Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Last Day - Avon, NY to Skaneateles, NY

Day Seven

Avon, NY to Skaneateles, NY

74 miles – 7 hours 8 minutes

I am up and carrying my bike down the Inn’s two flights of stairs by 5:30. There’s no one at the desk so I leave my key in mailbox. Another cool morning. I feel strong and I don’t stop until I’ve gone nearly fifteen miles.

I’m anxious to get to my boyhood home, Canandaigua. Located twenty miles from Rochester and forty miles west of Skaneateles, it was a great place to grow up. A small city, with a population of about twelve thousand, it was far enough away from Rochester to maintain its own identity and character and with its position at the north end of scenic Canandaigua Lake it was a popular summer resort location. There was a large amusement park called Roseland situated on the lakefront, which provided many Canandaigua teenagers with good times and summer jobs. The amusement park is long gone, having given way to more valuable lakefront developments.

When I’m three miles from the city limits I run into road construction. Not minor construction - total resurfacing. The asphalt has been stripped off and the road is cross-hatched with ridges. I reduce my speed to a crawl to minimize the teeth-rattling bumps. The sun is well up in the sky now, and I am breathing in the hot asphalt from the other side of the road where they are starting to resurface. There is hill after hill after hill. Why do they have to resurface the whole damn road at once? I endure the bumps and asphalt for over an hour until I reached the city limits.

At 9 A.M. I am, at last, rolling down Main Street. The downtown looks good, no empty stores like I’ve seen in some of the small towns, where downtown has been moved to the malls. When I get near the lake I stop for my second break at what used to be Red Jacket Park.

Canandaigua had some great parks. When I was a kid, in those easygoing years before high school, I would spend every summer day at Sonnenberg Park. We would play tether ball and jarts and Kiwanis sponsored a baseball league. Not as organized as little league, there were no parents involved, just a league director, Boone Baker, who organized the teams. At the end of the season Boone picked two all-star teams who played at Red Jacket Park under the lights. For that game we had real baseball uniforms with all-star baseball hats – red for one team, blue for the other.

I was the Alex Rodriquez of Kiwanis Little League. A perennial all-star each year, who flopped in the penultimate test – the Red-Blue Kiwanis All-Star Game. That is, until the summer before seventh grade.

The game was a pitchers’ duel with the score 0 to 0 through the first five innings of the six inning contest. I had struck out twice against Dick Buck when I came up to face him in the top of the sixth inning with two outs and no one on base. I was not a patient batter. I swung at Dick’s first pitch and hit it into left field, a line shot over the head of the four-foot tall third baseman, Billy Fox. The leftfielder that day was Jerry VanDamme. Jerry was not a perennial all-star. I think Boone added him to the team because Tommy Kautz had to go on a family vacation.

As Jerry raced towards the ball, his hat flew off. For some reason, that Jerry never shared with anyone, he turned and ran back to get his hat before proceeding to chase down my hit. The ball bounced past him all the way to the fence, which at Red Jacket park were set up for the adult softball league. I raced around the bases for a homerun. The Blues won the game 1 to 0.

Life is not always fair. That game should have been remembered as the game Len Joy won with a homerun in the sixth inning. But it wasn’t. My friends, especially one of my best friends, Jim Walsh, who was a catcher for the Red Team that day, made sure that that game was forever after known as the game where Jerry VanDamme ran after his hat instead of the ball.

Most of my friends have moved away. But Jim Walsh is still here - he runs a party supply store on the other side of town. I think about calling him, but I’m anxious to get to Skaneateles so I saddle up and head out.

Geneva, Waterloo, Seneca Falls, the towns that we played against in high school roll by in quick succession. As I leave Seneca Falls I check my watch. It’s eleven and I am ten miles from Auburn. I will be there at noon.

The hills have become steeper and more frequent. I enter the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge. I’ve driven through this area hundreds of times. A wetland, full of dead trees. I’ve never noticed before that it’s a steady uphill climb for over five miles. On the first day this climb would have exhausted me, but now I feel strong. I keep the bike in high gear.

Five miles from Auburn, I’m out of the refuge and riding through farm country again. On the opposite side of the road I see two dogs romping in the pasture next to their farmhouse. They spot me before I get to the farmhouse and run towards me, barking. To be safe, I speed up. Traffic in the opposite direction is steady so I expect that the dogs, who have undoubtedly lived next to that road all their lives, will know better than to run across the highway. There is a milk tanker heading in the opposite direction. I’m past the farmhouse before the dogs make it to the road. The golden retriever in the lead has already stopped running, but the black and white retriever is still going full bore. I can hear the dog barking and then the truck races past me heading west and the barking stops in mid-bark. I don’t hear a whine or a thump, nothing. I slow down, but I don’t look back. I don’t want to know.

I am to the city limits of Auburn. The highway remains four lanes, but there are no shoulders and the curbs are two feet high with a fence on each side. The highway bypasses the commercial sector so most of the traffic is trucks. There’s a gas tanker in front of me and I can hear a large truck behind me, close. Traffic is slow and I try to keep distance between me and the tanker in front.

Now the traffic is stopped for a light. I slow down and it feels like the truck behind is right on my tire. The light turns green so I know the tanker will be moving and I won’t have to stop and then start again on this cramped street. But the tanker doesn’t move. I’m thirty yards behind it, going as slow as I can, then twenty, then fifteen, then five. I have to stop. I squeeze the brakes and kick my right heel out to disengage my foot from the pedal clip. It’s stuck again. I can feel the heat from the truck behind me and there’s no room to the side of the tanker so I stop the bike and go down. Hard. Falling to my right. The impact knocks off my chain, and my pack. It also frees my foot. I get to my feet and drag the bike out of the way. Blood is flowing from my elbow, and it really hurts, but mostly I’m thinking that I’ve crashed with five miles to go on a five hundred mile trip. I don’t want to have to call my sister for help. I’m wondering how long it will take to walk the rest of the way.

The trucker who was behind me stops and yells from his cab, “You all right?” I nod my head. A woman in a station wagon is behind him with a car full of kids. “Do you want some help?” I tell her I think I’ll be alright. It’s an instinctive, shock-response. I don’t know what I am at the moment. I drag the bike off the highway onto the residential street that runs parallel.

A man walks out of the café on the corner and asks me if I want to use the washroom to clean up. I tell him I don’t want to mess up the place and he sees I’m bleeding.

“Stay here, I’ll get some towels.”

He returns with a handful of paper towels and several band-aids. I wipe off my arm and then he puts on three bandages.

I tell him I appreciate his help.

“No problem. I work in the seniors’ home, and those old folks are always falling down. I do this all the time.” I wait for him to say I’m far younger than his usual patient, but he doesn’t.

I assess the damage. The frame holding my pack is loose, but easy to fix. The chain has been knocked off, but there isn’t any damage to the bike, just to my elbow and my confidence. I ride up the hill to Genesee Street. There’s major road construction on Genesee. Buses, cars and construction equipment everywhere. I ride a block. I practice taking my foot out of the pedal and it sticks each time I try. I ride another block with my foot out of the clip. There’s too much traffic, too much construction and I am heading up a hill that looks like a twenty degree incline. I get off and start walking.

Pushing a bike with a heavy pack on it up a hill is not easy. And with bike shoes, that have a little cleat right in the middle of the sole, it’s even more difficult and uncomfortable. I walk the bike for over half an hour before I am free of downtown. I take a Gatorade break in front of one of the Auburn churches and psyche myself for the final leg of the journey.

