Friday, July 21, 2006

Last day of the Trek; Sunday, July 16th
Bad self-portrait
Today I only had one thing on my mind. I wanted to get home in the least amount of time, with the least amount of hassle. Our little group of three seemed also inclined, so we ate breakfast with the mass at a catering hall and set off quickly.

The bridge to the first rest stop was closed, so we had to reroute ourselves, finding the bridge off the island and taking the route from there. It was a little disappointing, because I wanted to see Peebles Island State Park, but I am not always the best with directions/ orientation and wanted to stick with the group. This was especially true because we had to find our own detour; we were out before the route marking person had come through to check the route. This last section is very nice. Most of it is on the streets. The trip organizers routed it so you couldn’t miss Cohoes Falls; very interesting geologically.

At the end, we had beaten the luggage trucks. I had not wanted this to happen, but it was not long before they appeared. A previous Buffalo City native was waiting for his family at the end, and asked me for my autograph; I was the first woman to finish. To me it was not a race, or I would have finished days ago, but I was amused. It is difficult to see anything if you speed along. We helped unload the luggage trucks. A weight limit for bags should be put in place, because some of those bags were incredibly heavy.

One of my little group kindly offered to take me to the bus depot. In the beginning I had calculated that I could make it there on my own, but for the large cardboard bike box I had to lug about. He stuffed my box in his car quite effectively. We said our goodbyes.

At the depot, I started dismantling my bicycle to insert it into the box, but was flustered by my partner watching me (he did come back to help me). It is funny how I can do something until I find someone watching me (especially men), then I look totally incompetent. I did manage to mostly stuff my bike in the box, but had to take both wheels off to do so. Even then, the box did not close properly. This whole endeavor took me the entire 50 minutes before the bus arrived, and I was still trying to tie string around the box, even while moving in line to get on the bus. To Greyhound’s credit, they were very good to me. They laid my bike on top of everyone else’s luggage, so it would not get crushed. I had a seat all to myself.

In Utica, I was deeply into my book, when a really annoying person got on the bus and asked me if this was the part of the bus reserved for stinky bicyclists. When I looked up, it was the second of my partners in crime. He had gotten a ride from Albany to Utica, with his stuff, then his wife had grabbed him Utica, relieved him of his bike and luggage and dropped him at the bus depot for a ride to Buffalo to retrieve his car. The bus ride was surprisingly pleasant, but the company was a nice addition. On the ride home, we could look out the windows and see many of the places we had ridden past. We could even see the Canal Trail in some places, and recognized landmarks in others. It was a little surreal, like rewinding the last eight days. In Syracuse, there was a 1 hour, 20 minute layover. The station there is pristine, and right next to a flea/produce market. Again Greyhound was very kind and stored my bike and luggage securely for me, while we walked around the flea market and got something to eat. I can’t say enough about the bus company. They are everything the train company is not. It is too bad, really, for I enjoy getting up and walking around on a train. Amtrak seems to discourage riders at every turn, and this does not apply just to bicyclists. I swear they could have filled an entire rail car with cyclists if they were more flexible. Too bad.

In Buffalo, my husband kindly picked us up and returned my partner to Nichols school to get his car. I have ridden my bike a lot in Buffalo since my return. The trip has given me an appreciation of how bicycle friendly Buffalo really is, and I hope to commute full time this coming school year. In addition, the trip boosted my confidence about my stamina. Someday I hope to ride across the whole country, unsupported.

