Tag Archives: New York

Cycling the Adirondacks

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I woke up in Old Forge not knowing exactly what to expect for the day.  I knew the generalities.  The Adirondacks are mountains.  There will definitely be some terrain, some climbs, and some fantastic scenery.  This would be my first day of riding through a truly mountainous area.  The first day of my bike trip had been flat, mostly following the Erie Canal through Western New York.  There were rolling hills on the second day, through Central New York, but no significant climbs.  A ride through the Adirondack Mountains from Old Forge to Lake Placid would definitely be more of a challenge than the previous two days.

I started the day wondering how challenging the ride would be.  I knew that the mountains here, or anywhere in the East, are not as tall as the mountains in Colorado.  But, I also knew that I had covered quite a bit of distance the past two days, over 100 miles each day, so I could be a bit exhausted.  I had read blogs and such about cycling through the Adirondacks, but it’s hard for anyone to deduce how their body will respond to a bike ride based on a blog entry.  The same more or less holds true for other activities like hiking and skiing.

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It barely took a mile or so of riding, northeast on highway 28 out of Old Forge before I began to encounter the splendid lakes surrounded by forests and hills that make the Adirondacks so appealing to so many people.

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It was about 30 miles into the ride, at a place called Blue Mountain Lake, where the terrain started to become more challenging.  The mountains were becoming taller, as I had entered the heart of the Adirondack Mountain Range.

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Leaving Blue Mountain Lake, heading north on highway 28-N, I encountered the first of a series of challenging climbs.  This one was likely the steepest, but throughout the entire ride, each time I passed through a town, I would have a climb after leaving town.

I was already a little tired from the first exhausting climb when I stopped in Long Lake, at a farmer’s market I randomly encountered.  One of the beautiful things about bike traveling is that, while traveling at slower speeds, it is harder to miss these kinds of random events.  Six years ago, while cycling the I & M Canal trail along the Illinois river, I randomly encountered the Grundy County Corn Festival in the town of Morris, IL.

At this farmer’s market I talked to the people manning the booth while eating an ice cream sandwich.  One thing I notice while bike traveling in general, is that people tend to be interested when they encounter people traveling long distances by bicycle.  One of the vendors even told me she had a friend that had graduated from the same high school, on Long Island, as my father (7 years earlier, so no mutual acquaintances or anything like that).

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The next part of my ride, along state highway 30 from Long Lake to Tupper Lake, was the most challenging for me.  Turning towards the Northwest, for the first time on this bike tour, I was facing a significant head wind.  And, there were a few segments with significant climbing, including the climb to get out of Long Lake.

This was also the part of the ride when negative thoughts started to creep into my head.  Anyone that has taken on a large scale physical challenge understands this phase.  The body starts to get overwhelmed.  It starts to resist.  That resistance creeps into the mind through some kind of combination of messages to oneself such as, “you should quit”, “you’re not gonna make it”, “it was a crazy idea anyways”.

How to respond to this is always a challenge.  From my experience, this occurs anytime anyone truly tries to stretch themselves, and do something that amounts to a serious challenge.  There are some that never overcome this phase, repeatedly giving in to that voice telling them to quit.  Overcoming this internal pressure, born out of fatigue, builds character.  It teaches us all how to endure fatigue and negative pressure in other areas of our lives.

I also learned a valuable lesson about understanding what my body needs.  I was cycling through this challenging segment at roughly 1:30 P.M., and had yet to eat lunch.  The previous day, I had also made a relatively late official lunch stop (around 2 P.M.), but I had eaten a hot dog at 11, something that kept me going.  The ice cream sandwich I had at Long Lake was far less substantial.  It is likely that by 1:30, my body did not have the nutrition it needed.  It’s important to keep in mind that, when traveling by bike your body is your engine, and that engine needs fuel to keep running!

After stopping for a full meal, at a place called the Skyline Drive in, which was recommended to me by the woman at the farmer’s market back in Long Lake, I felt refreshed, and realized I had just over 30 miles to go to my final destination for the day, Lake Placid.  My mindset did a complete 180!  I went from questioning myself at every pedal stroke, to knowing I was going to make it, and finish this beautiful ride.

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I knew I was getting closer to my destination, Lake Placid, where the Olympic Winter Games were held, twice, when my route diverged from the Adirondack Trail and started following the Olympic Trail.

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After a brief stop in Saranac Lake, and eight miles along state highway 86, which featured a surprisingly high traffic volume (but also a wide enough shoulder to accommodate bicycles), I arrived in Lake Placid, and gazed upon the mountain that had hosted some of the greatest athletes from around the world on two occations.

