Day 4: Plattsburgh, New York (77.19 mi/124.23 km)
Well, so much for sleeping in.
Despite my best intentions, I woke up at 6:20 a.m. I lay in bed for a while, trying to fall back asleep but couldn’t. And so after half an hour, I got up around my usual time and proceeded to get ready. I packed and breakfasted and got underway.
Today’s route would involve a number of turns and so I loaded the route into MapMyRide and used my phone GPS to follow it. It being sunny and dry, I was able to keep the phone plugged in the entire time and so did not drain the battery. This is due in large measure to this awesome backup battery I purchased on recommendation of a friend. It was able to keep my phone charged and plugged in all day and barely lost 25% of its power. (Here ends the product endorsement, such as it is. Anker, feel free to Venmo me any fees.)
I got underway and ran into a couple of problems. As almost the entirety of Quebec is under construction—or so it seems—and detours abounded. This isn’t a problem if you know where you’re going but it’s a huge problem when you’re just following a red line on a map. More than once I had to ask someone how to find the bike trail that would take me off of the Île des Soeurs and across the St. Lawrence. A number of times I made a wrong turn or had to double back when I found that the route was blocked. You can see this reflected in my route—a route that was supposed to be a simple curve around the north end of the island (visible as a dotted line):
When I eventually reached where I thought I could pick up the trail (right where my route intersects highway 10 in the map above) there was another construction crew and another blocked path. One construction worker said something to me in incomprehensible French and I just responded: “I’m so lost.”
Another man, sitting in his contractor’s van said in English, “Where are you trying to get to?”
“America,” I said. “I’m just trying to get home and I can’t figure out how to get out of the city.”
“You rode that bike here from America?” the man said.
“Yeah, from Albany through Burlington.”
He started to give me directions and then he said, “I’ll show you.” And so he drove off and I followed him. When he got to the trail head not far away he stopped and pointed. “Thank you so much,” I said. “What’s your name?”
“Omar, merci and as-salaam aleikum.”
His face lit up. “Wa aleikum salaam.” And he drove off as I headed down the trail.
From there, my trail carried me across and enormous span, parallel to an even more enormous bridge, the Pont Champlain—next to which they were constructing an even more enormous span:
This in turn took me to the Île Notre-Dame, an artificial island created out of the dirt dug from the Montreal metro, and a causeway running through the river. It makes a huge curve running parallel to the far shore. The riding here was quite pleasant, although there were a fair amount of bugs.
And while most of the trail was lined by trees—sumacs and other berry trees—on occasion, it did offer some spectacular views:
Eventually, I crossed the river and followed another bike path for a few miles. I have to say, as a citizen of a pretty bike friendly city, Montreal puts everyone else to shame. There are bike paths and bike lanes everywhere. We really need to step up our game, DC!
At a certain point, my route took a turn and headed due south toward the border. As my ride turned south, I began biking into the pretty solid headwinds that had aided me going north to Burlington and Montreal on days previous. The thing about headwinds is that they’re morale sapping: when you’re pedaling hard on flat ground and barely making 12 miles an hour, it’s exhausting physically and emotionally. On a straightaway, I can generally get up to 20 mph (17 mph is sustainable over distances). But today, I was going 11–12 miles per hour and was having to labor to go that fast.
At least the terrain was flat and the weather, while warm, was not oppressively so. I did get to see some beautiful countryside and plenty of farms as soon as I got out of the Montreal suburbs. There were great fields of wheat and corn, and plenty of dairy farms. At one point, I biked past a bunch of cows who regarded me with some suspicion. And so I waved and called out, “Bonjour, mes amis. Comment ça vache? Ça vache bien?” I thought that was a pretty funny joke. The cows seemed unimpressed.
In the last few miles in Quebec, my route took me on a bike trail. Here, the angle of the trail and perhaps the trees lining it, diminished the impact of the headwinds and so I was able to make some good progress.
As I rode along, I noticed a church spire rising from a nearby village. It was interesting to me that all the church spires in Quebec in such villages belonged to Catholic churches. In rural America, those same spires would belong to Presbyterian, Baptist, or Methodist churches, or—as was the case in Vermont—Congregationalist churches. In the US, Catholic churches are primarily an urban phenomenon, a result of immigrant populations gravitating to cities. But here in Quebec (and even across the border in NY), the rural farming population is Catholic, probably dating back to French colonial settlement in the 17th century.
