Bicycle Trip to New York
By the Grace of God: I thank Jesus for every kilometer!
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July 17, Monday: Day 1
I sit here in Gus's Red Hots, at Cumberland Head Road & Route 9, in Plattsburgh, at the end of the first day of my ride. Today has gone very well, all things considering. I was very, very worried about my knees and ankles and, so far, thank the Lord, they have held up. I was very spooked by last year's experience, when I had to abandon my ride at the middle of the second day. My knees feel better now than they did at the end of that first day, after my marathon ride from Montreal to Granby. I was also worried about getting across the border, and that passed without incident. I could have done without some of today's rain, but I'll have to take it in stride - the weather is not something we can control.
The idea for this trip was hatched in March of '99, as I was walking on the Brooklyn Bridge and noticed the cyclists. I thought to myself at the time, "Some day I'd like to cycle across this bridge!" Over the Spring of this year, as I was thinking of where to take a bike ride, I considered routes where Sheryl, my dear wife, might be able to come along. The notion of a leisurely ride to New York, one with no time pressure, began to take shape in my mind. I checked out the map and found the route along the east side of Lake Champlain, to Whitehall, at the bottom of the Lake, to be relatively flat. Thus I could avoid the Adirondack Mountains through which goes my usual car route on I-87. From Whitehall to the Hudson River is the Champlain Canal, which I also figured would have to be more or less flat. Then there is the valley of the Hudson. How flat the route will actually be remains to be seen. I've noticed, for example, some minor mountain passes, especially approaching U.S. Hwy 4 near Whitehall.
The plan is to take 8 to 10 days - I've already come to Plattsburgh. Tomorrow I will ride to Port Kent (with one "killer hill") and take the ferry over to Vermont. This first leg of the trip, as far as Burlington, is known to me, for I had made the trek back in the Summer of 1993. From Burlington, I plan to ride south on Rte 7, as far as Vergennes, and then take Rte 22A south over the New York border, to connect with U.S. Hwy 4. I'll follow 4 along the Champlain Canal, to Hudson Falls. Whatever the route then, I'll follow the Hudson. Sheryl should join me on day 2 or 3, and we will go in tandem. At West Point, I'll (God Willing) cross over to the west side and go down along the Pallisades to the George Washington Bridge. I'll come into northern Manhattan that way.
As soon as I got back from Vancouver, on the 29th of June, I started cycling every morning for one hour. I got up at 5:30 and was out by 6:15 or so. I would cycle down to the Lighthouse in Lachine and back. On workdays, I cycled to Ville St. Pierre, and then back in along the Lachine Bikeway. In this way, I still got my one hour of cycling in. I am sure this will contribute to whatever chance my knees have of making it all the way. In total, I did 10 trips to Lachine and 8 trips to work. On the last weekend, I rode with a load on my bike.
Sheryl made me some oil to rub on my knees and ankles, which both started to pain as I started training.
So, this morning was the moment of truth - the day to set out. I did so with great trepidation and with aches in my knees and ankles. I had begun packing the bike on Friday - and completed it yesterday. It's as light as I've ever had it, but it still weighs like a truck. The tent, air mattress, and sleeping back make up half the weight.
I got up this morning at 5:30 and was down for breakfast at 6:30. Sheryl made me bananas and sour cream, which she said was a good breakfast for this sort of thing. Last night I carbohydrate loaded with a healthy serving of pasta.
After taking some departure photos, I was off at 07:00. I rode my habitual route to Ville St. Pierre, along Monkland & Sherbrooke to Montreal West, over the tracks on Westminster, and down the hill on St. Jacques. I made a left turn on Chemin Ville St. Pierre and went under the Hwy 20, across Notre Dame, and to the Canal bridge. Instead of taking the Canal bikeway though, I continued straight.
I then had my first mishap. As I geared down in front, to climb the hill, my chain slipped off. Luckily it did not get caught. I shall have to adjust that front derailleur
I climbed up along the bike path, where the main boulevard used to be, and then came out on Lafleur, along which I continued across the town of Lasalle. I then crossed the bridge over the highway and rode down Stinson to the almost hidden entrance to the sidewalk on the Mercier Bridge. I had checked out the sidewalk a few days earlier, to make sure it was still open, on account of road work. It was, sort of.
As I rode along this very narrow sidewalk, with no divider between me and the cars zooming by at 120+ km/h, I had my usual "crossing the Mercier" fear. The view was stupendous, and it was a clear, sunny morning. It was 07:30 when I reached the bridge, and it took me 10 minutes to cross it. As I neared the construction, I tried to ride by the first of these signs they had stuck right in the middle of the sidewalk. As I rode by, I clipped the sign, cutting my arm and almost going off the sidewalk. I was very scared. After that, I stopped at each sign to walk my bike around. There comes a place, just past the crest of the bridge, where the road splits. Of course, I needed to go to the left. I stopped and put my bike down on the roadway next to the sidewalk and re-mounted. I looked back to the crest and counted 6 seconds from the time I saw a car until the time it passed me. I waited. At the right moment, when I saw no cars, I made my move. I had to cross the two lanes heading to the right before I got onto the left ramp. Once onto the ramp I was okay, even though there was no longer a sidewalk and I was on the roadway. As I descended the ramp, I quickly picked up a very respectable speed.
It was 7:40 as I rolled down off the ramp and onto Route 132 in Kahnawake, heading east. Route 132 there has a wide shoulder, so I was okay even though the traffic was heavy with a lot of semi-trucks.
At 7:55 I was at the Ste. Catherine town line and leaving Kahnawake. Right at the line, the Hwy 30 freeway dumps its traffic from Chateauguay onto Highway 132. Thereafter, on both sides of the road, are strip malls and new housing developments, more even than I had noticed last time I was by that way, back in 1998.
At 08:00 I passed a sign which indicated 7km to Hwy 15. By 8:13 I had reached the Delson town line and by 8:20 I had covered 6 of the 7 km. Six kilometres in 20 minutes: For about 18km/hr. The way was flat and I was riding in the middle sprocket in front and the middle, with plus or minus one, sprocket in the back.
At 8:20, I turned off Route 132, just shy of Highway 15, onto Chemin St. Francois-Xavier, towards St. Mathieu. As soon as I turned, I met a strong headwind. I was now cruising on the middle minus one gear in the back, and only got to the middle occasionally, when sheltered from the wind by some trees or on a slight downhill.
At first there was lots of traffic and a lot of trucks on the narrow road with crumbling shoulders. Once I was clear of Delson's industrial park, though, the traffic lightened.
By 08:30, about ten minutes after starting on this road, I was out into the country, riding through corn fields and by farms. I rode by the big Lafarge Cement Plant, whose smokestack can be seen for miles, and saw for the first time the Hwy 15 freeway, curving down from the east. The low line of clouds off to the west was resolving itself into an ever greater presence. I wondered how the wind could be dead from the south and yet the clouds could be approaching from the west.
At 08:40 I made the St. Mathieu town line. At the entrance to the Lafarge plant I stopped for a P-break in the bushes.
At 09:00 I was in St. Mathieu's town centre, by the church. (In 1993 I had eaten lunch under the trees in front of this church.) I turned on my cell phone, as I had arranged the following "on-air" schedule with Sheryl: 09:00-09:30, 12:00-12:30, 15:00-15:30, 18:00-18:30.
I had ridden past the church and turned to the left along Chemin St. Edouard, stopping for a break at a small bridge over the tiny creek running through town, when Sheryl called. It was 09:10, and I was still well within sight of the church. We only talked for a couple of minutes, just to touch base. Then I had my first granola bar, washed down with a healthy squirt of water, before continuing on my way.
By 9:20 I had reached the St. Edouard town line. I was watching for the turn off to Rang des Sloans. I had learned of this shortcut in 1993, coming home. Going out, I had followed the main road into St. Edouard and had found that afterwards I had to ride far out of my way to the west and had to climb a long, useless hill, only to ride down the other side.
At 9:25 I came to Rang des Sloans. For a good part of the way, it parallels the main road, but on the east side of a tiny river: Riviere de la tortue. Farms on either side of the river separated the two roads. Rang des Sloans had next to no traffic. It wound its way around farms and individual private country dwellings. At times it ran almost right next to Hwy 15.
By 09:50 I was even with the town centre of St. Edouard. I could see the church steeple a couple of kilometres to the west. By now, the main road was no longer parallel, but had begun its wide swing to the west. The farms gave way to scrub-like forest on either side.
Just after crossing a railroad line, the road climbed what was a pretty hefty hill for the flatlands. At the top of the hill, at 10:00, I took another 5 minutes break. In the near complete absence of cars, I could hear the insect and bird sounds of the trees. A distant train whistle announced a train running along the tracks I had just crossed. I could hear the engines and the sound of the wheels on the track. There was also the distant roar of traffic on Hwy 15, hidden by the trees but less than a kilometre to the east. The first streamers of the oncoming clouds from the west were already beginning to block the sun. I parked my bike and got off to rub and massage my aching knees. I had my second granola bar and another healthy serving of water. I snapped a photo of the location. Then I was on my way.
I was surprised at how fast I came on to the main road. Just after my break, Rang des Sloans turned a corner and I was back out into the open. It came to and end as it joined Rang St. Jean, a short almost suburban-like street, with newly built houses along both sides.
I came to Route 221, or Rang Ste. Marguerite, at 10:20. It had taken me an hour and twenty minutes to ride along shortcut. I turned east along Route 221, which was a much busier highway. It was to be the road on which I would cross to the east side of the Hwy 15 freeway.
I stopped at the top of the overpass to take a photo of the highway and countryside. Then I saw how black were the clouds that were bearing down on me. I decided it was time to seal the camera and field glasses into their plastic bags and to stow them away. I got my rain poncho and rain shoes out from the saddle bags and replaced them with my regular shoes, duly encapsulated in a zip-lock baggie. My rain shoes were canvas tennis shoes that would dry out quickly.
Then I came down off the bridge. At the Route 221 interchange is a small town-like combination of gas stations, convenience stores, and a motel, just 2km short of the town of Napierville. I had no need for a store this day, though I toyed with the idea of stopping into one of the depanneurs to get some aspirin, for I had a slight headache. I decided, though, that my headache was not that bad and so I passed the stores by.
I turned south onto Rte 217, continuing to parallel Hwy 15 but now on the east side. Very soon I was out of sight of the highway and I could no longer even hear the traffic. I rode though more farmland.
At 11:00 the rain started. I donned my poncho and kept rolling on past the farmhouses and small private country dwellings. Like Rang des Sloans, Route 217, or Rang St. Andre, was nearly devoid of cars. There were some mild ups and downs, but I never had to leave my middle gear in front. I did often have to go into my easiest gear in back though, as the headwind was still strong and added to the force of the rain.
At 11:15 I crossed the Lacolle town line. I crossed an abandoned rail line which had been turned into a gravel bike path, leading off to the east. By 11:30 I was even with Lacolle town centre, which was 3km to the east. The hills were getting higher and higher and the countryside was becoming more wooded. There were fewer and fewer farms, but there was a constant line of private houses on large plots of land. I was never really out in the empty countryside.
At 11:45 the rain mercifully stopped, though it was still overcast and windy. I took off my poncho and stored it on top of my gear in the back, for easy retrieval if necessary.
I crossed a main highway, which I later realised was Route 202. At the time I was mistaken about my location, and since it had been raining, I had not taken out my map. In 1993 I had discovered that just shy of the border, Route 217 ended, and it was necessary to follow a main road, Chemin Guay, to the east in order to find a road going across the border. I thought I was in that same spot, and the sign showed Route 217 to continue. Soon along the way, I came to brand new pavement, which only reinforced my mistaken notion. There were fewer houses and they were further apart, and I came upon some fairly large farms. I expected the border to come up at any moment.
At 12:00 I turned on my phone and Sheryl called almost immediately. The connection was not great, but we could communicate. I told her I was almost at the border, and that I would call her again as soon as I got across (for she was waiting to go out.) While I was talking to Sheryl, it started to rain again and I had to put on my rain poncho.
I rode along another couple of kilometres. I passed the farm of our pig farmer acquaintances from Scottish dance class, where we had gone for supper back in 1995. I still expected to see a border crossing at any moment. Then, coming up over a rise, I came down to another main road. At the far side was a sign indicating that Route 217 ended. It was then that I realised my error, and knew that nothing had changed since 1993.
This was at 12:15. turned east onto the main road, Chemin Guay. There was a long, gradual hill to climb up, as the road curved gently to the north. Coming up over the rise, I met up with Route 221 and turned south. I was 3km from the border.
It was 12:40 when I rode up to the U.S. Customs House. It was still raining gently and I was still sporting my yellow rain poncho. A young woman came out and told me I could ride on up under the awning. She waited patiently as I dismounted, got my helmet off, and pushed back my wet hair. She only asked me a few perfunctory questions: "Where do you live?", "Where are you going?" I told her I was riding down along the lake for two or three days, and that my wife was then going to join me with the car and we were going to drive down to New York. She asked me where my wife was going to meet me and, when I answered "Whitehall", she seemed satisfied. She said "Okay", and went back in. She did not even ask to see my passport. She invited me in to dry off, but I just used the facilities quickly and was on my way. My anxiety at crossing the border is probably somewhat irrational, but the few times I have had trouble have given me a lifelong fear of the power of customs agents. This lady held the power to end my adventure right then and there, and there would have been little I could have done about it.
I rode on quickly and found myself on the back streets of Champlain, New York. Though everything looked flat I was in my easiest gear in back and was pushing hard. The rain stopped and the sun came out abruptly. Suddenly it got very hot. I stopped at a tree in someone's front yard, where I propped up my bike. I doffed my rain poncho and wrote some notes in my notepad. Then I called Sheryl to tell her that I was across. The connection was very bad. It was 12:45.
Refreshed and cooler, I rode on through suburbia, enjoying the tiny spot of sun. I could still see big, black clouds gathering all around.
At 13:00, I connected with U.S. Hwy 11, running east and west between Rouses Point and Champlain, New York. I turned right, west, towards U.S. Hwy 9. I had toyed with taking the smaller roads that went down by the lakeside, roads that I could now identify because I had good maps. (Back in 1993, I had missed these roads as my map did not have enough detail to show them.) This day, I decided I would rather have lunch, and I knew I would not find it on tiny back roads. I guessed that I would find a restaurant at the junction of Routes 9 & 11.
The distance was one mile. This mile, however, included a long descent, down to the bridge over the Great Chazy River. This was followed by a long, slow climb back up to the highlands. The climb was gradual enough that I did not have to shift into my "granny gear" in front.
At 13:15 I came to the four corners, and found a fairly good sized shopping centre to my right. As I scanned the storefronts, I was pleased to find a restaurant. I carefully parked my bike in front, and then took a seat at the counter where I could keep an eye on it.
I must have looked like some character, wet from the rain and then sun-dried. My shoes were still squilching. After I ordered, I went outside and wrung out my socks and put them back on. It felt much better. Thank God for woollen socks! It may have been because of my unkempt appearance that the girl who served me did not really seem too friendly.
The soup-of-the-day was Hamburger & Vegetable soup. It was a weird combination, but certainly tasted good. I also ordered a mini-pizza "deluxe", with sausage, hamburger, etc. It was a bad choice. The pizza was not very good and was very soggy. I did not eat the whole thing. I devoured a root beer and several glasses of water. For dessert, I had coffee and a chocolate chip cookie.
As I was eating, the sun went away and it began to rain again. It was still raining when I set out at 14:00, after my 45 minute stop. I headed south along U.S. Hwy 9. The sign indicated that Plattsburg was 21 miles. New York's main roads have wide, paved shoulders (nearly six feet wide), which makes for very nice cycling. Hwy 9 follows the high ground, and I got occasional glimpses out over the rain-soaked valley of the Lake.
At 14.25 I came to the junction with Route 9B, coming down on an angle from Rouses Point. Had I continued straight upon reaching Route 11, instead of turning west for food, I probably would have come out here. At about this time the rain stopped, so I stopped for a break and stowed my poncho. The sun did not come out this time.
I was the the Chazy town line by 14:35. At 15:00, I put my cell phone on, as arranged. Sheryl called at 15:15, as I stopped by a photo of the lake. This was a point where the vista was not blocked by trees, and one could normally see out over the whole valley. On this day, I could barely see down to the lakeshore, which was quite a bit lower than I was. Looking across the lake, everything disappeared into a blue-grey haze. I heard thunder as I was taking my photo.
I started to watch this big, black cloud line as it approached from the west, coming ever closer. I could see the end of it, and sort of hoped that I might get past. As it came nearer and nearer, however, and I could see the lightning bolts in the dark blue haze, and hear the cracking thunder, I lost that hope.
It was 15:30 and I had just crossed the Beekmantown line. I was well out in the open and felt very exposed. I certainly did not want to ride through a lightning storm out where I was. I rode quickly and scanned ahead, looking for any shelter. I saw a traffic light up ahead, and hoped that there would be some activity around it. Luckily, I found this lodge: "Mi Casa" in Beekmantown. I rode it and was about to go into the lobby and ask to sit out the storm when this youth of about 16 approached and asked me if he could be of assistance. I told him I needed shelter from the storm and he invited me to bring my bike into the garage.
It was 15:45 when I stopped, and would be 16:10 before I got on my way. I stood for a few minutes at the open barn door, watching the last few minutes of the storm's approach, as it got blacker and blacker and the wind howled. Several other youths had gathered and were talking me up about my trip. When the storm finally hit, I was glad I had made my choice to wait it out, and thankful God had given me a good shelter. The rain was ferocious and lightning bolts were striking all around.
It was still raining when I left, but the worst was over, and the sky had lightened up. As I rode on down the road towards Plattsburg, the rain finally stopped. I was able to take off my rain poncho yet again.