Skaneateles is still five miles away.

I has taken me nearly ninety minutes to get through Auburn. My elbow throbs. The hills between Auburn and Skaneateles are the steepest since Pennsylvania. I come down off the first hill and looming in the distance is a hill that seems to rise to the sky. I take another break. I’ve gone two miles since my last break. I stare at the hill and it seems insurmountable. I tell myself to stay focused on the next fifty yards.

I pedal down the hill instead of coasting and when I hit the uphill I’m going twenty-five. I keep my head down and concentrate on my pedaling. I downshift, but keep the bike in the touring gears. When I finally look up, I’m close to the crest. My leg muscles are burning, my elbow’s killing me and I’m very hot and thirsty, but I’ve made it through the first hill. Three more to go. I take a break for fifteen minutes. Then I attack the next hill using the same approach. When I get to the top I rest again. Just two more hills.

I feel invigorated as I attack the next hill. The farms are looking more familiar. I can spot a large sign at the top that looks just like the sign for the Hilltop Restaurant, but I know that it is on the next hill over, the one that guards the outskirts to Skaneateles. I keep pedaling and as the sign comes into focus, I realize it is the Hilltop sign. This is the last hill. I’ve made it.

I laugh and feel like shouting, but I’m not a shouting type person. My eyes feel moist, even though I’m not a crying type person either. I coast down the hill, past Rosalie’s Cucina, past the cemetery, to the intersection of 41A. I turn right. Two minutes later I roll into my parents’ driveway. I am home.


I call Suzanne to let her know I made it. She’s relieved, but not surprised. After visiting with my folks, taking a shower and having a late lunch, I call Bob. More times that not over the last year, I end up getting his voicemail, but this time he picks up. I tell him I arrived safely.

“Okay, tell me again, how far did you go?” he asks.

“About five hundred miles.”

There is silence on the line. Then, “By yourself?”

I tell him about the crash in Auburn.

“You could have gotten yourself killed. But you can brag about it later. When are we going to that Cubs game?”

“I’ve got tickets for August 4th.”

“Okay, I suppose I owe you a beer. Maybe two. Very impressive. But you are crazy. You know that, right?”


On July 30th, the Sunday before Bob and I were going to that Cubs game, I was resting at home, having just taken second place for my age group in the Glenview Triathlon. My average speed on the bike leg had been over twenty – a four mile per hour improvement. After conquering the hills and mountains of Pennsylvania and New York and after sustaining myself on rides of seven, eight and nine hours, I knew I had reserves of energy to tap. I was two minutes behind the first place finisher and I was plotting where and how I could catch that guy next time out when the phone rang.

It was Bob’s wife, Pat. She was crying.

“Len, I’m at the hospital. Bob was out hiking this morning,” she told me. It had been brutally hot all week, with temperatures and humidity in the nineties. In the twenty-five years I had known Bob, Pat had never called me.


Wednesday, August 1, 1984

Cubs are half a game out of first place. Today they’re playing the Phillies and future hall-of-famer Steve Carlton is pitching for the Phils. Bob says we HAVE to go to the game. We leave work at noon, take the Red line to Addison. Monty the ticket-scalper wants thirty bucks for upper-deck reserved.

“We want field boxes,” Bob tells him. “I want to see the zits on Carlton’s chin.”

Monty shuffles through his wad of tickets, “Here you go. Hundred, worth every penny,” he says.

“A hunny. Oh man Pat’s going to kill me,” Bob says, but he doesn’t pause as he pulls out his wallet and hands Monty two crisp hundred dollar bills.

We’re in the fifth row behind the Phillies dugout on the third base side. Carlton has no zits on his chin, just an overpowering fastball. He’s leading three to nothing until Ryno hits one on to Waveland to lead off the fourth. Then Cey leads off the fifth with a homerun to center and we’re only down by one. In the sixth, Moreland hits the first pitch into the rightfield bleachers and then the pitcher Ruthven singles off Carlton to score Ron Cey from second. The Cubs lead 4-3 and they take out Carlton.

If we win this game we’ll be in first place, but the Phillies score to tie the game again. It’s four to four heading into the bottom of the ninth.

Henry Cotto leads off the inning with a double. They walk Ryno and then Gary Matthews hits an infield single to load the bases with nobody out. Everyone’s on their feet. Jody Davis hits a fly ball to deep center. Henry scores.

Bob is screaming, “Cubs win! Cubs win! He pounds me on the back. “We beat Steve Carlton. First place!” He turns and high-fives Agnes and Milt, season ticketholders from Berwyn, who have the seats behind us.

Nobody leaves the park. We’re all yelling, “First place”, and the guys in the centerfield bleachers are pointing at the flagpole where the team pennants are displayed according to the standings. The blue Cubs pennant is in second position behind the orange flag of the hated Mets. A guy in a Cubs windbreaker crawls out the walkway to the flagpole. The crowd gets even louder as he pulls down the pennants.

“Here it comes. Here it comes,” Bob is yelling in my ear. Slowly the string of pennants is sliding back up the pole. The Cubs pennant is on top. I can’t hear my own cheers. My throat hurts.

We sit back down and drink our beer - it’s no longer cold and has gone flat. Tastes great. The sun is warm on our backs. We breathe in the sweet smells of nachos and cotton candy and sweat. The crowd starts to disperse but still we stay. We have things to do, places to go. But not today. The Cubs are in first place and we have all the time in the world.


In Memory of Bob Russell

(June 22, 1946- July 30, 2006)


Monday, October 26, 2009

Day 6: Springville, NY to Avon, NY

Day 6

Springville, NY to Avon, NY

67 miles – 6 hours 38 minutes

I pull out of the Microtel parking lot at 5:30, determined to get to Avon before the heat becomes unbearable. The road is quiet and peaceful - the truck drivers must be having their morning coffee. I hear a clicking sound. I look around hoping it is not my bike, because my wife was sort of right about my repair skills, which are pretty much limited to changing a tire, and I am not very good at that. The sound is coming from the bike. I dismount and stare at the tire – sort of like I do when there’s a problem with my car and I lift the hood and stare at the engine, hoping it will tell me what’s wrong.

I remount and ride slowly through the parking lot of McDonalds looking down at the tire. The sun has not risen, so there’s not much light. Click……click……click. I see something. I dismount. The magnet that is attached to one of the spokes, which is how the speedometer works (every revolution it engages another magnet on the wheel frame) has twisted slightly so it’s hitting the frame on each revolution. I twist it back into place. The clicking goes away.

I start again and try to shift into a higher gear. The gears clang and rattle and the chain refuses to shift. I keep pedaling, out of the McDonalds parking lot into the Pizza Hut parking lot. I shift the front wheel gears from the small cog to the big cog and back. I don’t know what that is supposed to do, but it works. The bike shifts into gear. I have made two repairs in less than five minutes. I am a bike repair genius.

There are many hills leaving Springville, but they are modest. As I approach Geneseo, I spot the signs for the state university. I remember in grade school all of our student teachers were from Geneseo State Teacher’s college. The school is still there, but now it’s SUNY-Geneseo. When I was in the fourth grade, we started the year with Miss Donna, who I remember as being very tall and very pretty – light brown hair, wrapped up in some fancy tuck and a warm, friendly smile. Some of the boys and girls in our class would stay after school and she would play her records and show us how to dance. She smelled really good.

