Monday, June 2, 2008

Over the Hills to Ithaca

Tired greetings from our home away from home, Ithaca, where we are staying with Louise's daughter Lisa and her family. We biked 9 straight days from Princeton here, our longest stretch of consecutive biking days, but that wasn't what wore us down on the way here. No, it was the hills, lots of them, in fact lots of big ones. There's something about getting down into your lowest gear, grinding to the top of a steep hill and, just as you are about to congratulate yourself on making it to the top, seeing another hill beyond, higher and steeper-looking than the one you're on! Well, we had that experience almost every day on this leg of the trip! So the emblematic image of the past week is this one of Jeff using the "28th gear" on our 27-speed bike, walking.
Which we also did almost every day of the past week, sometimes more than once. Hey, it's about comfort, not pride.

Perhaps it was also the shock of hills after four months with an almost complete absence of them. The route we took through Florida, GA, SC, NC, VA, MD, DE and southern NJ was almost dead-flat, and we only used our granny gear (the small chainring that gives you really low gears for climbing) three times until last week, two of them large bridges in Georgia and a single steep hill in Virginia. But once we hit those New Jersey hills, we were into it constantly.

Our route went from Princeton to the Delaware River, then up that river along the NJ-PA border to Port Jervis, where NY, NJ and PA come to a point. We expected the Delaware Water Gap to be both hilly and spectacular as we cut through the heart of the Appalachian Mountain chain, but in fact the Gap itself was wide enough for the road to avoid major climbs, and no one spot caught the drama of the river cutting through. It was quite beautiful, however,
and almost 100 miles of our route both before and after the Water Gap were on small roads like this one near the river, or this second one that Jeff is again taking in that "28th gear."
By the way, that cloud of white near him is indeed dogwood in bloom. We've now been following it northward for 2 1/2 months.

From Port Jervis we continued to follow the Delaware, which forms the border between NY and PA for about 100 miles. This was the hardest part of the trip, as the river has little floodplain and the road wanders up and down as it more-or-less follows the river. We had a beautiful view down to the river from a pullout seen here,
but also a preview of the climb to come.
Whew! By the second day of roller-coaster riding, going 40+ mph down a hill only to be climbing the next one a minute or two later at 6 mph, or walking, we came to an easy decision: two of the panniers had to take a summer vacation in Ithaca!

When we weren't panting up hills, we rode along discussing what we had in our panniers that we could live without in order to go from 4 panniers down to 2. By the time we leave Ithaca, we will be in "New England hill mode" with no more stove, titanium pots, binoculars, rain pants, and various items of clothing, and will have switched to thinner, lighter sneakers in place of our GoreTex waterproof walking shoes. Don't think that will entirely keep us out of 28th gear, but it should minimize it and get us over the hills a bit less exhausted. We'll try to keep the number of books down as well -- at times back in the flat lands we had 4 and even 5 after hitting particularly good used book stores or libraries with good book sales. We may even go back to reading the same book, with the first person tearing off sections of the book for the second person to read. And if all that isn't enough, we may have to do something drastic like lose weight ourselves!

One day before hitting Ithaca, we reached familiar territory, Binghamton NY. We biked here on a 3-day jaunt last Fall, and we knew the route "home." It wasn't quite as hilly as the previous 7 days, and familiarity in this instance bred contentment. We were almost there!
The last night out we tried something new, staying at a Tandem Club of America "Hospitality Home" with Roy and Laurie, who shared tandem experiences with us over this dinner at a nearby Thai restaurant. It was a good visit, and we're hoping to visit two or three more hospitality homes in the coming weeks.

It's good to be back with family for a week of R&R, and it's been our first major relaxing since early January -- no historic sites or nature trails to visit, just catching up on sleep, playing with two grandchildren, enjoying Lisa and Ray's gourmet home cooking, and doing lots of trip planning for the coming three months
with a borrowed laptop. On our second day here we biked to grandaughter Hanachan's day care and were her "Show and Tell" exhibit.
The kids got a big kick seeing such a large bike, and one with two seats! The bell and the flashing rear light were big hits as well, with all the 3- to 5-year olds wanting a turn to play with them.

We're still working on the tentative route for the summer,
but we have made a reservation for a VIA train leaving Halifax NS on Labor Day (actually Labour Day in Halifax) that will take us to Kingston ON, at the east end of Lake Ontario. From there it's a 5-day ride back to Ithaca, where we will reshuffle the equipment, disassemble the bike into two suitcases, and take off on Amtrak for Los Angeles with a 4-day stop in Austin to see Jeff's daughter Becky and her family. We'll arrive in LA one day before our sailing on the Holland-America Volendam to Aukland New Zealand, where we'll reassemble the tandem for still more adventures.

But that's getting a little ahead of ourselves. Our goal for the next three months is to see New England and the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia in depth and to visit several friends along the way, with our newly-lightened tandem. We look forward to sending you more reports about every 10-14 days.

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