Biking to Northwestern

February 4, 2009

In August and September of 2008, Nate and his dad Sam bicycled 1100 miles from Leyden Massachusetts to Evanston Illinois so that Nate could start his freshman year at Northwestern University.

Since this is a blog, it is in reverse chronological order below.

Or you can to read the blog post by post in normal chronological order by clicking here.

Final thoughts – Some musings from Sam, aka “Dad”

February 4, 2009

Musings from Sam:

When Nate invited me to ride to school with him, I knew this was an adventure we had to at least attempt to do. To be able to be together for what was essentially the last two weeks of my son’s boyhood was a gift. If you are ever offered such an opportunity, take it!

I began this journey with some trepidation. Would my knees hold out? Would our bikes hold up? Would our camaraderie survive 15 days of constant togetherness? With luck (and some serious training during the summer), the answer to all of these questions was yes. I ended each day not feeling completely whipped; I sometimes took ibuprofin and arnica to protect my knees, but they never gave me any trouble.  The relative flatness of the route may have helped in this regard. Nate and I managed the entire trip with no squabbling, usually in agreement about when to stop and where and what to eat (always an easy discussion) and route selection. I did snap at him when he ran into me twice in one day, but no damage was done to our equipment or our egos.  On the last long day, even with the potholes, and traffic, and construction, and hard-to-find rail trail, neither of us were ready for the trip to be over.

Equipment:

Some people questioned whether my Seven Cycles Axiom (a titanium sport road bike) would be comfortable enough for 15 days in the saddle. Although I did have to stand from time to time to ease the soreness of being in the saddle all day, I was quite happy with my choice. I had a rear rack (frame has lugs for mounting), and panniers (saddlebags), which carried our clothing and other lightweight gear. We each had a handlebar bag, which we used for carrying cameras, maps, wallets and other things that we wished to remove from the bikes when we went into restaurants.   We were also a little wary about the carbon fiber seats days on Nate’s Trek 2500.  There are no rear rack lugs on this bike, so he couldn’t use panniers. We contacted the factory and they said hauling a trailer with this bike would not be a problem, and it turned out they were correct. We bought an extra of the special Bob axle skewers for my bike so that I could tow the trailer if Nate’s bike developed problems, but we didn’t need it. The only thing I wish we had done differently would have been to get a new stronger rear wheel for Nate’s bike instead of the used wheel which caused so many problems in the middle of the trip. Our 25, and sometimes 23 cm tires were fine for this trip, even on the stone dust bike trails along the Erie Canal Trail. We didn’t carry any cooking gear, because we knew we could find food along the way.

Bob Trailer and Tote (handy for carrying an extra tire)

Bob Trailer and Tote (handy for carrying an extra tire)

Bringing the Bob Trailer was a great idea (thanks Mike and Kristy!).  Especially having Nate tow the Bob was a great idea.  I referred to him as my Sherpa.  I had to be very sneaky to be able to beat him in a sprint to a town line, usually by waiting until the last second and trying to get past, because even pulling the Bob and all that gear, he could outsprint me.

Instead of using the waterproof gear bag that you can buy with the Bob we used a big Rubbermaid Tote.  This was just as waterproof as the bag and much easier to open.  For instance, when we had just finished fixing our fifth flat tire of the day and had loaded everything back into the Bob, and we’re ready to go and the tire blew out again, we could quickly open up the box get all the tools back out again.  We did have people look at us and say things like “Have cooler will travel, huh?”, but we weren’t doing this trip for the sake of appearances.

The Route:
Most of this route was fairly flat.  We were concerned this might get boring (it did at times), and we did miss the hills (at least the downhills), but the scenery was interesting and the roads (mostly, see Day 9) were not dead straight.  Bike Route 5 in NY is pretty nice, the parts we rode at least.  It is on State highways, mostly quieter ones with wide shoulders.  Signs along the way direct you, but they are small and easy to miss.  Mostly Bike Rt 5 is close to the Erie Canal Trail, so you can move over to that if the headwinds get too bad on the roads, or move back to Bike Rt 5 if the stone dust or weeds on the trail get too bad.   As mentioned several times, there seems to be little effort made to make the Erie Canal Trail (technically the 100-mile Erie Canal Heritage Trail in Western New York; the 36-mile Old Erie Canal State Park Trail in Central New York; the 60-mile Mohawk-Hudson Bikeway in the eastern Capital Region) easy find from nearby roads, and the state Canal Trail maps aren’t very good at telling you how to find trailheads.  Ironically, the directions are usually from an Interstate Highway.

I’ve never ridden south of Lake Eire, but I think our choice to cross through Ontario was a good one.  The roads are pretty quiet and well paved if you stay off the main routes.  There is usually only a 6 inch ‘shoulder’.  Bring your passports.

Michigan was another story.  You’d think that the roads around the Motor City would be pretty good, but they were either narrow, broken and busy, or dirt.  Michigan is working on some bike paths, and once we found it, the bikepath from Grand Rapids to Muskegon was wonderful, but most of the bike paths were short, and not going where we were going.

Using the Lake Express ferry to cross Lake Michigan seems like a good but expensive way to avoid biking through the industrial Midwest.

We had hoped that Nate’s mini laptop (Asus eee PC) would be useful for mapping our route ahead of us.  We didn’t try to map out the whole route ahead of time, because we wanted flexibility in our route selection, depending on what we found as we travelled.  Sometimes we were able to load some Google Earth maps for the road ahead, but most of the time we were unable to find free Internet service.  Probably a GPS system would have been more useful to us, and I don’t know if even that would have made it easier to find bikepaths.  We were able to find good regional maps for most of New York and Ontario.

If this blog isn’t all you ever needed to know about our bike trip and more, you can check out Nate’s Facebook page about the trip, and his Flikker page of pictures.

Two school newspaper articles were also written about our trip, one in NorthByNorthwestern and one in The Daily Northwestern.

Day 15 – the last hop

February 3, 2009

When we left home two weeks ago our deadline was to arrive at Northwestern University by Monday afternoon in time for Nate to start his pre-semester backpacking trip in the upper Peninsula of Michigan. With 20 miles of mostly bike path left, it looked like we were going to make it.  Early on in New York State, and later in Michigan with all the flat tires, we had our doubts. But now we were within easy reach of our goal. I left my panniers behind and Nate had his backpacking gear in the trailer instead of our biking equipment, and Marie joined us on a borrowed bicycle. We headed south, drafting each other down the bike path. Marie had a chance to experience our drafting etiquette, calling out obstacles to each other along the way; “Cyclist up!”, “Dog up!”,  “Stopping!”, “Pedistranian” (sic), “Holes!”.

For a mile or so, we cranked it up to our top speed to give Marie that experieince as well. But we didn’t maintain that pace for too long. Later, a much older gent was able to overtake us, the only time in the whole 1100 mile trip that a cyclist passed us while we were moving. We consoled ourselves with the knowledge that he had probably not ridden from Massachusetts in the last two weeks.

Shortly it began to rain. We stopped, put on rain gear and covered Nate’s pack, but the cold rain and the detours dampened our spirits for our final leg. We had some difficulty finding campus and more difficulty finding Nate’s meeting place. Feeling like cold drowned rats, it was a rather anti-climatic ending to our trip. We waited while Nate checked in with his group.

With a tearful farewell we acknowledged the end of an adventure that we would always remember. Marie and I got some hot soup, hitched the empty Bob up to my bicycle (the first time I had pulled it all trip) and headed to the train station to ride Metro back to grandmother’s house.

