Biking & Baseball – Day 11

Diane Carreau, August 19, 1947 – September 9, 2022

“Nobody shall sleep!…

Nobody shall sleep!

Even you, oh Princess,

in your cold room,

watch the stars,

that tremble with love and with hope.” – Puccini, “Nessun dorma”, Turandot

New York City, NY

25 Degrees, Sunny

Unexpectedly, what was to be our first full day in NYC turned into the final day of our trip. Early morning Friday, we walked the High Line, enjoying the peace and beauty of this man made ecosystem in the heart of the citys’ chaos. We stopped in at a beautiful church along our walk, and visited Ground Zero. After the 10 day migration of leg one, it felt so luxurious to amble, to linger, to relax. And then mid-day we received the news that Bob’s sister Diane had passed away. Diane had been living with us for the past 15 years. She was our sister, our neighbour, my good friend. We immediately made all the necessary preparations to come home, finding plane tickets for Saturday and a bicycle shop that would pack and ship our bicycles to follow. We had already purchased tickets to Billy Joel that night and decided we would go. As Bob told our kids, we sang loudly and cried softly with 25,000 friends at Madison Square Gardens. The performance was like a soundtrack of the last 45 years of our life. Remarkably, in the middle of the show, one of the backup singers, Mike DelGuidice, sang “Nessun Dorma”, from the Puccini opera “Turandot” while Billy played a beautiful accompaniment. Diane used to play her opera music loudly on Saturday mornings while she did her housework. One of her favourites being Bocelli’s version of Nessun Dorma. How special.

My sister Diane has lived with us for a long time. Although she had her own apartment with a separate entrance, we saw her every day. Each morning she would tell us what the weather was going to do, what the early morning neighbourhood news was regarding dogs and parking enforcement, as well as any scandalous and shocking stories from the early morning news. On Friday, while we slept in NYC, Diane passed away peacefully in her home (our home).

She was my “big sister”. She was nine years older than I am, and growing up she often had chores that included caring for me. I have a vivid memory of her one morning, helping me get ready for school (kindergarten?). She had picked out a cardigan for me and was just buttoning it up on me. As she finished she brushed her hands across my shoulders, removing any invisible dust or fluff that may have appeared there. Then she held me at arms length and said “You’re so handsome”. I remember that because it made me feel special. In a house with eight children, a personal comment like that, just didn’t happen that often. Who had time?

A few weeks ago it was her 75th birthday. We took her out for a dinner celebration with Christina’s family (she loved spending time with our kids and grandkids). As we prepared to leave, I gave her a birthday kiss. She held me at arms length afterwards and brushed her hands across my jacket shoulders, like a tailor fitting a new suit, and she said “You’re so handsome”. That still felt special after all these years. We’ll miss her.

Biking & Baseball – Day 9

“Excuse me. Is that New Jersey across on the other side?”, we asked.

“No! And it never will be!”, he answered. – Pedestrian on the Walkway over the Hudson River

Poughkeepsie, NY to Peekskill, NY

65 km, 502m Climbing

19 Degrees, Humid/Overcast

Suddenly it’s all about the Hudson River, and I feel like I never said a proper goodbye to the Erie Canal! It’s named after Henry Hudson who explored the river in 1609, while sailing for the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch returned here and established settlements all along the river and many of their original names still stand. “Kil” in Dutch means creek or stream and many of the towns bear this suffix- Fishkill, Peekskill, Catskill and Beaverskill to name a few.

We started our morning climbing up to the “Walkway over the Hudson”. This pedestrian bridge crosses the Hudson from Poughkeepsie, on the east, to Highland, New York on the west bank. It was completed in 1889 as a railroad bridge and transformed to a pedestrian/bicycle bridge in 2009. It claims to be the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge at 1.25 miles, and its 212 foot height at its centre offers an amazing vista of the Hudson Valley looking north and south.

We cycled along Route 9 again and it wasn’t all “Old Post Road” but in the areas where it did converge, you could see some of those old stone fence sections still resilient and enduring after all these years (the fences probably thought the same about us). We stopped In Fishkill for lunch. Again, attention has been paid to provide some old world charm from restored 1700s buildings and businesses. We had a great lunch at a Trappist style microbrewery – seems like there is a microbrewery in every town. (No complaints!)

We climbed to the height of land in the Hudson Highlands before beginning our descent into Peekskill. The sky was steely grey and ominously threatening but fortunately didn’t open on us today. The views from the top were all the more dramatic because of the clouds.

