23.9 mi / 9.8 mph / 1321 ft. climbing
Home: Rett’s childhood home
Sometimes the last steps are the hardest. That’s especially true if the last steps (of this phase) take you up to Skaneateles. In 2014, coming from the northwest off the Erie Canal Trail, we rode 51 miles, and three times our average daily climbing up to that point, and rode for nearly six hours. Today’s ride, coming from the west and traversing from the middle Finger Lake (Cayuga) to the pinkie (Skaneateles) was less than half the distance of 2014’s conclusion, and the shortest ride of this 2022 phase from Chicago. But it still had the most climbing! If you look at a map, the Finger Lakes look like vibranium claw marks that a planet-sized Wolverine would have made if he took a swipe across Central New York. So you subconsciously assume the lakes are all at the same level, to have all been reached by fingers of the same hand. But in fact the surface of Skaneateles Lake, at 900 feet, is a full 500 feet higher than its big brother Cayuga, only 20 miles to the west. And of course there is a lot of up-and-down on top of that base-level difference.
But it wasn’t really the climbing that made this last day the hardest. It was the wind. Strong, gusty winds began slapping us in the face as soon as we left the campground and headed north. It made Rett feel really unstable on the bike, and then, in a vicious circle, unstabilized her emotions too. On this short day, we had planned to take a less-direct route than the obvious line of US-20 that connects the top of the lakes, to have a more-relaxed and scenic ride. But almost immediately, Rett nixed that idea, preferring to stay on US-20, which would require the fewest number of suddenly-treacherous turns (and minimize the distance). That’s ok, we were both familiar with the route, and though there is a lot of traffic, it has wide shoulders the whole way.
Her confidence rose slightly from its nadir with a refuel at Dunkin Donuts (with hot chocolate to counter the surprisingly-chilly wind), a growing belief in the fact that our eastward turn had made the wind more of a tailwind, and some excitement that she had ridden her bike home to Skaneateles (for the second time).
Eight years ago, in Auburn, I spoke the words “I love you” to Rett for the first time. Obviously I love her even more now. Every time we mention to people that she didn’t know how to ride a bike until she was 35, they can’t believe it. But once convinced, very few people still fully understand what strength it takes for her to do this unnatural-feeling thing. And even I forget it sometimes, like when she’s powering through the chaos of urban Mexican streets as if she’s wearing an invisible suit of armor. But a day like today reveals how brittle those late-forged skills are, and how some unhappy forces, like the wind, like the nearing one-year anniversary of her mom’s death, or like the emotions that come with seeing her dad for the first time in three years, can wedge themselves into any chinks and crack her armor wide open. And it’s those moments that truly reveal the depth of her strength, because from that frightened, unprotected core, she can patch the cracks on the fly, raise her shield, and will herself into the person that everyone else sees. And how could I not love that?
The final arrival wasn’t quite as excitement-filled as last time, when Rett’s dad and sister were out in front of his house waiting, cheering as she rolled in. Instead, it took us some time to even find him, as he turned out to be working out in the garden. As I learned on my second bike tour, there is never one so exciting and engaging for your family as your first, but we still got big warm hugs, and were excited to settle in to yet another “vacation” for a few weeks after successfully taking those hardest last steps to reach here.