'Round Lake Ontario
"It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle."
-- Ernest Hemingway
Prologue: Friday, July 20, 2001 - Another Year, Another Tour
It's been more than a year since I last sat astride The Beast, took a last glance at the map, and headed off to discover what lies between hither and yon. It's definitely time to do it again.
In the past, I've toured solo. I've also toured in small groups. I have never toured for more than a weekend with but one other person. This year The Beast and I will be joined by Jodi and her pink Diamondback on our trip around Lake Ontario.
This is a rather tame tour, both physically and logistically. A deficit of time, finances, and mental focus this year makes this a good choice. I expect, however, that the trip will not lack in interesting encounters.
I will be sending daily (more or less) scribblings from the road. I hope to prevail upon Jodi to add an occasional comment, but I am the verbose one of the team. If you prefer not to receive these emails, just let me know and I will take you off the list. For those of you reading this on one of the email lists it is being sent to, please direct replies to email@example.com rather than replying to the list. I am not subscribed to the lists at this address, as they generate too much email to handle via Pocketmail.
So, tomorrow we'll pack bikes and panniers into the car, and head for the Tibbetts Point Lighthouse Hostel in Cape Vincent, New York. This hostel is located at the east end of Lake Ontario, where it empties into the St. Lawrence River, and will be the starting/ending point for our trip.
"Not so many years ago there was no simpler or more intelligible notion than that of going on a journey. Travel - movement through space - provided the universal metaphor for change. One of the subtle confusions - perhaps one of the secret terrors - of modern life is that we have lost this refuge. No longer do we move through space as we once did."
-- Daniel J. Boorstin
July 21 - 22: Round The Lake - Days 0 & 1
The drive to upstate New York was pleasant and uneventful, just as it should be. We were aimed towards Cape Vincent, which is where Lake Ontario empties into the St Lawrence River. The hostel here is a gem. It is situated in what was the lighthouse keepers house. While the hostel 'Mother' was showing us around, we watched two freighters slip out of the River and into the Lake.
Sunday our trip started in earnest. When we woke up and stepped outside, the wind was tearing the Lake into whitecaps. It was exhilarating, but also sobering. We knew we would be riding into that wind most of the day.
The morning went well. We worked our way into the wind, along a fairly busy Route 3 that went through slightly undulating dairy farm country. The traffic was rather fast, but there was a smooth, wide shoulder to ride. We stopped to check out a local fair in the town of Dexter.
It was hot, in the upper 80's, but the strong wind meant it didn't feel all that hot. This led me to do a stupid thing, something I definitely should know better than to let happen. I didn't drink nearly enough during the day. The heat, the sun, and the wind conspired to suck me dry. By midafternoon I was struggling mightily. When we stopped at a little store to buy food for the evening, I told Jodi I was going to keep plugging along. When Jodi caught up to me a mile or two down the road, I was lying on somebody's front lawn with my eyes closed trying to get control of my breathing and my nauseous stomach. Jodi saved the day with a bottle of cold lemonade. The hydration and the sugar combined to bring me around, and we finished the last six or seven miles to Selkirk Shores State Park. After a shower and a meal, we took a nice stroll down to the shore to watch the sunset. After that, it was early to bed and a sound sleep until the raucous sea gulls woke us this morning.
Today the winds have calmed and we have a short cruise of 40 or so miles. Maybe we'll get to kick back in the afternoon; take a dip in Lake Ontario, and spend some time just reading a novel.
Allen & Jodi
July 23 - 24: Days 2 & 3 - Catching Up
I'm afraid I've been lax in keeping up-to-date. When we planned this trip I knew I wasn't really in shape for it, but figured a few easy days at the beginning and I'd fall into the rhythm of touring. Unfortunately, the last three days have been anything but easy. The newspapers around here have had headlines like "SCORCHER!". It has been brutally hot out on the road, and we have been fighting a relentless headwind for the last three days.
When we started in Cape Vincent, the landscape was dotted with hay and corn fields to feed dairy cattle. There was lots of space between farms, and a good number of overgrown fields. I don't know if it's always been that way, or if the farm community is shrinking here. As we got a bit further south, it changed over to more prosperous looking fruit orchards. It seems to be mostly apples and cherries.
Monday afternoon we got to Fair Haven Beach State Park and after registering for a camp site, made the beach our first stop before even going to our campsite. I don't know if we looked ridiculous or not swimming in our cycling clothes, but it sure felt great.