In my semi-frenzy to get out of my sopping wet clothes last night and into a hot tub, my whole post-ride routine was thrown off. I only realized this morning that I had completely forgotten to charge my bike battery. My whole ride today held the combined anxiety of “Is it going to rain?” with “Is my battery going to die?”. I was extra frugal with my e-assist but we were cycling rolling hills of 6-8% grade, so I needed to call on it to get that big load up to the top sometimes. At ride’s end, we pulled into the hotel parking lot with a few drops of rain, my bike “running on fumes” and very exhausted legs!

Biking & Baseball – Day 8

“No dress rehearsal, this is our life.” The Tragically Hip – “Ahead by a Century”

Hudson, NY to Poughkeepsie, NY

69 km, 254m Climbing

18 Degrees, Rainy

All rain, no rainbow – but we had happy, fresh legs after our day off yesterday. We rode all day on Bike Route 9 (The Hudson River Greenway Trail). The bike route itself was on the shoulder of the roadway and was very wide and the rolling was good. Since it was raining (and we were soaked), we only took a couple of brief stops to fuel up. We didn’t want to sit in a cafe dripping wet and we also knew their air conditioning would chill us. The outside temperature was 18C and we were comfortable enough for quick stops outside. Near the end of the ride, I was starting to get a chill so we hot-footed the last 10 km with conviction.

In some places the shoulder was wide enough to ride side by side, but mostly I rode about 5 feet back and offset to one side to avoid Bob’s rooster tail of gritty spray. From behind I could hear him singing songs from “Jesus Christ Superstar” – maybe it’s because we passed so many churches on our way out of Hudson. Whatever the reason, I was happy that he had a change from his previous earworm. For the last few days he has been whistling “Our State Fair” over and over (and over). I just think it’s more Pat Boone than either of us need, or want.

We were riding through an interesting historic area today but we just couldn’t stop at the risk of getting chilled. We slowed down as we passed landmarks and read the plaques on the fly. Route 9 is the original post road between New York City and Albany. It was designated as the postal route between these two important cities in 1669. It has the original milestone markers that Ben Franklin introduced in the 1700s when he was Postmaster General. He wanted a basis for revenue to pay for the Post Office so he devised a rate system based on distance from New York City Hall. The first one we noticed was milestone 90. Many of them have become illegible over time but the stoneworks are still standing. Milestone 1 is on display in at the City Museum in NYC so we’ll stop in and check it out.

Biking & Baseball – Day 7

“If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” – Thomas Edison

Schenectady, NY to Hudson, NY

Train

18 Degrees, Rain

Well…they said it was going to rain, and it did. It is. It’s a huge system and it’s supposed to rain all day and maybe all day tomorrow. And no matter how many peppy little motivational sayings you recite – “Well, you can’t have rainbows without rain…” – we’re still finding damp stuff from the first day, so we’re going to take the train to Hudson. Why not? It’s a short hop to where we were going to ride today anyway, and it’s a great opportunity to test how the bike transport goes on Amtrak.

Booking the train, we learned you have to reserve in advance because there is only one bike storage area in each car, and none of today’s trains had more than one storage area available. So we booked on different trains – two hours apart. Maureen went first. I have to say, Amtrak doesn’t make it that easy. You have to take all the panniers and the front wheel off – and then carry the bike and bags up the stairs and hang it by the back wheel from a storage hook. And the eBike is very heavy! Then reverse the process when you disembark, and the Amtrak employee is repeating over and over: “We need to get moving – we’re behind schedule.” They do however, eventually assist, motivated by getting the train moving. In the end, we each arrived as scheduled and met up again in Hudson – miraculously with all our belongings – and dry!

Schenectady was very underwhelming last night. We arrived on a holiday though and there was just nothing going on in the downtown core. It felt deserted and the weather kept us from venturing too far afield. At least our hotel was interesting. The Parker Inn was built in 1900 – during Edison’s lifetime – and has been beautifully updated to convert all the rooms into suites with kitchen facilities, while still maintaining a turn of the century vibe. When it was built, the large bricks on the facade were a magnet for daredevils as they tried their hand at scaling the 8-story building. Some failed!

This is a sort of a Myers-Briggs personality assessment based on how our handlebar bags are packed/organized. Who is more relaxed? Who is carrying a flask? Who is more uptight? Why would you bring a whistle? And is there a correlation between the flask and the level of relaxation?