As I ride by the college I work out the math. I was in fourth grade in 1960, and Miss Donna was a senior in college, I figure her to be twenty-one, so today she would be sixty-six. Probably a retired grandmother.

One mile before Geneseo, as I start down a long hill that leads into the town, I hear, “pffft”, which sounds sort of like air escaping from a tire. I dismount and sure enough my rear tire is flat. There’s a convenient triangle of grass about twenty yards ahead of me where three roads intersect. I wheel my bike to the grass patch and unpack.

I actually thought to buy a spare tire before I left. It’s not quite eleven A.M. and I’m only eight miles from Avon. I take my time and an hour later I’ve successfully replaced the tire, repacked my gear and gotten back on the road.

At noon I arrive at US 20, a major highway that runs through New York State parallel to the New York State Thruway, from Buffalo to Albany. New York must be using some of those high taxes my dad is always complaining about on their highways, because it seems like every road I have been on since entering the state has been recently resurfaced.

I turn east and drive through Avon to the venerable Avon Inn. The Inn, built in 1820, has seen better days. A huge colonial mansion, it has a long, steep stairway leading to a covered porch. I park my bike and walk through a deserted and hot hallway to the reception desk. There’s no one around. Finally a woman returns to the desk. She explains there are not many visitors and that she will be leaving at 9 P.M. She gives me a key to my room and the front door, and tells me if I’m out after nine I will need to use that key to get in the front door. I have the feeling I’m the only guest.

The room has a window air conditioner which is not turned on. The room temperature is about eighty degrees. The room is huge, with a large four poster bed. The carpeting was probably new in the seventies – a royal blue shag, like we had in our college dorm rooms. In fact the room looks a lot like a fraternity room, but it doesn’t smell of a beer. There is a small portable television with rabbit ears antennae. I half expect it to be black and white, but it has color on all three channels.

I have one clean white golf shirt which I have saved for my final night, I guess figuring Avon would be a big party spot. I take a long shower hoping the room will have cooled off by the time I’m done. It hasn’t. I put on my clean shirt and head out looking to have a late lunch. There’s a park west of the Inn and some boys have set up a grill and are selling hot dogs and soda and chips. I buy a couple of hot dogs and a soda and sit down in the park. I take one bite of the hot dog and the mustard squirts on to my shirt.

After a short nap, I call my sister Kendra. I’m worried about getting through Auburn tomorrow. If I leave early I’m still going to end up hitting Auburn at the noon rush hour. The downtown section is not bike-friendly, so I want to see if there is a route I can take around the city. After conferring with her husband, we conclude there’s no easy way to avoid the city.

“Be careful,” she says, “I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

At six P.M. I head back out looking for a restaurant. There are three bordering the park, but they are all out of business. Downtown Avon is struggling. I go into a bar, but they don’t sell food. The bartender recommends an Irish sports bar at the bottom of the hill.

I walk down the hill and sit at the bar. I order a bottle of Genesee Cream Ale, the beer I drank in college at Rochester, and the burger basket with Irish fries - very similar to french fries, but with vinegar. I’m back at the room by eight. I pack my bike and go to bed. Tomorrow I’ll be home.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Day 5 - Warrenville, PA to Springville, NY

Day Five

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.

A half hour later I spot the sign welcoming me to New York State. A real welcome sign. I’m flooded with memories of those long ago road trips to visit my grandmothers and aunts, uncles and cousins. Even though I have not lived in New York for thirty years I feel like I am home.

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 stop for Gatorade in Gowanda. I’m fourteen miles from Springville. I abandon my plan not to talk to the convenience store clerks when the cute girl behind the counter asks me where I am going. I tell her Springville, and she nods and tells me to take a right at the bottom of the hill and follow it for a mile. She says it will cut out one major hill.

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.

I arrive at the Microtel Inn, an economy franchise hotel, just after one P.M. The lobby a/c is wonderfully icy cold. The room is new and comfortable. I shower and grab a burger at McDonald’s.

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.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Day 4 - Franklin, PA to Warren, PA

Day Four

Franklin, PA to Warren, PA

65 miles – 6 hours 2 minutes

(Three years ago I came up with this idea that it would be fun to ride my bike from my home to my parent’s home in Skaneateles, New York. Later I wrote a story about that adventure which I hoped to have published. I haven’t been able to find a publisher for the story so I decided to share it with the world through my blog. This is the fifth of nine installments.)

There are voices in the hall. Loud whispers and someone fumbling with the lock. A woman giggles. The clock radio above the television shows 5:24 A.M. I try to go back to sleep, but I keep thinking about those mountains. After thirty minutes of torture I get up. I decide to try one of my nutrition-packed power bars, for the extra energy. The bar tastes like sawdust, but not as good. I toss it after three bites.

I have finally figured out that I don’t need to detach the bungee cords when I remove my pack. This saves ten minutes of struggle in the morning. I wheel my bike down to the front desk and by 6:15 I’m heading down Liberty Street. I’m grateful for Dan’s instructions because there’s no one on the streets of Franklin this early on a Sunday morning to ask for help.

I find the path without difficulty, but it’s foggy and I’ve made so many turns I’m confused as to what direction I’m supposed to go. I get off the bike and try to scientifically figure out which direction is north. I look at the river, remembering from earth science class that most rivers flow north to south. I start riding upstream. Ten minutes later I spot an arrow pointing in the direction I’m headed with “Oil City” printed underneath it, proving once again the value of a good high school education.

The path is smooth and the ride surreal. The fog hangs onto the river keeping the air moist and cool. In thirty minutes I’m in Oil City. The bike path ends and dumps me back on a neighborhood street. Again, I don’t know which way to go. I pedal a few blocks and spot a man out walking his dog. I ask him how to get to 62 and he tells me I’m on it.

Minutes later, outside of Oil City I encounter a steep hill that winds back and forth and back again, but keeps going up. I have a feeling of near despair as I reach the summit. I’m worn out and I have sixty miles to go. How many more hills will there be?

I stop at a gas station and buy more Gatorade. The kid at the counter asks me how far I’m riding. I tell him Warren. He gives me a look like, “Why would anyone ride a bike there?” I make a note to myself not to talk to any more convenience store guys.

I start up the next hill and it looks even more intimidating than the last one. It really is a mountain. I think about my spinning class and all of those focus techniques Marisa promoted for getting through the rough spots.

“Focus on a spot in front of you. Relax your arms, your shoulders, your feet. Tense muscles drain your energy,” she would exhort us as we pedaled our stationary spinning bikes to the sounds of Blondie or Donna Summer.

I stare at a spot ten feet in front of my bike. I take a muscle inventory. My shoulders are tense, my teeth are clenched, and my toes are curled up in my shoes as I muscle my way up the hill. I make myself relax, which actually works. I unwind my toes and loosen my shoulders and I can feel a surge of strength to my pedaling muscles. I am up and over the hill, still going strong.

The hills flatten out. Rolling hills with easy ups and downs. Outside of West Hickory I pull over next to a wood cabin that is set up just off the river. The guy there has a boat house and a long expanse of well-tended lawn. He’s sitting on his dock enjoying the quiet of a cool Sunday morning. There are no sounds, except for a few birds talking to each other. I take my first pictures since leaving Columbus. It’s impossible to take pictures while I’m riding and when I stop to rest, all I want to do is rest. But this morning it feels great to be out on the bike.

