Participants: Alan, Sue, me (Jon) and Mr. Raccoon. Departure Point: Wethersfield, CT Destination: Mears, MI Duration: 13 days Distance Traveled: 926.4 miles
Day 1 Sunday June 13, 2004
Wethersfield, CT - Goshen, CT: 41.7 miles
Alan, Sue and I left Wethersfield at about 11:30, later than we expected due to mechanical problems. Alan and Sue had flown in from California the day before and had to reassemble their bikes -- Alan's had been shipped to Wethersfield previously, while Sue's, equipped with couplers that let you split the frame apart into two pieces, fit into a box that she checked as luggage on the flight. The main reassembly occurred the night they arrived, but there were a few details to iron out this morning.
The mechanical problems were first, that it turned out that Sue's front panniers ("saddlebags") didn't latch properly onto the front rack of the bike. Alan had to modify the rack using a drill and a file. The other problem was that the tube in Alan's rear tire blew with a loud bang. And then the spare tube he replaced it with leaked! But we finally got on the road. Even then, Sue experienced some discomfort on her bike -- it seemed seemed unstable and didn't shift gears cleanly.
The weather was beautiful -- low 70's and sunny. We traveled through the south end of Hartford into West Hartford, Farmington, Bristol then up to SR4 in Burlington. All the while, Sue struggled gamely on with a bike that just wasn't working well.
After we rode done the long hill at Harwinton and started up the road to Litchfield, Sue suddenly had major problems -- the bike really started wobbling. She stopped, and upon investigation discovered that the couplers that hold the frame together had not been properly tightened. All day the frame had been only loosely held together! A quick tightening of the couplers by Alan set things aright, although they still weren't perfect as we lacked the tools to tighten them properly.
In Litchfield, the Topo 3.0 map was all messed up. Fortunately, my GPS unit was correct, so after only a slight detour we got back on track, heading north to Goshen. The route to Goshen to the campground I had found turned out to involve about a mile of rocky dirt road. We rode some and walked some of this. I got ahead of Alan and Sue, and while waiting for them at the bottom of a hill chatted with a fellow in a pick-up truck who was also wating for them to finish walking down the hill. He told me there was a campground just ahead. So that's where we stayed the night. After showers and a dinner of chicken and cous-cous, prepared by Alan, we went to bed.
During the night, a raccoon (a real one, not Mr. Raccoon) visited, opening Alan's pannier to get to the food inside. Alan had a bag of bagels, and he (the raccoon, not Alan) chewed up some of them. We all got up and belatedly moved the foodstuffs to more secure locations.
Day 2 Monday June 14, 2004
Goshen, CT - Catskill, NY: 56.7 miles
We got a late start as everyone needed sleep -- Sue didn't get much. She says that's always what happens the first night camping. I made breakfast burritos (a strip of bacon and some chopped scallion mixed into an egg, fried and rolled up in a tortilla). Just as we finished breakfast, it started to rain, with the sound of thunder off in the distance. We waited out the rain in our tents. By 11:30 we were on the road. We started out in our rain gear, but with it being so humid and considering that the weather was improving, we soon shed that. We didn't see any rain the rest of the day.
We stopped at the Berkshire Country Store in Cornwall for lunch. We had marvelous deli sandwiches and chili. Pressing on, we took the back way into Sharon, passing through West Cornwall, where the road passes through a covered wooden bridge as you enter Sharon.
Our route through northwestern Connecticut and eastern New York consisted of repeated climbs and descents, slowing us down and tiring us out, but as the day wore on the sun came out and it turned into a beautiful day. In mid afternoon, as we approached the Lake Taghkanic area, Sue reported feeling played out. She was overheating and needed a large cold drink. A few miles ahead of where we were at the time, our route crossed the Taconic State Parkway, an there was an interchange there. We reasoned that we should find services there, so we continued on. Sure enough, a gas station and convenience store saved the day. I guess we were all pretty thirsty; I downed a 32-ounce bottle of Gatorade by myself.
By now it was 5:30. We decided to go the dozen or so miles to Catskill and find a place to stay. Along the way we ran into another instance where the Topo software I had used to make the route tried to send us down a dirt road. Fortunately, with the aid of the GPS we easily found a detour that added very little distance or backtracking. We made it into Catskill a little after 6 PM, stopping at the first motel we found after crossing the Hudson on the Rip Van Winkle bridge. The motel (Pelokes Motel), was right across the road from Tori G's pizza and pasta restaurant, where we all had large dinners. (Stromboli, in my case.) Satisfied, we returned to the motel for sleep.
Day 3 Tuesday June 15, 2004
Catskill, NY - Palatine Bridge, NY: 71.3 miles
We were up and ready to start at 7 AM, but Sue's front tire flatted again. Her tube has multiple patches, and she's in dire need of a new tube. Her front tire is a different size from the rear, and from Alan's and my tires, so none of the tubes we do have will fit it. With no bike shops available along the day's route, we hoped the tube would hold together as we got on the road.
