Warren, PA to Springville, NY
79 miles – 7 hours 30 minutes
I am up and waiting for the dawn. I roll out of the Holiday Inn parking lot at 5:30 AM. There is already more traffic on the road than yesterday. It’s Monday and the trucks are back. I make fifteen miles in the first hour. I spot a good location for my first break at the top of the first major hill. There’s ample room on the shoulder to pull over. I slow down, but when I twist my heel to disengage from the pedal clip, my shoe catches in the clip. Before I can resume pedaling, I tip over – on to my right side this time. I escape with minor scrapes. The bracket holding my bag has twisted about forty degrees, but I’m able to reposition it without difficulty. This is not a good way to start the longest ride of the trip.
This is farm country - rolling hills, with well-paved roads that have eight-foot wide shoulders so I never have to compete with the cars and trucks. The sky is cloudless, the humidity is low, and the morning air is cool and fragrant with the smell of manure and hay. I start to think I should have planned on riding farther than Springville.
Just before ten A.M. I see a sign warning of a detour ahead. The bridge that takes US 62 over Interstate 86 is being replaced. I follow the detour for about hundred yards until I realize that the detour is taking me on to Interstate 86. I stop and look around. I’m three miles from the town of Kennedy, which is on the other side of I-86 and it’s three miles back to the town of Clark. I get off my bike and walk to the edge of the barricaded road. There’s no way to get over or around the Interstate. I’m like one those antelope cut off by the Alaska Pipeline.
I backtrack until I come to Miller Valley Road. I take it east, hopeful that it will lead me to another road heading north over the interstate. But after I ride for about five minutes, it turns into a dirt road and it winds around until I’m heading due south. I return to the barricade. There is a pickup truck parked at the bridge. A guy in a construction hat has gotten out of his truck and is looking around.
“Bridge’s out. Can’t get through,” he says. He looks like Larry the hillbilly from one of the Bob Newhart shows – the guy that had the two brothers named Daryl.
“I know. Do you know a way around?”
“Where you goin?” he asks.
I tell him and he pulls out a map so detailed I think it must have the trees marked on it.
“What kind of bike is that?”
I tell him it’s a Felt.
“Back in ’78 I rode cross country. Part of Tour the USA group. Let me tell ya, going through those Rockies was something else. Went over one mountain it was eight miles all up. That was a three banana hill.”
He’s about my age and it’s easy to imagine him as part of a merry band of hippie cyclists rolling across the country, reliving the 60s. I don’t know what a three banana hill is and I sort of want to ask, but I really want him to look at his map and get me out of this mess, so I don’t.
He frowns and then points at his map. “You can take this road here, you just gotta go back about half mile and then turn at Queenie’s farm, just over the rail crossing.” Then he pauses and crinkles up his face and shakes his head side to side. “Course most of that road is mud, and you might have to carry your bike.”
That doesn’t sound good to me. He plots out another convoluted route with about ten turns all marked by somebody’s house or gas station. Then he smacks the map and takes off his ball cap and runs his hand through his hair. “Shoot. Here’s a better way. Go back to this intersection turn right, that’s Poland Center Road, take it for about half mile then turn right again on 394 and that’ll run you right back into 62.”
That sounds good to me. Two right turns, no turning at cousin Vic’s farm or Bobbie’s produce stand. I thank him for his help and he wishes me luck on my ride. He tells me he still has his bike hanging from hooks in his garage.
His detour works perfect, but the cool morning air is gone. The day is hot and getting hotter. I’m riding through Amish country. There are road signs warning of horse-drawn vehicles. There should be a sign warning about their dogs. The Amish are pacifists, but their dogs haven’t gotten the message.
As I near Collins, where I will be leaving Highway 62 for State Road 39, a black and white Labrador mutt spots me from his backyard. He runs full tilt at me barking. It’s not a friendly bark. I speed up and discover that given enough time I can ride faster than that dog can run. I’m so intent on my sprint I ride past the turn off for 39.
After the dog gives up his chase I circle back and take 39 east. After three days and one hundred fifty miles I am finished with US 62. That was a good recommendation I got back at the BP station in Mercer. Who knows where I would be right now if I hadn’t run into that guy in the John Deere hat.
I ride another three miles and find a good place to rest. I’m worn out and have to laugh at the notion I would want to go more than the eighty miles I’ve planned. I’m in the front yard of a quiet ranch home. From the looks of the empty driveway, it appears that no one is home. I lie down and close my eyes, but I open them when I hear the tinkle of a chain. I’m staring into the eyes of big brown dog, who stands over me with a slobbery tennis ball in his mouth. He drops the ball on my chest. I toss the ball and he brings it back. I toss it two more times and then it’s time to go. My faith in dogs is restored.
I do what she says. At the foot of the hill heading out of Gowanda I take the right fork. Fifteen flat-road-minutes later I reconnect with Highway 39. My faith in convenience store clerks is also restored.
