Northern Tier 2010

August 29, 2010

The Falls and Clinton’s Ditch

Filed under: New York, Ontario, Section 10 — Henry Scott @ 8:00 pm

I bumbled around Buffalo for a few extra miles this morning, despite good directions from my Warm Showers’ host, but it was interesting to see more of the city, and eventually I made my way to the Peace Bridge and crossed into Canada.

The customs agent was amazingly adept at leading our seemingly casual conversation to key points I’m sure she must address: “…so you’re traveling all alone — wow! And, do you carry anything to defend yourself, such as mace or, heaven forbid, a firearm? Do you carry much food to keep you going, such as fruits?”

A late-August Sunday morning turned out to be an excellent time to follow the western branch of the Niagara River river into Ontario, Canada: traffic was very light, and it was a perfect day for cycling. There is no development along the river, but rather all of the homes, which were gorgeous mansions, were not only on the other side of the road, but they were on the other side of a bicycle and pedestrian path, leaving beautiful views unspoiled for public appreciation.

The walkways became a bit congested with tourists near the falls, but not to the point of making it hard to take in the awesome volume of water plummeting violently, yet beautifully, into the mist below.

After viewing the falls and cityscape of Ontario’s Niagara Falls (a sister city to New York’s Niagara Falls), I continued downstream for another ten miles or so before taking the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge back to New York. I had been warned, repeatedly, to be cautious because since 2006 cyclists are “forced” to travel with motor vehicles over the bridge, but I couldn’t identify anything to cause concern. Then again, by the time I crossed it was early afternoon, and traffic was backed up, literally, from one of the bridge to the other due to customs delays. Following instructions from a bridge agent I went right down the middle, for once making much better time than my four-wheeled counterparts.

After fifteen miles along fairly rural New York roads I reached Lockport, stopped for lunch, and began biking on a ninety-mile section of the Erie Canal Canalway Trail. For today I covered about half of it and reached Holley. The path is essentially flat, made of crushed limestone, and a welcome change of pace from road riding.

There’s a town every five to ten miles, each associated with a low bridge that can be raised, vertically from both ends so it remains parallel to the water, to accommodate boats. The historical plaques along the way are fascinating and tell not only the story of how DeWitt Clinton pushed for the canal’s construction in the early 1800’s, but also a bit about each town and how it was impacted by, or contributed to, trade made possible by the canal.

I stopped for ice cream in Albion and had to ask for directions. I ended up speaking with my “guide” for several minutes, and it turns out he grew up in one of the canal towns and has strong memories of active sandstone quarrying nearby, with a steady stream of barges carrying the rock upstream to supply materials during a period of heavy construction.

The sandstone quarries are interesting to me because I’ve been reading about the 550 million year old inland sea in which the sediments were deposited leading to the abundant shale, sandstone and limestone which make up the western portion of New York. These relatively weak rocks were no match for several episodes of glaciation and, accordingly, this part of New York is fairly flat. To the east, however, there are more igneous and metamorphic rocks, and their more resistant nature has preserved more topography.

Upon reaching Holley, I crossed over the bridge and was immediately greeted by Erik, the bridge operator. A boat was approaching so he was in a rush, but he asked if I was looking for a place to camp (I said yes), and he handed me a sticky note with four digits on it, told me it was a pass code for the showers, quickly described what was in town, and offered to help in any way he could. I expected nothing other than a place to pitch a tent, so such hospitality was much appreciated.

Although today was hot, there’s little humidity, and my tent is set up in a great spot by the canal. I feel a very good night’s sleep coming on.


August 28, 2010

Empire State

Filed under: New York, Pennsylvania, Section 09, Section 10 — Henry Scott @ 5:00 pm

Well-rested after visiting family in North East, I had a great ride into New York (North East is just a few miles from the border), where I am again taking advantage of Warm Showers and staying with a host in Buffalo.

My nephew Christoffer joined me for the first fifteen miles to Jack’s restaurant — biking there for breakfast has become a tradition during family get togethers — and my parents drove to meet us, along with my niece Sofia and her friend Zoe. It was a wonderful way to start the day.

The rest of the ride was easy and very pretty — I stayed close to Lake Erie, with brief stops at Sturgeon Point and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Graycliff estate, and didn’t pull away until fairly near Buffalo. The terrain consited of gently rolling hills, and the weather was perfect. I even had a bit of a tailwind for much of the ride.

