Tag Archives: Ferries

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.

Wisconsin’s Northernmost Region

Yesterday I returned to a place I had been to only once before. The town of Bayfield, WI is along Wisconsin’s Lake Superior shoreline, and despite being a very small town (population less than 500), it is popular in the summer, as it is linked to the Apostle Islands, which is an island chain in Lake Superior with some unique scenery. Due to the geography of Wisconsin, this is the northernmost part of the state. It is the only part of the Lake Superior shoreline in Wisconsin, as farther east, the shoreline hits the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This part of the state is actually over 300 miles from both Milwaukee and Madison, making it quite different than the part of the state I am most familiar with. In fact, someone once told me that sometime in the 1970s there was talk of this part of Wisconsin joining with the U.P. of Michigan to form a new state, breaking away from their respective states due to serious cultural differences.

The first time I came here, in 2007, I was kind of obsessed with waterfalls. So, I found a place called Copper Falls State Park, which has some pretty nice falls. This particular trip warranted a return trip to Copper Falls, as some of the others on this trip live in Chicago, where there is little opportunity to find good waterfalls.

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The trail system at this state park is actually part of a larger trail system called the North Country National Scenic Trail. This trail system is only partially complete, but they eventually hope to connect central North Dakota all the way to upstate New York via a trail that follows some of the northernmost parts of the country. I am guessing they are hoping for it to be like the Appalachian Trail, but it seems like they are still a long way from completing this trail, and even when it’s completed it will be nowhere near as scenic as the Appalachian Trail, or the Great Divide or Colorado Trail for that matter.

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The hiking here was pretty easy, especially when compared with some of the hikes I have been doing more recently, with the move to Colorado and the trip to South Dakota. However, they did have some decent waterfalls in several different places. They are called the “Copper Falls”, due to their coloring, which actually comes from the type of red clay present in the region. As far as I know, the region has nothing to do with the mineral copper, and nor does the name of this particular waterfall.

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Having lived in Colorado for some time now, a few things about this hike seemed quite different than what I am now used to. First of all, the hike felt to me like a luxury hike compared with what I have been doing more recently. There were some areas where staircases had been built, and there was even a sheltered bench built for resting. This is not something I have come to expect on a hiking trail. I had become accustomed to simply using a good rock or log to rest on if I were to get tired.

It was also way more wooded here than what I had become accustomed to. I guess they call it the “north woods” for a reason. It was so wooded here that I did not suffer any consequence for forgetting to wear sunscreen. At the end of the hike, I was actually way more anxious to put on bug spray. Parts of this hike had an excessively large concentration of mosquitoes. I think I killed like 50 of them and still got a bunch of bites. I cannot even seem to recall the last time I was in such a mosquito infested area.

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After hiking Copper Falls, we drove up to Bayfield, the town most closely associated with the Apostle Islands. This is because the ferries that run to the islands all run out of this town. On the way up there, we hit the Lake Superior shore, and subsequently the Lake Superior circle tour, which is a series of roads that a motorist could follow around the lake. When I lived in Chicago, I recall being along and seeing signs for the Lake Michigan circle tour from time to time. In fact, that tour follows Lake Shore Drive in the city. The signs are neat, but taking the two or so days to drive around the lake seems like a strange idea to me.

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We took a ferry to Madeline Island, which is the largest island in the chain. In fact, it is the only island with roads. The others are largely uninhabited, but people still take boats, kayaks, etc., and camp and hike there. We did not end up spending too much time on Madeline Island. There wasn’t too much to do there, at least not for us. They do have a golf course, some beaches and trails, but it seemed to me that most things available on the island are also available in Bayfield, and in other areas on the mainland. Maybe it is still not quite peak tourist season yet.

I did enjoy the ferry ride. It actually brought back some distant memories for me. When I was a kid, growing up on Long Island, my family would periodically take trips that would involve bringing our car on the Orient Point ferry to Connecticut. This ferry ride was not nearly as long, and on fresh water instead of salt water, but driving onto the ferry and walking up the stairs did bring back those memories a couple of decades later. It is strange how, after all those years, the feelings can still be the same. The people with me probably thought my behavior at this point in time was a bit odd, as I was doing and saying certain things out of some kind of long dormant reflex that likely made little sense in the context of where we were. I even stated to crave seafood. It was somewhat of an odd feeling, but a good one.