Archive for September, 2008

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 Bike To School Album.

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