Thursday, August 7, 2014

Day 10: East Greenbush, New York (105.29 miles, 816.45 total miles

I have the stupidest tan.

It starts right above my wrists and ends about 3/4 of the way up my arm. On my legs, it begins at my ankles and ends just above the knee. It is the result of days in the sun while wearing bike gloves, short-sleeved shirts, and bike shorts. I wouldn't mind, it's just that my pale hands and dark arms look really dumb. But I guess it shows that I at least got some sun on this trip.



I left my hotel a little after 9:00 am and headed out along Route 5S east of Utica. The weather and the conditions were perfect: it was cool and not too sunny, with some moderate cloud cover. Given how much I suspected I would have to ride today, I was glad that the conditions would be favorable.

I spent the first several miles on surface roads going through industrial areas east of town and then into rural countryside. I passed through a number of small towns, one of them, Ilion, containing the Remington Firearms Plant where Remington rifles are manufactured. It was a massive factory.



Eventually, my route put me back on the canal trail that ran along the river. Unlike earlier in the trip where the trail was the old towpath for the Erie Canal, the trail here was clearly an old rail bed. And so there were the occasional inclines, but never too steep, and sometimes, the trail took you through carved out channels through the hillside as shown in the picture at right. The trail was sometimes paved, and sometimes that packed gravel. And sometimes it was almost like sand and difficult to bike through. The bike trail ran alongside Route 5S, and so sometimes I would just switch over to Route 5S if it looked like the surface would make for better riding. Sometimes this meant that I would wind up going up some hills. That could be tiring, but it was often worth it to have decent conditions to ride on.

The trip took me along a number of historical sites, like this one commemorating the battle of Herkimer in the Revolutionary War:






The Mohawk River valley is one of the most scenic parts of the state. I remember having traveled along the Thruway many times and always admiring the the view of the river and the high cliffs on either side. At one point, I decided it was better to ride on Route 5S as it was running closer to the river and afforded a much better view than the trail running parallel.




After three hours of riding I stopped at at Stewart's in Fort Plain. While taking a break there I checked to see how far I'd come already and it looked like it was around 38 miles. Then I checked to see how far I had to go and it was 67 miles. Now, I had known that today's ride would be longer because yesterday's was relatively short. But it looked like today's ride would be over 100 miles—something I'd never done before. There was something a little intimidating about having already done 40 miles and knowing that what remained was 17 miles longer than all the riding I'd done yesterday. But, this was my last day; it's not like I was going to have to do any riding tomorrow.

And so I continued along, alternating between road and path. Eventually, I started coming to place names that were increasingly familiar: Amsterdam Rotterdam, (New York was first colonized by the Dutch, in case you weren't aware). After Rotterdam I stopped for a break and to get some more water, which I was going through like crazy. It wasn't terribly hot, but it was warm enough that I was drinking a lot.



After Schoharie, the path was consistently paved and so I rode the trail all the way to Schenectady, with some beautiful views of the river. When I got to Schenectady, the feel of the trip changed substantially. No longer was I traveling in areas where the names were familiar, now I was traveling in places that actually were familiar. I biked down State Street in Schenectady before turning on Rt. 146 and heading for Western Ave in Guilderland.



Now, when I was in college, I lived on Western Ave and would often commute up either Western or Washington to classes at SUNY Albany. Soon, I was biking familiar streets and even biked right past our old favorite hangout, the Washington Tavern, and past our old apartment.

The familiar streets made the long journey less formidable, because I knew how it would end. When you don't know where the end point will be or have any sense of how far it is, it just can feel like the journey is going on forever. But knowing that beyond these rowhouses was the park and downtown, and beyond that the Hudson and the road to my dad's, made the riding easier.

And so I worked my way through downtown Albany and crossed the Hudson into Rensselaer. As is always the case when your final destination is in Rensselaer County, the trip will end with having to go up some big hills. And, indeed, I did have to go up a few inclines but knowing that I was almost there made them much more bearable.

