It’s Saturday night, April 30th and we are not going out. Our hosts for the evening have departed for drinks and it is with relief and tiredness bordering on exhaustion that we sit down to eat several hundred grams of pasta and tuna. Our day started almost 100km, a country and 14 hours ago…
Waking up in the tent the air was colder than we thought. Despite minimal camping recently we packed up very efficiently and rolled the bikes along the canal to Main Street, pleased to see the diner we spotted yesterday was open. It was 7.45am. We spread the tent out over the bikes to dry in the sun and ordered breakfast. There was a dizzying array of options, but we order a special #1 from the blackboard for me, Mac n cheese pancake for Jo. The diner was everything you would imagine/hope for in a small town diner. The waitress was friendly and knew all the other customers by name. When an old guy parked his truck up and came in she actually said “hey there Snuffy, I’ll get your coffee.”
When my breakfast arrived, it was 2 full plates of food. The first had 2 blueberry pancakes the size of my face on. The other had eggs (scrambled), bacon and home fries (without onions). I did share. Jo first had to negotiate an appropriate sauce for her Mac n cheese pancake. She went for ketchup, despite the server’s assurances that most people prefer syrup. It was quite the carb hit, but she soldiered on through a blueberry one with maple syrup.
A few cups of coffee, use of a bathroom, refilled water bottles and a dry tent later, we hit the canal trail at about 8:30am. There were a few people out walking dogs and jogging, but saw no other cyclists. The path got busier as we approached the impressive flight of locks that climb the Niagara escarpment. It was short but steep, and signalled the end of our canal following. The wind followed us as we continued west and we picked up speed towards Niagara Falls. After a sun cream stop we noticed a few cyclists on road bikes around. Specifically, they were passing us. A rider with less ‘full kit’ slowed to explain that there was a 50 mile charity ride going on. He said that following their signs would bring us right to downtown Niagara Falls.
This seemed like an easy navigation option. It also meant that at the event’s next refuelling stop we were waved into a car park by many enthusiastic volunteers. They weren’t at all disappointed to discover that we were not on their ride and were very excited by the idea of our trip. There were several conversations going on at the same time, about cycling, food supplies, my sunscreen (“Girl, you so dehydrated your lips are white!” – “It’s sunblock.”), our British flags (“You girls from Australia right?” – “No England” – “Ah I knew you some accent”), the charity, the fact that there were two Deborahs, it all got a bit confusing and Jo started taking her jumper off. Not from panic or confusion but because somehow in the midst of being made a peanut butter and jam sandwich and explaining that we had cycled from Boston, she had been stung by something.
Fully packed up with bags of orange quarters, bagels and sports drinks we left the cheery volunteers and immediately lost the bike ride signs. Needing a stop to investigate the sting situation, (suspect wasp, moderate swelling) we also re-routed ourselves on a straighter road to make back some time. Somewhere along this stretch we realised w had missed our 9000th trip kilometre and opted for photos of the landmark 9019th instead.
The outskirts of Niagara Falls, NY were not so pretty. Long stretches of shops, gas stations, intersections, fast food places. At least there were plenty of options for a bathroom stop. (Gas station, alcohol sales only between 8:30am-2am). At a red light an SUV blared rap music and a car full of tattooed young people pulled up next to us. The passenger leaned out the window and in an apologetic tone said “Excuse me, Ma’am, I just wanted to let y’all know that not all Americans are ignorant like that. Some of us like real music. I hope you enjoy your visit.” The light went green and our unlikely trio (gangstas, hipsters, cyclists) went our separate ways. There were lots of empty lots and for sale buildings but as we got closer to downtown the road became less busy and there were many more houses and nice residential areas.
The US side of the falls is a State Park, and as international tourist attractions go it is fairly moderately done. There is a cinema experience, a walk behind the falls, a walk somewhere else, a boat trip and plenty of ice cream available, but you can also just walk (or cycle) around the various look out points and be amazed at the volume of water pouring over the edge which is exactly what we did. At times the people watching was as engaging as the falls.
Riding across the Rainbow Bridge cost us the princely sum of 50 cents each. Last time we crossed this way on bikes there was a very long queue to get into Canada. Today it seemed like the universe was smiling, the sun was still out and we rode right up to the border control board. The world may have been full of the joys of spring but our border guard was not. We were not expecting this from Canadian staff. It is very hard not to sound facetious/know-all when standing astride a heavily loaded bike and answering the question “what is the reason for your visit?” with “Cycling?!”
The view is best on the Canadian side so we had a choice of primo picnic stops to eat our packed lunch from the charity bike ride folk. The falls are very impressive if you are ever in the area, the horseshoe one is over 400m long. Travelling North, the gorge downstream is also pretty, with plenty of scenic viewpoints along the bike path. We met some other cycle tourists at a few of the stops, three boys from Illinois who we had heard about from another guy the day before. Even in a country as big as this the road can be small. More surprising was that we had caught them up. It has never happened that when we know of someone going the same way in front of us we actually meet them. We are too busy riding slowly, snacking and stopping for Jo to take photos. The boys must do the same.
The last 20km was relatively flat and fast past vineyards and well kept houses. Jo’s sting swelling was still growing in size. We crossed the Welland Canal and passed an impressive war cemetery with many tiny Canadian flags blowing in the wind. Our lovely hosts are keen cyclists and direct us to bike storage and food. They have been in a running race today and are celebrating with dinner out. We wash, eat and sit. We are too tired to go out. As we are cycling on a day like this we often have a conversation about something that has happened, and because of all that goes on in between it seems like it couldn’t still be the same day. Did I really have a pancake the size of my face THIS morning? Did we really ride our bikes to Niagara Falls? What lucky little people we are.
Thanks to: the charity riders and volunteers, Dan & Emily in St Catharines – hope the red bull race went well!