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Day 35: Herkimer, NY to Schenectady, NY

Okay, I realize this post is rather delayed. Fact of the matter is, when I finished my ride for the day I then had to get dinner and drive back to Cambridge, and when I got home at 10:30 I was way too exhausted to write the post. Then it was the work week and I was too busy to sit down and write, the following weekend was Rosh Hashanah, and well, you get the idea.

So here I am writing this all a month later, but still with good memories of how the day went.

I had intended to get a decently early start because rain was in the forecast for the afternoon. But as always I had trouble getting myself going, so it was a little past 9 by the time I hit the road after grabbing a few calories at a convenience store. The morning was beautiful, sunny, crisp and fall-like, and it was a bit hard to believe that rain was due in another several hours. Crossing the Mohawk River I could see a nice PAVED stretch of the Canalways Trail below me, but with no easy way to access it I was forced to continue on the road. Turning east had me pedaling into the wind, and I knew it was going to be a challenging day because once the wind changed it would mean that the rain was approaching. So I pushed onwards and about one mile and one hill later, the road finally came out to the trail and I was able to switch to bike path.

Once on the path I soon caught up to a local couple who were out for a morning ride. We started chatting and they told me that I was really lucky because we were about to hit a stretch coming up that had only been paved a week earlier. Indeed, we soon wound up on a stretch where Google Maps showed no trail and I continued with them for another couple of miles. At that point the river took a bend while the nearby road continued in a straight line. Even though I was sore from the previous day, I figured I could handle whatever sort of a hill the road threw at me in exchange for shaving off a few miles, so I switched over to the road.

Well, the hill was just a wee bit more serious than I was expecting. With over a mile of steady ascent during which I climbed 600 feet, it reminded me of some of the hills I had to deal with in western Wisconsin. No mountains anywhere nearby in both cases, but the hills are certainly nothing to scoff at when you’re biking up them! At least the view from the top was nice.

After descending the other side (and topping out at 35 mph thanks to the headwind), I caught a dirt road connecting back to the canal trail. Once again Google had no information on the condition of the road, other than to show it as a bike route. Turned out it was quite bumpy in places, but at least there was no mud to get stuck in. This stretch of the canal trail was also unpaved, though based on the grading and the construction equipment along the route, I’m guessing it will be paved within a few months. The pavement resumed a couple of miles later when the trail crossed into Montgomery County, and over the next dozen or so miles I had some beautiful views of the Erie Canal and its locks.

Now on Saturday’s ride there had conveniently been a brewery to visit every 10-20 miles so I was able to pace my stops without having to particularly plan them out. On this day though, the only brewery between Herkimer and Schenectady that wasn’t well out of my way was a mere 8 miles from Schenectady, so I was going to have to find other excuses to stop. So after a few stops along the canal to stretch, I pulled into the village of Cajanoharie for brunch around 11:30, 26 miles (or 40% of the way) into my day.

While I wasn’t feeling demoralized the way I was when I stopped for breakfast in Westby, WI after a comparable distance and a comparable amount of hill climbing, I was definitely tired and sore, so it was about 12:30 before I hit the road again. Only a mile or two out of Cajanoharie the wind shifted, the sky clouded over, and the air got noticeably more humid. Now it was clear I was going to be racing against the storm and almost certainly wouldn’t make it to Schenectady without getting wet.

Doing a bit of research on my phone, I discovered there was an ice cream stand about a block off the trail 17 miles past Cajanoharie. Yes, it was a sore 17 miles and the humidity didn’t feel great, but at least I didn’t have the wind in my face anymore, so I got to the ice cream stand a little over an hour later. I didn’t have much of an appetite (I hadn’t managed to finish my brunch either) so I figured a frappe (or “milkshake” as they call it in Upstate New York) was the best way to get calories into my system. That was probably a good idea, since now I would definitely have the energy to pedal the final 22 miles, even if my legs were going to feel sore. Meanwhile, while I was stopped I noticed my odometer had hit a milestone.

Now let’s consider: I put a little over 500 miles on the bike when I was training in spring of last year. I’ve also put maybe 10 miles on it around Cambridge and Somerville since I got home from the main part of my ride. So that means I’ve devoted some 2800 miles to riding across the country, and that’s despite the fact that I skipped a few stretches! What would it have been without the skips? 3200? 3300? Those just seem like some crazy numbers to think about.

Anyway, once I finished my frappe and got back on the bike path it was getting close to 2:30 and within a couple of miles I felt the first drops. Fortunately it wasn’t any worse than a few scattered drops at this point, and 7 miles on the trail brought me to Amsterdam. Amsterdam, NY is your typical small, post-industrial city trying to reinvent itself. It’s probably best known as the city where the late Kirk Douglas grew up, though these days its most notable landmark is this random castle.

