Thursday, July 30, 2009

Middlebury Blast

Entering Vermont we thought that maple syrup would have to be tried since they are known for their great liquid sugar. We stopped at the first road-side stand we saw and bought some maple candy. It was great. After talking to the owner for a while he offered to give us a tour of the maple syrup production process. It was very interesting and sweet. I love real maple syrup.

Riding along one afternoon we stumbled upon historic Fort Ticonderoga . Its was a very interesting to say the least, with great tour guides and lots of cool artifacts. A couple things that stood out were chewed up bullets and candles made of reeds. The bullets that were on display have a very painful history. They were used for a pain coping mechanism as solders’ limbs were removed in battle, hence the term “bite the bullet.” The oil soaked reed contraption was a device used when there were no more candles. From this, the saying don’t burn the candle from both ends was derived. It would last half as long with only slightly more light . The fort was very interesting and well worth the free admission and our time. Many pictures from the visit can be found on our photos page in the Fort Ticonderoga album.

After using the ferry to cross into Vermont from New York we found ourselves talking to a couple of Middlebury locals as we were checking out the gorgeous Middlebury College campus. They thought we looked hungry so they invited us to eat at the college cafeteria as guests. It was great food (and free!). We ate so much that we almost could not walk. This happened throughout our two day stay in the oh so gracious town. Middlebury spoiled us! Bente, the young lady we met earlier rejoined us along with her friend, Colby, and a full growler of IPA from which we learned the traditional way to drink . Great fun! Next we went to Colby’s work and his coworkers made a pizza that was wonderfully delicious. He helps run American Flatbread, a gourmet frozen pizza company. With pizza and beer in our bellies we decided to go swimming. The stars were out and the water was calm so off went the clothes and we jumped in to the slightly cold water. Being that we usually only wear shorts when ridding, we have a very white middle section. That sparked one of the gals to ask why we were wearing white spandex. I laughed and said its just white skin. I then looked down to see for myself, and boy was I as white as my underwear.

The next day was quite full with bike repairs, beer tasting and a tour at the Otter Creek Brewery, and making great cookies at Bente’s house. All and all, Middlebury was great to us.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Adirondack Mountains

Everyone we spoke to about New York told us we should check out the Adirondacks, now we know why. A series of real mountains - like we have on the west coast - the range is encapsulated in the largest park in the US, taking up all of six million acres. If you can imagine Oregon mountains, expect more round from glacial activity, then you should have a good mental picture. These hills are no joke - over 46 of them are considered “high peaks,” reaching over 4,000 feet.

Having had a short riding day, we decided to hike the largest peak on our route, Blue Mountain. This modest mountain featured a vertical climb of 1500+ vertical feet and would only take a few hours to hike round trip. Once on top, we marveled at the view from the fire lookout perched atop the rocky clearing at the summit. From here we had a 360 degree view of the surrounding beauty, including Blue Mountain Lake pictured here. Upon returning to the base of the trailhead we wandered over to the Adirondack Museum, a must see local attraction that features local history and culture ranging from furniture, to lean-tos, to chainsaws, to canoes. Speaking of canoes, I’ve never seen so many boats lashed atop vehicles before. It seemed like every other car in the park had either a canoe or kayak (or both!) secured to their racks. With so many gorgeous lakes nearby I can understand why.

The following day we rolled into a small town just a few miles down the road from Blue Mountain. It was here that seaplane tours of the area were offered. Given the reasonable price, I found the deal too tempting to refuse and before you know it I had crawled into the passenger seat of a small Cessna aircraft. I introduced myself to the pilot and asked him how long he had been flying. “Counting today?” was Tom’s response. Very funny Mr. Tom the pilot. We accelerated quickly with the floats skimming the water of the lake and *whoosh* into the air we climbed as Tom pulled back on the controls. We buzzed around for nearly half an hour while our pilot/tour guide pointed out some local geography. Of particular interest were Blue mountain, Buttermilk Falls, Long Lake, and another fire lookout. Make sure to check out the photo page for pictures of the plane ride as well as a load of other new pics. As we came back down for our landing (right) Tom held up his hand in the center of the cockpit and prominently displayed a pair of crossed fingers. Again, very funny Tom. As we skimmed the water and eventually came to rest on the lake I could only think about taking another ride. “You made that landing look easy,” I said to Tom. ‘It’s not hard,” he replied. “Maybe next time I could give it a shot?” I asked. “By the third ride you’re pretty much good to pilot the plane,” was his response. Ahh Tom, what a joker.