We found a restaurant for breakfast shortly after starting. Back on the road, we headed northwest through the Catskills. We stopped in Cairo to shop at a local supermarket for snack food. While we were there, a fellow who had just parked his car and was entering the store asked us where we were going. It turned out he was a cyclist, too. He said he rides about 200 miles per week. After telling him of our plans -- he said our day's ride would be over a road that was great for cycling -- we asked him if there was a bike shop nearby or along our route, so we could get a tube for Sue's front wheel. He said there wasn't, but he offered to get one from home and meet us somewhere to give it to us. We thanked him for the offer but declined, figuring we would chance it.
The ride from Cairo to Middleburgh was, as the fellow in Cairo promised, a wonderful ride. It included a gentle climb for the first 25 miles, topping out at about 1200 feet elevation, followed by a sharp descent into Middleburgh. Along the way we stopped at a small store in Preston Hollow for a cold drink. The Catskill countryside was beautiful.
We stopped at a diner in Middleburgh for a late lunch (I had a gyro), then continued on. In the middle of town we saw a house with some bikes outside and a sign: "Ron's Used Bikes -- Ask to see more in barn." We thought that Ron -- who turned out to be an elderly gentleman -- might have a tube, or know where we could get one. He didn't but we had a pleasant chat and he showed us his barn full of used bikes -- mostly low-end stuff he had reclaimed from the junk pile. Some of the bikes looked like they dated from the 1940's or earlier. It was an interesting visit.
Leaving Middleburgh, we took NY 30 north. We stopped in Central Bridge for a cold drink, then continued on as the terrain began to flatten out. The last 15 or so miles of the day were mostly flat, punctuated by a mile-long downhill as we came down into the Mohawk valley near Sprakers, NY, and we made good speed. We rode on a road paralleling the NY State Thruway (as we would for quite a few miles) into Canajoharie, crossed the Mohawk into Palatine Bridge and found an EconoLodge motel for the night. We had wanted to camp, especially since we had packed the tents away wet and wanted to dry them out, but there just wasn't a campground available nearby.
Dinner at the New China restaurant hit the spot, then back to the motel and to bed.
Day 4 Wednesday June 16, 2004
Palatine Bridge, NY - Verona Beach State Park, NY: 73.2 miles
We woke up to a beautiful day. We had intended to get on the road at 7 AM, but due to malfunctioning alarm clocks, we didn't make in into the saddle until about 8:15. We headed west on NY 5 toward St. Johnsville. After about 10 miles, Sue's rear tire flatted again. This happened right in front of a small place called the Hungry Bear Cafe, so we went in to have breakfast. (If you eat at the Hungry Bear Cafe, you had better be a hungry bear, because they like their breakfasts large there!) After, Alan and Sue fixed Sue's flat, aided by a bucket of water provided by the owner of the restaurant.
Once back on the road, we continued toward Herkimer. But I was experiencing some pain in my right knee. This, I knew from experience, was something I'd just have to ride through -- with the help of some "vitamin I" (ibuprofen).
As we approached Herkimer, I heard the distinctive sound of a spoke popping on my front wheel. Fortunately, I had a few spare spokes tied to the bottom of my down tube, so I quickly replaced the broken spoke.
In Herkimer, Alan bought some spray seam sealer at a local hardware store so he could spray his tent's rain fly at the next opportunity. We also got directions to a nearby bike shop, only to find when we got there that it was closed on Wednesdays! We got back on NY 5 and followed it to Utica. We tried for a while to find a bike shop there by asking around, getting directed to places that were not actually bike shops and places that were closed. (Utica: Where all the traffic lights are red and the streets are one big pothole. Yes, we were getting a bit frustrated at this point!) Finally, we gave up trying to find a bike shop and headed west out of town toward Oneida Lake.
A few miles before we got there we saw a bakery outlet, where we bought some cinnamon rolls for the next morning. The clerk asked as about our trip (as had -- and would -- a number of other people along the way) and said she didn't know if she could do something like that; she thought she'd probably have to quit smoking first!
We reached the Verona Beach State Park campground, on the shore of Oneida Lake, about 6:30. Just as we were entering the campground, Sue had yet another flat on the rear tire! While the tents were drying out, Alan and Sue inspected Sue's wheel closely and decided that the problem was that the rim tape had gone bad, exposing the spoke nipples and thus pinching the tube. Fortunately, I had a new cloth rim tape in my bag o' spares.
After showers and a late dinner, we went to bed.
Day 5 Thursday June 17, 2004
Verona Beach State Park, NY - Wolcott, NY: 68.8 miles
We broke camp early, hoping to beat the rain, but it started about 5 minutes before we had the tents down, so we once again packed them away wet. Leaving the park, we headed north along the eastern shore of Oneida Lake. Within a few miles we found a small resort area, Sylvan Beach, with a restaurant called The Pancake House, where we broke fast.
