Sunday, October 24, 2010

New England bike trip October 19-25, 1985 -- Central NY and down to PA

Saturday October 19, 1985.

Yes, it was raining in the morning. Check-out time for the motel was 11am. I intended to stay 'til 10:59. There was some hope of rain ending in the afternoon, said my TV. Took a long shower, killed more time in front of the TV. Eventually it was time to go, rain or not, with great uncertainty about that night. Found my way west along small road to the town of West Milton. Drip, drip, drip. Puddles. Wet. Smell of worms. Pretty, I guess... don't recall for sure, and since it was wet I wasn't digging the camera out to take shots.

Along small roads, asking about directions becomes routine. Hard to tell which road to take in real life out of one town if your aim is to be on that little gray line on the map between This dot and That dot. I loved "gray roads" though so it was worth the trouble. A store clerk in West Milton got me steered correctly onto Galway Road, west to (yep) Galway and eventually (after the road changed names a couple times) to Perth. I took shelter from the rain under a gas station canopy for a while. I met some high school kids there and we struck up a good conversation. Later, down the road, they passed me in their car, honking and waving.

Around 1:30pm I rolled into Johnstown, New York. I was looking for a grocery store for lunch supplies, but didn't see any along the main street. So I turned down a side street. There I saw a woman out walking her dog. For some reason she did not look all that approachable. I almost rode on past her. But, I stopped and asked her where I could find a store. And then I learned my own lesson in not judging a book by its cover!

The woman told me where a nearby grocery was, but quickly began to ask questions about my trip, about the rain, and where I was going today. I didn't really know so I said I was heading "west" and camping somewhere. No sooner had I said this when she mused "You know... (pause)... if you stayed here 'til six you could get a warm meal at the church." I didn't think much of it right then, wanting to put some more miles in that day and not knowing what I'd do til 6, let alone after... But then the offer expanded quickly to include camping out in this lady's garage! (Dry!) Hmmmm......

I pondered. She asked, "Would you like an apple, anyway...?" Well, sure I would. And before I knew it, I was inside a local funeral home. Say HUH? OK, backing up now: Eleanor, my latest kind stranger, was the mother of the proprietor (family business). She was minding the fort that day. So there I was eating her apple, my leftover bagels, etc, and pouring over maps in a funeral parlor. Well now, life is full of surprises. I soon enough realized that staying was practical--it just meant a longish next day's ride to a youth hostel on my radar screen for the next night. It was wet out. It was getting on in the day. Why not stay? I did.

I helped Eleanor prepare candied carrots and an apple salad for the potluck. We went to pick up an 86-year-old friend of hers en route to the dinner. I helped her down the front steps to the car. Soon there was crowd, and a fine spread of meatloaf, scalloped potatoes, fruit salads, green salads, casseroles… and lots of desserts. A not-very-good clown+magic act provided entertainment for the kids. The dude was funny because he made numerous mistakes but just sorta laughed them off and the kids never knew the difference.

We sat next to Eleanor's neighbors, Doris and 16-yr-old son Jeff. Jeff was a ski-crazy guy who was very pleased to talk with a guy from Colorado. Eleanor explained the garage plan to Doris while I was up getting food, and Doris wouldn't hear of it. She had empty beds (older kids off in college) and insisted I sleep in one! Boy, and uncertain rainy day had certainly taken quite a turn.

Jeff, Doris and Eleanor.

Johnstown, NY. October 19, 1985.

That night Jeff & I ate leftover cake, and Doris and I talked. I found out I was not the first person they'd taken in. Not long before some Syrian students had been in town for school, and found themselves with an expiring apartment lease… Doris and her husband brought them home for a couple months! Wow.

Sunday October 20, 1985

Doris' husband Bob came home as I was readying to leave. He'd been away on a trip. "See, we take in Americans too!" Doris said.

After many thanks all around, I rode off west along the Mohawk River. I crossed over it at a Palatine Bridge. I climbed out of the river valley and began a stretch off big wide rolling ridges. Really pretty in there, and I was riding small county roads to boot. This made for some navigation challenges as I didn't have a detailed map. With the help of passersby for directions it always worked out though.

Palatine Bridge, NY. October 20, 1985.

Two views SW of Palatine Bridge, NY. October 20, 1985.

Also I had a good bit of dog combat that day. Sprayed a lot of them in the face with my water bottle as they came alongside me, all barking and fangy. I met some cyclists that day who actually carried mace to fend of dogs! They told me there was a NY state law that if you got bit by a dog on a public rode, the dog could be euthanized at your discretion. Pretty serious law!