The road crosses over to the east side of the Alleghany River and then a few miles later back to the west side and then twenty miles farther upriver it switches back again. I ride through a succession of small river towns. For most of the ride I am shaded and cool. As I approach Warren the highway leaves the river. By the time I reach Starbrick, about ten miles from Warren, it is even hotter than the previous two days. When I arrive at the Warren Tourist Center on the outskirts of the town, the temperature is one hundred degrees.

I get directions for the Holiday Inn and ten minutes later I’m at the entrance. I park my bike at the front door and walk into the lobby. The lobby is hot- at least eighty degrees. The desk clerks don’t look very happy. I have managed to arrive before one P.M and my room is not ready. They tell me I can wait in the lobby.

Folks are arriving for Sunday brunch. The first thing they see as they enter the sweltering lobby is a hot, sweaty guy in bike shorts. The desk personnel seem to grasp the lack of marketing appeal I am generating. They wave me back to the desk. They have found a room. I ask if it has air conditioning. They assure me everything but the lobby has a/c.

The room is newly furnished and not a hint of smoke. I shower and stroll across the street to the Perkins Family Restaurant for my own Sunday brunch. I have eggs benedict and pancakes and finish everything.

I call home and Christie, who is sixteen, answers.

“Hi Dad,” she says. She’s been playing in an AYSO tournament for high school girls all week.

“How did you guys do yesterday?” I ask.


I had read an article by one of those childrearing gurus - those guys that seem to have all of the answers, but I’m convinced don’t have any real kids – who said to get your kids to talk, you need to ask them questions that can’t be answered with a yes or no.

“What was the score?” I ask.

“Four to nothing,” she says.

“Hey that’s great. I thought you said you guys weren’t going to win any games.”

“We lost. Nicole bought ten pairs of jeans.”

I hear Nicole yelling in the background, “Shut up Christie.” And then a door slams.


“Hi Dad.”

“Can I talk to Nicole.”

“She just left with Mom to go shopping. Mom’s making her take back some of the jeans. How’s your ride going? Did you get lost today?”

I will be hearing about that wrong turn for the next ten years.

Christie’s soccer coach shows up to take her to her game so I don’t get a chance to tell her how I conquered several “mountains” today. I hang up and turn on the television. The Yankee game is on and I watch until they show the Cubs score. The Mets set some kind of record scoring ten runs against the Cubs in one inning. I turn off the television and take a nap.

At six P.M. I head out looking for a restaurant. The restaurants in the Holiday Inn are all suffering from a lack of a/c so I walk down the street. Nothing much is opened on Sunday night. I find a small Italian family-style restaurant. Dark and comfy, but the air conditioner is working full-blast and losing the battle as the outside temperature is still hovering around one hundred degrees.

My waitress is a wiry fortysomething, with dyed-red hair and boundless energy. She tells me the specials and the prices for each. She’s genuinely friendly and checks back several times to make sure I’m doing okay as I enjoy my Bud Light and their special prime rib dinner.

One of the pleasures of dining alone is studying the other customers. At the table to my left there is a man in his late sixties with a portable oxygen system. He’s with his adult son who’s wearing a robin’s egg blue tee-shirt with a message “Can you hear me now?” and a figure of a hand giving the finger. He has on royal blue shorts with the shirt tucked into them and knee-high black socks with black high top sneakers, thick glasses and to complete the look, a bad comb-over. When he walks out his arms sort of flop at his sides.

At the table in front of me are two men in their forties. They’re wearing jeans and polo shirts and have a workingmen’s tan, like they might work construction. They’ve got a pitcher of beer and are talking quietly and joking with the waitress. They have an easy familiarity and I can tell they’re all old friends. When she brings their second pitcher, she joins them, and one of the guys puts his arm around her. They all laugh.

For the last two decades Bob and I and a few of our friends would meet at a bar in Chicago called Alcocks. We’d celebrate the success of the Bulls and complain about the ineptitude of the Bears and the Cubs and refuse to acknowledge the existence of the White Sox or the Blackhawks. We’d discuss Bob’s stupid, juvenile, hopelessly naïve political positions and candidates, and we’d brag about the accomplishments of our wives and children. Okay, sometimes we complained about them, too. But only the kids, never the wives.

For a number of years I had a second home in Arizona for business. Bob figured out his beloved “Oregon Ducks” played football in Arizona every other year, either in Tucson or Phoenix, and that it was a lot easier for him to get to Arizona than Oregon, so if I was in Arizona on the weekend they were playing Bob would come out for the game.

The first time he visited, the Ducks were playing U of A in Tucson. I was nervous about going to a game with seventy thousand rapid, redneck Arizona fans and one rabid, wacky Duck fan who was a wearing a baseball hat with a duckbill for a visor and carrying his duck horn with a planto blast every time the mighty Ducks scored.

But fortunately for me the Ducks played the worst game in college football history and by the 3rd quarter they were losing fifty-two to nothing. We left the game.

Bob wanted to go to one of the casinos in the area. Arizona has a number of them on the reservations. Bob is the world’s worst poker player so I was concerned he would lose a lot of money if he got in to one of those casino poker games.

But when we got there, Bob made a bee-line for the roulette table. He bought a hundred dollars of chips, all one dollar chips because he liked to have a big stack. There are many different bets you can place on a roulette table: odd-even; black-red, single number; combination of numbers; One option is to bet a column of numbers, such as 1, 4,7,10. That gives you a 1 in 3 chance of winning.

Bob arranged his chips into piles of twenty-five. He took one pile and placed it on Column 1. But he wasn’t done. He took a second pile and placed it on column 2. And then he took a third pile and placed it on column 3. He bet on all of the numbers so he couldn’t lose. I pointed out to him that couldn’t win either, but he didn’t care. He said he liked having the roulette gal handing him his winning chips after every spin of the wheel.

But what was even odder was that after a half hour of this everyone at the table was his best friend and he had them convinced he was a roulette genius. The Bob magic at work.

Bob’s consulting work the last three years has kept him on the road most of the year. The game that we’re going to next month will be our first Cubs game of the year. He has a new granddaughter, the Cubs and White Sox are both floundering and Bush is on the ropes. I won’t get a word in edgewise. And I won’t care.

The temperature outside is still in the nineties as I walk back to the Holiday Inn. Three days left.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Day 3 - Columbiana, OH to Franklin, PA

Day Three

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Columbiana, Ohio to Franklin, PA

70 miles – 9 hours 7 minutes

(Three years ago I came up with this idea that it would be fun to ride my bike from my home to my parent’s home in Skaneateles, New York. Later I wrote a story about that adventure which I hoped to have published. I haven’t been able to find a publisher for the story so I decided to share it with the world through my blog. This is the fourth of nine installments.)

The alarm wakes me at 5:15 A.M. I don’t even think about turning it off. I shower and pack my gear. I try to re-create the bungee-wrapping configuration, but can’t seem to get it right. Finally I secure the pack and head for the lobby.

The morning is cloudy and cool. There was a wild thunderstorm in the night and the road is wet and the air smells like it has been freshly scrubbed. My destination today is Clarion, Pennsylvania, eighty miles east. This will be my longest ride of the trip. I study the Mapquest directions. The first twenty miles are all back country roads, fifteen different legs. For the first half hour I’m all alone. Then I turn on to Lipply Road, which is barely paved and there is a black man fishing with his grandson in a small pond. I can hear the birds now and the world seems to be waking up. I am hopeful that the truckers who roar by with lumber and milk and gasoline will be resting for the weekend.