Yesterday (Tuesday) we made it into Rochester. Once we got around Irondequoit Bay, we found our way to East Avenue, where the museums are. In any travel brochure, the homes on East Avenue would be described as 'stately'. We passed the Eastman Estate, and only a few blocks later found a Days Inn. After showering and doing laundry chores, we headed out in search of sustenance and found a very good Vietnamese restaurant just a couple blocks away.
The weather has changed dramatically. The high today (Wednesday) is supposed to be in the 70s, and only in the 60s tomorrow. We have an easy day planned; first we're headed back to the Eastman Estate, where I want to see their exhibit of Ansel Adams prints, and Jodi wants to see their exhibit on the history of photography. We'll take as long as we want for that, then head about 35 miles west where the first state park with camping is located.
Allen & Jodi
July 25 - 26: Round The Lake - Days 4 and 5
We spent Wednesday morning at the Eastman Estate in Rochester. First, we viewed the exhibit of Ansel Adams prints. It was an experience to see them the way they were meant to be seen, rather than the way they get reproduced on calendars and in magazines. No matter how wonderful art is, after a certain length of time it all starts to look the same, and you don't appreciate it anymore. When we reached this point, we left the museum area and went over to view the mansion and the gardens outside.
We were finally on our way out of Rochester at around 1:30 Wednesday afternoon. It was slow going, as we had decided to leave town via the Gennessee River trail, the Erie Canal Towpath, and the I-390 Bikeway. Navigating along these paths was frustrating at times, but we eventually ended up where the 390 path ends at the Lake Ontario State Parkway. We headed west on the Parkway until we arrived at Hamlin Beach State Park, the first place to camp after leaving Rochester heading west. We checked in at 5:05, and learned that the camp store had closed at 5:00. It was MREs for dinner. They are actually quite good, though you need several to fill you up.
It was cloudy and cool all afternoon. Just as we were going to bed, it started raining, and continued most of the night. It stopped before morning, and a terrific wind kicked up. ~hen we got up, the tent was dry from the wind, and the Lake was kicked into large whitecaps, with surf pounding the beach. It was a glorious, crystal clear day. The wind was just a bit north of east, and since we were headed west, it was almost a direct tailwind. After days of struggling to average 11 MPH, we were flying down the road at 16 and 17. We decided to take advantage of the wonderful riding, and make the trip to Niagara Falls in one go instead of splitting it into two days, as originally planned. The roads were wonderful; we rode right along the south shore of the lake, past farms and small villages. Finally, we reached the mouth of the Niagara River and followed it south to Lewiston, where we crossed the bridge into Canada, then rode the Niagara Parkway down into Niagara Falls. We got a very inexpensive motel, considering where it is, and decided to stay here two nights to get a full day off the bike. We made 82 miles between 10:00 AM at 6:00 PM, and are looking forward to not pedaling for a day.
Allen & Jodi
July 27 - 30: If It's Monday, This Must Be...
We spent last Friday hanging out in Niagara Falls, Canada. The Falls, and the park along the river, are gorgeous. The tourist part of the town is as tacky as one would expect. It was fun for a day, but a day is definitely enough.
Early Saturday morning we were back on the road. We followed the Niagara River Parkway north, dropping off the Niagara Escarpment and continuing on until we reached Niagara-on-the-Lake. This is a beautiful town that still has most of it's 19th century architecture intact. The Main street is lined with flowers, as are the porches of the gorgeous Prince of Wales Hotel. We managed to find a small restaurant where we got breakfast at a reasonable price, then turned west and continued our way along the southern shore of Lake Ontario. This is wine country, and we cycled past lots of vineyards. This area is also apparently good for growing cherries, and we snacked on fat, sweet, juicy cherries all day. A little friendly competition on who could spit the pits the furthest livened things up a bit.
Just a bit west of Niagara-on-the-Lake, we reached the Welland Canal which goes from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie, bypassing the Niagara River and the Falls. We followed the cycleway along the canal for a few miles. It was a unique experience to be cycling a few feet away from a large cargo ship. We stopped at the observation deck overlooking Lock #3, and watched one of the ships lock through.
Eventually, we made it to Confederation Park, just outside of Hamilton. This park just happened to be the site of the Canadian Street Rod Nationals this weekend, so it was plum full of classic cars. To me, a car is a car is a car. But Jodi is an old car buff, so after a huge dinner of fresh sweet corn, pasta with homemade sauce, and a bottle of Pinot Grigio from the Inniskillin Vineyard, we made the rounds of all the cars.
