Thursday, August 25, 2011

City Wanderings

Waking up in New York City there was a strange feeling associated with there not being any more riding. This should have tempted me to sleep in but the huge pulsing metropolis of New York awaited. I wandered around the corner where I found a cafe with a good selection of pastries for breakfast on Bleeker Street. Yep this was the Bleeker Street of Simon & Garfunkel fame.

Jobs first, I headed off to track down a bicycle shop where I secured a box for the bike. I thought this might have proved a challenge but the first shop promptly brought out a good box gratis. Hauling it home I found a hardware store for some gaffer tape and a stationary shop for a big fat marker pen. Everything I needed to pack up everything, for the flight home.

Heading uptown on 5th Avenue it was easy to realise that the main reason people come to new York is for the shopping. Two big clothing outlets had even restricted numbers and formed a que for shopppers on red carpet, cordened off on the sidewalk with thick tassled rope. They had hired modelesque doormen to manage the crowd or act as bait, depending on how you look at it.

I was headed for the legendary Explorers Club where adventurers had been dreaming up grand expeditions for over a hundred years. It was housed in a classic old building with big wooden doors. I rang the bell and was greeted by a young lady who appeared to be the only person in the building. I blurted out an attempt at credentials and to her credit she took me in and gave me a complete tour of the building. The Explorers Club is a classic gentlemens clubhouse furnished with big comfortable leather chairs and decorated with items brought back from expeditions. There were stuffed bears, tiger skins, indiginous relics and flags including one that had been to the moon.
The Explorer's Club
One of the highlights for me was the beautiful globe which was used by Thor Hyerdahl to trace the Kon-Tiki's course in its 1950s documentary.
The Globe that Thor Hyerdahl traced the route of the Kon-Tiki
In Toronto I had picked up a book called Garbageland by Elizabeth Royte which chronicles her investigation into where her domestic garbage in New York goes. It is a fascinating book and in tracing her compost she ended up at the Lower East Side Ecology Centre. It sounded an interesting place and I tracked it down for a course on composting worm farms. It was held in a community garden on the west side and was very informative.

One of the Community Gardens
I was to stumble over several of these community gardens in my wanderings. They were located wherever some open space could be secured between buildings or indeed on top of them. They were very well cared for and I could see that they were highly valued spaces.

Peking Clipper Ship
I wandered down to the waterfront one morning and to my surprise came face to face with the famous clipper ship Peking. A mere ten dollars got me complete access to wander the deck and check the cabins. It was a pretty special experience and alonside was the Ambrose lightship which had been an important mark on the trans Atlantic record course.
Ambrose Lightship
If it is not the shopping, then museums rank highly on the attractions of New York. They are numerous, loaded with interesting stuff and are often free. Riding through the Great Lakes I had started to realise that the First Nation people would have been able to have had a pretty good life travelling extenively by canoes across the lakes and along the rivers. The teepees were excellent structures that they could have moved easily, to cater for changing seasons. The American Indian Museum gave a good insight into the various cultures that existed on the North American continent prior to European settlement.

The Museum of Modern Art was worth a visit and its influence on the MOMA in Hobart was clear to see. Wow we are lucky to have that.

New York was interesting and I think I could make a little nitch for myself there, but I was keen to get home to Hobart. I am drawn away by adventures but always return to Hobart with a sense of coming home to a place that I relate to and that I really value.

Last night was my first night home and I awoke to the wind roaring through the tree tops. Going outside I was greeted by a clear starry night and a possum that stretched out his hand to meet my first (clenched realising that the possoms bite is greater than their bark) Ah Great to be home!
Eventually my time ran out and

Thursday, August 18, 2011

New York! New York!

The day of the last post the chain had started jumping when I applied even the mildest of pressure so I looked up the bicycle shop in Albany and paid them a visit. We took a closer look and were suprised that the chain had only started jumping as there wasnt much of the gear teeth left especially on the middle ring. I wasnt at all suprised and had been planning to replace the gears and chain when I got home so now the question was whether we could fix it there and then. The good news, after much rooting around the workshop was a definite yes and in quick time the bike was ready to go again. I rolled out of Albany just before lunch with the Trucker feeling more like a Ferrari with a new cassette, rings and chain.

