Day 7: Rochester, NY (82.41 miles, 565.44 total miles)
Today began with a nice breakfast with Jennifer and Renee before they took me back up to Niagara Falls to begin this leg of the journey where I left off yesterday.
It was overcast but not too cool and I wasn’t too upset to be biking under something other than blazing sun. The roads as I set out were nice and flat and the only topography to speak of was clearly a landfill off to my right. I have to say, biking in Western New York with its relatively flat topography is a joy. If you look at the mileage chart at the bottom of this post, you’ll notice that the range of elevations is 170 feet or so, which is only half the elevation on my daily commute to work! So the entire ride did not go higher than the difference between Dupont Circle and the National Cathedral. I’ll take it.
I eventually turned east and was making good time into Lockport, New York. In Lockport, the route I was on took me off the road and onto the towpath for the Erie Canal. The towpath was packed dirt and was generally an easier ride than the towpath on the C&O Canal back home. But there was something special about riding along this canal that went beyond the conditions.
I’ve been hearing about the Erie Canal since I was a kid and we learned the Erie Canal song (which, of course, was stuck in my head for hours) and it was a huge part of New York history. I had no idea that it was still functioning in any meaningful way. The C&O Canal in DC, but for the touristy canal barge and one part that is basically a lake, no longer functions at all. Most of the canal is grown over or filled up with trees and plants as you ride along. But here, the canal was still a wide expanse and often even had boats traveling along it.
Around this point, it began to rain. I was not really bothered by the rain as it was a light rain and the going was still relatively easy. I did take the opportunity to stop under an overpass and pull the waterproof covers around my panniers, which have the added bonus of being bright fluorescent green and visible in the rainy weather.
I continued traveling along the canal path when suddenly I heard a voice behind me to the left calling out, “How far you traveling today?” Coming up behind me was another cyclist, also outfitted for distance traveling. “To Albany,” I replied, “But to Rochester today. You?” “To Rochester.” Whereupon he pulled away and continued down the path ahead of me.
Now, I’ve biked a lot in the last week, including 93 miles yesterday. I’m also carrying an additional 40 pounds in gear and supplies with me. It should not have been surprising that I fell quickly behind this other cyclist. But my stupid pride insisted that I should try to at least catch up to him, if for no other reason than to talk to another cyclist doing distance rides. By far, the people you encounter the most are people racing along or people out for a leisurely ride. So, I pressed on and did my best to catch up (it was not easy, he was clearly much faster than me).
When I finally did, I asked him where he’d come from and he had also traveled from Buffalo and was on his way to Rochester in the hopes of completing his second century. I will say, that was impressive to me. I have come within three miles of completing a century and have had a number of 90+ mile rides over the last couple of years, but most of those have been out of necessity—I’ve never planned to ride that long in a day. I told him about the trip I was in the middle of.
I told him that I was likely going to be much slower and that I would not take it personally if he wanted to go on ahead. He said that he’d stick with me as riding together is more enjoyable and riders can push each other to ride better. And he’s right.
Last year, I was helped out a lot by the fortuitous appearance of Aaron who helped me find my way while helping me to pass the miles more enjoyably. So, we rode along together, talking cycling as we moved on down the towpath and the miles seemed to go by more easily. Eventually, we exchanged names; I was riding with a cyclist named Marcus. “It was meant to be,” he said.
Suddenly, the quality of the trail decreased markedly. I don’t know whether it was a function of the materials of the trail or if this section had received a lot more rain, but it was harder to get traction and the back end of my bike started to fishtail. Marcus, whose bike had much thinner tires, was struggling even more to make it through. Coming up soon was the city of Albion, so we decided to get off the canal trail there and get something to eat. So we stopped for lunch and had guilt free burgers and fries (when you’re burning 6000+ calories a day, everything you eat is guilt free). After lunch we decided not to get back on the canal trail and to take the surface roads into Rochester.
This was an immediate and noticeable improvement. Even though the terrain was now no longer stable and flat (see the elevation chart below), the hills were still reasonable and the quality of the road was worth it. There was a stretch where the road was being resurfaced, which made it a little bumpier and uncomfortable, but the riding was still good. Marcus was still the faster cyclist and would frequently sprint ahead and let me catch up later. In the picture below, you’ll see him off in the distance.
But he was right; riding with someone who’s going the same way makes it easier. My riding was definitely improved by trying to keep up with him and the company always does make the ride go easier. There’s a metaphor for life in there somewhere, but we’ll leave the philosophizing for another day.
When we left the restaurant, we had 36 miles to go. After an hour and a quarter of riding, we had only 17 left; we were making really good time. It reminded me of an NPR interview I’d heard a couple weeks ago with an author who’d written a book on creativity and partnerships. His argument was that greatness usually comes in pairs rather than lone individuals. For every Steve Jobs there’s also a Steve Wozniak. The author’s point was that two people can indeed push each other to achieve more than they might have alone. I can’t vouch for Marcus’ productivity, but I know that for me, with really sore and tired legs, I might have been more inclined to just mosey along down the canal trail. Instead, I kept trying to do better and took the overland route that wound up being the more direct, more efficient way.
Marcus was traveling to Rochester to meet up with his brother who was moving into a neighborhood not far from where Jen lives, so he rode with me all the way into Rochester and downtown and ultimately to Jen’s house, where we parted ways.
I had assumed that today’s ride would be closer to 60 miles and when I checked the distance after 30 miles in and saw that there were 56 miles to go, it was a little demoralizing. But having a riding companion for the last 50 miles or so definitely made what could have been a tough day, a lot easier. So, Marcus, thanks again, and hope the rest of your century went well.
Once I got to Jen’s I got cleaned up before mapping the ride and then going out to get some food. Now we’re watching another interminable Red Sox-Yankees game; her Yanks and my Sox are tied at 7 in the 5th inning after already 2 hours. So, you know, typical Sox/Yanks.
I’m looking forward to getting a solid night’s sleep and hitting the road tomorrow on to Syracuse. It looks like the canal trail will make up the majority of the ride, hopefully the conditions will be good and the trails dry.
Location:Werner Park,Rochester,United States