Sunday, September 29, 2013

New York, Canada, New York

This last week has felt eternally long. Hmm.. I guess this isn't the first time I've said that. But I do have difficulty believing that just 10 days ago I was in Ohio still..

This last week I broke my longest week travel record by 1 mile, but traveled a bit further, as, in order to meet with contacts, I was assisted along about 70 miles further down the line, bringing my total to almost 600 assisted miles (or just over 10% of the total anticipated distance). At some point I'll have to slow down enough that being assisted along my way will become unnecessary, but in the last two weeks I have cut down the estimated time till Maine down by a full week..

I started out in Brocton, NY. Because I chose to take care of emails instead of giving myself a head start, I started on Monday with ~75 miles to cover that day. Fortunately, I didn't care to arrive before dark, so I had about 12 hours to get there. 

Before this week, my longest day was 63 miles. 

Buffalo, New York. Yet another site of Rust Belt decay..
Arriving in Buffalo, I managed to deal with the traffic without too much difficulty. However, finding the pedestrian access to the bridge across the Niagara River into Canada was a little more of a challenge. I finally asked a couple Customs and Boarder Patrol officers for directions. As it turns, I'd already passed the place, and now had to backtrack around the block. 

Apparently they were doing some sailboat racing. This was one of two groups in the channel.
"Where are you riding to, and from?"
"Oh, from Oregon, to Maine, to Florida."
"Oh, yeah.. that's nothing at all. I do that all the time."
"That's a long ride.."

After the traditional though not overly repulsive hassling at the boarder, I was in. The first thing I saw once I hit the road again was a Smart car.

Darkness fell, and the temperatures with it. I managed to stay warm enough, however.
Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. A vastly more brilliant sight than the US side of the river..
Finally, at about 9:30, I made it to the falls. I've pretty much avoided tourist areas on this trip, not so much deliberately, as because they rarely fall along my intended path. Niagara Falls is a tourist attraction in the truest sense.. 

I noticed that people were almost more reluctant to make eye contact, or any contact for that matter, than in downtown Cleveland, or Toledo, or Rochester, or even Buffalo (several people stared at my bike, but no one said a word to me while I was at the falls). I guess it's because, first, tourists are more likely to be big city folk, second, being a tourist means by definition that you are on someone else's turf, so more cautious by nature. Third, tourist attractions are like magnets for strange travel people, and maybe I didn't seem all that abnormal after all..

Interestingly, Orthodox Jews seemed in the majority as far as tourists went.

The American falls
The source of light and color for the falls, something first attempted over 150 years ago..
After a couple hours, I ended up finding a closed road, which turned out to be a perfect place to camp for the night. 

The Canadian power houses seemed to resemble fortresses, or palaces perhaps, externally. 
In the morning, I thought I'd find, rather than make, something to eat before heading back to the US. I changed $20 USD into $18.05 CAD, then looked at my options for food. Then I learned that, for $15, I could visit the backside of Niagara via tunnel. As this wouldn't leave enough money to eat anything, much less a meal of the proportions necessary after a record setting ride the day before (and a light supper), I decided to use my debit card instead. Not realizing that as soon as I paid I was taken to the falls, I had left my camera on my bike, so only had my phone camera to document the trip.

I wasn't sure if it was worth the money. 

Due to erosion, tourists were not allowed to the edge, and seeing a wall of water from 15 feet isn't all that inspiring..
While I was down there, a group was debating what coin they saw, as it looked like a euro, but the metals were reversed. I jumped the fence, and recovered a $2 Mexican Peso, and picked up some Polish currency. So, it wasn't a thoroughly lost effort..
Well, I did get a side view of Niagara Falls.
After coming back up top, I got the best deal I could find - $13 for a pre-made veggie burger, fries, and a 12 ounce cup of soda. 

Finding my way out of Canada was as difficult as finding my way in. However, the boarder patrol officer was just a little less cordial. Not harsh or unkind, but lacking in warmth.. 

By the time I made it out of Canada, still starving, I had spent more money in a single day than I'd spent in the prior 5 weeks (each, not total). At least I got some decent images, and a few stories..

