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

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.

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