Not going out

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!

Erie go…. Cycling along the Erie Canal trail

So it turns out that New York State is pretty big – after whizzing through our first three states at a rate of one per day, we crossed the border into NY and saw that it was a long old way to the Canadian border. Luckily for cyclists wanting an easily navigable, traffic free route through the state, there is a 360 mile bike route along the old Erie Canal that takes you from Albany to Buffalo. Always interested in an easily navigable, traffic-free route we rode west from our camp spot in Bruce and Sandy’s garden to join the trail in Amsterdam and intended to pretty much follow it for the next 300 miles.

Nice, traffic-free, tree-lined bike trail

The Erie Canal was quite an engineering feat for the early 1800s, allowing boats to travel from New York City to the Great Lakes. Until the railways made boat travel look slow and cumbersome this was how goods and people travelled across the state. Now the canal system is used for a multi-use trail and although in some places the gravel makes riding frustrating – and there are short sections that are still unfinished – it’s a pleasant way to ride across the state. However the view doesn’t change much, and by the end of the first day we were starting to understand why people had told us they liked it but wouldn’t ride it again…

Still a nice, traffic-free, tree-lined bike route
And more of the traffic-free, tree-lined bike route….

There is loads of historical information, though there’s a distinct ‘scraping the barrel’ feeling as you get towards the end and read the 8th information board about the intricate workings of lift bridges. Some of it is really good though, particularly the descriptions and photos of life ‘working the boats’. The canal would be drained over winter and the bottom would freeze and be used for ice skating; kids would be entertained by swings on boats but have rope tied round their waist and attached to the hull so they didn’t fall off; there was once a 100-boat pile up after the one at the front got stuck. As with the whole of our bicycle trip so far we were out of season along the canal so it was really quiet, we would see hardly anyone all day on the trail (but in typical North American style, those we did see would stop and speak to us and exclaim that we were awesome/brave/crazy for trying to cycle across the country and wish us luck). The riding was easy, it was flat as a pancake, but as is often the way with flat riding, it got a bit repetitive boring at times.

One of many information board snack stops

So after three days on the canal path, including spending a night in Rome, we decided to detour off and take a parallel route slightly south for a couple of days across the Finger Lakes region. This is unsurprisingly a particularly affluent area of the state – on reaching the first lake it was hard to believe only 15 miles previously we were riding through a particularly sketchy area of town where for the first time in the USA we were a little fearful of stopping at traffic lights. The lakes made for great lunch stops, the roads were quiet and the hills rolling enough to be interesting without tiring us out. We skirted the top of four different lakes that shone blue under sunny skies. This was the life.

The Finger Lakes

Off the trail we were on roads again with cars (less fun) but more places to stop at (as we were to discover, much more fun). On seeing a sign that said ‘Chocolate Pizza’ and an arrow to the left, but no more information, we obviously pulled in to see what this was all about. Fearing some warm chocolate/cheese combo yet still wishing to see it with our own eyes we were pleased to find lots of chocolate, no cheese, and super friendly owners who fed us free samples and were excited about our trip. We made it onto their blog and their enthusiasm about our ride spurred us on to Geneva (spot the pattern?) for a night by the lake. 

Yep, thats chocolate pizza

Late that afternoon we stopped in Seneca Falls, famous as the home of women’s rights in the USA. (We were fast learning, with much sadness, that having ‘Falls’ in a place name did not indicate waterfalls were to be found.) Seneca Falls is home to the Women’s Rights National Historic Park (yet it wasn’t a park, but a museum, it’s like they are trying to confuse us now) where I walked in to be greeted enthusiastically by a member of the parks staff with “right you got 19 minutes, whadda ya wanna see? I’d recommend going upstairs first to read the history and then to the chapel where the first convention was held, you cycling, awesome, we got ice water for your bottles and restrooms too” without pausing for breath (I guess she didn’t want to waste more than half a one of my precious 19 minutes). I did exactly as instructed and left with slightly more knowledge about the foundation of the women’s rights movement, full water bottles and an empty bladder. 19 minutes well spent. Debs sat outside on a Women’s Rights Park branded bench for 19 minutes. I think I won that day.


From Geneva it was back to the canal trail that would take us almost all the way to the Canadian border over the next three days. The canal is often higher than the land around it which is a bit weird, usually water is on the lowest ground. As if to illustrate how weird this is, at one point a road goes underneath it. Bike traffic on the trail picked up and we saw our first cycle tourist of the trip heading East and then to Europe, rode with a group of cyclists out on their first ride of the year for a morning and then saw our second cycle tourist, on a trike. Oh and we also had to share the trail with lots of geese who hissed wildly as we passed. But their babies were cute so we let them off. 

Happy to share the trail

Not so happy to share the trail

Our last night on the canal was spent camping by the water. It’s still pretty cold at night so this required lots of pasta followed by lots of clothes but we survived and rewarded ourselves with our first American diner breakfast experience the next morning. But this is for another post….


Meeting a long lost big brother

Thanks to Betsy, Pete and Chris for the impromptu hosting; Larry and Patty; Katherine and Greg for introducing big brother Surly; Ryan and the rest of the team at Chocolate Pizza; Jeff; and Karin and Ken.

#1 Roads that look like race tracks

Day 15 of advent! A well known social media site just told me that two years ago I was snoozing on the sofa by the Christmas tree and an open fire. Won’t pretend that I wouldn’t love a snooze on a sofa sometime soon but we are having an amazing time exploring Rome. This category had a clear winner, still the best day of cycling of the trip, partly because in the cold weather preceding it seems so unlikely we would be able to complete the ride. Would thoroughly recommend this ride – when it’s not snowy you can even do the very top section on a cycle route. Loved the Gotthard Pass! Well done Switzerland, thanks for clearing the snow for us!

 

Spot tiny debs on the scalectrix road
Spot tiny debs on the scalectrix road

 

#1 Traffic free cycle routes

The winning entry is the Slovenian section of the Parenzana cycle route. This is a converted train line that goes from Trieste to Porec. Some of it was easier to follow than other bits – the start was particularly evasive but several locals helped us out. The path in Slovenia had tunnels, pretty farm land and a great stretch of coast. Fab cycling, and a great recommendation from Francesco and Giulia – Thanks!

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#2 Traffic Free Cycle Routes

December 4th – Friday feeling or late night shopping?

#2 on our list is the Saar cycle way in Germany. There’s a great horseshoe bend for river photography and in our experience it is always sunny there. Only go as far as Saarbrucken though, not at all pretty there.

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