I eventually got to the U.S. border, just before clocking 50 miles. I approached the inspection station and waited in front of the barrier arm. When it never went up, I pressed the call button on the box next to me. “Bonjour. Bienvenue aux États-Unis. Hello and welcome to the U.S.”
“Hi,” I said, in my best American accent. “How do I get through?”
“Oh, are you a cyclist? One moment.” The barrier arm went up and I pedaled through. I thought to myself: Interesting. They’ve hired Canadians to work these jobs. But then I remembered: that wasn’t a Canadian accent I’d heard; that’s how people talk up here in the North Country of New York. Having grown up in the Albany area and thinking of myself as an Upstate New Yorker, it can be easy to forget how much more Upstate there is to go. Sometimes I imagine that the folks in the North Country think of those of us from Albany making a claim to be Upstaters the way that the Wildlings/Free Folk in Game of Thrones think about Jon Snow’s claim to be “from the North.” You know nothing, Jon Snow.
The border security are never fazed about people riding bikes across—there’s a fair amount of bike traffic between Montreal and Burlington, for example—but they are surprised to discover that I’m not on a day trip, that I’ve been riding for some time. “You must really like biking,” the border agent said. “Well,” I replied, “That may change.” He told me that Plattsburgh was only 25 miles away or so and that it would be mostly flat—both good news.
And so I headed out toward Plattsburgh. Now, I’d been in something a food desert, despite the crops all around me. I wanted to eat around the 50 mile mark, but there were simply no options. And the wind was really starting to cause my energy to drop. But planning for this last night, I’d scoured the map to find any food in the vicinity. And it turned out that there was a Stewart’s just off my route around mile 60. And so I adjusted my route to travel through the town of Chazy (pronounced sha-ZEE) where I went to the local Stewart’s, had a nice lunch of roast beef sub, chips, and yes, the extra thick chocolate shake, along with purchasing two bottles of Saratoga water for the rest of the trip. I ate my long awaited lunch and rested up for about an hour before setting out.
Initially, I’d mapped this route to be about 71 miles, but my troubles at the beginning of the day had added some miles to the trip and so it would eventually clock in at 77.19—a distance that can’t be accounted for entirely by course corrections, so I’m not sure if it’s the difference between my MapMyRide GPS tracker app and the MapMyRide site—but in any event, the late lunch was able to give me the energy to make it that last push, especially since there was a pretty decent incline in the last few miles. Nothing terrible, but at the end of a long day when you’re already exhausted, it was unwelcome.
While having my lunch at Stewart’s, I thought to look up bike shops in the Plattsburgh area. Lo and behold, it turns out there is one practically across the street from my hotel. And so, just before going to my hotel, I swung by Viking Ski ’N Cycle and bought two spare tubes—with Presta valves—a spare patch kit and a spare valve adaptor. This was probably all overkill, but it’ll help me sleep better knowing that I’m not riding around on my last available tires.
I checked into my hotel a little after 4, showered, and went for a swim in the pool. I sat poolside for a little while reading a book on the Kindle app on my phone. After a while I went back to my room, lay down on the bed to continue reading, and passed out. I slept for about an hour before getting up to start working on this blog post. I interrupted that work to go grab a very highly caloric—but delicious—meal at the restaurant next door and then returned to my room as the rain started to fall.
I’ve checked the weather for tomorrow, and it looks like there’s a chance of thunderstorms in the morning but clearing mid-morning to afternoon. So, if I do sleep in tomorrow, that’ll work out fine.
It’s probably best that I do that since the ride tomorrow is only 46 miles long—the shortest of all the days—but it does have one set of challenges in particular:
Ugh. Whose stupid idea was it to bike to a town in the Adirondacks? Oh, right, that was me. If only I didn’t love Lake Placid so much. Anyway. Time to do some quick laundry and get some sleep. I’m gonna need it.
Full workout link: https://www.mapmyride.com/workout/3069918538
348.55 total miles
560.95 total kilometers
11,400 total feet climbed
23,162 total calories burned