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.
|Crossing the River at Downtown Plattsburg|
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.
|Plattsburg to Ferry|
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.
|South of Plattsburgh: Sculpture Garden|
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.
|Along the Lake on Hwy 9w in Valcourt, New York|
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.
|Approaching 'The Hill': Ausable River Bridge||Close Up [Behind Bridge]|
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.
|Looking back after the climb|
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.
|Descent to the Lakeshore: Approaching Port Kent|
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.
|Looking down at the Port Kent ferry terminal|
|Looking back on the road down|
|Receipt for ferry crossing|
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.
|The Valcour approaches Port Kent|
|The Valcour: Close up|
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.
|Departing Port Kent and New York|
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 recognize features from my 1993 trip, such as the mouth of the Winooski River.
|On board the Valcour|
(Note white clouds in background)
|At the water's edge|
(Porthole on the Valcour)
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 getter 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.
|Passing the other ferry||Approaching Burlington Harbour|
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.
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.)
|Restaurant where I ate while the Big Storm passed|
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.
|Burlington ferry terminal close up|
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 restuarant, 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 restuarant 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 Big Storm: Overflowing creek: taken from bridge|
|The Big Storm: Water erupting from sewer drain|
|The Big Storm: Flooded intersections|
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.