Overview

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This is the general route I took. In New York I followed county roads, back roads, and occasionally highways, but once in Québec I stuck pretty strictly to the Route Verte.

The RouteTrek 520 My bike is a Trek 520, which is a pretty tried-and-true touring bike. My previous bicycle was a Raleigh Detour 4.0, a hybrid which was pretty decent for short rides but not really suited to longer rides.

I didn’t do much to the Trek, other than to swap the saddle for a Brooks B17. I was pretty skeptical about these leather saddles. They can’t get wet, which is pretty lame, but I gave it the pepsi challenge and they are way more comfortable, honest.

I bought a front rack for the bike (Tubus Tara) which I got used on eBay for pretty cheap. And a set of Ortlieb panniers. The panniers were pretty pricey, but they’re waterproof, and that turned out to be pretty critical since I couldn’t fit anything in the tent but myself.

The goal was to keep it well under 30 lbs. The only time I approached 30 lbs was when I was fully loaded with food and water for the day. I’d estimate most of the time I was carrying around 25 lbs. I carried a one-person tent, a Eureka Solitaire. This is a pretty cheap tent and suited my needs completely – I saw no reason to drop a couple hundred on the pricier models. Add a compressible sleeping bag and a mattress pad and that’s it, I was golden.

I carried a few spare parts and tools to handle any breakdowns, but I was lucky… hardly any maintenance was required. The biggest challenge was keeping the gears clean given that I was mostly riding on packed gravel trails– every few days I’d have to clean and lube the chain and sprockets.

I only took a couple changes of clothes – one t-shirt, one pair of jeans, one long sleeve shirt, a couple pairs of cycling shorts and socks. I saw a lot of touring cyclists on the trip and I was lighter than almost all of them. Which, don’t get me wrong, I still had a hell of a time climbing some of the mountains, but I think I can be forgiven since it was my first tour.

I only carried enough food for one day at a time. I was rarely more than the 40 miles from a town at any one time, so a day’s worth of food was plenty. I mostly ate fruit, bread, and trail mix. Sometimes I’d get something at a restaurant, but most of the time I’d pick up a sandwhich from a gas station when I needed a real meal.

Day One.

Brooklyn to Ashokan.

I boarded the Metro North at 9:45 this morning and we’re currently heading north along the Hudson with stops planned in Yonkers, Tarrytown, Ossining, Croton-Harmon, Peekskill, Dia, and Poughkeepsie, where I will mount up and bike for the next 30 days. I’m taking the train because who wants to spend their whole first day riding through Manhattan and the Bronx? Better to get out into nature quicker.

***

A hard 56 miles today but a lot of cool stuff. I ran across the Walkill Valley Rail Trail early on and crossed a big iron trestle in the middle of the woods. A pretty awesome find for the first day.

Railroad Trestle

A bit later, as I was pedaling up a stretch of non-descript county road, a blast of icy air hit me. It was so strong and sudden that I stopped to investigate. Turns out there was a series of caverns just off the highway, thirty feet tall. The air was cold and the deepest parts of the caves never got any light.

I crossed the Ashokan reservoir which is a pretty big state water supply and they’ve turned some of the admin buildings into a kind of park. A fountain shot water 30 feet into the air and the wind blew the mist some hundred feet over the grass. Not exactly an icon of conservation, but pretty cool nonetheless.

The reservoir itself is just behind the fountain. I was now officially in the Catskills and camped in the woods just off the highway. I made the mistake of not camping on flat ground, the first and only time this trip I would make that mistake. Still, I slept well enough.

Day Two.

Ashokan to Max V. Shaul.

Woke up feeling good. A bit damp from the dew but that’s to be expected. Broke down the tent, packed up, and was on my way.

A short ride into Phoenicia where I ate an orange on a bridge over a small creek. The morning was sunny and cool. I stopped for coffee at the local trading post and got moving.

A few short breaks and some nice scenery brought me into Prattsville, where I grabbed some groceries from Jim’s Great American. I hiked up the mountain to Pratt Rock, a scenic overlook often favored by Zaddock Pratt himself. This might not look it, but it’s a long way down.

The view from Pratt Rock.

 

 

Took county road 7 through Gilboa, where I switched to Highway 30 and the looming rain finally caught up with me. I ducked into a Picnic area and found some shelter, and in the time it’s taken me to write this the rain seems to have let up.

GilboaGilboa Bridge

Shelter.

 

***

Made it to Max. V. Shaul State Park around 4pm which put me right at 54 miles for today. It started to rain again when I was setting up my tent but I managed to get it up and inside before I got seriously wet.

