Day 53–Manchester to Rye/Portsmouth: DONE!

Today we rode a somewhat short “victory” ride of about 50 miles from Manchester to the Atlantic Ocean at Wallis Beach in Rye, New Hampshire. The route was very much like yesterday, passing through pretty countryside, including the village of Exeter. There was no time pressure, as we left at 6:30 am and were scheduled to regroup at Rye Junior High School at 11:30am, merely 50 miles away. We rode slowly, and lingered at a coffee shop in Exeter, as everybody’s savored the final moments together as a group.

The Rye police department provided an escort for the final 3 miles from the school to the beach, which allowed us all to ride in a big group and take over the lanes of traffic. Seeing the Atlantic brought the first tears to my eyes, and when we rounded the corner into the beach I was shocked to see not only Carlos, but my brother Joseph and his wife, Dorothea, their grandson, Jayden, as well as my sister Natalie and John, my brother in law. It was awesome and emotional to have such a welcoming crowd at the beach!

We did the “wheel thing,” i.e. dip the front wheel into the Atlantic to complete the journey which began with dipping the rear wheel into the Pacific in Astoria. We also poured a water bottle of the Pacific Ocean that had been carried with us into the Atlantic. All kind of corny, but of course I loved every minute of it.

Some people departed from the beach with family members who were there to greet them. Some will stay overnight (like me) in Portsmouth. But we are finished riding as a group…

…I am heading to Maine tomorrow to meet with Mainers United for Marriage, completing my two “tack-on” states of Washington (at the beginning) and Maine at the end to hopefully add a boost for those working in those states to win marriage equality this November. I will probably have a wrap up blogpost (or two) on all that for final reflections on the trip.

Arriving at Wallis Beach, Portsmouth NH

The journey ends with front wheel into the Atlantic…

Victory!

Day 52–Brattleboro to Manchester, NH

Today we biked 78 miles from Brattleboro to Manchester, NH. Ten states and one Canadian province traveled to this point. We run out of states heading east when we dead end into the Atlantic Ocean at Portsmouth tomorrow!

Given that it is just so much fun to be nearly done and to feel as good riding the bike as I do at this point, I may be handing out “epic” badges too leniently, but I think today also deserves to be called “epic.” The route today was at the top of my “favorite” list for the entire ride, and is exactly the sort of route I would like to do over and over if available back on Long Island where I do most of my riding. We climbed 4500 feet today, which is a lot, but the hills were mostly “enjoyable,” i.e. some strenuous climbs, none of which really exceeded 1 miles, followed by a nice descents. But mostly it was rolling up and down through back country roads in scenic New Hampshire. The quiet “authentic” New England villages (Francestown, e.g.) with no tourists were more enjoyable in some ways than the movie set look of a place like Bennington in Vermont, which was busy with tourists yesterday.

Since arriving in New York, every state has full marriage equality (and including Canada, it has been legit since leaving Michigan). Vermont and New Hampshire have full marriage equality since 2009, and Maine is poised to vote it in via referendum this November. Go New England states. It would be expected that since the New Hampshire state motto is “live free or die,” (seat belts in cars and motor cycle helmets are optional for adults) that this state would support the view that government has no place legislating in people’s lives, but nonetheless, Republicans have tried to repeal it several times since then. The vote this spring to rescind was rejected 211-116, which would presumably put the issue to rest forever? One Republican representative who is a supporter of marriage equality, proposed a bill to ban marriage between left-handed people in jest to make a point. It also failed….

Today’s blog is going to be short, as we are having the farewell banquet this evening. I am happy to report that bf Carlos arrived at the hotel this afternoon after driving my car up from NYC to enjoy the banquet and will be there for the finish line tomorrow. He was there in Astoria to start me off, which was awesome. He has supported me throughout the spring as I had daily meltdowns on trip preparations, training and fundraising. Thanks Carlos, it is great to see you (and my car!) in Manchester!