Click here to get the pdf of the directions- note that they were scanned and one of them had gotten quite wet.
Saturday, July 15th
Stone dust Canal Trail
We set off together in the morning, but soon parted ways. I needed to attend to some SAG duties. I did meet up with one of my partners at the PM rest stop at the Mabee Farm. This is a small group of buildings dedicated to recognizing the part farmers played in the development of the Erie Canal and detailing the way they lived. My husband is related by marriage to the owners of this farm, so I recognized it from pictures I had seen.Mabee Farm- located between Canajoharie and Scotia

I had a relaxing finish to my ride into Scotia. Again one of my partners in crime had saved us tent spots. We joined together and visited an ice cream shop, where I had a root beer float. We then visited the local library, where one person stayed to check his email and we moved on to a drug store, where I purchased wet wipes- there are no showers at the end of the ride tomorrow, and I will be traveling on a bus. We then landed ourselves at a nice local bar, which had a surprisingly good selection of tap beer.

I had researched the possibilities for my return trip to Buffalo. Two women from Canada were going to rent a minivan, but not leave until Monday. This would have entailed my share of the vehicle, tolls, gas, an overnight stay in a hotel, plus a dinner and breakfast; too much money. The Amtrak train with a baggage car was sold out. Amtrak stinks- you can only bring your bike on certain trains, and they can only be removed at certain stations. I settled on going back by bus, about which I had major trepidations.

I hung out in tent city, talking to people and watching the bike repair guy do his stuff. By the time I was ready for a shower, it had started to pour. Oh, the irony of it all. Unwilling to move from under the shelter of the information tent (not alone), I waited it out for almost 45 minutes. By that time, my phone was beeping and one of my partners was paging me for dinner company. Showering had to wait until after dinner. Later in the evening, there was a goodbye celebration, with awards for the most flats in a day and for the whole trip. I must admit that it is odd to recognize frequent flat tires, for to me it indicates something embedded in the tire or incorrect tire inflation, but who am I to judge?

The mosquitoes were voracious, making people hide in their tents in the early evening.
Friday, July 14th

Our group did have a bicycle stolen last night. Last year two were apparently stolen from a Syracuse museum. I had commented about all the unlocked bicycles to someone last night, just before I retired and feel I jinxed us.

Breakfast was eaten at the local YMCA. I tried to get out early, but there were many flat tires and I stopped many times to perform SAG duties. The first time was just a mile or two outside of Rome. I think the vehicle SAG thought I was calling about some hotshot racing off to the next town, because he said most of the group hadn’t even left the YMCA yet. In fact, it was somebody who was probably trying to get an early start to avoid the heat of the day. She had a hole in her tire and there was nothing I could do for her, but wait until someone picked her up. Most of the route was on roads today, and the weather was warm and dry. In Schuyler, one couple reported they were pursued by a dog, which had given them a scare. They had called the police, who picked up the dog.

I had wanted to tour a brewery, but I had to stop so many times that I was too late. At Little Falls I was shown a temporary repair for a broken spoke. I believe it was a string made of Kevlar, with special nipples, that took the place of a spoke. In addition, I got the chance to practice a neat trick to repair a hole in a tire. I placed a folded dollar bill between the tire and the hole. This patch lasted the gentleman, whose tire I fixed, the rest of the trip.
Mud and debris, gratiously cleared by the DOT?

Between Rome and Canajoharie, you could see the mess and destruction caused by the flooding in the last week of June 2006. Click here for pictures of the flood waters. As a result of the flooding, the lockhouse at lock 10 was swept off its foundation.
Lockhouse at Lock10- knocked off foundation

Already at Canajoharie, one of the gentlemen I had met saved two tent sites in a prime location for myself and the man I had drafted on earlier in the week. We enjoyed each other’s company for dinner and the evening. I spent a good portion of the rest of the trip with these two gentlemen.
Thursday, July 13th

The weather started out cloudy, but cleared by late morning as we headed towards Rome and Fort Stanwix.
In the corner- parts of a bilge pump

I took time to check out the Chittenango Landing Boat Museum, which though very local was extremely nice. Cool stuff was displayed related to the Erie Canal, including an actual bilge pump, with a description of how it worked. So many ingenious solutions to the problems presented at the time. Different types of local products were also showcased, with original signage and advertising from the period. The town had a little welcoming committee of two, and the town is obviously trying very hard to realign itself to tourism- successfully.