Back at lunch, when I had used Google maps to figure out how far I'd come and how far I had to go, it told me that the first journey should take 3 hours and 16 minutes and that I would reach my final destination at 6:46 pm. Now, in reality, it had only taken me 2 hours 55 minutes to get to my lunch site and I was determined to beat Google's prediction for my arrival. And I did--I made it there by 6:22. It's the little things.

So, today I finished my fourth ride and the longest of all of them, some 816 miles altogether. And finished the ride by completing my first Century in doing so. Just three days earlier, I had been talking with Marcus about how I had never completed a century, though I'd come within a few miles of having done so. And here it was, a Century to close out my trip.

I am exhausted. There is probably a lot to reflect on that is not occurring to me in my tired mental and physical state, but for now, I have the satisfaction of having finished this trip. All that's left is sleep.




Location:New York State Bicycle Route 5,East Greenbush,United States

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Day 9: Utica, New York (51.04 miles, 711.16 total miles)

I'm so tired.

When I looked at the remaining miles and saw that my plan to stop in Utica would only be about 50 miles or so, I briefly considered going beyond that point so that the miles remaining on the final day would be shorter.

But to tell the truth, I am so wiped out that the thought of a long day on which I would not get to my hotel until the early evening was not at all appealing. I really just wanted to sleep. And so I set out, knowing that today's ride would be a relatively short one, and I was fine with that. Last year, my Day 9 ride was likewise short and with the time zone change allowed me to get to my hotel by the mid afternoon and actually take a nap and resting up well before my last, long day (last year's final day wound up being 90 miles). And I was better for it for having not pushed it the day before.

Knowing I had fewer miles to go today, I slept in a little and didn't wind up leaving till around 10. I was perhaps only half a mile away from the hotel when I noticed a tell-tale wobble in my back wheel that could only mean one thing: a broken spoke. Now, my bike has disk breaks, not the old-fashioned pads, which means that the wobble is not entirely crippling to riding. But, this is a problem best addressed quickly and so I did a map search for a bike shop and fortunately there was one more or less on the way, three miles away.

So, I biked over to Fayetteville to Epic Outdoor Adventures. They had a really solid bike repair shop and I talked with the bike techs about my trip while one of them (named Marc), fixed my broken spoke and trued the wheel. I was lucky that I had noticed this in a well-populated area. There were times on this trip, especially in the reaches between cities in Canada, that I worried about breaking a spoke so far from anyone who could fix it. It's one of those repairs I just cannot do on my own. I can fix a lot of things on a bike and have patching a tube down to a science, but spoke repair requires taking the wheel, the gear cassette, and so much apart, that even if I wanted to, I would lack the proper tools to do it. Fortunately, I didn't have to, and Marc expertly fixed the spoke and got me on my way. There was a slight detour in getting there, but the repair only took about 25 minutes or so altogether. And yes, I have noticed that the two individuals who have helped me out cycling along the way both share some variation of my name (Marcus and Marc—Marc did ask whether I was a "C" or a "K" Mark).




Of course, the bike shop was atop a fairly large hill, but that meant that the ride back down to the trail was easy and I could coast. I picked up the canal trail again and headed east. The trail was still that packed pebble gravel, but the going was easy and the scenery beautiful. And I did see these interesting birds (I don't know what they are) walking across the bike path ahead of me:




At one point, after passing through Chittenango, I noticed up ahead some people sitting under a tent with tables and large orange coolers. As I biked past, they asked if I would be interested in taking a survey about the trail and offered me some of their free water and lemonade. Well, that was too hard to pass up and so I chatted with them for a bit as I filled out their survey. They're attempting to get a sense of who uses the trail so that they can try to get more funding for its upkeep. I was all about that as sometimes the conditions are perfect (wide paved paths), and other times they're not (dirt and mud). And so we talked and they were surprised to hear about my trip. I would have thought that this kind of thing was more common, but I guess not. At one point another older couple came up and the first man said, "He's on a bike trip—biked around the lake." The second man said, "Oh, Oneida Lake?" And when I said, "No, Ontario" he looked genuinely stunned. I guess that made me feel good. Especially as here I was on day nine of a ten day trip.