The ground that I’m camping on is very stony however, and I managed to smash the tip of my finger with the rock that I was using as a hammer. Good thing I packed the band-aids.

On the road to the campground right around Breakabeen, I was riding past a great many corn fields when a wonderful smell began to fill the air. As it grew stronger  I thought it was lavender, however it turned out to be a huge field of sunflowers. I wish the pictures could convey the smell.

Sunflower field

I had initally intended on not using GPS but it’s been such a huge help in finding cool bike routes that I’ll be needing to keep my phone charged for awhile. I’m not sure how that will work in Canada, though.

Day Three.

Max V. Shaul to Northampton Beach.

Rain all through the night. I stayed dry, but the atmosphere inside the tent was very humid, so I was covered with a thin sheen of moisture which made for a somewhat unpleasant rest.

Awoke about 6am and packed up in a dull drizzle. Leaving the campground the entire valley was enveloped in a cloud. I rode 7 miles to Middleburgh where I stopped at M & J’s cafe for breakfast. The cafe itself was an homage– a shrine, really, to Coca-cola. The only downside was it was infested with flies. They were everywhere. I ordered something small and ate quickly, the presence of the flies was pretty bad but it was a steady, deadening rain outside. Tough choice.

Down the road I stopped at a gas station and noticing booths with outlets I decided to have another cup of coffee and recharge my phone. No sooner had I sat down than two retirees took the booth behind me and started talking non-stop about the old days… jawing endlessly about fishing holes and the quality of local sandwhiches (bad) and their prices (high) and that got me laughing to myself. I kept picturing them as Grampa Simpson and Jasper.

I took off and got as far as Scoharie before I started to notice the bike was not moving as easily as it should. I checked the tires and the bags but nothing was wrong. I did have wet clothes but the extra water weight seemed negligible.

Finally, I guess it was me. I had run out of gas. I ate a bag of trail mix and within ten minutes I was climbing hills like nobody’s business. In fact, I think I started cycling more effectively than I have on the trip to date. Weird, though… I didn’t feel weak or tired. The bike just got heavy.

I did so well that I was at the forty mile mark by noon as I pulled into Fonda. I met a couple who were riding from Boston to Niagara Falls and chatted with them for a bit.

I ate at a new ‘upscale’ McDonald’s in Fultonville. Everyone was on their best behavior because it was the unveiling of the new design, and the suits were there for photo-ops. I don’t hate McDonald’s by any stretch, but I’ll admit it’s pretty bad for you.Turd-polishing.

Still need a few provisions. Currently drying the tent and wet clothes on a picnic table outside the Fonda municipal building. Most of the scenery today has been a little boring, but I guess what can you expect between the Catskills and the Adirondacks? It’s rural and pleasant enough. Scoharie was cool.

Outside Middleburgh

The air here smells of lavender and the weeping willows tower over houses.

***

Right by the water my ass. More like right by the mud and mosquitoes. Northampton Beach campground hardly qualifies as a campground. It’s got campsites, yes, but the people who utilize the sites are equipped with RVs, gas grills, gazebos, multi-room tents, the works. And the campground is replete with mini-golf, ice cream trucks, volleyball, etc.

The woman at the booth charged me $22.75 for a spot of ground which I will use all of twelve hours, more likely ten or eight. She said it was right by the water, the water being Great Sacandaga Lake, which Randi informed me is man-made. Figures.

Jeff and randi are my campsite neighbors. Randi is from Buffalo and Jeff is from Rochester. Or maybe vice-versa. Either way, they are nice midwestern types and have been very hospitable. This journal shall disparage neither Jeff nor Randi who invited me over for a beer.

Mohawk River between Fonda - Fultonville

Northampton Beach

Day Four.

Northampton Beach to Schroon River.

Up at 6am and out of that Disney campsite by 6:30. Saw a big red fox crossing the street on exiting the campground. Had breakfast in nearby Northville, an excellent combo of eggs, toast, and home fries. The town itself was small and quiet. Since I didn’t really have a proper dinner last night I loitered around the town until about nine.

I decided to cut northeast today. Took a nice ride over to historic Edinburgh and its covered bridge, but from there things got kinda rough. Outside of Edinburgh I turned on to Hadley Hill road, which was immediately a steep climb and did not relent for five miles. The sun was boiling and for some reason the road was infested with flies. It was bad enough that I was sweating and aching from the climb, but the constant harassment of the flies put it oer the limit. And they turned out to be the biting kind.

The next road, Tower road, was off to a promising start with a steep descent into a heavily wooded area. It was a packed dirt and grael road which made for a pretty white-knuckled ride initially. It would have been okay, except there were more biting flies. There was a swamp which the road ran through– perhaps they bred there? Anyway, I was glad to get back on the main road.

