Friday, October 02, 2009

My Summer Escapades (What I did this summer)

In July my 15 yr old son and I did the Erie Canal trip again. Still fun. It is all about the people.
Here are a couple of pictures:

Then in late August, I decided to shoot for circumnavigating Lake Ontario.
Here is an account of that trip, which was wonderful:
I only had 8 days. Somehow, on the very first day, I way undercalculated the mileage. 75 miles per day was my estimate, but on that day, I traveled 84 miles and was 20 miles short of my destination.

August 30th

My goal was to make it as far as Dundas, Ontario today, leaving Buffalo via the Peace Bridge. I traveled up the rail trail going West from Fort Erie, Ontario.

As soon as I crossed the bridge I met 2 cyclists of a group of 6 coming from Seattle. We had a nice conversation about typical touring issues and compared bikes (what we liked about our own and what we appreciated in others). They were going to Niagara Falls, then backtracking along the Lake Erie coast to Erie, PA, down to Pittsburgh and on to Washington via the C&O and GAP rail/canal trail.

On the way to Port Colburn, I saw a giant caterpillar, bright green, not fuzzy, about 1 ½ inches long and as thick as my thumb.

Finding the trial to take me up the Welland Canal was difficult, if not impossible. It is possible that there is no trail there, but that it starts at Port Robinson. In addition, the roads start and stop and the automobile maps I was using were not detailed enough to show this. I made agonizing progress. I made it to Thorold at 1pm and to St. Catherines at 2pm. I then foolishly tried to follow the Waterfront trail, which my warm showers host had tried to warn me against. It was difficult to find and in Port Dalhousie it utilized a long flight of stairs.

Finally, in Jordan at 6pm I called my warm showers host to tell them I was running late. Somehow I way underestimated my mileage. At 8pm near Grassie I had already gone 84 miles, when I had calculated 74 all the way to Dundas. I can only assume it had a lot to do with the twisty/windy way I had come.

At this point I was still 10 miles short of my destination and had run out of light. Stopping by the side of the road and a tiny intersection, I waited until all traffic passed, then walked into the field surrounding an abandoned barn. With tall grass and weeds hiding me, as well as some bushed and short trees, I pitched my tent and lay down my bike.

I had been very unlucky or foolish about my water situation, so I was very low. During the late day, I had been reduced to asking people I passed if they would fill my bottles, but this is an area which doesn’t drink their well water because it is considered polluted by a nearby quarry. There we no stores along the route I followed after Jordan.

Fortunately, I brought Cliff bars, dried apricots and cashews. Escaping mosquitoes by climbing in the tent I called everyone and read for a while.

As dark approached, someone/thing started walking around the tent. At first I was worried it was a person, then that it was a stray dog, so I swatted at the tent side, but it was not at all alarmed. Finally, I took out my flashlight and thrust it out the door. At the tip of it resolved a raccoon. Truly it was right at the end of the flashlight. I could have pet it, it was so close. Even still, it was really not threatened by me. It daintily nibbled on my fly tie-out.

Throughout the night, I thought that the neighbors had a recording of a dog barking, for the barking went on all night and was very regular. Really. I’m serious. It sounded like a recording. No dog could possibly have the energy to bark that long. It didn’t keep me awake, however.

Things I noticed throughout the day:

  • The structures I thought were pickling centers are probably chicken farms. They smell really bad. Huge structures with no windows, just massive fans.
  • Someone had “windsocks” which looked like hawks. When the wind blows, they lift, “fly-fluttering”. The effect was a very good representation of a hawk flying around. Maybe they do this to scare off crows and other birds.
  • Many farmers “shoot” bangs of air (I think). This may be another way to ward off `birds. It was really loud and sounds like the boom fireworks make when launched.
  • Ships pushed through the Welland Canal move at about 5mph

August 31st

Up at 8am. The night was pretty uneventful. I would give my first guerilla camping experience a thumbs up. Cheap, easy and pretty peaceful. There were many cars on the road already. I tried to stay low while I packed up. There were loads of slugs and snails on the tent and bike. There was light traffic on route 73/Mudd Rd. I got a little lost when Mudd Rd ended at a set of freeway ramps and again when another road did the same. In Hamilton, I took the lane on some roads and seemed to be respected and accepted, then took the only lane going down a moderately steep road with no shoulder and a poor surface overall. No one complained or crowded me. 4 cars piled up behind me, but were pretty patient; I was cruising at about 30mph, not bad for the twisty downhill.

Arriving in Dundas, I found a rail trail I thought would go more or less in the direction I wanted to go. Met a really friendly guy on a bike who gave me his card and told me that if I wanted to go out cycling tomorrow to give him a call. He restores Indian motorcycles. Made me pause. Cycling gloves on, wedding ring covered. Maybe he was just one of the thousands of just really nice people I have met when touring.

The rail trail was beautiful. Since I was in no hurry, I stopped at a re-purposed train station. There were two women with two girls, all on mountain bikes. They thought touring was the ultimate cool and asked a lot of questions. Inside were a bunch of college students doing environmental testing of soil and air. Good directions from the women on bikes took me to further down the trail to a steep road which took me back to the top of the escarpment. I hung out for a while on the grass behind some buildings waiting for my warm showers host to come home. Met my host. We talked for a long time about bikes. They own 2 Fridays, a Brompton, 1 trike and a tandem.

We rode back into Dundas to look for a better map for me, then climbed back up the escarpment for a great overview of Burlington and Hamilton, corn and to return to his home. The map I got was just an automobile atlas of Ontario, but my host told me to stick to the "yellow" roads. He had his facts right on.

I had serious doubts I would make it up the hill again (walked 1st time), but my host assured me that if I stayed behind him going amazingly slow, I could do it in my lowest gear. I did. My host and his wife (co-host) were extremely sweet.