Eventually I rode south along the east side of Lake Oswego to Cooperstown. There I for some reason declined to go in and see the Baseball Hall of Fame, choosing instead to enjoy the sun in the park, eating some gooey apple pastry stuff and some bananas while writing for a bit. Also spent time talking to a number of people who happened by. A loaded bicycle is always a conversation starter. People just walk right up and ask where you're from, where you're going, etc. -- and the conversation goes from there. I met an art student, a couple from NYC, and a girl my age from there in town who told me all about her solo travels in Brazil.

Outside of town I busted another spoke. It was actually my second of the day. I was pissed. But I fixed it and forged on. [In retrospect, this broken spoke plague I'd been dealing with is a rare thing. Clearly the wheel was doomed and I should've pitched it and started over with a new one! Guess I was too stubborn or too limited of budget to go that route…]

I was aiming for a youth hostel in Gilbertsville, NY, 30-35 miles southwest of Cooperstown. I continued on small county roads. There were only teeny towns along my route, so grocery options were limited. I was hoping to pick up some lightweight Ramen noodles but ended up having to settle for a heavy can of soup. I had managed to spend a little too much time lunching and talking. That plus all the time spend fixing broken spokes all added up, and it was starting to get dark before I reached Gilbertsville. It got so dark by the time I was approaching the town, I almost didn't see some camo-clad hunters walking home along the road. I stopped and confirmed my sketchy directions with them, and continued along in the dark, flashlight in my hand! I actually didn't keep it on; I only flicked it on when a car was coming to make sure they saw me. It was cold and I had gloves on, making switching the flashlight on sort of challenging.

Finally I arrived at the hostel, a house tucked alongside a print shop. The owners were Debbie, a headstart teacher, and her daughter Karen, a junior at Antioch College. They greeted me with dinner! (I'd made a reservation so they knew I was on the way.) It was falafel on pita with vegetables. Chocolate fudge sundaes later! I did the dishes to say thanks, and asked Karen about Antioch. This was a "primitive" hostel, I should say. Meaning, there was an outhouse instead of a bathroom. And the shower was cold-only (!), and the place was heated (sort of?) by a wood-burning stove. No matter, sleeping bag was plenty warm. And it only cost $2.50 to stay there. Sort of inconceivable today.

Monday October 21, 1985.

Next morning I cooked some oatmeal and got on the road again, headed west. It was sunny again. Good riding on more small local roads, surrounded by pretty farms. Uphill, downhill. Some were pretty steep. Occasionally a tiny town. I stopped in one of them, McDonough, which wasn't even marked on my map. I sat in front of the general store to eat lunch. I wrote postcards showing the same store in black & white decades earlier. I marked an "x" on them where I sat!

A sunny day west of Gilbertsville, NY. October 21, 1985.

Pit stop in McDonough, NY. October 21, 1985.

My destination that afternoon was another hostel, near the town of Willet, NY. I asked someone where the hostel was. "Down the road about 1/4 mile to the first dirt road, take a right, and it's the only house up there." It was WAY up there. I had to push the bike a good 3/4 mile up the dirt road.

A small brown farmhouse awaited me. Nobody was home except four cats. I didn't see any AYH signs around (American Youth Hostel), so I wasn't even sure this was the right place. But I peered in the window and saw hostel materials inside. I didn't go in; figured it'd be best to wait 'til someone came home. IF they came home, that is. The Gilbertsville people told me they'd had people stay at their place who reported the Willet hostel was deserted. It was unlocked, so they had just used it anyway, without disturbing anything. I figured I could do the same but felt I should wait outside as long as possible. It was nice and sunny anyway, so I just enjoyed that. The cats (three were kittens) piled onto me in one big purring mass and slept.

Youth hostel home near Willet, NY. October 21, 1985.

The Willet hostel cats. October 21, 1985.

Last light of day near Willet, NY. October 21, 1985.

After about 3 hours, the sun had set and nobody had come home. Odd, because the AYH handbook for 1985 listed the place as "open" at this time of year, and said no reservations were required. So, I went on in. It looked pretty lived in. But the cats seemed hungry, like they hadn't been fed in awhile. ??!??!? Hmmm. There was no running water here. I had to get water from the well out front, lowering the bucket about 30 feet on a rope to get some. Just to be safe I boiled the water before using any. I went to sleep about 10pm. Around midnight, I was awakened by the sound of someone coming in the front door! The owner was home at last! He was surprised to find me but luckily quite understanding and cool about it. A weird situation! I was out the door the next morning before he ever got up. I left him a note apologizing for the surprise but also suggesting he might like to change his hostel's listing in the AYH handbook! About a year later I received the AYH magazine in the mail and noticed that he'd withdrawn his place from the hostel list! :)

Tuesday October 22, 1985.

