Thursday, July 31, 2014

Day 3: Belleville, Ontario (88.77 miles, 254.86 total miles)

After a really nice evening with Holly and Nate and sleeping like a rock, I breakfasted and headed out. The weather was cool but not too chilly, though it was overcast and didn't look like it would warm up any time soon.

Eventually, the sun broke through and it began to warm, though it was still cool with a breeze blowing in off the lake. The roads were nice and flat though there were a few unanticipated hills, but they were nothing like the inclines from the previous two days. It did get windy, but not unbearably so and the air had a refreshing sea-air quality to it.
Eventually, I came to Cape Vincent, 25 miles from Watertown. I took the opportunity to take a rest break and grab some snacks from the local general store. I sat out on a bench in front of the store right across from where the ferry departs. After resting up for a bit, I headed over to the ferry. There was no one in line and only an older gentleman standing on the pier. He was talking with some people in a boat. After a few minutes it became clear that they had fished something out of the river for him: a 12 foot 4 x 4 that had somehow gotten adrift. The man was concerned that a boat or jetskier might hit it and get damaged. The people in the boat had snared it and then sent it drifting over to the dock. The man saw me standing there with my bike waiting for the ferry so he waved me over and asked me to help him fish the 4x4 out of the water. I reached down to get it and it was really heavy. Eventually I got a portion of it onto the dock and then was able to use the dock as a fulcrum to pivot the beam around. By the time I was done I was panting.
The ferry eventually showed up and one car got off. There was still no one else waiting so I got on, paid my $2, and was the only passenger across into Canada. The St. Lawrence is about a mile across and the crossing was quick and easy. On the far side was the Canadian Customs station. I rolled off the ferry and headed up to the inspection station. Now, things have changed a lot since I was a kid and the process of crossing the border went something like this:

Official: Nationality?
Me: American
Official: Where are you going in Canada?
Me: Toronto.
Official: How long will you be there?
Me: Just the afternoon.
Official: Alright. Have a good visit.

Now it was a little more complicated:

Official: Where are you from?
Me: Washington, D.C.
Official: Where are you going today?
Me: Uh, Belle--ville?
Official: Belleville. Okay. Do you have any weapons, explosives, knives, or other items on you?
Me: No, sir.
Official: How long will you be in Canada?
Me: Five days; I'm headed through Toronto and then Niagara Falls then back through New York.
Official: Is this your first time biking through Canada?
Me: Yes, sir.
Official: But have you been to Canada before?
Me: Yes, I have.
Official: Do you have your passport?
Me: Yes, sir. (Produces passport)
Official: Thank you, we'll scan this and get it back to you. (A minute later) Here you go, sir. Enjoy your visit.

So, here's the thing: it's a lot more than it used to be but in the scheme of things, it's nothing. Right now all around the world there are people who would love to be able to cross a border with so little difficulty, for reasons that are a great deal more serious than a bike ride. Freedom of movement is taken for granted and the special relationship we have with Canada that facilitates this movement is definitely the exception not the rule, even if they do want a passport these days.

Once I had crossed onto the Frontenac Islands, the road was easy and pleasant. It was windy but not too bad and for a large portion of the ride across the island, the wind was coming from the side. It was actually kind of fun to ride across the island through fields and fields of windmills turning slowly. It was at this point that my bike began making a clunking noise every so often. It would the remainder of the day and it was driving me nuts. Sounds like this on a bike are really hard for me to figure out where they're coming from. And just when I thought I'd found the source of the knocking and solved it, I'd hear it again. In any event, I was making really good time across the island and couldn't believe how fast the 11 miles from ferry to ferry went. That's when I realized that I had only gone 7 miles—the signs are all in kilometers. Duh.
I made it to the site of the ferry to Kingston and got in line behind the cars to board. The driver of the car in front of me opened his door and got out to tell me that bikes don't have to wait in this line and I could just ride down and get on. "Don't want you to miss the ferry!" he said. Proof even more than the bilingual signs and measurements in kilometers that I was in Canada. It was very nice.