After breakfast we continued north on NY 13 along the shore, turning west (on NY 49) as the lake shore did. All this time and until mid afternoon, we rode through intermittent rain. We kept donning and doffing our rain jackets. NY 49 leaves the lake shore near the western end of Oneida Lake, and we headed northwest to Fulton, NY, where we joined the path of the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) Northern Tier route. We saw that the ACA map showed a bike shop in Fulton, so we stopped there and at long last got the spare tubes we had spent the last several hundred miles looking for.
We also stopped for lunch in Fulton, at a small tourist information center with a snack bar. During lunch we inspected the ACA map and decided that since thunderstorms were predicted for the night time, our best bet looked like a hotel in Wolcott, NY.
After lunch we headed west to Wolcott. With the aid of my GPS unit and the GPS points-of-interest I had downloaded from the ACA Web site and loaded into the GPS unit, we left the ACA route to go to the Hotel Wolcott, which we reached at about 5:30. This proved to be a small hotel in downtown Wolcott. The building was old, but the rooms are well appointed and comfortable. Since the rooms were on the second floor, we had to carry our bikes up the stairs.
Downtown Wolcott was a bustling place, with several restaurants and stores. After showering and doing our laundry (thanks, Sue!) we ate at a pizza place, then returned to the hotel to get a good night's sleep.
Day 6 Friday June 18, 2004
Wolcott, NY - Spencerport, NY: 82.7 miles
We went to The Village Restaurant for breakfast at 7 AM, its opening time, then back to the hotel to carry our bikes down to the street. We were on the road by 8:30, headed for Sodus Point, on Lake Ontario then along the lake shore for about 10 miles. Funny thing, though, we didn't actually see the lake until we were almost ready to turn south, away from the lake, at Pultneyville. Even though we were only a few hundred feet from the lake for most of the 10 miles, there was always an intervening ridge and/or forest.
From Pultneyville we rode south about 20 miles to Palmyra, then west to Fairport, stopping at a McDonald's for a quick lunch. In Fairport I spied a Starbucks where I could get WiFi Internet access from which to post this journal and check email via my laptop. While I was doing that, Sue and Alan got into conversation with a fellow who said he did bicycle touring an assured us that the Erie canal towpath, which we had been parallelling, was fine riding and the rest of the route through New York was flat. He directed us to where we could pick up the canal trail in Fairport, a couple of miles from where we were. We headed that way. After a mile or so I heard another spoke break on my front wheel so stopped to replace it. I was down to one spare spoke.
Once on the canal path we did find the going easy. The path through the Rochester area alternates between asphalt and hard-packed gravel. West of Rochester, some of the paved parts have "wrinkles" in the asphalt that make for a difficult ride. The hardpack is preferable.
After about 25 miles on the canal path we left it at Spencerport to find a place to stay for the night. It was nearly 7 PM, and we were still quite a distance from the nearest available camping. We ended up at the Friendly Motel, which proved to be well named. The nearest good restaurant was about a mile from the motel along a busy highway, so the motel offered to drive us to the restaurant and come pick us up when we were finished there. We accepted his offer and a few minutes later he returned to tell us he had made us a reservation at the restaurant, Streb's Steak House, for 45 minutes later. We showered, changed and presented ourselves out front at the appointed time and he did indeed drive us there. When we got to the restaurant, he asked the hostess to call him at the motel when our dinner was finished. We had an excellent dinner (Bourbon Peppercorn Prime Rib for me), and as we were having out coffee the hostess apparently called the motel, because just as we had paid the check the motel owner walked in to collect us. Back to the motel we went, profusely thanking the owner, then off to bed.
Day 7 Saturday June 19, 2004
Spencerport, NY - Lockport, NY: 55.6 miles
We woke up to rain today. The forecast was for early showers, with better weather soon, so we waited out the rain. We didn't mind too much, as we all felt a little lethargic after out long day -- and fine dinner -- of the previous day. We walked up the road a few hundred yards to Sullivan's Char-Broil, which serves breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays. We were on the road by about 9 AM, by which time the rain had pretty much ended.
Back on the canal trail, we were moving along pretty well despite the increasing headwinds when suddenly I heard a pop and hiss -- my rear tire had gone flat. Upon removing the tire I learned two things. First, that I had neglected to install rim tape on the wheel when I got it. (Rim tape is tape that covers the "nipples" that stick through the rim from the inside and screw into the spokes. It protects the inner tube from being punctured by the nipples or rim holes.) I'm told the look on my face when I saw that there was no rim tape was something to behold. At first we all assumed that it was the lack of rim tape that led to the flat, although none of us could figure out how I got away with riding 200+ miles on a wheel with no rim tape! (I chalk it up to the extra heavy Continental Tour 700 tubes I was using, but it's still pretty amazing.) But my second discovery was that it was not the lack of rim tape that was the problem. Rather, the tire sidewall had separated just above the wire bead the grips onto the wheel rim, and the inner tube had bulged out through that hole and popped. In retrospect, I believe the cause of the tire failure was that I had run over a large stone some time earlier which got "popped" a long way by the tire. Clearly, there was a lot of force involved, and I suspect the sidewall was stressed in a way similar to what happens when an inner tube suffers a "pinch flat." Anyway, the tire was toast.