Finally reached Warrensburg around 2:30 and grabbed lunch at a Subway, the best candidate for a place to recharge my phone unmolested. That put me at about 40 miles for the day and I feel pretty exhausted with all the sun, etc. Trying to find a cool place to camp for the  evening.

***

I am now in my tent at Schroon River and it’s mighty hot. The time is about 6:30pm and though it’s nice out, the tent is the only place safe from the mosquitoes. Possibly there is rain moving in and my feet are smelly.

As I was biking from Warrensburgh up to Schroon I was on the lookout for places to camp that I wouldn’t have to pay for. Yes, I am cheap, but the average campsite costs upwards of $25. That’s fine if you and some buddies are gonna drink some beers and have a fire but if you just need a spot of ground to sleep on that’s a rip-off. It’s not like camping is a luxury. Anyway, I paid $35 for tonight’s spot and believe me, I tried to talk them into discounting it pretty hard.

So this is why I seek alternate accomodations. Granted I could just jump into the woods anywhere but the problem there is that the ground needs to be flat, more or less, which your average piece of ground isn’t. And even if it is, you have to wade through weeds and bushes and low-growing branches and risk ticks, poison ivy, chiggers, etc. This is why people use trails. So I am searching for a spot, not just any spot but the right spot. And I find it.

It’s hidden from the highway, recently mowed, and flat. The only problem? It’s a civil war cemetery. Now, at first I’m like, no problem. But after a few minutes consideration I start to wonder if it’s really okay to sleep in a cemetery. Objectively, scientifically, there’s no reason not to, but, I dunno, I guess I’m kind of superstitious, because I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Not sure why. There’s no moral or religious reason for me– it just didn’t feel right. (Plus it’s spooky.)

So I kept looking and I found another perfect spot. This one is a newly mown field, huge in size, with a big abandoned basketball court in the center. I figure it might be private property because there isn’t any signage, but I figure it can’t hurt to check it out and if anybody gives me any guff I’ll just tell them the truth.

So I ride right up to the b-ball court and almost immediately I hear the guy across the street come out of his house. It’s a fair distance but it’s a quiet road. I figure I’ll just wait until he approaches and hope he’s friendly.

No such luck. He rides up on a 4-wheeler. As soon as he is near enough I wave at him and say hello.

No hello from him– “What are you doing?”

“Well, I’m hoping to find a place to camp.”

“This is private property.”

“I’m sorry. I thought it might be a park.” (Not exactly true but, but I had no bad intentions).

“You can’t just come onto somebody’s property. There’s been a lot of break-ins around here. I have a loaded gun in the house… I’ll shoot somebody.”

This kinda freaks me out. I know I’m in the styx but I think it’s a bit early to be talking about shooting me. So I say, “I’m sorry, I’ll move on. I didn’t mean any harm.”

So I end the conversation as quickly as possible. He’s kind of a harmless old man, maybe a little bit of a shut-in or something, but I don’t think there was ever any real danger. Still, I am more cautious about where I camp from here on out.

Even after that I was still pretty grumpy about $35 to stay at Schroon River, but I was too tired to go any further or risk crossing any more gun-toting loonies.

Day Five.

Schroon River to Crown Point.

Not sure whether I am stronger or weaker from the previous four days. Today started out tough because my phone would not connect and I got kind of lost on Schroon River Road. It was mostly unpaved and very scenic, though. I am losing my fondness for unpaved roads. However, I did come upon a waterfall in the woods, which I commemorated by taking my first ‘nature shit’.

Waterfall

A beautiful place to shit in the woods.

The road had hardly any traffic so I figured I’d just squat behind the nearest boulder. Of course, immediately someone drove by. Hopefully they thought I was just a hiker inspecting the local flora, identifying a rare orchid or a particularly interesting caterpillar. Although I feel like it must have been pretty obvious that I was dropping a deuce. Nature.

I finally found my way back to a main road and a friendly local cyclist suggested I bike along Brant Lake towards Hague. He said it was pretty nice. And the lake was nice, but he neglected to tell me I’d be climbing a mountain for four miles into Hague. It was harsh, dudes. The sun was beating down most of the time (I still haven’t picked up sunscreen) and I had not even gotten coffee. But I pushed on like an ant climbing a dorito. A steeply tilted dorito.

