55.4 mi / 11.0 mph / 1137 ft. climbing
Home: Erie Canal Lock 21
Ken broke the routine in honor of our departure, getting up early to make a hearty breakfast for us, including the traditional Daddy Biscuits. The time spent with family has been fulfilling and restoring, so much so that it feels like we might have screwed up a bit by mashing the time with my parents so close to our time with Rett’s dad; now we’re left for the foreseeable future without family time to look forward to!
We’re now on our way to Canada, principally to Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, with maybe some New Brunswick and a Quebec outpost. This is actually another “repeat” for us. In 2016, for Rett’s second bike tour, we started at her dad’s house in Central New York (after taking the Amtrak train from Chicago) and rode to Acadia National Park in Maine. That time Google Maps led me to a non-obvious route, heading straight north to Montreal along the St. Lawrence River, then east across Quebec before cutting southeast back into Maine. Although it was more miles than the obvious “straight east across New York, Vermont and New Hampshire” route, it avoided much of the climbing across the Appalachian mountains in the US, which would have made that trip even more challenging than it was.
But unlike the Chicago-to-Skaneateles segment, this time we’re going to avoid any possibility of a repeat, and do that “straight line” route. Partly because we’re less time-pressured than during our 2016 vacation, partly because I think we have the experience to handle it better, and partly because it’ll help us get to our goal of riding through all 50 US states.
The day’s ride was a bit unusual, with nearly all of the (substantial!) climbing packed into the beginning Skaneateles-to-Syracuse segment. After we had climbed back out of an 8% hole we bombed down into, a cyclist coming the other way out for a day ride gave a cool acknowledgement I’d never seen before: he went no-handed for several seconds to wordlessly give us a round of applause.
The optimal route took us right through the center of Syracuse, but we didn’t have much time to observe. Heading east out of town, they have recently completed a big bike-infrastructure project, as part of the newly-defined “Empire State Trail”: a bike path that runs down the median of NY-5. While the financial outlay and effort was impressive, and it will surely be a boon to many cyclists, it still looked like a big pain to navigate (weaving around, with many challenging intersections), so we just stuck to the relatively-empty multi-lane road. We got way more drivers than normal though pointing us toward the bike path; some actually seemed like they might have truly been trying to inform us of its existence, and I could sort of understand even the angry “get on the damn bike path!” jerks: if you had seen the city spend all this money on this project (and likely had your road screwed up for months while they constructed it), and then cyclists still don’t use it, that would be frustrating!
Once we got on an off-road section of the Trail, a woman riding the other way shouted with a big smile “enjoy your vacation!!” Ha! Our 3-week vacation just ended, this is us going back to work! And heavy work it was. Even though the last 85% of our ride was “flat”, an unforecasted mild-but-steady headwind turned it into a tough slog for Rett, and the flatness was partially to blame. With no uphills, there are also no downhills, so no opportunity to coast, to relax for a few seconds, to shake things out.
We hit an extension of the Erie Canal Trail several miles out from our destination, but the rough gravel surface had us down to about 8 mph, so we got off that and back onto the paralleling road as soon as we could. So it felt a little like cheating when we arrived at our destination: Lock 21 of the main Erie Canal. The Canal system is cool enough to allow camping for trail riders at several of the locks; well, we had rode a good bit of the trail in 2014, and not camped at any of them, so this was just finally cashing in our opportunity!
There was a lock tender on-site, who didn’t pay us any mind, and he left at 5pm. We’d called ahead and learned that there was a water spigot on one of the buildings, an electrical outlet, and a porta-potty, but otherwise it’s in no way a “campground”. We decided to set up on the north side of canal, next to a picnic table and under a line of cedars. There were a few people around on the trail, fishing, etc., but mostly it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. And it was free! It’s a bit surprising to me how “open” all the lock infrastructure is; there are a few guardrails and things, but mostly it’s just the honor system keeping people from getting themselves killed or messing up the lock.
I saw some intense rain on the radar headed our way, so we held off on dinner until it passed. That ended up being a mistake on my part, because the storm was moving much more-slowly than I’d thought, so we got super-hungry as we twiddled our thumbs. When it finally came, the cedars did an excellent job of protecting us, and it never got particularly heavy.
Later on though I learned that there had been large hail and a potential tornado on a road we had been riding on just hours before, so that at least made my over-caution feel a bit more justified. We got really lucky that the intense bits dodged around us.