At 17:00, I arrived at Plattsburg. I had left exactly ten hours earlier. Accounting for stops, it had taken me about 9 hours to ride from Montreal to Plattsburg.
I was actually stopping for the day well shy of Plattsburg town centre. I turned left at the first traffic light, right at the edge of town, and followed the road back along the lakeshore towards Cumberland Head (where there is a ferry to Vermont). About a mile down that road I came to Cumberland Bay State Park. I did not expect there to be a camping problem on such a rainy day, and I was correct. I had my choice of sites. (I had actually made a reservation at Plattsburg RV Park, for Cumberland Bay would not take reservations for only one day. This policy is commonplace and makes life very difficult for touring cyclists, who cannot easily go somewhere else if the park is full. Despite my feelings on the subject, I chose the State park, as it was much nicer for tenting, and was right on the water.)
By 18:00 my tent was all set up, in site #107. I sat on a bench by the beach and was watched the big thunderclouds out on the lake. There was a short sun shower, but then I was treated to clear sky as the sun angled down to the west, casting a golden light on everything. My cell phone was on and I was waiting for Sheryl's call. It was very relaxing listening to the small waves washing up on the beach.
After Sheryl's call at 18:20, I re-dressed a bit warmer. I put on dry socks and my dry shoes. I put on the black leggings that Sheryl had loaned me, which covered my legs and made it look like I had long pants on. Then I put on my windbreaker, as it was getting cooler.
I rode back to the traffic light, where I remembered a good restaurant from when I had been here in 1993: Gus's Red Hots. I parked my bike outside and took a booth at the window right by it.
I had turkey soup, followed by a hot turkey sandwich, with Root Beer and then coffee. I ate slowly, as I wrote the days events in my journal. The restaurant closed at 20:00 (I was surprised at how early), but they let me stay until 20:30.
I rode across to the depanneur (convenience store) and bought myself a bottle of orange juice for the tent. Then I rode back to the campground and got myself all settled in. I spent a few minutes rubbing onto my aching knees and ankles the special oil that Sheryl had made for me. Then, I placed a final call to Sheryl from my cell phone at 21:45, just before lights out.
I did not sleep well that night. I could not get comfortable. The blow-up pillow I had brought just would not fit right with my neck. I ended up getting about 3 bouts of sleeps, of perhaps two hours each.
July 18, Tuesday: Day 2
I had my alarm set for 05:00 and I was out of my tent by 05:10. My goal had been to be at the restaurant for breakfast when they opened at 06:00. Alas, it always takes longer to pack up than one would like. I did my best, and managed to get back to Gus's Red Hots by 06:20.
I started my day with a ham & cheese omelette and toast and coffee. The omelette was a little heavy though, laced with gooey American cheese, so I did not finish it.
07:00 saw me on my way. It was nice riding in the early morning along the deserted but slowly awakening streets of Plattsburg. The morning bore the promise of a nice day. Although my knees and ankles still ached, I felt refreshed. I felt good about the success that God had given me the day before, and was confident that I could do at least one more day. I knew from seven years ago that I had one major hill to climb that morning, on my way to Port Kent, but I felt up to it.
From the junction with the road to Cumberland Head, Plattsburg's first traffic light, the main road runs along Cumberland Bay. Only one property’s width separated the road from the Lakeshore. The road was wide, and was lined with new, fancy condos and motels. This new section ended at the Georgia Paper Plant. As I rode past the plant complex, lines of workers were streaming into its many gates. Beyond that, the road narrowed. The main lines of traffic went down another way and I found myself on a quiet, residential street lined with older houses and big trees.
This continued until 07:15, when I arrived at Plattsburg's small downtown, perhaps four blocks across. (The main shopping areas of Plattsburg are now out by the Interstate.) I rode by the old book store where Sheryl and I had watched a July 4 parade some years back. There was the old Strand Theatre where many years before I had seen the movie about Cory Ten Boom. Past the downtown section, Route 9 turns to the left and crosses over the river then it turns right again and continues south.
I rode by the old Army base, which stretched for a mile or more along the Lakeside, and was all fenced in. Then I came to the now defunct Plattsburg Air Force Base, where there were still two old jet bombers on display in front. (Up until a decade or so ago, Plattsburg was a major air base in the Strategic Air Command system, with bombers and refueling planes taking off ever five minutes or so.)
By 07:35 I had reached the town of Cliff Haven and the road was no longer flat. So far, though, the ups and downs were nothing I could not handle while staying in my middle gear in front.
At 07:45 I noticed that I was even with the beginning of Valcour Island, out in the Lake.
At 07:55 I came to an interesting sight: Something called "Stonehenge Sculpture Garden". Strung out across the vast lawn of this house were dozens of ironwork sculptures. I am not sure whether the owner had them for sale, or was just displaying them for the fun of it. I stopped here for my first 5 minute break, topping up on water, for I had nearly completed a long, gradual uphill ride. A sign on the road indicated that it was 8 miles to Keeseville, where the main road would depart for the ferry. I was counting on the shortcut I remembered to save me from serious mountains.
AT 08:05 the rode dropped down from the high ground to the lakeshore and I entered the town of Valcour proper. I had passed a sign indicating that I was now within the confines of Adirondack State Park. For a stretch, the road ran right along the shore, which was open to the lakeside and so provided a spectacular view. The bottom end of Valcour Island was passed and now I was looking out onto the open lake to the east. It was breezy and the surf that was pounding the shore was very respectable for such a small body of water. I could not see to the far shore as it was still cloudy and hazy. The water and the haze just blended together, without really forming any horizon. On the land side I was passing a series of vast estates, with big houses.
At the end of the stretch of beach, the road curved inland from the shore, as vast fens took over where there had been surf. Behind the fens, and sheltering them, a long spit of land ran out into the Lake. I believe this was Ausable Point, and was probably made by the Ausable River. I could clearly see now the Adirondack Mountains dead ahead.
By 08:30 I had come to the Ausable River Bridge. I could see beyond the big, killer hill that I had been dreading. Still, there was nothing to do about it except to plod on. I dropped into my granny gear in front (Carefully, so as not to drop the chain. I still had not fixed that.) and started slogging up. My knees certainly felt the pressure as I pushed hard against the pedals, forcing my 150 pound rig and its 190 pound motor against the pull of gravity. I was only going about twice the speed one would normally walk. I climbed from 08:30 to 08:40, ten minutes. Then I looked back at my accomplishment and gave thanks.
The road ran more or less flat for a bit. Then I rounded another curve, and up ahead was yet another big hill, even larger than the one I had just climbed. I was puzzled. I did not remember from 1993 there having been two hills! Luckily I did not have to climb it. Just a short way up the hill, just past the Essex County line, was a turn off to the east. It was unmarked, but I felt this just had to be the road. As a car drove up and stopped, I was able to confirm that the road did, indeed, go to Port Kent.
I was on a small country lane leading through thick pine forest. The road twisted to and fro as it dropped in a fairly steep grade back down to the water level. All of my climbing of the last few minutes was spent. Finally, the rode came out at the Lake and turned south to run along the shore. A few homes were nestled in among the trees along the cliff above the lakeshore. Past these homes, the road dropped sharply the remaining hundred feet or so, down to the landward side of some railroad tracks. I stopped for a photo.
I was riding across some sort of barachois. To the lakeside, hidden now by the tracks which were higher than I was, would have been a beach. On my other side was a vast open marsh, thick with cattails and bullrushes and grasses as far as I could see. As I was riding along the flat road, I was treated to the thrill of a Canadian Pacific train coming by on the Delaware & Hudson tracks.
At the end of that section, I had climb back up the hundred feet or so to the clifftop level. The hill was short, but quite steep and I had to attack it with my granny gear. Atop the hill, I came in among the houses of Port Kent, some very fine, old houses indeed.
At 09:00, as I was still riding along the residential, clifftop street of Port Kent, I turned on my cell phone, as arranged. The street ended at a junction with the main road from Keeseville. The choices were to turn inland, and almost straight up, or to turn lakeward, and almost straight down. I dropped down a bit, to the railroad crossing, and a small train station. There I had a perfect view of the ferry terminal and decided it was time for a photo stop. Just as I had the camera out, the phone rang. It was 09:15. I said "Good Morning" to Sheryl and told her where I was. Then I rode on down to buy my ticket.
The next ferry was not until 10:10. I had missed one at 08:45, but I did not feel bad, as there is no way I could have made that one. It was good to take a rest. I parked my rig at the front of the line, and went in to get a root beer and check out the store. I bought a few postcards, including one of the ferry I was about to take. The sun was shining brightly and it was nice just to sit and look out over the Lake and along the shore. It was only from the shore side that one could see how spectacular some of the Port Kent cliffside homes really were.
After 45 minutes or so, I could see the ferry approaching. The M.S. Valcourt is a flat-topped boat. Unlike most ferries, where the snack bar deck and passenger deck are above the cars, in a superstructure, I would discover that on this ship these were below decks. From the snack bar, one could look out the portholes, which were only inches above the water line. This was a different ferry from the one I had taken in 1993.
At 10:10 sharp we were on our way. There had been some discussion about how to load these two giant 45 foot camper bus rigs onto the ferry, but then everything proceeded smoothly. After exploring below decks a bit, I settled into a place at the bow, to look ahead. The Adirondack mountains behind were bathed in bright sunlight. Ahead, the Vermont shoreline was still lost in a haze and only slowly began to resolve itself as we drew closer. I looked ahead with my field glasses, trying to recognise features from my 1993 trip, such as the mouth of the Winooski River.
Behind me, coming up over the Adirondacks, was a line of tall, white clouds, stretching up into the stratosphere. I was using the tall cloud stacks to sight subtle changes in the boat’s course. As the crossing progressed, I noticed that the clouds were getting ever closer. While we were still in the bright sun, out under the clouds it began to look very black. It was quite windy out on the lake, and I was glad to sport my wind breaker.
In the last few minutes, as we came in towards Burlington Harbour, I finally spied the almost hidden mouth of the Winooski. (In 1993, I had followed the Burlington Shore Bikeway to its end in the forest, right at the mouth of the river. I could no longer find the municipal campground where I had stayed back then, and I fear it is no longer there.
We docked at 11:10. I rode north along the bike path a short ways, along the very trendy new waterfront, looking for the tourist information booth. It was closed, and there were only a few brochures stuck in a rack outside. I picked up a few, one of which turned out to be very useful, as it gave me a detailed map, down to the street level, of the mid-Vermont countryside though which I would be riding.
I had not been too sure where I was going to stay that night. There did not seem to be any campgrounds along my intended route of Highway 22A. I had found in the AAA Guide a state campground at the Lakeshore, but it was 7 miles east of Route 22A. Seven miles represents an hour cycling. There did not appear to be any roads that ran along the Lake, so I would have had to come back up 7 miles along the same road. Thus, I had put this campground out of my mind, and had completely forgotten about it. It was only when I looked at the detailed map that I noticed a town road called "Lake Street" that went right along the shoreline. This made the 14 mile detour more palatable. In the same brochure I found a listing for a commercial campground. I would be trying to phone them all afternoon, but would never get through. (I feel God's hand in this, for it was further down the road than the State Park, and I would probably have secured my reservation with a credit card.)
I retraced my path back to the ferry terminal and was headed south along the shoreline when a crack of thunder caught my attention. The big, white cloud I had been watching out on the Lake was now almost upon the city. Only now it was deep purple. The sun was gone. A black pallor stretched as far as one could see to the north and west. Sharp flashes of lightning could be seen striking both water and land. When I looked southwest, I still saw bright sunshine and white clouds. There was a chance that the big storm would miss us. As I stood and pondered, the wind picked up around me, and I decided to play it safe. Again, I feel the hand of God was in that thunderclap that got my attention.
As it was near lunchtime, I decided to head back to the ferry terminal and to catch lunch at the Breakwater Cafe, right out on the water's edge at the end of the pier. They had a terrace, covered with a tent, where I could wait out the storm. I parked my bike under the tent and went inside to order. I had what they called a "Champlain Sandwich": Roast beef, Provolone cheese, bacon, and many other things. It was very good, despite the dash of horseradish that I had been too late to stop.
I watched the big storm as I sat under the tent and ate. As I had expected, it missed us for the most part. There was some wind and a bit of rain. I could hear lots of thunder and saw many flashes of lightning, but the fiercest part passed just to the north. What I did not notice, until it was nearly upon us, was the second storm cell, coming from the south west, where I had seen all that sunshine a bit earlier. It still seemed sunny as I looked out over the lake in that direction, but I noticed a bright haze at the horizon which kept getting closer and closer. The haze hid the sight of the thunder cloud until it was nearly upon us.
Suddenly, it was not only dark to the north, but right over our heads. The rain started again, but this time in earnest, and there was strong wind. First I had to move away from the edge of the tent, towards the middle, to keep dry. Soon, we all had to move inside. I ordered a coffee and sat by the window. The impenetrable haze got closer and closer. Fierce winds were now ripping at the tent outside and everything under it, including my bike, was drenched. The harbour breakwater, a few hundred feet away, vanished into the approaching haze. Then, one by one, the boats tied up on the outer harbour disappeared. The rain and wind were ever stronger. Lightning was flashing everywhere, striking buildings, ship masts, phone poles, and anything else that was sticking up into the sky. The accompanying thunder was like a dozen freight trains. The haze reached the very end of our dock, no more than thirty feet away. The boat that had been tied up there could no longer be seen, nor could the stairs leading down. At this point, all hell broke loose. Hurricane force winds were whipping everything up and about. The plastic chairs and tables out on the terrace went flying in all directions. I am sure only the weight of my rig kept it standing. Hailstones the size of walnuts started hitting the window, and we all moved back to the centre of the restaurant, for fear the windows would break.
It was at that moment, a little after 12:00, that Sheryl called, as scheduled, on the cell phone. I had forgotten even having turned it on. We could only shout a few words to each other.
At that moment, we twelve or so people in the restaurant seemed like refugees in the wilderness. Everyone started to talk to one another and we felt a momentary togetherness brought on by the disaster. "Wow" was all most people could say. They had not seen such a storm in many, many years. I was very thankful that I had been in town, and was able to watch the frenzy from a dry and secure shelter.
The rain stopped at 12:30. My bike was soaked on the outside, but all within was still sealed in plastic bags and dry. The tent had been a joke. I changed into my canvas tennis shoes, my rain shoes, and got out my poncho. I did not put it on, though. I just fixed it to the top of my gear, in a handy position.
I started out at 12:40. The sun was already peeking through the clouds from the west, although to the east the sky was still black. I could see the sun hitting the water, but no sun was yet touching me. It was clear to the west and I could see yet more clouds hanging over the Adirondacks, so I was sure that I would be lucky to get any more than occasional bit of sun for the rest of the day.
Sirens were going off all around me. The train crossing bells were ringing, but there was no train. As I rode along the Burlington Bikeway, I passed flooded underpasses. Tree branches were strewn everywhere. There was an occasional flooded section to ride through. I came to a bridge over a small creek. Now, though, the water was only inches below the level of the bridge roadway, and the creek was a thirty foot wide torrent of brown, muddy water.
The Burlington Bikeway ends at Oak Point Park, and the end is a maze. Where does the trail go? How to I get up to Route 7? These were my questions as I looked around in vain for signs. I remember it had been hard to find my way here in 1993, when armed with a detailed map of the Bikeway. I followed several false leads and had to retrace my route. Finally, I found a road which appeared to be leading up the hill from the shoreline. Everything was still flooded. I came to the intersection with Industrial Boulevard. The intersection was flooded from water spewing forth like a geyser from the storm drain. Cars were inching their way through the foot deep water. I, too, had to ride through this lake, which buried my bike up to the chain.
On a hunch I followed Industrial Boulevard towards the south. After riding past some light industry, I came to yet another rode leading further up the hill. When I finally reached the top, I saw the clearly marked end of the Bikeway, and the "Vermont Freeway" I had seen in 1993. (I named it a Vermont Freeway. An entire ramp of the Interstate is abandoned and overgrown with weeds. It is along here that they sent bikes at the time.)
By 13:20, I had reached U.S. Highway 7 in South Burlington. It was a lot more built up than I had remembered it. In the late Seventies and early Eighties, I had come here often. Highway 7 was not a fun road to cycle along at this point. There was no shoulder. Instead was a high curb. There were two lanes in both directions of very heavy traffic, including a lot of big trucks. I had joined Hwy 7 just at the last Interstate exit before the I-89 freeway curves well to the east. Thus, anyone heading to southwestern Vermont had to pass this way. I held my ground and forced the cars to go around me.
There was a long downhill, past shopping malls, fancy motels, and car dealerships. Then began a long, gradual climb back up the other side. At this point, the cars were even less happy with me, for instead of going at 15 mph, I was now rolling at less than 3 mph.
At 13:30 I reached the Shelbourne town line and passed the Sirloin Saloon, my haunt of days gone by. This had been the southernmost extent of my 1993 bike trip. Now I was heading on into uncharted territory. I celebrated with a 5 minute break.
Not too far past there, the road narrowed and lost its suburban boulevard character. The traffic did not lessen, though. It was almost bumper to bumper, the cars and trucks struggling to pass by me on the narrow pavement. There was still no shoulder, but the curb had been replaced by a six inch drop off the edge of the pavement. I was not going to be driven off the side. I kept at about a foot from the edge most of the time, except when speeding up on downhills, when I took to the centre of the lane. There were a number of these long, gradual uphills and downhills.
AT 13:45 I had reached the centre of Shelbourne. I took another 5 minute break, for the traffic was wearing on my nerves and I was faced with another long, killer hill. It was next to the grounds of the Shelbourne Museum, a vast complex that stretches a mile or so along the Lakeward side of the road. I leaned my bike up on their wooden fence and ate my candy bar and drank copiously of my water.