Stats:
Miles: 20
Hours riding: 2
Hours of Rain: 1
Miles of bikepath: 10
Serious cyclists:5
Pictures taken: 0
Detours:1
Tearful goodbyes:1 (or 3, depends on how you count)
Total Miles: About 1100
Total days of riding:14, including two very short ones.
Longest day: 121 miles

Day 14 – Crossing Lake Michigan-last long day

February 3, 2009

Our ferry across Lake Michigan  wouldn’t leave until noon so we had the luxury of sleeping in. The three of us had breakfast in the hotel restaurant, because there didn’t seem to be any other eateries nearby. It was not a very impressive breakfast. We then wandered around downtown Muskegon, which seemed to be in the midst of some much-needed urban renewal . Much to Marie’s delight we found a little deli with local clean food and got lunch for our ferry ride. We then went back to the hotel to collect our gear.  Marie drove the car to the ferry terminal, we biked over and waited to board.

Lake Express ferry arrives

Lake Express ferry arrives

Cruising through the channel to Lake michigan

Cruising through the channel to Lake Michigan

The Lake Express Ferry is a hi-speed catamaran-style ferry, quite a contrast to the six car Sombra fairy we had used to enter Michigan. Nate was able to update the blog while we waited for the ferry to leave the terminal. We lashed our bikes to the wall on the auto deck and went up on deck to watch the departure from Muskegon Harbor. The boat moved leisurely across the harbor, and through the canal, past some marine museum displays. Once we reached open water the speed increased dramatically, such that the wind on deck was difficult to stand around in.

Glad we weren't riding into this headwind

Glad we weren't riding into this headwind

Even drafting Nate it would have been slow going

Even drafting Nate it would have been slow going

After several hours, the Milwaukee skyline came up over the horizon. After disembarking, we said goodbye to Marie, who was driving to her mother’s house where we would meet up again later in the day. As ‘purists’, we continued to carry our own gear even though the car was going where we were going.  It was now almost 3 o’clock, and we had something like 75 miles to ride. Fortunately, we were on the south side of Milwaukee, so leaving the city was fairly straightforward.

Recreational trail along Lake Michigan

Recreational trail along Lake Michigan

We followed recreational-type bike paths south along the lake shore as far as we could.  We stopped for hot dogs at a soapbox derby competition and watched the kids coasting in their high-tech cars down a long bikepath ramp.

We did not have good maps of Wisconsin and Illinois and spent some time meandering south on roads looking for the bike path which we knew came up from Evanston. We found the bike route only to find in one spot that it had been interrupted by the removal of a railroad grade crossing. After struggling over five sets of tracks we found the bike path quickly turned to gravel. So we abandoned that option and headed back to the highways.

We crossed into Illinois and had a quick pre-dinner at a convenience store.  We had to be sure not to ruin our appetites (what are the chances of that?) because grandmother was preparing a celebratory dinner for us.

The road through Winthrop Harbor and Zion was hideous. We thought we had left the worst roads of the trip behind in Michigan, but Illinois proved it was up to the challenge. To their credit, most of the problems were the result of ongoing construction. On one section, we had one narrow rough lane bounded by Jersey barriers on both sides. Much to the annoyance of the drivers stuck behind us, we rode right down the middle of the lane to prevent them from squeezing us up against the Jersey barriers. We rode through Kenosha, where we were able to follow a trolley car through the streets on their new trolley system.

From there we were able to find the Robert McClory bikepath. This path followed the old North Shore Line electric interurban railroad, and we knew it would bring us within a mile of grandmother’s house. Initially this was a dirt surface path, but soon turned to well-maintained pavement. We rode on into the gathering darkness with our blinkies on.

We turned off the bike path and down residential streets in the darkness to grandmother’s house, where we were greeted by grandmother, Marie, aunt, uncle and cousins, complete with welcoming banners and a finish line ribbon.

Greeting banner at grandmother's

Greeting banner at grandmother's

Taken in daylight before we arrived

Taken in daylight before we arrived

A fine dinner followed.  We still had 20 miles to go, but that would wait until Monday.  Sunday we would relax and get Nate re-packed for his last 20 miles.

Stats:

A celebration with all the fixings

A celebration with all the fixings

Miles: 73
Avg Spd: 14.9
Mechanicals: 1 (Nate broke a spoke in the last few miles)
Bunnies: 0
Trains: 2
Trolleys: 1
Serious cyclist: 0
Minutes Dad spent thinking about work: 0
States we biked in today: 3

Day 13 – Onward to Lake Michigan

February 3, 2009

(Sam takes over the narrative at this point.) September 5, 2008

First caboose of the day

First caboose of the day

Today we are headed to Muskegon for a rendezvous with Marie and the ferry across the lake the next day. We packed up our stuff from the cabin, ate the cheese roll-ups, donuts, cookie, turnovers and muffins for breakfast we had bought the night before. Yesterday’s rain had stopped, the roads were dry, our gear was mostly dry, although our feet were still wet. We rode to Saranac, where we were stuck at a convenience store for breakfast number two. We stopped to study Saranac station and a Grand Trunk caboose.

'Hills' in western michigan

'Hills' in western michigan

We got on Route 21 and headed west for Grand Rapids. Route 21 was pretty dull, traffic was heavy, but the road conditions weren’t too bad. Riding through the city of Lowell, we encountered what we referred to as JAASM, “Just Another American Strip Mall”. It seemed like we could have been just about anywhere in the country riding through this undistinctive part of Michigan. Shortly after Lowell we encountered some of the longer hills we had climbed since leaving Eastern New York state twelve days before.

All you can eat, look out!

All you can eat, look out!

Our plan was to ride straight into Grand Rapids. Our usual practice is to avoid cities if at all possible, but we decided to see what Grand Rapids was like. We were pleasantly surprised to ride in on mostly residential streets without the JAASM that we expected. We found an all you can eat Chinese buffet in the center of town, and proceeded to replace the lost calories of the morning.

Quiet farm counrty

Quiet farm counrty

We had some information about a rail trail that went from just west of Grand Rapids up to Muskegon, our destination for the day. Unfortunately, our information did not include how to find the trail heads for this trail. So we wandered around a bit through beautiful farm country northwest of Muskegon. We stopped at a farm stand, where we had some of the best peaches we had ever had. They (the farmers, not the peaches) were able to give us directions to the rail trail. As seemed common with many of these trails, there was little signage directing you from the main roads to the trail heads.

Rest stop on a the rail trail

Rest stop on a the rail trail

What we found was a beautiful, quiet, fairly straight, smoothly paved rail trail. There were very few people out on the trail until we got closer to Muskegon. The trail went through the center of several small towns, where one enterprising ice cream store put up signs directing trail users to their goodies. Here we found that the soft-serve was self-serve, something we weren’t used to. We encountered one eastbound cyclist pulling a trailer; it looked like he was out for a long tour, but we didn’t stop to talk. Near the end of the trail we slowly overtook a cyclist riding a department store bike in jeans and sneakers. He commented that he was quite surprised to be overtaken by us, apparently he rarely met anyone faster than he on the rail trail. He managed to stick with us until the end of the trail. I was about to give him some pointers, like spinning faster in a lower gear, but he turned around and headed back.

The entrance to Muskegon was unimpressive, industrial, commercial landscapes with rush hour traffic. The city was much more sprawled out than it appeared on the map and we had some difficulty finding a hotel. We wanted something near the ferry terminal, and explored the bikepath south of the ferry terminal for some distance before getting some information about hotels north of the ferry terminal. We proceeded back up the bikepath, which was clearly more of a recreational trail than a path meant for serious travel. It had beautiful curving boardwalks through the marshes along the shore of Muskegon Bay, but was not meant for traveling quickly.

We found the Muskegon Harbor Hotel, which allowed us to bring our bicycles and trailer in the lobby, up the elevator and into our room. We called Marie who was right on schedule and told her how to find us. We had dinner that night in the hotel restaurant with Marie, a happy reunion. Nate took advantage of power and wireless to catch up on some of his communications. The hot showers were appreciated.