I walked down the long dirt road into the chilly valley below. In Willet I found that the little store there served breakfast, so I bought the special. Two eggs, toast, and milk for 99¢. Later I visit the bathroom in the shed out back. Man, I was if this area of New York wasn't "the boonies," I dunno what was. Brushed my teeth at the laundromat sink next door, because the bathroom in the shed had no sink!

It was cold, but sunny. Rode more ups and downs… no major climbs, just lots of small and medium hills. About 8 miles away I reached the town of Marathon. Stopped for a little rest, sitting on a guardrail watching traffic whizz past. I was feeling low, wondering what the hell I was doing out here, sort of the same alone and uncertain feeling I'd had on the bus to Maine a couple weeks earlier. Part of it was the Willet hostel incident, and part of it was the Great Unkown of Pennsylvania. I had no idea where I'd stay, all the way across that really big state. I even contemplated taking a bus across Pennsylvania, but never too seriously.

Onward I went, west to Ithaca via Hartford and Caroline. There was a BIG downhill into Ithaca, with a very pretty view of the valley. I quickly found Ithaca Commons, an outdoor pedestrian zone. It was a lot like the Pearl Street Mall in my hometown of Boulder, so I felt at home walking along pushing my bike, happier than I'd been a few hours before. I went to a book store and had to go up a San Francisco-steep kind of street to get there. I would've happily tried to tackle the hill on my bike but it was so steep I feared breaking more spokes on my notorious wheel. So I walked it.

Ithaca, NY. October 22, 1985.

Ithaca, NY. October 22, 1985.

I also visited a bike shop to do some basic lubing and maintenance. Busted a toe clip so bought a new one. Didn't buy a new wheel though, nope, just went on tempting fate………. :) At the shop I met Phillip, an eye surgeon who loved cycling and was real interested in asking about my trip. He had done several trips before, staying in motels and eating in restaurants all along the way. He obviously didn't have my budget limitations! It's fun to compare and contrast the travel styles of Phillip and Mark! To each their own, for sure.

Phillip soon offered to play host for my stay in Ithaca. Once again, the generosity of people shone brightly. He guided me through the Cornell campus to his family's home in Cayuga Heights. His wife Lessly and school-age kids were equally welcoming. We sat on the back porch eating pomegranates in the sun, enjoying the view of Cayuga Lake. They too had an older child off at college, so I was installed into his room! Lessly insisted on adding my laundry to her pile. They served a lovely dinner of warm tuna-apple salad, dark bread, and broccoli, with rich chocolate cake afterward.

After dinner I went around town with Phillip running various errands while he showed me the sights. Among other things he pointed out Carl Sagan's house. He said he was acquainted with Carl but that they had "violent political differences."

Wednesday October 23, 1985.

Early in the morning I was up to thank Phillip for everything and see him off to work at 6:30. Lessly and I had some cereal for breakfast. I hauled their trash cans down to the curb for pick up that day. I wanted to help out in some way in thanks for their kindness. Soon, I was off again. Lessly told me to "be sure an write your mother!"

I spent a good part of the day exploring Ithaca some more. I went to the post office to pick up more mail. By prior arrangement, my mom had mailed me a packet of traveler's checks. I guess I didn't want to carry all of my stash at once, in case I lost 'em! So here was my infusion of funds. Certainly not the way I'd operate today in the ATM age. I went to the Ithaca farmer's market where I found a great loaf of banana bread and a dude selling hot veggie egg rolls.

Also I met with some people at Cornell to learn about graduate programs there, chemistry and environmental science if I remember right. Seems funny to think of that now because it must've been soon after then that I decided lab science was not part of my future. Perhaps fueled by all the great people contact of travel, I determined that people-work was my future. In the next years I became a teacher, my "first career." The thread continues today as a physician assistant.

Mid-afternoon I aimed the wheels northwest, just a short ride of less than 20>

A view of Cayuga Lake. October 23, 1985.

Creek near Trumansburg, NY. October 23, 1985.