The traffic was mercifully somewhat lighter past Shelbourne, and the road was a bit wider. Mercifully so, for I began to climb and climb and climb. There would be a long, not so gradual hill, then a short level space, or even a tantalising short downhill, then another long climb.
By 14:10 I had reached the Charlotte town line. I was now completely out of town and out of the built up areas and surrounded by meadows and farmland. The road was still climbing and I could see from my vast panorama that I was now quite high. I could look out and see glimpses of Lake Champlain far below, to the north, west, and south. Out past the Lake I could see up and down the whole Champlain Valley, and to the heights of the Adirondacks to the west. It was not really overcast, but heavy clouds covered everything. There would be but brief moments of sunshine.
At 14:30 I crossed State Hwy F5, which led west to the Lake Champlain Ferry at Essex. At this point I was beginning to leave the high ground. Route 7 had become a winding mountain road that started twisting and turning as it descended. After my labours, it was nice to relax for a long, long downhill. The road did not drop all the way down to the Lake level, however. When the descent ended, I was still high enough to look out over the whole valley. The road ran along a sort of ledge. To the east the land rose to the mountains I could see getting ever closer. To the west, it dropped off to the valley below.
At 14:45 I passed by Mount Philo. Mount Philo is a small, round mountain, which stands out from the other mountains to the east. It is all alone, and fairly close to the highway. Lodging had been my main concern for the day, and I had seen in the campground book, and several had suggested, a small State campground at the top of Mount Philo. Even in my state of anxiety about getting a place, though, I felt no need to try to climb straight up the mountainside with my heavy bike. I took a short 5 minute break at the turn off, and then continued on.
At 15:00 I had just passed a sign indicating 8 miles to Ferrisburg. It was the appointed hour for me to turn on my cell phone. Sheryl called from Montreal, but the signal was very, very bad. After a few seconds of shouting, I lost the connection. I tried phoning her again, but kept losing service. I rode on down the road another 5 minutes or so, until I came to a depanneur. While inside there for a washroom break, Sheryl finally reached me.
I made the Ferrisburg line by 15:30, and the centre of the town by 15:35. I had now reached the mid-Vermont area that was covered by the detailed map I had picked up. The road was still more or less flat, as it ran along the ridge.
At 15:45, ten minutes later, I had come to the turn off for State Highway 22A. The junction had come at the end of a long hill. I felt it was a totally useless hill. I could see Route 22A coming from the west, and climbing the same hill. It seemed the two roads climbed to the hilltop, only to join, and then both descended again. I wondered why they made intersections at the top of the hill.
I turned west onto Hwy 22A, and was only a mile from the town of Vergennes. I stopped there, parking my bike next to a tree on someone's lawn. After all the hill climbing, I needed another 5 minutes break. My knees were aching, so I massaged them. I drank a lot of water and at a granola bar. I was beginning to get very tired, and I knew that I had at least two hours left to go. I tried phoning the campsite where I wanted to spend the night, but I still could not get through.
As I got started, I got caught up in a train of four or five other cyclists. They were obviously touring, but had no gear on their bikes. They must have been in one of these cycle tours where a truck carries all the gear. On the uphill, through the city streets, I passed most of them by, even with my heavy rig.
Traffic was bumper to bumper on the narrow street, as they were doing road work on Hwy 22A right at the centre of town. There was a big detour. I had to turn right onto a side street, and ride through very rough gravel. I probably could have made it along the main road, but with the flagmen and all the traffic, I did not stop to think about it. To bypass two blocks of repaving, I had to wind through at least 8 blocks of city streets, all nestled on the hillside. I found myself climbing up some pretty steep hills to proceed. As the rode was narrow anyway, car drivers got pretty upset at my slow uphill pace, as they inched by me one by one.
At the centre of town, I had passed over a bridge and by a dam and some falls which looked quite interesting. Unfortunately, this was in the thick of the construction and I had no chance to stop.
I was happy to finally get back onto 22A. My cyclist companions headed off in the opposite direction. I had almost followed them before I noticed that the detour signs had me turning back on my route, back towards town. I felt this infantile sense of competition, like they were going to get to my campground before me and take away the last site.
Traffic was mercifully lighter past the construction. Route 22A climbed up to a high point on its way out of town, but I was glad to be out into the country again. All the climbing had added to my fatigue, though.
I crossed the Addison town line at 16:30 and by 16:50 was at the town centre. There was not much to Addison but a few houses and a crossroads. To the east of town rose another solitary mountain, Snake Mountain, well west of its brethren through which would be running Hwy 7, which I had correctly shunned. To the west, the land dropped off almost, immediately, to the valley a couple of hundred feet below. For the last half hour or so, a strong wind had been whipping up from the valley floor. It was strong enough to bend all the grasses far over. It had been hitting me from the side, and so had not been impeding my progress.
I stopped at the corner store for another break. I felt I was really nearing my endurance level for that day. A couple of minutes walking around, some water, and a Hershey's Chocolate Bar refreshed my energy and resolve enough to tackle the next phase.
My break was done at 17:00. At Addison, I had to take State Highway 17 west, down off the ledge and into the valley. Almost immediately, I felt the last few minutes' strong, strong wind coming now right into my face. It was so strong that I lost the downhill coast I would normally have had as the road dropped down from Addison. I had to change to my easiest gear in back just to slog along in the flatland. The wind, combined with my feeling like I was hitting the wall, made for very, very slow progress.
The road ran, at first , through flat pastures of dairy cattle. Then the countryside became marshland on either side, and finally it crossed over open water. I was in some sort of State park. The map shows a jagged body of water called "Dead Creek" extending down from the north and nearly cutting off the Lakeshore from the mainland.
By 17:30 I was at West Addington. "Lake Street" came down from the north and joined the main road, though I was not yet riding along the Lake. The turn to the south was a respite from the powerful wind, as were the trees sheltering me on the west side. There were a few, isolated houses. I passed a roadside food stand, where they sold fries and burgers, but I was concentrating on my lodging.
I still thought I had to ride all the way to Chimney Point, and then south from there a mile or so, to come to the commercial campground. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I rounded a corner and came upon a campground sign! In my exhausted state, it was like a gift from heaven.
It was 17:50 when I came upon D.A.R. State Park. I was 8 miles from Addison, the distance I had covered in the last fifty minutes. I rode in and stopped at the office. When I saw they had place for me, I gave thanks again: Thank you, Jesus! When I saw that D.A.R. stood for "Daughters of the American Revolution", I asked the elderly lady at the counter if they served "United Empire Loyalists", but she really did not get my joke.
It was 18:05 when Sheryl called. I had just reached my site, #25, and was beginning to set up my tent. I had turned my phone on, as arranged, for my 18:00 communication. We had our first good quality connection since 09:00 that morning. Sheryl was happy for me that I had found a place.
The lady at the desk had told me of a fine restaurant just a mile down the road. It was called "The Bridge" restaurant, for it was situated right at the approach to the Vermont - New York Bridge across Lake Champlain. (This bridge had been built in 1929 and was the first bridge crossing south of Rouses Point, New York.
The road from the campground to the restaurant comprised only one small hill to climb and one small descent. It passed by a couple of very large, commercial dairy farms and the aroma of the countryside was strong. Then it dropped down and went past a small marina nestled in a sheltered cove, before it crossed a small bridge and rounded the corner yielding sight of the silver steel bridge superstructure rising from the trees.
At 19:00 I was waiting at the restaurant. The tiny place was clearly very popular, and was packed as the lady had said it would be. They had a curious self-registration system for the waiting list. One added one's name and number of people to the list, and when a table was free the waitress would come out and call the next name from the list. I was third in line, but did not have to wait long. Being a party of one, I was easy to sit.
The food was excellent! I had Chicken Noodle Soup to start, followed by a good serving of spaghetti with a wonderful tasting red sauce. I drank Mountain Dew. I took my time, writing in my journal while I was eating slowly. No more people were waiting for tables, and the waiter did not press me. At the next table, this little 18 month old girl was flirting with me. For dessert, I had vanilla iced cream and coffee.
I was back my tent by 09:00, just in time for Sheryl's good night call. My tent was in a dark corner, and there were fireflies everywhere around. I climbed in, fixed my nest, and rubbed the healing oil on my knees. I had improved my pillow situation, wrapping up the blow up pillow with my rain poncho, and so passed a much more comfortable night than the night before. I was only up twice, with one middle-of-the-night walk across the wet grass to the distant washroom. The moon and the stars were out, country stars as can only be seen far from the city lights.
July 19, Wednesday: Day 3
My alarm went off at 05:00. By 05:10 I had fully awakened and had pulled myself out of my sleeping back. I felt I needed a shower, and at this early hour I did not expect to meet many people. So I gathered my shampoo and washcloth up and wore only my rain poncho. As I was crossing the grassy meadow towards the showers, I felt a bit like a flasher, naked underneath the plastic. The hot shower was very soothing. I had no towel, of course, and so had to just wrap myself back up in the poncho. Thankfully it was not too cold. Back in the seclusion of my campsite, I donned my bicycle shorts and jersey. I was finally all packed up and on the road by 06:25
Ten minutes later, at 06:35, I was back at The Bridge restaurant. The food the night before had been excellent and I was looking forward to a good breakfast. I had oatmeal and eggs and toast and hash browns, with coffee of course.
I was done an hour later, at 07:35 and was on my way. My plan was to follow along the Lakeshore on a county or town road called "Lake Street", and then regain Hwy 22A somewhat to the south. I set off from the tiny hamlet at the bridge entrance, along State Highway 125.
For a space, the road ran right along the Lake and I had a great view. I stopped several times to catch a glimpse back towards the bridge. At this point, Lake Champlain is hardly wider than a river. On the far side, the Adirondack Mountain rose like a wall, covered in pine trees. The way along my side of the Lake was lined with trees, but inland were flat pastures, filled with dairy cattle. The day was partly cloudy, which meant for the most part cloudy. Patches of blue showed through. I felt, though, that this day’s clouds did not hold any rain.
At 07:50 I reached the Bridport Town line (I had still been in Addison.). I stopped at 08:00 to get a photo of the bridge behind me, which I could now see clearly in its entirety. I came to Lake Street at 08:05. As State Hwy 125 was curving up and away from the Lake, this small country road turned off at right angles and led back down, curving south just at the shoreline.
For the most part, Lake Street was on the high ground, with the Lake perhaps fifty feet below, at the foot of a steep embankment. Every once in a while, typically when the road crossed a creek or came to a road, it would drop down to the water level, only to climb right back up again. In most cases, I was able to pick up enough speed on the downhill to coast most of the way up the far side. I passed by one large, industrial scale dairy farm after another. Most of the farmers had French sounding names, but I am sure none spoke any French, or would even have been able to pronounce their names correctly. It was a pleasant morning. The riding was easy and the scenery was breathtaking. There was virtually no traffic on the road. I could hear the birds chirping as I rode along, past farmers out ploughing their fields.
At 08:30 I was even with Crown Point and came to a cross roads and a small hamlet. Lake Street continued on.
I came to the Shoreham Town line at 08:45 and was in for an unexpected shock. The pavement ended and I found myself now riding along a gravel road. It was not just a simple change of road surface. The road degenerated into little more than some of the dirt driveways I had been passing. Where there was not loose gravel, the surface was riven with washouts and little gullies. I was almost at the point of stopping to ask someone if the road indeed went through, as shown on the map.
Almost immediately I came to another downhill, at Lapham Bay Road. This time, however, I could not coast down, picking up speed. I had to inch my way down the steep hill, holding tight to my brakes. I rode, then, some fifty feet along the water's edge, before having to gear down in both the front and the back to climb up the steep grade back to the high ground. It was a very hard climb and I could feel the pressure on my knees. I would come to two more of these drops and climbs, and decided, in each case, that it was more prudent just to get off the bike and walk it up the hill.
Just before 09:00, just past Five Mile Point, I came to the last of the climbs (walks) up from the Lakeside. I did not realise it then, but I was leaving the Lake for good. As I pushed my bike back up to the high ground, I found myself amidst freshly planted fields of corn. The road took a definite curve away from the water's edge and headed inland.
Looking south, I could see the first range of mountains across the Lake, and a curious open space behind them before the second range rose even higher. From my geography, I knew that I was looking south towards the northern end of Lake George. For many miles, Lake George runs parallel to Lake Champlain, but significantly higher. There was also this pulp and paper mill, right on the Lakeshore on the New York side. This was to be my beacon for the next couple of hours.
I had turned on my phone at 09:00 and Sheryl called me at 09:10. We had a long phone call, as this was the day she was going to drive down to meet me, and she wanted to discuss details. We were to meet in Whitehall, New York, at the very foot of Lake Champlain. We took advantage of our good connection and talked for over ten minutes.
I rode on. I was now entering apple orchard country and passed a farmer who was about to spray his apple trees with a fogging machine. I hurried on to get past him before he enveloped me in a killing fog.
Lake Street came to an abrupt end at 09:30, and I had to turn onto Watchpoint Road, which led straight up the side of a steep hill, and further away from the Lake. It was hard going pushing my heavy rig up the gravelly and rutted roadway. Watchpoint Road was in even worse condition than had been Lake Street of late. Up ahead, further up the hill and behind the farmer's big house and barn, I could see the road increase its angle for an even steeper climb. I was not looking forward to it.
Mercifully, when I got even with the farmer's house, I found it to be on "Smith Street". There was a cross roads. It was 09:35. I was thankful to be able to turn south onto Smith Street, which ran parallel to the hillside, and across it. It was in somewhat better condition, for a gravel road. I rode on past many more apple orchards and farmer's homes. I was already pretty high up, and could look out over the valley below. I could no longer make out the Lake in the distance, for it was now too narrow. I could only see the mountains beyond, and the ever-present smokestack of the pulp & paper mill, fading slowly to the north.
I stopped by a farmhouse to take a break at 09:45, and watched the farmers working around their tractor as I sipped my water and ate a granola bar.
At 09:55, five minutes further on, I finally made pavement! I was so happy to be off the gravel, and the way, pushing my 150 pounds of bike, became so much easier. I had reached State Hwy 74. Because of the lay of the land, I was forced to follow Hwy 74 west and down, down the hillside towards the Lake. I was nearly to Larabee's Point, where there is a ferry to New York, when I came to Hwy 73, which would curve back away from the Lake and lead back up the hill. Mercifully, I did not have to descend all the way to the water's edge.
I had been this way in 1986, as part of an outing from the Calico Conference in Middlebury, Vermont. We had come by yellow schoolbus to Larabee's Point, where we had boarded a boat for a cruise down and around Fort Ticonderoga. I could clearly see Fort Ticonderoga rising from the trees on the far shore.
It was 10:00 when I started climbing back up Hwy 73. The sign indicated that the town of Orwell was 6 miles away. It was here that I would again meet up with Hwy 22A. The climb was intense, but was not beyond my ability. Very quickly I rose up to be able to look out, again, over the whole countryside. At the point where the road was to turn inland, I stopped for one last look north, whence I had come. Far off in the distance, I could see the pulp & paper mill of an hour earlier. Across I still had a clear view of Fort Ticonderoga. Then the road climbed up over a rise and I could not longer see any of the valley.
The road continued to climb up through the Vermont countryside. There would be a steep rise, requiring my granny gear, then a bit of a downhill, but not as far down as I had just gone up, and then another steep rise, to even higher. All around were still fields and pastures, with occasional dairy cattle. I could see the purple shapes of distant, low mountains in any direction that I looked.
At a certain point, I could see Hwy 22A, on the other side of the small valley, and below the height which I had attained. Hwy 73 turned to run parallel to it for the last couple of miles. The farms gave way to occasional scattered houses. Eventually I came to the end of Hwy 73, at the road leading up to Mount Independence. I turned the other way, dropping down in a long arc to the floor of the narrow valley and climbing a quarter of the way up the other side, until I joined Hwy 22A.
It was 11:00 when I reached the four corners at Orwell. The main town was further east. At the highway was only this small convenience store. After all my climbing I felt I needed a break, so I went in and used the facilities, bought myself a square of fudge, and talked up the woman who was there. She did not have much to say about the road ahead. I set off after about ten minutes.
As I expected, the road south out of Orwell continued to rise. Seeing the mountains all around me, I could not see how it could do otherwise. The lay of the land made me think of the head of a mountain pass. The road rose further up out of the valley, which became narrower and narrower. Soon I passed the last farm and was surrounded by forest. Having regained the main road, there was quite a bit more traffic, with cars and trucks passing me several times per minute, rather than once every five minutes.
At 11:25 I crossed the line from Addison County into Rutland County. I could sense that I was at the top of the pass, and was actually surprised that there had been so little of a climb in total. I had expected worse. The river that had been cascading along the road beside me had given way to the stagnant marshland one typically finds at the top, where the water is not sure which way to go. Soon the road was headed down. It was a gradual downhill, but down nonetheless. The road began to twist and turn as if it were in a canyon. A creek formed beside me that was headed in the same direction as I. There were lots of stretches where I could coast. It certainly felt good after two hours of steady climbing.
At 11:40 I crossed Route 144 and the sign indicated I was 8 miles from Fair Haven, where I would pick up U.S. Hwy 4 and head west back into New York.
By 12:00 I had descended into this small, picturesque valley, just as I reached the West Haven town line. The road crossed valley and turned to run along the base of this tall hill, which formed the valley's southern flank. I turned on my phone, as arranged, but the signal was very weak. Sheryl called and we tried to talk for ten minutes, but we could hardly hear each other. Not only was the signal weak, but the sound of large trucks passing would drown out the conversation for 30 seconds at a time. Sheryl was on the point of leaving, and was trying to give me her route numbers: I-87, 74, 22, to Whitehall. I tried to get into the conversation, to arrange another call once I got into town, but communication was so fractured that I could not. Finally, I lost the call altogether. These long calls were draining the battery of my phone quite a bit. I knew I had very little phone time left.