Fortunately, I carry a spare tire on tour, albeit a narrower one. I mounted that tire on the wheel and we continued on. In Brockport, we found a bicycle shop where I bought a replacement tire (and some more spare spokes for the front wheel -- just in case). On the sidewalk in front of the bike shop, I changed the rear tire to the new one. On we went.
We stopped in Albion for lunch at a small Italian restaurant, although most of their afternoon business appeared to be at the bar. One of the locals there commented that they get a lot of cycling groups in there every year -- not too surprising since the canal trail is a popular touring route.
Our next misadventure happened shortly thereafter when one of Alan's rear spokes broke. He had no spares, but I was carrying a Kevlar FiberFix temporary spoke replacement, so he used that in place of the broken spoke. We continued on, now fighting fierce headwinds along the canal trail all afternoon long.
We stopped in Middleport for a cold drink and decided that we would stop at Lockport to camp for the night. I called ahead to ensure that the campground listed in the ACA map was actually available, and it was. While we were having our drinks, I reloaded the NY state detailed map into my GPS unit. I had loaded the Canadian maps, not realizing that the New York maps would be deleted from the memory.
We got to the campground in Lockport a little after 6 PM. While we were checking in, the owner told us the forecast for the night called for record low temperatures, in the 30's!
We hadn't arranged anything for dinner, and the pickings at the camp store were pretty slim, so after setting up our tents we rode to a local supermarket about 3 miles away and bought dinner (a sub, a can of soup and some mixed fruit for me, a cooked chicken for Alan and Sue). After dinner, we bundled up in multiple layers of clothing and went to bed.
Day 8 Sunday June 20, 2004
Lockport, NY - Fort Erie, ON: 62.2 miles
While we were comfortable enough in our tents last night, in the morning we delayed our departure until about 9 AM, when things had warmed up enough to be suitable for riding and when the condensation that had formed in our tents overnight had dried.
Alan made pancakes for breakfast to get us started. We navigated our way by GPS back into Lockport, where we called the local bike shop to see if it was open on Sundays so we could get some spokes for Alan's bike. Finding that it was closed, we headed out toward Niagara Falls. We stopped for a quick bite from our supplies a few miles outside Lockport, during which I observed that we would have to pick up the pace in order to complete the scheduled trip -- something I at least wanted to try to do. Finding that Sue wasn't confident that she could do that, I raised the possibility of splitting up, with me going ahead on my own. We mulled that over as we rode on through the Tuscarora Indian reservation, where we did not avail ourselves of the tax-free gasoline and cigarettes they had for sale!
We rode into Lewiston, NY, again looking for a bike shop. The ACA map showed one just off the route, so we stopped to check it out but couldn't find it. A family (father, mother and teen-age son) coming out of a nearby hardware store told us the bike shop had closed up. It turns out the father of the family had done bicycle touring in his younger days and still knew about the local cycling resources. He suggested a couple of alternatives in Niagara Falls (or "the Falls" as the locals call it) and offered to go back into the hardware store, borrow the phone book and look up the numbers for us. Which he did. Calling, we found a shop, Precision Bicycles, that was open. Our new friend gave us directions, peering over my shoulder at the GPS map to pinpoint the location, about 5 miles away.
Off we went, stopping along the way at Augie's for lunch (meatball sandwich for me). Once at the shop, Alan consulted with the sales clerk on the spokes he needed. He and I also bought some clothes -- shorts in his case, shorts, arm warmers and leg warmers for me. I hadn't expected things to be quite as chilly as they were turning out to be.
While Alan replaced his broken spoke, I went down the street to photocopy the ACA map pages for the remainder of the route. That way I could give the original map to Alan -- he had forgotten to bring his copy -- and I could navigate using the photocopies and the GPS unit.
The ACA route we were following crosses into Canada via the Queenstown/Lewiston bridge and runs along the Niagara river on the Canadian side, past the Falls and along the Niagara Recreation Trail. Being now much closer to the Rainbow Bridge, we chose not to backtrack to Lewiston but rather to cross at the Falls and pick up the route there. We did that, stopping at the Falls for a brief look and the obligatory photo.
We followed the trail down to Fort Erie where it ends. In Ft. Erie we found an ATM where Alan and I got some Canadian cash. While we were standing outside the bank discussing where to find accommodations for the night, a fellow entering the bank gave us directions to a strip where there were some motels, just off our route. Once there, at about 6 PM, we selected the Gateway Motel as the least offensive choice.
After showers we went to Kelsey's, a fairly new restaurant just across the street from the motel. (I had crispy beef stir-fry, which turned out not to be as good as it sounded.) Then back to the motel and to bed.