Tenth (and last) state!

Near Mount Monadnock

Day 51: Latham to Brattleboro, Vermont: Another epic day!

Today we biked 79 miles from Latham to Brattleboro. We had been in NY since last Sunday, when we arrived in Niagara. Yes, Monday was a rest day, so it really took us “only” four riding days to cross the state. But today we crossed the entire state of Vermont. Though we are in Brattleboro, it sits on the CT river which serves as the border between VT and New Hampshire. Located in the southeast corner, it is actually geographically closer to the state capitals of Albany, Hartford, Boston, and Concord than to its own state capital, Montpelier. Two other things about Vermont. First, it is gorgeous to see, especially from a bike. Second, we did the most strenuous climbing since crossing the Teton pass back in Wyoming. About 5,000 feet worth.

Crossing the Hudson River first thing this morning, I turned right and said “hey, you can see the Empire State Building from here,” and a couple of the riders got all excited and were ready to whip out cameras before realizing that its 150 south to New York City. I felt guilty (not!). Anyway, we entered Vermont at mile 32 and were soon in Bennington, a picture perfect village just the way Vermont is supposed to look. Anchored by a big, white, wooden Congregational Church, historic homes, and a pretty downtown. It is obvious why people flock here, especially in September and October to go “leafing.”

The road went up dramatically after we left Bennington. We climbed for nearly 10 miles on grades of between 3 and 9% or so. At the top, the road leveled out and the view everywhere was of rolling green hills/mountains (Vermont is the Green Mountain State…). There was a lake at that elevation that seemed idyllic. What was great for me about the climbs is that while I did not “let loose” on the descents, I was handling them with less terror than I felt back in Wyoming. I was enjoying myself the whole time.

We ate dinner in a restaurant tonight, and there were no tables left, so we sat a the bar and a couple got to talking to us about the trip. They mentioned running races and other events that they have done, including several for charity (those in Boston know what the Jimmy Fund is). When I brought Freedom to Marry into the discussion, they were very supportive, stating that last summer they had two invitations for two events on the same day: a same sex wedding, and a family anniversary party for another relative. They chose the wedding, feeling that it is a once in a lifetime event, and that the celebration of the event, and what it meant to the two guys getting married, and how much they appreciated having them in attendance superseded the other family obligation. They were lifetime Catholics, but stated that they believed that the Church just had it all wrong, and couldn’t understand how any church would want to stand in the way of love and commitment. They made the point by referencing the word “commitment” on my T-shirt, and stated that they been married for 43 years.

I have relayed a number of “conversations” that I had on this trip. I promise that the only selection criteria has been a feeling that I would not get punched out, and an opportunity to interject it into the conversation without it being too awkward or forced. Nearly every conversation has been positive and supportive. Now maybe it’s because it’s near the end of the ride, or maybe because I didn’t need to add any additional thoughts to what this couple so eloquently stated, but I walked out of the restaurant feeling a bit choked up…

Epic scenery. Epic climbs. Epic descents. Epic people. Epic day!

Note the Presidential bumper sticker–2004?

Downtown Bennington, Congregational Church

Beautiful in green, imagine it in October…

Day 50–Little Falls to Latham

Today we rode 75 miles and climbed about 2,200 feet from Little Falls to Latham (Albany). This is probably the closest I will get to NYC on this trip! From here, our route continues east through southern Vermont and New Hampshire to the finish on Monday in Portsmouth.

The route had some hills, but it wasn’t too bad. I had expected worse. We largely trailed the Mohawk River/Erie Canal system again, and had a big chunk of the ride on the Mohawk bike trail, which was mostly flat, shady and well-paved. Very nice.