Highway 9, a relative back road to New York, split into options east and west of the Hudson River which I would now follow all the way into town. I opted for the east side on advice that there was more history there and my own deduction that it may be a little flatter more importantly. It wasn't long before the rain set it but the riding was easy and took me through a very leafy forested part of the world dotted with old houses and was decidedly undeveloped.
The Never Ending Garage Sale
I have been noticing alot of garage and barn sales along the way as people try to get rid of stuff that they have accululated and dont use. I dont know whether it is a sign of tough financial times or just then need to make way for more stuff from Wal-Mart. When I passed this house I began to think that the garage sale has been around for a while. I have this image of an old lady who died in the house before she was able to sell the goods. There is still crockery laid out on the table and furniture being over grown by the grass.

Bear Mountain Bridge - just outside New York

This was the theme right down the Hudson River and even when within 40km of Manhatten Island it was a picture of lush forests wherever I looked. The last night before arriving in New York I was camped in a forest where the only sound was birds. This took a sharp transition at Yonkers to a cityscape but somehow I seemed to miss the in between suburban strip malls and blandness.

I clung to Highway 9 with determination as it transitioned into Broadway which took me right into New York City. The traffic was chaotic with people double parking but this seemed to be a good thing for me. It settled the traffic speed down and all those double parked vehicles made a sheltered bicycle lane.
Times Square

My geography of NYC is not strong so I was a little suprised when I ended up in Time Square surrounded by huge screens, ticket hawkers, performers and watchers. I absorbed it all for a while and then pushed on down the peninsula to the Bowery where I had secured some lodgings online.

I never prebook accomodation but about a week before arriving in New York I thought I should line something up. I went online and trawled through the options filling in reservation forms which fielded consistent "Not Available" responses. Then suddenly I found a hotel in an interesting part of town close to lots of interesting stuff that not only could accomodate me but was really quite cheap.

Knowing that it was probably to good to be true I prepared myself for a run down building with flaking paint, dodgy plumbing and a bathroom down the corridor. On arrival I checked in and the rate was actually reduced which was great so I wheeled the bike to the stairwell and wrestled it up to the third floor. The good thing about a third floor in America is that it is really only on what I am used to being the second floor. Good news as carrying the fully loaded bike up the stairs was hard graft. (unloading the panniers and ferrying gear just plain boring). I found my room and it all fell into place. The room was clean and just long enough for the bed and about as wide as one and half beds. It was closer to a cupboard really and then I realised that it wasnt much smaller than home. It was the hotel version of micro-housing. It is micro-hotelling!

It is my first day in New York and I have secured a good box for the bike and managed to pack it in. I have a list of things to do here and the next four days should be fun. I have really enjoyed the journey and look forward to reflecting on it over the next week. In the words of Forest Gump "I am tired and want to go home now". Thankls for taking an interest and following the journey.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Crossing over to the lower 48

Riding out of Toronto in ever increasing rain past the enormous McVities Choc Chip Cookie factory had me wondering whether another day in Toronto might have been a good idea. I really enjoyed my couple of days there but the map indicated that there was plenty to be had just down the road.

Starting off on beautiful bicycle paths in Toronto the first day ended on a major highway where bicycles were prohibited. The rain cleared in the afternoon and all in all it was a mixed bag. I found a campground in the afternoon and prepared for the next days ride which would take me to Niagra Falls. A tailwind helped me along and by lunch I reached the glittering Las Vegas style shopping strip of Niagra Falls. If there was ever to be a Canadian Hangover film it would be set in Niagra Falls. The falls themselves were immune from all this and roared away like nothing I have ever seen. The volume of water pouring over the edge and atomising into cloads of mist was truly amazing and all the tourists and glitter could not detract from this natural marvel.

Niagra Falls

Niagra Falls - see the boat!
I chatted with some touring cyclists and then headed off to cross the border. As I was about to head over the bridge I stopped at a pedestrian crossing and the French cyclist who I first met on the prairie popped up. He was without any gear and out on a day ride from Toronto. We exchanged notes, bid farewell and I headed over the bridge to enter the lower 48 states of America. The state in particular was New York state which made me feel like I had almost made it.

