Monthly Archives: August 2015

Keene to Boston Aug 18th

Well, we did it – right on schedule. 4000 miles right across the USA in 40 days, pretty much exactly as planned all that time ago.

It was already hot as we left another brilliant (first) breakfast diner in Keene at around 7.30 this morning. I am going to miss 2 breakfasts each morning – pancakes, eggs, bacon, all covered in maple syrup. My efforts to keep us on quiet back roads meant some extra climbing, up forested roads with the early morning sunlight shafting through the trees like curtains. It was beautiful. 

We had to make a 6 mile detour at one point, because a bridge was closed – but we had been perilously close to falling fractionally short of 4000 miles – so this was exactly what we needed to make sure. Perfect! 

The day was just one final ritual after another. Final coca cola stop – final ice cream and, best of all, final chicken salad at lunch. We must have eaten 30 of them, and this was the best of the lot. 

Leading in to Boston there was about 15 miles of rail trail. This was a relaxing way of avoiding the traffic.

  
Soon we reached the Charles River and saw the Boston skyline for the first time.

 
But by then a huge thunderstorm was threatening. We just made it across the river before the heavens opened. We sheltered for a while until it passed over. Then it was on through central Boston, Chinatown, and out to the Atlantic – at Pleasure Bay, our final destination.  We had run out of continent.  

    
 
Endings are always bitter sweet. It has been a fantastic, totally stress free lifestyle – sleep, eat, cycle, repeat – and I shall be sad to let it go. We have seen a wonderful, very varied continent, and had nothing but kindness from people along the way. 

The weather has been fantastic – I think about 35/40 basically hot and sunny days, and about 3 hours of rain in 253 hours riding. Just 3 or 4 days of headwinds, and about 12 days with strong tailwinds when it really counted, the big mileage days across the prairie. Couldn’t have hoped for better. 

The whole thing was my idea – and I had been plotting it for years. My assumption was that I might have to do it on my own, but I wasn’t sure about committing to that, so I am really thankful that Tim took the bait – and that he has been such a resolute and dependable partner in crime! Thanks also to Helen, whom I have missed hugely throughout the trip. We have done so many long rides together. 

And finally, I am delighted with the performance of my dream Bianchi Infinito CV. It has coped with everything thrown at it and has been completely reliable. It fits me like a glove, it is ridiculously comfortable for a fast road bike, and I could float along on it for ever. Heaven knows what speed and distance it can do without the luggage …. but that’s for next summer! 

  

 

Rutland to Keene Aug 17th

We were back to full sunshine and 89F by mid afternoon today. Lovely cycling weather. The green mountains were stunning this morning as we continued to ride south, with the main ridge line to our left. The first thirty miles to Manchester simply flew by.

Manchester was one of the most well heeled of all the Vermont small country towns we have visited. All manicured lawns and beautiful, white timber houses with the obligatory Stars and Strips hanging outside. The cafes were equally up market, and calorie conscious – so buying the required calories for a second breakfast was quite tricky! 

By now everyone is very congratulatory on reading our shirts and realising where we have ridden from. But no one can get their heads round what 100 miles a day actually means. So, for example this morning, when we told them we’ll be finishing in Boston tomorrow afternoon they looked confused, and then shocked. Because Boston is still 160 miles away from Manchester! 

  
From Manchester we did the final proper climb of the trip – only about 1500 feet up and over the Sylvan Ridge Pass on the main spine of the Green Mountains. This was an easy climb, mostly in the shade. 

We descended about 40 miles down a lovely, twisting valley with steep wooded sides. Reaching Battleboro we were hungry, and the lunchtime chicken salad was very welcome. From Battleboro we crossed the Connecticut River and entered New Hampshire, our 11th out of 12 US states.

    

 Another climb (that’s another day with  well over 5000 feet of climbing!) brought us to Keene, and our last night on the road. On the descent into town Tim finally broke the 50mph barrier – he’s been trying since Seattle! On checking in to the hotel we were delighted to find that Tim Scholes had bought us each a congratulatory beer. Thanks Tim!

Burlington to Rutland Aug 16th

There is no denying it – Vermont is unremittingly pretty! We spent a slightly shorter day heading back southwards, exploring the rural backwaters, pretty wooden farms and villages, and more forests and lakes. And all of it close against the wooded ridgelines of the Green Mountains. Lovely Sunday cycling. 

It was misty this morning after yesterday evening’s rain. Yet the sun soon began to burn it off, with spectacular results as banks of cloud hung low over wooded ridges.

  
We had our customary second breakfast in Bristol. Most of the town was in the rather nice diner, having a late breakfast. Last Sunday morning’s second breakfast in a similar diner in Port Dover, on Lake Erie in Canada, already seems a long away away! 