They were kind enough to offer to refill my water bottle and I finished the survey and headed on my way. They have a good point about this canal path: it's a really wonderful resource but could be a lot more. There were times when the trail shrunk down to a very narrow strip. I was lucky that I didn't encounter anyone coming the other direction.




I wound up stopping for lunch in Oneida, taking the opportunity to rest up a bit. I'd only traveled 28 miles or so, but those 28 miles on day nine feel like 50 miles on day one. As I headed out, the weather was beginning to turn. It was overcast and looked like it was going to rain. From here on out, my route would be on roads rather than the trail—Route 5 or Route 12. They were good roads with wide shoulders, though I did detect that they were going up a good deal more than they were going down. They had the appearance of rolling terrain, but the downs were never quite enough to push you up the next up. If you look at the elevation chart below, you'll see that my impressions were right: it was a steady uphill climb.

It eventually did begin to rain and so I pulled over and covered the panniers with the rain covers and then kept on going. It wasn't a heavy rain and at this point all I wanted to do was get to the hotel. Fortunately, after the ten miles of steady incline, there was a nice downhill and then a leveling off before another downhill leading into the city.




When I got to Utica, not only was the terrain headed in the right direction, but the weather was improving. As I entered downtown I saw a big street banner announcing a Lebanese Festival, but before my mouth could water at the thought of shawarma and fresh hummus, I noticed that the festival had ended on Sunday. Oh well.

I got to my hotel at 3:45. The front desk clerk was incredibly friendly (and kept calling me "boss" which for some reason I found amusing rather than obnoxious) and confirmed that the room I had reserved did indeed have a whirlpool in it. I had discovered the healing benefits of these on previous trips, but had been unable thus far to find accommodations with one prior to this day. At this point in the trip, given how every muscle is aching and every joint is sore, whatever the costs for this privilege might be, it would be worth it. When I entered my room, I chuckled: it looked exactly the same as my hotel room from Day 9 a year ago. It is the same chain so that's not surprising, but I must have forgotten that.

So after a quick shower to wash all the road and trail grime off, I sat in the whirlpool to soothe my aching muscles. And then, given the earliness of the hour, lay on the bed to read: and promptly passed out for at least an hour. Clearly, I needed it. After waking, I went to the front desk to ask about dinner options and learned that there was a Delmonico's right across the street: perfect. So, I went and had dinner, doing my best to use up the 3900 calories I burned today on the ride.

Now I'm back in the room, getting a chance to work on this entry earlier than usual. My hope is for a nice, long relaxing evening to rest up for tomorrow's final ride, and to get to bed at a decent hour so that I can be up early, rested and ready. Oh, and I'll probably take another soak, too.





Location:N Genesee St,Utica,United States

Day 8: Syracuse, New York (95.68 miles, 661.12 total miles)

I woke up this morning actually feeling rested. For some reason, on this trip I've been getting about 6 hours of sleep and even on days when I could sleep in a little late, I tend to wake up early anyway. I'm sure part of it is anxiousness to get moving and on the road. But last night, I guess I went to bed early enough (and Jen was kind enough to offer me her really comfortable bed and take the couch) and so I slept about seven and a half hours and felt pretty good when I woke up.




Jen was leaving on her way to work so we said our goodbyes and then I got ready to go. I headed out down Monroe Avenue and within a few miles I was back on the the Erie Canal towpath. The trail in Rochester was paved and the going was easy. The weather was sunny and the temperatures moderate, which made the trip really enjoyable and I was making really good time. It was interesting to see how the canal was used for pleasure craft and there were a number of locks still functioning. And there were a number of neighborhoods that were right up against the canal, and there were a lot of people out for a run or a walk on the path or boating in the canal.
Some pictures of the trail: paved, gravel, and with townhouses alongside:












The trail eventually became a lot more forested and much more of a dirt trail with occasional paved patches (usually around intersections or inclines that might be subject to washout). The dirt patches definitely made the going a little tougher. I could cruise at around 17 miles per hour on pavement, but the dirt sections would keep me to 13-14 miles per hour.
Around 2-1/2 hours in, traveling through a wooded section, I came across a couple biking in the opposite direction. The man asked me if there was anything good ahead worth seeing. I said that it was beautiful scenery and he responded, "So, canal, locks." "Yeah, pretty much." He asked where I was coming from and when I said that I was coming from Rochester he said, "Wow, that's gotta be 40 miles!" That didn't seem possible; I'd only been riding for two and a half hours, but it was possible that I was close. I decided that when I got to the three hour mark, I'd stop for lunch and check my progress. Almost precisely at the three hour mark, I stopped in the town of Lyons for lunch and took an hour or so to rest up and carb up.
There are a few things that definitely make a long distance bike ride enjoyable: weather, terrain, road conditions, and fully inflated tires. I had three of the four but only discovered after lunch that my rear tire, which had seemed to be well inflated, had actually been under-inflated by 15 pounds. So, I put some air in the back tire and checked the front tire and then got back on the road.




The route was now on surface roads, mostly on NY-31, and the difference in rideablity was incredible. The combination of being on flat, well-paved roads and having a fully inflated tire meant that I could go much faster. Even the inclines were relatively easy and I had a much easier time with them than I did similar uphills yesterday. At one point, a car passed me, giving me a wide berth. I noticed that it had two bicycles on the back and so it made sense; they were cyclists and were being considerate as a result. Then I noticed that the car pulled over ahead of me and the man got out to take some pictures of a patch of purple wildflowers at the side of the road. As I biked past, the man looked up at me and said, "You again!" It was the same man and his wife whom I'd met on the trail a while back.




I stopped and we talked about what had brought us there. They were from Long Island and staying in Seneca Falls and touring around the area. I told them about my trip and they were enthusiastic in their support and wished me well as I headed off and they remained to take some more photos. A few minutes later, they passed me on the road and honked as they went by.




A little while later, the route took me through the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge, something I'd seen from the Thruway my entire life, especially as we traveled the Thruway back and forth from Buffalo. The road quickly turned into a dirt road, and then a bumpy dirt road, and then a really bumpy dirt road. I eventually made it through and re-emerged on paved roads, but I didn't see a single bit of the wildlife ostensibly taking refuge there.
I stopped for a quick refuel and hydration stop in Port Byron, not 200 feet from the site where Joseph Smith was baptized as a Mormon. From there, the route was a combination of surface roads and canal trail. For several miles, there was a road (Towpath Road) that ran parallel to the canal trail and I opted for the road. The trail is nice and enjoyable, but I will take hard pavement over the loose dirt/gravel of the canal path, especially when it's late in the day and your legs are tired.




The last portions of the route were mostly on the towpath before getting to the Syracuse outskirts. The route through the city was easy and Syracuse was graciously flat. The final stretch on Route 5 was quick and easy.
In the evening, I went for a swim and then grabbed some dinner at the restaurant next door. Coincidentally, it was trivia night at the restaurant, so I decided to play and represent our occasional trivia team on the road. And so Tremendously Tremendous made its first road appearance and did well because I could recognize the country of Yemen on a map. I managed to come in second, but the prize was a coupon that I couldn't use on the same day. So, since I won't be back in this neck of the woods for a while, I gave the whopping $7 coupon to the team next to me.
I picked this hotel last night because of its amenities, but it was a little farther than most of the hotels in the city, as it is on the eastern edge. That means that tomorrow will be a little shorter and hopefully will give me a chance to rest a bit before the final stretch to Albany on Wednesday.



Sunday, August 3, 2014

Day 7: Rochester, NY (82.41 miles, 565.44 total miles)

Today began with a nice breakfast with Jennifer and Renee before they took me back up to Niagara Falls to begin this leg of the journey where I left off yesterday.



It was overcast but not too cool and I wasn't too upset to be biking under something other than blazing sun. The roads as I set out were nice and flat and the only topography to speak of was clearly a landfill off to my right. I have to say, biking in Western New York with its relatively flat topography is a joy. If you look at the mileage chart at the bottom of this post, you'll notice that the range of elevations is 170 feet or so, which is only half the elevation on my daily commute to work! So the entire ride did not go higher than the difference between Dupont Circle and the National Cathedral. I'll take it.