We were so close to the western end of the Lake that we could see it from our campsite. On Sunday morning we were off to finish our westering, and begin the return journey. We followed Lakeshore Drive along the waterfront all the way around until we approached Toronto. As we got close to downtown, we switched over to the waterfront bicycle path. The number of bicyclists in Toronto is mind-boggling to someone from the States. They're everywhere.
We found our way to the Tourist Information in the Eaton Mall on Yonge Street. They recommended the Hotel Victoria as the least expensive downtown hotel. We had them call for us, and were able to get a very good rate of CDN$90. For someone with a US bank account, this is very cheap. Apparently, you can only get this rate id you arrange it through the TI or through Traveler's Aide.
So, we got here last night. We're going to spend today exploring Toronto a bit, a we'll be off again tomorrow morning.
Allen & Jodi
July 31: Tuesday - Escape from Toronto
The Day: Traffic. Six lane roads. Red light. Green light. Strip malls. Apartment buildings. Traffic. Red lights. Green lights. Strip malls. Sun. Heat. Car exhaust. Traffic. New subdivisions. "Model homes open for inspection NOW!" Traffic.
The evening: Camped on a small bluff on the north shore of Lake Ontario. A gentle breeze is blowing off the Lake. The sun lowers in the west, painting both the sky and the Lake in hues of pink. At the same time, a nearly full moon is rising to the east. The sun's light reflects off the moon, and is then reflected a second time in the water of the Lake. The small swells and wavelets make this reflection dance. As the night darkens, the pinks in the west shift to darker shades of purple. The moon's reflection turns to pearl. A half dozen geese swim out of the dark and cross the pearly road the moon has mapped onto the water. Their little wakes glow for a moment in the moon's light. All is again right with the world, and we can go to bed secure in the knowledge that magic still exists.
Allen & Jodi
August 1: 'Round The Lake - Wednesday, August 1
My apologies for being so lax in updating our journey. I believe I last left you all with Tuesday's escape through the suburban jungle east of Toronto to Darlington Provincial Park.
Wednesday's ride was much more pleasant. After a few miles of frontage road along the 401 freeway, we were able to move right down to the shore of Lake Ontario and use Lakeshore Road for a good 15 or 20 miles. Even when we had to leave the Lake, much of the afternoon's mileage was through rolling farm country. The weather was getting increasingly hot and humid, but we managed to push on until we reached Presqu'ile rather late in the day. As we approached the entrance station, we were greeted with a large sign stating "Sorry, Campground Full". Fortunately, the staff took pity on two hot and ragged cyclists, and informed us that they had one site available due to a cancelled reservation.
Presqu'ile is located on a peninsula jutting out into Lake Ontario, and it is clear why it is so popular. It is a wonderful place. Unfortunately, we arrived so late in the day that by the time we had washed up, cooked dinner, and done other chores, we had time only for a stroll down to the Lake to watch the sunset, then it was off to bed.
Allen & Jodi
August 2: 'Round The Lake - Thursday, August 2
While looking at the map this morning, we realized that we could either do a long, hard slog all the way to Kingston today (80 - 85 miles), or split it into two short and easy days. Getting to Kingston today would also mean either spending two nights in a rather more expensive city, or ending our vacation early. So, we chose the easy day option. From Presqu'ile we headed east until we could turn south and cross the narrow peninsula that would take us to Prince George County. From here, we followed the Loyalist Parkway around the edges of the county until we arrived in Picton. Prince George County is loyalist country. That is, it was settled by Loyalists who moved north during the American Revolution. There are lots of monuments and historic sites around celebrating this past.
In Picton we stopped at the TI and were able to get a room in a small B&B in the heart of the small downtown. It was still oppressively hot outside, so after a quick stroll to reconnoiter the town, we passed the afternoon in cool comfort by sampling both of the local pubs. After a disappointing dinner we retired to the garden of our B&B for the evening until it was time for bed.
Allen & Jodi
August 3: 'Round the Lake - Rebels in Loyalist Country
After an ample breakfast, accompanied by way too much chatter by our hostess, we set off from Picton Friday morning heading for the Glenora Ferry. The day hadn't yet heated up, and it was a pleasant ride through the countryside. When we got to the ferry landing, we moved to the head of the line (benefit of cycling vs. driving), and passed the time waiting for the ferry in conversation with a couple traveling by motorcycle. This is the first ferry we've taken in Canada, and we were surprised to learn that it was free.