US Border Crossing
The USA didn't go in for tourist information centres, that give out free maps like Canada, so I bought a map and started cooking up a plan to get across the final miles. Firstly I headed down the shores of Lake Eirie to the city of Buffalo just because it was such a nice ride along the waters edge. Reaching Buffalo at the end of the day I was keen to set up camp but instead I found myself in an edgy town with no obvious camping options. I have since found that 26% of the people of Buffalo live below the poverty line. I saw a road heading east with purpose and followed it. Eventually the city fell away and I pulled up for a rest.

Heading off the next day the westerly was still strong and it drove me on across the flat Niagra Plateau. I had been advised to avoid heading directly to New York City which was a very hilly route and instead head east to the Hudson River and then follow it down to the coast. New York state proved to be a real mixed bag that changed quickly from the poverty of Buffalo to orchards, vineyards, rural farm land and busy little weekend holiday spots. I never knew what to expect of towns noted on the map and was often suprised at what they amounted to and sometimes they didnt seem to exist at all.

The Canadians are pasionate flag wavers and the same can be said of those in New York. American flags are displayed from many houses and sometimes they seem to be flown wherever the opportunity exists. Nationalist ferver is strong and this has been extended to the concept of "Supporting the Troops". Support the Troops signs in front gardens and stickers on cars reflect this patriotism that makes it hard for people to question involvement in these wars even when they are found to have been launched on the basis of fabricated intelligence and to have had no justification. Questioning the war is plain unpatriotic and for an American that is one of the biggest slurs.
Rifle Case - essential acessorie for your ATV
The gun culture is alive and thriving with gun shops and Rod& Gun Clubs to be seen regularly along the road. This ATV caught my eye with its rifle case.

Inn at Cazenovia
One evening I rode into a beautiful town called Cazenovia set on a finger lake. It was a town that had resisted the strip mall franchises and retained its character. This was paying dividends for it now as people flocked there on the weekends from nearby Rochester. I loved this town and splashed out on a room at this Inn which cooked up a mean New York Strip Steak. It was so nice to sink into that bed full to the brim.

Route 20 Diner
Heading east from Cazenovia along Route 20 it was about second breakfast time when I reached a small town hosting an antiques fair. It was the first day of a week long event so some stall holders were just setting up but there was some real treasures there. I still wonder whether I should have got the old pair of snow shoes for $25 and lashed them to the back of the bike.

Amish folk stopping at the ice creamery for sundaes
Cazenovuia had also marked the end of the flat ride and the start of a consistant up and down affair. The consequence of this was that progress slowed and I was even more willing to stop at any opportunity. At one stop I pulled up near these Amish folk outside an Ice Cream Sundae shop. It was interesting to see how they had held onto some old ways such as not having electricity, not using internal combustion engines, using braces rather than belts and then adopting modern ways such as buying plastic toys and strollers. They could drive other peoples machinery for work and now allowed themselves telephones but the phone could not be in the house. Another buggy pulled up for ice creams too and they were all friendly people. Heading out of town I noticed that they waved to everyone and were well recieved. I liked their way and while I am not about to take up the Amish lifestyle I would prefer it to many options.
Camped out by a corn field

Fracking - No ones favourite neighbour
There is obviously a bit of a battle going on between residents of the Catskill region and Frackers not unlike many other parts of the world. As we become more desperate to secure energy resources to keep what many would argue as an unsustainable lifestyle afloat, there is sure to be increased tension. We need to work out how much energy we want and what we are prepared to forsake to have it. This sign was on the lawn of a house with two oversized SUVs. The oil companies are pouring considerable money into convincing Americans and Canadians that the oil sands projects in Alberta are clean and will provide energy security. Again they tap into that patriotism offering a "home grown" oil source so that they will not have to buy oil from the "enemy" (OPEC)

This afternoon under a darkening sky I reached Albany on the shore of the Hudson River. The chain has started jumping which is no suprise after about 9000km of use, so tomorrow I will seek out the local bike shop and see what we can do. I hope that the hills may be behind me and look forward to the last couple of days down to New York City.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Pooh Bear

White River - The Home of Winnie the Pooh
The northern shore of Lake Superior was an up and down affair and the road rarely touched the coast. I struggled in the heat to make miles but on leaving Marathon I was pleasantly suprised to see the road flatten out as it headed inland. The rain set in but I had heard that a train departed White River every second day for Sudbury through the Chapleau Game Preserve.

