It’s the quintessential bike tour stop. A small town diner. A picture of the bicycle in front of it, the more panniers the better. Highly decorated walls, with an old fashion sort of flare to it. And, of course, the existential, thought filled, photo. It feels like I am having that experience every long distance cyclist needs to have. Of the many stories of bike travel I have read, particularly in the Adventure Cycling Association’s monthly newsletter, it always seems like there is some sort of experience at a small town diner like this.
I am not even sure, at this point in time, whether or not I am indeed following the Adventure Cycling Association’s Northern Tier route. I know it is somewhere close to here, in Wolcott, NY, a town I would pronounce incorrectly for the entire duration of the trip. But, I am still unsure of just how odd I look at this point in time.
We rolled out of town on some quiet roads that were significantly hillier than the prior day’s ride. The entire days’ ride would in some ways resemble this, up and down these types of rolling hills that dominate the landscape of Central New York. Over the course of the next twenty or so miles (sometimes the brain works slower when the body is consistently physically engaged like this), I processed the interactions I had with the locals, both at the diner this morning and over the course of the day yesterday. It suddenly occurred to me that my Long Island accent, which I had originally thought would be an asset while interacting with people in this area, is actually a liability.
It’s a familiar story that plays out in so many other states with large metropolitan areas, but also large rural/small town swaths. People from “downstate”, which mainly means New York City, Long Island, and Westchester County, dominate state politics, and call anything north of Poughkeepsie “upstate” despite its position well south of the center of the state. This can sometimes lead to resentment from those in other parts of the state that feel neglected or even abused.
The people at the hot dog stand in Fulton, NY, our next stop, were quite friendly. They gave us the water we needed to refill our water bottles, and even gave us a couple of hot dogs to help us on our journey. They also largely confirmed my speculation about my Long Island accent, and how they feel about the region I grew up in. The discussion focused on state politics. By far the most common political sign I encountered throughout my time in the state of New York were yard signs advocating the repeal of something called the NY Safe Act. A rough map of which counties have resolved to oppose this act highlights a clear divide between the New York metropolitan area and the rest of the state!
My friend Clay is originally from Texas. Out of curiosity, I asked the two ladies at the hot dog stand which location, Long Island or Texas, would have a generally more positive reputation in this town. They quietly giggled at me and told me “Texas wins”.
I’ve always had a strong interest in road networks. I’ve actually memorized the routes of many interstate and U.S. highways. People will often open up a map, name two roads, and see if I can guess where those two roads intersect. I don’t have perfect memory, like that zip code guy that used to hang out in downtown Boulder. But, knowing my road network, I knew getting to Interstate 81, in Central Square, NY, directly north of Syracuse, felt like a milestone to me. It meant that I was roughly halfway across the state.
When I was 12 years old, about a year after my family moved from New York to Chicago, I made this mental connection between people talking about “going upstate” back in New York, and people from the Chicago area heading to Wisconsin. While there are plenty of parallels, the analogy was undoubtedly an oversimplification. After crossing I-81, I recalled that I was now within a several hour drive of New York City. Before even hitting the Adirondacks, I saw tons of amazing places in this part of New York.
I was also fortunate to get to ride on some quieter roads. We took Moose River Road northeast out of Booneville to connect to state highway 28, which would lead to our evening’s destination: Old Forge.
This was one of my favorite parts of today’s ride; 17 quiet miles through dense forests, going over periodic hills and passing by groups of vacation homes tucked away in the woods. It feels like the kind of place where a lot of happy things happen. It made me think of people having their weekend away from the crowds. It made me think of sixth graders at their family vacation home having their first kiss down by the lake. It made me think of people actually talking to one another as opposed to staring at phones, tablets, and other devices.
The final ten miles of my ride were along highway 28. This was kind of the opposite experience. It was not quiet at all. But, like many of the roads I had been biking on throughout the state of New York, it had a wide shoulder for biking. Additionally, it had periodic signs labeling the road as a bike route. I also saw some wild turkey- not too exotic, but something I do not see on a day-to-day basis.
I arrived in Old Forge just before sundown. We stayed at a hotel called Water’s Edge Inn, which, as its name suggests is next to a lake.
We sat by the lake, watching nightfall gradually creep up on us, reflecting on the experiences of the day. I had now ridden my bike over 100 miles two days in row for the first time ever. We were covering quite a lot of ground, but I had started wishing I could spend a little more time in some of these places, particularly Old Forge, a town with a lot of activities and natural scenery, and a town I would barely be in for 12 hours, 7 of which would be sleeping. Still, I was enjoying myself, and finally broadening my view of what this entity known as New York really is; beyond the City and Long Island where I spent my childhood.