That night we met up with Patrick, a competitive bicycle rider and mechanic. He approached us on the street and was quick to invite us to stay at his place. We gladly accepted and ended up crashing on his couch, watching Planet Earth videos (amazing stuff if you haven’t seen them) until the wee hours of the morn with him and his laid back roommate, Paul. Good times.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Erie Canal and Rochester

Upon our return from Canada we descended once again into New York, this time to meet the Erie Canal. The 363 mile channel connects Lake Erie with the Hudson River and in its hay day saw untold amounts of freight. Now, with trucking dominating transport of goods, the waterway is a serene, scenic treat for recreational boaters and bicyclists alike. In Knownsville we had the pleasure of meeting Mike, a lift-bridge operator who was kind enough to give us a lesson in the workings of his outpost - only later did we find out that he had cycled cross country, neat guy. The following day we were fortunate enough to meet up with two Canadians, Keith and Jeff, who were cycling around lake Ontario. These two fellows were the first folks we had met traveling the same direction, so we were thrilled to have the company and enjoyed it clear up to Rochester where we headed our separate ways. Turned out that Jeff, who works in the automotive performance industry, had instructed Jeff Gordon when he was a young racer coming up through the ranks.

Once in Rochester we began exploring the downtown. Our first stop was Nick Tahou Hots, home of the world famous garbage plate, a concoction formulated from macaroni salad, cheeseburger, fried taters, and onions, topped with hot sauce and mustard. Garbage never tasted so good! With full bellies, we coasted the sidewalks of downtown only to find an abundance of vacated buildings all boarded up with murals covering the outsides. We would later find out that Rochester, much like Cleveland and Buffalo, was once a boom town that now suffers from population decline as a result of dying industry. The result is a city shell with excess infrastructure and too few tax payers to support it. But alas, I suppose I am getting ahead of myself - allow me to explain how we came by this knowledge…

As we walked our bikes down a quaint street off the main drag we passed a coffee shop. A young man sitting with a woman gestured to us as we walked by, “and that’s what touring bikes look like.” We struck up conversation with the two, named Garrett and Jan respectively, who were planning a cross country bicycle trip focused on sustainable, organic farming. Too cool! (and coincidental!?) We eagerly lent some knowledge from our experiences as Garrett proceeded to get us some drinks. As we quickly ran out of wisdom to share, Garrett invited us to come stay at his place on the University of Rochester campus. We were in no position to refuse such hospitality. We were delighted to have such a willing host and soon discovered that the young fellow is going to school to be a musician and is currently enrolled in a summer urban studies course.

Luckily, we had some time before nightfall and Garrett offered to show us around the city - what a treat! He first showed us through the U of R campus, and from there to Mt. Hope, the most beautiful cemetery I have ever seen. We caught a magnificent sunset before heading back to the downtown area to explore an area with an inspirational story behind it, the South Wedge. The wedge, like many other areas of Rochester, was once a dilapidated section of the city. However, in a dazzling example of urban renewal, the locals showed faith in the strip and began breathing life into the street by opening beautiful, new businesses. There was some doubt that the area would succeed but because locals had vested interest and resulting ownership, the street became a viable spot for commerce (as opposed to the city constructing a new fa├žade, which people would likely have not respected in the same way). From there, we headed to the ritzy east end of town to oogle some incredible homes and architecture. It was there that we sampled our first bite of custard - the fact that we don’t have it on the west coast is a crying shame, the stuff was heaven in a cone. We finished off the night by climbing to the top of the library for one last view of the city after dark (pictured). We were exceedingly grateful to experience Garrett’s company; he was the best tour guide and ambassador that a city could have. Had we not met him, we would have walked away with a much different (and negative) picture of Rochester.

The following day our good fortune continued. A delightful Navy veteran, Chip, rode with us out of Rochester and bought us coffee and a snack at Starbucks. That evening, Clancy happened to pause to take a picture of a crazy Neon monster truck (right), and we began conversing with a couple named Bob and Dawn whose yard the creation was perched in. It started raining and they invited us in. Before you know it they were asking if we had ever had New York pizza and/or hot wings. People with hearts of gold I tell you. We ended up talking cars all night (Bob was somewhat of a master fabricator who had also built a trike with a 350 motor) and crashing on their couches. I can’t help but wonder, will our luck ever run out? I believe someone is looking out for us…

Thursday, July 23, 2009

New York!?

