Bike, do yer stuff

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know my mind wanders when I ride and songs play into that wandering. Sometimes the overall message of the song is not what sticks for me, but some small part.

In this case, the message (with a slight alteration of the lyric) is in a portion of the chorus. It’s a breakup song, but that’s not what I hear in it:
C’mon bike, take me for a ride.
Send my thoughts a flyin’ high
And let my brain unwind. (Adapted from lyrics by Bill Kirchen)

Why do I ride? That’s one of the answers.

I woke up (according to someone in a nearby tent) at 4:00 AM to the sound of a garbage truck coming to empty a dumpster. I fell back to sleep and was awakened by another truck emptying another dumpster. “That’s reasonable”, I thought; one for trash and one for recycling. After drifting off again, a third truck came to empty the third dumpster. I had no answer for that one, but hoped that no one had leaned their bike against a dumpster last night, or it might now be crushed under said dumpster. It was 47 degrees (8 C).

I woke up again at 6 to the sound of someone dragging their luggage to the trailer – loading the trailer was to start at 6:45, so I slept in. When I got out of the tent, I noted few tents still standing. I went to unlock my bike and found a flat tire. That kicked me into high gear to pack up the tent ASAP so I could change the tire. (And arriving in camp tonight, I realized that this disruption in the morning routine resulted in my leaving the lock and cable threaded through the chain link fence. I do have another, less secure lock.)

The tire was old. The tube was previously patched and had a very slow leak but got me through the days. I was planning to replace both this weekend in Lake Placid. I got my gear to the trailer at 6:48 – three minutes after the theoretical beginning of loading. I was the last to load.

I replaced the tire and tube, which gave me renewed confidence for the day. I was the last person to leave breakfast but passed a couple dozen people before the first water stop so now I felt like one of the gang. Picnic was at 36 miles and there was a good crowd when I arrived.

I headed out with another rider and we rode together for the “afternoon” – I use the term loosely, as the afternoon was from 10:30 to 12:30 or so. We were headed for the Adirondacks, as the weekend will be in Lake Placid.

Oswegatchie River

We rode along the Oswegatchie River and then to the Oswegatchie Trail. Four years ago I expected that to be a rail trail, thus relatively flat. This time I knew that it is mostly uphill with a couple of steep pitches. Someone told me it was 14%. I just said it was fun.

The terrain looks like the north woods of Wisconsin, with tall pines and a chill in the air. Fall is just around the corner. In Ontario I saw a maple tree turning red and sumac already red. The forecast low for tonight is 45 degrees. Tomorrow’s high in Lake Placid is to be in the 60s, and the low 41 (5 C).

We arrived at the school in Star Lake with no sign of the van so continued down the road to see what we could see. We found a bit of town and the usual suspects stopped at a convenience store for pop and chocolate milk. I continued on to see what else there was and found a delightful little coffee shop called “Coffee Fever”. The cool kids were there drinking coffee and eating massive cinnamon rolls that required a knife and fork. I had a cortado and cinnamon roll. The barista didn’t know what a cortado was but it was a credible representation and served in a china cup and not paper, so she earned extra points.

Star Lake

Dinner is in a nearby hotel, as is breakfast tomorrow.

US Blues

Getting up to go to the bathroom during the night, I thought I saw an opossum. I gave it a wide berth and, looking back at it with better light, realized it was a skunk. Later in the night I met it again, this time exploring a fire ring.

The Canadian side of Niagara Falls was heavily commercialized. The strip we were on was hotels and fast foods.

Note zip line in foreground of video
Niagara River

We crossed the border to road construction, then someone crossing the street toward me and trying, for likely nefarious purposes, to get me to stop and talk. Next were streetwalkers at work at 7:30 on a Monday morning. That was all in my first 10 minutes in the country.

The first half of today’s ride was urban and suburban riding. The best thing I can say about it is that it was over by picnic. After picnic we were out in the country and it looked like the driftless area of southwest Wisconsin – quiet roads and steep hills; 7 mph up one side, 45 down the other.

The sky was cloudy all day, with chances of rain in the forecast. This never materialized. Arriving in Geneseo, we stopped at a coffee shop. When I got back on my bike I noted very little air in my rear tire. I rode gently to campus, walking the last bit. The cause of the leak appeared to be the rim tape slipping again. While replacing the tube I replaced the rim tape as well. Another tube to patch on the weekend. I just used my last new tube. At least this new tube appears to have a functioning valve stem after several faulty ones in this batch.