After cutting across a field, I made it to this road, which was actually on my map, and the recommended route. 
After reentering the US, I was put in contact with my Dad's cousin Mark, I've not met in so long I can't remember. He was quite enthusiastic about me visiting, that night. On arriving, I was greeted with a characteristically warm and generous Wood family welcome, slept in a bed someone gave up for me, and a big supper, and breakfast, and was sent off with a large lunch (which I managed to eat by the time I arrived at my next destination).
The former rail line went on top, the foot bridge was build underneath.
My next stop was the former Hiram Edson farm, where many of the Adventist doctrines were first unified. I called ahead, and let they caretaker, Roena, 83, know I was coming, not arriving until 9 pm. 

As it turned out, I arrived at a good time (of the year), as Roena will be leaving in a few weeks for the winter, and had lots of food to get rid of.
Hand planed timber, at the Edson barn.

The Erie Canal 

Lake Ontario - the third and last of the Great Lakes I will see on this trip.
For some reason I'm finding myself irresistible drawn to this part of the country. Maybe it's because of realizing I'll spend more time in this state than anywhere else, so it's growing on me. Maybe it's because people I know and like say it's a great place. Maybe it's because I keep seeing potential employment opportunities. Maybe it's the beauty of the area.. The culture doesn't seem that striking (positively or negatively), but maybe I'm picking up something I like, but haven't put my finger on it yet. Maybe it's just that it's Upstate New York, after all.. haha, I don't know. At any rate, if I were to move anywhere in the US right now, where I'd previously been drawn to the western plains, now I'm adding upstate NY to that list.

Apparently they were flushing the hydrant system. I was wondering if they were doing studies on urban hydroplaning. 
Well, now I can say I've been to Mexico.
Low lying northeastern fog. A strange sight for a westerner..
Friday night I slept behind the small Pulaski, NY Adventist church. How small? Well, no one else was there till 9:25. At the end of the service, there may have been 18 people present, including myself. The guest book was only 2/3 used, and yet had been in place since I was 5 years old.

There was no potluck, but I had a contact, who drove down and picked me up. However, I found myself alone at the church for about 45 minutes. Not having anything better to do, I decided to sing, for the fun of it. Not having done a lot of singing lately, I had to keep shifting down the scale to keep from straining my voice. It was great being able to belt out at full volume. I've always liked singing, but I've always been afraid to let anyone hear me, at full capacity. It seems somehow self assertive.. Nonetheless, I've found nothing more euphoric than singing (by myself in this case), powerfully and energetically..
My first picture proving I've seen Amish activity. I actually saw three wagons on Sabbath - or maybe it was one twice..
Bill Meyers is a good friend of a person I've actually never met in person, but have become friends with through Facebook. Old enough to be my grandfather, his mission in life is being a missionary to US military personnel - having spent years in the Air Force himself. He's lived an exciting life, visiting every state, 13 countries, living 6 years in the Caribbean, traveling extensively.. Not being able to put me up in his house, and wanting me to have a good night's sleep, he set me up with a hotel room for the night.

Well, I think that's all I have to say for now..

Till next time..

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Fellow Young Adventurers, etc.

This last week has been rather full, to the extent that it's hard to believe that only one week ago I was in Toledo writing my last entry, and that the week before that I was in Battle Creek. It feels like a month ago...

I left Toledo Sunday afternoon, with only 28 miles to the house I was going to stay at - a WarmShowers contact, of course. Heading out of town, the securing system for my rear panniers proved ineffective, and I ended up using almost all my zip ties to secure my load so I could just make it where I was going. By the way, riding a bike through a city that has 1/3 the population it did 50 years ago, on a Sunday afternoon, results in very little traffic to contend with.

Eventually I made it to the house of Gordon Hille, a teacher, who is preparing for a bike trip across Europe next year, and maybe more. We talked a little bit on topics such as theology, sociology, and psychology, 'till his daughter and her boy friend arrived.

Adam and Madelyn, 24, just completed a canoe trip of the Mississippi about a month ago. Something like 2500 miles, in 70 days. I'd actually thought of doing something like this myself, so it was interesting talking to someone who had. Comparing our trips was also fascinating. We both started out with no prior experience, and very little training. I think ultimately, however, the river is a greatly larger challenge, as in a way it's fighting with a living organism, where riding is simply pushing against a still and lifeless road.. After many glasses of wine, cigarettes, and bagels, (I consuming only the last), we finally headed to bed around 5. I think that's the longest conversation I've ever had..