I rode on. Five minutes later, at 12:15, the road began to climb out of the tiny valley and up over the big hill which had defined its flank. I could see that I was approaching a serious hill when the highway developed an uphill passing lane. I have learned that these are always bad news! From 12:15 to 12:25 I slogged up the steep incline in my granny gear. Then the grade became more gradual, though I was still going up.
At 12:35 I came to the Fair Haven town line, and was clearly at the top of the pass. I stopped to admire a waterfall, and to devour some water, for sweat was pouring off my brow. I figured that the additional elevation would help my phone communication, but to no avail. The indicator read "no service".
At 12:45 I came to the freeway at Fair Haven. U.S. Hwy 4 is a freeway from Rutland to the Vermont State line. The main part of town is about a mile further on, but around the freeway were the new shopping centres and other signs of modern suburbia. Just past the underpass, I rode into a convenient MacDonald's Restaurant and parked my bike where I could easily see it.
I tried the phone again. Although my battery indicator was flashing warnings, I at least had a mediocre signal. I managed to reach Sheryl, who had not left yet. We went over her route again, and I promised to phone her at 15:00.
I had myself a large Root Beer and a Quarter Pounder. I did not feel like having any fries. I spent some time massaging the muscles around my knees, for they ached quite a bit. All the hill climbing had taxed them considerably. Thankfully, I was only about 9 miles from Whitehall, my final destination for the day. I took my time at MacDonald's, eating slowly, checking out my maps, and writing in my journal.
It was 13:35, 50 minutes later, that I set out again. I continued on along what had been Hwy 22A. Past the shopping centre, it became a wide residential street, lined with sidewalks, trees, and houses. All the traffic had left to go onto the freeway. I rode on for a mile or so until I came to the old Hwy 4, now demoted to State Highway status. Turning west onto Hwy 4, I rode on through the small downtown and out into the small industrial park on the far side. Just past town, the old highway rejoined the new, which lost its freeway status right at the border.
I saw a Vermont Tourist Information centre, so I rode in, hoping that they would also have New York Information. (As sometimes, these centres share the same building.) I desperately wanted a more detailed map of the area I was going into. Alas, they did not have anything but a large scale New York map.
At 14:00, I crossed back into New York, crossing the small river which forms the border. I was just in time to see an Amtrak passenger train cross the railway trestle beside us, on tracks leading towards Whitehall. Traffic on U.S. Hwy 4 was quite busy, and it took the drivers some time to realise they were no longer on the freeway. Once across and into New York, though, the road again had wide, paved shoulders, and so I was well clear of the traffic.
Crossing the river, the road turned to the left and I could clearly see ahead the long climb which awaited me, angling up the side of a steep ridge.
It was 14:15 when I had reached the top. The countryside opened up, and there were some roadside businesses. I was already on the lookout for a motel, and so when I passed one at the hilltop it tugged at me. I decided to wait, though, until I had checked out all of Whitehall.
And a good thing, too, for just past the cluster of activity at the hilltop, the road began a long, long descent. Down, down, down I went, often able to pick up quite a fast speed, with all my weight. At places where I was running downhill, I would leave the shoulder and stake out my space well within the traffic line. I imagine I was hitting speeds of 30 km/h, and did not feel safe on the shoulder. Every time I thought I had finished the descent, there would come another long, steep hill. I reflected that at 09:00 I had been down at Lake level, and now I was returning there. I had earned all of this downhill coasting by my hours of climbing all through the late morning.
It was 14:35 when I reached Whitehall itself. I felt good, for Whitehall had been my first fall-back destination. If I cannot make it to New York, I had thought and prayed, at least let me make it to Whitehall. I had figured that Whitehall would be a respectable destination, a place to end the trip with honour. Actually though, despite my knees and the fatigue of the day, I was feeling pretty good.
I crossed the Champlain Canal, and stopped to take some photos. I could already see that my hope to have a canal-side path was dashed. There was no path along the canal, as far as I could see. Part of my plan for choosing this route was that, along the canal, the countryside would have to be relatively flat. I only hoped that the highway did not deviate too seriously from the canal route.
I followed the main street on into town, looking for a Chamber of Commerce or Tourist Information, where I could ask about motels. It was neigh on 15:00, and I felt I should secure lodging before phoning Sheryl. I stopped into one place, but the two ladies were not very helpful. They only knew of one motel, Budget Motel, south of the town on Hwy 4. At the old waterfront, I saw a big sign for an Inn for only $39 a night. I could not find it though, from the directions, so finally I went back to the store which sported the sign and got detailed help. The lady phoned ahead and made sure they had place.
The old part of Whitehall is nestled into a narrow valley, only about four blocks wide. A tall mountain, rising as a cliff, forms the eastern flank of the valley. From atop this mountain, an old mansion called the "Skeene Mansion" looks out. The canal ends right at the cliff's edge, leaving room behind for only one, small road. The rest of downtown, a couple of blocks wide, forms the waterfront on the western side of the canal. Starting up the western side of the hill, one comes to the railroad tracks, and then to Hwy 22, the new, commercial main street. Hwy 22 comes down the western side of the Lake and joins U.S. Hwy 4, which forms the southern boundary of the old town. Urbanization then continues south, out along Hwy 4, and along the ridge.
The directions I had gotten led me over the last bridge across the canal, and out along the mountain road past the final locks. Just around the corner was a combination fancy restaurant, marina, and inn, all owned by the same fellow. He showed me the room, which looked mediocre at best. It was a very old place. Ceilings were low and floors and walls uneven. The rooms were at the top of a long flight of stairs, which troubled me on account of the bike. The only saving grace was a good view northward, up the long, narrow arm of Lake Champlain. I was about to take the room, when I casually re-confirmed the price. If it was $39 for one, I expected a small supplement for two. Imagine my surprise when he said it would be twice $39, for $78! I thanked him and left.
It had been 15:00 when I checked out the first place. Now it was later, and Sheryl was expecting my call. Still, I felt I should have the name of a place to give her. I rode back through town and up the ridge to Hwy 22 and then south, passing the intersection with Hwy 4. As the ladies had said, the Budget Motel, the only other lodging in town, was about a mile past the junction, next to a MacDonald's. Luckily, the motel had a room, and it was fairly reasonable for the area, so I took it.
It was 15:30 when I reached Sheryl. I could not get a signal on my cell phone, so I had to use the pay phone, a private pay phone with exorbitant rates. Communication was bad on her end, but I was able to pass her the name of the motel. She was en route, and had just passed Exit 34 on the Northway. (I did not yet know where Exit 34 was, but when I found a map, I saw that it was the exit for Keeseville, just past Plattsburgh. I estimated her arrival in about two hours.
I unloaded a lot of the camping gear from my bike, into the room, and then set out to explore Whitehall. I rode back up Hwy 4 to the junction, stopping on the way to buy a drink and to peek at a map so I could discover where Exit 34 was. I rode down to the locks of the canal and took some pictures, and watched some boats go through. I rode down the Lakeside a bit, to get a photo looking back. I was lucky to catch a photo of a train coming round the bend and into the tunnel that ran under a good part of the old town. Again, it was a CP train, which made me feel somewhat patriotic. I checked out this interesting looking restaurant, and spoke with the waitress about coming back later.
My explorations were done by 17:00 and I was back at the motel. I changed into street clothes, spread out my wet tent to dry in the sun, and sat in a chair facing the street, waiting for Sheryl. She arrived at 17:45.
After our initial greeting and getting things settled, we set off for supper. We returned to the restaurant I had chosen: The Division Street Cafe. It was not as interesting as it had looked in the afternoon, and the friendly waitress I had spoken with was now busy with another party. The food was good, but the plates were of the nouvelle cuisine type: Minimal food. I had roast pork and Sheryl had the clam bake.
We decided to have dessert later. Sheryl figured that a town like that had to have an iced cream stand. We took a short walk along the waterfront. Many of the buildings in Whitehall were very old and interesting. Then we got back into the car, and I took Sheryl for a drive, to show her where all the antique stores were that I had passed. I drove on up towards Fair Haven as far as the top of the hill before turning around. It was a thrill to re-live my descent of a few hours earlier.
We were not successful at finding the iced cream stand, and so settled for a couple of Blizzards at the MacDonald's next to the motel. It was 09:00 by that time, and getting dark.
Sheryl rubbed her healing oil on my aching knees and then we retired.
July 20, Thursday: Day 4
05:10 I kept to my good habits, even though enjoying the comfort of a motel bed. I was right up when the alarm went off.
06:00 Sheryl accompanied for breakfast over at the Macdonald's, just a short walk across the parking lot. We got there just as they opened. The morning was thick with fog, and we could barely see the road.
I had pancakes and hash browns. Sheryl had her typical Egg McMuffin.
After breakfast, we returned to the motel room. I packed up my bike, mercifully minus the camping gear.
07:00 I was on my way. Sheryl saw me off at the door. Her plan was to go back into the room and study her herbs until 10:00 when the antique stores opened.
I set out on U.S. Hwy 4, south from the motel. The road was still fog bound, but the traffic was already heavy. There were lots of trucks. I was passing by widely spaced country houses.
The map showed U.S. Hwy 4 to be more or less flat, running just east of a major escarpment. The reality was a number of ups and downs, but nothing too serious. I never had to leave my cruising gear in front.
07:25 I had made the Ft. Ann town line. The fog cleared and it became sunny. I came to a big hill, which would take me ten minutes to climb. There was a rock cut on both sides, with forest atop the ridges. As I inched my way up in my granny gear, I passed a patrolman giving people a ticket. He eyed me as I passed, wondering if I was minding my own business, and said, "Have a nice day" as I rode by.
At 7:35, Hwy 22, which had been running with U.S. 4 took off to the left. I stopped at the junction and removed my windbreaker. Ft. Ann was 4 miles away at this point.
At 08:00 I got to Ft. Ann centre. I noted, for Sheryl, that there were two antique stores at the town's one corner. Earlier, I had been able to see my breath. It could not have been because of the temperature, so it must have been on account of the high humidity.
A plaque indicated that Ft. Ann had been "One of five forts along the Route to the Hudson in the 1690's.
A sign indicated that Hudson Falls was 9 miles away.
I stopped for a water break, and then took the time to put on some bain soleil (sun tan lotion), as the sun was feeling strong. It was the first time in three days that I had needed to put on the lotion. That done, I decided to go into the gas stations depanneur (convenience store) and see if I could get a more detailed map. I found a very useful map: The Jamasco map of the Greater Capital Region.
I was on my way by 08:10. At 08:20 I was at the Kingsbury line. I was riding over rolling farmland, and was leaving the hills behind, as they faded to the north I could still see purple mountains off in every directions, but closer the forest had given way to open farmland. The road rose up and down over gentle hills.
I was at the centre of Kingsbury by 08:40. At 09:00 Hwy 32 coming from Lake George joined the highway. A lot of the traffic headed off on Hwy 32, probably towards I-87.
I was at the centre, town square and park, of Hudson Falls by 09:15. I turned on my phone and called Sheryl back at the motel. After the call, I took a ten minute break in the town park.
I stopped by the post office and sent a post card off to City Cycle, the bike shop which had prepared my bicycle for the trip. While there, I asked the postmaster if there were, indeed, any 'falls' at Hudson Falls. He directed me to the road down the hill, and then told me about a foot path I could use to avoid having to climb back up the hill upon returning.
So, from 09:20 to 09:50 I set out on a lookabout. At the town square, the main road turned south (left) along the edge of the Hudson Gorge towards Ft. Miller. I followed a road which descended the hill, down towards the river. I rode across the Hudson River on a new bridge, past an industrial park. Just below the new bridge was a much older one, now closed off. At the far side of the river was a park. I could see, then, what had become of the "falls" at Hudson Falls. The concrete of a dam was laid right across the river bed, right on top of the rocks which must have been under the falls in days gone by. The dam complex was quite old. Clearly there had been no "falls" in Hudson Falls for a long time. I spend some time exploring the dam, and taking some pictures. I felt good that I had made milestone two of my trip. I had reached the Hudson River.
After my sojourn, I rode back across the bridge. There was a short false start, but I finally found the footpath the postmaster had mentioned. I got off my bike and pushed it up the steep hill, along the foot-wide path. Within fifty feet I had regained the main road.
I rode on through town, along the cliffs edge, and by 10:05 I had reached the centre of Hudson Falls' twin city: Ft. Edward. I stopped for a moment at a small riverside park and enjoyed a view of the River. Then I continued on out of town.
I crossed the Champlain Canal, just upstream of its last lock before joining the Hudson. This was at 10:10.
As I rode south from Ft. Edward, I noted how quiet U.S. Hwy 4 had become, and what bad shape it was in. Most of the southbound traffic had gone along State Hwy 32, which was on the other side of the river. I was riding on the east side. Although I was alongside the Hudson River, it was hard to actually see the river for all the trees. The countryside became ever more empty of houses and forested with low, scrubby trees.
At 10:25, I took a short break at a point where I could finally catch a glimpse of the river. I stepped down five feet onto this person's property to get a better photo, and someone started shouting from inside the house. I ignored them and finished my photo. Then they glared at me as I rode on by.
At 10:50 I came to a point where I could hear the sound of rapids on the Hudson. I could not see them, as they were on the far side of a narrow spit of land that formed the entrance to a boat canal. There was a gate, of sorts, that could be used to close off the canal entrance. If it had not been for the two men who were working there, I might have been tempted to ignore the "Keep Off" sign and climb over to the other side for a photo.
I rode on a half mile or so down the totally deserted road before, at 11:00, coming to an old, 1907 steel, one-laned bridge, which crossed the canal. I rode across to the island formed between the canal and rapids. The island was long and narrow, only a few hundred feet wide. After passing a farm, I came to a gravel road that ran along the river. I turned south and continued along the river, past occasional large houses on my left.
It became clear that this area once had been a large town. I passed, for example, a very large, old cemetery. The few houses were all that was left of the old town of Ft. Miller. At the bottom of the island, I had a great view down the Hudson, which held back blocked by a low dam.
My ten minute detour along Ft. Miller Island ended at another old, steel bridge, analogous to the first. I stopped on the bridge and took photos up and down the canal. Looking south, one could see the locks, where the short canal rejoined the river. As I was manipulating my camera, my glasses fell out of my pocket and onto the steel bridge grating. Providence, only, prevented them from slipping right through and into oblivion.
After crossing the bridge and rejoining U.S. 4, I rode a few hundred feet further south until I came to the locks. There I took a photo looking back north, up the canal, can catching a view of the old bridge I had been on.
At 11:30, Hwy 4 crossed over to the west side of the Hudson, joining Hwy 32, which was in much better shape and much busier. At the crossing was another low dam, perhaps five feet high, stretching across the river. Somewhere must have been a lock for the boats.
Once onto U.S. 4 and State Hwy 32 together, I was back into a built up area, with homes stretching along on both side of the road.
At 11:40 I came to the Saratoga county line. All along the road were these historical plaques, announcing every troop movement and camp that had led up to the famous battle that occurred at Saratoga in 1777.
At 11:45, I crossed the Shuylerville line and by 11:55 I as at the town centre. I decided it would be a good place to stop for lunch, and so rode a bit up the side street, looking for a place.
I found the "50's Diner", a cute looking retro place, all done up in the style of that decade, with the classic formica counters with metal edges and round fountain stools. As it was 12:00, I tried to reach Sheryl. My cell had no service, so I tried the phone booth. Still no luck. She clearly was outside of a service area as well.
I had a strange sandwich called a "Buffalo chicken wrap", a sort of chicken sandwich wrapped in a soft tortilla. I drank a large coke and lots of water. I ended off my lunch with a piece of pecan pie and a coffee.
I was all done by 12:45 and ready to set out again. I rode the couple of blocks down the Main Street hill to the junction with Hwy 4 and turned right (south) to continue. It was only a couple of blocks to get out of the town proper.
Just as I was leaving town, I crossed over a bridge that was just downstream from a dam across a tributary feeding into the Hudson. Below the bridge water was tumbling over the rocks, that water that is that was not being bled off via this humungous pipe, of nearly ten feet diameter and ancient looking. I took a pause to get a couple of photos. To get good photos, I had to walk the bike up a short path and hike over to the dam and almost climb out on the dam face. The whole stop was about ten minutes.
Then the road climbs up the hill, around and over, leading away from the Hudson. Just past the dam, on the River side, had been this old, historical house, the Shuyler House, which was now the centre of a park, with a vast parking lot for tourist buses.
I was labouring up the hill in my granny gear, thankfully going quite slowly, when I had a catastrophic equipment failure. It was 13:00. The metal attachment that held my front panier gave way from metal fatigue. It just snapped right off. Next thing I knew, the panier, hinged only by the two bolts at the base, had flipped forward and dumped the nice, new saddlebag I had borrowed from Sheryl right down into the road in front of me. It took me a moment to realise what was happening, as my brain tried to register this dragging noise as I ground the bag along. I finally stopped and examined the situation.
My camera and binoculars had been in the bag. Thank heavens they were well padded. Had I been rolling fast down a hillside, I would have flipped right over. The bag was nearly totalled. There was a huge gash in the top and the zipper was destroyed. I felt bad, for I had borrowed it, and it was a very nice and nearly new bag. I could go nowhere until I took the whole panier off. I rummaged through my tools and found the pliers and crescent wrench I needed to detach the tiny nuts and bolts. They had not been loosened since I put the panier on back in 1992, so it took some working to get them off.
Then I had to figure out how to attach this unwieldy front panier holder to my gear in back. It was a very awkward shape, and I could not have it so that it interfered with my pedalling.
The whole affair took me about twenty minutes, from 13:00 to 13:20, working out in the hot sun alongside this hill in the open, with no trees or shade, and cars speeding by at 60 mph..