I didn’t wash my bike clothes in the shower, as they appeared to have no chance of drying. As I fixed my tire the sun came out. I washed the clothes and they are drying now. It will be a race against sunset.

The rider who left the tour with a detached retina is back after surgery and with vision nearly intact. He says he expects it to continue to improve. The rider who was not vaccinated rejoined us. My neighbor (who I had never met but lives within a mile of me) also rejoined us. Several new riders joined. Some of them have done this before, as they were greeted warmly by other riders.

New York and New England are left between us and the Atlantic Ocean. This week will feel a lot like home with the Adirondacks and Finger Lakes.

Top/bottom ten

The greatest hits and worst miseries of the tour, not necessarily in order of how good or bad they were and not necessarily ten of each:

Tour top 10:

New York week (after the first 50 miles) -Finger Lakes/wading in Lake Ontario after a cold front came through, temperature and humidity went down, tailwind all morning; up and down through the Adirondacks, beautiful day in Lake Placid. If you took away the first 50 miles and replaced them with the first 50 miles of the next week, this could be #1.867CEBD3-27F5-4014-AACC-1FC37BBC5BE8

Wisconsin week – Cannon Trail, the Great River Rd., Baraboo Bluffs/Devils Lake/Merrimac ferry, Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive. Great roads and no traffic all week. (Visits from family and friends put this one over the top, but it was already great.) 

The ride into Baraboo contained the single steepest climb of the entire trip ( a short stretch of Terrytown Road). 

The Sparta to Elroy Trail, while the first Rails-to-Trails conversion, has been surpassed by several others. It was actually the low point of the week. While the tunnels are a novelty, riding for 30+ miles on gravel is not my cup of tea and takes a toll on the bike. I know, gravel riding is the new thing, but I’d rather ride on pavement if given the choice. 

I’m almost reluctant to admit that the area I ride regularly was the high point, but it also assures me that I live in the right place.AA48B9A9-93D9-405F-B4A3-8637855C927A

Needles highway/Black Hills/Badlands – The Needles Highway was the single high point. This was a magical fairyland, otherworldly in its beauty. I am amazed that I never knew of this place. I could ride that road ten more times and still see new things. The area was phenomenal and the road was the best we rode in >4300 miles.   E2692CEC-A68A-498A-9B90-C0D7F1978AC7

The Badlands are also otherworldly. Different, in that they can be seen as bleak in broad daylight, but change minute-by-minute in early morning light. Like Needles Highway, I wanted to ride that same road again at sunset after riding it at sunrise. 

 

Bike path through Grand Teton National Park, climbing Teton Pass, descending to Jackson Hole and a great bike path. The path through the park kept us away from traffic and in view of the mountains. I met Santa Claus at the foot of Teton Pass, along with a group riding from Texas to Alaska. The pass was steep and tough, getting steeper as it went. Standing at the top of the pass was a feeling of accomplishment and gave a great view of the valley below. After descending to the valley we were led on a secluded path into town. The valley is well set up for bicycles, with paths connecting the towns.

 

Thompson Pass – first time over the continental divide and first big pass, descent into Thompson Falls, a town mostly owned by a single family, where we saw their bar, ice cream shop, catering service, and bus service.

Devils Tower. A campground situated right at the base of the tower. The tower itself rises out of nothing. It is not part of a mountain range but, like Ayers Rock in Australia, is just there. It is no surprise that it was used as the backdrop/centerpiece of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. 9DCB1F78-14DE-4EBC-9051-1754A42439FD

The margarita party was our first real chance to sit down as a group and just hang out together. 

Smugglers Notch. A day that started with threatening weather that never fully materialized. The pass enveloped by clouds as we ascended, never really sure how high it was, on the approach or while actually climbing it. A climb that was over before I realized it; not because it was easy (it wasn’t) but because the top was invisible until we were there. The steepest descent of the trip, made hazardous by the wet pavement so we took it slowly. 

 

Bottom 10:

Riding 105 miles in 40° rain. The camaraderie made it tolerable. A day that I would have stayed in bed had I been on my own. 

Climbing a mountain pass in a hailstorm. Another day saved by a group – the same group. As Greg told me before the trip, the 70 degree and sunny days will all blend together, but it is the days like this that will make lasting memories. 