The sequence of resting for several days in South Bend, riding hard to North East, and then resting (along with fishing with my dad, playing croquet and watching sunsets over the lake) for a couple more days seems to have worked well for me. I think I beat the cold I feared I was developing as I left Cleveland, and my legs have had enough to time recover. I feel fresh and excited about the rest of the tour. Tomorrow I’ll head back into Canada, briefly, to see Niagara Falls from the Ontario side, and a lot of the day will be along bike trails.

I was glad to reach Buffalo in the early evening because it gave me time to explore the downtown area, and after checking in with my Warm Shower’s host I walked to Elmwood Ave for its Festival of the Arts. Unfortunately, most exhibitors had closed for the day, but there was live music and hordes of people, mostly hipsters of all ages, tooling around. I had dinner at a coffee house and sat by a large open window facing the street. My sandwich was good, but I loved watching the people.

August 25, 2010

The Longest Day

Filed under: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Section 09 — Henry Scott @ 4:00 pm

I didn’t need good wind today — I had come to terms with splitting the 135 miles from Cleveland to North East into two days, but I needed perfect conditions to make it in one day, and that’s what I got.

I felt terrible for the first twenty miles this morning: my legs were incredibly tight, I worried that my congestion was the beginning of a cold rather than just allergies, and the rough pavement and urban riding of Greater Cleveland were getting the better of me.

In addition to a shower, a place to stay, and an insider’s guide to Cleveland dining for a hungry cyclist, Drew provided breakfast as well. He offered to make eggs, but I didn’t have much of an appetite and just had cereal and a bagel. I took the lack of interest in food as another sign that a cold was coming.

Despite still not being hungry, I stopped for a second breakfast in Willowick because I knew I needed the calories. I ordered what has become my usual: eggs and pancakes. Sitting near the front window I could see a flaccid flag on the street, but as I slowly chewed the first few bites it started to sway slightly. Before long the flapping had a decided preference toward the east, and it frequently revealed all thirteen stripes and fifty stars.

Suddenly my interest in breakfast became stronger, and the food tasted better with each bite. I was still a bit slow once back on the bike, but I figured the breeze would at least make it easy to get to my planned campsite in North Kingsville, where I camped in 2006. But, in addition to the tailwind, the road improved dramatically around Eastlake, and I could finally get into a smooth riding rhythm.

I don’t know what to make of the sudden change in how my body felt. The cold symptoms disappeared, and although still tight, my legs stopped complaining. Were the congestion, aches and lack of appetite just psychosomatic? I suppose I’ll find out tomorrow, but by early afternoon, I knew I was going to make North East, and I did.

I kept my stops short to ensure a pre-dark arrival, but I took time to revisit my favorite sights from 2006: views high above the Grand River east of Painesville; the incredibly active coal-transfer operation in Ashtabula, where U.S. coal is moved from rail cars to barges destined for Canada; and Sheldon Calvary Camp west of Conneaut — where I was a camper in my youth.

I felt stronger and stronger throughout the day (I suspect the wind continued to pick up), and I felt great for the final 50 miles from Conneaut, easily making it before dark. As I left Erie I caught up to three road cyclists out for a casual ride and took advantage of their draft. Before long we started talking, and two of them turned out to be recent Notre Dame grads now working as engineers at G.E.

My escorts turned back for Erie right at the top of a long hill leading down to Sixteen Mile Creek and my family’s home — gravity provided the final assistance to facilitate my longest day of this tour. As a side note, I’m confident that this will indeed remain the longest day — I was anxious to reach both South Bend and North East, but now I plan to go back to shorter riding days.

I received a very warm greeting from my parents and look forward to relaxing and visiting until Saturday, but I joked that since there was still some daylight I’d continue into New York. Of course I was kidding, but my legs were up for it.

August 24, 2010


Filed under: Ohio, Section 09 — Henry Scott @ 8:00 pm

The wind wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared today. It slowed me down so it was another long day on the bike, but I enjoyed the ride and made Cleveland by six, thanks to a 5:45 a.m. start. It is hard to get up for such an early beginning, but watching the sun rise while biking east is a good payoff, especially on foggy mornings like today.

I arrived right as my Warm Showers host, Drew, got home from work. Drew is a casual cyclist and a competitive runner so we had lots to talk about. Notably, he has competed in Hong Kong’s 100 km ultra marathon, on trails and over mountains — yikes!

For dinner, Drew took me to Melts, one of his favorite high-calorie restaurants over in Lakewood. They specialize in, essentially, grilled-cheese sandwiches, but they are huge, with options stuffing them with just about anything one can imagine. Mine was loaded with pierogies, and it was awesome.