I eventually turned east and was making good time into Lockport, New York. In Lockport, the route I was on took me off the road and onto the towpath for the Erie Canal. The towpath was packed dirt and was generally an easier ride than the towpath on the C&O Canal back home. But there was something special about riding along this canal that went beyond the conditions.


I've been hearing about the Erie Canal since I was a kid and we learned the Erie Canal song (which, of course, was stuck in my head for hours) and it was a huge part of New York history. I had no idea that it was still functioning in any meaningful way. The C&O Canal in DC, but for the touristy canal barge and one part that is basically a lake, no longer functions at all. Most of the canal is grown over or filled up with trees and plants as you ride along. But here, the canal was still a wide expanse and often even had boats traveling along it.



Around this point, it began to rain. I was not really bothered by the rain as it was a light rain and the going was still relatively easy. I did take the opportunity to stop under an overpass and pull the waterproof covers around my panniers, which have the added bonus of being bright fluorescent green and visible in the rainy weather.

I continued traveling along the canal path when suddenly I heard a voice behind me to the left calling out, "How far you traveling today?" Coming up behind me was another cyclist, also outfitted for distance traveling. "To Albany," I replied, "But to Rochester today. You?" "To Rochester." Whereupon he pulled away and continued down the path ahead of me.

Now, I've biked a lot in the last week, including 93 miles yesterday. I'm also carrying an additional 40 pounds in gear and supplies with me. It should not have been surprising that I fell quickly behind this other cyclist. But my stupid pride insisted that I should try to at least catch up to him, if for no other reason than to talk to another cyclist doing distance rides. By far, the people you encounter the most are people racing along or people out for a leisurely ride. So, I pressed on and did my best to catch up (it was not easy, he was clearly much faster than me).

When I finally did, I asked him where he'd come from and he had also traveled from Buffalo and was on his way to Rochester in the hopes of completing his second century. I will say, that was impressive to me. I have come within three miles of completing a century and have had a number of 90+ mile rides over the last couple of years, but most of those have been out of necessity—I've never planned to ride that long in a day. I told him about the trip I was in the middle of.

I told him that I was likely going to be much slower and that I would not take it personally if he wanted to go on ahead. He said that he'd stick with me as riding together is more enjoyable and riders can push each other to ride better. And he's right.

Last year, I was helped out a lot by the fortuitous appearance of Aaron who helped me find my way while helping me to pass the miles more enjoyably. So, we rode along together, talking cycling as we moved on down the towpath and the miles seemed to go by more easily. Eventually, we exchanged names; I was riding with a cyclist named Marcus. "It was meant to be," he said.

Suddenly, the quality of the trail decreased markedly. I don't know whether it was a function of the materials of the trail or if this section had received a lot more rain, but it was harder to get traction and the back end of my bike started to fishtail. Marcus, whose bike had much thinner tires, was struggling even more to make it through. Coming up soon was the city of Albion, so we decided to get off the canal trail there and get something to eat. So we stopped for lunch and had guilt free burgers and fries (when you're burning 6000+ calories a day, everything you eat is guilt free). After lunch we decided not to get back on the canal trail and to take the surface roads into Rochester.



This was an immediate and noticeable improvement. Even though the terrain was now no longer stable and flat (see the elevation chart below), the hills were still reasonable and the quality of the road was worth it. There was a stretch where the road was being resurfaced, which made it a little bumpier and uncomfortable, but the riding was still good. Marcus was still the faster cyclist and would frequently sprint ahead and let me catch up later. In the picture at right, you'll see him off in the distance.

But he was right; riding with someone who's going the same way makes it easier. My riding was definitely improved by trying to keep up with him and the company always does make the ride go easier. There's a metaphor for life in there somewhere, but we'll leave the philosophizing for another day.

When we left the restaurant, we had 36 miles to go. After an hour and a quarter of riding, we had only 17 left; we were making really good time. It reminded me of an NPR interview I'd heard a couple weeks ago with an author who'd written a book on creativity and partnerships. His argument was that greatness usually comes in pairs rather than lone individuals. For every Steve Jobs there's also a Steve Wozniak. The author's point was that two people can indeed push each other to achieve more than they might have alone. I can't vouch for Marcus' productivity, but I know that for me, with really sore and tired legs, I might have been more inclined to just mosey along down the canal trail. Instead, I kept trying to do better and took the overland route that wound up being the more direct, more efficient way.