I cross into Pennsylvania and enter Newcastle before eight. I turn on to PA Highway 168, which I will be on for the next twenty miles. The road winds through Newcastle, left and then right and then left again, like it’s trying to lose me. Before I leave Newcastle I buy four more bottles of Gatorade and squeeze them under the bungee cords holding my pack. Outside of the town, Highway 168 is very much a back-road, paved, but not well-traveled – perfect for biking. My odometer indicates I have traveled twenty-two miles - eighteen miles until my next turn.

I am cruising along at fifteen miles per hour. I should be in Clarion before one. The sun burns off the clouds, but the temperature rises slowly. I hit the forty mile mark and just as expected highway 168 ends. But there’s something wrong. I’m supposed to be in Elliot Mills, turning on to William Flynn Highway. But I have run into US 19 and I can see Interstate 80, which bisects Pennsylvania east to west, three hundred yards north of me. It’s not supposed to be there.

I cross US 19 and continue riding on an unmarked road hoping I run into the William Flynn Highway. The road narrows and starts winding up and around a dense forest. A family has parked by the side of the road to enjoy the view. They’re tourists from Ohio. They show me on their map that I’m about three miles south of Mercer, which means for the last twenty miles I have been going due north instead of east. I ask them how to get to Clarion, but they don’t know.

The noon-day sun is at full strength. I ride back to US 19. There’s BP gas station on the other side of I-80. I hope they’ll have a map and someone that can help me re-plan my route. The intersection of the interstate and US 19 is under construction. Asphalt is being poured and there’s a major traffic jam, with frustrated weekend travelers and construction vehicles everywhere. The air reeks of hot asphalt. There’s no bike lane. It takes me fifteen minutes to navigate across the eight lane highway. There are two sixteen year old girls on duty at the BP Mini-Mart. Sort of on duty. They’re talking on their cellphones. I find a map and ask the one who’s playing cashier if she knows what road I should take to get to Clarion. She gives me a blank look. I ask her what road other than I-80 I can take to go east, but she acts like I’m not speaking English. I start to get annoyed, but then I remember driving my daughters to their friends’ homes and how they could never tell me whether the house was north or south of a certain street. And of course I have just traveled twenty miles north when I thought I was going east.

“Can you tell me where we are now?” I ask her as I start to open my map, hoping she might be able to pinpoint our location.

Before I can get it open, she says “Mercer. That’ll be five dollars for the map.”

I give up and go outside. I take a seat next to the ice machine and study the map. A man wearing a John Deere hat is filling his pickup.

“Where ya headed?” he asks. I explain my situation. He looks at my map. I tell him my ultimate destination is upstate New York.

“Then you ought to take US 62. That goes all the way to Buffalo. You should be able to make it to Franklin, that’s only about thirty miles.” He shows it to me on the map. “Of course, you’ll run into some mountains up here,” he says pointing to the red highway line that is running into Franklin, “but not much way to avoid them.”

He said mountains. And thirty miles. I don’t want to hear that. I don’t know if I can make it thirty miles through these hills. I thank him for his help.

As he starts to drive off he says, “Watch out for those trucks. They don’t pay much mind to bikes.”

One P.M. I head north on US 19 which will intersect with US 62 in downtown Mercer. Mercer’s built on the side of a hill. A steep hill. There’s some kind of summer sidewalk sale going on and the main street is crowded with people. Traffic is heavy. I’m pedaling uphill with a panel truck in front of me and a big pickup right behind me. We move up the hill slowly. I’m trying to maintain my speed and time the lights so I won’t have to keep stopping and starting. The light ahead of me has been red a long time. Finally it changes, but the panel truck does not move. I have to stop. I squeeze the brakes and disengage my right foot from the pedal. I kick out my left heel to release my foot, but the bike shoe doesn’t release. The bike falls to the left, and with my shoe stuck, I can’t break my fall.

My left elbow smashes into the pavement. I’m on the ground staring at the wheels of the pickup behind me. I still have thirty miles to travel, I don’t know where I’m going, it’s ninety degrees and insufferably humid, my elbow’s bleeding and my bike has been messed up. I hope this is the low point of my trip.

I wheel my bike on to the sidewalk, among all the shoppers. No one asks me if I’m hurt or offers any assistance. I guess it’s a really good sidewalk sale, or maybe I look scarier than I realize.

US 62 is, as promised, a well-paved, busy highway that seems to be going up a whole lot more than down. I resume my five-miles-and-rest strategy. I’m drinking a bottle of Gatorade every thirty minutes. Every town I enter I’m on the lookout for a convenience store where I can restock.

Five miles out of Mercer, and twenty-five miles from Franklin, I take out my cellphone to see if I can find a hotel. I look again at the map and I see there’s a town called Sandy Lake ten miles closer than Franklin. I imagine myself sitting in a lounge chair enjoying a cold beer, or maybe a margarita this time, on the pristine sandy beach that must certainly border Sandy Lake. I dial 411 and ask for information on hotels in Sandy Lake. There are none. I try the next town over, Polk. Same story. So I ask about Franklin. They have a Quality Inn. They connect me and Lucy tells me they have one room left, due to the Franklin High Class of 1981 twenty-fifth high school reunion taking place that evening. It’s a smoking room. I grab it.

Two hours later and nine hours after I left Columbiana, I arrive at the Franklin Quality Inn. Four P.M. I ride up in the elevator with a couple from the Class of ’81. They’re busy getting reacquainted and don’t seem to mind sharing the crowded elevator with a very sweaty, smelly guy and his bike. We all get off on the eighth floor. The smoking floor. The corridor has a smoky odor, but it’s nothing compared to my room, which smells like the office of a three-pack-a-day smoker. I try not to breathe too much. I want to open a window, figuring the ninety degree humidity would be better, but they’re all sealed.

I take a long shower and then spread my roadmaps out on the bed. As long as I am willing to stick to the major highways, my new route is simple. I can take US 62 through the rest of Pennsylvania right into western New York, practically all the way to US 20, which runs right through Skaneateles.

I call home and Suzanne answers. She’s been talking with her brother about their mother who is in a nursing home in Indianapolis. Her mom has been taken to the hospital. She has osteoporosis and her brother, who’s a cardiologist, thinks she might have pneumonia. She’s having trouble breathing and can barely speak.

Suzanne and her mother have always had a wonderful relationship. Suzanne has been a great daughter. They talk every week, sometimes several times a week. They both have a gift for conversation. (Who says I can’t be diplomatic?). For the thirty-five years I’ve known Suzanne, she’s been her Mom’s biggest fan and I know her mom is justifiably proud of her daughter.

Suzanne’s a third-generation Japanese-American. Her parents were disciplined about school and the importance of getting good grades and putting forth maximum effort. Suzanne was an excellent student, made the law review at the University of Chicago and became a successful corporate attorney for a large law firm. Now she’s a senior attorney for BP.

She’s a problem solver and she wants to solve her mom’s problem. I want to tell her there is no solution, but I don’t. I think she knows at some level of her sub-conscious that her Mom is dying. That she’s not going to get better. That there really is nothing she can do.