We were welcomed into the Rome Erie Canal Village, but it was at the end of the day’s ride and my feet were uncomfortable, still being wet from the rain yesterday. I must admit that there was no one in the main museum building, for most people wanted to view the houses and barns, so I wandered around in my sock feet, carrying my shoes to get some relief. Having seen similar buildings and displays in Mumford/Genessee Country Museum, I skipped most of the other buildings and moved on to Rome.

At Rome, we encamped right on the grounds of Fort Stanwix. In hindsight, I am very sorry I did not take the time to go on a tour of the fort or spend more time in the National Park Service interpretive building, for I got a glimpse into the interpretive building and the exhibits were well done.
Tent City at Fort Stanwix- note the guard on the horizon
We were on our own for dinner, and since I could not find any of my previous pals (and did not feel outgoing enough to find new ones), I walked to a grocery store nearby and bought blueberries, chocolate milk, rolls and cashews for dinner. I have done this before and find it quite fulfilling. An amusing gentleman camping near my tent asked me to get him some lime vodka from a liquor store next to the grocery, with which he was happily mixing lemonade.

Earlier in the day I had been asking people how to adjust the front derailleur, for the dust had entered the cable housing and I could not shift in front. I had searched the front derailleur for the adjustment screws I seem to remember seeing, but thought I was wrong, because there were no screws. It turned out that I did know what I was doing, but the screws had been concealed under the stone dust. I paid the bike fix-it people to clean my bike of stone dust. Can’t be good for the chain/cogs. It was well worth it, because my bike was again white.
Wednesday, July 12th

Today was the day on which I was assigned the task of sweeper. Most of the SAG volunteers take a turn at sweeping, in which you hang at the very end of the pack of riders, making sure no one is left behind. It poured all day, and we were quite wet, despite our rain coats. Sweepers are paired, for safety, and I found myself paired with another very pleasant gentleman. I found a large number of the men I encountered to be extremely polite. It is delightful to find such qualities in today’s men, for sometimes I wonder if manners are a lost art among both sexes. We rode slowly and hung back at the rest stops until all were far ahead. Today a portion of the Erie Canal Trail had to be closed to our riders, for it became a hazard, particularly for those with road bikes. As a result, some riders went where we did not follow, and we waited outside the town of Jordan (where the trail and detour converged) for a vehicle SAG to make sure everyone had left their lunchtime haunts and passed us. The last few miles coming into Syracuse became difficult, as we caught up with several dejected people, worn out, cold and some with mechanical difficulties. I must admit however, that people showed amazing resilience. People of all different body types are participating and succeeding in this ride. The last bit, coming into Syracuse University’s tent city area, was quite a climb uphill. At the top, we were confronted with a thunderstorm and torrential downpours and most people took refuge inside some of Syracuse’s dormitories.
Tuesday, July 11th

Breakfast was as delightful as dinner and we awoke to beautiful blue skies. The ride to Seneca Falls was calm and there were no real troubles to note. The National Women’s Hall of Fame was rather disappointing, no more really than a bunch of writing on the wall. I could have gotten as much from a book. I hope they improve this museum, for the concept has much promise. The National Park service has a museum in Seneca Falls, as well, dedicated to chronicling the women’s suffrage movement, as well as other civil rights movements to a lesser extent. This museum was incredibly detailed and multi-media and had a temporary? exhibit on the lives and careers of women members of congress, offering a glimpse at how different their experience is from that of their male counterparts.