Just when I thought I couldn’t take anymore I suddenly felt a strong, cool breeze all around me. The bike became as light as a feather and with hardly any effort I was sailing at high speeds. The terrain still looked flat, but I was going fast. I was ready to chalk it up to a divine wind, when suddenly I began going downhill for serious. The next four miles were the most pleasant I have ever traveled. The speed cooled me down, no need for pedaling, and the bike handles like a dream when it’s moving at high speeds. I can take sharp turns at almost full speed.

That put me in Hague, where I chatted with an old lady about Ticonderoga and cycling. She recommended a restaurant in ‘Ti’ called the Hot Biscuit, which after a relatively painless ten miles I can report is not bad at all. I found a laundromat and am currently digesting my lunch and washing my clothes. Not sure whether I’ll stay in Ticonderoga tonight or press on to Port Henry, about 16 miles north.

Ticonderoga

Ticonderoga

***

Decided that it was best to move north after checking the rates at the local Super 8 and discovering there was no vacancy. I pushed on to Crown Point and I’m glad I did. I found a campground run by a nice old guy, Bob, who only charged me $10 bucks to pitch my tent. So if you’re ever in Crown Point, check out the RV park. Bob rocks.

The weather here is very strange. There’s a rainy, stormy wind coming off the lake but the sun is shining on the other side. The breeze feels great. I feel pretty tired– ate a big late lunch. I did pick up some local peaches and cherries today from a fruit stand that were great.

Day Six.

Crown Point to Ausable Chasm.

Another fifty plus mile day. Left Crown Point around 6:30am and rode to Port Henry in search of breakfast. The weather was foggy, wet, humid, cool. The morning was quiet and easy to enjoy, but the silence kept getting interrupted by cars. I am no car hater but I find my time so much more enjoyable without traffic.

Port Henry - Fog

Port Henry - Fog

Port Henry - Fog
Port Henry – Fog

From Port Henry I rode through Willsboro, Essex, and Keeseville. Each of these is more or less situated on Lake Champlain, depressed towns with little industry or business, but still picturesque, built up years ago when iron made the region rich.

 

Today is starting to feel like work — I’m tired and it’s still another 80 miles to Montréal. That means I need to figure out where and how far to go tomorrow. I wonder if it’s a particular skill of mine, turning fun into work.

Anyway, I am currently camped at Ausable Chasm. I just got back from hiking the chasm itself and it was pretty awesome, actually. They have kind of disney-fied this giant sandstone canyon and it’s pretty touristy. Part of me hates that. What right do people have to charge money in order that we might see the natural wonders of the world? It’s crass. They name each pool and rock something stupid and put a little signboard– “Did you see Table Rock? Did you visit the Eagle’s Nest?” But maybe the kids dig that stuff. They aren’t corrupted cynics like me. Yet.

Regardless, the place is amazing despite its commercialism. There’s something to be said for that – no matter how much they layer on the schmaltz, the magic still comes through.

Chasm, River, and Hydroelectric plant

Chasm, River, and Hydroelectric plant

 

Inside the Chasm

Inside the Chasm

Looking Down on the Chasm

Looking Down on the Chasm

Day Seven.

Ausable Chasm to Montréal.

Rode almost 80 miles today. The initial ride out of Ausable into Plattsburgh was once again overcast but it did put me outside of Lake Champlain which was peaceful in the early morning and I stopped to watch some ducks and bass boats.

Plattsburgh Monument

Plattsburgh Monument

Plattsburgh was a rally nice old told, one of the biggest on Lake Champlain and had a couple of nice old monuments. Also, for some reason which I couldn’t figure out there were multiple locations selling Texas Red Hots, which I am pretty sure is just a fancy name for hot dogs. But I could be wrong. I had a good cup of coffee and a passable bagel at Baxter’s Bagels. Baxter is a german shepherd, by the way. No idea where he learned to make bagels.

At some point while drinking my coffee I decided I was going to go all the way to Montréal, which was a lot of miles and would mean my seventh straight day of biking. I made good time out of Plattsburgh and the ride was rural, nice. I stopped outside a dairy farm and studied some cows. When I got to Champlain I didn’t realize I was essentially on the Canadian border. I followed the route that Google recommended but it was blocked off and I got stopped by the border patrol, who thought I might be trying to avoid the port. But once I told him I was only carrying camping equipment he seemed satisfied.

The actual crossing itself was simple. I just answered a few questions about what I was doing an I was in. No paperwork, no passport stamp.

Welcome to Quebec

Welcome to Quebec

The terrain in Canada initially was also provincial, rural, and nice. With the exception of the signs being in French, it was just like New York. However, the sun began to shine pretty hot and the ride grew less fun as the day progressed. By the time I got to the suburbs of Montréal I was dog tired. I decided to stay at a hotel out in the suburbs rather than pay more and potentially have trouble securing a room in the city proper and it looks like the motel I picked, ‘Motel La Siesta’, is pretty reasonably priced.