We talk for awhile and I tell her about getting lost in Pennsylvania. I skip the part about crashing. She tells me her bible group is praying for me. Then she says, “They were surprised that I let you go.”

“They were?” I ask. I don’t say “You let me go?”, but I’m thinking it.

“Yes. They thought it was maybe a little reckless of you to go off by yourself. But I told them you had made meticulous plans and were an experienced rider.” Then she laughs, “I didn’t tell them you can’t read a map.”

She hands the phone to Nicole who is still on the couch. “Cubs won today. 9 to 2. Zambrano pitched.”

I ask her to go online and find a list of hotels in Warren, Pennsylvania, and Springville and Avon, New York. She thinks it’s funny I got lost. She finds a couple of options in each town. I make the new reservations and cancel the old ones. I can still make it home in seven days.

After a two hour rest I venture out to find a place for dinner. It’s Saturday night so I wear my only collared shirt and the clean khaki shorts I have saved for special occasions. My hotel is on Liberty Street at the end of the five block commercial section of Franklin. The town is neat and clean and the downtown looks like it has been completely rehabbed in the last ten years. There are many small boutiques, but there doesn’t appear to be any restaurants other than pizza parlors.

The temperature is still over ninety, but it feels good to walk, so I stroll the entire five blocks. At the very end of the fifth block I come to Bella Cucina, a storefront bistro with white tablecloths and a beer garden. Surprisingly, there are people sitting outside enjoying the beer garden despite the temperature. I’ve had enough hours in the sun so I go inside. The restaurant’s half-filled, but the hostess/owner says she expects a busy night. When I tell her I’m dining alone her smile fades into a tight thin line. I can see she doesn’t want to tie up one of her few couples’ tables. At the back of the restaurant there’s a gleaming mahogany bar being tended by a blonde in a tight-fitting Bella Cucina tee-shirt. I suggest to the hostess that I could eat at the bar. She rediscovers her smile and says that’s a great idea.

The bartender’s name is Raquel. I can tell from all of the instruction she is getting from the waitresses that this is her first day bartending. She has to take care of all of the drink orders for the tables. I watch as she tries to make a margarita. I decide this is not a good day to switch from beer. I order a Stella Artois because this is an Italian restaurant. Raquel does a very good job of pouring the beer. The beer is cold, and it tastes like a beer that I have waited twenty-four hours for. I savor it.

I watch as the waitresses hustle by with the food orders. The entrees are artistically presented and the portions are huge. The heat and the exercise have killed my appetite so instead of an entrée, I order an appetizer, lobster quesadillas. Raquel brings me four large quesadillas made with red and blue corn tortillas. The lobster goes well with the Mexican seasonings and the fresh tortillas. I can only finish two.

The restaurant has filled up with all of those Class of ‘81 folks. A crew-cut husky guy in khakis and a white golf shirt comes in with his trim, blonde wife. They take the two seats to my left. They’re in their thirties, too young to be part of the reunion class. They introduce themselves as Dan and Marge.

Dan orders a beer and asks Marge what she wants.

“I don’t know. I was thinking a beer, but then I was thinking maybe a whiskey sour.”

“I’d go with a beer,” I tell him. “New bartender.”

“Ah,” he nods. “Thanks.” Then he looks over at the woman who has sat down to my right. “Hi Verna. When’d you get back?”

She’s about my age, long grey hair, pinned back, no make-up. She has an artistic look about her.

“A few months ago. Couldn’t take all the rain in Seattle. How you guys doing? Hi Marge.”

Marge looks over surprised and then jumps up like woman do and gives Verna a hug. “Where ya living, now?” she asks.

Verna turns to her friend, who is built sort of like Dan and has short-cropped hair. She doesn’t look so artistic, but she has a nice, shy smile. “You know Jane, don’t you.”

After Marge settles down, Verna starts talking to Jane about a party she is preparing for her mother. I’m normally a keep-my-mouth-shut-at-the-bar kind of guy, but I think these eight hour days on the bike with no one to share my profound thoughts have made me more talkative than normal.

“We gave my mom a 90th birthday party this spring,” I tell her.

She’s interested and we talk about the gift of having our parents still with us.

“I am so grateful. My mom has lived long enough for us to both appreciate each other,” she says.

She asks where I’m from and I tell her about the bike trip. Her friend Jane is a serious cyclist.

“Take the bike path to Oil City. It’s a great ride and it’ll keep you off 62 for the first five miles,” she says.

It’s more of a command than a suggestion, but it sounds good to me. Dan borrows a paper placemat from Raquel and sketches a perfect-to-scale map of how to get to the bike path.

I decide to skip the desserts, even though they look great, especially the crème brulee’. I say goodbye to my new friends and return to the hotel.

Tomorrow will be the most mountainous part of my trip. As I drift off to sleep I worry about those hills and pray that the big trucks take the weekend off.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Riding Home - Day 2

(Three years ago I came up with this idea that it would be fun to ride my bike from my home to my parent’s home in Skaneateles, New York. Later I wrote a story about that adventure which I hoped to have published. I haven’t been able to find a publisher for the story so I decided to share it with the world through my blog. This is the third of nine installments.)

Day Two

Friday, July 14, 2006

Wooster to Columbiana, Ohio

72 miles – 7 hours 30 minutes

The alarm goes off at five A.M. Outside it is still dark so I decide an extra half hour of sleep will do me good. The next thing I know it’s seven A.M and the sun is definitely up. I jump out of bed and start gathering all my stuff. I take all the heavy items – shoes, tools, bike lock and put them in the shoebox carrier. Then I cram all my clothes in the backpack. I put on my shoes and helmet and grab the backpack and walk the bike outside. The parking lot is steaming.

I have two bungee cords, which I bought on impulse the day before I left. You never know when you might need a bungee cord. I prop the bike against my thigh and set the backpack on top of the shoebox. I reach for the bungee cords, but the front wheel jackknifes and the bike falls to the ground. I grab the bungee cords, hook them to the carrier, place the backpack on top of the shoebox again and wrap the cord around the pack. I have to really stretch it to get it around the pack and then I try to find a hole in the carrier to hook it to. I almost get it secured, but I lose my grip and the cord snaps back and falls off the bike. I try again.

Finally I get the first cord fastened. Ten minutes later I have the second cord secured. The backpack rises up above my seat like a disfigured camel hump. The pack lists to the right so I give it a smack and that causes the bracket to pivot so it’s now twenty degrees out of line with the tire. I push it back, but I start to wonder what will happen if the load starts to shift when I am racing down hill at thirty miles per hour. Actually I don’t wonder. I don’t want to think about it.

I mount up and leave the parking lot. It’s 8:30 A.M. Mapquest tells me to get on US 30 and take that for the next thirty miles. I find the highway. It’s smooth and flat with a wide shoulder. Not having that weight on my back is a wonderful feeling of freedom. I’m rolling along at fifteen miles per hour. This is going to be so much easier. Then the road changes. It becomes a limited access four lane highway. Exit ramps.

I have not thought about ramps. I’ve never encountered them on a bike. US 30 has a constant stream of trucks, but I’m not worried about them because I hear them coming. My concern is for the cars and pickups that whiz by me at eighty miles an hour. Before I cross over each exit ramp, I need to make sure there one of those race cars is not planning to exit right behind me. The only way I can be certain is to turn my head and look back, but whenever I do that the bike swerves in that direction. I see myself veering left, then right, and my bike reeling out of control. The vision is not helpful. As I approach the first ramp, I have a death-grip on the handlebars. I decide to start down the ramp to the right, which gives me a better angle from which to peak over my shoulder. I turn. There’s no one behind me. I race across the ramp. Seven ramps later I exit off US 30. I have covered twenty miles in ninety minutes and I stop to rest. I have to pry my hands off the handlebars.