Day 9 Monday June 21, 2004
Fort Erie, ON - Turkey Point, ON: 88.1 miles
We met for a final breakfast at a local coffee shop. I turned over to Alan and Sue the ACA map and its addenda for the Lake Erie Connector, which we would start out on once we left the shop. (We had reached the end of that portion of the ACA Northern Tier route that we would be using.) I also gave them a list of phone numbers to use to contact Shelly and me and promised to come get them, wherever they were, on the following Saturday and to get them to their flight from Grand Rapids on Sunday.
We rode together for the first few miles of the route because the directions through Ft. Erie looked, and were, confusing, and we thought it would be better to stay together there. Once past that, I bade them farewell and pulled ahead. At this point I figured I would need to make 80-85 miles per day to complete the 1000-mile journey on time. I'd need the cooperation of the weather and no serious mechanical or health problems to make that.
I stopped for lunch at a convenience store in Dunnville, where I bought a sandwich, some chips and a soda. Continuing on, I departed from the ACA route slightly by staying on Regional Route 3 instead of winding back and forth between that road and the lake shore, as shown on the ACA map. That may have been a mistake, because the strong direct headwinds (~20 mph) on RR 3 slowed me considerably, negating much of the saved distance as well as greatly diminishing the fun of riding. It's very frustrating to work hard and make only about 10-11 mph when you know that absent the wind you would be making a steady 15-16 mph instead.
I stopped for a snack in Selkirk, then pressed on, reaching Port Dover about 4 PM. From there I called the Turkey Point Hotel, about 20 km (12.5 miles) away, listed on the ACA map. The woman I spoke to, Lisa, said that yes, they could give me a room for the night. By this time, ominous clouds were building up in the west, so I sped toward Turkey Point. As I approached my destination, I started to "bonk" (lose energy), and I realized I hadn't eaten enough during the day. But I did make it to Turkey Point.
Turkey Point turned out to be a small resort area centered around a provincial beach park. Entering the Turkey Point Hotel, I met Lisa, who explained that the hotel doesn't itself rent rooms, but it's affiliated with the Suntan Motel just down the street. While the motel wasn't officially open yet since the season starts on July 1, they would rent me a room for the night -- I was the only guest that night!
I had dinner (steak fajitas, chased down with a couple of ice cold Labatt Blue's) at the Turkey Point Hotel, then returned to the motel where I feel asleep before I could even make my usual evening phone call home. (It turned out the cell coverage there was poor anyway.)
Day 10 Tuesday June 22, 2004
Turkey Point, ON - New Glasgow, ON: 91.0 miles
It rained overnight. I got on the road about 7:30 after eating a couple of Pop Tarts. The roads were wet with puddles, but no rain was falling nor would I see any all day. The day was cool and cloudy -- and windy -- all day.
Entering Booth's Harbor, I saw a sign for a "by the bay" eatery. I followed the sign to find it but discovered that it was at the bottom of a large hill that I would have to descend -- then climb upon departure -- so I skipped that. I finally found a restaurant serving breakfast in Port Rowan, about 10 miles from where I started. I had a pleasant breakfast eavesdropping on the locals and hearing the local gossip. My waitress (the only one in the place), who looked to be about my age, said she had moved to Port Rowan from British Columbia where she was active in a mountain biking group, which she really missed.
I continued on through a monotonous series of asparagus fields, fighting the headwinds. I stopped in Port Stanley for lunch at a pizza/sub joint. I also visited a local market and bought a wrap and a can of soup to have for dinner and some instant oatmeal for breakfast.
Along the way I saw two groups of touring cyclists headed in the opposite direction. One consisted of 8-10 riders, clearly a supported tour since they weren't carrying much of anything. The other group consisted of two older (like me) fellows stopped by the side of the road. One was using a recumbent bicycle, the other a Waterford diamond-frame (conventional) bike. The fellow with the 'bent was fixing a flat. I asked if they needed any help, but they said they didn't. We chatted for a few minutes, exchanging tales. They had started out from near Detroit and were headed to New York state. I pointed out that due to the wind, they were definitely going the better direction. One of the fellows said he had done the route several times and had encountered east winds on occasion -- just my luck that the winds were westerly!
When I got to Wallacetown I called the Hickory Grove Campground, about 12 mi ahead of where I was, to ensure I could stay there. I could, so I rode on to the campground, arriving a little after 5 PM. As instructed when I called, I rode to the end of the campground to where the proprietor's trailer home was located. The woman there took my money and gave me a washroom (as they call it in Canada) key and also changed a $20 bill for me so I would have change for the laundry machines in the campground.
The small tent area in this campground full of RV's and trailers was deserted, so I picked a spot near the washroom building to pitch my tent. The tent area was also unsheltered by any trees, so it got the full effect of the wind, although by this time it had died off considerably.
After showering, I did some laundry and charged my cell phone somewhat in the laundry room. Then I had my dinner and called home. Just as I was putting away my cleaned dinner dishes, another cycle tourist rode into camp on a mountain bike towing a B.O.B. trailer. This fellow, Nick, had just gotten out of the Navy and was doing a trip from Long Island, where he was from, to San Diego, which he now called home. We swapped stories about our touring experiences for a while, then disappeared into our respective tents a little after 9 PM.
