Days 68 & 69: St. Johnsville, NY to Manchester, VT

A campsite at the bottom of the Mohawk Valley isn’t the warmest spot in mid-October. The barge canal was warmer than the air, so it steamed all night and we woke up surrounded by fog with the air temperature in the low 30s. It was well after 9 am when the sun burned the fog away, and even then the temperature was hovering around 40. But we had to go, so we put on every scrap of warm clothing we had and pedaled off. We felt as insulated as deep sea divers.

We turned up state route 67 and rode out of the Mohawk Valley in bright sunshine and brilliant fall color, although it was still way too cold. The strengthening sun pushed the fog higher into the sky and made cumulus clouds out of it. Traffic was light and the road had a good shoulder. Amish and Mennonite farms are common in the deeply rural parts of New York, and we saw men harvesting corn by hand in one field, piling it into shocks. Then we rode past a man driving two mules pulling a flatbed cart. Three girls in plain dress were standing perfectly still along the back rail of the cart. Was it lunchtime already? Were the girls allowed to work? I wanted to ask and take pictures, but I didn’t dare.

In Ephrata we rolled past the Saltzman Hotel, which looks like a place the owners care about and is unlikely to be making much money. After another half-hour we were in Johnstown, the seat of Fulton County, and the home of Jim’s Aunt Fran and Uncle Larry. Larry, who is in his 80s, was off in the woods because it was the opening day of bow-hunting season. The Kerstings are a tough bunch. Fran, her son Bruce, and Bruce’s son Joel met us at a diner for a late breakfast at the Forever Young’s Restaurant, which is owned by two Korean women. One of them sold us a special omelette made with beef marinated in homemade Korean-style sauce. It was tasty, but damn it was a lot of food. We rolled out of there about 12:30 with churning guts and 30 miles to go to Saratoga Springs.

The tangle of highways in Johnstown was too much for us. We took a wrong turn, which meant that we spent an hour or so on rural roads getting back to our route. It was a Saturday afternoon in mid-October and people were doing battle with their leaves – raking them up, blowing them around, mowing them into pulp, burning them in the ditches. Such sacrifices for the sake of a lawn! Where the leaves lay undisturbed, it was like a gold and red carpet in the bright sun.

This was our first day of climbing hills in quite a while — since South Dakota, really. We also were on the edge of Albany sprawl, so the roads were full of urban drivers who did not treat us with much respect. The last two hours were hard for these reasons, and it was with great relief that we pulled into the small hamlet of Rock City Falls, which is just a few houses and an abandoned mill a few miles west of Saratoga Spings. Sara met us there and loaded our bikes onto the truck for an eight-mile drive to the campsite.

After cleaning up we headed into Saratoga to meet my wife Tania and Henry Tepper, an old friend who was our host for the evening. We had a great meal and two hours of riotous fun at the Springwater Bistro, and then Henry drove Tania and I back to his house for a reunion with his wife Jane, daughter Kate, son Miles. Then it got even better: we slept in a heated room. A perfect end to the day.

Day 69: Saratoga Springs to Manchester, VT

We met Jim and Sara at the intersection of highway 29 and the Northway (Interstate 87) and started off around 10:30 am. The road was crowded and the shoulder was small. It was another brilliant fall day, and people were out buying pumpkins and looking at leaves – lots of people. We rode past an apple orchard just north of the site of the Battle of Saratoga, where General Schuyler repelled the British and turned the tide of the Revolutionary War. A large stone obelisk marks the spot where the British surrendered. Shortly thereafter we rode past General Schuyler’s Internet Café in Schuylerville. No wonder he won the battle.

We crossed the Hudson River and rode on to Greenwich. We stopped there for coffee at the Local Market, which specializes in natural foods and local products. We had a great time talking to the proprietor, Margaret Jones, and as a present she gave us a bag of energy bars that are being made from all-natural ingredients in Saratoga Springs. Natural Performance “replenish” bars are made from rolled oats, honey, almonds, and other things you have in your kitchen, not the synthetic stuff packed into other energy bars. They taste good, and they give you the glycogen boost you need at the end of a workout. Thanks, Margaret!