As I’ve mentioned, all of today’s ride was along a route I rode a few years ago. Much of it followed the Lake Erie shoreline. There were long stretches with no public access and countless mansions to block the view, but I didn’t mind today because I think they also helped to block the wind.

My legs are very tired and a bit sore, surely from averaging 105 miles per day since leaving South Bend, so I doubt I’ll make North East by tomorrow. That said, the last forecast I checked predicts a west wind, so we’ll see!

August 23, 2010

Terra Cognita

Filed under: Indiana, Ohio, Section 09 — Henry Scott @ 4:00 pm

I’m not superstitious. That said, I wish I didn’t brag about the good winds I’ve enjoyed recently in yesterday’s post. Perhaps even worse was describing the directional fluctuations as breathing because this morning’s north wind gradually picked up an easterly component and gained strength all day. Further, I foolishly checked the forecast, and the wind should continue to get worse for the next couple of days. Optimistically, I’m hoping Mother Nature is taking one last deep breath so I can sail through New England when she exhales again.

If I can tough out a long day tomorrow I’ll make it to Cleveland, where I’ve already made arrangements for a place to stay, right on the route, through Warm Showers. I haven’t used the service before, but it is a database of people who agree to be listed as hosts for touring cyclists. As far as I know, there aren’t any camping options in the Cleveland area, so I decided to give it a shot. The first host I contacted is available so hopefully I’ll make it.

If I do make Cleveland, it will put me within a very long day’s ride of North East, PA. North East has been a family gathering place since before I was born, so I’m looking forward to get there and visit with my parents, a niece and a nephew. I hope the frequent indoor accommodations I’ve been getting recently haven’t spoiled me for the rest of the trip.

I’ve been riding high daily miles since leaving South Bend both because I’m anxious to reach North East and because I rode the South Bend – North East section of the Northern Tier in 2006. It is fun to see which roads and towns are familiar and which I don’t remember well; I’ve been surprised to see how much is in the latter category.

For tonight I’m camped in a county park just outside of Gibsonburg, OH. Wish me luck for an early start tomorrow so I have time to enjoy Cleveland.

August 22, 2010

On the Road Again

Filed under: Indiana, Section 08 — Henry Scott @ 8:00 pm

After several days of working, visiting and recovering in South Bend, I’m back on the road. Jennifer is a wonderful cook, and with her mother, sister, two nieces and a baby nephew in the house, she went into high gear, and there was a nearly constant stream of delicious meals flowing from the kitchen. I returned to South Bend about ten pounds lighter than when I left in June, but I think I put most of that back on during my visit.

My Uncle George cautioned me about getting too comfortable, and not wanting to start again, by referencing the honey-sweet lotus fruit eaters in Homer’s Odyssey — a very real risk given the comforts and easy calories of home. But, as much as I enjoyed being in South Bend, and look forward to returning for good, I didn’t feel at all vulnerable to staying put: proceeding to Maine is simply a matter of fact. Plus, several friends promised bodily harm if I didn’t get going in a timely manner.

Today I rode to Monroeville, IN and am back on the Northern Tier route; indeed, Monroeville is the connecting town between Sections 8 and 9. I used Google Maps and a gazetteer to choose a route, and the combination worked very well. The only tricky portion was around Ft. Wayne, but Google correctly pointed me to the Rivergreenway, and much of the ride in Ft Wayne was on multi-use paths following the St. Mary’s River.

The days of facing a south wind as I descended through Minnesota and Iowa now feel like a wind up, or perhaps an inhalation, and I continue to benefit from good winds as Mother Nature exhales and blows me through the corn and soybeans of Illinois and Indiana. I started early this morning thinking it would be a long day, but I completed the ride under sunny skies a little after 3:00 p.m.

Normally I’d push on, but Monroeville is another special destination for touring cyclists: ten minutes after arriving in Monroeville and calling a number provided on my Adventure Cycling maps, Warren Fluttrow met me downtown and led me to the Community Building in the city park. He let me into the large, air-conditioned common area and pointed me to the shower, laundry facilities and refrigerators. All of this has been provided, free of charge, to cross-country cyclists since 1976. Warren is shown in the photo holding Monroeville’s “Trail Angel” award bestowed by Adventure Cycling in 2005.

Monroeville has provided a very nice transition to life back on the road.

August 19, 2010

Extended Layover

Filed under: Indiana — Henry Scott @ 12:08 pm

Brief update: I’m going to stay in South Bend until Sunday, August 22nd. I have two pressing work-related issues to tackle, but this will also afford a better visit with family and provide more time to rest and tune up the bike.