I’m on Ohio Highway 172 - two lanes, narrow and rough. Maybe US 30 was not that bad. Now there’s no where to go when the trucks pass me. They seem very close. The rough highway becomes a dirt and gravel highway under construction as I drive through Elms Acres heading towards Massillon. I stop for a coke at a gas station. There is an aging hippie-looking guy riding his bike in the opposite direction. He has an old clunker with balloon tires and he’s carrying a gym bag in his hand.

“Hey Dude, can you help me? You know how to get to US 30?”

“Just stay on this road. You can’t miss it,” I tell him.

He thanks me and keeps on pedaling. He’s going so slow I don’t think he’ll make the highway before dark. I wonder what he’ll do about the exit ramps.

There are no trees along the road. The sun is directly overhead and I’m melting. I pass a large Baptist Church that has a time and temperature clock. The time is 1:25 P.M. and the temperature is 93 degrees. Somehow that makes me feel better. It really is hot.

I finish both bottles of water. I stop at a near-empty McDonald’s outside Salem. My bike lock is buried under my backpack and I’m not taking off that bungee-corded pack to get to it. If someone steals my bike that will be my sign that this was a bad idea. I park the bike in front, buy a hamburger and an orange soda and relax in the booth where I can keep an eye on my bike. The booth is exceptionally comfortable as is the icy cold air conditioning. I don’t want to leave, but I still have twenty miles to go.

As I mount up, I tell myself I just have to go five miles and then I can take a break. Five miles is nothing. The first mile is easy, I’m still fresh from the break. The second is tougher, but I’m almost halfway. The third is a real challenge, but by then I only have two miles left. When I hit mile five I start looking for a place to stop. I want shade and grass so I can lie down, and a tree or mailbox so I can prop my bike up, because if I set it down the carrier goes cockeyed. I rest. Then I ride another five miles. The last town before Columbiana is Washingtonville. As I’m coasting down the hill into town, I spot a roadside drive-in - a wannabee Dairy Queen. I buy a large soda and take a seat in one of the booths. There’s an old man seated in the next booth.

“Where you headed son?” he asks. Calls me son. I like him. I tell him Columbiana. He nods. “Well that’s all downhill. You’ll be able to coast from here.”

I desperately want to believe him.

He’s wrong. Maybe he meant you could coast from Columbiana. I leave the drive-in and around the next bend there is a very steep hill. The hill is going up, not down. The road is narrow, there’s no shoulder and I must deal with the rush-hour traffic. I charge the hill going twelve miles per hour. I shift down, but my speed keeps dropping. Ten. Eight. Six. I’m worried about the trucks racing by and no place for me to go if they want more room.

I’m going slower than that old hippie and my bike is wobbling even more than his. Then I get a cramp in my hamstring. I manage to get off the bike without falling. I’m fifty yards from the summit. I work out the cramp, but I know if I try to start on the hill the muscle will cramp again, so I walk the bike the rest of the way up the hill, feeling defeated.

At the top I get back on. I coast down and then test out my leg on the flat section at the bottom of the hill. The muscle is sore, but I don’t cramp. Another hill looms. I’m four miles from Columbiana. Tonight I tell myself, I will go to a sports bar, have a nice cold draft beer in an icy mug. Maybe a ballpark frank too. And the bartender will have the Cubs game playing and they will be winning. I can taste that beer. I can see the beads of sweat dripping down the glass. Then I am at the next hill. I take it slow and easy.

Twenty yards from the top I get another cramp. The same thing happens on the next hill. My body is failing me. I’ll never make it home if I have to walk up every hill. I drive away the negative thoughts. I only have a mile to go and I focus on that cold beer waiting for me.

I see a sign for my hotel, The Das Dutch Village Inn. I coast into the parking lot. It’s a new hotel full of touristy Dutch knickknacks - a wholesomely clean hotel. I am on the outskirts of the town, surrounded by the usual coterie of fast-food places and mini-marts. But this hotel is huge and I’m certain they will have a wholesome Dutch-oriented sports bar.

Four P.M. I shower, then I check the hotel info in my room. There are three sports bars listed! I head down to the lobby and ask the deskclerk how to get to AJ’s Sports Corner.

She smiles and says, “Turn left out of the parking and go fifteen miles and it is on your right.”

“I’m looking for a place I can walk to. Remember I rode in on my bike.”

She stares at me looking confused. Perhaps she doesn’t recognize me without my sweat-soaked bike gear.

“Columbiana is a dry town, sir. We don’t have any bars here. Sorry.”

In fact this great hotel doesn’t even have a restaurant. The only place to eat within walking distance is Pizza Hut. I buy a medium pepperoni lover’s pizza and take it back to the room. The Cubs are not playing. And there is no cold frosty beer. It’s a lousy Friday night.

I call home. My daughter Nicole answers. Nicole will be entering the School of the Art Institute in Chicago in the fall. She’s been spending her summer painting a mural on the exterior of The Great Harvest Bread Company.

“Hi Nicole, it’s me.”


“How about, ‘Hi Dad, nice to hear from you. How was your day?’” Even without videophone I can see her rolling her eyes while she lays on the sofa, phone cradled in her neck as she watches television and plays Sims on her computer.

“Cubs lost.”

“Who pitched?”

“Maddux. Derrek Lee had a double. Do you know when Mom’s coming home?”

I suggest she could try calling her. Then I tell her about my ride and the cramped hamstring. She played varsity soccer and volleyball, I figure maybe she’ll have some training tips.

“You’re not supposed to be drinking soda. Everybody knows that.”

“They do?”

“Gatorade. Drink lots of Gatorade.” She sighs. “Do you have anything else? I’m sort of in the middle of this show.”

After we hang up I think about what she said. During a one hour spinning class I would go through a bottle of water, so if I’m riding for eight hours in the hot sun I probably should be drinking eight to ten bottles.

I decide the leg cramps were caused by dehydration not because my body is failing me. It’s a theory anyway. I go to bed determined to get an early start tomorrow. Gatorade. I will drink plenty of Gatorade tomorrow.

Workout:  I have been working out, but haven't been doing a good job of posting. I'm in Skaneateles this week visiting Mom so it's all running this week.  Today I did my usual course about five plus miles:  42:33.  Ran by the lake where a month ago we had the Skinnyman Tri.  It looks a lot colder now - the air temp today was 37 degrees.

Weight:  I don't want to know.  Not 188.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Day 1 - Mount Vernon to Wooster

Day One

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Mount Vernon to Wooster, Ohio

44 miles – 4 hours 40 minutes

(Three years ago I came up with this idea that it would be fun to ride my bike from my home to my parent’s home in Skaneateles, New York. Later I wrote a story about that adventure which I hoped to have published. I haven’t been able to find a publisher for the story so I decided to share it with the world through my blog.  This is the second of nine installments.)

 I drive to Hyde Park and pick up my son, Stephen. He has agreed to drive me and my bike on to Midway Airport and then take the car back home. He’s the one who suggested I ride with a backpack, like he always does. I turn and look at him as we near the airport. He’s a gymnast. Shorter than I am, but he has much stronger arms and back. I’m having second thoughts about riding with a pack. We pull up to the curb and drag the boxed bike out of the trunk. Stephen helps me on with the backpack.