My broken gear stowed, I set out again The roadside was fairly empty along that stretch. There were occasional houses and farms, but mostly trees. By 13:55 I had reached the entrance to the Saratoga battlefield. From reading all the roadside historical plaques I had passed, I knew by then the whole history of the battle and why it was significant. It was here that British General Bourgoyne's army, descending from Canada, was defeated. The colonials got lots of cannon and munitions, and the victory gave the French enough confidence in the Colonies to join the war. From Hwy 4, of course, one could not see the battlefield. It was just a big turn-off, with a road leading up and over the hill.
At 14:10 I crossed into the town of Stillwater, and by 14:20 I was at the town centre. Stillwater was a quaint, little town, stretched along the riverfront. The view of the river was spectacular. There was a low dam, about ten feet high, stretching all across the river in a vast semi-circle. Water flowed over the dam across its whole width in a thin ribbon, before breaking into rapids below, which stretched on down for a few hundred feet. There was a bridge across the river just upstream from the dam. The bridge led over to a narrow spit of land separating the River from the boat canal. Looking down the canal, one could see the lock about half a mile away.
I rode over, and down along the spit of land, looking for the park that was advertised. Along this narrow island was a gravel road. I went down about a quarter mile, to where I could park my bike and climb down to the water's edge. There was a great place to get a photo of the dam. I did not continue on down to the lock.
Instead I rode back into town and stopped into a small convenience store. I really needed to buy myself a short, emergency bungie cord that I could use to keep the torn, zipperless bag closed. I was still using it for my camera and field glasses, but had mounted it on the back. Thankfully, I found the bungie cord I needed. A sign at the counter indicated that they made the best milk shakes in town. I could not resist, and had a vanilla milkshake.
Seeing that it had gotten to be 15:00, I turned on my cell phone and called Sheryl. This time I was able to get through to her. She was at a clothing store in Hudson Falls, where I had been at 09:00. I told her she was probably about an hour and a half from me, and that I would be going as far as Waterford that day.
At 15:00, then, I set off again, leaving Stillwater behind. South of Stillwater is one of the most scenic stretches. Hwy 4 runs right alongside the Hudson, and there are few houses or trees to block the view.
At 15:20 I reached Mechanicville, a larger, old-style industrial town. I had to leave Hwy 4, as it rounded a shopping centre and became a freeway, with a "No Bikes" sign. I turned left and followed the old, main street into town, past an industrial park of old, brick mills and factories. Some looked like they had been around in Civil War days. There was one old factory with a half demolished brick smokestack. One quarter of it had been sliced away, revealing a thickness of a dozen bricks or more.
I passed a old, abandoned steel trestle, crossing the Hudson. Nothing was left but the rusting superstructure. The rails and ties were long gone. Just below this bridge was yet another dam and lock.
I rode on through the centre of this old town, past the courthouse and civic buildings, and a few blocks of old stores (mostly evacuated for the malls). Then the town began to thin out again. I rode past old, wooden houses, that looked like they had seen better days. The residents all looked poor and transient, with dirt for lawns and old, rusty cars sitting in driveways. I was a long way out of town, back into old factories and warehouses, and then into trees, before the street I was on finally regained Hwy 4.
Along the last stretch, the road had been compressed from freeway back to two-laned road, but the volume had not decreased. There was a lot of traffic! I was riding through woodland and past marshes and swamps, with little in the way of houses or any built up area.
As I was nearing Waterford, there was a sign for a small road leading off towards the River, towards the last lock in the Champlain Canal system. I could not resist, though I was leery of leaving the road for too long, as I did not know when Sheryl would be by. I rode out to the River, about half a block. There was a nice, green park, where one could sit and watch the water pouring over the dam and the boats going through the lock. Looking upstream, I could still just make out the steel railway bridge at Mechanicville. I took a few quick pictures, changed film, and then rode back out to the main road.
I made Waterford at 16:30. At the entrance to town is a small welcome sign, set off in the grass. I could not resist stopping for a photo, with my bike in front of the sign. From there the road curves around this huge factory complex, the GE Silicone Plant, for over a mile.
Just past the factory, I came to a small sign announcing the Waterford Motel and pointing off down a gravel driveway. I knew I was nearly in town, and that Waterford would be the last "country" town before hitting the Albany metropolitan area. I figured the motel choices would not be many, so I went in to check it out. The place looked like a dive, even from the outside. Off, behind the businesses fronting the road was this two story motel, with about ten units on each floor. An old Indian guy was in the Office. I rented a room from him. The room was not a pretty sight. The walls were all brown and dirty, as was the bathroom. There was an old, cantankerous air conditioner, which I immediately put on "fan". Some unsavoury characters were hanging out in front of some of the other rooms.
I tried to call Sheryl, but I had next to no service on my cell, and could not get through to her. We had arranged that I would leave my cell phone on after 15:00, and so I figured she would reach me eventually.
I had misplaced my riding gloves, so I rode the mile or more back to the Waterford welcome sign, hoping to find them there. I did not. Who knows where I left them.
I rode then on into the centre of town, which was about a mile past the motel. Hwy 4 and 32 come to a "T" junction at the centre of this quaint, old town. Along the main street are two-storey storefront buildings: Some antique stores (one on each of the 4 corners, for Sheryl), a couple of old cafes, and some other businesses. All around are narrow, tree-lined streets with old, wooden houses. These were in fine shape, however, unlike those of Mechanicville. At the junction, Hwy 32 turns to the right, towards Albany, and Hwy 4 to the left, over the bridge to Troy.
I explored on and soon found, a few blocks past the main street, the old waterfront. Here I came upon the final (or first, depending on one's point of view) lock of the famous, historical Erie Canal. Built in the 1820's, the Erie Canal opened up the "West" of the time. Coming out from the hillside, about a hundred feet or so, were two walls, about fifty feet high. These walls terminated in huge wooden doors. I had arrived just in time to see a barge heading up the canal.
Below the canal entrance, the waterfront of Waterford had been refurbished and modernised. There was a wide patio along which one could walk. Several boats were tied up along the pier, and there was a new, modern building to provide services to them. These would be boaters waiting to go up either the Erie or the Champlain canals. Walking out to the end of the pier, and past another abandoned steel trestle, I came to the point where the Mohawk River, coming from the west, joins the Hudson. I could look back up along the Mohawk, and up and down the Hudson. The Mohawk brings a lot of new water, and the Hudson gets much wider at this point. A big sign, right at land's end points right to the Champlain Canal and left to the Erie.
Across the River, I could see the buildings of Troy climbing right up a steep escarpment. There looked to be about three blocks of flat area along the waterfront before the land climbed up.
At that moment, Sheryl called me on the cell. At the centre of town, I was in a much better service area. She was calling me from the motel. On a hunch she had stopped there. I had been worried, not having reached her, that she, too, would book a room at the same motel. She had not. I told her I had a room and that I would ride back to join her. I was about 17:30, and I would be there in five minutes.
I met Sheryl in the parking lot and we went to explore the room. She was not impressed, but could see it was the only place around. I parked my bike inside the room, showered, and changed into my street clothes. We then set off to find a place to eat supper. The old, Indian guy at the office, where I went to inquire about my missing gloves, suggested we head towards Troy, and that on the outskirts we would find something.
We drove on into Waterford. I showed Sheryl where the antique stores were. Then we turned left and headed across the bridge and into Troy.
Right across the bridge was an old shopping centre and a "family" type restaurant, the Colonial Restaurant. Sheryl's reaction was lukewarm, so we decided to drive on some more.
We followed Hwy 4 on into Troy, an urban blight that stretches long and thin along the River for several miles. It was like driving through the ghetto. There were block after block of ramshakle, old wooden and brick houses that no one took care of any more, with very poor looking people sitting on their doorsteps. We drove all the way into downtown, without finding anything. I then decided to strike out away from the waterfront. I followed a main highway, Hwy 7, coming off of a Hudson River bridge, and at right angles to the River. It climbed right up the steep escarpment and, as I suspected, on the higher ground the homes began to look middle class. We did not find a restaurant to suite us, though, so after a couple of miles I turned around. I had decided that the Colonial Restaurant was the best looking place we had passed.
As we retraced the route though the depressed town, I made my decision that the next day I would ride on down along the Albany side. I figured it could not be worse!
We got to the Colonial Restaurant and got a nice booth in the back room, the "no smoking" room. Service and food was very good. I had Chicken & cream sauce on biscuits and Sheryl had a steak (which looked juicy and tender). We followed this up with desserts: I had fresh peaches and whipped cream over a biscuit and Sheryl had custard pie.
It was only a short way back to our motel, where Sheryl rubbed my knees with the healing oil. They actually had not ached that day, as I had not done any hills to speak of. We crashed at 09:00.
July 21, Friday: Day 5
I was up again promptly at 05:00, and after showering and getting dressed was ready to leave at 06:00. We arranged to go to the restaurant in town, one of the cafes at the main junction in Waterford. I would ride my bike the couple of miles and Sheryl would drive. Surprisingly, on account of her having to take time to park, I made it to the restaurant before her, and was standing out front wondering where she had gotten to.
It was 06:15 when we sat down for breakfast, and I had a good hearty meal: Two eggs, toast, hash browns, and corned beef hash.
While eating breakfast, I studied carefully the detailed maps I had of the Albany area. Our foray of the night before along Hwy 4 into Troy had convinced me that I should stay on the west side of the river and ride down into Albany. As I studied possible routes, I noticed the bare hint of a green line that crept right up the waterfront from downtown Albany to Waterfliet. Elsewhere on the same map, green lines indicated bike paths. I was hoping, therefore, that there would be a bike path right along the shoreline. It was impossible to see where this bike path would be picked up in Waterfliet. In fact, for a ways in Waterfliet, all forward movement seemed to be blocked by a huge armoury.
I felt good about the progress I had made so far. I had nearly made Albany, which in my mind had been my third fall back destination (Whitehall having been the first and the Hudson River the second.). These were landmarks which I had thought would be respectable achievements in their own right, had I been forced to abandon early. In fact, though, my knees were bothering me less every day, and I was generally feeling more and more capable. I felt my prayers were being answered. Even Sheryl seemed to be beginning to exude confidence that I would make it all the way.
At 07:00 I bade Sheryl farewell for the day and set out to the west, along State Highway 32. She was set to return to the motel room, to study her books and to await the opening of the antique stores in town at 11:00.
A short ways through town and the road turned south, crossing the Erie Canal just a bit up from the first lock, where I had been the evening before. I continued on for another couple of miles or so through what was nearly countryside, passing a number of large, comfortable houses. There was a fair amount of traffic on the road, as it was the beginning of morning rush hour.
At 07:50 I crossed the main branch of the Mohawk River. The "river" I had seen the day before had only been a side stream. The main branch was much wider, nearly half a mile wide. Hwy 32 crossed on a long bridge, with a dam directly below, and falls and rapids below the dam.
The city build-up started in earnest on the far side of the river, as I came into the town of Cohoes. Most of the traffic was siphoned off onto I-787, a busy freeway which would parallel my route, separating me from the Hudson River. I was thankful, for Hwy 32 became a relatively quiet residential city street called Saratoga Road. The houses I passed were old, but in very good condition and the neighbourhood seemed quite respectable, as compared with what I had seen in Troy. So far, at least, I was happy I had been led by the Spirit to choose the Albany side.
At 08:00 I had crossed into Colonie, and the area was almost semi-rural. Houses sat on large, properties with lots of trees and I even passed some fields and pastures. I could see the city just across the I-789 freeway which was my constant left side companion, but the same road formed a boundary and sheltered me from it. I passed under Hwy 7, a freeway which led across the Hudson into Troy, and down which I had explored the night before.
I crossed into the town of Waterfliet (founded in 1644, not long after Montreal) at 08:10. Here I was back, once again, on a quiet, residential city street, lined with old-style wooden houses, all of which were in a prim and proper state of repair. I crossed Hwy 2, another freeway leading across the river, this time right into downtown Troy. Hwy 2 had been the furthest south we had driven the night before.
All of a sudden, the street I was riding along came to an abrupt end at a tiny cross street, and there were no signs to indicate where I was or which way I should go. I saw a fire station half a block down the road, with some firemen standing in the open door by the engine and talking. I rode over there, first to ask them the somewhat silly question of how one pronounced "W-a-t-e-r-f-l-i-e-t", the name of the town. "Water - VUL - ly" was the answer. We discussed my trip for a few minutes, where I had started from, how long I had been on the road, and where I was headed. I asked them about the bike path I had seen on the map and was pleasantly surprised that they knew all about it. They gave me easy directions: "Ride on down the street to "Broadway", a sort of frontage road paralleling the freeway. Follow that along until the end. Then turn left and take the tunnel under the highway." This was all quite unclear on my map, and I am sure I never would have found it on my own.
I did as they directed and Broadway took me alongside and past the vast Watefliet Arsenal, which advertised that it was the oldest in the U.S. I could see row upon row of military vehicles and hardware, all parked in front of these old, Civil war style brick buildings. Past the arsenal were more houses, fronting on Broadway and then the freeway. Finally, I came to the end of Broadway, at 1st Street, and found a small two-laned tunnel leading down and under the freeway. This had been the first crossing of the highway since I had passed Hwy 2, some time back.
On the far side was the beginning of a park, occupying the hundred feet or so of waterfront land separating the freeway from the river. There was a small parking lot for cars, and the beginning of the bike path leading south to Albany. It was 08:30 when I reached the beginning of the bike path.
The path was very pleasant. The flat, gravel trail led right along the water's edge, under the trees. I had many long views of the Hudson as I rode along. At that early hour, there were few others out. Mostly I passed elderly Indian and Chinese couples out for their morning walks. Looking to the far side of the river, I could see that the urban area of Troy had given way to countryside and trees. There was a huge cliff running all along the river, a bit back from the shore, and I was sure that had I been riding on the far side, I would have had to climb up and down the hills.
As I neared the city of Albany, I could begin to see the skyline. The bike path came out of the trees and crossed vast, open spaces of grass. I reached its end after half an hour, at 09:00, as it came to the Albany waterfront park. The park was separated from the city by the mass of elevated freeways.
I had been viewing the bridge at Albany as I approached. I was fairly sure that a bicycle could get across, as it was not labelled as a freeway on my map. Nevertheless, there was that niggling doubt. I was also scanning the approaches to see how I might get up on it. All this was unnecessary, as the pedestrian/bike approach to the bridge was to be found just across the street from the end of the bike path, at the point where the only tunnel from the waterfront led under the freeways and into the city proper.
I had turned on my phone at 09:00, for the appointed time of communication with Sheryl, and she called almost right away. While I had a good signal, she back at the motel did not. It was hard to talk, but I managed to pass on the information that I had made downtown Albany and was about to cross the bridge.
Then I crossed the street and started pedalling up the long, long ramp. By 09:15 I was at the top of the bridge, looking up and down the Hudson. I looked to the north, along the riverside green space whence I had come. To the south, I could see industries and factories along the Hudson, and far off in the distance, the purple silhouettes of the Catskill Mountains. These would be on the west side of the River, while I was going down the east side.
I rode on down off the bridge and into the town of Rensselaer. Sheryl's reaction to this town's name had made me feel like it would be another urban disaster like Troy. In fact, though, it was very clean and the houses were in good condition. I would normally have followed the main road off the bridge and continued along it until it came to the intersection of Hwy 9J, which was to be my route to the south. Once on site, I could see that the lay of the land rendered this approach less interesting. The bridge dropped everyone onto Colombia Street, which was also U.S. Hwy 9. It was a broad, six-laned boulevard which proceeded to climb steeply up the escarpment. I presumed it would meet Hwy 9J at the top of the hill, and then the latter would drop back down to my level. I stopped, therefore, to consult my detailed map, looking for a way to meet up with Hwy 9J without having to climb the hill.
I crossed the boulevard and continued on through the old town residential streets along Riverside Drive. Soon I was out of town and into a big industrial park by the Port of Ransselaer. Out of nowhere, it seemed, came rumbling now big semi-trucks and heavy dump trucks. I trundled on. At a certain point, I finally came to the road which would lead me up and out of the industrial park. I had a fairly long climb up over the railroad tracks and then the road came down to meet Hwy 9J, which was just there dropping from the top of the cliff and down to water level. I was happy that my detour had worked out as hoped.
It was 09:30 when I turned south onto Hwy 9J. I was already pretty well clear of Ransselaer and the Albany urban area. It felt good to be officially on the "south of Albany" portion of the trip, the second half. The road ran along the base of a cliff which was, perhaps, a hundred feet high. Between the road and the cliff was room for one line of houses. On the other side the land was flat. There were railroad tracks, and then vast marshes, and then the river. Very soon, I was clear of the industrial park, and there was nothing between me and the river except the trees. Even the houses soon gave way, and I was all alone out in the country. There was very little traffic on the road.
At 10:00 I came to the Shodoch town line. I was by then totally alone in the country. The escarpment continued on my left, the railroad tracks on my right. Quite regularly fast passenger trains would zoom past. I could seldom see the river for the trees, but the constant marshland on that side reminded me of its presence. For a space I rode alongside this long, open channel of water that did not seem to lead anywhere. Then the marsh closed in upon it once more. At one point I heard gunfire off towards the river. Someone was either hunting, or just shooting. I was happy to get past that.
I reached the next town, Castleton-on-Hudson, at 10:20, and was at the town centre by 10:25. On the map it seemed like a large centre, but it was actually a very small town. At the town centre were only a small gas station and a convenience store. From the shoreline park, I could look back up the Hudson and just barely see the Albany skyline and the bridge I had crossed, far in the distance. Two fast Amtrak passenger trains passed by as I was looking out. I rode on, out of town and back into the country.