Heading east on Monday, I learned that the "North Coast Inland Trail" is sometimes a bike route, and sometimes more of a horse trail. Not that I saw any horses, but the fine gravel was definitely less suited for bicycle travel.. I did see more hoof prints than bike tracks for a while, though. 
I thought it time to take an updated picture of my bike, as it looks on the typical riding day. I keep my rain covers out and on the ready, and now keep my sweat shirt up front (instead of behind, as in the beginning).
That night I slept behind a church, which I'd arrived at after dark, due to my late start. Unexpectedly, there was something going on both when I got there, and when I left. However, I found a shed out back, behind which I could sleep completely undisturbed, and undetected. 

My next stop was in Cleveland. I'd originally planned to head a little south of town, but after sending out half a dozen requests, finally decided "Hey, people live in Cleveland. Certainly I could survive riding through.. hundreds of people do every year.." So, I made contact with a bike shop owner in downtown Cleveland, who I ended up staying with. While at the shop, I got a little maintenance taken care of. Alex, a cross country cyclist himself (self supported), had the bearing of a dignified and intelligent craftsman.. unfortunately, I had a much superior description, but in the ensuing week, it was forgotten. 
Alex giving my bike some TLC.
Cleveland is the largest city I've been in, as it took me probably 50 miles from the time I entered the suburban area, till I was back into the country. In this time I went from richer, almost exclusively white towns, to poorer almost exclusively black towns. As always, I didn't feel threatened by anyone. At Taco Bell, the manager and another employee (though honestly I don't know who was who.. maybe they were both managers? or transitioning?) saw my bike, and found it hard to believe.. 
Downtown Cleveland.
Before this week I'd only heard the "dialect" known as "Ebonics" in movies and such, so finding myself surrounded by those who spoke only in this version of my mother tongue was certainly a new experience.. At AutoZone, where I stopped for bungee straps and zip-ties, I had to ask the lady at the checkout to repeat herself, and still only understood half of what she said.. I always thought I was good at deciphering accents.. I guess I got enough, though, as my money was accepted, and I left with what I came to purchase. And the amounts seemed right..
I think this church was in East Cleveland, but I could be wrong. 
By now I was behind schedule. I'd made contact with a guy out of town, but he said he had things going on and wasn't available. Later, though, he called, saying he knew the difference between sleeping in a bed and sleeping on the ground, so I could stay there the night, he'd just be busy. Then, after telling him where I was, he offered to pick me up in the box truck he was bringing home (with a Ferrari kit car body someone gave him), since there was no way I was going to make it on my own. 
This town is over 200 years old. Not ancient, but nearly so, by western standards...
Tim is a motorcycle traveler primarily, though does ride his bike frequently, but once quit his job and left his house and hitchhiked around the us for 6 months.
Reminding me of another Stateline Road, thousands of miles away...
A bean field, of some sort.

A gravel road Google Maps put me onto. I probably had between 15 and 20 miles of gravel to deal with.. Fortunately it was mostly packed well, so I was able to make good time. I almost tipped over on loose gravel once, however..
My next stop was Erie. I made contact with a young lady, who this summer rode across the US solo, with perhaps less training and preparation than myself, but she said she wasn't able to host anyone at present. However, she knew of a church I might be able to camp at. Mentioning that I was 20 changed things, however, and soon I was told I could stay there, arriving a couple hours before first anticipating. 
That should do it..
In Ohio I'd pretty much run out of things to take pictures of. Everything looked the same as it had for the last several weeks. However, scenery began to shift as I entered Pennsylvania, and then New York. 
A fresh fruit/vegetable stand outside of North East, PE where I was given grapes, plumbs, an apple, a peach, and a couple nectarines.
One thing I noticed, just inside New York - while the architecture is old, and beautiful, while the landscape is attractive, there seemed to be more obvious signs of poverty here than in most of small town America I've been through. Things like tattoos and piercings, more hollow faces and sad eyes, the way people were dressed.. Not just that I saw poor people here and there, but that the Amish were about the most dignified people in town! Even the fact that "No Alcohol to Minors" signs were much more visible than other places I've been could be seen as an indicator. It seemed so.. incongruent. I guess it's because of the grape/grape juice industry in the area, bringing in lots of low skilled workers, and also because of near proximity to the economically depressed lakes region. 
I was told that barns were built octagonally in order to keep the devils out of the corners. 
Lake Erie
This happens to be part of the Concord grape belt. Vineyards from 40-100 acres all over the place. Apparently harvest is 2 weeks out. 
Some old church, with quite a steeple system. Too bad I couldn't have gotten the whole building in the shot..
A war memorial in the middle of a Cemetery - Portland, NY. 
They say this used to be a fine dining establishment, called "The Castle". Nowadays some call it the "rock pile"..
I'd made contact ahead with Mr. and Mrs. Wahl, who gave me a place to stay over the weekend in Brocton, New York. This house has apparently been in the family for a couple generations at least. The Wahl's have grandchildren my age.