As part of the city reinventing itself, they recently put in a very nice bike-and-pedestrian bridge over the Mohawk River. From a practical standpoint this is great because the alternative is a highway bridge. But even from an esthetic standpoint the bridge is nice, with random works of art along it and great views of the river.

The far side of the bridge dumped me in a park along the river. At this point Google told me to cut across the park where I’d find a path across some train tracks that would take me out to Route 5, which would in turn bring me to both the brewery and Schenectady. Unbeknownst to Google, there was a locked gate preventing me from crossing the tracks. So what I actually had to do was take an elevator up to a pedestrian overpass. The overpass crossed over both the train tracks and Route 5 and dumped me on the roof of a parking garage. Biking out of the parking garage put me on Main St. And biking east on Main St. eventually merged me into Route 5. Whew!

Around this time it started to drizzle and I was afraid I wouldn’t make it to the brewery without being soaked. But after 2 miles the rain stopped and I biked the final 4 miles to Wolf Hollow Brewing without incident. (Well, other than that I was seriously worn down by this point and had to will myself the last few miles even with the wind now in my favor.)

Wolf Hollow was really hopping at 3:30 on a Sunday! Being in the small town of Glenville they have a lot of land, and they were having the closest thing they could have to an Oktoberfest given social distancing. There was a German food truck and everything. As for the brewery itself, the beer line was to the door so it was a bit before I could order. When I finally made it to the front of the line I discovered they weren’t offering flights, not because of covid but because they were so busy and pouring a flight would slow down the line! They were however willing to do two half pours, so I grabbed a couple of beers and sat down outside.

The better beer in this round was their Year One schwartzbier, which was really quite tasty. When I complemented them on it I also asked if they had recently celebrated their first anniversary of business. They said no, they’ve actually been around for over a decade, but they first brewed a schwartzbier to celebrate their first anniversary and now whenever they brew it they still use the Year One name!

While I was drinking though, the rain started up again and this time it got to be more than a drizzle. My table was uncovered, so I found shelter at a large picnic table that had an umbrella. There was a couple already sitting there, but they were happy to share the table with me and we agreed that it was big enough that I was at least close to 6 feet away from them. In any event it was nice to have a situation like the pre-covid days where I could just chat with strangers at a brewery! A month later I don’t remember too much of the conversation, but we definitely talked for a while and covered topics like biking and beers and reopenings of businesses and schools. I really miss the experience of talking with strangers at breweries in different areas and learning about the local region and mindset; I’m glad coronavirus hasn’t completely wiped that out.

Eventually I finished my round and my table-mates finished theirs and departed. But it was still raining steadily so I decided to order another round and wait it out. This time I got El Lobo Loco, a Mexican-style lager with lime zest and white peppercorn. Considering I was feeling kind of full (remember I hadn’t had much of an appetite all day), it was nice to be able to enjoy a lighter beer with some creative flavors!

By the time I finished my second round it was almost 5:30 but at least the rain had finally stopped. The roads were of course wet, but better that than getting soaked. So an uneventful final 8 miles got me back to my car in Schenectady right around 6pm. It felt very strange finishing a multi-day tour by loading my bike onto my car rack and driving home, but then again it’s been a very strange year to say the least. And hey, the short of it all is I can now say that apart from having to take a ferry across Lake Michigan and a bus under the Detroit River, I’ve biked a continuous path from Jamestown, ND to Boston Harbor even if I still have some gaps in my route in the western half of the country.

So where does that leave us? Well, doing a two-day ride in the covid era certainly made me appreciate how lucky I was to have been able to do my main ride last year. There are so many things I did on that ride that I wouldn’t have been able to do this year, whether it was enjoying home hospitality from others or even just being able to cross the border into Canada. And of course last year I didn’t have to think about how many face masks I needed to pack! At the same time, I got to enjoy some experiences I wouldn’t have been able to have last year, between visiting a couple of breweries that were less than a year old and drinking in some nice outdoor beer gardens that breweries have had to open so that they can serve more customers outdoors.

Another lesson I now appreciate is how important it is to train for long rides. Before the main ride I spent a month and a half going on rides of up to 110 miles and climbing mountains. This time I literally just hopped on my touring bike and started pedaling after only spending about 4 miles on it near my home making sure I could readjust to it. Other than that I’d just been doing 10-20 mile rides around the city. So 70 miles in a day made me feel a whole lot more sore this time around than it did last year!

That said, I still have the bike touring bug. I’ve been looking at what it would take to do a bike trip to Nova Scotia as mentioned earlier. God willing, things will be back to something resembling normal by next summer, we’ll have a vaccine, a President Biden, an open border with Canada, and I’ll be able to spend 2-3 weeks biking up the coast. If so, I’ll remember to train for it first.

In the meantime, feel free to check out my Instagram. I’m still updating it fairly regularly with photos and stories from my outdoor adventures and the breweries I discover along the way. And stay safe out there during these difficult times!

Total distance: 65.6 miles
Average speed: 13.1 mph

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