At this point, the distance between the cliff and the river became negligible, sometimes barely with width of the road and the railroad tracks. The relatively flat section of the highway had come to an end. There were long climbs up to the top of the escarpment. I would ride along the edge of the clearly defined Hudson Gorge for a while. Then the road would plunge back down to water level, only to repeat the process a bit further on.
At 10:40 I stopped and took a break under two high bridges that spanned the gorge: I-90, heading off towards Boston, and an old, railway trestle. At this point, I was down at the bottom of the gorge, near the river, and these two massive spans loomed far up over my head. I had some fig newtons and water as I rubbed my knees.
Police cars had been passing me, going back and forth, for some time. At 11:00, as I rode into Shaddoch Landing, I saw why. I passed a roped off crime scene by the post office. A crowd of townspeople were about, and there were several police cars. One plainclothes policeman in an unmarked car stopped me and interviewed me through the window, asking if I had seen a couple of black men running as I had been cycling. I responded that I had not, but then was hoping that I would not run into them further on.
At Shaddoch Landing, I had climbed up to the edge of the gorge, which was closing in more and more on the river. The ups and downs became more and more frequent.
At 11:10 I crossed the town of Stuyvesant line. Not too far past occurred a terrible incident, for which I feel very badly, even though the outcome had not been my intention. It had been some time since I had been able to get a glimpse of the river, for all the trees. I saw a small opening, across from a farmhouse, and so I parked my bike and took my camera to get a better view. I climbed over the railing and started making my way through the tall grass, which had become matted down. Suddenly a startled animal bolted from in front of me and ran towards the road. Just as it started to cross the road, a fast moving jeep came by and I heard a "thud" as it clipped the animal. I could not see the animal, but it had made the bushes and tall grass just a yard away from me and was thrashing violently. I could see red blood spurting up from the grass. This horrible thrashing continued for 30 seconds of so, until there was silence. When I climbed out, I saw that the animal had been a cat, now lying dead in the grass by the roadside, with half its head gone. I felt terrible, and so responsible. All this simply because I had wanted a photo. And yet there could have been no way to foresee or avoid it. The incident shook me up, for one does not often see death so close up and so graphically. (May God have mercy on the soul of this poor dead cat.)
The road continued up and down along the gorge until 11:40, when I began a long, serious climb. I was down to my granny gear and easiest gear in back and was inching my way up the long hill. The hill brought me into the town of Stuyvesant proper.
Just through town, at 11:55, the road proceeded to drop right back down to the water's edge, in a long, fast descent back into the Hudson Gorge.
At 12:00 I was even with the town of Kinderhook and turned on my phone. Sheryl called as arranged. She was just leaving Waterford, where she had been antiquing for the last hour. She was set to drive through Troy on U.S. Hwy 4, and then had to follow some fancy turns around Ransselaer in order to reach Hwy 9J.
I was getting hungry at that point, but there was nothing at all around. Most of the countryside was empty forest, and the occasional towns had no businesses whatsoever.
At 12:30 began another long, long climb out of the gorge. By now, I was also getting low on water. When I had unloaded half my gear to Sheryl, I had given up the two litre-sized water bottles I normally carried in my front panier (which I did not have anymore, anyway). I was left with only my two regular-sized bicycle water bottles, in their special holders. I realized, then, why I had learned to carry two extra litres of water, and began to lament their absence.
Atop the cliff, the road turned away from the river and struck out over the flat expanse of farmland. At 12:45, I came to the junction with U.S. Hwy 9 and Hwy 9J ended. Luckily, just before the intersection, I had passed a suburban house with two young girls sitting out on the grass selling lemonade while their mom held a garage sale in the driveway. I stopped and had a tall lemonade and a cupcake for a dollar. I then convinced the girls to fill up my bike water bottles inside. I felt refreshed again.
The going on U.S. Hwy 9 was a bit better, although the traffic was heavier than had been the occasional car on Hwy 9J. There was a wide shoulder for me to ride on. New York has several officially marked "Bike Routes", and I was on "Bike Route 9", which had actually started in Plattsburgh and had followed Hwy 9 down through the Adirondacks. I would be sticking with Bike Route 9 all the way into New York City.
I rode through Columbiaville and then, at 12:55, began yet another long, fast descent from the crest, culminating in a bridge over Stockport Creek. From 13:00 to 13:10, then, I was engaged in the long, granny-gear drudgery of climbing back up to the crest once again.
At 13:15 I crossed the Greenport town line and almost immediately afterwards came over a small rise and found suburbia spread out before me. The two-laned country highway broadened to a four-laned boulevard with curbs and sidewalks, and there were huge malls on both sides. The traffic, which had not seemed to heavy on the two-laned road, suddenly increased to fill all four lanes almost bumper to bumper.
I rode past a Wal-Mart at 13:20 and realised it would be a good place to buy some gloves. Riding that morning without the extra padding of my gloves, lost the day before, my hands were already smarting. So I turned into the vast parking lot. Of course, there was no official place to lock one's bike, so I ended up having to chain it to the barrier at the shopping cart return area. I had to remove all my backs, placing them into a cart. Half an hour went by, from 13:20 to 13:50, by the time I had locked and unloaded, gone inside, gotten my gloves and paid for them, and then returned and re-loaded and unlocked my bike.
I rode on down along the boulevard just a few blocks when I saw a decent looking family restaurant. It was 14:00 and I had not yet eaten lunch. I was able to park my bike by the window of the restaurant so that I could keep an eye on it and went inside. The waitress was kind of miffed when I eschewed all the clean tables, in order to sit at the one dirty one. Yet this was the one near my bike. I had a cup of clam chowder, a tuna sandwich with fries, and an iced cream, all washed down with a bottomless root beer.
Refreshed, I set out again at 14:30 and by 14:35 had entered the town of Hudson. Hudson and Greenport are really just one big city. All the businesses and malls appear to be in Greenport. Once across the town line, they all disappeared.
I had to find Hwy 9G in Hudson. This led me to have to turn right at the main corner and drop down through the tiny city streets towards the river. Hudson turned out to be a very depressed area, on par with Troy. All the old, wooden houses were decrepit and the paint was peeling. The most unsavoury characters were looking out from front balconies. I rode by an old, falling down junk yard, which sported huge signs put up by those concerned citizens who wanted it preserved as a heritage site. Finally, as I had dropped most of the way down the hill, I came to the cross street which was labelled as Route 9G. I turned left and soon was heading out of town and back into the country. It was 14:50, and I was glad to be clear of Hudson.
Hwy 9G wound along the flatland for a short way, until it crossed a river feeding the Hudson, then it began climbing up and around a steep hill.
From 15:00 to 15:15 I struggled up the hill. Along the way, as I took a break, I called Sheryl for my appointed 15:00 check in. It turned out she was in a store in Greenport, in the malls I had just left, not even an hour earlier. I told her I would call again at 16:00, and that that would probably be all the riding I would do for that day. The incessant hills were wearing me out.
Once atop the hill, Hwy 9G met up briefly with Hwy 23, heading towards the Rip Van Winkle Bridge over the Hudson, towards the Catskills. It was 15:20. Looking across the river, the Catskill Mountains now loomed very close.
The interchange was rather tricky. Hwy 22 came up over the rise as a four-laned, divided highway. I was able to ride down the hill on the shoulder, but then had to cross over to the left lane, for a left-handed exit, just before the bridge approach. I rode on the shoulder until I was even with the beginning of the left turn lane. Then I had to stop and bide my time until I had a sufficient break to get my bike across two lanes of speeding traffic. Once in the left turn lane, I stood my ground, even though cars were coming up behind me. I had to wait for a similar break to get across the oncoming traffic. The cars behind me waited patiently, or at least no one blew their horn at me.
Hwy 9G then took off south along the escarpment, midway up the side. The hill climbed on up to my left and dropped down to my right, to fields and cow-filled green pastures below. Off in the distance, maybe half a mile away, the line of trees signalled the Hudson River, and I could see the superstructure of the bridge rising from the trees.
The next forty minutes saw many more long climbs and steep descents, and I was getting more and more tired. As I was riding along, I saw photocopied sheets stapled to the telephone poles announcing a place called "The Trail" in upcoming Germantown. It looked like the signs were posted for cyclists, as no car would have been able to read the fine print while speeding by. I hoped that "The Trail" would be some sort of Inn.
At 16:00 I reached it: The Trail in Germantown, New York. It was a bar, with an outdoor terrace. I ordered a coke and sat down outside and called Sheryl. She was still shopping in Greenport. At my call, she set off to come and fetch me. I asked the bartender if there was any lodging nearby and she responded that the closest was in the town of Red Hook, about seven miles away and over on the main U.S. Hwy 9.
Sheryl arrived at 16:30. We unpacked my bike and loaded it onto the bike rack and then headed down the road towards Red Hook. We had to follow Hwy 9G down another few miles, to cut over on County Road 78 at Tivoli. This brought us to U.S. Hwy 9 a few miles north of Red Hook.
Red Hook did have several motels and B&B's, for it was obviously some kind of tourist centre. There were lots of touristy businesses and the main street was lined with trendy stores. Traffic was heavy and people were everywhere. And all the motels were full. Some kind of big antique fair was happening the next day in Rhinebeck (the next town) and everyone had gathered for that.
It was Friday night, and we were not too far anymore from the big city. I had visions of all the motels being full. I was tired. So I began to panic for a short while. Where would we find lodging? The only other nearby town listed in our AAA Guide for New York was the town of Catskill, across the bridge. I called a motel listed there and as soon as I heard they had space I grabbed it. I had to secure it with a credit card.
Catskill was in the opposite direction from Germantown. We had to backtrack, heading north on U.S. Hwy 9 to meet Hwy 23, and then west on hwy 23. Of course, on Hwy 23 we passed a couple of small motels which had place - but I had already reserved the other room in Catskill. We crossed over the Rip Van Winkle Bridge and continued along on Hwy 23, which had by then become a full-fledged freeway. Although listed in Catskill, this motel was far out of town, nestled well into the Catskill mountains. We continued a few minutes Northwest on Hwy 23, until I realised my directions were wrong and I had to backtrack back into Catskill and get off on Hwy 9W. There, again, were copious motels with vacancies. We had to take Hwy 9W through the town of Catskill, to find Hwy 23A, and this we had to follow west to the intersection with Hwy 32. As we drove along, we passed a diner, and decided that would be a good place for breakfast. The Red Ranch Motel was at the junction of Hwys 32 and 23A.
We got there at 19:00, after almost an hour's drive from Red Hook. We were in a sort of mountain resort motel, and it was quite full. Our room was on the 2nd floor and so I had to carry the bike up the stairs.
There was nothing around except the Italian restaurant next door. It looked like the woods extended on for miles and miles around. We walked over to the restaurant, across the parking lot. It was beginning to rain. The place was in essence a pizzeria, but it had a rather pretentious dining room. Surprisingly, it was packed, and we had to wait 20 minutes or so for a table. They had "live" music, which consisted of an old Italian guy supposedly playing the accordion, but he was surrounded with so much electronic equipment it was hard to distinguish what he himself was actually playing. Looking at him, one could imagine "Uncle Luigi" who had retired from a life long career as a Mafia hit man, so they had found him some innocent job. Everyone was Italian. The kids serving the tables could easily have been the children of Mafiosi, farmed out to summer employment as part of their upbringing.
We both had pasta and salad. When I had asked for the list of dressings, the young girl had listed off several, and so I chose Blue Cheese. At the end, when the bill came and the waitress was long gone (for she vanished as soon as she had dropped off the bill), I noticed a dollar extra charge for the Blue Cheese dressing. When I tried to bring this up at the cash, indicating that the waitress had never mentioned an extra charge, the Italian cook started shouting and screaming at me. It was always these "cheap shit" tourists who did not realise Blue Cheese was expensive! I simply deducted the dollar from the tip. We decided this would not be a good place for breakfast.
It was 21:00 when we got back to the room. Sheryl rubbed her healing oil on my knees and I went to sleep almost immediately. She may have stayed up to read, I cannot recall.
July 22, Saturday: Day 6
The alarm went off, as usual, at 05:00 and by 06:30 we were all packed up and out the door. I had brought my bike back down the stairs, had re-mounted the bike rack, and had tied the bike to it. The rain of the previous evening had ended, though it was cloudy and cool and there was fog hanging over the hillsides.
The previous day, with all its ups and downs, had been very trying on my knees and legs, and they ached that morning. I prayed to God, "Give me the strength today to continue."
We drove on back the way we had come, back towards the town of Catskill on Hwy 23A. Along the way, we passed the diner we had seen and stopped in there for breakfast. I had eggs, corned beef hash, toast and coffee. Sheryl had an omelette. The waitress was good enough to fill up my water bottles with clear, cold mountain water. Following breakfast, we drove back over the Rip Van Winkle Bridge to the east side of the Hudson and followed Hwy 9G back to Germantown. Sheryl deposited me back in exactly the same spot where she had picked me up. We took some photos of the experience.
At 08:15 I was on my way, continuing along Hwy 9G through Germantown. I knew the road, now, of course, as far as the Hwy 78 junction in Tivoli. Sheryl soon passed me, beeping her horn and waving. The plan was for her to go to Red Hook and check out the antique stores, but they did not open until 10:00 at the earliest.
I passed Sheryl again a couple of minutes later, at the centre of Germantown. She was parked and standing by the road. She waved me on, shouting, "Go, go go... You can do it!" I wondered, as I passed, what she was up to. I figured she would pass me again soon, but she did not. I turns out there was a tea house where she had stopped, and she decided to have some tea while she awaited the opening of a church bazaar we had seen the evening before.
At 08:45 I crossed the Duchess County line and by 08:50 I had reached the Hwy 78 junction at Tivoli. I stopped for a break, and the last chance to see Sheryl, for I figured she would turn at Hwy 78, as we had the day before. The fog which had been hanging on everything had cleared and the sun was shining down in an almost clear, blue sky. I figured I should put on some sun block before proceeding. Off to the west, near the Catskills, were what appeared to be a bank of clouds coming on, but they turned out to be only the morning fog, still burning off.
I rode on, and by 09:15 had come to Bard College. I gather this is a large, prestigious private college, nestled on the shores of the Hudson, and is probably another reason why the Town of Red Hook is such a popular destination.
I was even with Red Hook at 09:20, at a distance of only two miles.
At 09:35 I crossed the Rhinebeck town line and went by the bridge that crossed the Hudson to the town of Kingston, on the other side. Soon after, Hwy 9G met up again with U.S. Hwy 9 coming out of Red Hook. I continued on along Hwy 9 into Rhinebeck itself, the centre of which I reached at 09:55.
Rhinebeck was a fairly large town, with lots of people. The Fairgrounds were already roped off for the big antique fair, and lines of cars were streaming into the parking lots. Riding on the same bandwagon, several local citizens were holding huge "garage" and "collectible" sales on their front lawns. The downtown part of Rhinebeck was extensive for a small town. Eventually, though, I managed to get somewhat clear of town.
At 10:20 I was even with the town of Staatburg, at 2 miles. Shortly thereafter, I came to a State Park golf course, where the vista of the Hudson Valley with the blue mountains in the background was breathtaking. I stopped for a ten minute break, from 10:25-10:35, and took several pictures. The Hudson Gorge had now opened out into a wide valley. I was conscious that the long ups and downs of the day before had been left behind soon past Germantown. The going had been much easier.
At 11:05 I came to Hyde Park. The first sign I was coming to something was the vast estate on my right, the river side. It was now clearly open as a public park. I went through at one of the first gates, which was actually an exit, for the road on the inside was one-way in the opposite direction. I just went in a short ways and took a couple of pictures of the river. I did not continue on the inside for I was not sure how the road was going to run. Along the main road, there was a long wall with tall trees that stretched for a mile or more. Riding along, I finally came to the main part of the estate. It was the Vanderbilt Mansion, and the parking lot was full of tourists and tourist buses.
I passed an old style stone mileage marker, clearly from the days when Hwy 9 was an old Post Road. It showed New York to be 89 miles away. I felt good about my progress.
Past the Vanderbilt Mansion began the downtown section of Hyde Park. It was 11:15. The downtown was quite built up, with lots of businesses and small shopping centres. Indeed, from Hyde Park on, until I would turn off the main road and onto Hwy 9D, I was never really clear of town. There were always houses and businesses along the route. I imagine that for people following U.S. Hwy 9, Hyde Park marks the beginning of the New York City built up area.
I stopped at a small, roadside shopping centre where they had a bike store and inquired about a replacement part for my front panier, but they did not have it. I then passed the FDR mansion, on the way out of Hyde Park. The FDR mansion did not look as fine or extensive as the Vanderbilt, and there were far fewer tourists. It was 11:30.
I crossed the Poughkeepsie line at 11:40, as the highway dipped down into a long, broad valley and then climbed back up the far side. The highway had now become a four-laned boulevard, with wide shoulders. As I rode into Poughkeepsie proper, I saw a Route 9 Bikeway sign pointing to the left at an intersection. Beyond was a "No Bicycles" sign as Hwy 9 dipped down along the river, around the town, and became a freeway.
I found myself riding through the residential streets of Poughkeepsie which, while not as bad as Hudson or Troy, did not look all that inviting. From several miles away, I had seen this very high railway trestle crossing the Hudson, running several hundred feet over the town. As I rode under it, I saw that it too, like many of the old iron trestles I had seen, was totally abandoned. There were no tracks or roadbed left, only the shell. I wonder what will become of all these old iron bridges.
It was near 12:00 as I passed by a small town square, certainly not "the" downtown. I saw an open air terrace attached to a place called "Caffe Italiana". One of the three tables was free. I rode over and parked my bike in front and took a spot at the table, where I took out my maps to study them. I was near the end of my detailed Jamasco map of the Capital area, and had only a regular state map to go on past Poughkeepsie. As I sat, the waitress came out and collected things from one table next to me, where they had had coffee and sandwiches. She did not speak to me.