Day 11 Wednesday June 23, 2004
New Glasgow, ON - Capac, MI: 99.3 miles
I got up about 5 AM. It was cold and windy. After making coffee, I stood on the leeward side of the washroom building to drink it. It wasn't too uncomfortable out of the wind. About 7, Nick emerged from his tent and we broke camp simultaneously. Nick's stove was out of fuel, so I let him heat water for his oatmeal on my stove. By 8:45 we were on the road.
The wind was from the north at this time, so we had a nice wind-free sprint westward for the first 14 miles to Morpeth, where we stopped for breakfast. There was a gas station/grocery/post office there. In many of these small towns, such establishments also act as a restaurant, so we wandered in, but we didn't see any signs of restaurant activity. I asked whether there was a restaurant nearby. With a quizzical look on his face, the proprietor pointed across the street at a place that appeared to us to be wholly unsigned but which turned out to be the Plaza restaurant (next to Friggin's Garage). Upon leaving we discovered that if you came to Morpeth from the West you would see the restaurant name in large letters on the side of the building.
After breakfast, we rode about three more miles to where our routes diverged, Nick's to take him to the ferry across Lake Erie to Ohio, mine to take me northwest to Sombra, ON, to catch the ferry to Michigan. In this part of Ontario, roads run north-south or east-west, so to go northwest you go north for a while, then west for a while. The northward parts of the route were great riding since the by now the wind was directly from the west, but the westward parts were a struggle -- again. The first northward leg took me to near Dresden. On this leg I spun along at 14-15 mph.
From Dresden I turned west toward Wallaceburg. Once past there, it was a short run to the St. Clair river that separates Ontario and Michigan. I turned north to follow the river for the run to Sombra to catch the Blue Water ferry across to Marine City, MI. The ferry left immediately after I boarded. On the US side, the agent asked my citizenship and where I had been and inspected my driver's license, then waved me through.
I stopped in Marine City at a small park just outside the local police station, pulled out my laptop and uploaded the Michigan detailed map data into my GPS unit. Following the ACA route, I took a bike path up to St. Clair, where I bought dinner for camp. At a McDonald's, I bought a super-size soda. After drinking it, I dropped the ice from the cup into a ziplock bag and used it as an ice pack to keep my dinner items cold in my insulated rack trunk bag. I also called the campground in Capac, MI, and secured a campsite for the night -- prepaid via credit card. The proprietor promised to leave the registration packet on the door of the campground office.
The 25 miles to Capac took me onto the aptly named "Rattle Run Rd." If there is a nastier section of paved road for cycling, I've yet to see it. A surface incredibly full of potholes and bumps, no shoulder, and some moderately high-speed traffic made this a memorable leg of the journey! The ominous rain clouds to the northwest -- the direction I was headed -- didn't help. I encountered only a few sprinkles, but as I approached the campground I could see that it had rained there.
When I turned into the campground, I saw the office building and also saw that there were a couple of other touring cyclists there. Wait a minute -- it was Alan and Sue! How the heck did they get there -- and before me! (Alan says he wishes he had had a camera available to catch the look on my face at that moment.) It turns out that along the way they had met some folks who gave them a ride for about 50 miles or so, allowing them to get ahead of me. Alan had his moment of perplexity, too, when they arrived at the campground shortly before I did. Since he is my brother, he was at first dumbfounded to find upon arrival at the campground that there was an envelope at the office with his last name on it. He hadn't contacted the campground; how did they know he was coming? Naturally, it didn't take him long to figure it out.
We pitched our tents on my assigned tent site. Since it was wet all around the site and we didn't know when the rain would start again, we took our dinner stuff up to a roofed pavilion near the camp store to have our dinner.
After dinner we returned to our tents and to bed. During the night we had some heavy rain, which I heard, and nearby trains all night, which didn't awaken me but apparently did bother the others.
Day 12 Thursday June 24, 2004
Capac, MI - Caro, MI: 63.3 miles
I stayed fairly dry in my tent. A small bit of moisture got through the floor, but not enough to be a problem. I had some mixed fruit salad I had bought the day before to get me started. I left the campground a bit before Alan and Sue, about 7:30, and headed northwest along the ACA route. I stopped in the small town of Capac, MI, for breakfast at a place called Becky's. I expected Alan and Sue to wander in shortly, but they didn't. On the way out of town after breakfast, I noticed their bikes in front of another restaurant.
From Capac, the route headed north to Brown City. Like the previous day, the winds were strong (even stronger today) and from the west, so this northward leg was quick. Once I turned west at Brown City, though, the headwinds really began to take their toll. And by this time, the toll was more psychological than physical. I was just sick of headwinds! And it was getting colder, too. Even wearing the arm and leg warmers I had bought in Niagara Falls, it was uncomfortably cold in the wind.