September 1st

I changed my mind about staying a second night, but my host and I did have a great discussion about Bike Fridays, the durability of different components and racks/bags. He suggested some things to see in Brantford and suggested a route. For breakfast he offered me homemade muesli, fruit and milk. So kind.

Set off on an extremely pleasant trek to Brantford, which included roads and more of the same rail trail. Stopped on the road to snack & phone under a massive maple. Got a little confused about where the trail continued when I entered Brantford, so I asked a woman for directions. After a conversation, she offered her lawn for camping, then dinner, then later offered a bed. I accepted, because some of the most interesting experiences come from the people you meet, not the landscape you ride through. This woman is the companion of a Mohawk and fosters 3 Native American children, as well as having 4 grown children of her own. She has been deeply involved in Indian culture since childhood and has an amazingly wide variety of interests and abilities, including making soap and jewelry and is working towards a degree in social work.

Her companion has a vast knowledge of his own culture and is heavily involved in the land dispute between the 5 Nations and Canada; a totally different perspective from everything I have heard and quite astonishingly persuasive arguments. He has also narrated a really cool documentary about the local history. Though not highly educated in the classic definition, they are both very educated and lucid. I spent the evening looking at maps and documents and listening to them explain their theories and history. I really enjoyed my two days with them.

We visited the Bell Homestead, the home of Alexander Graham Bell’s parents, where the first phone call was made, ran errands and went to the Woodside Cultural Center (Native American). It was interesting because my hosts described what the center’s creators got right and what they got wrong. Understanding history is more than reading history books and I got a real taste of how biased our textbooks are. Re-education schools opened children up to physical and emotional abuse and took away more than their culture. It also robbed them of good role models. Their role models became the people who brutalized them.

Portrayals of Indians often muddle different tribes together. The woman who hosted me grew up with the Plains Indians and the man with Eastern Woodlands Indians. It was pointed out to me that the Mohawks never wore their hair in the style we identify as a mohawk and that it is quite inaccurate to identify Woodland Indians in fringed attire, since the fringe would have been highly impractical in the dense woods. This last was prairie style clothing.

September 3rd

After leaving Brantford, I spent a lot of time zig zagging through the countryside. Very beautiful agricultural land, I stopped and asked farmers questions once in a while about the crops they were growing. Some interesting facts: 1) the little stores out in the country don’t carry fruits or vegetables, for the farmers have their own gardens 2) a lot of food is wasted during harvesting- it takes too much time to not waste- local volunteers sometimes get permission to go through the fields after a mechanical harvest and pick up the passable leftovers for soup kitchens and food pantries. Often product gets caught up in machinery and just looks ugly, but is quite serviceable 3) some crops you would not think would be grown in Canada: tobacco and ginseng 4) farmers try to gauge the market and plant what they think will bring in the bucks. Sometimes this entails tearing out whole groves of peach trees, because there is nowhere close to process the peaches

During a down time, while I was snacking, I heard someone saying “hello, hello, hello”. Turning around I found no one. I had put my new phone in my back shirt pocket and had never heard it ring. My son had recorded himself (at my request) and set it as my ringtone. Duh.

Proceeding towards Turkey Point, I developed a flat. A little surprised, since I have Kevlar lined tires, I discovered that one of the spokes had worn through the inner tube. It really is time for a new wheel. I stayed the night at a local private campground.

September 4th

I switched to the Turkey Point Provincial Park campground and then rode quite a ways to pick blueberries. So good, so good. Met my husband that evening and we played on the beach before dinner in town and bed.

September 5th

Today we went for a little 45 mile jaunt. Never bother with Long Point on a bike (or a car, for that matter). It is a narrow slip of land and way too crowded on the road. The little towns we rode through were very nice, however. Back to the beach and then to camp to pack for tomorrow’s drive home.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Old or New- more thoughts

I plan on going across the U.S. next summer. Now I look at my touring differently. It isn't how many gears you have, its what the range is that is important.

I recently talked to a Warmshowers host in Ontario, Canada, who took me up a very steep, longish hill, with no panniers. I told him that I am notoriously bad at hills. He suggested that I shift into my lowest gear and not pass him. This forced me to use a much slower cadence than I would normally set. At about 50 rpm, going 3mph, I made it up the hill without even feeling winded. Conclusion- even though I have a granny gear, I don’t really have a gear low enough on my loaded bike for mountains. I can do hills, given enough time and a low enough gear. Keep in mind that the bike was overhauled several years ago to put a granny gear on it.

At the time it did not even occur to me to question my bike shop. They never gave me choices or asked me my preferences, so I went back and asked them why. The final outcome of the conversation is lengthy. Apparently, because I have an older bike with 27” tires, the choices for a rear wheel are limited. They gave me the best set of gears available. I could switch my wheels to the current 700 standard, but those are slightly smaller and the brakes would also have to be switched out. In addition, the rear derailleur would have to be changed to accommodate larger gears and more chain… you get the picture. The alternative would be to have a custom made rear wheel with a cassette. Still would have to change the derailleur to accommodate the longer chain which would accompany larger gears. All in all, about $500 would have to go towards putting a lower gear on the bike. Sigh. Each time I needed a new rear wheel, I would have to pay to have it custom built (or rebuilt) again.

Now I am considering buying a Bike Friday. It would save me about $50 every time I fly or take a train. I would not save the entire cost of sending a standard bike, because I would have to ship the suitcase back home or to a shop on a one way sojourn. It is just difficult to justify the $1,400 cost. I stopped in at their factory in the summer of 2008 to ride one. Truly a nice bike. I have read many blogs about touring on a Bike Friday and people generally glow about them. Kind of a cult, though.