Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Our 2016 Trip Begins

It’s time at last to restart our Redtandem blog for a trip we’re calling “England & Elbe” for short, but it’s quite a bit more than that.
We left Seattle on April 21 to pick up grandkids Elise and Issei in Ithaca NY and to bring them by bus and train to Washington DC for a week of sightseeing.  After a fun week, which we’ll do our usual show and tell about a paragraph or two from now, we returned to Ithaca only long enough to reassemble our tandem.  We then took off for a 10-day bike trip along the Erie Canal, ending back at Ithaca.  No sooner than we were back when Louise’s daughter Lisa and son-in-law Ray (Elise & Issei’s parents, of course) took off for their own 10-day trip, not by bike, to Viet Nam.  We’re now writing this from Ithaca, where we’re (mostly) getting the kids to school on time, ferrying them to swim and soccer practice, and reacquainting ourselves with the mindsets of 8 and 11-year-old kids.  It’s been challenging and fun.

Finally, on May 23, we seriously begin the “Redtandem” part of the trip.  We drive to JFK Airport in Lisa & Ray’s car, meet them when they emerge from customs, hand over the car keys, and move one terminal over to Icelandair for our own flight to London Gatwick.  We have a flat in the Pimlico neighborhood of London rented for a week, at the end of which our tandem Little Red will get reassembled and ridden over the next two weeks up the Thames to Oxford and then overland to Cambridge.  In Cambridge Little Red gets even littler as we disassemble him for the train and ferry trip to Holland.

After an overnight ferry from Harwich England we will wake up at the Hook of Holland and hop on a Dutch train for a 45-minute ride to a suburb of Rotterdam, where Dutch friends Nico and Marga will pick us up.  You met them if you read last year’s blog – tandemers we met on the Moselle and then got together with in Leiden Holland.  They have invited us to begin the Dutch part of our journey with a 3-day stay in their guest room, plus as much tandeming as our 8 legs and the weather will allow.  After our goodbyes we head about 1,000 km across the Netherlands and northern Germany until we hit the Elbe River at Cuxhaven, just north of Hamburg.  From there to Prague we ride another 1,000 km along the Elbe and its tributary the Vltava.  We’ll see how much time we have when we finally make it there, and see perhaps a little or perhaps a lot of the Danube before riding up the Inn and Salzach Rivers to Salzburg, our final stop.  Of course our return to Seattle is less than direct, but we’ll tell you more about that a few months from now.

And now for a few highlights of DC.  Good friend and DC-area resident Louise (aka 'the other Louise') picked us up by car and brought us out to Mt. Vernon, George Washington's stunning estate on the Potomac 20 miles below Washington DC.  That's Issei checking out the doll house model of Mt. Vernon.  Not sure what 18th century personage Elise and Issei are conversing with, but they kept up the conversation with him for 5 minutes while the adults inched up the waiting line for the house tour.  After Mt. Vernon, Louise ferried us to Arlington National Cemetery where we enjoyed this dramatic panorama of the capital.

 The highlight of day 2 was a visit to the Renwick Gallery, which was celebrating its reopening after a major renovation with an exhibit called Wonder.  And wonder-ful it was, as each gallery had the work of a single creative artist, such as these geologic formations made entirely from index cards, huts made from twigs,  the room decorated with bugs, and the large room that seemed to have clouds near the ceiling, slowly but steadily changing colors as you watched them.  The chance to get recumbent was also nice . . .

Some other highlights:  exploring the city by Metro; lunches out with Grandma and Grandpa; the Air & Space Museum, where you can check your weight on the moon; the National Zoo, where we walked with a Roseate Spoonbill; the Natural History Museum, where Issei got into giraffe mode and Grandpa took his photo as a Neanderthal; piggy-back rides when Issei got tired; and of course down time with the iPads and tablets at night.

On Friday night Lisa & Ray arrived by car from Ithaca and we explored some of the many monuments and memorials on the National Mall, including the Vietnam Memorial where Jeff remembered his high school classmate Steve Pickett, and the Korean Memorial where Issei chatted with a Korean War vet.  Grandpa couldn't quite get Lisa and Issei holding the Washington Monument, but he did get shots at the ML King and FDR Monuments.  He wonders what voters in 2016 would say if one of the candidates repeated FDR's sentiments about national progress.

As mentioned above, our 10-day tandem ride in upstate NY mostly followed the Erie Canal, but we started and ended in Ithaca, and it is anything but flat between the two.  Ithaca is in the area known as the Finger Lakes, a series of deep troughs carved by glaciers 10-20,000 years ago.  Since the shores of these lakes are sometimes very steep, roads mainly have to follow the ridges, which are rarely lined up with the way folks wanted to travel when the roads were built.  So up and down you go until you get to the somewhat flatter land the canal was built through.

The canal that was built from 1817 to 1825 is not the Erie Canal of today.  It was originally built to be 40 feet wide and 4 feet deep, then enlarged to 70 feet by 7 feet within a dozen years of opening.  In 1903 much of the original canal was abandoned and a new canal opened, officially called the New York State Barge Canal, though most folks call it by the familiar old name.  It is maintained to be 120 feet wide and 12 feet deep.  For much of the 20th century it continued to carry freight, but today it is almost entirely a recreational waterway.

The original canal does exist in many places, but only a few miles here and there are maintained, mainly for short rides on replica barges pulled by mules or horses, as the original ones were.  The 1903 canal was designed for motorized boats, so has no towpath per se, though much of it does have a walking path alongside it for bicycle use and occasional maintenance access.  Near Weedsport we rode one of the old sections that is clearly not maintained as a canal, though the old towpath is -- and is used quite a bit by cyclists.  The photo immediately above is of a painting from the 19th century of the original canal, while the photo below is of a portion of the Barge Canal we rode,  near Rochester.  Since we biked the entire length of the canal in 2004 and have re-ridden portions of it in 2007, 2008 and 2010, we can assure you that it is very typical of almost all the 525 miles of the new canal.  Not all of it has a bike path along it, but where there is a trail it is fairly certain to be easily ridden even with a skinny 700Cx32 or even 700Cx28 tire bike -- that's what we rode the first time we did it.  About 5% is paved, the rest packed limestone, similar to the many rail trails we've ridden in Wisconsin and elsewhere.  You can see the transition from paving (it's always paved underneath bridges) and the regular surface in the second photo below.

The furthest from Ithaca we reached was downtown Rochester NY, to see the 96 foot tall High Falls.  A few blocks upstream is where the original Erie Canal crossed the Genesee River, on the aqueduct you see in the second photo.  When the canal was relocated several miles away, the old canal bed was reused to become a subway line, though that was abandoned in the 1950s.  The second level of the aqueduct is a roadway that was added during this period.  A stairway nearby had an excellent mural recreating the way downtown looked at the height of the canal era in Rochester.

Besides the canal, upstate New York is also a great place to see 19th century architecture.  Here are two business blocks, the first in the small town of Phelps, the second in the resort town of Skaneateles (first from the street, then from Lake Skaneateles).  Phelps also had some cobblestone houses, built from uncut glacier-rounded rocks left behind in this region in great profusion by the same glaciers that carved the Finger Lakes.  95% of the cobblestone houses in the U.S. are in this section of western central New York State.

We'll close our photo collection with the breakfast view from the Sherwood Inn in Skaneateles, and a few of the houses in Skaneateles and across its eponymous lake, ending with a farm well out from town that captures how hilly the area can be.  After 8 days of riding in upstate NY,  we think we're ready to tackle our hilly route in England.  Our next blog entry will probably be about London, and then the real biking will begin.  See you down the road!