I stopped in Mayville at a place called Mr. Dean-O's for lunch. After lunch, with the weather deteriorating further -- rain was in the offing -- I decided to make a beeline for the next town on the route, Caro, MI, and hole up in a motel. I took the main road north and, since I was going north, sped along nicely. In Caro I looked around and found the King's Way Inn motel mentioned on the ACA map and included in the GPS waypoints. Just after I got checked in, the rain started.
Later, I walked to a nearby Wal Mart to pick up a few items, then went to a pizza joint for dinner. Then back to the motel and to bed.
Day 13 Friday June 25, 2004
Caro, MI - Durand, MI: 72.5 miles
Having gone only a bit over 60 miles the day before, I calculated that I would have to do nearly 100 miles per day for the next two days to make it to Mears on Saturday. And then I'd have to jump in the car and go pick up Alan and Sue wherever they were. That seemed like more chore than fun, so I made a new plan. I would ride southwest to a point where Shelly, who was starting the drive from Connecticut on this day, could easily meet me and pick me up. I selected an area just west of Flint, MI, along I-69, assuming there would be a motel somewhere in the area.
Since I was riding southwest, the winds today had naturally shifted to the southwest to remain direct headwinds for me. But they were much weaker and didn't really bother me. My route took me through Frankenmuth, "Michigan's Little Bavaria," a town replete with galleries and gift shops as well as the "World's Largest Christmas Store."
I lunched at a Subway near Vienna, MI, then rode on. Nearing I-69, I stopped at a local "party store" and asked if there was a motel nearby. The clerk gave me directions to one "about a mile" away, which proved to be more like 3 miles away. (Cyclists quickly learn that most non cyclists have little ability to distinguish distances less than about 5 miles.)
The motel proved to the the Sunset Motel, in Durand, MI. It looked unpromising at first, but since it was the only choice, I checked in. I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only was the price reasonable, but the room was clean and well-appointed. I called Shelly via cell phone to tell her where I was. She had planned to stop near Toledo for the night, but finding that it was only a couple of hours more to where I was staying, she decided to continue on to Durand after checking with her traveling companions -- our 8-year-old son Robert and Shelly's friend Ann Marie.
I arranged for a second room at the motel, and they arrived about 8:30 PM, at which point we had a joyous reunion. My bike tour was now over. The only thing left was to pick up Alan and Sue the next day and get them to Grand Rapids for their flight on Sunday.
Saturday June 26, 2004
Durand, MI - Mears, MI: 0 miles
We drove to Mears and checked into the motel. Alan had telephoned to say they were in Mt. Pleasant, MI, and expected to ride to about Big Rapids that day. I headed toward Big Rapids in the car. Along the way I got a voice mail message (cell coverage was too spotty for two-way conversation) telling me that they were stopping at a Sunoco and Arby's restaurant on the east side of Big Rapids. I met them there and we loaded their panniers into the car and mounted their bikes on the bike carrier strapped to the back of the car, then headed back to Mears, where I dropped them off at their motel (a different one from ours).
We drove over to their motel at dinner time and went to a local restaurant, Walker's Fine Dining, in Hart, MI. (I had to make two trips between the motel and restaurant to accommodate everyone.) There we had a very nice meal (pork chops for me) and swapped lies -- ah, I mean, brought each other up to date on our separate tour experiences. I took Alan and Sue back to their motel where they finished boxing up their bikes and packing for the trip home. The next morning I met them for breakfast, then drove them the 90 miles or so to the Grand Rapids airport.
Using GPS on tour: This was the first tour on which I used my Magellan SporTrak Pro mapping GPS unit. So, how did it go? The short answer: I doubt I'll ever again tour without GPS! Having the route preloaded into the GPS unit made navigation incredibly easy. The map showed each turn we needed to make, when we needed to make it. And going off-route, for a detour or to find some resource -- bike shop, motel or campground -- was so easy using the GPS! We had detailed maps for the entire route available. Granted, the detail wasn't as good as what you would get with a high-quality local map, but acquiring and carrying local maps for a 1000-mile tour is no picnic, either.
Had the tour been entirely in the US, I could have loaded all of the detailed map data for the entire tour into the GPS at the beginning, but the Magellan US and Canadian maps are in two different software products, and you can't load data from both products into the unit simultaneously. (At least, I couldn't see a way to do it.) The amount of route information needed for a 1000-mile bike trip exceeds the SporTrak Pro's capacity, too, so it was necessary to load more routing data in several times. I also downloaded the track each night to keep a record of the tour. These functions required a laptop, and I brought my IBM X40 ultralight notebook with me. When you add in accessories and extra padding, this represents about 4 pounds of additional weight. It was worth it to me, but some tourists might want to investigate lighter weight GPS solutions, such as units with removable storage (like the SD cards of the Magellan Meridian series) or lighter support equipment, such as Palm devices.
Bottom line, I really like having the GPS available for navigation on-route and off-route. Paper maps still have their place, though, for showing a big-picture view of where you are and where you are going, something the small GPS screen doesn't do at all well.