“Hey, this thing is heavy, Dad. How far you going to ride today?” he asks. Then he laughs and hands me my shoebox of bike gear.

It’s a good thing I’m ninety minutes early because the check-in line at Southwest is a mile long, which is short compared to the security screening line, where ten streams of passengers converge on three stations. I finally make it to the x-ray machine, but there must be something interesting in the shoebox because they run it through again.

A woman with a Marge Simpson hairstyle is staring at the screen. She calls for her supervisor. He looks like Elvis might have looked if he had kept getting bigger and his sideburns had turned white and he had needed glasses. He takes off his glasses and squints at the screen. He shakes his head. It’s not an up and down shake. Elvis sends me to another station so a different agent can inspect the contents of the bag.

William is a young black man, about twenty-five. He’s smiling, as though he enjoys his work. He asks me how I’m doing. I tell him I’m okay. He pulls out the pedal wrench.

“What’s this?” he asks.

“A pedal wrench. I need it to reassemble my bike.”

He shakes his head just like Elvis. Maybe they train them on headshaking. “It’s too big. Eight inches. Can’t carry on anything longer than seven inches.”

I tell him how I’ve had to disassemble my bike and how Southwest specifically said I had to take the pedals off. I explain that you can’t put pedals on without a pedal wrench. He nods his head up and down. He understands.

“Goin to have to check it,” he says.

I look back at the five thousand people behind me in the line. “You mean I have to go through this whole thing again?”

“Yep. Have a nice day.”

By the time I finally make it through security the plane is ready for boarding.


John is waiting for me at the Columbus airport. We load his car and drive towards Mt. Vernon, about forty miles northeast of Columbus. Ten minutes after we leave the airport it begins to rain. Hard. My careful planning does not include bad weather. We stop for lunch in a Mexican restaurant in Mt. Vernon and I change to my bike shorts in the restroom.

When we walk outside, the sun is shining. It seems very warm. And humid. I unbox the bike and we reassemble it. The bike shop forgot to pack my water bottle, but I figure I will buy some water on the way. It’s only forty miles to Wooster.

John helps me on with my pack. “Hey this thing is heavy,” he says.

I catch my cleat on the bike frame when I try to mount. It’s harder with the pack on my back. I get on the bike and wobble around the parking lot, getting use to the feel of riding with a pack.

“It’s not too late to come back to Columbus with me,” John says encouragingly. He’s joking, I think.

I make it out of town and immediately encounter something I didn’t have to deal with in Chicago. Hills. The warm sun now seems very hot and the pack is pressing down on my back. I figure it must weigh at least twenty pounds. Maybe twenty-five. I am thirsty. I wish I’d taken John’s suggestion to buy water before I left Mt. Vernon.

I spot a roadside tavern at the top of a hill. They have a drive-through window. I pull up and ask them if they have water. The bartender says yes, and suggests I come inside out of the heat and have a drink. I’ve been on the road for an hour and now I am sitting at a bar. But I just drink water, because I’m not that stupid.

There are three other guys in the bar. They look like workmen finished with their day’s work. A guy in a tee-shirt and overalls asks me where I am headed.

“Wooster” I say.

“Wooster?” he says. His forehead wrinkles and his eyes roll back in his head like one of my daughter’s old dolls. He’s trying to remember if he has ever been to Wooster. As though it’s some faraway land.

“You know the bridge is out just before Loudonville,” says his drinking buddy in the camouflage hat.

“Uh, no I didn’t know that,” I say.

“Yeah them folks got hit pretty bad. Lots of damage. Road’s closed,” says their baldheaded friend.

This is not a good development. I have road maps of Pennsylvania and New York. I have no map of Ohio. Only my Mapquest printouts, which don’t help me if the road is closed.

“I think a bike can get through,” says the bartender.

“Yeah I think so,” says the first guy.

The others think about it and then they all agree - a bike can get through. I thank them and finish the bottle of water. I save the other bottle.

Eighteen miles later I pull up to the bridge. The road is indeed closed – to cars. But I walk my bike through the barricade and across the bridge, which is missing a big section where the flood-swollen river had washed it away a few weeks earlier. I stop for a break. A highway construction foremen pulls up in his pickup.

“Where ya going?” he asks.

I tell him Wooster, and he nods. He’s heard of it.

“I got a brother-in-law that rides for some club. Out in Colorado. They do two hundred miles a day. You ever done that?”

“This is my first trip,” I say. I decide I won’t mention that other trip thirty years ago, when I did two hundred miles in a week.

He shakes his head. “Good luck,” he says. “Watch out for trucks.”

The hills flatten out as I get closer to Wooster, but the pack is killing me. Even when I have a shady downhill stretch there’s no relief. It seems to get heavier with every mile. And it’s hot. I’m out of water again. I stop at a farmhouse about six miles from Wooster. I’m exhausted, hot and very thirsty. There’s no one home at the farmhouse. As I’m packing up, a car pulls into the driveway. I ask for water and the woman tells me to help myself to the outside spigot. While I’m filling the bottles a small brown dachshund runs at me, yapping. My first dog.

I discover a problem with Mapquest. I can’t balance the pack, flip through a multi-page document and still keep the bike on the road. Mapquest goes into overdrive when I get to Wooster. There seems to be a new direction every hundred yards as I wind through residential streets towards the Wooster Hilton Garden Inn. The final instruction is to turn right on to Madison Avenue for eight tenths of a mile.

The last leg of a long ride should be downhill, I think. This one is not. The Garden Inn is at the top of the hill. A steep hill. I am dying. The hot sun is beating on my back, the pack is pressing down - it must weigh thirty pounds. I shift to the lowest gear and my bike odometer reads four miles per hour. Most people can walk faster than that – but not with a fifty pound pack on their back. Finally I make it to the summit and coast into the parking lot.

I lock my bike and stumble into the lobby. Six P.M. and the desk clerk is talking to someone on the phone. He’s saying goodbye, telling whoever he is talking to that he has a customer. He takes a long time to say goodbye. They have cookies on the counter for their guests when they check-in. I eat three of them while I’m waiting for him to say goodbye. I’m sweating on his counter. And on the cookies.

I finally register and then walk my bike down the hall to my room. I strip off my clothes, which I’ll be wearing for the next week, and take a shower. I collapse on the bed.

I wake up. It’s eight P.M. I don’t want to move. Ever. But I’m hungry. The hotel restaurant closes in thirty minutes. I walk to the dining room and grab the last two cookies on my way past.

After a delicious overcooked cheeseburger and two beers, I return to my room and turn on the television. They have HBO. Cinderella Man with Russell Crowe is on. I’ve seen it, but I love those stories where the good guy wins - the struggle to overcome.

The movie is over. Jim Braddock has again knocked out the cocky, intimidating Max Baer. I set the alarm for five A.M. I look at the backpack on the floor. I think about leaving all my extra clothes - abandoning the pack. But that’s like Jim Braddock refusing to fight Max Baer. I can beat this backpack. There has to be a way to fasten it to the shoebox bracket. I fantasize about how great it would be to not have that weight on my back. I vow to come up with a plan. Tomorrow.

     Hilton Garden Inn 
 (with cookies)