I was patient. It was time for me to call Sheryl anyway. She was very surprised that I was already in Poughkeepsie! She was back in Rhinebeck. She had made contact with her friend from New York, who was driving up to meet her. I told her I would call again at 15:00.
By now, the waitress had been out to collect the bill from the other table. The first table had left. I had been sitting for ten minutes or more. So, I went inside where they had a sort of fountain counter and lots of bags of coffee and many old style iron-legged marble tables. I asked the waitress if there was table service outside, or if we were supposed to get our stuff inside and bring it out. No, she responded, there was table service. She would send someone out.
That someone was a young kid in a white coat who looked like he was the bus boy or dishwasher. I ordered a large coke and a menu. He went inside, and came back a few minutes later empty-handed. "We don't really serve any food", he told me. I inquired about the sandwiches I had seen at the next table, but he told me these people must have brought them from outside. What DO you have, I asked. Only iced cream sundaes, he answered.
I was in a dilemma. I was hungry and could see no other restaurants nearby, nor had I passed any on my way in. I had a great spot in the sun, with a great view. I decided I wanted to stay where I was. "What kind of Sundaes", I asked. He named off a few flavours, and I ordered one, and reminded him about my coke.
He was back a minute later, still empty-handed. "We have no flavours left", he announced. "Do you still have iced cream?" I asked. Yes. You must have chocolate, since you make Mocha coffee. Yes. "Then surely you can make a chocolate sundae?" He went away to check.
When he came back a couple of minutes later with my coke, I figured things were moving. Soon I had my chocolate sundae. I cannot figure out why they had decided they really did not want to serve me. Perhaps it was because I was all dirty and sweaty, but then I was clearly in a bicycle jersey!
Despite the trouble, I enjoyed my simple repast. I was a little nervous leaving my bike when I had to go in and pay and use the facilities, as there were quite a number of shady looking characters hanging out on the stoops and walking up and down the street. It was still there when I got back out.
I continued on my way through Poughkeepsie. The streets were a maze, but I could clearly see the railway bridge behind me and a the huge superstructure of a highway bridge ahead, so I used these for my bearings as I tried to keep heading south, somewhat along the river (although the river was at least five blocks away, and separated by a freeway).
I finally come to a dead end by a park, so I turn left and head further up the hill into town. I soon come to a closed off street, lined with lots of people. As luck would have it, Poughkeepsie was running some sort of bicycle race. I asked a security person how I could get past it. He directed me to walk my bike down the sidewalk to the right, as only one block was blocked off. As I was walking, a older gentleman stopped me and began to ask me questions. He had seen my paniers, and assumed I was not involved in the current race. He was surprised when I told him I was on day #6 of a ride from Montreal. We chatted, as he announced that he, too, was a "tourer". I used the opportunity to inquire about how to get out of Poughkeepsie, and about the road south. He filled me in on the path of the Route 9 Bikeway, confirming what I had read during my internet research, that I would cross over to the west shore at West Point and would continue down into New Jersey before crossing back across the George Washington Bridge. He also gave me immediate directions on how to get out of Poughkeepsie.
I managed to find "Bike Path" signs again, and followed these as the city streets gave way and the Hwy 9 riverside freeway approached. Then I came to a very confusing intersection. The street clearly passed over the highway, to join it on the far side. The bike path sign pointed straight ahead, towards the off ramp of the oncoming traffic. And there was not just one sign, which might have been turned the wrong way. There were several. This was no mistake. So, I followed cautiously. There was a marked lane running up the side of the off ramp. It came to the beginning of a sidewalk, running alongside the freeway. This was the bike path. The sidewalk. It was a very bumpy, old sidewalk, and it would drop away as we came to each side street.
Hwy 9 was, at this point, a six-laned divided highway and was full of cars, speeding in both directions at 60 mph or better. We were running right along the river, separated only by one width of property, holding various big establishments: hospitals, schools, cemeteries, etc. At first there was a cliff to my left, but this gave way to flat land after a while, with lots of residential side streets. Some of these had traffic lights. I guess at the other streets, one could only turn right, as there would be no way to cross the traffic without a light. I was still riding along facing the oncoming traffic, and there was no sidewalk on the other side.
It was 13:00 when I started along this bike path, and I continued along it for twenty minutes, until 13:20. I stopped at a gas station/convenience store and bought myself a bottle of water, to replenish my supply, for it was very hot and I was sweating a lot. I also bought some more maps. I bought a detailed map of the "Hudson Valley" area and a street map of New York City. The Hudson Valley map was not too good, and it turned out to be fairly inaccurate. I found things to be not where they said they were. They were probably close enough that someone in a car would not notice.
At 13:20, several miles south of Poughkeepsie proper, the bike path came to an inglorious end. Thankfully, it was at an intersection with a light. Perhaps I was near Knapps Corners. I had to cross the highway and proceed along now with the traffic.
It was the ride from Hell! Hwy 9 was still a six-laned boulevard. There was no shoulder, just a curb right along the edge of the outside lane. As I plodded along at six to seven miles per hour, the cars behind me were wont to go sixty. One by one they had to wait behind me until they could get a clear space in the next lane. Then they would speed by.
I was riding through "Mall Land". Huge shopping malls, with vast parking lots, lined both sides of the highway. There were, thankfully, lots of traffic lights, which tended to slow some of the traffic down. It was very hot, though, with the sun beating down on the concrete and with no shade whatsoever.
Sanity returned after another twenty minutes when, at 13:40, I finally came to the Hwy 9D at Wappinger's Falls and turned off to the right, back towards the river. The two-laned road was still very busy, but at least there was a paved shoulder, and it was lined with trees. I was back into a residential area, passing large, somewhat fancy houses.
I came to the centre of Wappinger's Falls at 13:45. The road dipped down into a small ravine to cross over the Wappinger River. There actually were some falls at Wappinger's Falls, as the water cascaded over the rocks downstream from the bridge. Close by the river, the modern residences had given way to older structures, perched out on the cliff side, with strange twisty-turny balconies and walkways, such as in the movie, "Popeye". I took a short break.
I climbed up then out of the ravine and turned more to the right, to follow the river. The old houses gave way to new ones again, and then even these began to thin out and I was back into the country, with trees and pastures. The traffic seemed a bit thinner than before.
At 14:15 I took a short break alongside the road, eating some Fig Newtons and tanking up on water. After five minutes, I rolled on.
Half an hour later, at 14:50, as I continued down the same road, I heard these cars behind me honking their horn. Unvoiced expletives came to mind as I rode on, ignoring them. Finally, they passed me. It was Sheryl, in our white Honda, followed by her friend, in her black SUV. They pulled off the road up ahead. I stopped and Sheryl gave me a hug. I greeted Sheryl’s friend with a hug, as well, although not too tightly, as she looked askance at how dirty and sweaty I was.
They had met, each approaching from opposite directions, in the "Mall Land" I had passed earlier, homing in to each other using their cell phones to communicate. The plan now was to get some lunch! I told them I would not mind stopping for lunch. They decided they would go ahead, and would find a place along the main road for lunch. I would ride on and keep my eyes open for the vehicles. So they headed off, down the road, and I followed.
At 15:00, I came to the town of Beacon Hill. My first encounter was the overpass crossing I-84 as it came over this huge bridge spanning the Hudson, from Newburgh on the far side. Then Hwy 9D became a wide, city boulevard as it swung around and dropped down towards the river in a long descent. Beyond Beacon Hill, further south on the east side, was the tall hill with radio towers on top that probably gave the town its name. Across the river were more big hills, as the Hudson River left the valley and entered the second gorge, leading to West Point. As the road dropped down, there was a vast city park descending the rest of the way to the river. A Latin music festival was underway that day, and the sounds of the Spanish rhythms could be heard coming up through the trees.
At the bottom of the hill, Hwy 9 turned to the left and climbed back up along tiny downtown streets. I looked in vain for Sheryl and her friend, but saw nothing, not even a restaurant. Over the rise, and it was like being back out in the country again. The street dipped down into a small valley, just in front of the big hill. There was a small intersection, and then the road climbed up to the very edge of the hill and abruptly turned to the right, running along the hillside, and maybe twenty feet above the valley. The houses of Beacon stopped and I was back out into the country.
At 15:30, when I had only just started along this last stretch, Sheryl and her friend came up again from behind. I had passed them, for they had explored off the main road. They had not found anything.
Thinking of a place to stay for the night, I thought of Highland Falls, just outside of West Point. I remembered from our visit there in 1998 that the town had lots of motels and restaurants. I thought it was much closer than it actually was, for I did not take into account that I was back, once again, into the hilly section of the road. I suggested to Sheryl that they go on ahead to Highland Falls and secure lodging. They headed off.
Hwy 9D past Beacon Hill is a much quieter road, and the roadbed was in a much sadder condition than it had been on the way into town.. I was into forest now, often passing through state parks. The road would be climbing up and down for the rest of the day.
As we rounded the base of the big hill, the road climbed up to give a good vista back towards Beacon and the bridge. I pulled off into the parking lot of a fancy country restaurant to see if I could get a picture, but the maitre d' ran out and shooed me off. I did not get another chance, as the trees closed in and then the road dropped right down to the river level at Little Stony Point. I did stop there to get some photos. It was 16:00.
At Little Stony Point, the Hudson River is firmly within the gorge. Bear Mountain and other hills rise cliff-like from the far side. Along the river's far edge is a railway line running freight trains. On my side were similar hills, dropping down like cliffs to the water's edge. A fast passenger rail line runs along the shore, and in some places the flat space is wide enough for the road as well. Little Stony Point was one of those places. Pleasure craft and barges could be seen up and down the Hudson, which is about half a mile wide, with brown water.
Starting out again, the road ran tantalizingly along the water's edge for a half mile or so, before climbing precipitously back up to the ridge. At the top, the residential town of Cold Spring began to develop and by 16:10 I had reached its centre.
At 16:30 Sheryl called. Since our last meeting, I had left the phone on. She had gotten a room, room 202, at the U.S. Academy Motel in Highland Falls, just 3 miles north of the Bear Mountain Bridge. She and her friend would await me there. I was just at the bridge over Indian Brook at that point, high up on the cliffs above the Hudson. I cannot say "overlooking" for it was rare to get a glimpse of the river through all the trees. High up on the hill in front of me was this fancy white house.
I was at the town of Garrison at 16:40 and beginning to get very tired. How much further could it be! I could see through the trees that across the river I was even with the main complex at West Point Academy.
At 16:50 I could see that I was even with the big Highland Falls Inn, the hotel at the southern gate of West Point. On my side, I could have been a million miles from any city. The whole area was forest. The few time that it opened out, there were tranquil green pastures, with tall hills behind.
At 17:00 I took another break. I was beginning to feel real fatigue. I was hitting the wall! I felt like the Bear Mountain Bridge would never come.
It came, though, finally, at 17:15. I was so happy to arrive at the bridge and it lifted my spirits and gave me a last burst of energy. I decided to walk across the bridge on the pedestrian walkway, so that I would be able to get some good photos. And good photos I did get, for the view up the gorge was spectacular! Looking south, one could see Bear Mountain, looming over the river, as it turned to go around this obstacle. Beyond, one saw the hint of the river opening out as it left the gorge. It took me until 17:30 to walk all the way across the vast steel span, for once the decision was made to walk, it was not possible to ride. The walkway was too narrow.
At the far side, the road from the bridge comes into a big traffic circle, with the end of the Pallisades Parkway heading out to the west and Hwy 9W leading north and south. I had been by this way many times during our 1998 stay. Seeing the familiar Pallisades Parkway gave me a real feeling of being close to New York.
I had a ways to go yet, though. Turning north, I had to ride down the hill and over another, smaller bridge, and then back up the hill again. Sheryl called me again, as I was stopped at the bridge. Where was I? Did I want her to come and get me? No, I replied.
The town buildings began, and then petered out again as I got to a newer stretch of road. It climbed up a long, long straight hill. I was so tired, I forget to change by gear in back. So even though I was in my granny gear in front, I was pushing much harder than I should have been. I reached the top, only to ride right back down the other side. As I rounded the corner, I saw yet another huge climb. Mercifully, though, the turn off for Highland Falls came just before.
As I rode over the ridge, the U.S. Academy Motel came into view, right on the edge of town. It was not the fanciest of motels, but it had been the only thing going, according to Sheryl. Sheryl and friend were sitting out in the middle of the lawn on lawn chairs, relaxing with cokes and waiting for me. The Indian owner of the motel came up to shake my hand, impressed that I had ridden all the way from Canada. It was 18:00 when I got there.
I took the bike into the room and showered and changed, making myself presentable for dinner. Then the three of us drove on into town and had dinner at Shade's, right near the Academy gates. I had black bean soup, followed by a chicken enchilada. Sheryl had a chicken Caesar salad. After dinner, we took a little walk around and got some iced cream at a small shop. Both Sheryl and I had a flavour they called "Mint Ting-a-ling". It was a sort of Mint Chip.
We all came back to the motel and I crashed at 21:00. Sheryl went off with friend to help get her settled for the night.
July 23, Saturday: Day 7
I was up once more as my watch alarm went off at 05:00. We were out the door at 06:00 and drove into town, planning to have breakfast at McDonald's. Even they, however, did not open that early! We finally found a deli that was open and had fried eggs & cheese on a roll, a strange combination, at 06:15. After breakfast, we drove back to the motel and I set off in the crisp, morning air.
I started out at 07:15. Just around the corner from the motel, I found a road sign that indicated I was 50 miles from New York. It seemed so close! I rode up and around the intersection with Hwy 9W, which required me to make a short, steep climb for no good reason. Then, on Hwy 9W, I had to do the long uphill and downhill of the day before, in reverse. Then I rode through the town and across the smaller bridge.
I got to the traffic circle at 07:35 and was done with the "out of my way" portion of the ride. The "Bike Route 9" signs were clearly marked. The sun was just breaking over the hills and shining across the Bear Mountain Bridge. After a break for some photos, I continued on along Hwy 9W, steeling myself for the inevitable climb up and over Bear Mountain. Dense forest closed in on either side of the road.
At 7:55, just as I could see the first major climb of the mountain, I saw the Bike Route 9 sign pointing off the road. Nearly hidden was a bike path. It was actually an old gravel road and was in terrible condition. There were washouts all along it, and many sections of loose gravel. The old stone embankments led me to believe that this had once been the main road. As bad as it was, it permitted me to get around Bear Mountain without having to climb over it. I passed along the river just above the railroad tracks.
Barely five minutes along the trail, I stopped at a break in the trees to look back. There was a clear view of the Bear Mountain Bridge in the distance, and in the foreground, just down the cliff, tidewater marshes stretched out towards the river. I was excited that I had reached tidewater! I was getting ever nearer my goal.
After twenty minutes, at 08:18, the old trail opened out into a back street of some small nameless hamlet near Jones Point. I learned later that the trail was called the "Jones Point Trail”. Within a couple of minutes, I had regained Hwy 9W, as it came down off the mountainside and dropped to water level.
I rode on along the water's edge, towards the town of Tomkin's Cove, which I reached at 08:40. On this stretch, there was room at the base of the hill to my right for only the road, the railroad tracks, and a few small houses. The Hudson River opened out into a vast expanse and there were no longer any high hills on the far side, just the riverside rise of a hundred feet or so.
Past Tomkin's Cove, the road started to climb up again and left the river a bit. As I was climbing, I stopped to see deer grazing on someone's lawn. I climbed up into the town of Stony Point without even realizing it. It was 09:00 and so I stopped and called Sheryl. I was near the junction with Hwy 202. She was still back at the motel. She would go have breakfast with her friend a bit later
The road came down the other side of the Stony Point ridge and into the town of West Haverstraw, and then Haverstraw itself. At 09:20 I stopped at the junction with Hwy 304. There was a roadside plaque that announced that the area had been an original land grant to a certain "De Haarte" in the early 1600's. (DeHart is my mother's maiden name.) I could clearly see the beginnings of the "Pallisades" formation as I looked on down the river along the road.
Past the intersection, the highway started climbing up again, rising above a cliff over the river. Soon it turned to the right and left the river's edge, but it still kept climbing. (I have since learned that there was a shoreline bike path I could have taken, the Mt. Hood - Nyack Beach Bike Trail. Unfortunately, I did not find the map that showed this route until later.).
At 09:45 I passed a sign that indicated that the town of Nyack was 5 miles away. It would be a long five miles. When I reached the top of the pass, I was disappointed that I could not see anything. As had been the case many times, trees and private property blocked the view. I rode a few feet down someone's private driveway, and caught a glimpse through the trees of the river to the south, and far below. The light was not right for a photo, though.
By 09:50 I was dropping down the other side, but was coming down on the west side of the Pallisades ridge, away from the river. I could see rows of new suburban housing developments, a clear sign that I was approaching the city.
Once again, I had the thrill of racing down the hillside at full speed. I was descending into a small bowl of a valley. At the bottom was the entrance to Rockland Lake State Park, which I reached at 10:05. Already, early on Sunday morning one could see hordes of people streaming in. Lines of cars were parked along the highway, and people were descending in family groups in bathing suits and with all their beach gear.
I started to climb the long, straight hill out the other side of the valley, a climb which took me until 10:25, for it was a very long hill. By the end, with the sun beating down on me, I was sweating profusely. At the top, Hwy 9W made a left turn, onto a smaller road, while the main road continued down into the next valley. I had a vast vista of this inland valley, half filled with suburban developments, with mountains showing in the distance.
Hwy 9W ran just along the western edge of the crest of the ridge for a ways. I passed newly built townhouses along my right. Then there was a short climb, as the road went over the top and back down a bit on the eastern side of the Pallisades ridge.
Thus I came to Upper Nyack at 10:25. There was little more to Upper Nyack than a couple of gas stations and a convenience store. All else was trees.