Marcus was traveling to Rochester to meet up with his brother who was moving into a neighborhood not far from where Jen lives, so he rode with me all the way into Rochester and downtown and ultimately to Jen's house, where we parted ways.

I had assumed that today's ride would be closer to 60 miles and when I checked the distance after 30 miles in and saw that there were 56 miles to go, it was a little demoralizing. But having a riding companion for the last 50 miles or so definitely made what could have been a tough day, a lot easier. So, Marcus, thanks again, and hope the rest of your century went well.

Once I got to Jen's I got cleaned up before mapping the ride and then going out to get some food. Now we're watching another interminable Red Sox-Yankees game; her Yanks and my Sox are tied at 7 in the 5th inning after already 2 hours. So, you know, typical Sox/Yanks.

I'm looking forward to getting a solid night's sleep and hitting the road tomorrow on to Syracuse. It looks like the canal trail will make up the majority of the ride, hopefully the conditions will be good and the trails dry.




Location:Werner Park,Rochester,United States

Day 6: Niagara Falls, New York (93.03 miles, 483.03 total miles)

I got a really good night's sleep last night—the hotel bed was particularly comfortable and after a shorter than usual day, I was able to get more than the usual amount of sleep I've had on this trip. I ate well at breakfast and was ready to go before nine.




As I headed out into the city, I was struck by how quiet it was. It was almost as if the entire city were sleeping in: the roads were relatively empty. Last night the city was teeming with people and this morning was almost post-apocalyptic by comparison.




I made my way downtown and picked up the bike trail that ran along the river. Today's ride was once again on the Waterfront Trail, a combination of traditional bike trails (usually through parks) and stretches of city streets. All in all the ride was really enjoyable with some very nice trails to ride and some really nice streets as well (though there were the occasional stretches with those damned seams in them again. The trail hugged the lakeshore for most of the ride and gave me some spectacular views, some of which are here below:




























After biking 25-30 miles, I stopped at a picnic area with a picnic table under a shady tree for a rest and snack break. I refueled and just sat and rested for a bit. The rest area was notable, too, for the very clean and modern rest facility nearby, the best feature of which was a bottle refilling fountain (pictured right), which I availed myself of.
I got underway and continued along the trail, alternating between lakeside trails and Lakeshore Road, both of which were easy going. Today was hotter than yesterday and so in spite of the level terrain, the heat was becoming a factor.
I was excited to reach Hamilton, Ontario. This represented the literal turning point of the trip: I had been heading southwest for the last three and half days and now I would turn and head east. That could only mean that the winds would be at my back. As I passed through Hamilton, I was able to use some really wonderful trails: wide, well paved, and scenic. Would that the entire trip were on trails this great.




But I began to notice something was amiss. All the flags were blowing in the wrong direction: east to west. I couldn't believe it. This was finally the turning point and the wind is blowing from the m---------ing east? Can't catch a break.
It did make the going a bit more difficult and combined with the heat was sapping my strength. And so, around the 50 mile mark I stopped, finally, at a Tim Horton's for lunch. I took the opportunity to rest and refuel and avail myself of the free wifi. And it was there that I learned (though, I feel not for the first time) that Canada has abolished the penny. After lunch, I decided to try a couple of their donuts. The total came to $2.08 and I produced two loonies and a dime and the clerk said, "Oh, perfect!" and took the money without handing me any change. For a moment I assumed she was just taking the two cents for the "need a penny" jar, but then I remembered having heard something about getting rid of the penny, nor had anyone given me one in my change all week. And so I asked the clerk and she confirmed that while they will accept pennies, they no longer give them out and everything is just rounded to the nearest 5 cents. This insight is not nearly as deep as some of the others that might have occurred to me over the last few days, but it's what I learned today.
I got back on the road and before too long got off the road and started wending my way to Niagara Falls. I finally got to the falls and was able to take a few pictures before heading off to immigration:




Video of the falls: The hardest part about reentering the country was finding the entrance to the bridge, but once I had, and after dealing with a surly customs agent, I was back in New York and heading down a wonderfully paved street.
A little after 7 pm I met my cousin Renee and my sister who had come from Renee's place in Buffalo to pick me up. Had I biked down there myself it would have taken me far afield of my route and tacked on perhaps another hour or more onto my trip—10 hours was long enough for one day. Once we got back to Renee's house we had a wonderful cookout dinner with her husband Rob, my Uncle Bill and Aunt Judy, and great aunt Josephine and cousin Anita. It was a really nice conclusion to a long day.