At dinner on Friday, the conversation turned to comparisons of culture - Mr. Wahl talked about how amazed he was, on a visit to South Dakota, by how well everyone knew their neighbors, even 25 miles away, and how friendly they were to him, a complete stranger. He said that other than the neighbors he has working relationships with, he hardly knows more than their names.. 

Yeah, I guess I'm in a different culture alright..
Out my window
I made a huge tactical error today.. I failed to "strike while the iron was hot" and write while my ideas were fresh, and so my train of thought got derailed. So, the last part of this entry is running towards the stale side, and there's so much I've left out. Or, at least, I'm sure there is, because I have a couple days barely covered, only I don't even know what to say about them.

I'm tired. I've got a long day ahead of me tomorrow..
Fall is coming..
This week has been quite remarkable as far as how many interesting people I've been able to meet. I only ended up having to camp once. Meanwhile, I also set a distance record, at 258 miles, plus another 20 I didn't ride. As I'm headed towards upstate New York, it looks like both the amount of people, and the distances I'll be able to make, will begin to drop..

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Hospitality.. and more..

So two weeks in a row I've done average weekly ride distances, but in 4 days instead of 5. This upcoming week I'm going to attempt to maintain the same sort of average, but stretch it across 5.5 days.. My last opportunity to comfortably set distance records, as I'll be riding along Lake Erie, and afterwards will be in hills, mountains, and/or heavy traffic till about Florida.
I started out, of course, in Berrien Springs, home of Andrew's University, visiting my cousin. The first day I made 49 miles, stopping at a boat ramp next to a small local lake. I'd underestimated the volume of traffic there would be to such a small lake, and perhaps was a little unambitious on distance, so ended up waiting an hour or so to set up camp, as there were too many people around for comfort. 

Once I got set up, it was a little warm and uncomfortable, but the biggest problem was mosquitoes - the worst I've encountered to date. When I say bad, I've got DEET with me, of the strength that makes your lips go temporarily numb if they make direct contact. Well, I applied it either 2 or 3 times during the night, and the mosquitoes still never left me alone. So rude.. I got half inch welts in places..

The sad thing was, I'd made contact with someone who basically offered to come pick me up and give me a place inside to sleep, but I turned it down because it was already 9, and I thought I'd sleep better by staying put. Well, I didn't get to sleep till about 3:30...

The first of I'm sure many Civil War memorials. Most war memorials I see only memorialize the big 4 - WWI, WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam. 
Well, life goes on. For not getting any sleep I did alright the next day.

Just as I was entering Battle Creek, I was on a trail of sorts next to the road, and an older gentleman was riding down the median of the 4 lane road (one of those turning lane/emergency lane things). He called out, and asked where I was from and such, and I tried answering, but he had difficulty hearing (not because of traffic - there was almost none). So we pulled into the gas station just ahead, and talked a little. When I said I was from Oregon, Bill Bailey, as that was his name, asked if I was headed for Maine. Well, that's a first... When he was my age he said he'd ridden from Oregon to Maine, then took a plane to England, and road across Europe and Africa. He said he was 80 years old, and had ridden (if I remember correctly), 500,000 miles in his life.. Looked like he just had a couple library books in his panniers.

A bit later, I was riding through a neighborhood, and a lady working in her garden asked if I had a minute. A retired Army vet, she is planning a ride some time soon, though wasn't too ambitious (60 miles?), and asked what advice I would give. I gave the first thought to my mind, that most of it's mental rather than physical, but of course with her military experience, she knew all about that already.

Eventually I arrived at the Historic Adventist Village, a place in Battle Creek where a lot of Adventist pioneers used to live back when Battle Creek was like the Salt Lake City of Adventists. ..before everything burned down, and everyone was told to leave.