72 mile ride that turned into 102 mile ride, the last 1/3 into a brutal headwind, finishing with a helmet splitting crash in an endless industrial waste land. The only day that I wanted the van to stop for me. I got back on the bike and rode the final ten miles, so I did ride EFI. We stopped at a convenience store for a cold drink and found other riders draped over coolers and freezers. Misery loves company.

The first half of that day was actually really nice. 

Mile after mile of horrendous pavement,90+ degree heat, and endless headwinds across the Great Plains.

Mile after mile of flat and boring countryside in Michigan with bad highways and rude drivers.

Re-entering the US at Niagara Falls and riding 50 miles before getting into the countryside.

Bone jarring expansion cracks through Central Minnesota.

Hill City to Custer – uphill, bad headwind, relentless sun/heat, horrendous traffic, grooved pavement causing painful whining noise – and there was a reasonable alternative route nearby.

A few random thoughts:

  • had some great encounters with bikers (of the Harley persuasion) – both on-the-road salutes and chats at the roadside.
  • In the first week I waved to a Corvette behind me to acknowledge it and, as it passed, I saw a peace sign flashed out through the T-top.
  • A random motorcyclist flipped me the bird for no apparent reason.
  • A friendly bar owner brought watermelon out to us on a hot, dry, and windy day.
  • On another hot day I stopped in a coffee shop for an iced coffee and the air conditioning was so cold I just hung out for awhile. It was a day when I realized getting somewhere was only a small part of the plan.
  • When I walked into a brewpub, I was met by applause. Another rider had arrived before me and told our story and they knew I was part of that group.
  • Greg repeatedly referred to the Lake Michigan ferry crossing as “The shortest longest day”. We rode only 40 miles but got into camp with just enough time to pitch our tents before it got dark.
  • Somewhere out west (I think on the Tetons day) a Russian couple riding from Denver to Seattle stopped in and joined us for lunch.
  • On another day, in the middle of nowhere, I happened upon a scruffy-looking guy walking his bike in the opposite direction. I asked if he needed help. He said, “Is the next town about 4 miles ahead?” I agreed that it was. He thanked me and kept walking. (Only 4 miles from town it wasn’t really the middle of nowhere – it just seemed like it.)
  • The look of incredulity when I told some kids at a lemonade stand (on our last day) that I had ridden >4300 miles for that lemonade.

That’s it for now folks. Daily life is intruding on my writing time. I have a sewer line to clear and more. Posts will be a little more irregular after today. Maybe when my bike gets here I’ll look at the odometer and give you my total mileage. Maybe not. Numbers don’t really say what I want to say. Thanks for joining me on this journey. It’s been real.

I’m not going away entirely. As Phil Ochs said:

Adirondacks (and I don’t mean chairs)

A torrential thunderstorm Thursday night around 11:30. Sirens, but not the tornado siren. Incredible wind, rain inside the tent. Rain on the tent so loud that I had to hold the phone up to my ear to hear the weather radio through the speaker. A real gulley washer, it was over in 1/2 hour.

Had there been a tornado warning, I would have been reluctant to leave the tent – it was raining that hard.

I think I woke up over the rainbow. Everything is in color this morning. Those who slept in the gym were blissfully unaware of the storm. By morning there was no sign of the tempest of the night before. Surprisingly, no bikes were blown over. 

It was cool and breezy to start the day. The breeze was of the unhelpful variety all day. Sitting still it was a pleasant, cool breeze. While riding it let us know we weren’t going to get off easy before the climbing began.

We started the day on roads busier than I like, but the day ended beautifully. I’ve noticed that the last 10-15 miles leave the most lasting impression, so if a ride ends badly, I remember it as a bad ride. If it ends like today, I remember it as a great ride. 

We rode along the Black River early in the day, with about 4 miles on a flat, paved trail.

Entering the Adirondacks, Star Lake (our destination for the day)

We followed the Oswegatchie River upstream later in the day. After about 65 miles we turned onto Oswegatchie Trail, which was noted on our cue sheet as paved. I assumed it was a rail-trail, flat like the morning’s trail. I was wrong.

It was actually a two lane highway and the most significant climb of the day. It was well-paved and a lot of fun. Others may beg to differ.

I’ve noticed we all walk funny at the end of a long ride. We’re bent over at the hips until we get our hip flexors stretched out. We don’t look old so much as weird.