Saturday, August 2, 2014

Day 5: Toronto, Ontario (56.47 miles, 390 total miles)

In 1999 I bought a car after having been without one for eight years. For Christmas that year, my sister bought me a membership in AAA, which I have continued to this day. One of the great perks of being a AAA member is the TripTik, a stage by stage planned route showing all the AAA rated hotels, construction delays, etc. along the way. I first saw one in 1985 when Jeff Claus and I drove cross country and I always thought they were cool.
I wish there were a AAA for cyclists. Because honestly, while the online mapping software is good, it is far from perfect and often sends me down paths that aren't there or roads that are closed for construction, requiring me to adapt and figure out a new route in a completely unfamiliar setting, and in a context where you don't have a lot of wiggle room. Unlike in a car, you can't just say, 'Well, we'll go 10 miles down this way and see what we find.' Every mile out of the way is another mile of effort and exertion and one mile closer to exhaustion.

And so it was this morning that I was cursing the lack of a cycling AAA (ACA?) as the first leg of the journey turned into a 6 mile detour to nowhere. I headed out from the hotel and tried to reconnect with the trail I'd been on the evening before. For whatever reason, my mapping app was loading the maps along with the route (it may have been cached from loading the night before, especially since it worked only at a certain resolution), and so I followed the blue dot moving along the blue line.



The route it took me on was a strange one—a service road that seemed to go alongside a cement quarry. To tell you the truth, I didn't think anything of it since this "Waterside Trail" was often nowhere near the water and only sometimes a trail. In fact, it was occasionally a road just like the one I was on.
But suddenly, the road came to an end with a chain link fence and a detour sign, so I followed the signs and they led me in increasingly bizarre directions: through the middle of the quarry, along a back delivery road where a truck was coming along spraying down the surface, and then when it looked like the detour was finally going let me out: there was a gate blocking the way.





I went up to the gate, took off my packs and put them on the other side, lifted my bike over the fence, then finally climbed over it myself and continued on my way. The road was a scenic little road with modest little houses along the lakeshore, but it had one problem: it was going the wrong direction. When I finally followed it to its conclusion, it dumped me off right where I'd come into town the night before, right by my hotel. A big 6 mile pointless detour circle. This was when it occurred to me (and not for the first time) that we really need a biker's AAA.

Now, I will sheepishly admit that after having mapped the route out after it was all over, it wasn't that the mapping software had led me astray (they would later), but that I had missed the turn altogether. The proper turn looked to be an onramp for the highway, so I took the next turn, which followed so closely upon the other one, that at the resolution my GPS was functioning, they appeared to be the same route. You can take a look at the map at the bottom of this post and see what I mean.


And so, I wound up back on the road I had started out on, 6 miles spent and more than half an hour behind. The road that I wound up taking--Baseline Road--proved to be a decent road: relatively flat, relatively well paved, and large sections with a bike lane. I took this road for several miles before reconnecting with the trail later on.

And I was really glad to. Because now, finally, the trail was an actual trail, weaving its way through various parks. And though it had its share of those obnoxious seams (and for some reason inch-and-a-half high curbs), it was enjoyable to ride on. And then something wonderful happened and I had the best riding of the entire trip.

The trail eventually made its way down to the lakeshore--the actual lakeshore--and continued alongside the shore for miles. The pavement on the trail was smooth and easy going, the hills were gentle and allowed you to get some real speed going down the other side. And the trail was lined with wildflowers. All in all, a really enjoyable ride as you can see from this video where I climb a hill and then as I crest it you can see the lake off to the left:

The trail was an interesting one. It didn't always hug the shore, but when it went off the shore, it sometimes got really interesting, with bridges and paths through small wooded areas:



This portion of the trail came to an end and the route took me back onto surface roads. The road wasn't terrible, but the temperatures were already beginning to rise and the heat of pavement in the midst of traffic is a lot warmer than a breezy ride along the lake front.