It hit us both at the same time upon spotting the "Welcome to New York" sign. We have come quite the distance in two and a half months, 4000 miles to be exact. It’s hard to get further east than New York without hopping a boat to Europe (the thought has entered our minds). Northwest New York looks and feels a lot like Oregon. Shortly after crossing the state line we visited our first winery of the trip, which prompted us to visit the next one just a mile down the road. After that, we pedaled down the street with a new found sense of confidence and a slightly altered equilibrium. The experience got us excited for San Francisco and the Napa valley; we probably won’t make it half the day without finding the ditch.

We continue to be spoiled by the people we meet. A lovely couple by the names of Brette and Matt invited us over to their campsite for a friendly game of Scrabble over a few drinks. It was great to socialize with people so close to our age, though it felt a little odd being older with fewer responsibilities. Great people I tell you! Upon arriving in Buffalo, we were greeted by a torrential downpour and some of the least friendly drivers all trip. Car horns and squealing tires were the norm. Luckily, once we met up with our hosts, Robert and Samantha, they took us in and pampered us. We must have looked like a couple of wet cats someone drug out of the lake. Last summer, Rob and Sam had taken an awesome road trip around the US, and that night we had a terrific time browsing through their photo album and listening to stories of their travels. The next morning they escorted us to the local farmer’s market and showed us more fabulous architecture in their neighborhood. Fantastic hosts and tour guides to boot! The mood of the city seemed to have transformed overnight and we had clear skies and courteous drivers for our journey to Niagara Falls.

The falls were spectacular. One of the seven wonders of the world, the display of hydraulics did not disappoint. I rode the Maid of the Mist, a tour boat that takes passengers to the base of the falls. The included rain ponchos were not optional as the mist generated from the 180 ft drop of the Horseshoe Falls was enough to soak you to the bone. Such a sight cannot be done justice by pictures, but I still tried (more pics on our photos page). It’s sights like these that remind us of our place in the universe and how small we are. After viewing the falls, we met up with Brenda and Richard, a delightful Canadian couple that invited us to camp in their yard. The following morning they treated us to some tea and some terrific conversation before sending us on our way that day. *Authors note: I accidentally deleted this entire post before publishing and had to re-write – silly web browser*

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Tidbit of Ohio

After pedaling through many days of corn, we found ourselves on Lake Erie in the town of Huron, Ohio. To our delight, the community was celebrating its annual “Summerfest,” an event where music, food, and beer prevail for a full weekend of fun. We arrived in time to catch the band’s first set. Their song selection was solid and diverse, ranging from Big and Rich to Bon Jovi. After having an elephant ear, enjoying some tunes, and socializing for a while, we got word of Cedar Point, an amusement park on lake Erie that we just had to check out. We had planned to stay in Cleveland the following day, but plans had fallen through. Visiting the park seemed like a great way to spend a non-pedaling day of R&R.

The next morning we awoke and made the short trip to Cedar Point. We were excited to visit the attraction having not been to a theme park since our high school graduation trip to Six Flags. Our curiosity was also peaked after reading up on the park. Its 364 acre facility boasted more roller coasters than any other amusement park in the world. After a minor hiccup concerning secure bike storage, we were off to the races. We kicked off the day by riding a couple wicked modern coasters that felt as fast as bullet trains and turned tighter than candy canes. From there we demoed some awesome wood coasters like the one pictured here. They were just as thrilling as the modern coasters in a different way. The surprisingly steep drops and the ability to rattle your brain like a maraca made for a potent combination. By this time our appetites had gotten the best of us and we went into hunting/gathering mode. It wasn’t long before we found our prize: giant barbecued turkey legs (pictured). This thing was nearly as large as my head and was formidable enough to feed a Japanese family of six (if such a family existed). Having nearly been sent into a tryptophan coma, we set out in search of a ride capable of snapping us back awake. We met our match on the Top Thrill Dragster, a ride that accelerated occupants from 0 to 120 mph in just seconds. From there it was up a 420 foot climb (2nd tallest in the world), through a corkscrew, and back to ground level straight down. We should have guessed by the you know what eating grins on the returning riders’ faces that this attraction was the real deal. As we launched from the starting point it felt like our faces were being peeled from the bone; then we hit the corkscrew. My stomach felt like it had been relocated somewhere next to my left ear. What a blast! For a cool down lap we rode the Ferris wheel - one of the largest in the US. The scale of the park did not disappoint.

