Category Archives: factory tours

Cycling Day #4: Out of Gas

A decade and a half ago, popstar Christina Agulera, recalling a situation that most of us have faced at some point in our lives, sang “My body’s saying let’s go, but my heart is saying no.”  This morning’s situation was the exact opposite!  My heart wanted to continue riding, and soak in every experience that I could out of this trip.  But, my body, soar after three straight days of 100+ miles of riding (including yesterday’s climbs through the Adirondacks), did not feel like going any farther.

Had I decided not to ride today, I would have cheated myself out of an experience, that being day 4.  I have two previous experiences bike touring.  One, in graduate school, was a three day ride across the State of Wisconsin.  The other, last summer’s ride from Bozeman, Montana to Jackson, Wyoming, was also a three-day ride.  This day would be my first day 4, and regardless of what amount of pain I felt, I had to have this experience.

The ride started northeastward out of Lake Placid, with a little bit of a climb.  This was followed by a descent, which follows the Ausible River by Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort, and several waterfalls.

A strange thing happens when the human body is this worn out, but is forced to start going anyways.  The first few miles, or first 15 minutes or so, are kind of rough.  In particular, my legs did not feel as if they had anything left in them.  After 15 minutes, the resistance abated.  It felt like my body finally, and begrudgingly, agreed to tap some kind of alternate energy source.  For my own sake, I hope this energy source is fat reserves rather than muscle tissue.

The pain did not abate.  Sometimes the worst pain one experiences when cycling long distances is not muscle strain in the quadriceps, calves, or hamstrings.  Due to the long periods of time spent in riding position, other ares, particularly the neck and shoulders, often feel the worst.  In these situations, a little bit of Advil can help.  I usually do not advocate turning to pain medication, or any other kind of medication just to avoid a tough situation.  I even lament how many of us are dependent on caffeine to get through the average Thursday.  But, at least for me, eight hours a day hunched over a bicycle counts as that extreme situation where one can partake in pain medication without it becoming a regular occurrence.

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The first stop of the day, early on, was in a town called Wilmington.  This was an important stop for me, as it kind of represents the end of the Adirondacks.  On trips like this, I tend to spend well over 90% of my time looking forward, to the next destination, to the next activity, and to the next challenge.  In Wilmington, though, I found myself gazing backwards, back at the mountain range I had just “conquered”.  I have now already accomplished something.  Despite having significantly more distance in front of me, and some more amazing places to go, I’ve already had an amazing experience, one where I biked far greater distance than I have ever had before, and seen some amazing places I’ve never been to before.

The next segment of the ride followed back roads farther northeastwards towards Plattsburgh, a town along Lake Champlain.  Forests gave way to farmland, and finally town.

It ended up being a bit harder than I had anticipated to get across Lake Champlain.  First, I hit a wall.  It was as I got into town, just over fifty miles, and only about three hours, into my ride.  I was probably still quite exhausted from the previous three days.

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Then, the last several miles to get to the ferry ended up being more challenging than expected.  To get to the ferry from town, one must follow a trail along the Cumberland Head Peninsula that starts out heading East, but turns towards the South.  In this case, that was straight into the wind, the only strong headwind I had faced.  Although the trail was flat, the combination of wind and fatigue meant I could barely maintain a speed of ten miles per hour for the very last few miles of my ride in New York State.  I had literally run out of gas.

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Perhaps my biggest disappointment of the day was that when I arrived on the other side of the lake, from the ferry, there was no sign welcoming me to Vermont.  There was only this Fish and Wildlife Department sign, which I used as a proxy.

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The other side of Lake Champlain, Vermont, is a very different place.  The attitudes of the people could not be any more different.  In Upstate New York, I was told that Texas has a better image than Long Island.  When I first got into Vermont, I stopped at a local bagel shop and grabbed a sandwich.  I overheard a conversation where one of the locals mentioned “extreme political differences” with Texas.

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I doubt that these difference with Texas corespond to any kind of affinity for the New York metropolitan area.

