Thursday, June 30, 2016

Day 22 - 6/29/16 Elyria to Oberlin, OH

I did not make it as far as I hoped today.  But today was a day that challenges the idea that coincidences are just coincidences and not something more meaningful.  I wantes to stop by the bike shop in Oberlin on my way to Bellevue but, oddly enough, Wednesdays are the only day they're closed.  I thought any small issue with my bike can wait til the next bike shop.  So I went downstairs to get a cup of coffee and catch up on writing before I set out for Bellevue.  In the coffee shop there was a flyer for the Oberin Bike Co-op that would be open later tonight.  

I didn't wait to wait around and fall behind a day but in my head I was reassured there would be a place to go if my bike decided not to cooperate.  So, fast forward 8 miles or so and I realize I have a stiff link in my chain.  I end up breaking it while trying to fix it and after I get my hands covered in grease, a girl rides past me on the bike path, slowly turns around and asks if everything is okay.  I show her my hands and my broken chain and she says, "oh, I can help you!  I work at the bike co-op."  I felt like I had been saved.  

Alizah helped me reconnect the chain and get it back on the bike but then she said she could give me a new chain if we ride back into town.  I couldnmt say no, I figured a new chain would really help me ride smoother.  So we cruised back to the co-op.  As promised, she helped me put a brand new chain on, gave me a PBR, then she left to go eat before having to come back to the co-op for work.  It was about 5:00pm when I decided to head for Bellevue.  I had plenty of time to get there before the sun went down.  

But after a few pushes on my pedals, the same issue seemed to be present.  I rode around the block to see if it would fix itself with no luck.  When Alizah went back to the co-op at 6 she found me still sitting there.  After brainstorming and scratching our heads while she helped a few other kids and students fix their bikes, I knew I was going to be here for the night.  I'm hoping the bike shop has some insight into the problem when I go there tomorrow.  

I'm so lucky to have met Alizah.  Not only did she get me back to town but she also offered to let me stay on her couch for the night.  It's amazing that she found me stranded on the bike path because I was traveling in the complete opposite direction she usually travels on her joy ride.  Chance and coincidence are funny things.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Day 21 - 6/28/16 Chesterland to Elyria, OH

Today was my latest start yet.  I didn't leave Chesterland until 1:00pm.  I was totally fine with that though.  Mary Kay stuffed me full of stuffed crepes and then she even rode the first 18 miles with me to Cleveland.  It's really nice to have a riding buddy.  It reminds me of when I was younger when all my friends and I would just ride around with no real place to go.  Cleveland was not my favorite place to ride.  

There were no bike lanes in the street so I found myself riding on the sidewalk a lot where I was dodging broken glass like some kind of video game.  I also got stuck at more red lights today than in all my days of riding on this trip.  After breaking out of the city, the scenery gently faded back into the farmland that I've become familiar with except, now it's as flat as a bowing alley. Elyria was ny destination to stay with Larry.  

What a guy.  Another kind soul I can add to the list I've met in Ohio.  Larry is 73 years old and lives with his cat, Opie.  He may seem like your typical retired man but Larry actually rode his bike across the country 4 years prior to me meeting him.  He did his cross country ride with a group of 19 in some sort of guided tour where meals and sleeping arrangements are prepared and a few vans actually carry the luggage of all the riders.  

Because they got to ride unencumbered, this group of 19 were crushing between 80 and 100 miles a day and they made it from California to Delaware is 45 days.  As a fellow vegetarian, he took me out for an incredible dinner of tofu steaks in Oberlin, yet another rural college town that resonates with my heart the same way Amherst, Massachusetts does.  On the way we listened to Simon and Garfunkel and found out how similar our taste in music is.  Later, Larry told me about all the cycling clubs he's belonged to over the years and how bicycling has been embedded in his life since he was just a teenager.  

My eyes just keep opening wider and wider to all the wonderful things cycling can bring into a persons life.  I just want to say to anyone even considering any length of a bike tour to just go out and do it.  For me, in just 3 weeks, it's been an experience I will never forget and I still have thousands of miles to go.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Day 20 - 6/27/16 Chesterland, OH - Day Off

When Mary Kay offered to let me stay another day, I couldn't resist.  It's been hard to catch up on sleep when I've been meeting such great people and staying up too late with them and waking up and doing it all over again.  It's also going to be in the 90's again today, really terrible weather to ride in especially when there's a lot of humidity too.  Yesterday was about the same.  