A toy boat owned by Edson White, and behind it, a picture of his mobile mission station, the Morning Star, with which he traveled up and down the Mississippi.
I arrived at about 2:30, which was enough time to get the full tour before they closed. I was the only visitor that time, so for 3 hours it was just me and my tour guide, in rapid fire fashion telling all the stories of importance on everything there was to see.
The former home of James White's parents. The log cabin to the left was a gift by the city, along with a few other buildings. 
The former home of Ellen White, and at times her 4 sons (while there were 4), and both sets of in-laws. 
The home of J.N. Loughborough was accidentally torn down, as it was mistaken for the one next to it. Eventually they might rebuild the house.
Well, if you want to hear the stories, I encourage you to read books such as Life Sketches, by Ellen White, and The Great Second Advent Movement, by J. N. Loughborough.

As the tour ended, I didn't know where I was going to spend the night yet, but there were storm clouds headed south east - where I would be if I kept going. So, my tour guide offered to let me sleep in the volunteer house, next to the house where he and his wife lived. So, out of that, I got a shower, and ate supper with them, and was told to come back over in the morning for waffles.
One of 5 pump organs in the room of the volunteer house I stayed in. I had fun playing it for a bit.
The rebuilt Battle Creek Sanitarium, built larger, against counsel. Kellogg couldn't pay his loan, and the state got the place, turning it into a Army hospital, and now government buildings. 
This house apparently has had the same family living in it for over 125 years. 
 Battle Creek got basically no storm action, but apparently they were hit hard not far ahead..
Albion, Michigan. Another Christian college town. I've never seen a completely brick Main Street before.
The storm I had evaded by staying in Battle Creek resulted in many trees and branches down, and many roads closed.
Mosquitos were a problem, even in the middle of the day, which was a little annoying. As I was headed out of town, the road my GPS directed me down was blocked by a down power pole, and tree/power trucks, so I had to backtrack and take a different route, adding a couple miles. Closed roads.. so many of them.. I'd have kept going, around the power pole, but I was sent back by the workers, and I didn't want to argue.
Lots of standing water, and a few down trees, in the city park. 
And anyway, I still had to hit my goal of 63 miles that day.. a personal record so far.
Adrian, Michigan - yet another Christian college town in Michigan.. 
Finally I made it to Toledo, Ohio, entering my 13th state, on Friday the 13th. I was warned of the danger of riding through town, by another cyclist, and saw a US flag, upside down, at half mast. If I were superstitious, I'd be worried, as Toledo is the largest city I'll have been through so far, and I've already noticed people are a little less patient on the road...

I'd made contact with the pastor of the Toledo church, who offered me a place to stay on Friday, but he'd be out of town Sabbath evening, so I'd have to find somewhere else. At his house, I met the associate pastor, a lady only a couple years older than myself, and amazingly, also from Oregon. Wow, for once I could talk to someone else who understood what it's like to hear the name of your state mispronounced, who knows about irrigation ditches, the dry side of the state, free range laws, the adventurousness of westerners, people not even knowing where the place is.. I still am having difficulty believing she's not actually from Washington (as most north westerners are..)

Well, the pastor announced up front that I was needing a place to stay, but, while many charged me with the task of being warm and fed, no one offered to take me home. One said he would if he didn't have to work that night. I got the idea that he really meant it. A few minutes later he walked up and handed me some bread.

Finally, at the last minute, a guy came up and offered to take me to his place. John Eaton also rode his bike to church - being epileptic, he couldn't drive, and someone said he probably shouldn't be walking, or riding either, for that matter.. Simply grateful for the offer, I took him up on it, even though though he was obviously "off", being slightly confused/dizzy all the time.

Well, I made it to his house, and really, was glad I did. Alright, it wasn't a house, but a 350 square foot apartment. I ended up sleeping on the 6 foot couch. As I spent the afternoon and evening with him, I gradually came to see John, not as the mentally handicap person I'd first read him as, but a rather intelligent man, quite hampered by a mental condition. Were he not to have had that accident in his last year of high school, nor wasted his mind with drugs, as some in his family, I could imagine him in a 6 digit income career. As it is, he never managed to complete his education, and can barely hold a job..
Reading - one of his favorite pastimes. Gotta keep the mind working. The Great Controversy is one of his favorite books, or maybe he'll be reading a 800 page medical sourcebook on Cancer, or...
I'm learning that while the correlation isn't always direct, there seems to be an inverse relationship between one's economic status and their generosity. More simply, people who don't have much are often the most willing to give what they have. I'm also learning of the strength of the few.. the fewer people there are to help, the morel likely someone is to do so.

One thing I'm learning from this trip - how to be generous..