  
  
Perhaps the highlight of the day was a loop, first up to and then round, Lake Dunmore and Branbury State Park. The peaceful lake was nestled right under the Green Mountains, with beaches and holiday homes all around. We lingered long enough for ice creams, but I could happily have a holiday based there. 

  
The final few miles continued in the same vein. On the approach to Rutland by a back road we were stopped by a washed away bridge (no advanced warning!) and had to go back and round. But that’s the first time in the entire ride that we have been forced to back track. 

As the day wore on it became harder and harder to ignore the fact that our ride has nearly finished. After scenery and cycling like today it’s hard not to wish for more. But there is still one more strenuous day tomorrow. We are still the wrong side of the Green Mountains and have a final pass to look forward to, before the final roll in to Boston on Tuesday. 

Long Lake to Burlington Aug 15th

This hotel is in a beautiful spot – but it is bizarre. For example, the first floor rooms now have en suites – but the push fit waste plumbing comes straight through the ceiling of the huge, posh dining room – each neatly surrounded with a ceiling rose! Waste water gurgling over your head as you eat!

We left at 7 (the hotel breakfast started at 8 – what use is that?) and, for the first 50 miles, we were on very similar roads to yesterday – soon racking up over 3000 feet of climbing on the rolling mountain terrain. But now the towns were a little larger, and more frequent, and wealthier. And the lakes and woods were as lovely as ever – albeit under a very grey sky. 

   
 
We stopped for breakfast at Tupper Lake after 20 miles. The lake here was very serene, beautiful reeds where once there had been a huge logging industry. More pancakes, eggs and bacon! 

Saranac Lake was also beautiful – so we celebrated with a blueberry muffin.  Having eaten two before leaving the hotel, this was a record muffin morning!

The approach to Lake Placid, from Saranac Lake, was the only section of road with significant traffic. Do they just drive up and down that bit?

At Lake Placid we stopped for lunch in the most hippy place yet. Run by two gay men, the place was a complete mess of cafe, art gallery and bookshop. And the salad and coffee were great. Lake Placid was busy, as expected, so we admired the lake but didn’t linger over the shops! 

After lunch it was all downhill for 40 miles to our 5th and final ferry of the trip. On the way we stopped to admire a fantastic gorge and waterfall.

  
With about 20 miles to go I realised that we had a chance of catching a ferry earlier than planned, in exactly an hour’s time. So we did a team time trial and knocked the miles out at at well over 20mph, arriving with 10 mins to spare. We have become seriously bike fit! 

   
 In Burlington we stopped for an outdoor beer – enjoying the buzz of a large town with youth, music and pavement cafes, having been in the sticks for ages. But it finally began to rain, and the last few miles to our hotel were wet – for only the third time on the trip. 

Little Falls to Long Lake Aug 14th

This ride has a twist in the tail – in the shape of a 200 mile detour to the north to visit the Adirondacks, Lake Placid, and Burlington. We had been to the latter on a family holiday in Vermont years ago, but Lake Placid had seemed too far to drive. So the obvious thing to do was to cycle to it years later …. across America! 

But it still took an effort of willpower to turn the bike north, up the steep side of the Mohawk valley and into the Adirondack mountains, when we could have rolled on down the valley and reached Boston in three fairly easy days cycling!

It’s been hard, but worth it so far. The Adirondacks have their own peculiar charm. This is a big granite dome – roughly circular and about 150 miles diameter. The average height is only about 1700 feet, but the area is anything but flat! There are no deeply cut valleys – the granite is too hard – but rolling, isolated hills and broad valleys. The whole area is heavily wooded, with poor drainage, and there are lakes and bogs everywhere. A local man told us that the native americans never settled up here – its too harsh. The european settlers were the first to try it, and many died. 

Luckily, we were just cycling through – stopping to photograph some of the beautiful lakes.

   

  

  

  

 Our 100 miles included nearly 7000 feet of climbing – our third toughest day. Somehow we still managed it in 6 and a half hours. Our reward is a room in the Adirondack Hotel on Long Lake. This is an old fashioned, wooden building with rocking chairs outside on the verandah. This is the view from our window – float plane and all.

   
 
More leg-sapping mountain roads tomorrow!  

Cortland to Little Falls Aug 13th

This was a lovely day’s cycling through the pastoral backwaters of New York state. We hardly touched a main road all day, and I felt more than a little in tune with the local Amish families, passing in their horse drawn buggies, in their rejection of the petrol engine. 

This is hilly country, still quite heavily wooded, and we were cutting across the grain of the land – constantly up and down steep valley sides. This was the first sustained climbing since we left the Black Hills, and it was a welcome change! 

New York may not have as many lakes as Minnesota, but it makes the most of those it has. They really are little gems.