Adventure Cycling has downloadable routes and waypoints, and I found those helpful. It was particularly nice to have waypoints for the off-route resources such as motels and campgrounds.
Adventure Cycling routes: I have to say that I'm not really crazy about the ACA routes. In two separate tours, I've been somewhat disappointed with aspects of the routes. ACA tends to route you onto back roads to a fault. The best thing that can be said about the routes is that they won't route you down a dirt road. Well, almost. The Lake Erie connector takes you through a small section of forested park, on dirt trails, in Ft. Erie, ON. And along the Lake Erie shore there is a section of the ACA route that is closed, with a detour that takes you on about a mile of dirt road. (It's possible to bike through the closed area, I'm told. Since the closure is for road construction, that may change, however.) But, really, are dirt roads so terrible? Yes, if it's really wet they may turn muddy. Then again, much of the ACA route was on the Erie Canal towpath, most of which is hard-packed gravel.
And some of the paved roads chosen for the ACA route are real head-scratchers. (See: Rattle Run Road.) Personally, when there is a major secondary road (a state highway, for example) with a wide, clean, well-maintained shoulder, I prefer that to a winding back road with blind curves and steeper hills. Maybe that's just a matter of taste, but I find the ACA routes less than ideal. The ACA maps do have the significant advantage of showing the local travel resources, information that is very nice to have. But even with the addenda from the ACA Web site, some of the information is out of date. (Having a cell phone available and calling ahead where possible is a practice I highly recommend.) And of course, if you rely on that information and ACA has missed something, you'll miss it, too. So it's a mixed blessing. Plus, it's getting easier by the day to find that kind of information on the Internet.
All in all, I doubt I'll use ACA resources much for future tours.
Final Thoughts: In some ways this tour was snake-bit from the start. The original plan called for a tour longer in duration and shorter in mileage. But due to a series of unexpected constraints, we ended up with a plan that would require more than 70 miles per day even if everything went perfectly -- an unreasonable expectation on a bike trip. Unreliable equipment, strong headwinds and cold temperatures all combined to make things less than perfect. Yet, the tour was really a lot of fun! I wouldn't have missed it.
The experience did reinforce my previous experience that makes me want to tour with more flexibility. A tour that doesn't require a set number of daily miles in order to be at a particular place at a particular time is an appealing idea, and I'd like to try that next time. I've also seen all of the aparagus fields I need to for one lifetime!
Click on any photo below to get a larger image.
Alan modifies the front rack of Sue's bike.
Our campsite in Goshen, CT. The bullfrogs in the nearby pond kept up their chorus all night.
Ready for rain riding.
The covered bridge at the West Cornwall/Sharon town line.
Sue, Alan and the Catskills.
The diner in Middleburgh was a lot nicer looking inside!
From the motel in Palatine Bridge we could see the Mohawk River/Erie Canal.
On the shore of Oneida Lake, in Verona Beach State Park.
Oneida Lake from its north shore.
The Hotel Wolcott, in downtown Wolcott, NY.
Sue and Alan on the shore of Lake Ontario. (Not the "first white men," I'm guessing!)
The Erie Canal. The towpath/bike trail is on the right.
On the other side of the canal we saw these girls practicing rowing (crew?) Actually, we heard them first as one girl was rowing in the rowing machine and the others were shouting encouragement: "C'mon Sherry, you can do it." That sort of thing. We stopped and watched until she finished her trial, at which point we hooted and hollered and shouted, "Yeah Sherry!" The girls seemed to appreciate it.
Erie Canal Lock - 2004-06-18
This lock was just being emptied as we came up to it to lower two small boats that were eastbound in the canal.
Alan replaces his broken spoke with my Kevlar FiberFix "spoke."
The really cold campground in Lockport, NY.
The petting zoo in the campground in Lockport, NY.
Within the Tuscarora Indian reservation some of the traffic signs were duplicated in (I assume) the local Indian dialect.
Niagara Falls -- not our honeymoon.
From the Niagara Recreation Trail in Ft. Erie you get a good view of the Buffalo skyline.
Lake Erie Steel - 2004-06-21
This large steel plant processes ore shipped in via lake ore carriers.
An ore carrier docked for unloading.
Ore is carried into the facility via a short rail track.
I guess that's a pile or ore, or maybe it's spoil of some kind?
The drawbridge is up in downtown Port Stanley, ON.
Nick, in front of Friggin's Garage. Judging from the eclectic mix of stuff available at this store, I assume their motto is: If you can't find it at Friggin's, you can't Friggin find it.
Aboard the Blue Water Ferry from Sombra, ON, approaching Marine City, MI.
Strong headwinds, dropping temperatures and these looming rain clouds convinced me it was time to call it a day -- and a tour.
"The World's Largest Christmas Store" in Frankenmuth, MI.
End-of-tour dinner in Hart, MI. Left to right: Ann Marie, Robert, Shelly, Jon, Sue and Alan.