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Back in the Saddle Again

I bet you probably didn’t expect to see a post on here after a year! But here I am, getting ready to make up for skipping the stretch from Syracuse to Schenectady.

As I’m sure you all know, much has happened since I last posted on here. I wasn’t really expecting the world to end in 2020, but it seems determined to do so.

But let’s back up a step. I got home after my ride and started looking for a job in earnest. Meanwhile I decided to take advantage of my continued unemployment by doing extensive travel, including plane trips to China, Singapore, Japan and Costa Rica, and road trips to Halifax and Ottawa. Here’s a totally gratuitous photo of me skating the Rideau Canal in Ottawa last February.

Of all these trips, the Halifax one was the only one where I did any biking, but I had such a great time biking the Nova Scotia coast that I hope to take a bike trip up there next summer if the world is back to normal by then.

Anyway, I eventually landed myself a job (where I just celebrated my half-year anniversary!) but I only got to spend half a day in the office before they made me work from home due to the coronavirus epidemic. When it became clear that my office wouldn’t reopen before Labor Day, I decided to rent a place in Bozeman, MT for the summer just to be someplace different. So I spent nearly 2 months out there, bought a cheap used bike to explore the area, and did a ton of hiking and biking after work and on weekends. In the process, I also visited almost every brewery within a 100-miles radius of Bozeman, which means that at this point I’ve probably been to about half the breweries in Montana. Meanwhile here’s a couple of gratuitous photos I took of geysers at Yellowstone National Park.

Of course, while I was in Montana Massachusetts tightened their quarantine rules, so I had to get tested before I could return home. (Yes, it came back negative.) And now that I’m back home, my travel options are a bit limited because there are all of 11 states Massachusetts will let me travel to without having to either get tested or quarantine upon my return. However, it just so happens that New York is one of those states. And likewise, New York doesn’t require quarantine for visitors from Massachusetts.

All this brings us back to the present. As you may remember, there were several segments on my ride that I skipped. I got a ride from a nice guy named Greg from Cle Elum, WA to Ellensburg so that we could hang out at a brewery that I didn’t even know existed. That cut out about 24 miles. Then I rented a car in Great Falls, MT and drove to North Dakota because I was going out of my mind with how isolated the area was. That cut out about 400 miles. Next I hitched a ride from Steele, ND to Jamestown because most of the intervening stretch would have been on I-94 and it was also a really hot and humid day. That cut out about 57 miles. Finally, I took Amtrak from Syracuse, NY to Schenectady just because I hadn’t had a rest day in a week and wanted to be fresh for climbing the Berkshires, and because I was starting to get tired of being on the road and wanted to get home sooner rather than later. That cut out about 130 miles.

So given the quarantine situation and all, I decided I would spend this weekend biking those 130 miles from Syracuse to Schenectady and seeing what I missed last summer. So I cut out of work a little after 2pm today, drove the 3 hours to Schenectady, and hopped Amtrak back to Syracuse. (Fun fact: This is only the second time I’ve put my touring bike on a car rack. The first time was when I did a training ride on Nantucket.) Conveniently, downtown Schenectady has free on-street parking from 6pm Friday to 8am Monday, so I didn’t have to worry about what to do with my car. However, I did have a couple of hours to kill between my arrival in Schenectady and my train’s departure, so it was time for breweries! As you may recall from when I passed through Schenectady last year, there are three breweries downtown but none of them open before 4pm on weekdays. My uncle and aunt were nice enough to take me to one of them for dinner, but that leaves two others, so I decided to check out those other breweries before I caught my train.

That’s Frog Alley Brewing. Like many breweries in the COVID era, they’ve opened up an extensive outdoor patio so that patrons can enjoy their beers while safely social distancing. They’ve also set up these cool multi-colored booths, though I just sat at a regular table. Unfortunately, as is the case with many breweries, they’re not offering flights until things are back to normal, so I was limited in how many beers I could try.

Anyway, one major difference between now and when I did the major part of my cross-country ride is that it’s decidedly later in the summer. That means that the days are shorter (less than 13 hours of daylight compared to 14-16 on my ride last summer), the temperatures are colder (it was 66° at 5:30, and I had to grab my windbreaker out of my saddle bag), and fall beer styles are being released. To wit, Frog Alley just came out with their Harvest Ale pumpkin beer today, so I figured I’d try it as my first pumpkin ale of the season. Not bad, but definitely on the sweet side. More to my liking was their Luke, I Am Your Dunkel dunkelweizen. Dunkelweizen isn’t a style you see all that often on this side of the Atlantic, and a lot of breweries that do make it generally tend to turn out a somewhat watery beer without much character. Frog Alley is not one of those breweries. Their dunkel is one of the better ones I’ve had: quite malty, a bit roasty, and just a hint of the banana flavor that characterizes a good weizen beer. I may even get another one when I get back to Schenectady.

After that I headed over to my final brewery in downtown Schenectady, Great Flats.

Great Flats does not have an outdoor patio, but they do have large garage doors that they opened, so there was still plenty of air circulation. Going back to the fall theme (equinox in 11 days!) they just released their Schenectoberfest märzen beer this week. (Munich announced the cancelation of the real Oktoberfest all the way back in April. At the time I thought they were a bit too hasty. Now it’s clear they made the right call.) Anyway, Oktoberfest is one of those styles that’s really easy to make without character, but these guys did a really interesting version that I’d happily drink again. Also of note was the Super Brunch Stout coffee stout. It’s pretty strong on the coffee though, so be warned!

And now here I am in Syracuse. Unfortunately, thanks to the current situation, none of the breweries in this city are open past 9pm, even on a Friday, and my train didn’t arrive until 9:44. I would have loved to have gone back to Buried Acorn, but it’s not going to happen on this trip. In other news, Empire Brewing, which I visited on my way through here last year and which had been around for a quarter century, closed last fall and merged with a brewery south of Buffalo. Also, IBU Brewing, which I was hoping to visit, closed at the end of August for family reasons, even though they’d apparently been quite profitable despite the shutdown. If it’s not one thing it’s another, but there’s a lot of stress on craft breweries these days and hopefully most of them are able to survive into 2021!

So that’s a wrap for a post that maybe didn’t have to be quite so long. I’m setting out for Herkimer tomorrow, and there are quite a few breweries along the way, so hopefully I can get back into my old groove!

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