By Angela Vincent — I love bike touring. Completing many self-supported bike tours over the past decade, it’s the best way to experience any area you’re visiting. Whether it’s huffing and puffing up a mountain; making your way through cities, small towns, and villages; or feeling the breeze on long descents, you gain an appreciation for each mile you peddle. Earlier this year, I was able to check off my bucket list a 2-month, 2,300-mile ride through the northeast part of the US which included a little jaunt through Ontario, Canada. I’ve never been to this area and had always wanted to see it.
Vince (my husband) and I began this trip last year starting from our house in Salt Lake City riding north to Yellowstone National Park. After going through the park, we followed the Adventure Cycling route “Parks, Peaks and Prairies” through Wyoming, South Dakota, and Minnesota. Our goal last year was to make it to the Atlantic Ocean in Maine. We made it to Michigan, riding over 2,100 miles and decided to end our tour because it was tricky crossing the border into Canada at the time and the weather was turning sour as well.
In April of this year, we started where we left off last year in Loomis, Michigan. Beginning early in the year is always a gamble with the weather. The day we were due to start our ride Michigan got over 2 inches of snow. Vince and I are retired so we don’t worry about schedules, reservations, and deadlines. So, with bad weather the first few days of the trip, we made a command decision to drive to Detroit to do the touristy thing. I recommend the Henry Ford Museum as a fantastic way to spend a day.
Waiting those few days was an excellent choice because we had the perfect first day of riding; blue skies, cool but not cold temperatures and no wind. Yippee! We weren’t always so fortunate the rest of the trip. The plan this year was to make it to the coast of Maine and loop back to Michigan. Our route took us through Michigan where we caught a ferry to Ontario, Canada. Riding along the north side of Lake Erie in Canada, we went through many small coastal tourist villages. Another advantage of starting early was that we avoided large crowds that usually hit after the start of summer season. A distinguishing characteristic of Canadians is their congeniality and I noticed that even their dogs are friendlier as not one tried to attack me on my bike. I carry an air horn (works like a charm) to scare any aggressive canine but never had to use it. We finished our trek through Canada, crossing the border north of Niagara Falls. The locals say the best view of the falls is on the Canadian side, but they may be biased. Anyway, it was breathtaking.
Reentering the US, we biked across upstate New York through the Adirondacks to Ticonderoga on the east side. New York is an awesome place to tour. Most of the roads had really good shoulders with beautiful scenery along the way. Unfortunately, we hit bug season in the Adirondacks. Peddling up a steep incline at 3 mph with a gazillion bugs all over your face and body is true testament to balance keeping your bike upright while swatting at those pesky devils. After trying everything else, DEET works best. I don’t know what the long-term effects will be but keeping the bugs at bay makes the day much more enjoyable.
Vince and I have had our share of mechanical failures on bike trips. We’ve broken spokes, derailleurs, cables, shifters, and had countless flat tires. This trip was no exception. I was riding behind Vince when the wheel on his Bob trailer came off and rolled across the road, through a ditch, under a fence and landed in tall grass. Vince felt it come off but never saw where it went. If I hadn’t been riding behind him, it would have taken him forever to find his wheel. I went after the wheel and got zapped. Who knew the fence was electric? It would have been better if Vince hadn’t laughed so hard…for the rest of the day.
From Ticonderoga on the east side of New York, we were supposed to take a ferry to cross Lake Champlain and land in Vermont. As with all trips, flexibility is the key. The ferry was closed so we rode 25 miles to a bridge that led to another 25-mile detour due to a road closure. Of all the places we biked on this trip, Vermont had the worst roads. Because they were narrow with lots of pot holes, we were forced to dodge pot holes and cars while the cars dodged pot holes and bikes. You get what you get but on the plus side, the scenery was lovely. We pulled into Haverville, a small village, one rainy day expecting a restaurant because Google said so. But as luck would have it…closed that day. Pulling out our phones, we tried looking for a place to stay and eat. No signal, ugh! Fortunately, a local happened by and gave us the WiFi password for the coffee shop next door which was also closed that day. With thunder clouds looming overhead, trail angels were watching over us as we sat outside the shop hoping the rain would hold off a little longer. We found a B and B right across the street from the closed restaurant. Our hosts for the evening gave us the lowdown of the area and talked a great deal about Bernie Sanders who shows up at their annual festival in the fall. What a treat.
Crossing over the Green Mountains landed us in New Hampshire. The roads in New Hampshire were better by far. Climbing up to Kancamagus Pass at 2,855 feet in the White Mountains was the highest elevation of the trip. We also passed over the Appalachian Trail and stayed in the town of North Woodstock. We met and saw numerous hikers from the trail during the overnight stay. Our neighbors at the hotel that night were from Germany. Dressed only in towels, they were drying all their gear out in the parking lot.
On any long tour, road conditions change frequently. Getting closer to the Atlantic Ocean, we started hitting more populous towns. More people means more traffic. Brunswick, Maine was the most petrifying day for me. We began the day early and hit morning rush hour traffic on a curvy road with absolutely no shoulder. It felt like each passing vehicle came within inches of my elbow and I’m sure they were doing at least a 100mph. After a couple of hours of unending, terror filled riding, we stopped for second breakfast. I would have preferred a strong alcoholic drink at this point, but eggs and bacon were a good substitute. Happily, the roads got better after breakfast.
The next part of our journey took us along the Atlantic Ocean hitting several coastal towns which included Portland, Bath, Kennebunkport, and Portsmouth. After a few days of riding along the coast, we skirted around Boston and headed inland through Massachusetts.
Originally, our plan was to bike through Pennsylvania to return to Michigan. But we were so close to Albany, New York that we decided to head there instead. In Albany, we picked up the Empire State Trail/Erie Canal. The Erie Canalway is a cycling destination for riders of all abilities and follows one of the world’s most famous man-made waterways. We rode 400 miles from Albany to Buffalo with 90% on dedicated bike paths. In Syracuse, the bike path runs straight down the middle island between a six-lane highway, with traffic lights for bikers. It’s a bike tourer’s dream.
We stayed in Buffalo for a couple of nights to escape a huge rain storm. On the third day, we woke up early to beat the traffic. Riding through downtown Buffalo just as the sun was coming up over the horizon was a real luxury. There were absolutely no vehicles. We were following Google Maps at the time, and everything was going fine until Google tried to put us on the expressway. You know you’re in trouble when the on ramp has a NO BIKES ALLOWED sign. We tried to recalculate but Google refused to cooperate. Fortunately, a Buffalo police officer escorted us, with flashing lights, off the on ramp, and gave us directions to where we needed to go. Whew.
Leaving Buffalo, we headed toward Cleveland, Ohio following a marked route that is part of the USBRS (US Bike Route System) along the southern side of Lake Erie. Our last day of biking ended in downtown Cleveland, Ohio where we ate lunch with the church crowd at a local restaurant. We enjoyed a great meal in our sweaty bike clothes surrounded by everyone else in their Sunday finest. It was a great ending to this trip. The following day we rented a one-way SUV and drove back to our car in Michigan.
Every bike tour is the same, but also different. The memories I will take from this trip are dodging rain storms, the abundance of bike paths, and humidity. On our eastbound trek, geese were just hatching their new born chicks. And as we returned westbound, those chicks became “teens”. It was fun seeing their growth. The mommas could be aggressive if you got a little too close. One significant difference in touring on the east coast is that towns tend to be closer together so there are more options for overnight stays. Vince and I did stay in more hotels on this trip. It sure was pleasant not to have to rough it every night. We’ll soon begin planning next year’s ride. Not sure where it will take us, but I’m sure it will be just as fun.