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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

One More 70 Miles's done. Yesterday was the last day of the trip, and now sitting here this morning I have nowhere to be in a hurry to head toward. It feels like a rest day. It's going to take awhile for it to set in that it's more than just a day, three days, or even a week. I'm done with this tour, I'm settling in this city, I'm starting back into "normal" life. ...Give it a week, then it will seem like I've always been in this city.

There was talk of rain showers and thunderstorms even for yesterday, and I was concerned I was going to be in for another rough day. But when I woke up it was clear that wasn't happening, a little drizzle before I got set out and that was all. Charese made me a lovely breakfast and even packed me a sandwich for lunch, and then I was off on my way for my final day. She remarked about how excited she always got on the last day of a tour and how I'd probably be flying all the way to Pittsburgh. I told her she was close enough, maybe I'll see her around (an odd feeling, knowing I'd not be leaving that 70 miles away once I got there). The winds weren't fighting me, the cloud cover made the heat tolerable, all conditions as favorable as could be hoped for my last day (if I say it enough will it feel real?).

It was still really hot, made to feel hotter by all the humidity and hill climbing, and the sun conquered the clouds early in the day vanishing any protection from its full fury. But the hills were honestly not so bad as I was expecting. They had ends that you could see, even if they were far up and the climb steep, which is much better than all the winding mountain and cliff sides I've done before. It was easier than a couple days on the North Shore of Superior were, though that seems long ago now, and up until the last two days everything had been fairly flat for some time. Cheese's friend Hope had assured me highway 19 maintained good shoulder and carry me safely as far as Zelianople, about halfway, and that Google was silly to tell me to get off early. ...Well, she was mostly right, save for the part she wasn't, where the shoulder was crumbled or gone and I had a big truck honking at me to get out of the way with only a hand jolting, pannier bouncing, mess to get out of the way onto. Thankfully, the shoulder came back again. ...Right around the time I had to go through one lane at a construction zone. The flagger was really nice and let me get a head start of the cars along the shoulder (or berm as I guess they call it here). I got off onto highway 68 after that, which had a nice wide shoulder, then onto the Mars-Evan City Road which did not. I made my way to Babcock (funny, as it was the same name of the road my host had lived on), with all its climbing, then got off on a nice road with a bike lane, climbed some other steep road without much shoulder, meandered suburbs, got on very winding, crumbling Thompson, back on Babcock... You know, the usual navigational mess that is getting into an unfamiliar metropolitan area.

But it was not as bad as I expected, and earlier than I had expected I was crossing the 40th street bridge into the city. It was such a marvelous view that after biking over it, I went back up the untrafficked pedestrian sidewalk to take pictures (that did not turn out well, my camera being on the fritz all day). If this is to be my city now, I thought, I ought to get a good look at it. I took a little time walking along one street, both to get a glimpse around and because its narrowness worried me. I'll have to get used to how narrow the streets are around here. It's definitely different from out west.

I got to my friend Thomas's, alerted him there was a crazy, bicycle vagrant on his porch, and was soon hanging out just like old times. Within 10 minutes we were in a discussion on the evolution of AI, whether it would be limited or defined by its initial source code in any way, and questions of the Fermi Paradox and why we haven't found other life, particularly artificial, the usual topics. Staying with strangers has been good fun, but it was nice to be back in familar company. Thomas got plenty of food in me, and later in the evening I got to meet a couple of the neighbors out on the porch while we had mojitos. The blog and anything else were well forgotten until this morning.

And now? Well, my panniers and camelbak need cleaned out, I have feedback to write for a bunch of hosts that has been neglected while I've been busy on the road, my bike needs to go in for a tune-up, I need to relearn how to ride without front panniers and not kill myself on these narrow roads, there's Game of Thrones to catch up on...and then, oh yeah, I need to find a job and place to live. It's funny how quickly and unceremoniously a big adventure ends, and suddenly it's back to the grind.

It's been fun, blog. I guess now it's time for you to quietly wait in the corner until it's time for the next tour. East Coast? Maybe. I guess we'll see.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Goodbye Great Lakes...

Hello heat, hills, and headwinds. I discovered this morning right after posting the entry for yesterday that I had lost over 20 psi in my rear tire over the night. It had a leak, not an unbearable one, but not good none the less. I should have realized from how low it was when I aired it up last night. I did the only thing that I know how to do, and that has worked so far, and deflated it and pumped in more sealant (having never done so on the back, only the front), the last of what I had. I ate the last of my trail mix as cereal with milk for breakfast, considering it was mostly granola and cereal left anyways. My host and his other guest didn't seem to be waking up any time soon, and it was already getting late, so I headed out around 8.