Muskegon Harbor Hotel, not a mini cabin

Muskegon Harbor Hotel, not a mini cabin

Stats:
Miles: about 80
Avg Spd: not recorded
Hours of rolling time: not recorded
Mechanicals: 0
Bunnies: 0
Trains: 0, but two cabooses on display
Roadkill: many
West-East Cross Country Cyclists: 1?
Serious cyclist: 1
Hours of Rain: 0
Minutes Dad spent thinking about work: 0
Deer: 3
Plates of Chinese all you can eat buffet Nate ate: 4

Day 12 – Crime Scene Detour

January 11, 2009

On this particular morning, we didn’t have food at the cabin for breakfast, so we got packed up and headed out, looking for a breakfast place. This often consisted of a convenience store, and this day was no exception. A breakfast roll, a sausage in a blanket, and PowerBars comprised my repast.

More rough riding in Michigan

More rough riding in Michigan

We consulted our map, and rode out on Seymore Road, which we soon nicknamed Seymour Holes Road, as it was probably the worst maintained paved road we had ridden yet. But the traffic wasn’t too bad, so we weren’t miserable. After about 8 miles, Seymore Holes Road intersected Route 21, which we turned onto. Route 21 was a smoother road, and we blasted on through Ovid and Shepardsville.

Blasting along on Rt 21

Blasting along a quiet Michigan road

We stopped at an Applebees in Corrunna for lunch, a restaurant we had never been to before. Our waiter was incredibly pushy! “Can I start you off with an appetizer? May I suggest our Mozzarella sticks, for $3.99, or perhaps a delicious soup for $4.99?” It was not the kind of restaurant experience we had hoped for. We ate anyway.

Back in the saddle, it soon began to rain. Rain similar to the day before, quickly drenching us. We pulled off the road, and took meager shelter under a shagbark hickory tree, and watched the 42 wheeler tractor trailers go by, spraying up huge geysers of stinging cold wet mist from under their wheels.

Ice Cream and a pink Mustang

Ice Cream and a pink Mustang

Once the road was dry enough to ride on again, we set out once more, a little slower now, as parts of the road were still wet. The 42 wheelers still went by, but the mist they sprayed up wasn’t quite as brutal as it had been during the rain. We pedaled on to St. John, where we stopped to visit a model railroad museum, which turned out to be closed, but we also found an ice cream shop, with a pink Ford Mustang on the roof.

The road we were traveling on soon came to a detour around a two car accident that was a felony crime scene. The police were using surveying equipment to determine which direction the two cars had come from, and the traffic cops wouldn’t let us through and wouldn’t tell us where the detour went. We assumed it was a pretty long detour, as most roads around here had few intersections. Also, there was near certainty that the detour would take us on dirt roads, which we were trying to avoid at all costs. So we headed on the detour, and once out of sight of the cops, traipsed through the edge of a agricultural field, avoiding the crops planted near our feet. Coming back out on to the road past the cops, we found that we would have to pass the cops on the other side of the detour. Fortunately, they gave us no trouble. We pedaled on.

We stopped in the town of Fowler, at yet another convenience store. It began to rain, so I plugged in, and uploaded a blog page, and some photos. A woman asked us about our trip, and it turned out she had just finished a 300 mile bike ride, and was able to reccmmend us another state park to spend the night. She was so interested in our trip, that Dad and I were sure she would offer to let us pitch our tent in their yard. She did not offer, so we bought dinner, and headed on our way to Ionia State Park.

Another mini cabin

Another mini cabin

The road was smooth, with minimal traffic, but it soon began to rain. We decided to continue to ride, and soon we came to the gates of Ionia State Park. Then there was the rough two mile road in to the ranger station, past a peaceful lake, and through some terrible potholes. We stopped at the ranger station, but the ranger was out. We’d called ahead and reserved a cabin, so we just headed in, past many more RVs than we had seen the previous night. Again, it rained.

Dinner consisted of the tortillas, bologna, turkey, ham and cheddar we bought at the store in Fowler. We watched another movie, blogged and slept.

Stats:
Miles: 105
Avg Spd: 17.8
Mechanicals: 0
Roadkill/ mile: 0.3
Serious cyclist: 0
Hours of Rain: 3
Miles of highway with shoulder: 12
Minutes Dad spent thinking about work: 0
Hours of rolling time: unrecorded

Day 11 – Calling GOOG 411 again.

January 11, 2009
Tent site behind church

Tent site behind church

We awoke behind the church, and ate crumbly donuts while we broke camp. As we wheeled our bikes through the lawn, I noticed that my rear tire was entirely flat. The tube was replaced with a patch tube, but both the new one and the old one leaked. Then, we realized that our patch kit was pretty old, and wasn’t working properly. We had no more spare tires, and all our patchable flats weren’t patchable with the equipment we had. We tried calling GOOG411 and the Yellow Pages to find bike shops, and I found a few in the area that might be open around 10.

Another possibility was that I might need a new wheel for me, but I couldn’t ride to the bike shop, if it was even open yet. Eventually, we decided that I would ride Dad’s Seven to the bike shop, and get CO2, food, a good patch kit, and four tubes. I rode, because I could get to the bike shop and back faster. When I arrived at the bike shop, low and behold, it didn’t open til noon on Wednesdays. Ugh. I asked a liquor store clerk if he knew of any other bike shops in town. Surprisingly, he did, and told me how to get there. That one was also closed, but opened at 10 am, so I got breakfast at the 7 11, and waited for the store to open.

Fixing flats in the church parking lot

Fixing flats in the church parking lot

When it opened, I got the parts, and got some food for Dad, and rode back at a quick pace. Upon arrival, we sat in the cool shade of the church, and ate the remaining breakfast. We put one of the new tubes in, and with our sore fingers forced the tire back on the wheel. When we went to pump it up, we discovered that the CO2 cartridges I had purchased were too big. The hand pump was used instead, and the pressure held. Hooray!

Rough riding in michigan

Rough riding in michigan

We rode on through Michigan, on Romeo Road, which had lots of traffic, and was pretty narrow. The map we had wasn’t very helpful, because many of the roads in this part of Michigan are dirt. However, this map didn’t show which were paved, and which were dirt. Also, many roads are straight for miles, and overlap section lines on the map. So, we had planned to take one route, but in fact we had chosen to ride on section lines, not roads. One of these section lines actually went through a lake, which didn’t work. We ended up going on many dirt roads, and I broke another spoke on one of these. We decided to fix it when we got to the campground. Further on, we came to a section of road that had been recently re-graveled. It was impossible to ride with our narrow tires. This was our one walking section of the whole trip.

At lunch, we reached Lake Orion, and had lunch at a nice little cafe, and got some food for dinner. We gave our CO2 cartridges to a bike shop, and asked about road recommendations. We were recommended to go south, and ride there. The clerk said that Michigan has the nation’s worst roads, and they don’t have much budget to fix them up. I spent a while blogging, and then we biked on, toward Holly State Park.

Michigan State Park Mini Cabin

Michigan State Park Mini Cabin

When we got to the state park, and rode up to the ranger station. We talked to the ranger about the pricing for the camping, and found out that the tent sites were $25, and they also had mini cabins for $45. We thought about how nice a mini cabin would be, to have a roof over our head, some space to move around, and be able to charge our devices. After we paid for the cabin, we went outside to pick up our bikes, and it started to drizzle. The drizzle quickly became a downpour, at times coming down so hard it nearly felt like hail. When we got to the mini cabin half a mile later, we were drenched. I was glad to have a plastic box to keep our sleeping bags and some clothes dry.