The following day we pedaled into Cleveland where a bike shop by the name of Century Cycles took great care of us. They ended up servicing Clancy’s front hub for nearly nothing and they even put us in contact with Lois, the owner’s ex-wife, who was eager to host us after hearing of our trip. On the way to Lois’ house we dropped by the Great Lakes Brewing Company where couple of good fellas (also cyclists) bought us a couple delicious pints. Once at Lois’ house, we enjoyed a fantastic dinner and listened to tales of her amazing European travels. Turns out Lois, like Sandie and Harlem in Sparta, is a giant bicycle advocate. We helped her make up some signs for the next “Walk and Roll” event she was putting together.

On the way out of town the next day we swung by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There was so much interesting memorabilia that we could have spent the better part of the day there. This next picture is for all you Harley fans - this is the bike that was featured in many Bon Jovi promotions. In the end we saw a ton of cool Cleveland stuff. Unfortunately, as with other places, we felt like we could have spent a full month exploring the area. Another time perhaps?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

High Eggspectations

It had been a long day of travel and we were ready for a break. To our delight, we happened across a township sign for Mentone, Indiana. The sign did not feature a typical welcome message: it boasted that this municipality was indeed the egg basket of the Midwest! If you know us, you know that we love eggs. As a matter of fact, we add eggs to most anything to enhance flavor (just give it a shot on your next burger, pasta dish, salad, etc.). We normally get some skeptical comments when people spot the unrefrigerated egg carton secured to my cargo net, but in this place we fit right it.

On the way into town we stopped at a Bell Aircraft museum where a curator by the name of Gerald took time to show us around the exhibits. At the end of the tour he also gave us a breakfast recommendation. The restaurant he spoke of (called Teel’s) served the “He-Man Breakfast” which allegedly consisted of four pancakes, one pound of bacon, four eggs, a plate of hash browns, biscuits and gravy, and some sausage links. We took notes.

After departing from the museum, we headed to the grocery store where the two nice ladies working gave us some delicious chicken noodle casserole. They also filled us in on the “Egg Festival” that we read about on the town sign. Turns out we hadn’t missed much - the celebration was little more than a carnival on the tiny main street that essentially had nothing to do with eggs. We had delusions of egg grandeur. Directly in front of the grocery sat an egg monument that I just had to get a picture with (right). About this time a semi-truck full of tightly caged chickens pulled up and parked on the road right next to us. The birds were in rugged shape - movement was barely discernable, feathers were entirely missing from large sections of skin, and the birds’ combs were as pale as notebook paper. I am no animal activist, but the mere sight of such an inhume chicken-train gave validity to the argument against factory farming - sad stuff.

In the morning we headed straight for Teel’s (despite our sighting the night previously). I was expecting some exotic egg concoctions to be featured on the menu - it is the egg capitol of the Midwest, is it not? To our dismay, there were no out-of-the-ordinary egg selections. Furthermore, it turned out that there was no such thing as the “He-Man” breakfast that our friend Gerald had told us about. We each ordered a special instead. Though it wasn’t the “He-Man,” the portions were extremely large (the pound of cooked bacon was not an exaggeration). Unfortunately, despite the quantity, the food was quite mediocre. For the rest of the day we lamented over our over-consumption. It felt like we had each ingested a lead anvil - not the feeling you want when you need to pedal 60 miles. In the end, Mentone was a bit of a downer. Let‘s just say that we‘ll keep searching for other, more eggstraordinary egg capitols

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Road to Chicago

Having already sampled some of Wisconsin’s finest beer and cheese we reasoned that it was time to get moving on to Chicago where we intended to spend the 4th of July. On our way southeast, we dropped by the University campus in Madison. In addition to some excellent lakefront views, we took time to marvel at the capitol building - both inside and out. After perusing the grounds I had a much better understanding of where tax dollars go! I’ve been told that Madison has the tallest capitol; the attention to detail was apparent, even down to the drinking fountains. I’ve never felt so privileged to use a restroom - I half expected the toilet paper to be composed of freshly minted bills.

Closer to Chicago, we stopped at a farmer’s market in the town of Burlington where we were given a tasty loaf of fresh baked bread and offered a place to stay. We were in no position to refuse such hospitality and before you could say “home-made pizza and warm apple pie” we were having dinner with some of the most friendly folks we have met all trip. Our hosts, Lori and Gary, made us feel like sons. You couldn’t buy better accommodations at a bed and breakfast. Having our fill of food and fabulous conversation (Gary is an avid cyclist), they sent us to bed only to have us wake up to a delicious pancake breakfast! Life is rough I tell you. Before we hit the road Lori made sure we had everything we needed including Gatorade, toothbrushes and toothpaste (she manages dental practices), a loaf of banana bread cooked especially for us, and a bag of roasted almonds. Gary even rode with us on the way out of town, giving us a delightful tour of the rural surroundings. Did I mention that these are some of the most exceptionally kind and loving people ever?