Getting out of Erie wasn't difficult, then it was 832, 98 until it turned into 19, and then 19 all the way until I took a few side roads at the end to my host's farmhouse. ...And nothing happened all day. I biked in the heat, with a decently strong headwind, up and down some sizable hills, with nothing to see for my efforts but farmland. The best thing I saw was the township of Hayfield, which was in fact just a hayfield, which probably wouldn't have even amused me half as much on a normal day when I wasn't so bored. Highway 98 avoids most the little towns, and there was a stretch where I was almost worried I would run out of water before I reached a gas station. But I ended up hitting one just before I ran out, and bought some riding food and restocked water in the bathroom. Funny enough, not long after that was when some nice guy pulled up and asked if I needed Gatorade at a stop sign. I'd actually bought some (which I almost never do) at that gas station, and told him I was good.

It was a great relief to reach the end of my ride and come inside from the heat. My host doted on me, getting some food and electrolyte solution in me right away, before sending me to shower while she made an amazing meal of grilled yams, stuffed mushrooms, and salad. She even asked me if I needed laundry done without me needing to. I felt like the red carpet was really rolled out for me, and after the long day, it was really incredible. Her friend chatted me up while I ate and my host did a few errands she needed doing, and I learned more than I ever would have imagined about the area. It was a wonderful end to a tough day.

Last Day with Erie

I woke around 6:30 in the morning, had some cereal for breakfast, chatted with my host for a bit, and then headed out by around 7:30. I had a lot of miles to go, close to a century, and I knew I had better get started. Navigating out of Buffalo was a pain. I was glad for the advice my host gave me. There was construction, all kinds of messy zigzagging, and a stretch where I rode on sidewalk and felt extremely dirty for doing it. But riding on the street there was just too dangerous to justify it, no shoulder, four lanes, and all the cars speeding (as my host warned me they would be), and no one was using that sidewalk as it was through this derelict industrial area. I hated the whole slow, tedious process it ended up being getting out of town. But after that, it was all smooth sailing from there, riding highway 5 basically all the way. I took a brief detour onto the lakeshore road, a scenic byway taking me closer to the lake for a stretch, but that was it. Sadly, for a lot of that stretch, you still couldn't see the lake as well, but there were a few good views here and there.

Going along there also took me through Evangola State Park right before returning to 5, where not only was there a good beach, but I also ran into a bike tourist going the other way to the west coast to go bum around there for a couple months, started in Vermont. He had quite the improvised rig and was riding a Mongoose of all things. I asked if it was his first tour, which he responded it was. He has a lot of weight on the back, not even in proper panniers, and he's apparently, unsurprisingly, been getting a lot of flats. I was tempted to try and offer him advice on things he could be doing to make life easier for himself...but then I remembered how many people did that when I was riding my Diamondback with my Walmart trailer on my first trip, and I remember having much it really didn't help anything, as I had the gear I had and that was all there was to it. Hell, people still try to dissuade me from my wide tires. He's going to manage just fine. He's made it this far, and he has the will to keep going, and that's all that counts in the end. I wished him luck. I have no doubt he'll have a hard time in the Rockies...but then so did I, and it was all alright in the end.

The day was largely uneventful after that. I mostly just rode. I got excited crossing the Pennsylvania border and knowing I'm near the end of my journey. I ran into a couple cyclists out for a ride along the highway who chatted with me a bit, asked the usual questions, and when I said it was a little hot, told me it will be hotter tomorrow. I encountered some of the only motorcyclists that have passed me rudely, as well as a huge stream of thirty or so of them that had a warning vehicle behind them (for some kind of event or organized motorcycle ride?). And when I got into Erie I made my way down to the waterfront trail to see the little peninsula that juts out and forms a sort of bay, and had a hell of a time navigating to it. I had a driver blare his horn at me for literally no reason at all as he passed around me on a 25mph street with plenty of room and no oncoming traffic. I don't get the impression this is a bicycle friendly town, and my host said the same.