Being this close to the end brings mixed emotions. This morning I felt tired and thought “four more days,” in the sense that 4 was a big number. After an enjoyable ride, I take that feeling back, especially since there are now only 3 riding days left. But there are some things that I will not miss:

1. Schedule: I usually set an alarm before 5:30am (earliest day was like 4:20am) to start the day, but I usually had awakened several times in the night to either go the bathroom (keeping up the hydration has a price), or because of general nervousness about not waking up on time. I guess I will be “lucky” to get back home and sleep in until 7am or so?
2. Meal mania: You shouldn’t try and eat at precisely the same time with 50 other ravenous people. Countless examples of frantic people not getting what they want when they want it and assuming that will screw up their entire ride.
3. Internet connections: Fortunately most inexpensive hotels don’t charge for wifi (so wondering why if you stay at a Four Seasons they do?). That’s the good news. The bad news is that it often got abysmally slow as 50 people tried to login info at once. And why can’t they provide login info at check in?
4. The quest for beer: I can’t eat dinner without beer, especially after a long ride. We often went to “family style” restaurants that served no liquor, or ate a catered buffet at hotel, many of which had no liquor license. I solved this partially a few weeks in by buying beer if available near the hotel and filling my water bottles with beer to take to dinner. But looking forward to not “worrying” about this each day.
5. Laundry: Since I often finished rides early, I could be well positioned to run to the laundry the minute luggage was unloaded. But unfortunately, this crowd is savvy, and simply having a room closer to the laundry room might mean everything. Or, I might wait a day because the hotel schedule listed laundry services, only to get there and discover they were not available. Ugh. I rotated washing in the sink with doing “regular” laundry so hard to plan all that out. And p.s. most of my riding clothes are probably irretrievably dirty at this point.
6. Schedule (part II): It’s amazing that with having nothing to do other than ride, that the days fly by. From the time you get to hotel, eat lunch, unload luggage, shower, wash out clothes in sink, clean out water bottles, clean and deal with bike mechanical issues, get online and do email, blog, and eat dinner, the day is shot. I thought I would read tons of books, but alas…
7. Anxieties: Not necessarily mine, of which I acknowledge I might have had a few, but others who would ask the most mind numbing questions at RAP. Or be on the road and worry about wind, heat, etc. etc. etc.
8. Rules: The leaders of this trip are great: they know their business. But they have a lot of rules and don’t necessarily always treat riders as “customers.” They get the job done and try to keep us safe, but sometimes the smack down to me or others that I observed was a bit like “huh?”

This is merely a list of things that will happen if you decide to embark on a 3,700 mile ride across America with 50 other people. I haven’t regretted a minute… Tears will flow at the end, but thought I would get this out of the way early!

Me, on the Mohawk bike trail…

Day 49–Liverpool to Little Falls

Today we rode 79 miles from Liverpool to Little Falls. We continue to track the Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor, which also nearly parallels I-90 toward Albany. The route included about 1,800 feet of vertical climbing, which was challenging but not too tough. The weather got hotter during a sunny day, but it actually felt like the first true summer day I have felt in the east since we got here. Most other days have been cloudy with showers, or humid, but did not feel like “beach” days. Today did, and I am hoping that all of August stays like this so I can enjoy the beach when I get home.

I was moving along at a good pace (which means I was at the front of the pack but not pushing it too hard) when two of the leaders, who are excellent riders (one guy Jeff, who is very strong, and a female rider, who rides fast, but is not as strong as Jeff) blew by a group of 3 of us to purposefully show off. We caught up, which was not easy, and rode together to the first SAG about 5 miles away. Leaving the SAG, it was just me and the two leaders, and for the first few miles I thought “this is stupid–this is way too fast, and these guys don’t ride every day so can burn themselves out.” But then we settled into a groove of riding about 22 mph on the flats (with a bit of a tailwind), and held onto that for about 20 miles to the second SAG. We all declared “that’s enough, let’s just coast to the end,” but somehow it stayed reasonably fast for the last 20 miles as well. We got to the hotel by Noon, which Jeff declared was 30 minutes earlier than last year when he also remembered riding this segment at a very fast pace. For me, a great way to change it up a bit and make the day fly by.

