Tag Archives: New York State

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.

100 Miles of Rolling Hills Through Central New York

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.