White River turned out to be the home of Winnie the Pooh. Canadian soldiers had bought the cub from a trapper when they stopped at White River on the train to the coast in 1914. They took the bear to England as their mascot and when they were deployed into Europe they gave the bear to the London Zoo where the author found the bear and wrote the stories. It all started in little old White River that holds a Winnie the Pooh Festival every year to celebrate.

Plugging along I came across a deer by the road which pranced down the road about 100 metres before stopping. I then caught up and it would bolt off again. We repeated this again and again for nearly a kilometre. It was a magnificent fit healthy animal and quite a thrill to ride with.

Bud Car Train - Middle of Nowhere Stop
Luckily I persisted with the rain, as the "Bud Car" train left the following morning. It was a two car affair, one car for cargo such as bicycles, canoes and building materials for cabins while the second car had seating for passengers. The Bud Car's route took in a series of stops that serviced cabins and fishing spots unserviced by roads. People would hail down the train, it would stop seemingly in the middle of nowhere while all manner of gear was loaded and unloaded.
Boat Dock at one stop that services the cabins
The train was a great distraction from the road and a welcome break for the chafe that had started to strike from riding in the rain the day before. That afternoon the train pulled into the mining town of Sudbury. The train had placed me a little to the east of my intended path so the next day I headed west 65 km to the town of Espanola. Heading west didn't feel quite right given I was meant to be heading east but it was the absence of a shoulder on the road and the increased intensity of traffic that made me glad to pull off the main road onto the Manitoulin Peninsula. I picked up a box of peaches for just $2.59 in Espanola which I lashed to the rear pannier rack. The day was hot but I offset that by reaching over and picking out a juicy peach to quench the thirst as required.
Little Current Swinging Bridge
When I reached Little Current the swinging bridge was opening to let some yachts through. Sailing had never looked so good and I dreamt of setting sail again as I knocked off another peach.
First Nation Teepees - Manitoulin Peninsula
The next day, a morning of riding brought me to the end of the Manitoulin Peninsula where I ran into my French friend I had last seen out on the Prairies of Manitoba. We both caught the ferry after lunch and headed for Tubormay at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula.
Touring Cyclists mixing it with our roughty toughty biker brothers in the ferry hold
Riding off the ferry onto the Bruce Peninsula in the afternoon I could sense that things were getting a little more sophisticated with a better standard of pasteries but they were still served up on polystyrene platters. Didn't they get the memo? The next day I reached the base of the Bruce Peninsula and civilisation had returned for sure with expresso coffee, tasty food, book shops and no polystyrene. By this stage I was just a day and halfs riding from Toronto.
Alternate Transport - Quaker, Mennonite or forward thinking dude??
The approach down the Bruce Peninsula had meant that I missed alot of the traffic but there was no way to immunise myself from the traffic for the last 100km. The temperature was forecast to reach 30 degrees C but this morning there was mist that developed into light rain. It was like a gift to make the final ride into Toronto in comfortable temperature but without the rain developing to the point of making it too sketchy. Breaking through the middle ground of the surrounding suburbs and industrial parks I reached the bicycle lanes and cycleways that lead me comfortably into Toronto.
I got the big map out to get a handle on progress.
It feels great to be here and almost surreal that New York is less than 500 miles down the road. I am getting tired and it will be great to reach New York but it is hard to believe.  People ask me where I have come from and when I tell them Anchorage there is this stunned response, which is getting uncomfortable. I am starting to be super careful like it is tempting fate to reach the coast. Then as I worry about my fate I see on BBC World News that a polar bear attacked an expedition in the Arctic. One person killed and another, Spike Reid, who I met at the Royal Geographical Society in 2008, injured after shooting the bear. At least there are no polar bears on the road to New York.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Goodbye Prairie, Hello Lakes