Little Falls is a town with a rich history: It is in a picturesque location amongst steep hills that descend to the Mohawk River and the Erie Canal. It had importance back to Revolutionary times, and became a leader in the knitting industry and the marketing of cheese and other manufactured goods in the 1800s. The knitting mills were powered off the Mohawk River, which falls 45 feet in less than a mile, forming a number of little falls. But what is very cool about the town is that it is not “dead” today. No, it is not the same as it once was, but it is not decrepit like Fall River or Lawrence or New Bedford. It has some quaint shops and attracts tourists who want to access outdoor activities in the area while staying in a town that has dining and some cultural activities.

I went to a restored mill that had a number of shops selling “antiques” (rummage style stuff) that had a great ice cream shop as well. The mill also houses an Inn, which is run by a married gay couple. I stopped in to say hello. I relayed the info about my trip. What was not unexpected, but is probably surprising for people who don’t understand the full marriage equality landscape, is that these two guys, while legally married in New York state, are impacted by DOMA in terms of filing federal taxes, registering the business as joint owners for estate purposes etc. So, they may have a somewhat blissful existence up here running an inn, but the job isn’t finished until DOMA is repealed or struck down by Supreme Court. He took my card and wished me luck as well as promising to spread info on my ride.

Stonewall Inn in a renovated mill built in 1819

Day 48–Henrietta to Liverpool

Today we rode 92 miles from Henrietta to Liverpool (which is Syracuse). It rained last night (again), cleared this morning (again), stayed cloudy for a most of the day (again). It was also very flat, and we mostly enjoyed a tailwind. So, perfect riding conditions…

We rode for some 20 miles along the Erie Canal. The canal has a bike path that runs from Rochester to Palmyra, and terrain varies from smooth pavement, to town streets, to hard packed dirt and gravel. The gravel was a bit rough and I got a pinch flat. That is my first flat tire since Twin Falls, Idaho some 2,300 miles ago. It’s probably bad luck to sound happy that way, as it is tempting the fates. The canal was OK, but it is a mucky green/brown color. And it was humid and overcast, and didn’t feel like the kind of place that I would say “hey, wish I lived on the canal.” But maybe it is prettier in fall, and maybe the flat tire soured my experience. Others in the group loved it.

As a part of American history, The Erie Canal is impressive: it travels about 363 miles from Albany (on the Hudson River) to Buffalo (at Lake Erie), thereby completing a navigable water route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. The canal contains 36 locks and encompasses a total elevation differential of approximately 565 ft. First proposed in 1807, it was under construction from 1817 to 1825. It was the first transportation system between the eastern seaboard (New York City) and the western interior (Great Lakes) of the United States that did not require portage, was faster than carts pulled by draft animals, and cut transport costs by about 95%. The canal fostered a population surge in western New York State, opened regions farther west to settlement, and helped New York City become a chief U.S. port. It is the one of the most successful and influential human-built waterways, and one of the most important works of civil engineering and construction in North America. It no longer bears heavy commercial traffic, but there is still some activity beyond recreational boaters.

Traveling on the road was great. NY State bicycle route #5 runs 360+ miles from Niagara to the Massachusetts border, and while the road is busy, we had a wide, well paved, fairly clean shoulder most of the way. I thought motorists were great, but some felt that drivers are more rude here. I guess I’m being defensive as a New Yorker?