After it stopped raining, I went to the bathrooms to do some laundry, and then it started raining again while I was laundering. I waited for it to stop, and then went back to have dinner at the cabin. After dinner, we watched a movie, I blogged, and we slept.

Nate drying out in Mini Cabin

Nate drying out in mini cabin

Stats:
Miles: 45 Nate / 35 Sam
Avg Spd: 17.8
Mechanicals: 2
Roadkill/ mile: 3
Serious cyclist: 0
Hours of Rain: 0.2
Miles of highway with shoulder: 2
Minutes Dad spent thinking about work: 0
Hours of rolling time: 3 hours, 20 mins
Hours of waking time: 16 hours.
Points on buck we followed along the road: 4

Blog Hiatus

September 8, 2008

We will be riding to Evanston today, and then I’ll be going on a backpacking trip with other freshman from Northwestern for a week.  After that, I’ll continue to update the blog, and post photos.

Day 10 – Psssst. Another Flat.

September 8, 2008
Morning on the St. Clair River

Morning on the St. Clair River

We woke to the sound of fog horns blaring.  Barges were moving slowly up and down the St. Clair, through the thick fog.  While I took my time getting up, Dad snapped this photo of our tent in the early morning fog.

We biked south along the St. Clair river, and had breakfast at the Wee Village Cafe again.  They were out of pancakes, much to my chagrin, but I satisfied myself with french toast, as did Dad.  Another patron asked about our trip, and kindly gave us a map of Michigan, which was their home state.  It was helpful to have that map, not only because it helped to plan our route, but also because it had a mileage chart, something not all of our maps had.

The Sombra Ferry

The Sombra Ferry

A ferry would take us across the river to Michigan, and we got in line.  The ferry took 2 18 wheelers, or six cars, and a bunch of pedestrians.  A tanker truck was first in line to board, and after it was aboard, they had to readjust the boarding ramp, because the tanker made the boat list.  After the cars were on, the list evened out.  We actually spent more time waiting for the ferry and boarding, than we actually spent crossing the river.

Customs looked like they’d be simple, but we weren’t sure if we were pedestrians or vehicles.  We asked a pedestrian if he knew which line to be in.  He said, “I don’t know, I just come across here [the duty free store] to get my booze.”

Dad exchanged money while I checked Marine City for WiFi, of which there was none.  We headed up to St. Clair, and crossed over one of those grated draw bridges.  The grates make steering very awkward, especially when pulling a loaded trailer with traffic behind.  The rest of the ride was quite pretty, along the river.  As we rode along, we tried to find detailed maps of the county that showed all the roads.  They were hard to come by, but we eventually found a gas station that had good ones.

In St. Clair, we stopped and I found WiFi, but it was a pay-per use service called Marine WiFi.  Dad watched the bikes and the Bob, while I searched around the city for WiFi.  I tried the Library, but they didn’t have any, and directed me to a coffee shop, which I didn’t find, but I did find WiFi at at pizza shop.  I blogged and posted photos for a while, then walked back to Dad, and saw a neat metal sculpture of three people biking.

Safety first ...

Safety first ...

Dad had taken a photo of the sculpture, but had given the man his helmet, since the sculptor had neglected to give his subjects head protection.

Back on the road, we rolled on, till I felt a weird feeling in my rear tire like I had a flat.  We stopped to check but my pressure was fine.  Instead, my wheel was badly out of true, and we noticed that one of my spokes had also broken.  We took it out, called my mom to ask her to find a nearby bike shop using Google Maps, and we got directions to a bike shop in Richmond.

We got to the bike shop around 1:30, and were quite hungry.  We took the wheel off the bike, then the tube and tire off, so the mechanic could true it, using a truing stand.  Unfortunately, the bike store was busy, and there was only one guy at the shop.  So instead, we bought parts and Dad decided to put the spokes in himself, while I searched the town for food and a map.

Eventually, I found some food and a map of the county. Dad had had a hard time putting in the spokes and truing it on the bike, so he asked the mechanic to do it for us, and apparently the mechanic suddenly had some time, so he could do the work for us. I went back to the store to get more food while the mechanic did the work, and I got some drinks and Ben & Jerry’s.  Dad realized we didn’t have spoons for the ice cream, so we used the caps of our Gatorade bottles instead.  It worked ok, but we ended up using our tongues to get the ice cream out of the caps a lot.

The mechanic finished putting in the spokes and truing the wheel, and then we put the tube back in, and tried to get the tire back on.  It seems possible that the wheel is actually a little bit larger than standard wheels, because we had a awful time getting the tire back on.  We had to use tire irons, eventually.  We tried to pump it back up, but we had pinched the tube putting the tire on.  Ugh.  We tried again, using the tire irons again, and it flatted again. Tube out, new tube back in; we bought a CO2 pump and got the tube to inflate properly.

We continued on to Armada, on a short new bike path and then dirt roads.  We asked some folks on the roadside if there were any paved roads that went east-west, but they were mostly really far north, or really far south.  When we got to Armada, we were deciding whether we should eat, or keep going when I got another flat, standing still.  Number 3.  We scooted over to a gas station, and tried again, but cut the edge of the tube because we were using the tire irons.  That made us decide to use our hands instead of the tire irons.  With very sore thumbs, the tube went in, and the tire back on, and we re-inflated using a CO2 cartridge and pump.  The tube held.  We put everything back in the Bob, and started to get ready to go.  Psssssst…..Flat number 5.  We thought that we might be getting flats because of the new spokes, so we put some medical tape over the spoke holes.  We reassembled it, and tried to pump it up with CO2 again, but we misused the cartridge, and it spewed all over, and got our hands really cold.  We got the next cartridge, and pumped it up to 110 psi, but then we couldn’t get the pump off the valve stem.  Augh.  We tried to gently pull the pump off, but it wouldn’t go. We couldn’t ride with the pump on,  so we had to pull harder, and the next flat happened when the valve stem ripped out of the tube.  Totally preventable, and annoying.  Curse words were uttered.

We tried again, and slowly put in CO2, and used a different type of valve stem, which was easier to remove from the pump.  The final pressure was only 90 psi, but it worked.  We went to get food, both dinner and lunch, as it turned out, since we wanted to get in as many miles as we could before dark, since we had spent so much time fixing mechanicals.  Romeo Planks was a town we passed, and Romeo too.  The roads were pretty bumpity bumpity, and I was worried the whole time I was going to flat.  It was a little nerve wracking, especially with the Bob behind me.  We went up a hill, followed by lots of traffic.  Down the other side, we passed a sign, “CAMPGROUND ROAD.”  Oh, good.  A campground.  Perfect.  We took the road called Campground, and there was a washboardy downhill, during which I worried even more about flatting. Then we came out on a little pond, and we saw two beavers, and some swans.  The road seemed to be pretty residential, and we didn’t see any sign of a campground.  So, back up the hill.

Up ahead on the right was a church.  We turned off our tail lights, and went around back.  They had outdoor power outlets, so we were able to charge our phones and my computer. We ate our grinders, set up the tent, and I blogged for a while.  Then we rolled the tent fly part way off, so we could watch the stars as we went to sleep.

Stats:

Miles: 44
Avg Spd: 15.1
Mechanicals: 7
Bunnies: 0
Roadkill: 13
Serious cyclist: 3
Hours of Rain: 0
Miles of highway with shoulder: 3
Miles without a curve: 5
Beavers: 2
Minutes Dad spent thinking about work: 0
Times I ran into Dad: 2

Day 9 – “Canada: we put the ‘U’ in Labour Day”

September 6, 2008

On Monday morning, Dad got right up, and went to a Tim Horton’s trailer nearby, and got coffee, muffins, and pastries. I took my time getting up, found the pizza I’d put in the minifridge last night, only water had dripped on my pizza, and soaked it. The fridge also needed to be turned on, apparently, but how was I supposed to know that? I peeled the cheese off, and ate my pastries.