So, I boarded the ferry and we made our way across the three mile expanse of river toward Kingston. This was a much busier ferry than the one to Cape Vincent and was full of cars and pedestrians. From the water, Kingston looked like a really interesting city with an old fortress on the shore and Holly had said it was a great place to visit. I considered stopping to get lunch there but for two things: (1) I had had my snack break not long before, and (2) I checked the distance to Belleville and it was still 50 miles away (80 kilometers). It was 1:45 pm and I had to get going. Kingston will have to wait for another trip.
So I got back on the road and biked through the city. Kingston has a number of bike lanes, which was nice. But the weather started to turn. It was still breezy but began to get hot. Now, I've biked a lot in hot weather, so this wasn't a problem, but having already biked nearly 40 miles, mid-day heat was starting to sap my strength. The route eventually put me on Princess Street and I immediately thought that Sarah Omar would love to live on this street, despite any obvious linkages to Disney™.
Speaking of names, I went through townships named "Kingston" and "Loyalist" (the i was dotted with a maple leaf) and it was clear what side these folks were on during the Revolutionary War. Now, Canada is an interesting place to visit as an American. It's almost like America from a parallel dimension where everything is the same but different in the details. Everything looks similar except the names of the stores and the shape of the signs. There is a fascinating blend of similarity and difference in Canada that doesn't really exist in any other country. Sure, they speak English in the UK and Australia, but markedly different varieties. The differences between Canadian and American varieties of English are nice metaphors for the differences between the two countries. And the two countries share a love of their own flags. I will confess, even though I've been to Canada before, biking through residential and rural areas has allowed me to see just how ubiquitous the Canadian flag is. The Canadians, it seems, are just as fond of the maple leaf as Americans are of the stars and stripes.
As I was traveling along, suddenly there was an enormous cloud that rolled in and ended the hot sunny day. The sun would return from time to time, but what also returned were strong headwinds. I knew there would be headwinds on this trip and especially the first several days when my progress was more westerly. But these were just plain demoralizing. Having to pedal downhill and downshift to bike on flat terrain was really unpleasant and it wasn't just my legs that began to hurt; every muscle in my body was aching.

In addition, the roads were not always easy going. Most of the roads I was traveling on did not have a hard shoulder. There was a wide shoulder, but it was unpaved and just loose gravel and there was often a rough edge to the pavement. This meant having to bike more in the lane itself, which is not fun on heavily traveled roads. It made the going even more difficult given that both the conditions and the surface were not helpful.

I arrived in Napanee, which was halfway between Kingston and Belleville and the perfect place to take a lunch break. I stopped at a place called "The Loaf and Ale" that had an outdoor seating area where I could sit and keep an eye on my bike. I went inside and asked the woman behind the bar if I could eat on the patio, and she said, "Yes, of course. Have a seat and I'll be right oot." Okay, I know they're not really saying "oot", but boy if it doesn't sound that way. But it made me smile because it was so authentically Canadian. And I will say, the burger that I had there was one of the best burgers I have had anywhere.
After taking about an hour to rest up there, I got back on the road. It was just as windy and the cumulative effect of biking into all these headwinds was starting to wear on me. The last 25 miles were really difficult and even though the terrain was flat, it was difficult to get moving quickly because of the winds. Still, the countryside was pleasant and I biked past a lot of homes. (In addition to all the Canadian flags in the front yard, there are a lot of hockey goals in the driveways.)

Finally, I got to Belleville in the early evening. After passing by a "Hoser Carwash" I turned onto the street where the Holiday Inn Express was located. I was looking forward to staying at this hotel because I know that they tend to have hot tubs in their pool area and some rooms have whirlpools and I really could use a soak for my aching muscles. But they had no rooms available ("We're sold oot tonight," the woman at the desk said) so I got a room at the Canada's Best Value Inn next door. I was craving hot water to soak in after 88 miles of aching muscles, but in the end, it's the bed that I need the most.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Day 2: Watertown, NY (69.53 miles, 166.09 total miles)

So, before we begin, a few words about the camera I'm using. Last year after viewing some photos and a video I'd taken on the trip, Kathleen Kimball suggested I buy a GoPro. Now, I am not the target consumer for a GoPro; I am not an extreme athlete, I do not regularly jump out of planes or ride my bike down the side of a mountain through the woods, or spend a lot of time in shark cages. And no doubt, I'm using this thing wrong; I just have it mounted in its waterproof casing on the handlebars and use it to take all the photos that you're viewing on this blog. I have it set to take a 3-photo burst each time on the theory that at least one of the three will have turned out okay. It's a great little camera and is much better for this ride than lugging around my heavy D40 or using my phone to take every picture; it's right there and ready to go. Hopefully, you're enjoying the photos it takes.
(Attention GoPro representatives, I will happily take any compensation you'd like to throw this way for my endorsement.)