He's a fun guy. I showed up earlier than I had expected, since I did so little sightseeing, around 5, my usual time, and as soon as I had my bike maintenance done I had a beer in my hand (strong, almost 10%) and we were chatting away. It took some time before conversation died down and I went for my shower while he went to the store to get food. This is his childhood home (or one of many as he moved around a lot), and he's fixing it up to sell for his mom, and in the meantime living in it rent free and hosting people because he has the room for it. He's apparently had a lot of guests so far from all over. Just for the night he ended up with two as another lady on a trip from Seattle back to her home on the East coast came in late, having come even further than me from Cleveland. There was more beer, vegetarian tacos, and plenty of touring and traveling stories exchanged until late into the evening. I didn't get to sleep until after 11.

And today, as I type this in the morning, today is my second to last day, the last night this trip I shall stay with a stranger (who then becomes a friend), as I have done so many times over the course of nearly two months. It feels so strange. Patience, the lady coming from Seattle, remarked I was probably sad and unready for the trip to end. She's not wrong, but she's not quite right either. It's hard, but exciting at the same time for a tour to end, and my itch has been sated for now. And when it rises up again, I will be back on the road.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Niagara Falls

I awoke before any of the other three occupants of the room, and I ate the remains of my Subway sandwich, gathered up my stuff, and stealthed out while they were still sleepily stirring toward wakefulness. I had a big day, not a lot of miles, but plenty to see, and thus no time to be dallying about while daylight had broken. I navigated my way out of St Catharines, then rode along 87 (not a well maintained road, to my surprise) to Niagara on the Lake. It's a nice town, touristy, but nice. I was able to ride bike path most the way from there to the Falls.

It was such a dull day today, so much to see, even before I got to the Falls. I checked out Fort George, kindly allowed to wander around before they were technically open. I made my way up the winding hill to Queenston Heights Park, and I allowed myself to get fleeced into paying the $4.50 CAD to climb the steep winding steps to the top of the tower (told I could see everything from there but the Falls), only to find that at the top you're just peering out small barred holes through which you can't see much at all. Compared to the Astoria Column, which was free to climb, it was an incredible disappointment. I checked out the gardens, but passed on paying for, and taking the time to do, the butterfly conservatory, though the man at the counter did let me take a step in to "look around and see what they were all about" which was neat. I stopped to see the whirlpool. I passed completely on the touristy nonsense of the casinos and Clifton Hill.

And then, almost midday after all my sightseeing on the way, I got to see the magnificent Falls themselves. I was told the view is better from the Canadian side. Taking the time to check out both, yes, I would say it is, but you also get to be right up close on the American side and really feel the size of the Falls. For all the hype, for all the nonsensical tourist trap crap that surrounds them, Niagara Falls truly is one of those magnificent sights I'm glad to have seen and would recommend to anyone else who hasn't. If you ignore all that other stuff, seeing the Falls themselves is free. It was a worthy climax to my trip.

Crossing Rainbow there was an incredible view, perhaps the best of all, and I wished very much I could be on the pedestrian sidewalk to be taking pictures as they were. The customs official asked a few more questions that previous ones have, but ultimately let me through without trouble. ...And then I was spewed out onto a horribly busy 4 lane road that I wanred off of immediately. I am extremely grateful to the nice woman who let me over into the turn lane (when everyone else absolutely refused to let me in) so I could get off. As I said, I checked out the park and saw the American side then, including Goat Island. I can't tell you how many people came up to me and asked me questions and made comments as if I was some other spectacle onto myself.

Navigating into Buffalo took a little doing. There was a detour where I had to be on a road where there would normally be bike path and I had some jerk blare his horn at me for being right where the signs told me to be. There were a couple bridges to cross (onto Grand Island and then back off) that wanted me to walk my bike the long ways up their narrow sidewalks and back which I adamantly refused and rode anyways, for the zero harm it did anyone for me to do so. There was a hard to follow trail. There was some decent and not so decent riding on the street. I'm generally not a fan of riding through unfamiliar big cities, but I made it alright in the end.

My host is cool. She rides a Bike Friday and has toured all over the place. She and her husband took me, along with their son and his girlfriend out to a place called Merge, a fancy restaurant catering to a vegetarian and vegan crowd. We biked down there. And I got to have the fun of feeling shaky riding without panniers for the first time in a good while. It was good food and good company, a great end to an exciting day.

...And there are just 3 days left. It's hard to believe. I've made tomorrow a long run for myself, so we'll see how I fare.