Hudson Valley is the Muskoka of New York. Hudson (city) itself has a quaint town feel and is a great place to spend a down day. There are no chain restaurants or hotels, and attention has been paid to preserving and restoring buildings to maintain the historic charm of the city. It was settled in 1662 by Dutch colonists, and then whalers turned it into a booming port in the early 1800’s, which brought in a burgeoning support industry and established the city for the long run.

We languished in the hotel room for a few hours (what a treat) listening to the Jays beat the Orioles and watching the Nadal/Tiafoe battle at the US Open.

We’re following along with the Jays games and keeping an eye on the Wild Card standings. Two great wins today against Baltimore. Yesterday we listened to the 9th inning of their game while we were cycling! Go Jays go! Our first game is on Sunday, September 11th – Yankees vs the Rays. I’m sure it will be an emotional day (9/11) to be at a ballgame in New York.

Biking & Baseball – Day 6

“We are digging a ditch through the mire, Through the mud and the slime and the mire, dammit! And the mud is our principal hire; In our pants, down our boots, down our necks, dammit!” – Irish labour song. Manually digging +500 km of Canal for $12/month.

Little Falls, NY to Schenectady, NY

98 km, 105m Climbing

28 Degrees, Sunny

The town of Little Falls was settled as a trading post in the early 1700’s to service travellers who had to portage around the 45 foot waterfall. When the Erie Canal was constructed this became the site of Lock 17 of the waterway, prompting further development. The “Falls” are not much more than rapids now and the town has also dwindled from its boom population of 13,000 to just under 5,000. It’s a very picturesque setting on the water, with restaurants, a micro-brewery and artsy shops popping up to develop some tourism.

Little Falls and the neighbouring community of Herkimer gained some notoriety when large quantities of “Herkimer Diamonds” were discovered in the area. Workmen exposed these beautiful crystals while cutting into the dolomite along the Mohawk River. Although you can find these crystals at other places in the world (like Nanisivik where we found many), only those mined in Herkimer County can be given this name.

We were cycling along on our quiet path when we heard sirens on the adjacent road. The sirens became louder and louder and more and more frequent until it was a constant, harsh cacophony of sirens accompanied by air horns. When we got to a crossroad, we found out that it was “The 9th Annual Convoy for a Cause” charity parade and unfortunately we were all headed in the same direction. We cycled within earshot for several kilometres and all ended up at the Fonda Fairgrounds. We weren’t of course, going to the fair but serendipitously, right across the street from the fairgrounds was a “good old fashioned” dairy bar with cheeseburgers and milkshakes. Perfect! As it turned out, pretty much everything else was shut down for Labour Day weekend (even in Schenectady). This made it a little trickier to find drinks and food along the ride.

We cycled “with conviction” today (“with conviction” is a term we’ve come to share when I notice Bob driving the car at 30 km/hr in Toronto because he is daydreaming – I just say “with conviction” and he smiles and returns to the moment). On the bike ride it means we don’t have time to stop and talk to everyone! We were passing a family out for a ride with their two kids and Bob asked if we were going to stop and say hello. I said no and then just as I was passing by the Dad he said “I don’t know what you’re doing, but I’m jealous”. We couldn’t pass by without a quick chat! Rain was predicted to start at 2:00 and we had 100 km to travel. We really didn’t want to get soaked again so we kept our breaks short. It was a hot ride, 30C with humidity – but luckily our trail had lots of shade. At about 10 km before our finish we stopped at a park on the Mohawk River. The thunderheads were rolling in but we couldn’t pass up this spot to have a quick cool-off in the river.

Biking & Baseball – Day 5

“When you ride a bicycle you’re part of the neighbourhood. When you drive a car, you’re just passing through.” – James Young (friend, cycling advocate, baseball fan, my favourite veterinarian)

Oneida, NY to Little Falls, ON

74 km, 286m Climbing

28 Degrees, Sunny morning/Overcast afternoon

We have this image of a few barges being towed lazily up the canal, intermittently in the 1800’s. But, in fact there were over 4,000 boats operating on the canal at any given time with an estimated 25,000 crew aboard. This “army” of workers created a market for thousands of merchants, tavern keepers, livery men, and a few various disreputable sorts (accountants probably).  This number doesn’t include the thousands of canal workers – maintenance people, engineers, toll collectors, lock tenders, lift bridge operators and hundreds of “bank patrollers” looking for and repairing leaks.  The entire area boomed overnight and the entrepreneurs of the day turned a great profit in this emerging market. This is evident when driving into the larger towns. The main streets are lined with grand mansions dating back to this time. They’re much too large for a single family in this day and age, and many are now occupied by businesses.