While talking with our new (motor)cycling friends, they asked the question that no cyclist ever asks; how many flats have you had? The answer, of course, was none. But now that the question had been asked, that would soon change. Just a mile or two down the road from the ferry, Jodi ran over a piece of gravel with her rear wheel, and pfffttt! Our first flat of the trip.
Well, flat tires are only a momentary difficulty. While a bit time-consuming on a loaded touring bike, changing out a punctured tube isn't rocket science, and even I can do it. The real worry was this; our good friends had also asked us about rain. Looking at the sky, we knew that they had surely jinxed us not once, but twice.
As we were coming into Bath, we were following close behind a smallish storm. The roads were wet, the opposing traffic mostly still had wipers going, but we escaped with only the occasional stray rain drop. A bit further on, however, and the sky turned ugly and loud with rumbling thunder. True to the magic of bicycle touring, a ready refuge presented itself at just the right time in the guise of the Fairfield House museum. The guide on duty let us tuck our bikes snug and dry away in the barn, and we passed the time while the storm raged by taking a tour of this Loyalist Homestead from basement to rafters.
Finally, we rode the last few miles into Kingston in midafternoon, and after finding out what we could about budget accommodations from the most unhelpful folks at the TI, we decided to splurge on our last night in Canada and stay in the center of old Kingston.
Allen & Jodi
August 4: 'Round the Lake - The Home Stretch
Saturday morning we slept in. By the time we finished a leisurely breakfast and perused the local newspaper thoroughly, it was getting on towards noon. We did a bit more strolling around Kingston, then in early afternoon headed back to the hotel to claim our bikes and gear. The ferry to Wolfe Island wasn't more than a hundred meters or so from our hotel, and again as cyclists we got to move to the head of the line. Since the cars in the back of the queue would be waiting for three hours or so, this was a wonderful advantage. Once on the ferry, we counted the number of cars as they packed in tightly on the car deck. 56!
After a fun trip over to the island. We waited for the boatload of cars to depart, then started on a virtually traffic-free crossing over to the southern side of the island, 11 kilometers away. Here was chatted with the lonely-looking Canadian customs agent while waiting for the much smaller ferry over to the U.S. side of the St Lawrence River. Once we made it over to the landing in Cape Vincent and rode the block out to the main street, we had closed the loop on our circumnavigation.
Without fanfare, we rode the three miles out to the light house and hostel where we had left the car, and where we had reservations for the night. It was a pleasant surprise to find another cyclist there; an Australian riding "Portland to Portland" with whom we spent the evening sharing touring stories and life philosophies.
Allen & Jodi
Epilogue: 'Round the Lake - Some Random Thoughts
Here are a few random thoughts and observations, in no particular order. (Of course not, that's why they're called 'random' thoughts!)
Mechanical problems: Almost none. The day we left Rochester, Jodi broke a spoke on her front wheel. This surprised me. Jodi carried everything in two rear panniers, and piled high upon her rear rack. No front panniers. I expected her to have problems with her rear wheel. In any case, we replaced the broken spoke with one of the kevlar 'Fiber Fix' emergency spokes I've been carrying around in my seat bag for the last five or six years. This was an easy and effective fix. It worked so well we didn't bother getting it replaced with a regular spoke at a bike shop. The only other mechanical problem we had was the one flat tire.
Roads and traffic: The roads on the U.S. side are probably a bit better than the Canadian roads. Fewer potholes, smoother pavement. This is more than made up for in Canada by the far better drivers. Canadian drivers, on the whole, are much more polite and patient, and several orders of magnitude less aggressive, than are U.S. drivers. Even the occasional jerk is more polite in Canada. While at home I am used to hearing "Get out of the @#$%&^% road!" While working our way through a construction zone east of Toronto, with a line of cars behind us, the following driver leaned out his window and called exasperatedly, 'Would you MIND moving over!"
Finances: For someone traveling with a U.S. bank account, Canada is quite inexpensive. Just to keep things handy, the conversion of $USD to $CDN is just about the same as the conversion of miles to kilometers!
Corrections: I referred to Prince George County in my account, and it is really called Prince Edward County. Thanks Bob, for catching my mistake.
Copyright © 1996 - 2011 Allen F. Freeman