Day 61: Medina to Rochester, NY

We continued east on the Canalway Trail with 45 miles in front of us. Our destination was a party in Genesee River Park in Rochester, where friends from the Land Trust would gather to say hello and look at our legs. One of Medina’s notable characteristics is a 12-foot sculpture of an apple next to the canal. Another is that it is the home town of George Kennan, architect of the Cold War. It was also home to Frances Folsom, who became the bride of President Grover Cleveland at the age of 21. Cleveland was a friend of the family. He had known Frances since she was born, and was 27 years her senior.

Medina is also the place where the Oak Orchard Creek gorge crosses the canal. This engineering feat required a massive amount of concrete, and the waterway follows a curving aqueduct with the creek and its waterfall flowing underneath it.

In Albion, ten miles down the road, we reunited with Bill Yust and became a foursome. Bill’s wife Valerie dropped him off, and Sara plied us with local pears and peaches during a short rest stop. We had to pedal steadily to make the party at 3pm, so there wasn’t much time to stop and take pictures. We arrived roughly on time and met Roger Hopkins (who made the Google Earth program of our ride), Burch and Louise Craig, John DeHority, Donna Pacelli, Henry McCartney, and about two dozen others whose names I am too flaky to recall right now. Betsy Landre, the Land Trust staffer who organized the shindig, took a great photo of the group.

We continued the ride with a few friends to Pittsford, where Jim and Sara left to spend the night at Sybil Craig’s house while Tania and I went to the home of Bill and Valerie Yust. On Sunday our destination is a second party for the eastern half of the Land Trust at Montezuma, followed by three days of rest at home.

Day 62: Rochester to Savannah, NY

We returned to Lock 32 in Pittsford and started Sunday’s ride at 11am. Jim, Tania, and I had two companions for the day: Joe Avery and Jack Starke, friends from the Western Lakes. The trail from Pittsford to Fairport runs through some of the most affluent pats of Rochester, and on this Sunday morning we wove between well-coiffed women on their powerwalks, families out for a stroll, and men in cycling get-ups much more elaborate than ours. But Jim and I knew what to do. Back on the Root River trail in Minnesota we had found our identity as bike path pirates. While we were always polite, we cut through the ambling citizenry like a pair of bluefin tuna through a school of cod. Soon we were in the working-class canal cabins of Macedon, the crowds thinned out, and it was a midday of brilliant fall sunshine on leaves of red ochre and bright yellow.

The path from Macedon to Newark is probably the most scenic section of the canal. It cuts through large wetlands, cultivated fields, and mature woods. The canal itself gets wider, with more birds and fish, and you can usually see something stirring or jumping in the water. Joe turned around in Palmyra and rode back ot his car; Our friend Henry McCartney met Tania in Newark to drive her back to her car, and on the way he showed us his simple, comfy fishing camp. He said you can catch bass there by casting right off your porch.

The towpath ended after Newark. We were back in the world of cars, but thanks to the directional markers spray-painted on the pavement, we found a nice alternative to Highway 31 all the way to Lyons. These markers, by the way, are probably a side benefit of the annual ride across New York that is supported by the group Parks and Trails New York. It happens every July, and it’s a great way to do the route if you don’t have someone like Sara Kersting ho help you out.

I was back in familiar territory, moving along roads I had ridden while I was training for the cross-country ride, and less then 15 miles from a gathering of our friends at the Audubon Center in Savannah. It felt like the ride was over and in a sense it was, because I was back home.

About 30 Land Trust members and friends met us at the Center with cold beer, pizza, and lots of questions. Jim and I gave Andy Zepp the $14.62 in change we had found on the side of the road over the last nine weeks, and now we are even closer to our fund-raising goal! Just kidding. It was a great party  We exceeded the fund-raising goal easily and ended up raising $39,000 for the Land Trust, thanks to almost 200 people who contributed.  Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were rest days.

Day 71: Georges Mills to Rochester, NH

Our cabin for the night was on Little Sunapee Lake, and we woke up on Tuesday, October 21st to a view of perfectly calm water. The morning weather forecast said the rain wouldn’t start until around nightfall, so we set off at 9am under mostly sunny skies. It turned out to be a beautiful day for a ride – slightly warmer than the last few days, with brilliant sunshine poking through and fall scenery that was still spectacular.