The bikes have gotten pretty filthy since the rain on day one, and then riding on gravel roads for a couple of hundred kilometres. We did an abrupt stop today when Bob spotted a pressure wash station. He had that same delighted look I get when I see a laundry room in our hotel. He gave both bikes a good rinsing and then lubed the drive chains. It was surprising how well they ran afterwards – the proverbial well-oiled machine.

We rode to a breakfast spot in the next community this morning as the “breakfast included” at our hotel was just a very small muffin. Apparently “Nothin’ Fancy Cafe and Saloon” is a popular spot in Vernon on Saturday mornings. It was hopping. The food was good but the service was terrible. We gave her a good tip anyway because when she gave us our bill she said “Sorry, I suck”, which made us laugh! We had the usual amount of friendly inquiries about where we were from and headed, but one fellow in particular wanted to chat. This is Mark. He really liked that we were using the bike trail and although he isn’t a cyclist he regularly likes to walk segments of it. As it turns out Mark likes to bow hunt on Wolfe Island and knows the O’Reilly farm which friends of ours (Graham and Joanne) own. Small world. Mark wished us a safe ride and told us he’d say a prayer for our safe passage. Thanks Mark!

More than half of our mileage was road riding today. We did that by choice. The trail is so great and protected but sometimes it’s nice to get out on the road and drive through the communities. You get a better feel for the people and for the countryside. You come across unexpected sights and vistas, and drive past business areas, residential neighbourhoods and farmers’ fields. Even seeing the more industrial areas is good because you get an idea of what the jobs are in the the region. The shoulder was wide and well-maintained and of course we have on our high-visibility clothes so we feel safe.

The last 20 km of the ride was on quiet country roads lined with huge Sweet Almond Bushes. We smelled them before we saw them. It was as though there was almond extract in a giant diffuser. What a wonderful treat.

Today I was caught “stretching”. However, I am a tick-o-phobe and with all the Lyme disease warnings posted, I can’t bring myself to lie down on the grass! It’s hard to imagine that a bed of rocks could be so comfy.

Bob suggested we have lunch-on-the-go today, so he bought snacks at the Circle K and we had a picnic outside a microbrewery that also served chili. It’s amazing how good everything tastes out here. (The folks at the microbrew invited me behind the bar to have a sample.)

Biking & Baseball – Day 4

“I ain’t asking for much.” – ZZ Top

Weedsport, NY to Oneida, NY

93 km, 237m Climbing

26 Degrees, Sunny

Happy Birthday Christina!

To be sure, we weren’t being unreasonable in our expectations from the one and only motel in Weedsport last night. We didn’t go in there expecting watermelon-infused ice-water in the lobby, or happy hour, or jazz, but the one thing we had our hearts set on was hot water. It was a great disappointment. Thankfully we brought lots of deodorant.

There was a little chill in the air when we wheeled our bikes outside this morning. We mentioned this to the desk clerk during checkout and she casually said “Well it’s Fall y’all.” Oh no!

We had a real variety of trail conditions today. We started off on some single-track, dirt and mud, cut into a grassy swath in the trees that was more suited to walking than riding. After the first 5 km, that widened into a nice wide dirt road in the forest which was a great improvement. Then we finally hit the luxury of the fine-screened gravel of the main trail. This is a real pleasure to ride on and you can roll along almost at the same effort level as asphalt – which means a lot on long days like today.

The section of the trail we covered today was called the Old Erie Canal Historic State Park. It runs all alongside the original canal (no longer used since the construction of the wider/deeper canal completed in 1918). This old section had several abandoned factories and ruins. Canneries and dishware factories that sprang up along the old canal have long since been closed. Back in the day, pottery and china couldn’t be shipped by land because the roads were too rough. The opportunity to ship these fragile goods on the canal caused this industry to boom along the canal in the mid-1800’s.

There were 32 original aqueducts on the canal and many of these are still in place. The purpose of the aqueduct was to carry the canal over a ravine or a river. These are impressive looking structures still today and were touted as remarkable construction feats by American Engineers at the time (of course we know the Romans were building these things in 300 BC!). The old canal is only 4 feet deep so we spotted lots of turtles and schools of fish as we cycled by.

Weather wise, it was a beautiful day for cycling. Admittedly though, these days have been long and little aches and pains start to creep in from being in the same position for so long. It seems every multi-week trip starts the same. Knowing this, we are always happy to take lots of breaks for snacks and stretching. (Is that what you call that Bob?)