I got up this morning, grabbed some breakfast from the Stewart's and got on the road. It was chilly as I left but the weather was more agreeable than yesterday: clear skies and sunny. The first stretch was a steady uphill climb. It was not terribly steep, but it was unrelenting. Every time I'd come to a crest on the hill, it would turn out to be simply a level patch in what was a continuous incline.
After about an hour and a half of this, I stopped and took a break, getting a Snickers bar and a bottle of chocolate milk. Now, lest you think that I'm regressing to my 10-year old self, chocolate milk is a good drink for cycling as it has a good combination of proteins and sugars for replenishing muscle. I'd had my banana and ibuprofen the night before so my legs weren't hurting after I'd woken up, but after this steady incline to start the day, they were feeling sore. After the break and the milk, I got back on the road and headed out.
Once I got to Boonville, the route planned through the MapMyRide site took me off the main road and took me on a road that ran parallel to it. I am not sure why the route planning software chose the route, though it may be because it was mostly level rather than rolling. There were a few hills, but they were gentle and not a problem.

I stayed on this route for the majority of the day's traveling. It was straight and relatively flat and afforded me views of some really wonderful scenery. To my right was the valley through which the larger route traveled and the view out over this valley was terrific. There were some broad expanses that would have the occasional glacier-moved boulder just sitting in the middle of the field. And there were all kinds of wildflowers growing along the side of the road.

There was one curiosity I kept noticing along the route. Every time I'd enter a new township there would be a sign informing me of the border crossing, while simultaneously alerting me to the fact that in this jurisdiction "Building Codes Enforced". I really began to wonder: for whom are these signs intended? The people who live in the township must already be aware of this and if not, it seems a strange thing to alert them to this by posting signs aimed away from the jurisdiction. Is it for the benefit of people from neighboring towns? Does each town feel that in spite of the fact that they all have the same prohibition, people in the next town over will assume that they can sneak over the border at night and build homes? Is this meant to deter these rogue home builders and nip their criminality in the bud?
The route was lovely, but it was also really rural. The downside of not traveling on the main road was that there were no public accommodations along the road I was on: no general stores, no gas stations, no restaurants, no anything. Not even a single church. As the miles wore on I really needed to stop somewhere and eat, but there was no place presenting itself. In the past when there hasn't been a diner or similar establishment, I've stopped and rested in church yards, but no such place could be found and the only shady spots under a tree were in people's front yards.
After yesterday's really long ride, I knew today's ride would be shorter and after having already gone 45 miles, I had only about 25 left to go. The route I was on remerged with the state highway, but once again the route mapping software had planned a route that appeared to be along a country lane, but as the road I was already on felt sufficiently country to me, I decided to stay on the state highway since I felt my chances of finding a rest spot were better than some country lane, no matter how idyllic.
Finally, after having traveled over 45 miles, I found a spot of someone's front yard that was just off the road and in the shade of a row of trees that blocked the view from the house. I sat in the shade and made a lunch of whatever food I had with me: Cliff Bars, trail mix bars, Gatorade, and a bagel I had left over from breakfast. I sat there beside the road for about 50 minutes until I was rested and ready to go. If there was anyone at home, they never came out to object to me sitting there at the corner of their property.

I only had about 20 miles to go at this point and headed off down the road feeling rested and refueled. Once again, the planned route pulled me off the main road, but I decided to follow it as it looked to be the most direct way. Of course it turned out to be a dirt road. And at one point was even closed and under construction. Since there was no other way to go I kept moving forward. When I got to the construction site, one of the workers told me there was a side path I could take around the construction and so I did. I walked my bike up the dirt side path and then back onto the pavement and continued on my way.
There was one last major uphill before a series of gentle downhills culminating in a nice long downhill ride into Watertown. I got to the home of former United Methodist Student Association President Holly (Masters) Nichols and her husband Nate around 4 pm. (There is a little known clause in the UMSA constitution that requires current and former presidents to house me in the event I should pass through their towns on a bike trip.)
We went and got dinner at The Crystal, a restaurant and a landmark in town, before getting ice cream and visiting the lake front. The lake is beautiful and I'm looking forward to spending the next several days traveling alongside it. After getting to see the sun set over Lake Ontario we headed back to their house to crash for the evening.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow's leg, crossing the St. Lawrence and entering into Canada. But before then: sleep.

Location:Flower Ave E,Watertown,United States

Monday, July 28, 2014

Day 1: Barneveld, New York (96.53 miles)

So, I set out today on my fourth long-distance bike trip. This one is the longest yet, though it isn't too much longer than last year's 791-miler to Chicago.