There were times when I would take a short break and the sun was just so damn oppressive when I stopped moving.  Aside from being able to rest up, I really like this place and the people that are taking care of me but, I can't wait to keep moving to see who else I might meet.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Day 19 - 6/26/16 Geneva to Chesterland, OH

I've encountered lots of great people in the short time I've spent in Ohio.  Gail, my campground neighbor who share his food and fire with me; a man shaving in the bathroom who told me to enjoy today because no one is guaranteed a tomorrow; the nice folks at the gas station I stopped in who wanted to hear all about my trip as well as the bike shop I went by; and of course, Mary Kay and her husband, Tom.  

I'm staying with them on their 100 acre fruit farm in their camper tonight and tomorrow.  I don't think I've ever been in one of these things.  It's really spacious for one but Mary Kay, Tom, and their 2 kids take this thing down to Florida in the winter.  I don't know how ideal that is for a teenage boy and girl– maybe they hate it, maybe they love it.  

I spent most of the evening picking edible weeds and flowers from the yard to help with dinner while Mary Kay collected and cleaned eggs from their 50 chickens and dozen ducks.

The farm has been in Tom's family for 140 years and Mary Kay is doubtful either one of the kids will want to take it over but, there's still plenty of time for them to fall in love with working on a farm.  The farm life is very intriguing to me at my age but, I'm sure if I grew up around it I'd probably want to get away from it too.  It was surprisingly nice to help around the yard and kitchen; I haven't done any real work in months.  

I picked thistle leaves for a green lemonade Mary Kay makes everyday and picked orange day lilies to dip in her homemade balsamic dressing. They had a sweet taste, almost like a carrot.  I was lucky to come on the day I did because it was their weekly potluck where a bunch of their friends came over with even more food and we all hung out by their pool and ate and swam.

Day 18 - 6/25/16 Erie, PA to Geneva, OH

Ohio is the last of the states I've already visited before this trip.  Once I'm out, it will all be new.  The Midwest is going to be interesting.  I hear there's a lot of nothing out here, especially since I won't be venturing into the bigger cities, at least I don't think I will be.  

I got my first flat tire today.  It took me 800 miles to finally hit a nail that popped my tube.  And I was only 2 miles from the campground.  Oh well.  I was kind of excited when it happened though.  I felt like I was getting too lucky.  Something bad was bound to happen so I'm glad it was just a flat.  

I busted out the tools and a spare tube and 30 minutes later I was at the campground.  For once, there's actually a lot of people here.  Mostly RVs but, a handful of tent campers as well.  My neighbor already invited me over to enjoy his fire with him later, I would've done the same thing if I had brought a ton of firewood as well.  It's good to be good to your neighbor, no matter how long you're neighbors for.

Day 17 - 6/24/16 Sheridan Bay Park, NY to Erie, PA

I was on the same road, Rt. 5 for over 50 miles today so I felt comfortable enough to drown out the sounds around me with a little music in my headphones.  The scenery didn't vary too much– lots of vineyards on either side of me, hills to the left and Lake Erie through the vines on ny right.  

The music really put me in the zone, I felt like a machine on my bike, practically forgot I was the motor making the wheels turn.  Crossing into another state felt like another big milestone even though I know I'll only be here for the night.  Brian, my host took me on a wild bike ride late at night.  

There's a state park that I can't remember the name but he referred to it as the peninsula.  We followed a long road that goes to the very end and loops back which we did on our bikes in the dark.  Only the fireflies and lights reflecting off the water lit the way– and, of course, our lights on our bikes.  He told me only cars can be on the road after a certain time so we were technically trespassing.  A car might've been the best way to go because I kept getting hit in the face with bugs as we cruised through the blackness.  Out of nowhere, headlights started getting closer and closer behind us until they were directly behind us in the shoulder of the road.  And then, the blue lights went on.  I never imagined being pulled over on a bike but, sure enough, there we were on the side of the road.  Luckily, he was a pretty laid back park ranger.  He told us bikes weren't allowed in the park this late and we nodded and apologized as if we didn't know.  We were so close to where the road starts to loop back that he said we should go ahead and finish our ride.  Of course we had to linger a bit longwr though.  We stopped at one of the 13 beaches on the side of the peninsula that's vacant of the bright lights.  We looked out at the calm water and marveled at how the horizon line was just a black void with a few stars high above and a couple lights from sailing ships below.  Where the water stopped and outerspace began was anyone's guess. 

Day 16 - 6/23/16 Buffalo, NY to ...?