What a gorgeous town, and what a gorgeous ride, all the way through!  It was an exhausting ride, once again clocking in at 100 miles, but this ride through the Adirondacks is a ride I would recommend to anyone.

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After a nice meal at Lake Placid Pub and Brewery, across from the Hampton Inn where I would spend the night, I spent the rest of the evening soaking in the sunset over Mirror Lake, gazing at the reflection of the mountains in the water below them.

I thought about life.  I thought about how to live better.  How to be better to people around me.  How to overcome challenges.  I also thought about what I had experienced over the past three days.  The New York portion of this ride was nearly complete.  Through this ride, from Niagara Falls to Lake Placid, I saw a good portion of the state, much of it which I had never seen before.  Having been born on Long Island, and spent much of my childhood going into New York City for various events, museums, shows, etc., I am familiar with the phrase “I love New York”.  Having now seen the roaring falls of Niagara, the majestic lakes of the Adirondacks, and many points in between, I can now say “I love New York”, and know I mean ALL of New York.

My First Long Day of Cycling

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Where New England Begins

 

Everyone has this idea in their head of the ideal place to live.  For some, it is right in the middle of something; the middle of the big city where everything is happening, the middle of the woods, or somewhere else one can truly immerse themselves in the kinds of activities they enjoy most.  For others, it is places like this, places that are kind of on the edge of two worlds, that combine easy access to several types of amenities.

Greenwich, Connecticut is literally the first town across the border from New York State.  Since the people of New York, and the people of New England have a mutual preference to not include New York in the region known as “New England”, this is the exact place where one enters New England.

But, how much does one really feel like they are in New England when here?  The town is clearly a suburb of New York City.  There is no unincorporated area that separates Greenwich from the adjacent suburbs that are part of New York State.  With an express train, one can be at Grand Central Station in Midtown Manhattan in around 40 minutes.

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The town does have a New England-like charm.  One needs only travel, by foot, several minutes away from Greenwich Ave. (the town’s main street), and the train station, before they enter an area of windy roads, dense trees and quaint houses one often associates with New England.

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It has a charming downtown, as well as a “Commons” outside their City Hall, which is something I have come to associate with New England, as I had not seen areas like this referred to as a “Commons” in other regions of the country.

Perhaps one of Greenwich’s greatest attributes is the beach in an area referred to as “Old Greenwich”.

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One of the largest beaches in the area, and one of the few that permits dogs, it attracts a significant  number of people, even on a dreary day in January.

Once again, here at the waterfront, one can see where this town sits geographically.  Even on a cloudy day, at the end of the Peninsula that extends southward into the Long Island Sound, one can see both the rocky shores that pop up the along the shores of New England, extending all the way from here to Maine, but can also see the skyline of New York City.

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Around town, I got that same hybrid-like vibe.  The pace of life is definitely different from New York City.  In New York City, people appear to have some kind of sense of urgency in everything they do.  I tell people who have never lived in New York to imagine the second or third most stressful day of their past year and assume that every person around them is having that kind of day.  In the short amount of time I spent in Greenwich, I did not sense nearly that level of urgency in the people around me.

Greenwich’s New York-like and New England-like characteristics are overshadowed by one characteristic that seems to define everything here; wealth!

Dealerships selling expensive cars, even Bentleys, line U.S. highway 1 coming into town.  The beachfronts are lined with large, multi-million dollar homes, and downtown is lined with shops selling expensive designer brands.

Gucci, Louie, Michael Kors…  I do not even know the name of all of them.  Frankly, I do not even care.  I can never picture, even if one day I become this wealthy, choosing to spend my money that way.  The only reason I know the names I do know is that they pop up in popular song lyrics, particularly rap music.  While sometimes I can get extremely annoyed by designer brands, particularly if I am EVER pressured into making a purchase, I cannot help but have some kind of odd admiration for the people that managed to market them, and, convince people to spend the amount of money they do on such products.

The people who create and market designer products have a keen understanding of human psychology (albeit, they could have used it for a better purpose).  Anytime anyone spends money (and sometimes time) on something, they want to know what they are getting.  It is the same dynamic that takes place when we ask our friend regarding their experience with a specific doctor, or a real estate agent.  We do not know what we are getting.  Through brands, we create trust.  “I know Subarus won’t break down on me”.  Or, “I trust the Cohen brothers to make a good film.”  So, we buy the product.  Those that created these designer brands managed to create a reputation so powerful that millions of people worldwide purchase this product when they could easily purchase something similar for a fraction of the price!