I rode most of the day with Polly, one of the women who I have most closely befriended on the trip. She left the ride after today, as her niece gets married in England this Saturday, and she could not miss the wedding. I am sure that we will stay in touch, but still kind of weird to be with someone for 7 weeks constantly and finish the ride together for 5 hours today, and then within 30 minutes she showered and drove away in a car with her husband. It certainly was a preview of what it will be like next Monday…

Erie Canal bike path

Erie Canal

Day 46–Niagara Falls to Henrietta

Today we rode 86 miles from Niagara Falls to Henrietta, which is just outside Rochester. The route out of Niagara was pretty seedy–most people said it was the worst ten miles of the trip. The funny part is that while I saw it, I don’t feel like it registered that much. Even though I had never been on these roads before, it kind of looked like what I imagined aging, upstate NY would look like…

We climbed 1550 vertical feet today, and while there were a couple of steep, noticeable climbs, what was most characteristic of the ride is continual rolling hills. I think this will pretty much be the “typical” day from here until the end, with a couple of the days having steeper up and downs. As far as I am concerned, bring it on. I won’t ever be in much better biking shape than this, so I may as well challenge myself as much as possible so that I know what my body could and could not do as a milestone marker for the rest of my life.

Not much else to say about today other than this sense that by next Tuesday I will wake up and no longer be a part of this riding experience…

Means “watch out for bowlers?”

Day 45: Epic Day!

What to do on a rest day? Take a ride, of course! But first, more of the Falls…

Visiting Niagara Falls is not a place to just stop the car, get out and take a few pictures, and then drive away kind of thing. There is so much to do, and so many ways to enjoy them, that it does take more than a day. Last night after dinner, we walked over to the viewing platform, and observed the Falls at night. Lights from the Canadian side shine on the American Falls with multi-colors–not entirely sure how I feel about that, but succumbed to it anyway. And it was here just a few days over one year ago today that Kitty Lambert and Cheryle Rudd were the first same sex couple to be legally married in NY state during a midnight ceremony with the rainbow-lit falls as a backdrop.

This morning, we took the Maiden of the Mist boat tour for the short journey upstream, by the American Falls and practically right under Horseshoe Falls. Yes, you need ponchos to stay dry. Next, we walked around Goat Island, which is the bit of land between the two Falls, and enjoyed multiple perspectives right at the lip of the falls as well as rapids upstream. It is kind of amazing that “just” a railing and less than a few feet of land in some places separates you from the rapids that would instantly sweep you over the falls. I have a definite fear of heights, and felt skittish at a few places, but for some reason the thrill of the water rushing by was a sight to behold. But probably the most fun part of the morning excursion was to what is referred to as “Cave of the Winds,” a viewing platform at the base of the American Falls. The water is crashing down from on high, landing on rocks and proceeding to flow over other rocks before flowing into the Niagara River. There is a portion of the platform that is built directly under the far left portion of the American Falls. The platform takes you as far into this cascade as possible without getting swept away. The wind and flow of water over the ponchos was like being under thousands of showers, and would make standing out in a hurricane feel like a sprinkle, which is probably why it is called Hurricane Deck. There is no comparison with anything else I’ve ever felt. It takes tremendous effort to maintain your position, much less look up at the water deluging you.

Walking back to the hotel we then ran into one of the leaders who had just come back from what he described as a “must see” loop south of the falls, back on the Canadian side, to a town called Niagara on the Lake. There were so many fun things to see along the way: massive hydro electric plant, aerial tram from one side of the river to the other with rapids flowing below, and wine country vineyards. The town sits at the mouth of the Niagara River and opens onto Lake Ontario. That is now 3 Great Lakes that I have seen in a week: Michigan, Huron and Ontario. The road along the lake was lined with gorgeous old homes/mansions, and we stopped on a grassy knoll and waded into the lake, which is as clear as the Caribbean. The town itself is a picture perfect resort town, someplace you could definitely see staying in overnight. I found it far more charming than say Easthampton NY, which bills itself as the “prettiest village in the US.” It was bustling with stores and restaurants, but they had charm and character and unique offerings. It did not have the sort of chain store blight that every US resort town has (i.e. no Rugby/Ralph Lauren or J Crew stores etc). We had an awesome lunch on the sidewalk at a great cafe (best blueberry pie, ever). And, on the route back we detoured to a winery for a brief tasting visit. All in, about a 33 mile loop.

Epic day!

