Bethel, Blue Mountain Lake, Blue Mountain Road, Boonville, Bread Loaf, Cycling Ariondack State Park, Hancock, Long Lake, Lyme, Middlebury Gap, Raquette Lake, Ticonderoga, Touring Cycling New Hampshire, Touring Cycling Vermont
Two things were on our mind as we continued our ride along the Erie Canal away from Rochester. Firstly, we have just over a month to get to Boston, and secondly, this flat land will not last. We are heading into Autumn here, with shorter days for riding and we still have 800 miles to go. Worryingly, up ahead we know that there are mountain passes to be climbed. We are going to do a big push, with no rest days, to be more certain of getting to Boston, even if we have to sit out the occasional ‘bad weather day’. We have not had even a hill to speak of in a long while and are having a little crisis of confidence in our legs. As every cyclist knows,’it is a long way to Paris’, and we had better keep our focus.
Trees along the canal show occasional burst of red. We leave the trail and head onto roads that will bring us along the banks of Lake Ontario in the morning. We are heading into Apple country again and spend the night on one of the farms with Jim and Carol.
The ride in the morning is fresh and with a good percentage of the nations apple production to left and right, the air is full of the smell of ripe fruit. We ride along HWY 101, through Pultneyville and Sodus Point, staying dry, but always aware that it has just stopped raining heavily. You need a lot of luck with the weather and we have had more than our share. Living in Scotland we are owed twenty years or more of summer. We are cashing in and happy to do so.
We end the day, still dry at a closed campground in Fulton with 2,500 ft of climb on the meter. It is an idyllic pitch, right by the lake and not a breath of wind. As we settle down in our tent, animal ‘A’ attacks animal ‘B’, as is natures way in these things. I think we can make an uneducated guess at ‘A’ being a Racoon and ‘B’ most certainly is a duck. It does not go to plan, and ‘B’ is left just wounded and ‘A’ short of a meal. There is a pathetic crying from the duck that lasts for an eternity. All hope of an early night for us is lost and we try to cover the sounds with several podcasts of ‘A history of the world in 100 objects’, from the good old BBC.
We are up early, but not early enough to get away before a gang of workers arrive to dismantle the fishing piers for the winter. They work with a good humour and lack of swearing that you would not find back home. Even when one of them falls in the lake it remains mostly good natured.
We pass several homes featuring Flamingos and create a ‘back story’ for them with friends sitting out the hard winters here by escaping to Miami. They return every spring with a Flaming gift.
Again we climb, but this time we maintain the gains and finish the day some 1,000 ft higher after 3,700 ft of up hill riding.
Our good fortune with the weather runs out. We sit in a gas station come market, sipping coffee and watching the rain turn from annoying to unpleasant and persistent. We have the unappealing option of ‘pitching around the back’ and eating that mornings Cinnamon rolls for our main meal. We are running out of inclination and moral. So it is to our great good fortune that Pat and Katrina turn up on their way to a pre match meal with the team that Pat coaches. “Follow us and you can have food and a comfy bed”. Off we went into the gloom, unaware that there house was a full seven hilly miles away ( You wouldn’t have wanted to know – was Pat’s excuse).
The leaves were putting on quite a show now. Every day we were taking the definitive photo of ‘Fall Colors’ and then the next day that became an unremarkable example. We have never seen such colours. We are high up for the first time in weeks and in remote woodlands and rivers as we ride through McKeever and Thendara. There are exotic sounding mountains to left and right, Panther and Moose River and beautiful and charming shacks tucked away from the road to left and right. We are quite definitely in bear country again and they have names like Camp Bear, Bear’s Rest and feature bears on their gate posts.
The leaves are sensational. It is like riding in the barrel of a childs kaleidoscope, held to the light, as someone slowly turns it to form geometric patterns of gold, red and yellow. For a short while we ride above 2,000 ft for the first time since leaving the West coast. This is remote and wonderful and ruined more than a bit by McDonald’s rubbish. In the same way that ancient mariners knew of land ahead by the siting of birds. Here, just off the map, there must be a big town, fast food and excitement to be had.
