Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bike touring for the first time -- 2009 Finger Lakes Tour

On this cold winter day, I can very well use some warm memories of the past, in this case from my first "real" bike tour. "Real" because when I was maybe 10 my parents and I had gone on an organized bike tour of the Loire Valley in France, complete with SAG support and staying at hotels.On this trip, in contrast, the biketopus and I were fully self-supported, carrying all our stuff and spending the nights on campgrounds, making it a very different experience.

As it usually the case with me, I had spent a lot of time acquiring theoretical knowledge about bike touring before actually engaging in the activity. So theoretically, we were well prepared. Our trip would start from home in Ithaca, NY, following the western shore of Cayuga Lake to Cayuga Lake State Park for the first overnight stop. On the second day we would we head east towards Auburn and then follow the eastern shore of Lake Owasco to Moravia and spend the night at Fillmore Glen State Park, before returning back south to Ithaca. Three days of 60 to 70 km and two nights of camping seemed like a good trip length to figure out if we actually were into bike camping.

Day 1: Ithaca to Cayuga Lake State Park

The weather was typical for a late summer in Upstate NY: hot and humid during the day, refreshingly cool during the nights. We followed NY-89 past Taughannock Falls, a familiar route, for a few hours before turning off the highway and down a small road that would take us down to the lakeshore and O'Malley's pub for a late lunch break. The road along the lake there is beautiful, and O'Malley's provided us both with good food and a relaxing spot on their patio.

It took some convincing to get the biketopus on the bike again, but we still had some way to go and the sky started to look ominous. And indeed, just as we climbed up the road back to NY-89 it started pouring. We sought shelter under some trees, but within seconds we were soaked. Fortunately the rain ended as quickly as it had begun and in the afternoon heat we dried off quickly. 

After another couple of miles we—or rather the biketopus—encountered the man with the hammer. The calories from our lunch had been consumed and the biketopus was bonking hard. If you have bonked before yourself, you will know the feeling: “The world sucks, I donwannado this any more, and no, I'm not bonking and I don't want to eat that Clif Bar!” Eventually I was able to convince my accomplice to at least give eating a try and within not too long we were back on the road happily. This recovery notwithstanding, we were happy to finally arrive at the State Park and pitch our teeny-tiny single-wall tent. For dinner we rode another few kilometers into Seneca Falls where we stuffed ourselves silly at an Italian Diner.

Day 2: Cayuga Lake State Park to Fillmore Glen State Park

Day 2 began on quiet roads at the northern end of Cayuga Lake.We crossed the Seneca River and made a quick stop at the locks that connect the lake and river to the Erie Canal system.
We continues east towards Auburn through a pastoral landscape on roads with little traffic. Our lunch plan was to hit the Wegmans deli counter in Auburn. Finding said Wegmans posed some obstacles, but after some detours and complaining we finally found it right in the city center.
Between Cayuga Lake and Auburn
Finally: Lunch!
Now it was time for the second Finger Lake of our trip, Owasco Lake. Along its eastern shore we headed towards Moravia, slowly transitioning from the flat landscape along the Erie Canal corridor  back to the rolling hills of the southern parts of the Finger Lakes region. In Moravia we stocked up for dinner and then rode the few remaining kilometers into the quiet and beautiful state park.

Day 3: Fillmore Glen State Park to Ithaca

We had planned day 3 to be a little shorter than the previous days, and it turned out that that was a wise plan, as despite the shorter distance it was the most challenging stage of our trip. Within the first 20 minutes of our ride we encountered a brutally steep hill out of Moravia. Back then I was still riding a 36/48 double crank—not exactly a smart choice for loaded touring in the Finger Lakes. The hills kept coming at us and I had to utilize all my motivational skill to distract the biketopus from the hardships of climbing and towards the beauty of the landscape. For much of the time we were on roads with little to no car traffic.
“Are we done with those hills yet?!?”

By the time we got to Freeville most of the climbing was past us and at Toad's Too the biketopus enjoyed a healthy meal of Doritos, Coke, and ice cream to fuel her for the remaining kilometers back to Ithaca.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Trail conditions: icy!

Panorama from the Bellevue Kondiaronk 
I got into a severe bout of winter unhappiness this Monday. After a few warmish days, the forecast for the coming week was all in the -20 to -7°C range—certainly not atypical for the end of February but depressing nonetheless. I made various plans to get me on the bike before an afternoon work meeting, only to discard them again quickly. In the end I was like, “Screw it, it's too cold. I'll just bike to work and that's it.” My commute is only 4km, but the conditions confirmed me in my decision: -7°C, but with a brutal 50 km/h headwind. Brr.

After the meeting I was all ready to bike home directly. However, an inner voice told me, “Hey, you're already out. Why don't you quickly check the trail conditions on Mont-Royal? You can still turn around if it's too icy …” And so up I went McTavish and des Pins, before turning right onto Chemin le Serpentine. Much to my relief, it was obvious that they do a good amount of trail maintenance there. It was icy but fairly smooth and the road even had been gritted a little.

And so I followed Chemin Olmsted all the way up to the lookout, the Mont-Royal Cross, and back down again. The surface varied between smooth ice, packed snow, and everything in between—very rideable with my Ice Spikers. The mountain mostly shielded me from the brutal wind, and so overall this was a very pleasant ride that pulled me out of my Winter Blues, at least temporarily. To be repeated!