After that, it was back on the road, and we tried to find the Elgin County Railway Museum, but it was closed. It did have a gigantic building, and some rolling stock on display.

We headed on west, via Port Talbot. Some parts of the road were quite hilly, but only to drop down to a stream, and back up again. At one of these dips, there was a one lane wooden plank bridge. As I was approaching the bridge, a pickup truck was coming the other way. I scooted over the bridge, keeping to one plank, before the truck even got close. Then up the other side, a grueling short climb the likes of which we had not seen since New England, some 500 miles before. We apparently passed Port Talbot with out realizing it, since it was on the road we were on, but we never saw it. It may have been one of those dips in the road.

We stopped at a convenience store, and sat on the steps of the Memorial Hall, and noticed a sign reading “Closed Labour Day.” We try to think of the blog tag lines as we go along, so we thought “Putting the U in Labour Day” would work nicely. We did also appreciate the low traffic, and only saw one big truck.

The day was hot, so it was great for drying Dad’s wool biking shorts and socks on the Bob. We also had the wonderful luck to get some tailwinds, which is how we managed such a terrific daily average speed. Although hot, we weren’t bothered much, as it was Labour Day, and nearly everyone was off the roads, relaxing.

One problem with going west in this area of Ontario is that all the roads run North-East/South-West, and North-West/South-East. So we have to zig-zag across Ontario. On one such zig-zag, we stopped in Wardsville to have lunch at the Shamrock Dining Lounge.

It had just opened, but unlike Joey’s Seafood, they weren’t out of any of their menu items. It was great to have it air conditioned, since it was a scorcher outside. We got soup and burgers, and had a nice chat with our server (the owner), about how new the restaurant was, and how it had been a bar before, and how they had spent time cleaning it and repainting it. It had a great atmosphere, and nice hardwood floors. After I blogged there for a while, we got some ice cream, and then they gave us a litre of ice tea.

Flat, fltat, flat ...

Flat, fltat, flat ...

After we passed through Cairo, it was dead straight, all the way to Sombra, on the St. Clair. Once, we saw a radio tower in the distance as we were racing along at 20 mph. We estimated it would take us ten minutes to get there. I kept checking my watch, to see if it seemed like we would make it. At 9 minutes, it didn’t seem to be a whole lot closer. In the end, it took us nearly twenty minutes to pass the tower. That could have put a damper on our spirits, but we took it in stride, and just kept cranking along.

We stopped at a school, which appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. I tried to find power and WiFi, but it was not to be found. Some contractors were working on the building, but we didn’t talk to them. In addition to the occasional cluster of trees, we saw lots of, you guessed it, corn and soybean fields. We think that the inordinate number of roadkill come from the amount of available food for these critters, because in more wooded areas, the roadkill count dwindles.

One of the unlucky ones ...

One of the unlucky ones ...

As a car was coming down the road, it was plowing through a ankle deep mirage, and the headlights were reflected in the mirage. We thought about how that would work, but didn’t come up with any reason.

Looking at the map, we could see other roads paralleling our own. I thought about what a bother it must be to plow all these roads of snow in winter. Especially since there aren’t many houses on most of these roads.

Dinner was at the Wee Country Cafe, in Sombra, where we had pizza again. But since we were staying at the Branton Cundick Provincial Park, and camping, I wouldn’t be able to have soggy pizza in the morning, so I just ate the whole pie.

We paid our $25 tent site fee, and setup our tent under a tree. I blogged for a while, and Dad read his book. We slept.

Stats:

Miles: 88
Avg Spd: 16.9
Mechanicals: 0
Bunnies: 0
Roadkill: 17
Serious cyclist: 1
Hours of Rain: 0
Herons: 0
Miles lost to headwind: 0
miles of highway with shoulder: 2
Miles without a curve: 18

Day 8 – Our First Whole Day in Canada

September 4, 2008

Our tentsite behind the barn

Our tentsite behind the barn

We woke before 7, to the sounds of birds, crickets, and a few cars passing on the road by the farm.  We ate PopTarts while we took the tent down, and packed up our things.

Seeing Port Dover on the map, we decided to ride to it, and ended up going around a huge steel mill, with large fenced-in well landscaped grounds.

Riding along Lake Eire

Riding along Lake Eire

The smells from the steel mill were sometimes awful, so much so at times that I had to cover my face with yesterday’s sock to keep the smell at bay. (No, not really, I just used my hand.) There was a conveyor belt feeding the steel mill, we saw how it went out to a huge pier, where ships would unload ore. Our plan was to eat breakfast in Port Dover, and we found a Tim Hortons that also had WiFi, so we ate and blogged for a while there.

For the most part, the roads were as quiet as we could wish. They were real straight, too. I’d been worried we’d be bored to death from the straightness of them, but it was a different kind of riding than I was used to, and it was nice to just blast on. And on, and on. The scenery was a little lacking, since we’d seen cornfields before, and once you’ve seen one soybean field, you’ve seen them all.

We pulled off the road at a crossroads to take a break.

Taking a roadside break

Taking a roadside break

The orange Thermarest Z-Lite sleeping pad I’ve been using is quite useful at times like this. The grass is wet, but we spread out the Z-pad, and relax on the dry pad. While we were resting, some chickens came to check us out. They seemed like they were too tame, but the place they were at had a whole bunch of other fowl, including turkeys, so we figured the owners knew what they were doing.

After Straffordville, we got on Rt 3, and headed through Alymer, but it was narrow and really busy, so we headed south, and tried to go toward St. Thomas from there. There were some more dips, and the hills up out of them were really quite steep.

At a crossroads with a Road Closed sign, we took another break, and chatted with a retired local farmer about road conditions and crops. We took his advice and rode to St. Thomas, and took up at a motel with WiFi.

We washed up, walked down the main drag to a nice restaurant, and had most of a pizza. The sun was setting as we walked back, and I got some nice photos of the sunset. I took advantage of the WiFi at the motel to do some school work, and Dad washed some clothes.

St Thomas (Ont) at night

St Thomas (Ont) at night

We have a device called SPOT, which is a GPS tracking device that uses the satellite phone network to relay it’s position to the internet.  Some of our family members had fun tracking us online as we travelled across the country.  Learn more at http://www.findmespot.com.

I also have a Facebook page for this ride, and if you become a fan, you’ll get updated whenever I post a new page. http://www.new.facebook.com/pages/Nate-I-Bike-to-School-Bartlett/28020679745?ref=ts

You can also subscribe to RSS.

Stats:

Miles: 76
Avg Spd: 15.0
Mechanicals: 0
Bunnies: 0
Trains: 1
Roadkill: 11
West-East Cross Country Cyclists: 0
Serious cyclist: 6
Hours of Rain: 0
Herons: 0
Miles lost to headwind: 20
miles of highway with shoulder: 1

Day 7 – Border Crossing

September 3, 2008
Our tent site at the State Park.

Our tent site at the State Park.

We rose early Saturday morning, and headed up the Niagara River to Youngstown. There, at a small cafe, we had breakfast. Pancakes, eggs, toast, sausage.

Back on the road, we found that the way to Niagara was along a limited access highway, that changed from a four lane divided highway to a two lane street, with an abandoned section of road to our right. We considered riding on that abandoned section, but it had all sorts of glass and gravel on it. We rode along, and fortunately it was pretty quiet. At Devil’s Hole, the abandoned part became a three land bike path and walking path. It had been cleaned, and was really smooth and wide; great for riding. At a scenic overlook, we tried to take some photos, but the views weren’t suitable for photos.

The scenic overlook where photo opportunities werent great.

The scenic overlook where photo opportunities weren't great.