Centre of Canada - French and English of course.
Heading out of Brandon for the last time was without a hint of regret. Despite having found some lovely spots I felt generally underwhelmed by Manitoba. I headed east on a mission to find something new and so skipped through Portage au Prairie and Winnipeg only to be pleasantly suprised, on the verge of crossing the border, by a place called Falcon Lake. It was a small village on the shores of a granite fringed lake surrounded by forest. Falcon Lake marked the end of the prairie and it wasnt much further east that I crossed the border into Ontario. Ontario was a whole new ball game with forests, hills and even curves in the roads.
Paul in his crazy machine!!
It wasn't long after crossing the border that I spied a bike, no a contraption, coming the other way. It was like a bike but had the proportions of a car. I had passed it by the time I took it all in and circled back and caught up with an Englishman by the name of Paul. He had built the machine and started from the east end of Canada a couple of months ago heading west. A crazy and inspiring adventure. Check him out on http://www.going-solo.co.uk/.

View from the Dryden supermarket - The ash from the chimneys covered the tables people eat from.
 One morning I made it to a small town called Dryden where I resupplied at the local supermarket. The whole town had this pungent rotting chemical smell that originated from the pulp mill located almost in the centre of the town. I couldnt help but cringe at the thought of a pulp mill going in in the Tamar Valley. What health issues were there in Dryden and who would want to live with the smell even if it turned out to be benign?

Ian at the Time Zone - Fifth and Final Timezone for me
Heading on from Dryden that afternoon I ran across another touring cyclist by the name of Ian and we began riding together. It was great to have some company on the road especially for the section through to Thunder Bay on Lake Superior. These were miles to be covered not savored. Ian is an interesting guy and had bought his bicycle at a garage sale for ten dollars before refitting it himself for his ride across Canada.

Ian came up with the idea of getting the trains to honk their horns for us which was great fun. A connection between two otherwise insulated worlds. Another distraction was the time zone transition. It was satisfyinmg to look at the map and see all the time zones I had passed through and realise that this was my fifth and final time zone. I was now on New York time!

Arctic Watershed
Another good distraction and excuse for a break was the Arctic watershed marking the point where waters either ran north into the Arctic or east to the Atlantic. It made me think back to the creek that split in two near Lake Louise in the Rocky Mountains.

Well after many more breaks, for no reason more than the need to break, Ian and I made it into Thunder Bay on the shore of Lake Superior, on the last of our energy as the sun set on Saturday night. Ian had a warm shower arranged and I found a hotel to shower and sleep the sleep of the dead.

Terry Fox Memorial
Heading out the next day I stopped at the Terry Fox Memorial overlooking the lake. Terry Fox had lost his leg to cancer at the age of 18. He then set off to run across Canada raising awareness and money for cancer research. Unfortunately near Thunder Bay had to abandon his quest as cancer overtook him. His story of tenacity gripped the nation and the charity run by his mother after his death continues to raise money for cancer.


Cycling around the top of Lake Superior was not the lakeside stroll that I had envisioned. The road went up and down like a yoyo and the temperature hovered around the 30 mark. In the end I struggled all day and made just 130km but ended at what was perhaps my best campsite. Alongside a river I cooked diner, washed myself and after only a few pages of the book fell asleep for a beautiful sleep. Waking this morning a hare poked its face against the flyscreen of the tent and got a bit of a fright when it saw me. A late start this morning but I am persisting and making a few meager miles. I saw a few touring cyclists heading west but they were all at a standstill and was pleasantly suprised when Ian turned up again as I was taking a break on the shore of the lake. I hope for a cold front to chill down the temperature and blow me along the road but in the meantime I am slowly covering miles that need to be covered.

Schrieber Real Estate on Lake Superior
If you are horrified by house prices at the moment you might be heartened to know that a house on Lake Superior can be purchased for just $18900. Tell him he's dreamin!