel like cooking. 

In town we saw Prius Repellant, a contraption I had never seen, but Ted had heard of. Apparently, it’s somewhat of a new trend among rednecks. Prius repellant is a $500 modification for rednecks with diesel engines who want to rebel against all of the treehuggers who care about the environment. And Obama. This article tells us they’re also rebelling against Obama. The contraption tricks a diesel engine into releasing more fuel than necessary, creating a black cloud of exhaust. It’s called “rolling coal,” and it’s the new most obnoxious thing I’ve ever seen. I understand that diesel trucks serve an important purpose for a lot of people, but to be proud of the pollution they produce is a whole new level of ignorant.

Image from college humor


We headed back and ate a box of cereal, then went downstairs for a complimentary tour of the mansion. The mansion was built by a doctor, then renovated by his daughter, the wife of the deceased Charles Ely, the owner of one of the world’s largest glass companies during the Erie Canal era, Clyde Glass Works. Fun fact: Clyde Glass Works was approached by some investors who wanted to purchase the company, but Charles declined. The investors ended up purchasing Corning Glass, which remains one of the world’s largest glass companies. In fact, they produce the Gorilla Glass that I’m typing on right now! Sadly, Clyde Glass Works collapsed, as did the town around it. 

The mansion was incredible. So huge. So ornately decorated. There is one bedroom that holds $65,000 worth of furniture. 

   
 Mark knows a bunch of parlor tricks and decided to crack a massive whip (so loud!) and blow fire for us. He also has a handlebar mustache, a penny-farthing that he rides around town, and a hat for every occasion. We got to see his day hat, his tour hat, his penny farthing hat, and his rain hat today. He is like a 19th century cartoon character. 

   
 Mark invited us to town to drink a beer with him. By “a beer,” he meant three beers poured into one giant yard-long glass called a Yard. We grabbed umbrellas and braved the flooded streets to drink a yard with Mark at The Little Barrel, one of Clyde’s two bars, at which we were the only three patrons. Drinking a Yard is tricky and requires a lot of patience, especially toward the end when a giant bubble forms in the bottom and if you tip it too quickly, the beer will end up on your face. As novices, we drank with two hands, but Mark is a pro and drank with one. We avoided spills and avoided dropping the expensive glass.

   
    Mark invited us to the town’s second bar, which was a little skeezier and had two other patrons who seemed like the archetypal town drunks. Mark bought the whole bar a drink (something he’s always wanted to do and with five patrons, it seemed like an affordable time to do it) and we all watched WWF or WWE or whatever it’s called. It was disgusting and I was immediately ready to leave. We drank quickly and headed back to the mansion, past more emergency flood services pumping people’s basements. 

  
Mark asked if we wanted to watch him pour himself a drink because “it’s kind of fun to watch,” so we did (he doesn’t have a liquor license so he couldn’t offer us a drink). Pouring himself a drink involved two gravy boats, a snifter, a lighter, and a bottle of bourbon, and it looked like this:  

 We headed to bed a bit later than we wanted, but it was worth it to hang out with such an interesting guy. 
 

Day 57: Low bridge, the day we joined the Erie Canal.

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.  

  
  
 
  
  
  
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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.