Unfortunately for us, New Hampshire is a densely populated state. A lot of our ride on Tuesday was along busy highways, We were relatively safe because the state has put wide shoulders along most of its roads, but it’s strictly business when you’re riding in highway traffic. I didn’t take many pictures. We rode through New London, Andover, and Tilton, which had a statue in the middle of the highway that was just too weirdly beautiful to ignore. Then we went on to Franklin, where we got off Route 11 and the traffic fell away.

We started toward Rochester on state route 140 and went through Belmont. Jim explored the public library building, and reported that it was really old and that the door made a scary squeaking sound when you opened it, but that the two women inside were very friendly and the bathroom was clean. We ate lunch at the town’s one diner – it was a new place, and they didn’t know if they could make a grilled cheese sandwich. “How can you not know how to make a grilled cheese sandwich?”, asked Jim.

Most of the townships we rode through had welcome signs that gave their founding dates, and most of them were settled well before the Revolutionary War. We rode past the Gilmanton Town Pound, a corral of huge old stones that was used in the early days to safeguard cattle that had wandered off their owner’s property. I hope they still use it sometimes.

A marker told us that the rural road we were following was the “Old Province Road,” one of the first highways in New Hampshire. It was authorized in 1765 to supply northern settlements from the tidewater port of Durham. Many of the houses along the road were from the 18th or early 19th century, and the scenery was probably the same for us as it had been for travelers 200 years ago. We were finishing our ride down the hills toward the coast. At one point we crested a small rise and thirty miles of plains lay in front of us. We probably could have seen the ocean if the clouds hadn’t gotten in the way.

It might have been a 240-year-old highway, but it was also very much in the here and now. New Hampshire was a battleground state in the 2008 Presidential election, and we saw more signs for McCain than for Obama in rural New Hampshire. But the closer we got to the coast, the better Obama showed. More impressive was the profusion of lawn signs for local offices. They really like electing people up here, and they really like lawn signs. Or maybe it’s just that the election was just 13 days away.

We rode through Rochester as the first sprinkles of rain started. We were safe in the motel Sara had found for us by the time the weather got yucky. It was the second 70-mile day in a row and we were beyond exhausted, so we ordered a pizza and zoned out on TV. We noted tomorrow’s forecast: much colder, with a strong north wind. Yet we only had 25 more miles until the end of the trip. At that point, I was so eager to be finished that I would have done it naked.

Day 72: Rochester to Wells Beach, ME

The rain tapered off and left behind a stiff north wind. Added to an air temperature in the 40s, it meant that our last day was also one of our coldest. We left around 11am after my old friend Jon Crispin, a professional photographer, showed up to record the festivities. We had 25 miles to go before the end of the trail at Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve in Wells Beach, Maine.

Traffic remained heavy but we were sheltered from the wind, and before too long we crossed the state line and turned east on state route 9. The road was flat and before long the buildings thinned out. We rode thorugh a coastal deciduous forest that was being stripped of its leaves in the raw wind. We reached the town of Wells and turned north on US Route 1, picking our way through the cars and broken asphalt and closed fish-fry restaurants until we reached the entrance to the Reserve. It is a beautiful spot, a preserved farm complex on 2,200 acres, and we spent an hour talking with scientists and the President of the Board about its dual mission of research and education (see separate post).

About 2:30 pm we threaded our way down Drakes Island Road to the Preserve’s beach, where we ceremonially dipped our tires in the water. We also unveiled the hat of Al Craig, in whose memory Jim and Sara made the trip, for the last time. Sara brought some bubbly and we had a toast, but it was too cold to stay long. So we went to a nearby restaurant and said our goodbyes over tasty bowls of real clam chowder. Then it was time to disband.

The trip ended well. We finished in good shape physically, and Jim and I still like each other enough to plan more rides together. Not until it warms up, though. The three of us finished up so tired, and with so many unprocessed memories and emotions, that we all felt stunned. In the weeks after the trip ended, some of those memories came bubbling back up in my mind up at odd moments. It made me think of a big pot of soup simmering on the back burner, its flavor changing slowly over time. This trip will be nourishing us for a long, long time.