I'm not exactly sure what town I'm in but I'm at the Sheridan Bay Park.  Google Maps lists this place as a campground so I didn't even bother to look into it anymore than that.  I had a nice ride today out of the city and along Lake Erie. It's amazing to see a lake that you can't see to the other side.  I wanted to sleep at Sheridan Bay Park because it's right on the edge of the great lake.  When I came upon the sign for the place I had to laugh at how much it looked like a trailer park ghost town.  There was a fair amount of space but only a small handful of RVs filling it up.  Beyond the campers, I could see the lake through the trees just as I expected.  

But when I looked around to see who was in charge there was no one.  After waiting for a few minutes to see if someone would appear out of no where, a truck came down the driveway. It wasn't the owner but, he told me I could just set up camp anywhere and if Rick, the owner, ever showed up I could pay him for a site.  I liked that idea so I headed for the beach to pitch my tent.  Past the trees and RVs a completely vacant beach awaited me.  Not a huge slice of sand but it was nicet bookended by crumbly rock walls and trees.  

After walking up and down the beach and before I got completely settled, Rick made his way down the hill towards me.  Rick was friendly and apologetic for not being here when I showed up and told me he didn't even want to charge me for the night, just to make myself at home.  Within minutes my tent was set up, my sweaty clothes were laying out to dry, I was eating a peanut butter sandwich, and life was good.  I have a private beach on Lake Erie for the night.  

The sun was setting directly across from my tent so I watched the big orange ball slide beneath the water leaving a pink hue above the horizon.  The beach was also littered with an abundance on the best skipping stones I've ever seen.  I collected and heaved as many as I could at the setting sun, hoping by some miracle I could skip one of them to the other side of the lake.  Sometimes it can be lonely having a campground all to yourself but, something about this massive lake makes me feel like I'm in good company.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Day 15 - 6/22/16 Rapids to Niagara Falls to Buffalo, NY

Waking up at 5:30am to breakdown camp and be on the road before someone notices you behind the fence of a baseball field is not an ideal situation but, it did the trick.  I was only 25 miles from Niagara Falls so I ended up getting there just before 9:00am.  I didn't know where to go or what else there was to do besides look at a lot of water and I was too hungry to do that.  So the first bench I saw I sat down and ate a couple peanut butter sandwiches since I didn't really get a chance to eat much as I was fleeing the scene earlier this morning.  

I eventually stumbled on the path that brough me to an overlook where I could see straight down where all the mist was coming right back up into my face.  The view was good but, I had many more hours to kill before I could head down to my host's house in Buffalo so I grabbed my bike and went to go find more impressive views.  

There's a boardwalk that follows the river up until it dumps over the falls and then veers right where you can see the scene open up: I could see where I had been standing plus the rest of the American side.  Off to the right was the observation deck and beyond that, Rainbow Bridge where cars come and go from Canada.  As far to the left as possible was the grand cul-de-sac of the Canadian falls where the Maid of the Mist boats would make their small circles carrying hoards of tourists swallowed in blue ponchos right into the mist.  

It was quite the view and I couldn't help but just sit and stare for a while.  I had never heard such a loud, continuous roar from a natural source, it practically drowned out all conversations from the swarming tourists and if I stared at the flowing water long enough all the people around me disappeared.  Although this view was great, I kept wondering what the falls look like from the very bottom so I bought a ticket for the Maid of the Mist and headed to the dock.  I put on my blue poncho while we waited to board the boat.  I got right up front on the bow and waited to embark.  

There was an automated voice playing over the intercom giving information about the falls but, it was very muffled and cycled through a few languages and it quickly disappeared behind the rushing sounds of the falls.  There were gasps and collective chatter as we passed the American Falls.  From the bottom, it was a big, moving, white wall that looked like it could evaporate into the high noon sun.  When the wind blew, the mist sprayed onto all the blue people on the boat and there were cheers, loud cheers from everyone.  Then it was on to the Canadian Falls, the big horseshoe of water pouring down, creating a massive plume of mist that rose hundreds of feet out over the tourists heads at the rim above. 