  
At Madison we happened across an enormous antiques fair. There were hundreds, possibly over 1000, stalls stretching about a mile on both sides of the road, and back into the fields. There were huge car parks, and people milling everywhere. We considered buying a very nice table and four chairs, but the logistics of carrying them looked tricky.

  The lunch options were limited and we ended up in a pizzeria in Waterville. So we each ordered a slice of pizza and a side salad. Well, we are realising that you haven’t really experienced US portion sizes until you reach New York state. The ‘slices’ were about a quarter of a large pizza and the chicken ‘side salads’ contained more poultry than my Christmas dinner! And that’s before you consider the huge amount of salad veg and parmesan cheese …. and the free garlic bread (nearly a loaf!). I went in starving hungry after more than 3 hours of hard work on the bike (1500-2000 calories?) and I still couldn’t quite finish it all. No wonder so many people are so obese. 

The ride finished with the descent of a narrow, winding, canyon-like side valley, ending at Ilion in the Mohawk valley. This is a major transport corridor, with our old friend the I90 passing through, a rail line, the Erie canal, and the Mohawk river winding down to Albany and then south to New York. But it was still surprisingly rural, even with some old mills. It reminded me of the Derwent valley, south of Cromford. 

We are staying in Little Falls, the remnants of which still exist, particularly since the weirs for the mills have fallen into disrepair.

   
 
Tomorrow we head even further from civilisation as we climb up into the Adirondacks. 

Canandaigua to Cortland Aug 12th

This was a day of sunshine and heavy showers – the first of its kind since leaving England. Jackets on, or off? Stop and wait for it to pass, or carry on? I haven’t had so many difficult decisions to make for weeks. 

The first leg of todays ride took us to Geneva, at the head of another of the Finger Lakes. The only thing missing, as you’ll see from the photo, was Mont Blanc in the background.

 
We rode south down the lakeside road, with more posh houses with boats on the jetties. After about 10 miles, halfway down the lake we turned east. This took us through Sampson State Park, an abandoned army base, on a traffic free road through woods. There was a museum with some hardware outside.

 We climbed to the village of Ovid, before a descent to the next Finger Lake. This one had a huge rain squall roaring down it from the north, and we got soaked briefly as we headed north along the shore, watching the curtains of rain move down the lake. Just like being in the Lake District!

  
We stopped in Ithaca for lunch. This is a very trendy town, full of students from Cornell, even at this time of year it seems. We ate outside (under an awning, just in case) for the first time for weeks. It was a shortish day – so the lunch became quite an extended period of people watching!

Then it was off up the steepest hill since the Teton Pass. But not so high! At the top is the campus of Cornell University. I was curious enough to want to see an Ivy League campus – but without any connection to work, of course! So we wandered round the impressive array of buildings and facilities for a while.

  
The final section took us off the campus, through more rain showers, and cross country to Cortland – very clearly the poor relation to Ithaca. On the way we saw an Amish family driving one of their traditional horse drawn buggies. The hotel in Cortland is excellent, and there is a steak house next door, so we are set up for tomorrow! 

Niagara Falls to Canandaigua Aug 11th

It had rained heavily yesterday evening and most of the night. We woke early to drying roads, but low cloud and mist. It felt oddly creepy to be riding through the centre of the normally packed casino and amusement district, just after dawn, when the streets were deserted. Then we turned onto the Rainbow Bridge over the Niagara Gorge. The view upstream to both falls was stunning – everything was in shades of grey, sheathed in mist and spray, with the harsh vertical lines of the high rise hotels emerging from the gloom. Not one for a photographer of my limited ability.

We had allowed time for passport control at the American end of the bridge. But, compared to Seattle airport, this was very easy. Just a quick scan of the passport while the bloke read our shirts and wanted to chat about the ride, and his female colleague quietly admired our legs. No problem. 

We set off upstream right beside the grade 6 rapids that lead to the brink of the American Falls. These were nearly as impressive as the falls themselves. There was one huge ‘stopper’ that was 20 feet deep. The bike path ran right along the edge of the water that was travelling close to 20mph, with no railing. Not a place to fall off your bike.
  
After about 15 miles we turned, reluctantly, from the river bank into Tonawanda. I had enjoyed travelling across and alongside 2 of the Great Lakes, and their connecting waterways. Here we met New York accents for the first time as we had ‘cworffee’ and breakfast in another of these community diners, this time full of single elderly men having breakfast and chat. 

A succession of pleasant bike paths allowed us to avoid the rush hour traffic in Tonawanda, and then in the outskirts of Buffalo. Then a rail trail took us out of town altogether, through increasingly affluent suburbs. Some of these houses were enormous, with huge grounds and swimming pools. 

For the rest of the day we followed highway 5 east. This had a broad shoulder, a good surface, light traffic (because our old friend the I90 runs parallel) and, best of all, a tail wind. And the sun began to come through. This was fantastic after 6 days of calm or contrary winds and terrible roads. It was so good to be back to making fast, easy progress.