There was construction at one point that reduced the traffic to one lane. These situations always make me nervous because I can only go so fast and there's a huge line of cars behind me waiting to get through. And so I pedal really hard to get through the gauntlet and then as soon as the opportunity presents itself to pull over and let the cars go by, I do. And so this time I got through and pulled off onto the bumpy soft shoulder, which proved to be one bump too many for my GoPro mount, which snapped off and sent the camera tumbling (no worries, it's a pretty tough camera; there's footage online of a skydiver dropping his and the camera survives the fall). So, I put the camera in my bag and continued on.

Eventually, the route returned to the lakefront and I was back on some really interesting trails, including one that went high up on a bluff and took you across a bridge. That bridge, interestingly, had a sign on it that made a somewhat interesting use of quotation marks:

Since I am an actual cyclist and not a so-called "cyclist" I decided that I could ignore the message.

Eventually, I crossed another bridge and the trail took me down to the lakefront at a beach near the mouth of the Rouge River. It was the perfect spot for a lunch break. And so I parked my bike near two large rocks in the shade and dined on various granola bars, etc. I had with me. I also took the opportunity to remount the GoPro. Since the part that allowed me to mount it the way I'd had it had broken, I could mount it with the remaining parts but the angle is different and it ride much higher and further back (you may see the front reflector in some of the shots). I also applied some chain oil to the bike and cleaned some of the gear wheels in the rear derailleur (you can probably hear it squeaking in the videos above). Here, for your enjoyment, is a brief video of the sounds of the beach, including the children from some summer camp engaged in a scavenger hunt.

After about 45 minutes, I got back on the bike and headed out. There were still some really great sections of the route along the lakefront, on which the sandy beaches had yielded to rocky shores:

If the initial detour at the beginning of the day was the result of human error, the final leg of the lakeshore route was definitely an argument for the establishment of a cyclist's AAA. I followed the route as mapped out and as confirmed by signs saying "Waterfront Trail" and indicating what direction to go in. The trail was wending its way through more of Canadian suburbia (by the way, it has been impossible for me not to hear Rush's song "Subdivisions" every time I go through one of these cookie-cutter neighborhoods), when suddenly I was at a dead end. There was a sign pointing to a trail that went off into the woods.

As I've said, the surface of this trail has varied wildly and here it was clearly going back to a dirt trail. Then suddenly grass. Then dirt and mud up an insanely steep hill. There was no way my tires could grip this surface, not with an additional 40 pounds (13.6 kg) on it, anyway. So I dismounted and walked the bike up. I remember when George and Gene and I would take bike rides as a kid and we'd always wind up having to walk our bikes up Oil Mill Hill at the end of the day. This felt just like that.

The bizarre woodland path (which had no business being a part of this trip) finally yielded to neighborhood streets that dumped me on to my old friend Route 2, the Kingston Highway. As enjoyable as the riding had been, I was glad to have the opportunity to just bike in a straight line and make good time. And I did. There were some moderate inclines, but I was making good time. At one point, some kid came riding up on his bike on the sidewalk next to the road and I beat him up the hill. As tired as I'd been feeling, I guess all this riding is actually making me stronger.

Finally, Toronto hove into view. It's hard to make out in this picture, but if you look carefully, you can see the CN tower in the background. The remainder of the trip was fast and easy and I got to my hotel around 3:15, definitely my earliest stopping time of the whole trip. And I was glad to have the extra time to rest up a bit, do some laundry, have a massage therapist work my legs over, and go to dinner atop the CN tower with nighttime Toronto below.
It was a good day of riding and I've made it half way in terms of miles and time. Tomorrow, I turn the corner, literally, around the lake and begin to head back east, with the wind at my back for once, as I set out for the next stage of the journey: Niagara Falls.





Location:Toronto, Ontario, Canada