From there I picked my way over to the intersection of Cold Springs Road and Podunk Road, where I found the hostel. The sign outside said "Podunk Cross Country Ski Center," indicating the winter use of the place. The hostel quarters were in the "ski lodge," a converted barn. Again there was an outhouse rather than an actual bathroom. There were ski posters everywhere, making me wish it were winter for a day and that I had my skis along. There was an old pool table and a hot plate for making hot drinks or soup.

I went a couple miles into Trumansburg to pick up some food but decided to "eat out." I found a bar with a nice soup and sandwich combo and washed it down with a couple beers.

Podunk Cross Country Ski Center / Youth Hostel. October 23, 1985.

Thursday October 24, 1985

I used the hot plate to heat water for oatmeal for breakfast. I was in a hurry to get going because it was gray out again and I wanted to get as many dry miles in as I could. But the drops began to fall as soon as I mounted the bike! Oh well.

My route took me 17 miles south to Odessa, NY and then another 17 southeast to Van Etten. There I got out of the rain for awhile, finding refuge in a small restaurant. They had sandwiches for $2, and if you paid $1 more the all-you-can-eat salad bar came with it. Yeah, baby! If all their customers were cyclists they could not stay in business. I had a very good Reuben and fries and a ton of lettuce salad, macaroni salad, potato salad, and fruit salad.

I had to fix another broken spoke before riding on south, but at least the rain had let up. It was a straight shot down a gorgeous valley lined with bronze and yellow trees to the Pennsylvania state line, another 16 miles south. [A 50-mile day was, for many years, about what seemed comfortable on these trips. First trip I did, in 1981 with my friend Dave, we average 85 a day or something. It was do-able but we were basically exhausted all the time. I had learned it was better to chill out and ride less. Now, 20-30 a day sounds more like it!]

South of Van Etten, NY. October 24, 1985.

At the border the towns of Waverly, NY and Sayre, Pennsylvania were basically one and the same. I found a grocery store. Then I went off to the sleeping spot I'd spied coming into town: the dugout of a softball field! It was soggy out, and the infield was all mud and puddles. There were certainly no softball games going down that day, and for some reason the dugout beckoned to me.

It was a great sleeping spot, quiet and sheltered. Didn't figure I'd have anyone bother me, but I stayed sorta low anyway. Somewhere far away, another dugout was bustling and in the limelight. In St. Louis, Missouri, game 5 of the '85 World Series was underway. Tim McCarver, who calls the games on Fox with Joe Buck these days, was calling his first World Series on TV, alongside Al Michaels and Jim Palmer. I was glad to have a roof, because true to the forecast it rained some more overnight. I was cozy and dry, though, and felt it was kind of fitting to be crashed out in a dugout on a World Series night!

Dry sleeping spot, Waverly, NY. October 24, 1985.

Friday October 25, 1985.

It was a great and sunny day for my first foray into PA. I got myself to the east side of the Susquehanna River (here in it's skinnier upper stretches), where there was much quieter road than the major U.S. highway on the other side. There were ups and downs and nice views of the water. In Towanda, PA, I sat in the sun eating Fig Newtons and bananas. I watched a couple about my age with a small baby and a beat up car and mused about how different their lives were from mine.

Sayre, Pennsylvania railyard. October 25, 1985.

Susquehanna River south of Sayre, Pennsylvania. October 25, 1985.

Near Towanda, Pennsylvania. October 25, 1985.

South of there I had to get on U.S. 220 for about 20 miles because there just weren't any better options. In the town of Dushore, my bike began to feel weird and bouncy. I looked down and saw why: rear tire was soft, squishing flat with every pedal stroke. I'd fixed a pile of broken spokes, but this was the first flat tire of the whole trip! I fixed it quickly and then escaped the traffic back to smaller roads again.

South of Dushore, Pennsylvania. October 25, 1985.

From there I seemed to be climbing pretty steadily. Trees seemed grayer because more leaves had fallen off. I passed through the towns of Mildred and Lopez. Before long I made it to my day's destination, Ricketts Glen State Park. I'd pulled a little more mileage than usual this day, around 60-65 miles.

I set up my tent in the campground. I soon met my neighbor, Norman, an older man (and proud bachelor) from Leesport, PA. He shared some iced tea and really great Keystone Dutch pretzels (the big soft kind) with me. Later I cooked up a batch of Ramen noodles for dinner with a slew of added carrots. After dark I washed dishes and showered at the bathhouse. I then went to the park office to sit in the light and read, but ended up instead talking to Mike the Ranger for about two hours. He was friendly dude with a big beard and horn-rimmed glasses. He had key breakfast advice for the next morning.

Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania. October 25, 1985.

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