After a rest stop, Dad was picking up his bike, and put his shoe on the valve stem of his front wheel, and bent it over, ripping the tube. Flat! We put in a new tube, and were on our way. I found a neat perspective on the two Whirlpool Bridges, and the Rainbow bridge. I took a few photos.

The three bridges, and the falls

The three bridges, and the falls

Although we could see the Rainbow bridge, getting onto it proved to be more difficult. When we had wound around through various streets, and found the pedestrian entrance, where I assumed we would be crossing into Canada, there was a sign that said “No Bikes.” Back to the car lanes. It cost us $1 total to cross, and we lined up on the other side of the bridge, to go through customs.

Our customs officer asked the standard questions, and then wanted to know what kind of bikes we had. It turns out, he is a cyclist too! He told us where to ride out of the customs area, and how to see the falls with our bikes. Niagara Falls was awesome, with the mist from Horseshoe Falls rising up hundreds of feet, and drifting off towards Canada.

Horseshoe Falls, with me in the foreground.

Horseshoe Falls, with me in the foreground.

We biked south along the Niagara river, saw the power generating station, and the huge gates for the power dam. The road continued on, and low and behold, a bike path sprung up. At first, it was smooth, and really twisty. We think this was to slow people down, but it only made me want to go faster on it. It was an awesome path, and there were very few people using it, for a Saturday. However, the smooth surface didn’t last forever. It crossed wooden bridges, opened up onto side roads, and became bumpy in places. Whenever it crossed or joined with a road, there would be a yield sign, unlike in the States where a stop sign would be. The yield signs make so much more sense. Before we reached Port Erie, we decided to head due west, towards St. Thomas.

Before long, we came to Snyder, where we stopped at the Lane Family Restaurant, where we had a great meal, and then I charged up the laptop and did some blogging while Dad changed money to Canadian dollars, to pay for our meal.

On our route, and on all of our trip, drivers have been quite courteous, giving us plenty of space for riding, but sometimes going so far into the other lane that they force other cars into the shoulder. This is nice for us, but the timing for the drivers could be better.

Ontario has lots of corn fields, as well as bean fields. We think most of the beans are soybeans, but some may be kidney or wax beans. The roads are quiet, we think mostly because it is Labor Day Weekend, and most people aren’t on the roads.

We found a road called Feeder Road, that looked like it would be quiet, since it followed a canal. This road turned out to be quiet, yes, but also the most boring section of road we have found yet. It does follow a canal, but it has been long abandoned, so there is hardly a swamp left. It did take us where we wanted to go, and it was the shortest way mileage wise, so that part worked.

In Dunnville, we stopped at a Sobeys for some dinner-type food. There was an antique car showing going on in the parking lot, and while we ate greek salad, potato salad and a sausage roll, we watched red sports cars and roadsters pull in, and listened to the odd choice of music for the show.

Back in the saddle, we rode on, crossing the Grand River, and through Byng, South Cayuga, Sweet’s Corners, and stopped at Rainham Centre. Rainham was also the name of the road we were traveling on, so it seemed reasonable that the only food for miles was in Rainham. We got ice cream sundaes at Rainham Ice Cream, and some folks asked us what our plans for the night were. We didn’t have any, and they said that the Provincial Park in Selkirk might have room for us.

We biked along the edge of Lake Erie, past seemingly endless small homes and cabins, looking for this Provincial Park. At times, the stench from the Lake was quite powerful, and we hoped we would be far from the lake at our tent site.

Not to worry, as it turned out. The Provincial Park was full, and had been for some time. It was a national holiday after all. We decided to push on, and we got to talking with a boy, who offered us a place behind his father’s barn to spend the night.

His father ended up letting us stay the night behind an outbuilding, and the boy and his sister brought us out some water from their cistern. Good water it was, too. We had been drinking mostly from city taps, and the pure water tasted great. The spot behind the barn had been recently mowed, and looked like a fine place to pitch a tent. Although the ground was not hard, we were glad for our foam sleeping pads. As we drifted off to sleep, free from biting insects, the nearby revelers began setting off fireworks. It was a nice end to the day.

 

Stats:

Miles: 90
Avg Spd: 14.4
Mechanicals: 1
Bunnies: 0
Trains: 0
Roadkill: 9
West-East Cross Country Cyclists: 0
Hours of Rain: 0
Herons: 3

Day 6 – Our longest day yet!

September 2, 2008

So, a few people have asked about the bunnies. The reason we saw so many in those first few days is that we were riding on the bike path, and they didn’t seem to get much traffic. And yes, all the bunnies in the bunny count are alive. Also, in regard to the roadkill count, they stink so much its hard not to count them, if that makes sense. You can see bigger versions of these photos and more at my Flickr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/22743848@N06/

The house where we spent the last 34 hours.

The house where we spent the last 34 hours.

After a breakfast of hot seven grains, we hit the road at 8:00. We cruised down the nice long gentle hill we had climbed 34 hours before. Rain hit shortly after we made the turn on to the canal path. Our rain gear came out of our packs, but then the weather cleared up. Of course. The wet stone dust was actually easier to ride on than the dry, since the narrow wheels plow through the dust when dry, but the rain had compacted the dust, and it didn’t stick to our tires. Around Rochester, the surface changed to pavement, which allowed us to increase our speed a few mph.

Dad, biking along the canal

Dad, biking along the canal

Near Greece, we headed north, to ride along Lake Ontario. Along the way, we stopped at a farm stand, where we supported a girl making money for college by buying a pepper and four peaches. We watched a older couple drive in, but only on a section of gravel, not the “dirty” part of the driveway. The lady got out, walking very carefully, so as not to dirty her blindingly white shoes. We thought it was funny, because he seemed like he didn’t want to get the car dirty, so he made her walk around instead.

A tree with tons of bulbous growths.

A tree with tons of bulbous growths.

Up near the lake, we encountered the Lake Ontario State Parkway. It was a straight highway, had no view of the lake, and we had a headwind. However, it was divided, and had no commercial trucks and minimal traffic. There were several state parks along the parkway, which seemed to be the only reason the parkway was there at all.

We pulled into the Hamlin Beach State Park, and didn’t have to pay an entrance fee, since we were on bicycles. The snack bar where we ate was about one mile from the main gate, but was situated nicely under a stand of beeches. There was a great view of the lake, and there was a group of children playing on the park, running around, laughing, enjoying the day. Beneath our feet, the ground had a dappled texture, since it had recently rained.

The farmstand where we supported a girl going to college.

The farmstand where we supported a girl going to college.

Back on the road, we decided to turn off the Parkway, and ride along Lake Shore Road, which was actually right next to the lake, didn’t have much wind, and we saw no cars. It was what we were hoping the Parkway was going to be.

Fortunately, the Parkway didn’t go on for ever. It ended, and we got onto Route 18 West, which still followed the contour of the lake, but was set back from the lake a ways. It did tend to become straight at times, sometimes for twenty minutes or so.

On one of these stretches, we stopped at another farm stand. They had the biggest blackberries we have ever seen. The woman running the stand let us sample one, and boy was it sweet. They were nearly the size of ping-pong balls!

Back on Route 18, we plowed along for miles, making good time. We pushed our average higher and higher, and watched the miles accumulate. There really wasn’t anything else to look at. It was kind of amazing to watch our average climb over 16.0 mph after more than 100 miles that day.

Dinner that night was at an ice cream stand, which also served burgers and hot dogs. As we were finishing our portions, a cyclist drove up. He lived across the road, and had seen our bikes from the road, and decided to see where we were going, and where we were from. He asked if we needed any parts or repairs. We didn’t, and we told him about our plan to ride across Ontario, and he helped us plan our route. He produced a map book of Ontario, and sketched out a good route. Ontario was his home province, so he had a good idea of which towns and roads to go through, and which to avoid. He was a great help!