There was a wine and cheese party in celebration of our ride, on which I passed. Instead I sought out potential dining partners, for dinner was not provided on this night. There were many groups of people searching together for restaurants, but I found that the bigger the group, the more difficult consensus becomes. Instead I found a very pleasant gentleman. I was afraid he would find me to be boring company, but he was very aware of what was going on around him in the world and was happy to discuss a wide variety of topics. Though there was a shuttle operating, we chose to walk back to the school together with my bike.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Monday, July 10th

Zipping and unzipping of tents wakes you up around 5 AM. It was very dry this morning, a pleasure when packing up a tent. After packing up I went to breakfast. The group is provided breakfast, two rest stops with snacks and dinner (every night but two). I have found that this is adequate, and I don't bother with lunch. At the rest stops there is fruit (usually cut), junky carbohydrates (cheez-its, peanut butter crackers, cheetos...), Gatorade and water. I did not lose any weight on this trip, but I was definately firmer at the end. I met a gentleman who was riding while talking on his phone. I reprimanded him for violating the NY law about driving while talking on a cell phone. I also met a gentleman who was riding a hybrid bike on the crushed stone path. I found that if I drafted on him, I could average 3 mph faster than on my own. These two gentlemen provided me with most of my entertainment along the route to Albany. People come from all over the US for this tour. There were people from Alaska, California, Colorado, Nebraska and other northeastern and mid-western states.

Canal and river as one- outside Rochester

We headed for Pittsford, just outside of Rochester, NY.
Near Rochester, I embarked with a group for a tour of Rochester. It was led by a man riding a 3 speed Schwinn. It was most amusing to watch our group, all decked out in bicycle attire, with our fancy, multi-speed bikes, struggling to go slow enough behind the basic Schwinn. We got to see the aqueduct used to cross the canal over the Genessee River. It has since been converted twice, once into a subway tunnel (now defunct) and currently to an auto bridge.
Tour of Rochester- great view

Aqueduct over Genessee River

Same aqueduct, converted into a subway tunnel

Skyscraper WarsRochester City Hall; Can you believe someone painted the marble?

We stayed at Nazareth College. In the end, I voted their food to be the best. After setting up my tent, I went in search of the showers. Though I don't stink at the end of the day, I am rather gritty and my skin feels stiff from all the salt. I thought I would be sore and stiff, but was not. I do own a Terry seat and wear bike shorts. As for the shirts, I own one bike shirt with the longer tail, but my other two shirts are just synthetic running shirts. Cut longer than usual, they cover my back fully.

I took my evening occupations with me (phone, book, trail notes), for I thought it looked like rain and I might get caught at the showers or dining hall. The heavens did open up on us, and we were inside for a long time, while a band of heavy thunderstorms raged over us. We spent the time listening to a lecture about the womens' sufferage movement and the geology of the canal area. Afterwards, at around 8:00 PM, there was a beautiful, huge rainbow and the clouds were fantastically colorful and shaped. People just leave their bikes out, which washes the stone trail dust off the bike. Then they just re-oil the bike and ride.
Evening sunset at Nazareth College- Pittsford
Sunday, July 9th

I got to Nichols school at 6:30 AM. Since I live in Buffalo, I did not camp out in the field, but instead went home for the night. I put my two small duffels on the luggage truck and had breakfast.

As a SAG, I had to attach a "fish" windsock to my bike, so I would be easily identifiable as such. I left shortly before the "official" start, because I was unsure how to ride in a group and felt it might be easier if leaving with a smaller group than the mass. After only about one mile, I experienced my first duty as a SAG. A rider had a tire blowout and this had caused him to lose control of the bike. His rim was badly bent and I had to call a vehicle SAG to pick him up. He would be driven to the first rest stop, where a professional bike repairman fixed him up and sent him on his way.

The route follows the Riverwalk, which I have experienced many times, then winds its way along Tonawanda Creek, which is integrated with the Erie Canal. We went to Lockport, where there is a big downhill, followed by a right turn at the bottom. Good brakes are a necessity. Here I met a gentleman riding a single speed bike. These bikes are all the rage in Buffalo, and apparently around the country. They have no freewheel, and thus can't coast. Asked about how he copes with the downhills, he replied he "pedals like a madman". Many of these bikes have no brakes, though his did. One slows by resisting the forward movement of the pedals.