Falls at night…

American Falls by day

Canadian Falls by day

Close up…

Niagara River divides around Goat Island with Canadian Falls to North and American in foreground..

Lake Ontario shoreline in Niagara on the Lake

Day 44: Brantford to Niagara Falls, NY USA: “I love NY…”

Today we rode 74 miles from Brantford to Niagara Falls. Great day in so many respects: started out this morning in about 65 degree temps, riding through quiet fields covered with morning dew. Completely deserted roads since it was Sunday morning. I could go on a bike ride like this today or any day and feel great. But to actually feel that way after 40+ days of riding was awesome.

I have never been to Niagara Falls, and since tomorrow is a rest day I get to report more about it tomorrow. But first impressions are much like seeing Mount Rushmore. Having held lifetime views of “what’s the big deal?” about a tourist trap, I was completely blown away. The rush of so much water from both the US Falls and the Canadian (Horseshoe) Falls. I love the ocean and the power of waves and a big storm, so this appeals to that sense in me. We arrived from the Canadian side, which is bustling with huge skyscraper hotels and casinos. Kind of like Las Vegas with a view. The US is a bit more run down, but arriving into NY state made me choke up a bit–I am in my home state (though admittedly far away from NYC). Only a week away from finishing this ride…

American Falls

I love NY!

Day 43–London to Brantford: Oh, Canada, day 2

Today we rode 67 miles from London to Brantford. Once again, overnight rain stopped just before the ride began. The temperature was a cool 65 under cloudy skies for most of the early part of ride, although it was 79 by the time we finished. Perfect weather.

Our route today was mostly out in the country lanes, roads with no center line and smooth blacktop. The landscape was like yesterday: farms growing corn, soybeans, and wheat. But there were some new crops: ginseng, tobacco, asparagus. I don’t think I have seen a tobacco crop before-it has a flower growing on top and is very pretty to look at in the fields. In general, farmers here seem more prosperous. There were some very large homes that looked more like they belonged in a sub-division in New Jersey, with big sweeping green lawns (in ground sprinklers), that were also manicured to perfection a la US suburbia. That, and some “different” colored barns, were the only distinguishable differences compared to the several thousand farms we have passed by in the US states behind us.

Brantford looks a bit like a city/town that would be suburban around London, England. I can’t exactly tell you why it feels that way, something about the architecture and layout (city centre) that just evoked that feeling in me. This city is famous as the birthplace of Alexander Graham Bell and Wayne Gretzky, and Jay Silverheels (born Harold Smith), who was Tonto, the faithful Indian sidekick of the Lone Ranger.

I’m wearing my jersey, but marriage equality is 7 years in the rear view mirror in Canada: In 2005, Canada became the fourth country in the world and the first country in the Americas to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide with the enactment of the Civil Marriage Act which provided a gender-neutral marriage definition for marriage (though courts had already stepped in in several provinces so same sex marriages go back further than that in Canada). Over the 2005-2007 period, several motions were brought to reconsider the Act. After the third vote supporting same-sex marriage taken by three Parliaments under three Prime Ministers in three different years, one Conservative cabinet member said he just wanted the issue “to go away,” and Prime Minister Stephen Harper afterwards told reporters that he “[didn't] see reopening this question in the future.” Yeah!

Approximately 43% of Canadians identify themselves as Catholic. The Catholic church put up some fight against the Marriage Act, but after a subsequent backlash in public opinion, the Church grew quiet on the subject. The Bishop of Calgary did, however, issue a particularly incendiary pastoral letter against gays in general, going far beyond same sex marriage. Two human rights complaints were filed against him under the Alberta Human Rights act, one of which was eventually dropped at the conciliation stage. But undoubtedly the point was made that it is not OK to interfere in civil/state matters, and fortunately humanity’s perceptions of human rights supersede badly misguided theology. Oh, if we could only have such justice in the United States!

Canadian barn motif #1

Canadian barn motif #2

Amazing undulating wheat field

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