Lunch at the State Park.

Lunch at the State Park.

However, night was approaching fast, and we got back on the road quickly. We headed for Fort Niagara State Park, and shortly got on the Robert J. Moses State Parkway. When we first got on this Parkway, it seemed like a scene out of a post-apocalyptic thriller. The highway was deserted. Grass was growing up from between the concrete road surface. Wide, sharp edged cracks and wheel-eating frost heaves were common. I was sure zombies were going to start running out onto the road, clamoring for our flesh.

We rode for fifteen minutes before we saw a car. The riding was awful. We were sure we were going to flat, and the sun was right on the horizon. At one point, we were riding sort of side by side, and a trench appeared that ran nearly across the whole road. We both headed for the “nice” part. It was nearly too narrow for both of us, but we didn’t have an accident.

Mercifully, the State Park appeared, and the road surface changed once again. However, it seemed that we had misread the state map, and Fort Niagara closed at sunset, and didn’t allow camping. They did have 24 hour bathrooms, so we found a secluded area of the park, and waited until it was pitch dark, and then setup the tent. Since we were under trees, we didn’t bother putting up the rain fly. We didn’t get wet, or get woken up in the night by a grumpy park warden.

Stats:

Miles: 121.5
Avg Spd: 16.2
Mechanicals: 0
Bunnies: 0
Trains: 0
Roadkill: 0
West-East Cross Country Cyclists: 0
Hours of Rain: 0.5

Day 5 – No Biking

August 30, 2008

Day 5

Rising at 8, we decided to take a day off from cycling, and tour the engineering firm that our friend runs. After, we went to Pittsford for lunch, and had a nice meal right on the Erie Canal, and watched pleasure craft glide up and down the canal.

Arriving back at the house, we both took well needed naps, and blogged and read books. After another healthy dinner, we took in a little more DNC, before I connected to the internet and put up a new post on the blog.

Stats:

Miles: 0
Avg Spd: 0
Mechanicals: 0
Bunnies: 0
Trains: 0
Roadkill: 0
West-EastCross Country Cyclists: 1
Hours of Rain: 1.5

Day 4 – Cornfields of New York

August 30, 2008

We took down our tent at the marina, and, although we couldn’t see the lake, the sunlight on the water was really pretty. There was a light mist rising off the water, and the sunlight created a glow above the water.

The gorgeous light on the marina

The gorgeous light on the marina

  We packed up our wet tent, and headed west, in search of breakfast.

 

We happened upon a KwikFill gas station, and got some breakfast pizza, coffee, tea, and pastries. I typed for a little while, and we were on our way.

The tentsite.  Yes, right next to the RV.  Ugh.

The tentsite. Yes, right next to the RV. Ugh.

 

 

The roads stretched on in front of us, and on we rode. A cardboard ice cream sign was tacked up to a highway sign post, so we stopped in at the Sunoco station to have some ice cream. The woman who served us had family who biked long distances also, so she could relate to our trek. We watched an 18 wheeler drive into the station, and a pickup truck had to back up to get out of the way. It seemed that the pickup was just parked in the enter/exit lane.

We cycled on, past seemingly endless cornfields, gigantic tractors, and few workers. A few of the farms had “Company of the Month” signs out front. It seemed like a neat idea; promoting the work of the farms.

Further on, we came to a section of road that was being re-paved. There was little scarified pavement, fortunately, because it is really difficult to ride on. There was, however, a one lane section, with a flagger on each end. The traffic in the waiting line was pretty long, and once we were flagged through, and although we were cranking along at 20 plus mph, it was a really long section of one lane road. About half way through, there was a side road, and a flagger there, who directed us to take the side road instead, since we were holding up too much traffic behind us. “Hey! You on the bikes! Go that way, wudda ya think, ya own the road!?” The side road turned out to work better anyway, since there was almost no traffic, and the road was smoother.

As we approached a rare “hill”, we spotted a little breakfast place. We stopped in, and had some breakfast for lunch. Ahead of us, the cornfields stretched on, occasionally replaced by the other local cash crop, soybeans. We picked the canal trail back up, and rode along its stone dusty surface for a while, then called one of Dad’s friends. We would be staying the night at his house. Comparing his directions to our map and the trails and roads proved difficult, but we left the canal and Route 31, and headed north at Palmyra. Five miles up the gradual hill, and over the tracks we rolled into the gravel driveway.

We had a nice informal dinner of grains, pasta and well needed vegetables. The Democratic National Convention was on later so we watched/discussed/talked over that for a while. Much too late, we went to bed, noting that the leftovers of Hurricane Fay would probably make Thursday wet.

 

Stats:

Miles: 86
Avg Spd: 15.3
Mechanicals: 0
Bunnies: 0
Trains: 2
Roadkill: 17

Day 3 – A Real Century!….A Metric One, That Is

August 29, 2008

Americas  Best Inn

America's Best Inn

Leaving the motel at the crack of 9:00, we didn’t exactly get a early start. We did have our first real breakfast on the road, stopping off at a diner in Herkimer.

The Diner where we ate breakfast

The Diner where we ate breakfast

While we waited for Hobo eggs and a breakfast burrito, and I found some WiFi and searched the area for a bike shop. We found one in Herkimer that opened at 10:00, so after breakfast, we rolled on over, and got a couple spare tubes and a new tire for my rear wheel. We broke one tire iron with a steel core, putting the new tire on, and had to buy a new pair. Back on our bikes at 11:00, we continued our journey west.

Inside the diner

Inside the diner

We found the canal path quickly enough, and in places, it followed the abandoned canal. At times, the “path” was little more than two ruts, like a truck road. The sections that had water in them had filled up with algae, but were more scenic than the dry flora filled parts.

On the road

On the road

Later, after we were shunted back onto Route 31 West, we decided to follow signs for the Erie Canal Village. We had almost decided we had gone too far, but then we saw a sign. Turns out, they were closed. But we got to look around, and the Village had horses, and a stretch of abandoned canal with a passenger boat, albeit with a regular leak, and a tow path to take tourists up and down a short section of canal. We rode along the towpath for a bit, after taking some photos with the Village.

 

On another stretch of stone dust trail, we encountered many fallen trees, that completely blocked the path. All of these obstacles required a dismount. Bumbling our way through these trees, we came out at Lock 20. A refurbished tugboat was midway through being lowered through the lock, and we got to chatting with the lock keeper. He told us about the lack of funding for the canal system, lock electronics, and he had a one sided discussion about the Tour de France (we haven’t been keeping up).

The Erie Canal Village packet boat, with the bridge in the background.

The Erie Canal Village packet boat, with the bridge in the background.

 

 

Hunger started gnawing at our stomachs around 5pm, and we stopped at a local joint advertising “Fresh Seafood Daily.” We leaned our bikes up against the walls, passed the Harley bikers, and entered a dimly lit room with tables and metal chairs. At first glance, it seemed like a normal restaurant, but many customers were eating chicken wings. We sat down, and after waiting a while, a woman came over and asked “Were you hoping to get something to eat?” In fact, we were looking for food. It tuned out, however, that the kitchen closed early on Mondays and Tuesdays, offering only chicken wings after 2pm. This was the second “seafood” restaurant we had encountered that wasn’t serving seafood.

Down the road, we came to a pizza place the woman at the wings shop had recommended. We ordered lasagna, garlic knots, and salads, and went outside to wait. Dad decided to bike around, and try to find a place for us to set up a tent nearby. The Dunkin’ Donuts across the street would be handy for breakfast, and there were a few churches we could pitch a tent behind. He found no convenient places.

I am clobbered by a fallen tree.

I am clobbered by a fallen tree.

