I woke up in the morning with a good feeling. It wasn’t a premonition regarding something specific, like when people set out to run a triathlon or take a key exam and get this feeling of confidence that they are going to achieve what they set out to do. After all, this is a bike journey. Accomplishment does not come at the end of this day. It comes at the end of the last day, five days later, when I reach the coast of Maine after six days of riding.
The feeling I started the day with was just a general positive vibe, that I knew I was going to have a good day. It is a Tuesday, a day where many people will simply be grinding out their daily lives. For tragically many people, this means stressing out at jobs that do not fulfill them. I get to ride my bicycle, spend the day outside, and see places I have never seen before. I must be thankful for that.
On bike journeys there are plenty of things that can go wrong. There’s always the possibility of unpleasant weather, unexpected storms, or an unexpected unfavorable shift in wind direction. There are also the many possible mechanical issues that can occur to a bicycle, particularly one that was recently shipped across the country. The feeling I got was that none of those things would happen, and that I would simply have an enjoyable day on my bicycle.
Most Canadians will recognize my way of starting my day off right, with a nice breakfast at Tim Hortons. Food is crucial on a bike trip. It is so crucial that when I took the Adventure Cycling Association’s Leadership Training Course three years ago, it was the very first thing they talked about, before bike mechanics, camping/lodging, or even the basics of bike touring. How to pack trailers, roof racks, panniers, etc. would not be covered until the next day! I know one bad meal can really strain a bike trip, particularly if it’s breakfast, so I made it a good one before crossing the border back into the United States.
Before leaving the Niagara area, I took one last view of the falls from a place called Goat Island. Goat Island is between the two falls, and on the American side. It offers a pretty good alternate view of Horseshoe Falls, which is directly across from a place called Terrapin Point. It might be the best view on the American side of the falls, but, as I mentioned in my prior post, the Canadian side still offers better views overall.
I would spend most of my day cycling on one of the Nation’s longest bike paths, the Erie Canal trail.
I knew that this was going to be a flat ride. The Erie Canal is a waterway that was built in 1824 to provide a shipping route between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. In order for the very concept to work, they had to find a route with very minimal elevation change. When the canal was built, a series of locks were built to regulate the water flow. The first town we encountered after picking up the trail was Lockport, New York, a small town with one of these locks at the center of town.
East of Lockport, the trail surface becomes crushed limestone.
Staying right next to the Erie Canal, the scenery I encountered was quite constant. Much of my day looked exactly like this. This trail is flat, and largely straight, which is good for covering a large number of miles in one day. I spent most of my time on this trail just thinking about the Erie Canal itself, the amount of work it must have taken to build it, and its role in transporting goods across the Union in the Civil War, which some consider to be a major factor in the eventual Union victory.
On a day like today, covering a lot of miles on a trail with consistent scenery, it is easy to lose track of each individual town. This is why one of my favorite features of the Erie Canal Trail, at least in Western New York, is these bridges. Each of them have the name of the town labelled on top of the bridge, so as cyclists approach, they know which town they are, in fact, approaching.
I generally liked Western New York for bicycling, and bicycle accommodations. Obviously, there is the trail, but also many of the roads include wide enough shoulders to accommodate bicycling. Additionally, New York is one of the states that has labelled state-wide bike routes, which add some level of legitimacy to cycling as a form of transportation.
The exception, at least for me and the route we followed, was Rochester. We split off the Erie Canal trail in order to ride, and eventually camp, along Lake Ontario. This involved getting off the trail and following State Highway 104 into town. Like other Western New York roads, this road had a shoulder. However, this shoulder had frequent obstacles, mainly sewers, that we needed to cut into traffic to avoid. After that, we cut over to the lake in a suburb called Sea Breeze only to find out that the bridge we were hoping to take, over Irondequoit Bay, was closed for the summer.
We were told that the bridge would re-open in November. I am accustomed to roads being closed in wintertime, but not in summertime. I never would have thought to even check to see if any bridge that I was hoping to take would be closed. What was so frustrating about this was that the bridge itself, seen in the distance, and also on this map, is so short.
It couldn’t cover more than fifty feet, and, as a result of that bridge being closed, we had to back track all the way around Irondequoit Bay, adding a significant number of miles to the trip.
I ended up having to invoke my backup plan. I had already ridden more miles in one day, 112, than I had ever before in my life, smashing my previous record of 104. Without the detour, I would already be close to my destination for the day. But, I knew I needed to save some energy for five more days of riding.
So, I got a ride for the remainder of the day’s trip, which ended at Sodus Point, at a campground where I could watch a beautiful sunset along Lake Ontario.
The obstacle I faced was not one of the ones I had anticipated. Usually when I think of what can go wrong on a bike trip, wind, rain, and flat tires are the first things that come to mind. A bridge closed for the summer is the last thing that would occur to me. In fact, it took nearly three days for me to eventually realize the likely reason for a summer bridge closure; so boats can pass through from the bay into the lake. Still, I consider this sunset along one of America’s Great Lakes a great end to a great day on my bicycle.