Most of the towns are in the valleys. Two miles before Springville I start down a major hill. I coast and coast and coast, half mile, one mile, one and half miles, I am gripping loosely on the brakes giving a little squeeze every few seconds, but I keep gaining speed. Twenty, twenty four, twenty eight. When I get over thirty four miles per hour, I clamp harder on the brakes.
I wouldn’t be so nervous if I could see what was ahead of me, but the road keeps winding and every turn is blind. I’m fearful of loose gravel, or someone pulling out of a driveway in front of me. With the top-heavy load on the back of my bike, my control is suspect. At least I figure when I get to the bottom of this hill I’ll be in Springville.
I’m wrong. Springville is beyond the next hill. I start climbing, wishing I’d preserved more momentum on the ride down. Now it’s really hot, and by the time I get to the final stretch, a half mile from the top of the hill, I’m exhausted and burning up. I shift to the lowest gear, but I’m going too slow and have to stop. The traffic is fierce and the shoulder is narrow. I’m afraid if I try to start on this hill I’ll fall over into traffic. I walk the bike the last quarter mile to the top of the hill. It takes nearly twenty minutes.
When I get to the top I can see the outskirts of Springville below, looking like an old western town with a single main street running through the middle. Instead of the general store and a saloon, I can see that this town has a Wal-Mart, a Pizza Hut, McDonalds and most every other fast food and franchise outlet.
When I get back to the room I call my parents. My Mom answers.
“Hi, Mom, it’s me.”
My Mom sounds good, but she always sounds good. I can never remember her being sick when I was growing up, and she is still in remarkably good health. Her hearing is not so good, and she has a tendency to ask the same question over and over again, but she still has a lot of energy. She asks the usual mom questions, like what am I eating, how’s the weather, am I being careful and then she yells for my father. “Ken, Leonard’s on the phone. Ken! Ken!” She’s the only one who calls me Leonard. I can hear my Dad pick up the phone in his office.
“Hyello,” he says, his voice raspy, but unmistakable. He says hello the same way he always has, with the emphasis on the first syllable.
My Mom’s ninety and my Dad’s eighty-nine. They met at Cornell before the war. My Dad and Mom grew up on farms in the area. During the War my Dad was a pilot and my Mom worked in an aircraft factory in Buffalo. They got married in 1945 and my Dad returned to work at a farm cooperative called Agway. For the first ten years of his career they moved about every two years, until Dad was made General Manager of the Western Division, with headquarters in Canandaigua. They stayed in Canandaigua for almost twenty years and my three sisters and I grew up there. We all graduated from the local high school, Canandaigua Academy, and my two older sisters married guys from there.
In 1972 Agway promoted my father to Vice President of Personnel and he moved to the corporate office in Syracuse. They sold the house in Canandaigua and built a new house in Skaneateles, where they still live. I was in college when they moved, so Skaneateles has never been my hometown, but perched on another one of the pristine, finger lakes, it’s a great place to live, or visit.
“Where are ya know?” Dad asks.
I tell him Springville and he knows all about it because it was part of Agway’s territory. He tells me what the road should be like on the way into Avon, my destination tomorrow.
On my last visit home, my dad decided that the trellis on the front of the house, which he built twenty years ago, needed to be rebuilt. I drove him to the lumber store so he could order the wood slats. He wanted them cut into pieces. He had written out exactly what he needed, but when he started to explain it to Herb, the counterman, he had trouble finding the right words. Dad’s losing some of his mental connections and it’s frustrating him. Herb didn’t understand Dad and he kept trying to talk to me - like I was in charge.
I wanted to say to Herb, “Don’t you know this guy drove our whole family to California and back, five thousand miles and with no Mapquest and HE never got lost. He knows how to use every tool you’ve got here and he’s forgotten more carpentry than you or I will ever know. Talk to him. Not me. I’m just the boy.” But I didn’t say that. Instead I asked Dad to show Herb his spec sheet and then Herb understood and we got the lumber ordered.
Now I tell Dad about making the wrong turn on the way to Clarion, but I don’t tell him about falling. He laughs, and I can see him shaking his head, wondering how anyone can mix up north and east.
“I’m staying at the Avon Inn tomorrow night. I should make it to Skaneateles by three on Wednesday,” I tell him. Actually I expect to be there well before three, but this way they won’t be looking for me for three hours. I hang up and take a short nap before heading out for dinner.
I’m not in Springville proper. My randomly selected hotel is in the outskirts of the village. It’s really a gigantic truck stop, with nothing but fast-food restaurants and discount outlets. I decide to try King’s Restaurant – a Chinese food buffet. A perfect choice. I have my own booth so I have room to write, they serve beer, and they have a great selection of appetizers, side dishes, entrees and most importantly, desserts.
My hostess/waitress is, to my surprise, really Chinese. I order a beer. She says, “Blue?” I don’t understand her. Then I figure out she’s asking if I want a Labatt’s Blue. I order a Tsing Tao and she brings me a Heineken because she doesn’t understand my Chinese any better than I understand her English.
I get back to the hotel, read for an hour and I’m asleep before ten.