I feel pretty bad about not even trying to speak french but there’s just no way. I can’t understand more than a few words. Still, most people speak English pretty well so I guess that’s good. Although I haven’t really developed a tactic to let people know I don’t speak French. I just say Bonjour…hello.

Still, though, I managed to get stamps, beer and Middle Eastern Food. I’m now in the room and ready for a relaxing evening of French-Canadaian TV and I already feel like a different person after a real shower.

The suburbs are much like any suburbs, except in French:

Poulet Frit Kentucky

Poulet Frit Kentucky

 

Day Eight.

Montréal.

Mont Royal

Mont Royal

An ‘off’ day, though in truth I biked about 25 miles exploring Montréal. Started the day with a personal challenge — ordering breakfast.

Even though most people here speak English most of the signs and menus are in French. Luckily I remember enough from French 101 to know what an oeuf is. And that great thing here is that I have an excuse to be a man-baby.

View from Pont Jacques Cartier

View from Pont Jacques Cartier

I pedaled around the city, taking in the various sites– Notre Dame Basilica, Habitat 67, the islands created in the Saint Lawrence for the 1967 World’s Fair, Mont-Royal, all the 19th century Canadian bank headquarters, Chinatown, the village, Old Montréal, Quartier Des Latins.

My main goal was to pick up a map of the Route Verte, which I did acquire from ‘Le Maison Du Cyclistes’, a combination bike shop, cafe, and travel agency. The guy was pretty helpful.

In fact, all of the people I spoke to were. I didn’t really get the sense that they hate to speak English, which is what someone once told me (ok, that’s what I heard in rural Ohio). It’s more that they are proud of their French heritage and they want to preserve it.

Couche-Tard

A store for retards who are unable to leave their couches.

I am vaguely apprehensive about the availabiliy of campsies, especially over the next few days. I am also not sure whether to take the longer, more scenic route to Québec through the south, or to take the shorter norther route along the Saint Lawrence.

Rain is forecasted for the next two days. The worst of it tonight. Glad to be in the motel for one more evening. I need the rest and the shower. Temperatures have been generally cooler this far north. It was only 63 degrees when I woke this morning. Got up to about 81.

Stopped at a sports bar-casino called ‘J’m La Frite’ (I Love Fries?) for a beer and my first ever plate of poutine. It wasn’t bad, although I think I prefer my french fries with just plain ketchup.

Poutine

Poutine

 

Old Montreal

Old Montréal

Habitat 67

Habitat 67

Chinatown

Chinatown

 

 

Day Nine.

Montréal to Granby.

Je suis desole, je ne parle pas français. Parlez vous anglais? This is becoming my mantra. (Though I actually just looked it up after 3 days of saying it wrong.)

Left out of Montréal this morning at 10am and it took me a good twnety minutes to find the Route Verte. Convinced I had built up a strong base and that adding sunscreen to my face, already broken out, (too many nutrigrain bars? Polyester sleeping bag pillow?) was a bad idea, I intentionally neglected to put sunscreen on. Well, I got burnt. Today happened to be the first day I was riding directly east. So, yeah.

Au Revoir Montréal

Au Revoir Montréal

The Route Verte starts out as basically a bike lane that takes you through the suburbs of Montréal, but the further you get from the city, the more it becomes rail trails that cut through farms, fields, and woods. I spent almost the whole day riding, finally stopping around 7:30 but with no real significant breaks. I managed to cover about 70 miles. I saw two woodchucks, one crane, and a jackrabbit. Plus great flocks of birds.

Route Verte

Route Verte

Granby, where I decided to spend the night, had little to offer in terms of campsites. But I did manage to find a pretty nice ‘gite en passant’, which is a bed & breakfast. Initially they wanted to charge me $72 but when I told them I didn’t want breakfast they knocked it down to $60. So ok.

The place is a house run by Camil and Ginette, a nice couple, I’m guessing in their fifties, who turned the bottom floor of their house into a guest suite. Ginette answered the door in her floral moo-moo and we attempted to converse, her English bad and my French non-existent. Luckily, Camil, her husband, a thin, quiet, reserved type, eventually showed up and he did the translating for both of us. For some reason they were very detailed about which key did what.

I took a shower and am feeling pretty good. I calculated that I have about 200 miles to Québec, which I could do in four easy days or three hard days. Given that the terrain is mostly flat I’ll push for 3 days.

Entering Granby

Entering Granby