The ridding is hard and hot, with my meter rising to 80’f . We pitch the tent at Eighth Lake Campground, just beyond the lovely town of Inlet. It should have an end of season quiet to it but 1,700 kayakers have just broken the world record for ‘most boats in a boat raft’. They are in a mood to celebrate this feat of organisation.
Another day of stunning roads, blue sky and an excellent second breakfast. The Adirondack Mountains should be well near the top of anyones list of places to be in autumn. The colours become even more intense than yesterday. This is as perfect as bike touring gets and we end the ride just beyond Newcombe on a closed campground. We pitch near the lake and throw a line into a tree for our food bags. There is a sandy beach, with a clear print of what we think is a lion.
The sunset is breathtaking and then the stars are reflected in the still waters of the lake. It is so perfect. We clear up, aware that this is wild country. Up goes the food bag into the tree and down it comes as the branch snaps under the weight. Bugger and blast. We try to throw the line up in the dark and it takes several trees before one looks high enough and strong enough. The night sky is dark, filled with stars and the sound of geese heading South.
The morning is already warm and breathless as we head up Blue Ridge Road. 7,8 and then 9% grades have left sweat stains on my notes from the day, and spidery, untidy writing are signs of small gear effort. The ride to North Hudson along the Blue Ridge would, on that day, on a light carbon race bike have been a joy. With temperatures going up to 90’f and on 100lb of touring bike it was still enjoyable, but less so.
This is a strangely less popular area than we have been riding through. The first store was closed just because it was a Monday. The second because it was the end of the season and the third looked as if it had been closed for quite a while just because of a lack of popularity. We were short of food and with no prospect of a second breakfast, we started on our emergency stuff. In the way of such things, a mile further on there was a wonderful diner not shown on our map. As we pull away I realise that we have done exactly 6,000 miles here in the USA.
We pass through Paradox and end the day at Ticonderoga. Another ‘warm showers’ host, Jill looks after us in her lakeside house. This is wonderful and not for the first time in the last 500 miles, we have the notion that ‘we could live here’. Which is actually quite rare.
High flying geese, like us, are making distance with the great weather. They pass, honking. All travelers are happy that it is unseasonably mild, hot even and with little or no wind. We have breakfast in the town and then ride to catch the ferry to Vermont. We miss it by seconds, which is the way of such things.
Vermont’s white painted hamlets and rolling roads are a joy. We have our first ‘bridge washout’ and diversion. Hurricane Irene passed through three weeks ago leaving a once in a lifetime devastation. We pick up food in Middlebury and head for the big climb at Bread Loaf. The USA has waited till now to give us 13% grades as we climb to Green Mountain on HWY125. The second part of the climb we are told is easier. Well yes it is, but only by 1%.There is a whole lot of Newtonian Physics that is working against you here, and as Scotty in Star Trek pointed out, “you can not change the laws of physics captain”. By 2,000ft my ears have popped. The descent requires attention as whole stretches of tarmac have been peeled back by the force of water. Trees are ripped up from the river banks and piled up miles down stream. This is devastation on a huge scale.
We camp in a field behind an abandoned house. I had read about the late season mosquito renaissance in a local paper. They are so right and we disappear into the tent early. We pass through Rochester early the next day. Houses have been torn apart or washed away. The trees here are not as vivid and I here a woman talking “Well we are just going to get browns this year”. Like wine, there are good years and bad. There are a good many men with full, Z.Z. style beards here.
We are pushing hard, trying to cover a big distance but find two long stretches of road swept away. The diversion is on gravel and dirt and then the day gets hard with our first 15% grade just before we pass into New Hampshire. We are heading for Esther’s cousin at a small and lovely town called Lyme. We are absolutely worn out and the promise of two days of rest here have sustained us for the last 1,000 miles.
The ‘Fall Colors’ are spectacular here. We have enjoyed them more than expected. They had been a little something extra about a year ago when I had worked out our route and timings. Now I think they have been as impressive as anything we have seen and worth an air flight here on their own. I love it when a plan comes together.