55.6 mi / 11.2 mph / 1135 ft. climbing
Home: Lake Erie State Park Campground
Today we crossed through Erie, Pennsylvania, another of the decaying rust-belt cities cinched around the belly of Lake Erie. Except, like Cleveland, or many of the smaller towns we’ve passed through, it no longer seems to be decaying, and, at least from surface-level appearances, seems to be on the upswing. In 2014, my only memory (and only thing I wrote) was that “we went through a neighborhood far sketchier than anything the people warning about Gary, Indiana could dream up”. I’m pretty sure we took basically the same route, but didn’t go through any neighborhoods that felt the least bit sketchy. And at least on the west half of town, we went by dozens of gorgeous, finely-architected buildings, including houses, churches, and university buildings.
Seeing the improvements in these places over the last eight years, in comparison to West Coast cities, reveals to me what can happen when housing prices aren’t insane. While Erie’s population has “only” dropped some 30% off its 1960s high (not nearly as much as Cleveland), housing is still in such relatively low demand that it looks fairly easy to get a nice house in a nice neighborhood for less than $100k. So as long as the economy is roughly “good”, and most people who want them can get jobs, dramatic improvements can happen to neighborhoods if every last cent of peoples’ income isn’t going to pay their mortgage. Then they can use their “extra” money to actually maintain (and even improve) their housing. They can spend at restaurants and other local business, which allows the Main Street storefronts to stay open and active. Which then keeps that wealth recirculating in the local community. So it’s exciting to see that what seemed like a terminal decline for these cities a decade or two ago, can actually self-arrest and even start a swing back upwards. It remains to be seen if this will turn out to be just a brief uptick in a continued downslope over the next century, but for the moment, I imagine there must be more hope and optimism in these places than there has been for some time.
Back into rural country, we took a break for a drink in some grass beside the town marker for North East, PA, and a guy nearby got off his riding mower and started walking toward us. Was he going to tell us to get off his property? No, he came to ask if we needed water or anything, and mention some other bike tourers that he knew. Ok, there is at least one counterexample for my theory that the rural people in this state are at war against liberal cyclists! A few minutes later, a couple more touring cyclists, going our way, stopped and we had a nice chat. One of them, in a bit of a last-minute tag-along with his more-experienced friend, was riding a carbon road bike with barely any spokes in his wheels, and all of his load in the rear. Definitely not how anyone would recommend it, but it had worked out for him so far!
After that, the already-nice countryside began to get noticeably more pretty, which was our sign that we were approaching the New York border! US state #8! For Rett’s second time riding her bike to the gateway of her home state, it didn’t evoke quite the intense emotions that it did for both of us last time (partly because we had gotten here under less pain and stress), but it was still a fun and exciting moment.
We stopped at a gas station for fuel for our stove, and it only cost $0.60 to fill it up, so I’m not sure why everyone is complaining about high gas prices? Next to the station is the Barcelona Lighthouse, a spot we’d stopped for a picture in 2014, and somehow all of this area felt more-familiar to me than the Pennsylvania sections of our retraced route.
When rolling to our campsite at Lake Erie State Park, a guy stopped me to ask about our ride, and I quickly learned that he was part of a big cross-country charity ride for MS, and we would be sharing the campground with a couple dozen of our traveling cousins! They were taking a similar route as us, but in the opposite direction, which meant that we would miss ever passing each other on the road, but it was fun to watch them trickle in and set up their generally-tiny tents (even though they get a van to carry their stuff, I guess they still have a fairly tight capacity limit).
One exciting thing about this park was that it had laundry machines, though we had to wait a bit because, unusually, we weren’t the only people today with a big need to de-stinkify ourselves. Similarly, the showers were much more in-demand that they ever are at a campground, but still enough hot water to go around.
For days we’d been wrestling with which route we wanted to take across New York. Unlike 2014, we had no need to stop at Niagara Falls again, which then meant we didn’t need to go through Buffalo, which then meant we didn’t need to go as far north to put us within range of the Erie Canal Trail that we took last time. We could stay further south, perhaps seeing more of the Finger Lakes, but at the cost of many more hills. But then we’d be on roads where we could ride faster than the crushed stone of the Canal Trail. But then we’d miss a re-do and comparison of our 2014 trip. But then we’d miss covering new ground. The more I looked into either route, the more the other one looked more feasible (finding lodging along a southern on-road seemed surprisingly difficult), so it was pretty frustrating. In the end, I realized that we could still put off the decision for at least another day’s ride, so that’s the coward’s path I chose.