Over the past hour or so, I had become conscious of the many, many cyclists that were riding along that day. I guess because it was Sunday, and a nice day. Nearly all of these cyclists were passing me by quite quickly, for they did not have any gear.
At Upper Nyack there was a Route 9 Bikeway sign pointing to the left, down a side street. The street seemed to go almost straight down. I was in a quandary, for I saw that Hwy 9W continued ahead more or less flat. I was very concerned about losing all the altitude I had worked so hard to gain, and for no reason.
A cyclist was stopped at the gas station, so I rode over and double-checked with him that the bikeway was down the hill. Yes, it was, he answered. I expressed my concern of dropping down to the bottom of the hill, only to climb up again. He said it was much nicer down the hill than following Hwy 9W, and that I would have lots of climbs regardless, no matter how I went.
So, I left Hwy 9W and descended the hill. Down, down, down the steep hill I dropped. Houses began to appear around me. There were no other signs or indications of bike route. Some ways down, I found a fairly substantial street heading south, across the hill, so I turned right and followed this. I noticed many other cyclists were doing the same, so this gave me confidence. As I rode along this residential street, though, more and more of the other cyclists were turning left down various streets to continue down the hill. I did not know whether to go forward or to turn left to follow them. They obviously knew where they were going, but I did not. I stopped to consult my map, but it gave me no enlightenment. I decided finally to keep going as I was, to get across Nyack. I figured that past the town, all would come together again. (Again I discovered later that I could have descended right to the water level, and followed a bike path along the river, and under the Tappan Zee Bridge. It would not have saved me from the final climb, though. At least on my route, I was already halfway up the hill.)
I stopped at a certain point to get a drink from a local convenience store. Soon thereafter the street I was following ended abruptly. I had to nose my way southward, looking for another through street. Each time, I had to descend the hill a bit, for Nyack is built right up the side of this very steep hill. Some of my attempts led to dead ends, and I was beginning to feel very lost in Nyack.
It was 10:50 when I finally came upon some sort of gravel bikeway. The bikeway was shaded and ran along a ridge, above people's back yards, and a road could be seen through the houses below. Above, as well, was soon a road, as highway 9W descended from higher up on the ridge and was soon running just parallel to the trail.
I was sure, by then, that I had missed the correct turn. The bikeway was nearly deserted. I passed only a couple of people walking. Clearly the hordes of cyclists had gone some other way. There was nothing to do, though, but continue along as best I could.
Soon I came to the crossing over the New York State Thruway (I-87). Looking west, it could be seen descending the ridge. Looking eastward, it continued down and went across the Hudson on the Tappan Zee Bridge, far below. Just next to the bike path bridge (which must have been some sort of old railway bridge, for it was a robust concrete structure in its own right), Highway 9W dissolved into a complicated pattern of ramps and bridges, as it interfaced with the Thruway. I stopped for a short break.
Not too far past the Thruway crossing, the bike path ended and I was able to rejoin Highway 9W. It had gotten fairly quiet, with only a couple of cars coming by every minute. The road ran more or less flat across the face of the cliff. There were lots of houses on both sides, but they were mostly hidden by shrubbery and trees. I saw only driveways leading to the right and sharply up the hill, and driveways to the left dropping out of sight. The trees cut me off from any but the rarest glimpses of the river.
At 11:10 I left Nyack and crossed into the town of Piermont. Not too long after, the road climbed up over the ridge once again, to descend down the opposite side. I began to notice more and more fellow cyclists, so whatever route they had taken must have met up with mine again.
The highway dropped down a fair way, into the little hamlet of Sparkill. Here there was a detour, which forced an even greater drop, and subsequent climb, than if I had been able to stay with the main road. For while Highway 9W bypassed the town along the ridge, I was forced down into the city streets, down to the creek crossing, and then had to go back up. It took me from 11:20 to 11:30 to find my way through Sparkill.
Once I regained the main road past Sparkill, it began another long, serious climb. In fact, this climb was longer than any I had faced. Gone were the houses now. There was deep forest on both sides. There was a turn off for the town of Pallisades, which I knew was the last town in New York. Then the climb continued.
For twenty minutes I slogged up the twisty, turny road, spinning as slowly as I could, with my granny gear in front and my easiest in back. I must have been going only slightly faster than one would walk. All of the hot shot weekend cyclist were now passing me by like I was standing still.
At 11:50 I came to the New Jersey line, and also the town line of a town aptly named "Alpine". I parked my bike and took a well-deserved ten minute break, during which I had some Fig Newtons, devoured some water, and called Sheryl.
She and her friend were just then having breakfast back at West Point.
My detailed street map of New York City extended to the point where I then was, so I was able to switch maps. The Hudson Valley map that I had bought had turned out not to be that good. The New York City map showed that there was a "State Line Lookout" just below me. An old, abandoned road climbed up to the state line. It was closed off to vehicles, but a lot of hikers were going down and coming up. By me there was a small parking lot for their cars. Most other cyclists were also stopping there for a break, so quite a crowd was around.
I decided not to go to the lookout, for I did not know how far down it was, and was loathe to have to climb back up again. I did see, however, a very interesting small park road leading through Pallisades Park, with an entrance not too far ahead. I decided to take that road, for I could remember from an evening drive down from West Point back in 1998 that one did not have any sort of river view from Highway 9W as it went along the Pallisades.
At 12:00 I set out again. The state line had not meant an end to the climbing. It was 12:20 before I reached the crest. There Highway 9W met the Pallisades Parkway. There was an underpass, after which the Parkway paralleled the road just to the east.
After the interchange, Highway 9W became flat. It was a very boring stretch of highway, but there were a lot of cyclists. The road was very straight. To the right, west, were low, scrubby trees, and occasional pastures. There were no houses, businesses, or other buildings. To the left, east, was the Parkway. While the Parkway was shaded with tall trees, our road had no shade at all. Beyond the Parkway could be seen much denser forest.
I rode on along this way for ten minutes, watching intently for the entrance to the small park road I had seen on the map. I reach the underpass, back to the other side of the Parkway, at 12:30. I was not totally sure what I was going to find, so I proceeded cautiously. On the far side were park buildings, a parking lot for the park, and a modest grassy clearing under the woods. A small, one-laned road descended sharply down the hill. It was labelled Henry Hudson Drive. The gate was open, but I could tell from all the signs that it often was not. I noticed that I was the only cyclist who had come under to this side. I wondered for a while what I was getting myself into, for the descent was steep and I knew I would not want to have to come back up that way.
Still, being under the trees, with a chance at actually seeing the river, was preferable to seven miles of open, shadeless and featureless highway. I plunged downward. Down, down, down the tiny road led, cutting across the face of the cliff. Straight rocky cliffs cut away above me, and dropped out of sight below me. It was forced to use my breaks to slow down, the angle of descent was so great. Soon, though, I was down at the water level. I still could not be sure what lay ahead, but I was already glad I had come this way.
There was only the occasional car. The road was one-laned and one-way. Cars were not allowed to stop, but that interdiction had no effect on me. I made frequent stops. I stopped whenever I had a chance to view the river through the trees. At one point, where the road was just above the river, I parked my bike and climbed down. I found myself on a small beach. A sign warned hikers along the "beach route" that at high tide they would have to climb up to the road at this point.
Not too far down the road, at 13:10, I stopped to enjoy a waterfall cascading down the cliff side. Another cyclist stopped, Alan Rowe, from New York. We got to talking and he was impressed by my trip. He was a weekend cyclist who often came over to ride along Henry Hudson Drive, which he thought was one of the finest rides.
I took the opportunity to ask him how I should proceed once I got to the New York side of the George Washington Bridge. This detail had bothered me, for the Bridge comes into Manhattan at 178th street, close to Harlem, and I was worried about riding down through there. He gave me detailed instructions on how to proceed off the bridge, and to get to Riverside Drive. He indicated that I should have no problem once I got there. "Make sure you take the south sidewalk over the bridge. When you come off at the other side, you are coming into Washington Heights, not Harlem. Climb half a block up the hill on 178th Street and you will come to Ft. Washington Avenue. Turn right and take this down the hill, through the Colombia University Medical Center. At 163rd Street, turn right and go down the hill to Riverside Drive, which you can take all the way down to 78th Street." He gave me his card, and asked if I wanted to be interviewed on his local cable show, but I said I did not think that would be possible. After a ten minute chat, we each departed.
There were sections of Henry Hudson Drive which required moderate climbing. Indeed, one of the "rules" for cyclists posted at the entrance was that they must have at least a ten-speed bike. After my climbs earlier in the day, though, I was laughing at these hills. None of the climbs ever came near the crest of the Pallisades, which continued to loom far overhead.
At 13:25 I noticed through the trees that I was now even with the top of Manhattan Island. I could see across the bridge over the East River, linking Manhattan with the Upper Bronx.
At 13:45 the road descended again to the water level. I had just passed the one road providing access from atop the cliff, coming down from the town of Englewood Cliffs. Bikes were not allowed to climb up this road. Descending down with the traffic, I came to a waterfront park. There was a vast parking lot for cars, nearly full, and a beach stretched out to the north. There was a small marina and a small pier on which to sit. I noticed a food stand right by the pier, and realized I was very thirsty and hungry. I had also nearly exhausted my water supply.
I first bought a soft drink, a bottle of water, and a candy bar. As I quaffed the soft drink, I had second thoughts about food, and decided to order a corn dog (which here we would call a "Pogo").
As I ate, I enjoyed the view down the river. I had my first clear view of the George Washington Bridge, over which I would soon be riding. Directly across were the buildings of Upper Manhattan, still nestled in the trees. Out on the water were dozens and dozens of boats. And all along the shoreline on my side were people sunbathing and enjoying the water.
I called Sheryl and told her where I was. She had just started driving south from West Point. I told her I was having lunch and was within sight of the bridge. She had thought that she might pick me up right at the New York side o the bridge, to avoid my having to go through Harlem. I told her, though, that I now had good directions and figured I could proceed. We made arrangements to meet at Battery Park, at the southernmost tip of Manhattan, at 16:30. I had measured the distance on the map and estimated it would take me that long.
At 14:10 I set out again. Soon, looking south along the river, I had my first view of the New York City skyline. At 14:30 I was directly under the massive structure of the George Washington Bridge. It was very impressive, with huge steel columns rising from two piers in the river. I could feel the power of the bridge as I listened to the sound of the traffic crossing its two levels. And amidst all that power, was a small creek cascading down the cliff side and passing under the road right at my feet.
Right after the bridge, the Pallisades Park comes to an abrupt end. The road curves away from the river and starts climbing up the cliff. Almost immediately, to the left (south) are people's back yards, separated by a fence. The big climb was not on the park road, but on Main Street, onto which the road emptied soon after turning inland. It was a shock being dumped from country and park roads directly into the thick of the city. Suddenly, across the road, were massive twenty story apartment buildings. Main Street in Ft. Lee, New Jersey was thick with traffic, inching bumper to bumper up the steep hill. Lots of cars were parked along the park side of the street, with people gathering their things for a walk into the park. I saw lots of people removing bikes from bike racks, to take the ride that I had just come from.
Up, up, up the steep street I climbed, until I reached the spaghetti bowl which is the bridge entrance. A freeway comes from the west and goes underfoot to enter the lower deck of the bridge. All sorts of city streets collect together to feed the upper deck. Sidewalks and pedestrian walkways wander to and fro. And amidst all this was construction.
I basically just had to follow the cyclists, though. An almost steady stream of them were heading onto and off of the bridge. The construction came in handy, for I was able to slip off the main track and use one of their portable facilities, which surprisingly was not locked. I felt uneasy leaving my bike outside, even for 30 seconds, but what could I do? Certainly, I did not want to have to stop on the other side!
It was 14:40 when I reached the New Jersey end of the bridge. It had taken me ten minutes to climb up to the heights and find the entrance. Across the massive steel structure stretched pedestrian walkway, of about ten feet width. As I rode across, I made many stops to enjoy the breathtaking view and to take photos. I had a clear view, now, of the distant skyline. I looked down under the bridge at the road I had been on only a few minutes before. Looking north, I could see the rocky cliffs of the Pallisades. Southward, on the New Jersey side was only industry. The Manhattan shore was lined with a long, green park, stretching off as far as I could see. As I got closer, I could also see the massive tangle of twisted highways along the shore.
Once I got near the New York side, I put away my camera. I decided not to take it out, or to stop to take photos, until I was well clear of the upper sections of Manhattan. I had a healthy fear of the stretch I was about to ride, both on account of the heavy, New York traffic I would be riding through and because of the neighbourhoods I would be passing through. This fear would pump up my adrenaline, and would allow me to ride nearly the whole length of Manhattan in only an hour and a half.
At 15:00 I reached the New York side of the Bridge. Technically, I was in New York City and had reached my destination. It felt good, but there was no time to stop and reflect. Things happened very quickly.
Coming off the bridge approach, I found myself on the sidewalk of 178th Street. The sidewalk was crowded with all sorts of shifty looking folk, and the street was full of cars jostling to and fro and blowing their horns. As I had been instructed, I rode up to the corner and, thankfully, found Ft. Washington Avenue, just as the helpful gentleman had described. I turned right and headed down this street.
All around me were tall, brownstone apartment buildings, ten or fifteen stories high. Some sort of parade was driving down the street, with people blowing their horns and leaning out the windows with Dominican flags. I concentrated on keeping out of their way, and on moving along as quickly and as unobtrusively as I could. I was comforted by the fact that I could see several other cyclists riding along as well, though none of them had paniers full of gear.
I watched as the numbered streets passed by. From 178th Street, I knew I had to descend all the way to 1st Street, and then beyond. Soon I came to 163rd Street, and turned right to descend the one block hill to Riverside Drive.
Riverside Drive was much more open, with lots of room for cars to pass me by. The riverside park extended all along my right side, and tall apartment buildings lined the left side. As I rode through the 150's, 140's and 130's, glances up the streets I was passing showed a very depressed neighbourhood, with lots of broken windows, junk in the streets, and old cars. All these streets ended at Riverside Drive. A vast park extended along my right side. Huge crowds of youths were collected at every major street corner, hanging out and listening to loud music. I kept my eyes forward and rode a quickly as possible. I could sense that the riverside park next to me was probably very nice, but knew I would never be able to stop and enjoy it.
Mostly the way was downhill, and I was able to pick up a really good speed. This made me more comfortable. Occasionally I would have to gear down for a climb, and then I felt much less comfortable. Major intersections would come every ten blocks or so, with big streets leading out into the park, and to interchanges with the West Side Expressway.
As I got down into the 120's and 110's, I began to feel a bit better. The streets leading into town began looking better. Apartment buildings began to have doormen. I felt able to slow down a bit.
At West 72nd Street, Riverside Drive comes to an abrupt end. I turned left and went inland one block, to West End Boulevard, and continued south. This was a wide, open boulevard. On my side, there were not too many high rises, which contributed to the open feeling. There must have been at least six lanes across, all one way, so I did not feel hemmed in. I could feel, as I rode through the 50's and 40's, that I was passing by the part of New York I knew the best, around Times Square. I had never gotten this far west, though, so all was new. I was around 59th Street when Sheryl called on the cell phone to ask where I was. She had arrived at Battery Park and was waiting for me.
By the time I passed by the Convention Center, I began to notice how empty the boulevard had become, and was starting to feel nervous again. I knew it would end soon, so I figured I would move inland yet again, to a street with a bit more traffic and people. I rode up 34th Street, one block in to 9th Street, and continued south. On 9th Street I passed by the back of Penn Station.
9th Street soon dissolved into Greenwich Village. It became a narrow street, with parked cars and low houses on both side, and the sidewalks were jammed with people. I got a little turned around in the Village. I was not sure where I was or how I should go, I just kept aiming southwards. Somehow I found myself on Bleeker Street, and rode by the area of Greenwich that I was familiar with. It felt strange going through the Village on a bicycle.
Bleeker brought me to Houston, which I crossed. I continued on to Canal Street, a large, busy boulevard, with people selling wares from makeshift stalls all along. I took Canal east to Broadway, or at least what I thought was Broadway. It turned out to be West Broadway, and after only a few blocks it became one way in the opposite direction. I was forced to wander east yet again.
Finally, though, I did reach the true Broadway. This led me the rest of the way south, past the high rises of lower Manhattan. I passed Wall Street and the Anglican Cathedral, where I had walked and hatched the idea of biking to New York back in March of '99.
Soon I arrived at Battery Park. It was 16:30. There were crowds everywhere, so thick that I had to dismount. There was no hope of finding Sheryl without directions, so I called her on the cell phone, and she told me she was at Pier Five. I walked along past the crowds getting on and off the Statue of Liberty ferries, past the vendors trying to sell all manner of junk to these crowds, past the buskers and their audiences. Finally, I found Sheryl and her friend.
We paused for hugs and congratulations, and for photos by the Bay, with the Statue of Liberty in the background. Sheryl gave me a welcoming New York City T-shirt. We all sat down to have a coke and a New York Pretzel. Then, by 17:00, it was time to move over to the car, which was parked at $18 an hour, to load up the bike and drive to visit with Sheryl's friends in Long Beach.
The bicycle portion of the trip was ended. I had made Montreal to New York in seven day, covering a distance of at least 400 miles (by my round-about route). I felt good about myself. At the beginning, I really had my doubts about whether I was going to be able to make it. I was afraid that I had, perhaps, bitten off more than I could chew. I could never have succeeded without the Lord's help, though. This I knew. I thank Jesus for every kilometre.
We had a congratulatory dinner that night at Schooner's Restaurant in Freeport, Long Island, where I had flounder. The next day I slept in until nearly Noon! We began, then, the next phase of our trip, where Sheryl spent several days visiting with her friends before we headed back. We returned on I-87, with the bike attached on the rack in back. It took only eight hours to get home.