As we got closer and closer, it became clear that staring into the center of all this water, I could see nothing, just bright, white light.  It was like the light of heaven at the end of the tunnel.  Much like the overlooks high above, the immense noise drowned out the presence of all the other people around me and it became a very personal and religious experience between myself and nature and the omniscient high power that ties all of this together.  I felt energized and alive once our boat turned around and docked itself to get ready to bring another load of blue people to the edge of eternity and swiftly bring them back.  The closest experience I've had to this was visiting the redwoods in Northern California.  Being amongst those giants was like being inside a cathedral.  They leave you speechless but if you have to break that silence words only come out in a quiet whisper.  Intimate experiences with nature are special.  To feel small is a powerful thing because it's seeing the truth: we are very small no matter how much we try to impose our will on nature and try to tame her.  Humans can be wiped away by the tremendous forces that exist around us and nature will just go on, with or without us.  It's a miracle that we've been able to coexist for so long.  Once I came to and realized I didn't die and cross over into the great beyond, I got on my Bike and headed for Buffo to meet Nick and Maria.  Is there anything more uplifting than being invited a stranger's house where they're diligently making a beautiful vegan meal while listening to some of your favorite music and you meet their cats that are named after characters from Trailer Park Boys and their collection of books is all very similar to your collection at home?  Nick even has the same Van Gogh Sunflower print and the same random Van Gogh book that I do and then he randomly put on the Beatles' song that I'd been whistling all day at Niagara Falls.  Coincidences can be too much sometimes but, it's better not to overthink them and just accept the fact that you're right where you're suplosed to be.  Nick and Maria are truly wonderful people, in love with music and writing and food and the environment.  I somehow kee meeting these people I feel like I've met before.  I'll take my own advice and not think about it too much.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Day 14 - 6/21/16 Scottsville to Rapids, NY

And I'm back on the road.  It's incredible how much these days vary.  The last 2 nights, I stayed in a warm, loving home in a quiet neighborhood, and tonight I'm in a town that appears to have one gas station and one restaurant which both share the same building.  I'm up the street from there now at a small baseball field with a park.  I think I'll be okay here but, I'm going tobbe waiting a while to set up my tent.  Of course it has to be the longest day of the year today so I'll probably get settled around 9:30.  It's fine though, I'm warm and happy and there's even a port-o-pottie right here so I can change out of my sweaty bike clothes.  The landscape is changing for the better.  The last 3 days of riding have been primarily flat.  There's still lots of wide, open spaces dotted with farms but, that will go away tomorrow and for a few days after that. 

But those farms and fields will come back with a vengeance once I get to Ohio and beyond.  Until then, I'm looking forward to seeing Niagara Falls and one of the great lakes.  I'm even curious about Buffalo and other towns along Lake Erie.  Although it doesn't seem ideal to be riding into a city on this trip, I can't pass up seeing Niagara Falls.

Day 13 - 6/20/16 Scottsville, NY - Day Off

First day off of the trip and I spent it exactly how I wanted: eating donuts, writing, drawing, doing laundry, eating more donuts, all while listening to loads of jazz and Jimmy Buffet.  

It was a real hot day, in the 90's with substantial humidity, a great day to not be riding a bike!  Today reminded me of those do-nothing days off I used to love when I actually had a job.  Just doing the things I love that I don't always have the time or energy to do.  It was nice when Mike and Jess got home though.  

They made another great meal and took me out for ice cream (they're really not much older than me, it just sounds like I'm 8 years old).  I've spent some time today trying to figure out where the hell I'm going tomorrow.  It's less than 100 miles to Niagara Falls so I should be looking at a lot of water by Wednesday afternoon.  The only issue is I'm heading to a pretty crowded area that I've never been to before with no final destination at this point.  I've contacted a few people on Warm Showers with no response just yet but, I just have to be patient.  I'm not terribly worried, things always work themselves out one way or another, good or bad, great or horrible (I'm hoping for good or great).  I would be incredibly na├»ve if I thought this was the only time uncertainty would be hanging over my head.  

Sometimes I'm going to have to start to figure out where I'm going to stop.  It's all part of the fun and excitement and I'm certainly having fun.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Day 12 - 6/19/16 Macedon to Scottsville, NY

This morning I met Colton at the marina.  I came out of the main building to see another 2 bikes parked next to mine– one with one of those small,enclosed trailers you would put a child in.  However, this one had a sign that read, 'caution, dog on board' and sure enough, there was a friendly dog leashed to this bike, just hangin' in the shade.  Colton, although I didn't get to talk to him very long, left from Monterey, CA with his dog and his girlfriend headed for Maine and potentially down to Florida from there to find work.  He wasn't too sure what his long term plans are and I told him I'm in the same boat.  I told him I'm headed to Oregon and from there, hopefully down to San Diego and then who knows?  It was nice talking to someone as clueless about the future as myself but, I think for both of us, just being on our bikes is as much of a plan as we need.  In our conversation, Colton realized he misplaced his map and ran off to find it.  We wished each other the best, I gave his dog another pat on the head and left for Scottsville.  My cousin, Mike, and his wife, Jess, live here.  They have a baby on the way and I'm just so excited for them.  They live in a quiet neighborhood where there are very few people under the age of 60 and not a single backyard on their street is separated by a fence so the neighborhood cats roam freely like the lions they think they are.  