Biking & Baseball – Day 3

“With due deference to the President of the United States, I will presume to suggest connecting the waters of Lake Erie and those of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers by means of a canal.”Jesse Hawley

Pittsford, NY to Weedsport, NY

95 km, 230m Climbing

20 Degrees, Sunny

Jesse Hawley was a flour merchant in western New York state “who went broke trying to get his product to market” on the Atlantic coast. In 1807, while in debtor’s prison, he published a series of 14 essays, to promote the idea of constructing the Erie Canal. Hawley pointed out how it took weeks to transport goods between New York City and Lake Erie by mule train, where each mule could carry only 250 lbs. By contrast, transport by canal would only take 5 days and each mule could tow as much as 6,600 lbs on the water. More product, faster, cheaper! The Governor of New York at the time, Dewitt Clinton, was convinced of the potential of the canal and became the champion who eventually made it happen. “The canal put New York on the map as the Empire State-the leader in population, industry and economic strength.”

Some great trail riding today with only a few kilometres detoured onto the road to allow for trail maintenance. The sun shone all day, the temperature hovered in the low 20s and a breeze continued to blow out of the west, giving us the tailwind every cyclist prays for.

Communities are staggered along the Canal at about 15 to 20 km intervals. For the most part they were founded in the early 1800’s, coinciding with the construction and heyday of the Canal. Today, some are hurting and tired with empty and derelict buildings lining the shores and streets, while others are quaint and thriving with a robust tourist trade. We’re not really sure why this is, but it makes every community ride-through unique. We searched Google maps for a spot for lunch that was 50 km into the ride, and found “The Pour House Bar and Grill” in Lyons. You never know what you’re going to get, but by the time 50 km is clicked off, we’re not that fussy. The Pour House scored very high on characters and friendliness today, and although we didn’t see anyone else eating, we thought they did a pretty good job on the burgers too!

Some of the touring cyclists we met on the road today included Pat and John from Indianapolis who were riding from East to West (into the prevailing headwind). And David, who cycled about 50,000 km and has been on his bike for over two years! He was heading to the East Coast and then making his way back home to Virginia. “I have some time constraints” he said. Well David – those are pretty loose constraints. Safe cycling to you all!

Biking & Baseball – Day 2

“Erie Canal Facts: Grand Opening – 1825; Length – 363 miles; Elevation Change – 571 ft; Number of locks – 57 .” – Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor

Medina, NY to Pittsford, NY

89 km, 79m Climbing

27 Degrees, Sunny

As much as I like traveling by bike (and I really do like it a lot) – I have to admit that one of the highlights of each day is arriving at our hotel each evening.   Especially, if like today, the hotel has some warm jazz playing in the lobby when you arrive and there’s a sign that says those two magical words – “Happy Hour”.  My gosh I love this!   When you’re travelling by bike, your destination is controlled by how far you can pedal in a day.   Sometimes that brings you to a two star shithole motel in the middle of nowhere, where the “manager” is genuinely delighted and surprised that you’re going to spend the night and that you don’t have any open wounds.  And sometimes you end up in a delightful spot like Pittsford that is right along the canal and has a hotel with a restaurant and a Happy Hour!

It was a beautiful day for cycling. The landscape was so lush after yesterdays rain and there were lots of critters on the trail. It was all blue skies, slight tailwind and lots of reasons to stop and take breaks. The complicated story of the canal construction, the locks and all the bridges, and the histories of all the towns that sprang up along the canal to support it, keeps us entertained.

Medina is one of many communities that thrived because of the construction of the canal.  Its’ main industry centred around the Medina Sandstone that was discovered during the excavation of the canal, and was immediately recognized for “it’s depth of colour and durability” and made it a building stone of choice.  The town has many examples of beautiful buildings made of the sandstone.

This is Mike.   He’s 73.   Mike was diagnosed with a brain tumour a few years ago but has far surpassed any survival projections they gave him and has no intention of giving up.   He switched from a recumbent to an ebike a couple of years ago and with the support of his wife, he’s still out here doing day trips along the canal.  Go Mike go! 

This is Melissa.   She quit her job at “corporate” last year and manages the Comfort Inn in Medina.  She loves people.   And although she told us this, we knew it anyway by how cheerful and genuinely interested she was in us while we ate our breakfast.  As we started to leave she said “I feel like I’m going to be worried about you.  Can you call me tonight when you get there?”