Thus began the ride into Chicago. When we asked people the best way to get into the city they typically scratched their heads and offered a potential route, followed by a disclaimer. We soon found out why: there isn’t an easy or safe route into the city coming from the western shore of Lake Michigan. Before you know it, we found ourselves pedaling for our lives (literally) alongside speeding multi-lane traffic, dodging potholes all the while. While we were successful in our plight to avoid being squished by autobuses, we were not lucky enough to escape untouched. Both Clancy and myself bent wheels on the rough road (mine had to be replaced) and had personal items shake off of our bikes only to be lost somewhere along the street. I can say this however, if you have been praying for our safety, your prayers were answered that day. Luckily, we didn’t pedal faster than our guardian angels could fly.

Once in the city, we took a full day to explore the many treasures of the metro area. Grant Park, next to our hostel and directly on the lake, was filled with hundreds of thousands of people for the Taste of Chicago festival. We took in a free concert, walked all around Wrigley Field, checked out the zoo, ate at the notorious “Wiener’s Circle” (purveyor of authentic Chicago dogs) and caught fantastic fireworks two nights in a row. We must have walked more than 20 miles on our day off to places like the Sears Tower and the “Magnificent Mile.” Wander over to our photos page to see some of the sights.

Thankfully, the road south out of Chicago wasn’t half as bad as the road in. Despite many the many warnings we received and being nearly the only white kids around, everyone was very polite and things never got sketchy. We did talk to a really chill police officer (mountain biker) once we got south of Gary, Indiana and he told us we were lucky to have come through the area in the daylight, mentioning that we “wouldn’t have stood a chance during the nighttime hours.” Perhaps we were fortunate, or maybe we just look rough and tough after two months on the road (I wouldn’t bet on the latter).

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sparta and the Razor

It all started when we decided to take a change of pace and ride the rails-to-trails. The abandoned train rail bed made a perfect trail for bikes due to the fact that they are relatively flat and the lack of cars. The surface is crushed limestone that is packed very well, creating a great ride for our thin tires. About twenty three miles in on the trail we made the decision to make a detour from our planned route and continue on toward the great city of Chicago. Along the way we realized that this was the trail with the tunnels that Andy (a pastor we had met in Minot, ND) said we should check out. He had given us his parents’ contact information and mentioned that they would love to host us. We called them and they came and got us from the next town due to time restraints. They live in Sparta, Wisconsin which is the self-proclaimed bicycle capitol of the US. Harlem and Sandie are bicycle ambassadors for Sparta focused on promoting the town and the Sparta trail. Harlem rides his big wheel bicycle in parades and such to promote the cause - he let us ride the bike which was quite the change of pace from our normal steeds.

That night was the end of the beard contest and I, Clancy Finchum, don’t know if I won or lost. I still had my beard and Chase didn’t, but I had to wait in a one-bath house several hours for chase to use the restroom. It literally took Chase over an hour to shave his white-trash mustache off. Our contest was beard growing and the person that shaved first lost and had to carve an awesomely bad mustache. You have to see the pics to really fully understand how bad we looked. Feel free to comment on who you think the victor was or just tell us how horrid our facial hair was. It sure feels good to have a clean face again.

The next morning after a great breakfast that Sandie made us, we checked out the biggest bicycle museum in the USA. It was very complete and really opened my eyes to the whole world of bikes.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Website Stuff

Yes, we are alive and well! Just a little delayed on the blog. Ironically, despite being on vacation, we tend to keep busy either pedaling, eating, making/breaking camp, exploring, or socializing. We need a vacation from our vacation! Joking aside, you’ll be happy to discover many new photos posted. If it’s been a while since you glanced at the photo page we encourage you to check it out (link on right side). New pictures were added to the existing albums and we’ve also created secondary albums to keep things organized. *Photo Tip* Pictures are best viewed by clicking "Slideshow" in the upper left hand corner after selecting the album. Lastly, if you’re wondering where the older posts have gone (or you want to catch up from the beginning of our journey), simply scroll down to the “blog archive” section on the right hand side of the page beneath our fundraising section. The drop down arrows will give you access to our buried treasures =)