Mike took me to Letchworth State Park in the early afternoon.  A long, paved road cuts right through this protected 17 mile strip of forest where different trails and overlooks run alongside the deep gorge carved out by the Genesee River.  

Looking down the sheer walls into the river we could see clusters of kayakers so far down they looked like skittles on the floor.  

At any given time you could look out and see several turkey vultures floating and circling on the air like wild kites.  

Further of the road we came across the waterfalls that filled the air with a never-ending white noise and a fine mist that would catch the sun and flare into rainbows more colorful than the kayakers.  

On the way back home we cruised through corn fields and farmlands much faster than I'm able to do on my bike.  Mike pointed out the unique features of the ride home, the little details that seem unimportant but would leave the area vacant and impersonal without them: the small cemetery sandwiched between 2 massive expanses of farmland, the barn that burned down last year, the field dotted with old oak trees where him and Jess took their engagement photos, and the foot bridge that crosses the creek where people of all ages jump off and swim on hot days like today.  

It's nice knowing I don't need to wake up and hit the road first thing in the morning.  If there's a better place to spend 2 nights instead of 1, I haven't come across it yet.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Day 11 - 6/18/16 Skaneateles to Macedon, NY

I'm so glad I listened to Hattie and Pete about riding to Macedon instead of Phelps today.  They had done the same ride about a week ago (mine was a little longer because I missed a turn early).  I rode 65 miles to get here and I still feel great.  It was an entirely flat ride but, 65 miles is 65 miles.  I have a good feeling I'll be cruising through the Mid West where I have many 55-75 mile rides planned out.  

Camp is set up at Mid Lakes Marina tonight, right along the Eerie Canal.  Hattie's friend works here and she let me set up my tent and use the showers.  It's such a reassuring feeling to know you're taken care of for the night; even if it's just getting the green light to set up a tent in the yard.  I don't need anything else but, I appreciate it with all my heart when anything extra is given to me.  I feel so in debt already and it hasn't even been two weeks yet.  In debt with all the hospitality being directed towards me.  Pete did say that people love cyclists and will go out of their way to help.  The debt I feel is a good debt.  I can't wait to pay it back and pay it forward some way in the future.

Day 10 - 6/17/16 Cazenovia to Skaneateles, NY

I only rode about 36 miles today but endured some of the longest hills I've ever seen.  Going down one of them, I didn't even pedal and I hit 42 mph.  I felt like I was on a rollercoaster, speeding to the bottom to slingshot back up again.  I could feel my cheeks rippling in the wind like something out of a cartoon.  The best part was riding into town on 20 West.  Once in Skaneateles, the road was covered in shade by the big trees and it's all downhill right into the center where you can see beautiful Lake Skaneateles. 

I stopped in one of the parks to eat and drink and cool off and admire the aqua blue lake embedded within the green hills I had rode over to get here.  I got in touch with Hattie, my host for the night, and she met me at the park.  There was a cluster of people waiting to board this boat that does tours around the lake.  Little did I know, this was Hattie's boat.  When she appeared out of the crowd and introduced herself, she asked if I wanted to go for a ride.  How do you say no to that?  We weren't out on the water for too long– maybe an hour.  It was gorgeous, to say the least.  

A hot June day with hardly a cloud in the sky on one of the 3 cleanest lakes in the country.  Upon docking at the park again, I said goodbye to Hattie.  She is the owner and the captain of the ship and would be giving tours for the rest of the day.  So I went to go meet her boyfriend, Pete, back at their house.  Pete has been retired for a couple years now.  Since then, him and Hattie rode their bikes from New York to Florida; the trip on which they spent nights crashing with strangers they met on Warm Showers, just like me.  The hot afternoon melted away while we talked about biking and adventures and retirement and had a few beers while doing so. 

As the sun went down, we sat out on the porch, smoked a joint and talked more about biking while we waited for Hattie to get off of work.  Pete took his bike across country back in the 70's. He also told me about when he was 18 and didn't have a car so he would ride his bike all year, even through the snow in the winter.  It was such a nice night, the porch was dark and we were both absorbed in the magic of bicycling while the smoke danced around our heads.  I felt like I was talking to someone my own age, not some 60 something year old retired guy.  How do some people grow old, never seeming to lose their youthful view of the world?  Hattie is the exact same way.  Being with the two of these amazing people, there was a feeling of timelessness–it's hard to explain.  But I guess what I've taken from them is to have fun and share the love.