We pedal away from Ashtabula pleased to have sat out a quite miserable morning, first in a library and then a very wonderful coffee shop. We were on HWY 531 towards Conneau with Lake Erie on our left shoulder. There were a whole series of power plants and water hungry industry taking prime real estate views of the lake. For the first time in a very long while, the traffic was in a mean mood, nasty even.
We had not had a second breakfast so pulled up at a bar in Conneau. I asked one of the guys at the bar “Is this a good place to eat?”. I am starting to trust the bar fly response less and less. “Best place in town”, these guys are if nothing else, brand loyal.
Most of the guys were watching one of the television screens, completely transfixed. “We haven’t had one of these for a while, this is a good one”. Since O.J., the live, high-speed car chase is now entertainment of the highest order. Almost a genre in its own right.
Long shadows of two tired bike tourists, chased ahead of us. Passing into the state of Pennsylvania just before us. We found the campground just as the light was fading. “That will be $32”. “What, you must be kidding, it’s off season!”. It was not off season, we were the only tent, but it was peak season so $32.
“That makes you the third most expensive site in North America”. I had to go outside to calm down whilst Esther negotiated it down to $25. We pitched the tent in woods and retired to the comforting bosom of Exped mat and Rab bags. We got ‘Cooned’ at 1.30 in the morning and lost a lot of food. They had managed to open a tightly closed Ortlieb bag. Pulling on the straps and then unfolding the top of the bag. These, as far as food goes are so much smarter than dogs. Buckels are no problem as they have almost opposable thumbs. We had been outwitted and felt stupid. We hate Raccoons.
Pennsylvania feels more rural than Ohio. They give you a bit more of a shoulder to ride on a woodland to shelter behind. The fields now feature Vines for the first time in a very long way. They all still have grapes on them and Esther tries a few. “These are solid”, is her expert opinion. Unlike other grapes, we later learn, that these can be used to make pies and jam. They are solid indeed, and are called ‘Concord’.
We ride into Erie, which looks five times larger than it does on the map. We set up shop in Starbucks and people want to talk to us, which is nice. Jessie and Ricardo admire our bikes and come over to talk bike. I tick off most items of clothing before it dawns on me to stop. They are dressed identically and are ‘a living sculpture’. “We are married to each other now which is wonderful”. “We just came back from a cruise on the Queen Marry 2. We are Art In Tandem and we were living art”.
Whenever I hear the word cruise, I shudder. I would hate it, and I do not need to try it even once to know that. Like being in prison, but with the possibility of drowning. It has no redeeming features. Ricardo and Jessie had loved it.
Just before Dunkirk, on HWY5, my altimeter drops bellow 300 ft for the first time since we left the West coast. Dunkirk is having a fair and we get to see exhibition quality ‘grape pie’. It has been another near perfect day on the road. Evangola State Park Campground has a very relaxed attitude to payment and we camp for free.
A blood red and then orange and pink sky. Sunset is beautiful but comes earlier almost every day as we ride East and the season changes. Canada geese in long skeins fly, honking into the night. We pull our bags high up into a tree.
It is a very cold start, but a perfect morning. Chestnut trees have already turned to colours of rust and line the narrow rolling roads. Squirrels run this way and that and cause us to pull on our brakes more than once. Just because a squirrel is running away from you, does not mean that it will not turn for no reason and head for a path under your front wheel. Expect the unexpected, never trust squirrels of any colour.
Buffalo New York State has just spent what looks like many millions of dollars on bike paths and $10 on signs. Here they compound the problem by building promising looking paths that take you in the direction of where you want to go and then stop dead. Frustrating, does not even begin to describe the experience. I apologise to the people that I was short of temper with and for most of the swear words that I used. I want nothing to do with Buffalo ever again.
The navigational challenges put is just in the most perfect frame of mind for dealing with two customs points as we crossed over into Canada. Even the most patriotic American had told us to see Niagara Falls from the Canadian side, “It is nicer and they even have flowers over there”. And so it was.
We presented our documents to the Canadian border official. “When you flying out?”, “Well 25th of October, from Boston”. We were being nice and helpful. “Your visa is only till the 24th, why is that?”. This is the first time that we had looked at it so we had no idea. So still being helpful we answered,”I have no idea”. “You should, so why is that”. “Well I guess because we had not slept for 32 hours and had just come through LA airport”. This was less helpful, but still apparently all our fault and the nice man was not going to tell us what to do.
Niagara Falls must be the only natural wonder of the world that occurs in what is now a small city. It is spectacular, but you probably knew that already. Getting back into the USA was always going to be the down side of seeing the falls from ‘the right side to see them’.
Helpfully the signs for bikes can not be seen from the road and we almost did 3 miles on a very busy interstate. Our guide book tells you to ‘go to the plaza to show passports’. Which is when the border guards put their right hand on their guns and told us to “Back up”. So we cued up with the RV’s and trucks.
Asking a border guard for a big favour is not something that you look forward to. “We are one day short on our visa and need an extension if possible, please.” We get to sit in an office with lots of other unfortunates. Then a miracle occurs. The nice lady border guard who we get to talk with says ” It’s not your fault’. She gives us a 5 month extension to our 6 month visa, just incase we get ill or the plane is delayed lots. “If we had just turned up with a visa one day out would that have been bad?”. “Oh yes sir, very bad” replies our favorite border guard of all time. ” Even if you are in hospital and unconscious it is bad news to over run”.
The day ends with thick cloud that makes 3.30 feel like 8.00 pm. We take a motel in Lockport. It has been a draining day. We have a pan flat 90 miles of riding along the Erie Canal to look forward to in the morning. It rains heavily over night. We ride down the hill to the towpath in the morning and almost come to a halt. Bugger, bugger and yes indeed, bugger.
The surface is made of something like Oatmeal and our heavy bikes sink into it leaving a clear trail behind. Ten mph is hard work. I get accused by Esther of “seeing the glass half empty”. I wanted an easy day, I deserved an easy day and this quite clearly is not an easy day. Not only is the glass only half full but it has just been tipped over spilling red wine onto a brand new white carpet. I want an easy day, my meter says we have climbed zero feet in 25 miles and yet it has not been easy.
We pass through lovely little towns along the canal. We have second breakfast in one of them and third breakfast just a few miles on. We pass through Albion, home of Santa School. wannabe Santa’s from all over the USA came to train here until a short while ago. It’s web site is still on line and is a bit of a laugh.
We are entering apple country and the harvest is in full swing. Twice we are asked about our bags “are those weights”. Touring cycling is not big in the USA but forgive me when I say “that is a stupid question”. We end the day in Rochester, guests of Dale, one of the wonderful ‘warm showers hosts’. It was not a bad day really.