There were tickets available to ride a boat in the canal at Lockport, but since I live here, I have done that before. The journey to Medina was moderate and without mishap. At Medina schools there was a pool and showers. I think I arrived about 12:30. My average speed was probably 12 mph. I set my tent up in what would be shade and talked with those camped around me. Most evenings there are one or more speakers, who talk about the history of the canal in the area through which we will be traveling.
Saturday, July 8th

I went to the pre-ride gala at Nichols school in Buffalo, NY. I am not the best , socially, and I had to force myself to mingle. The people were very nice; a very socially inclined group. I just found an empty seat and asked if I could join. Not having companions probably forced me to meet more people than I might have otherwise. I met other solo riders as well, so I was not alone in being alone. I am a vegetarian, and the ride does manage to successfully arrange for this. There was Bully Hill wine, provided by Frontier Beverage, a local beverage shop.

Initially I thought my youngest child would be interested in coming along, and so had requested statistical information about the age demographics. There had been many children on the past year's ride. Unfortunately, I had put a training mileage requirement on my son of 200 miles, and he had not been motivated to come even close. In hind-sight, he probably would have made it anyways. The average age on this ride this year was announced to be 48. 60% are male (I am female). Along the ride, I found most of the single riders to be male. Most of the women were in groups of some sort, families or friends.

I should also mention that I volunteered, which technically waives your fees. There was a meeting for volunteers, at which they explained each group's function. My function was to provide bicycle SAG (Support And Gear). Bike SAG travels along with the group, offering motivational and bike maintenance assistance (fixing flats, reattaching chains...). On Wednesday, I would be required to "sweep", which entails lingering at the end of the group to ensure no one gets left behind.
In preparation:

In 2004, I met a lady involved in the Blue Bikes program in Buffalo, NY, where I live. The Blue Bikes program sets bicycles in convenient places, and with membership you can just unlock a bike, use it and return it to a Blue Bikes location. She told me about the Erie Canal Bike Ride, an 8 day, 400 mile fully supported ride from Buffalo to Albany, NY.

I had never ridden with a group and the longest sojourn undertaken had been a 100 mile trip from Buffalo to Warren, PA. That trip required the use of panniers to hold clothes and overnight equipment. I had no cooking equipment, but bought my meals at a supermarket.

To prepare myself for this trip, I vowed to ride 200 miles between April and the July 8th start date. Most of these miles where logged while doing everyday tasks, including commuting, for I am attempting to move away from my car. The longest of the preparatory rides was 30 miles round trip. In addition, I began to research how to return to Buffalo. There is a lot of information on the Erie Canal Ride website.

One of the most worrisome items was the concept of "boxing" my bike for the return trip home. There was a website which tries to explain the process. Bike boxes (cardboard) can be obtained free from a bike shop.

I will point out that since I backpack and canoe camp, I have a small, lightweight tent and sleeping bag. I ride a ten-speed road bike, custom made (for someone else) by BCA in Allentown, PA. I acquired it used in 1983. It is a good quality bike, with double butted joints, Shimano derailleurs and has a lightweight frame, probably of alluminum/steel alloy. In other words, I did not go out and buy the newest, fanciest bike for this trek. In addition, I own two pairs of bike shorts, which are the only pieces of clothing I would cite as imperative. They pad you a little and keep you from chafing against the seat. I did bring three athletic shirts; one was a cycling shirt, which was helpful when I went shopping. Bike shorts have no pockets. The only other things I got specifically for this ride were a bike cover (not really a necessity- kept leather seat dry at night) and a Catseye odometer, which was nice to have. The odometer/speedometer helped me keep a steady pace, gauge the distances set out on the daily cue sheets and gave me accurate mileage, for when I needed to tell vehicular SAG where a rider was located. The only thing I wished I had brought was a small collapsible chair.