At Greenwich we started following the Battenkill River upstream toward Vermont. To our great relief, the leaf-peepers and other distracted drivers seemed to prefer a different route, and we had a beautiful road to ourselves. We rode past the Shushan Covered Bridge Museum, which was closed, and then missed a turn where we were supposed to cross a bridge that had been closed. We went a few miles out of our way and had turned around when Tania came back to the crucial turn and waited for us. I have no idea how she knew we would miss the turn, but we have been married seven years now. Anyway, she seemed pretty pleased with herself.

We switched to state route 313 and continued up the Battenkill to the state line. The scenery immediately improved, with well-kept Greek Revival homes and big hillsides that still had a lot of color on them. At Arlington we found a back road that would take us to Manchester, which was a big help because north of Manchester are lots of big outlet stores and the traffic was starting up again. But the village center is right out of a Norman Rockwell painting, which isn’t surprising: he used to live in Arlington. We switched to Route 11 and began battling our way up the Green Mountains, but only for two miles. Tania saved the day a second time by finding us a great motel, the Toll Road Motor Inn, which had a hot tub and wireless internet and was near good restaurants. Meryl Stark and her husband John, old friends of ours who live nearby, dropped in. Meryl stayed so we could take her out dinner as an early birthday celebration.

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bradedmondson

Writing about social change and how it happens.

5 thoughts on “Days 68 & 69: St. Johnsville, NY to Manchester, VT”

  1. I was recently in this area and one of my most lasting memories was finding my way out of the Albany airport in my little rental car, past highway litter and through rude drivers, but then the traffic suddenly thinned and there was the beautiful Hudson, festooned with sailboats. One could almost hear Pete Seeger strumming on the bank and as I slowed to look, probably getting honked at, I got a little religion.

    Toodles and tailwinds,
    Tom and Lisa

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  2. Hi Jim
    Congratulations. You are almost finished!!! I couldn’t make the get together at GVP as my brother had an impromptu family reunion that dad – out of town. I am wondering did the Messenger Post get there and take photos and run a story? I talked to Jessica Pierce and Kris (my daughter) e-mailed 3 people at the paper telling your plans. So I am curious if any made it?
    Have a great ending to an awesome trip. CONGRATULATIONS!! Jane Dreessen

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  3. The Mennonite farmers fascinate me, mostly because my mother was born Mennonite in an area of the Soviet Union that is now the Ukraine. Her family left the Mennonite church, although they owed their escape from the USSR to Mennonites in Canada, within a few years of settling in Alberta.

    I have spoken with several of these plain dressed people in Yates County, and they have all been Mennonite. They did tell me of some Amish east of Cayuga Lake.

    Of course, up until the last part of the 17th century the Amish did not exist. They formed by splitting off from the Mennonites.

    My cousins who remain Mennonite are not old order and do not mix at all with plain dressing Mennonites.

    I hope to continue some conversations with Yates County Mennonites and learn a little first hand about how they live.

    Bill Yust and I had a nice ride and lunch today where we discussed the first part of your cross country trip. We hope that we can all have one more good ride before the snow sticks.

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  4. It was a perfect but hectic weekend for those of us not riding but driving ahead for “land mines” like the closed bridge. Old friends, great scenery and delicious food made it wonderful . On Monday AM (22 degrees in the shade) the mostly lovely drive from Manchester to work in Albany took much less than two hours….makes one think of new possibilities. But then again, there is that carbon footprint business and that makes one think again, much more soberly.
    On Sunday, while Brad and Jim rode, Sara and I visited Cambridge, NY, a place known for its preservation work. It starts with an impressive collection of buildings and has an informed citizenry committed to their continued use. The place was lively and begs for a return visit.

    The ride is over this week!! As Henry would say”un-believe”.

    Tania on Brad’s home computer

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  5. For Jane D. “Yes” the Messenger Post ran a story a week or so ago.

    The interview happened with a poor cell phone connection while I was standing outside the shower, in the rain, in a very muddy campground in Ontario Canada. She got most of it right too.

    Thanks for your efforts.

    As for the looking forward to the last ride tomorrow (Wed) and looking beyond that, I think I need drugs or 100’s of hours of sleep to get my brain back up and chugging along normally. I still feel physically strong, but emotionally and mentally “baffled”. “Last thoughts and impressions” are sure to come , but probably long after anyone is still looking at the site. JK

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