The family that hosted us that night in Greensboro told us that the town, and probably most of the area, was quite homogenous- politically.  They recommended that anyone who had a differing opinion “bite their tongue”.

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To me, though, Vermont felt like the reciprocal of Texas.  Current political considerations put the two places at odds with each other.  However, as soon as I got into Vermont, I saw signs and heard rhetoric that stressed individuality, and Vermont’s “Independence”, both current and historical.  This felt to me, honestly, reminiscent of Texas.

I decided to take the afternoon “off”, which meant returning to my backup plan; riding in the van that was following Clay’s route.  I came into this ride knowing that I would not be able to keep up with Clay’s pace, often well over 100 miles per day, for the entire ride.  Before booking my flights and such to join on this trip, I made sure that I would have a backup plan when this moment of utter fatigue would eventually set in.  I figured this would be the best time to rest, as the weather turned a bit questionable (that afternoon, it became windier, and it would eventually rain in the evening).

Riding in the van also allowed me to see a couple of additional sites, most notably the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream factory, which is not along the bike route, but not too far out of the way.

One thing I was told to expect from Northern Vermont, was to see a lot of red barns.  After all, the quintessential Vermont image is of rolling hills, possibly cheese or ice cream, and a red barn.

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During my time in Vermont, which included both the time in the van today, and the time I would spend on my bicycle the next day (before reaching New Hampshire), I would see a total of 80 barns!  During my entire time in New York State, a much longer distance from Niagara to Plattsburgh, I saw only 54.

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Clay arrived at our destination literally minutes before the sky opened up, and started to pour.  Had I continued cycling that day, not only would I have hit a large amount of rain, I likely would have slowed Clay down, causing him to unnecessarily get wet.  This was the last time I had to invoke my back-up plan, but, based on weather considerations, the opportunity to take the Ben and Jerry’s factory tour, and this dirt road, I think I made the right choice.

Louisville Slugger and the Bourbon Trail

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How many people can name one company that manufactures baseball bats?

How about two?

There are probably a lot of people involved with the sport of baseball that can name two or more, but I would reckon to say that most people can name one bat manufacturer; Louisville Slugger.  The truth is, there are over 30 other bat companies, but unlike some other industries, like automobiles and soft drinks, there is a clear leader in this industry.  This is why the Louisville Slugger bat factory is a must see for any baseball fan.  My last time driving through this area, not seeing this bat factory was my one regret, so I have chosen to make this a top priority on this trip to Kentucky.

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Getting into Louisville was a little bit of a struggle today, as I hit some major traffic and had to take an alternate route.  But, after this minor delay, I was still able to make it in time to get a spot on the 10:00 bat tour.  This is one major advantage of traveling on weekdays.  In fact, time-off considerations aside, I would definitely recommend to anyone to travel in the manner in which I have, designating weekends for parties and such, and leaving the “touristy” activities like this one to weekdays where there will be less tourists.  When being a tourist, you do not want crowds, when partying, you likely want at least some crowds, or are at least less impeded by them- something to definitely consider.

The bat factory tour was well worth the $11 fee, which also included souvenirs, and a museum with exhibits about both the history of Louisville Slugger bats and the history of Major League Baseball.  I am quite astonished by the number of bats this company produces every year, and how quickly they produce customized bats for major league baseball players.  As I watch the World Series tonight, I realize that I will never look at something as simple as a player knowing they have another bat available to them after breaking one the same way again.  A lot of work goes into producing these bats, starting with trees being cut down in the forests of Pennsylvania and New York, followed by the wood being shipped to Louisville to be sorted, cut, and customized to everyone’s individual use.  It is strange to me how easily a ballplayer will throw a bat away due to frustration, slumps, etc. when so much effort was needed to produce that bat.