August 16, 2010

The Last Hour Is Lost

Filed under: Illinois, Indiana, Section 08 — Henry Scott @ 5:00 pm

I didn’t feel it happen, nor did I see a sign along my rural route to let me know it occurred, but at some point today I passed back into the Eastern Time Zone and lost the last of three hours I gained when Jennifer and I flew to Seattle back in June.

The ride from Iroquois to South Bend was excellent. Yesterday I figured it was too far, but a great night’s sleep coupled with a dramatically lowered heat index and good winds made it a surprisingly easy 124 miles. Certainly the motivation to get home to Jennifer didn’t hurt, either.

I followed the Northern Tier as far as Rensselaer, and then I used maps at the public library to plot a route the rest of the way. This worked out very well, except for several unexpected sections of unpaved roads. That said, none were too bad, and the small county road gamble paid off in that many sections took me through winding tunnels of dense corn fields with essentially no traffic.

It is good to be home, and it will be fun to catch up with friends and family for a couple of days. My current plan is start heading east again early on Thursday for the final push to Maine. Anyone interested in grabbing a pint at Fiddler’s Hearth?

August 15, 2010

The Windmills Are Turning, And It Is a Good Thing

Filed under: Illinois, Section 08 — Henry Scott @ 9:10 pm

I got off to another early start this morning, and my day again began with a sunrise ride over a river on a metal bridge. Although today’s river was the Illinois, rather than the Mississippi, the rest of the day was strikingly similar: about 120 miles of a gently rolling landscape populated with corn and soybeans.

Perhaps the most notable difference was that the winds were better today, giving me a much appreciated push. It is wonderful to see windmills turning vigorously, but not hear the constant rush of wind — that means the winds are with you, and it feels great!

I don’t think I would have reached my goal of Iroquois were it not for the wind because my legs are tired. Iroquois is only a few miles west of the Indiana border, and tomorrow I’ll leave the Northern Tier route and head northeast to South Bend. I’m very much looking forward to seeing Jennifer and her family, and also to give my legs the first full day’s rest they’ve had since I started.

South Bend may be further than I can ride in one day, and in that case I’ll stay with my friends Bill and Judy in Walkerton. They’re both cyclists and leaders in Bike Michiana Coalition, a bicycling advocacy group, and we’ve worked together for several years.

Staying in Iroquois is a treat for touring cyclists. The mayor, Jack Karr (shown in the photo), has made arrangements for bikers to use his office area so they can sleep in an air-conditioned environment and get a hot shower; clean towels are provided. As if that isn’t enough, a local bank (or perhaps it is just an individual who happens to be a banker) pays for the guest cyclist to have breakfast at a restaurant across the street. Amazing hospitality for a town of only 200!

August 14, 2010

Goodbye Mississippi

Filed under: Illinois, Iowa, Section 08 — Henry Scott @ 8:00 pm

What a difference a good night’s sleep can make! I slept incredibly well at the Muscatine Super 8, and my mindset was completely different this morning. I was eager to get back on the bike, and after taking full advantage of the continental breakfast, I was on the road by 6:00 a.m. I crossed the Mississippi for the last time and entered Illinois.

In addition to the benefit of good rest, the terrain today was very gentle, and more importantly, the winds were light — even a tailwind in the morning. I covered 78 miles before stopping for lunch in Kewanee. Along the way I was caught by two recreational cyclists from Muscatine heading out for a breakfast ride. I really enjoyed talking with them for a few miles, and I was tempted to join them for breakfast when it was time for them to turn off, but I decided keep going with the tailwind.

I ultimately made it to Henry, IL — about the midpoint of Illinois on this route, for a total of 122 miles. Due to the early start I had plenty of time to get a shower and go out for dinner. I was tempted to go another ten miles for the day, but I felt obliged to stay in a city with which I share a name.

Henry is right on the Illinois river, and the free public-park camping (for cyclists only) is near a popular boat launch, complete with a restaurant / bar. I ate alone but eventually got into a long, and very fun, conversation with Jason and Scott from Peroria. They entered a hard-fought rock-paper-scissors battle for the “honor” of who could buy the cross-country cyclist a beer. Jason was happy to be in the picture, but for reasons he can’t explain will never look directly at the camera.

It was awfully tempting to stay later with them, and the free beers were clearly going to keep coming, but I’m shooting for another long ride tomorrow and want to get an early start. I’d like to get near the IL / IN border because that would get me within a long day’s ride of South Bend. It is another sweaty night in the tent, but I hear that tomorrow will finally bring relief from the incredible humidity we’ve been experiencing. For the love of God, please let that be true!

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