The two main things that stop people from living in that “ideal place” in their heads are job availability and money (which are closely related).  The fact that people with this amount of additional money chose to live here speaks volumes to Greenwich’s appeal as a place that combines the best of both worlds.  People who live here seem to have the best of both worlds; easy access to New York City, the city with more amenities than any other in the country, and fairly easy access to outdoor activities.  Friends that moved here from Manhattan tell me that the move has reduced the travel time to nearly all outdoor activities (hiking, skiing, the beach) by 30-60 minutes.  While it’s easy to come here and be envious of the fortunes here, it is also quite easy to see, even from someone who might have a different “ideal place” in mind, why people chose to live here.

Going Back to My Roots

“If you know your history, then you’ll know where you’re coming from”, Bob Marley explains in his classic hit song Buffalo Soldier.  It’s hard to really know how many places the functional equivalent of this phrase has been uttered throughout the history of mankind.

What does it mean to “know your history”, or “know where you’ve been”?  Is it sufficient to know your personal story?  Or, do you need to know the story of your parents, and your family’s ancestors?  How deeply must we understand the cause and effect relationships of events in the past?  After all, history, whether we are talking about it in an academic sense or in a personal narrative is about more than just facts.  When asked, nearly all people can recite the rudimentary factual aspects of their lives.  Where they were born, what schools they attended, when they moved, married, changed jobs, etc.  I always wonder, though, whether they understand their life’s events more deeply, how certain things impact one another, what emotions were involved, and what events were significant.  In other words, do they understand the “story” of their lives?

This holiday season, and by holiday season I am referring to Christmas and New Years, was kind of a trip back through my own history, or at least the places where said history took place.  First, Christmas was spent in the suburbs of Chicago, with my immediate family.  I spent a little bit of time in the City of Chicago, with friends, which is where I spent the four years before moving to Denver.  But, I largely spent that time in Buffalo Grove, a sort of typical suburb 35 miles northwest of downtown, and the place where I spent my Junior High and High School years.

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It’s been said, particularly of Millennials, that young adults go home for the holidays and revert into their teenager mode, subconsciously, because they have returned to the setting of their teenage years.  For me, it is a little bit more complicated.  Some things are the same, but some things are different.   Some things get a little bit more different every year.  There is the obvious course of change any particular location undergoes over time; that restaurant that closed, with a new one opening in its place, the road that was reconstructed and widened on the other side of town, and the new neighbors.  But there’s also a strange change in how we respond to things, sometimes things that are exactly the same as they were in previous years.

Over the course of our lives, we periodically re-examine things (I do this more than most).  Maybe it’s a different experience, or being exposed to a different point of view on something, or some major event.  Each year we come back with a slightly different perspective, and, that experience, which was the same exact one we had last year, the year before, and back when we were 14, is viewed differently in our own minds.  When it comes specifically to what my family does, both during the holidays, as well as in life in general, there are mixed emotions. There are some things my family does that I did not really appreciate with I was younger, but have found a new appreciation for.  There are other things now seem strange to me.  I am guessing many people who have moved a significant distance away from “home” have a similar experience at the holidays.

The Chicago area is not my full history.  The first 11.5 years of my life, I lived in New York, outside of New York City on Long Island.  I didn’t specifically travel to New York on New Years Eve as part of some plan to revisit my past.

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But, the two practically back-to-back trips did line up in a manner where I could not help but think along these lines.  New Years is already a time when people reflect on their lives.  Having just spent time in the place where I spent my recent past, and now being in a place where parts of my early childhood unfolded, I could not help but think it is time for me to re-connect with who I am.

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The move from New York to Chicago, my college and graduate school experience, jobs and more recent move to Colorado are the rudimentary facts of my life.  My “history”, is the memories, the periodic experiences, the kind of person I was and the kind of people I was around.  It is something that is remembered, hopefully accurately, and something that can be reconnected with, but only partially.  The New York of 2016 is not the New York of the 1990s.  Neighborhoods have made transitions, different kinds of people have both left and moved in, and some of the things one will experience here are significantly different.

However, some of the things are the same.  And, while I was not reliving a childhood event, coming back to the places where our formative years unfolded can help us reconnect with our roots. Through this experience, I feel like I am being called to return to my roots, the person I am, naturally, rather than the person we are all pressured to become as we adults in today’s world.  It’s like 2016 begun with what the year’s theme needs to be.  Outside of whatever negative feedback we have received, the adjustments we have made to be accepted, and who we were told to be, there is a person inside of all of us, the person we naturally are.  In this midst of everything I do in my adult life, this is a person I need to not lose sight of.  It is a person many of us need to reconnect with.  It is my sincere hope that in 2016, we all reconnect with our roots both individually and collectively.