I left my mom's house at 9:30 am--a little later than I'd hoped, but I slept a little later than planned because I didn't fall asleep until late. Probably a little pre-trip anxiousness that was keeping me awake.

I got underway and the weather was agreeable. It had rained a lot overnight but was clear now. It was a little overcast but that actually was nice and helped to keep the temperature down. The terrain was nice and gentle rolling hills and there were a number of old rail trails along the way that made the going nice and easy.

Along the way, my path took me on a dirt road. I had had my share of dirt roads last year in Amish country in Indiana. This was at least limited, but it was a seasonal road that is only maintained a few months a year. Because it had been raining, the surface of the road was often muddy and this made the going difficult, but before too long I was back on pavement and moving along.

I made pretty good time and after only 2-1/2 hours had gone about 33 miles and so I stopped for lunch. One of the best things about traveling through Upstate New York is the prevalence of Stewart's Shops everywhere and so I stopped at one and grabbed a bite to eat.

At one point I wound up going through a Gloversville, NY. This was the first, but not the only, small Upstate New York city I went through today. It is clear that the town of Upstate are suffering. The buildings were run down, frequently empty. It has been said that although the Adirondacks are not part of the Appalachians geologically, they certainly are socio-economically; and that was evident today in many of the towns I biked through. It was sad to see these towns that had once been full of charm and life looking very clearly like they'd seen their better days.

Eventually, my route took me through a corner of the Adirondack State Park, the largest state park in the country. The roads were easy, but they were definitely starting to get hillier. The roads I was on were back roads and there is an direct proportion between how wide the road is and how steep it will be. Large highways and four-lane roads go up at gentle grades, even if it goes on for a while. On a back road, the inclines may not be long, but they are frequently steep and sudden. But the roads were lovely although at one point my directions would have taken me on a road that was blocked off and clearly did not exist.

As beautiful as the scenery was, the weather started to turn. It started to rain, at first lightly but then thunder could be heard increasingly and the rain started to fall more and more heavily. Eventually I found a roadside ice cream and hot dog stand with covered picnic tables where I could shelter from the rain and take the opportunity to recharge my phone, as the use of the GPS definitely drains the battery quickly. As I waited for the rain to let upI enjoyed a nice chocolate milkshake and checked to see how far I'd come already. According to the maps app, I'd already traveled over 50 miles, which seemed far, especially given that I still had a ways to go.

Now, for those of you wondering how it is I choose my daily stops, I usually start out by mapping out 75 mile segments and then making note of the hotels in that range. On this ride, however, there were no hotels within that range, so I had to keep going until one could be found, and unfortunately, that would not be for a while. It looked like I had at least 40 miles to go. I started to get a little nervous because it was getting late and there was still a lot to go. Finally at 4pm the rain let up and I headed out.

It continued to rain lightly and the skies were overcast. And a wind started to blow. Now, for those of you who have read this blog for previous trips, you may remember that strong headwinds were the bane of my trip to Chicago last year. And these were just as bad. They were really strong, cold, and coming directly at me. There was an extended uphill climb, challenging enough but downright exhausting when you're facing 20-25 mph headwinds. A heavily laden bike with panniers is not aerodynamic to begin with; in heavy winds it's a brick wall. When I climbed a hill and noticed row upon row of windmills, I knew that I was in a wind alley and that the going was going to be tough. And it was. At times I even had to pedal riding downhill, which is demoralizing.

The last twenty miles or so involved a fairly substantial uphill that came along just as I was running out of fuel. I stopped along the side of the road for some Hammer Gels (thanks, Mom!)and the last of the dates that I had. Those, in particular, are a nice boost to the system, and helped me get up the large hill and enjoy the long downhill after it (so thanks for the dates, Rania). What followed was a long gentle uphill climb through farmland. This entire segment I did not see a single car on the road with me. Twice cars crossed the road I was on, but I was the only one traveling down the road. That was nice, but the winds were still blowing strongly and my legs were aching. I finally did see another vehicle: an Amish buggy heading my way.

Eventually I got to my hotel and took a nice hot shower. I knew that my trip was longer than the usual distance but was astounded to discover that it was 97 miles--three short of a century. I suppose I could have ridden some laps in the parking lot, but I was exhausted and symbolic thresholds would have to wait. I got some dinner at the sub counter at the neighboring Stewart's. Then I had my bananas and ibuprofen to help with my aching legs (so thanks for the tip, Laura).

The extra long ride has two immediate advantages: it'll likely make my trip to Watertown tomorrow a little shorter, and, I don't imagine that I'll have any trouble falling asleep tonight.