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Louisville is the largest city in Kentucky, and it seems not too different from other cities of it’s size in the region, like St. Louis and Cincinnati.  For some reason they have this gold replica of the David Statue by Michelangelo.  I don’t know why this is here.  But, otherwise, it is just like any other downtown.  I see people in suits talking business.  I see science museums and performing arts centers.  Those sandwich shops where people go to lunch are there.  I even stopped at one.

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Kentucky is an interesting place.  It is definitely prettier than Indiana, with more trees and rolling hills.  I am glad they finally raised their state speed limit to 70 (from 65).  However, it is a place that is tough to categorize.  It is not quite part of the Midwest region, as it’s neighbors to the north are.  But, it is not exactly a true southern state either.  During the Civil War, Kentucky largely did not take a stance, as it was a “border state” that allowed slavery but did not secede from the union.  For this reason, and many others related to culture, climate, and geography, I can never figure out how to classify the state of Kentucky when I am describing the different regions in the United States.

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The state is also unique for several other reasons.  I head east to Frankfort, KY, the state capitol, to join up with the famed “bourbon trail”.  Here, I notice something I should have noticed before about the state; how old the buildings are.  Due to the fact that the easiest pass over the Appalachian Mountains was a place called the “cumberland gap”, near the borders of Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee, this state was settled earlier than states to it’s north and south.  Kentucky became a state in 1792.  Tennessee in 1796.  The states to the north and south would not become states until the 1810s.

In fact, given its’ size, the town Frankfort, KY most reminds me of is Annapolis, MD.  Throughout the center of town I see historic buildings, dating back to the later 1700s and earlier 1800s, and the buildings have that more colonial feel that is common on the east coast.  The road layout, and tree density all make me feel like I have reached the east, even though at one point in the early part of this country’s history, this was considered the west.

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My brief stint on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail first takes me to the Buffalo Trace distillery.  Here, I got to learn some strange facts that are second nature to bourbon enthusiasts, but facts I was unaware of, such as the requirement that a “bourbon” contain between 51 and 79 percent corn to be labeled as such.  From all of the spots on the tour out to the parking lot, the area has a distinct smell.  The smell is probably one that any employee of any distillery has become accustomed to, but it definitely smells strong and distinct.  All I can say is, I would not recommend anyone go to a bourbon distillery on a day in which they are nursing a rough hangover.

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My day ends in Versailles KY (which I am told is pernounced ver-sail-es, and not like the French city), home of the Woodford Reserve Distillery. This distillery produces some more high end whisky.  I drink it “neat” (i.e. no ice), which is what I was told is proper.  I’d say I am drinking it like a “real man”, but I also ordered a water.  So, if I was in an old western of sorts, this would not be acceptable.  Either way, I did drink it the real Kentucky way.  And, to add to the experience, I grabbed a few bottles of Ale 8 (a beverage that is unique to Kentucky), and mixed it with some bourbon for the last drink of the evening.  This gave me to total Kentucky experience.  Earlier this year, rapper Eminem said “Life’s too short to not go all out”.  I have taken a basic equivalent of this message to heart in many of the places I have visited this year, hoping to get the full experience of life in that place.  Heck, I even ate something called “turnip greens” and poured vinegar on them (which I think is the right way to eat them).

There is no real quick way to summarize Kentucky and what Kentucky is all about.  I’d come up with something along the lines of saying that it is like Virginia and Texas had a baby, but that would ignore many of the other unique qualities of this state.  Kentucky produces 95% of the world’s bourbon.  Whisky produced in other states takes on different forms.  Princes and kings from other countries often come to Kentucky for horses.  These qualities are not shared by neighboring states the way one can say Illinois produces corn, like Indiana and Iowa.

Perhaps Kentucky is trying to teach me a lesson.  Maybe it is time for me to stop trying to categorize states, and just visit places and take them for what they are.  Driving across endless seemingly identical corn fields in Indiana it becomes easy to lose sight of the fact that places are worth visiting because every place is unique, with a unique history, a unique geography, and a unique combination of influences that produces an experience different from other places.  The combination of rolling hills, bats, bourbon, and horses makes Kentucky a place like none other.