 

 

While we were eating, a local cyclist drove up in his car, and asked us where we were going and we were from. We told him, and he asked if we had found a place to spend the night. We had not, and he offered to go look for a place; he thought that the local marina had tenting opportunities. Dad and I took him up on the offer, and he drove off, letting us finish our meal. When he came back, he wrote out directions to the marina, told us about a place for breakfast, WiFi, and about his life as a time trials cyclist, until a work related accident prevented him from cycling.

After we finished our dinner, Dad went inside to pay, and the clerk had overheard our conversation about our biking journey, and in passing asked Dad how many miles he had ever bike in one day. “180 miles” came the reply. “Approximately how far is that?” asked the confused sales clerk. As Dad scooted out the door, he shot over his shoulder, “About a few miles less than 190.”

 

Stats:

Miles: 71
Avg Spd: 13.2
Mechanicals: 0
Bunnies: 1
Trains: 4

Day 2 – Our First Whole Day In New York

August 27, 2008

“Pitter-patter, pitter-patter” Rain. 1 am, Monday morning. However, it had quit by the time we woke up and got packed up.

Peeking out from our tent on Monday morning.

Peeking out from our tent on Monday morning.

Out on the road, we rode for almost too long before finding breakfast at a convenience store; “muffins”, “pastries” and coffee.

We wound around, looking for the Canal Path, and eventually found it. It was paved, until we lost the trail, only to find it again in a different place. The map we had from the State Canalway System and the Rand MacNally state road map seemed to differ from the actual trails and roads in real life.

Our tent site

Our "tent site"

Occasionally, the trail surface would change to crushed stone, which wasn’t awful to ride on, especially since the alternative was riding on the state highways with a headwind. There were several long sections with nice mowed sides, the occasional bridge, and frequent farm road crossings.

The tracks near Rotterdam Junction.

The tracks near Rotterdam Junction.

At one point, near Rotterdam Junction, we came to a sharp right turn in the trail, and we could see railroad tracks. There were a few jersey barriers blocking the trail from vehicles, but room enough to get bikes through. There, the evidence of a bike path ended. There were no signs, or graded crossing path. We could however, hear a train coming. We had seen a side trail going left off the trail a little way back, and I decided to scope out that trail, while Dad took a photo of the train. I went up the side trail, which quickly turned to a stream bed with medium sized rocks, and Japanese Knotweed growing thick and plentiful on each side. It continued up, steeper than before, and all the while, the train was getting closer. I came out of the Knotweed, to see a railroad bridge, and a train with three Union Pacific engines. This was the train Dad had been hoping to photograph!

After coming a 8 % grade.  Ooomph!

After coming a 8 % grade. Ooomph!

I got back to Dad, (my trail had dead-ended at the bridge) and we decided to heft the bikes over the tracks, and check out a similar road on the other side, complete with jersey barriers. Lifting the bob attached to my bike didn’t turn out to be much of a hassle, but it was a two person job.

The road on the other side was the one we were looking for, and we found a place for lunch. “Joey D’s Seafood” read the sign. However, they were sold out of fish! We split a ham grinder instead.

A newspaper article describing Joey Ds Seafood.

A newspaper article describing Joey D's Seafood.

Later on, we found a farm stand where we got some peppers, peaches, and ice cream. The canal path was right across the road from the farm stand, yet there was no sign on the path advertising “Ice Cream, this way” or anything. (It seems like they may be missing out on some business.)

Blasting along on the stone dust, we came to some people weeding some bushes by the side of the path. We stopped to thank them for volunteering, and they told us about some places to stay the night. The first place we tried was in Little Falls, on the north side of the canal. However, they wouldn’t let us bring our bikes into our room, and we didn’t want them outside. The next place was in Herkimer, and we got there around 8:30. America’s Best Inn was a motel, with doors to rooms on the ground level, so we were able to push our bikes into our room. We walked to dinner, and had a nice meal at a local cafe, getting back to our room around 9:45. It was a late night.

A possible tenting site, but we decided to motel it that night.

A possible tenting site, but we decided to motel it that night.

 

Stats:

Miles: 92
Avg Spd: 13.6
Mechanicals: 0
Bunnies: 8
Trains:4

Day One – Lots of Hills, But Still All Flat

August 26, 2008

“Bye! Bye!” came the chorus of well wishers from our driveway as we headed out this morning. We had made it out the door before we needed to, having eaten a breakfast of eggs, fruit salad, and cardamom coffee cake. We were planning to meet up with some biking friends in Readsboro at 9:30. Dad had allowed us one and a half hours to go the 23 miles to Readsboro.

At the bottom of our driveway

At the bottom of our driveway

Our first few miles were on dirt roads, and we weren’t making the 16 mph average we had expected. After about 12 miles, we had our first flat. My brand new tire had a sidewall rupture; a rock from the dirt road had cut into the tire. We replaced the tube and the tire (we brought a spare) and were on our way in 20 minutes.

Our first flat tire.

Our first flat tire.

We rolled into Readsboro at 11:00, one hour and a half later than we had planned. Our friends had left some time before. We got some food at the general store, and started up the road to Bennington.

“Pssssst…..” Flat number two! We had barely moved from the general store, so we turned around and headed back to the store. Two spares down, two to go. We chatted with some other cyclists as we reassembled my bike, and were on our way once more.

The hill we were now facing was the longest we will face this trip, heading up to Searsburg, VT. Fortunately, the hill was shaded on our side of the road, and the traffic was relatively light.

Passing the windmills in Searsburg, VT.

Passing the windmills in Searsburg, VT.

We made it up and down the hill with no troubles, and rode into Bennington to have lunch. At the sub shop, we fired up the laptop, and checked to see if there were any bike shops around Bennington that were open on Sundays, but to no avail.

Having seen the Bennington Monument on the hill, we decided to ride up to it, and check it out. It is quite a marvel. We rode along through eastern New York, admiring the beautiful countryside, before coming to Route 7. Up a hill that dragged on and on, and down the other side we went. We ditched Route 7, and took some back roads to Waterford where we took some photos crossing the Hudson.

We wandered around, trying to find the Mohawk-Hudson Bikeway,(part of the New York State Canal Trail), and gave up to have dinner in Waterford. Waddling out of the restaurant, we headed on our way, over to Peebles Island, and then over a bridge with open steel grating for a floor. We were both convinced we had gotten flats by the way our bikes were fishtailing around and acting squirrely. We did not flat, fortunately, and continued on, finding a place to camp off the road, and near the river. I typed for a while, got eaten alive, and decided around 8:45 to set up our tent for the night.

Stats:

Miles: 90
Avg Spd: 12
Mechanicals: 2 flats, one sidewall rupture

About the Ride

August 10, 2008

My name is Nate, and I am planning a bike ride to Northwestern University, in Evanston, IL, where I will be a freshman this fall. I am biking to Evanston from my house in Western Massachusetts with my dad. We will try to ride 100 miles per day, for 10 days, and have a few days for rain and resting. I will pull a small bike trailer, called a Bob, and my dad may also be carrying panniers. My mom will be driving out all of my belongings for the fall, and providing backup for us, in case we need to be bailed out.

Our route is currently under review, but the general plan is to bike from my house, to the Troy, NY area, and then follow the Erie Canal Bike Path, and the New York Bike Route 5, which follows the canal pretty closely. We will follow these routes to Niagara Falls, and then cross into Ontario, and bike through to Michigan, and straight on through to Muskegon, where we will take a ferry to Milwaukee, WI. From there we will bike down to Evanston, and I will go on the Project Wildcat trip.

I hope I’ll be in shape for backpacking!

I will be taking an Asus EEE PC 701 on this trip, so I’ll be able to update this page regularly, and post photos and maybe videos as well.
Comments are welcome!


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