Lunch in Avon was the biggest Julienne salad yet. A big dinner plate mounded 3 inches high in the middle. But we still had room to stop at an ice cream parlour about an hour later for the biggest ice cream (but certainly not the best) I have ever eaten. 

We had finished our 100 miles by 3pm at a lodge just outside of Canandaigua, near the tip of the lake of the same name. This is one of the ‘Finger Lakes’. Tomorrow’s ride is designed to take in two more of them. 

Niagara Falls Aug 10th

Well these are certainly the most impressive falls I have ever seen. But that’s probably fairly obvious. (By the way, the shower in our motel appears not to want to be outdone – full body massage as well as a wash!)

   
    
  

It was a grey old morning, but the vertical plume of spray from the falls still rose several hundred feet in the air!

They are close to completing a new hydro tunnel right under the town. It is twice the diameter of the Channel Tunnel rail tunnels! Enough to generate another 1,600 MW. I found it slightly disappointing to learn that the flow rate over the falls is tightly controlled by the existing hydro plants – and that there is an agreed minimum flow rate over the falls in the tourist season. Things are not quite what they seem!

I also enjoyed the tacky part of town – Blackpool on speed! We had lunch in a classic diner – but the afternoon has been spent lying down. Back to the USA tomorrow.

PS Breakfast and dinner were at the same all-you-can-eat place. Great cheap food. But I fear for the business if they get regular custom from trans-continental cyclists! 

Tillsonburg to Niagara Falls Aug 9th

We woke to sunshine again, and we were back to enjoyable cycling, thank goodness. 

After an enormous hotel breakfast, the early miles were worrying, because the roads were still terribly rough, and a strong easterly was starting to blow in our faces. After an hour, even taking 5 minute turns on the front, we were struggling to hold 14mph. Typically, the wind increases through the day as the heat builds, and with 116 miles to ride we were facing another very long, hard day in the saddle.

The first sign of changing fortune was being overtaken by a tractor, with a pick up truck following. I am never one to miss some drafting, so I sprinted up behind the pick up, and Tim joined me. The guy driving seemed surprised initially – it was probably a first for him – but then he relaxed and waved, and seemed quite happy to have us sheltering from the wind a couple of feet off his rear fender whilst doing 20mph. It didn’t last long – unfortunately they weren’t going to Niagara – but it lifted the spirits. 

Port Dover, after 35 miles was a lovely holiday town with a beach on the north shore of Lake Erie. Here we had a repeat of the enormous breakfast we had eaten just 3 hours earlier! This was the first tourist spot we had seen since Ludington, and we lingered down by the harbor taking photos and reluctant to move on.

   
In the cafe we met a guy whose fishing family had moved from Hastings in 1910 to join the fleet out of Port Dover on Lake Erie.

The shore road was beautiful. It wandered in and out of small coves, with great views of the emerald blue lake – and the road surface was not too bad either! I had not realised what a holiday hot spot this is. Once we had passed the enormous steel works, the accommodation was graded by social class. First there was very expensive real estate with expansive lake views, with new mansions being built. A few miles east there were normal looking wooden houses, but still with their own beach and lake view. A few miles later and they were simple wooden cabins and sheds. And finally we reached the caravan sites and camp grounds! But this was Sunday, and all of it was teeming with life – people swimming, having barbeques, or just sunbathing. It was so good to have something to look at! And the wind seemed to have dropped a little.

   

  
At Dunnville we were forced inland to cross a river. We had a huge salad lunch with a mountain of mashed boiled egg and shredded chicken on salad veg. Delicious. And we restocked our supply of between-meals muffins which had run dangerously low! 

Another 20 miles of good lakeshore riding brought us to Port Colborne. There was a very big lifting bridge over the river. We had to ride across some very slippery metal grill.

  
A final 20 miles of lanes took us NE to Niagara Falls itself. From several miles away we had been able to see the huge plume of cloud or spray rising from the falls, dwarfing even the high rise hotels. 

  
 Imagine booking a room in one of those and then finding you’re on the wrong side to see the falls! (We are in a cheap motel with a great view of the main road.)

We are saving the Falls for our day off tomorrow. Tonight we only got as far as the nearest steakhouse. A 16oz sirloin and american cheescake to follow has just finished the day off nicely. 
I have to say I am finding it quite difficult to believe I have cycled here all the way from Seattle! It seems a lifetime ago. 3250 miles in 30 days! The last four, in particular, seem to have had us flying eastwards, first across Michigan in 2 days and now across Canada in 2 days. (Ok, perhaps that should be ‘a tiny part of Canada’ – I am in danger of getting carried away.) Anyway, tonight’s steak was washed down with a celebratory beer or two.