Southern Ontario and New York State
Crossing into Southern Ontario from Manitoulin Island was like arriving in a different world. After nearly a month of remote roads and 100 km between small towns, I was suddenly hitting villages and shops on a regular basis with traffic everywhere. There were still a few opportunities for a little bit of wild exploration though and on my first day off the ferry I took one of these and camped in the Bruce Peninsula National Park. My afternoon was spent swimming, hiking and running in beautiful sunshine. It was a great way to take a break from my bike and was the last time I would have to worry about bears! It seemed unlikely that there would be any problems in such a busy park but as I was leaving the next morning, I noticed huge, muddy paw prints all over the rubbish bins!
I headed south along the Bruce Peninsula, making for Wiarton. It was brutally hot and humid. I was delighted to spend a few hours cooling off in an air-conditioned ‘Tim Hortons’. That evening I headed for a conservation area campground called Denny’s Dam, run by the Saugeen Steelheads Fishing Group. As I arrived at the site they seemed somewhat surprised to see me. It wasn’t often they had guests not looking to fish. I explained that the site was clearly marked on my map and they were more than happy to let me put my tent up in their eating shelter. It was another wonderful stroke of luck. The site manager was fantastically generous, finding me firewood, charging my electrical items and giving me a couple of beers. How do I keep finding these people? They sent me on my way with a Saugeen Steelheads baseball cap and hoodie and refused to take payment for the campsite. From Denny’s Dam, I had an incredibly relaxed day covering an easy 70 km to Mildmay, where I would have a Warmshowers host. I spent the afternoon in the library before heading just out of town to stay with Sharilyn and Brian. Their house was just beautiful, situated on their own small farm. It had a great evening with them, chatting about cycling and eating their wonderful fresh food.
The cycling continued to be fairly uneventful. The terrain was fairly flat and the distances no more than 110 km. I was heading for the town of Simcoe. First I had a night in Stratford; a charming town with it’s very own Shakespeare Festival! In Simcoe, I would be staying with Marcel and Lee. I had first met them in a campground in Saskatchewan and they came good on their offer to have me to stay. I immediately felt incredibly welcome with them. They welcomed me like part of the family and just asked how long I wanted to stay with no real pressure to ever leave. If I hadn’t had to get to New York I don’t know that I ever would. Their house was beautiful and I ended up spending four nights with them. Their hospitality was incredible. They didn’t even mind that I was staying while their daughter and granddaughter were visiting. Just truly wonderful and generous people.
Next up was the travesty that is the town of Niagara Falls. I stayed in the hostel so I could make the most of the sightseeing opportunities. The Falls themselves are one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen. The size and power of them are majestic and the trip on the boat to the base of the falls was very worthwhile. Unfortunately, the town built to capitalise on the tourist industry the Falls generate, is just horrendous. Cheap, tacky and sleazy are just a few of the words I would use to describe the town; and those are some of the more restrained options. At least I was able to get one final look at the Falls themselves as I crossed the Rainbow Bridge into New York State and the USA. I was heading for the Erie Canal Trail which would take me most of the way across the state to Albany, where I would turn south towards New York City itself. I picked up the trail in Lockport. The riding was easy and in the early evening I headed north to the Golden Hill State Park where I would camp for the night. A lovely couple let me share their site so I wouldn’t have to pay and even cooked me dinner!
I then headed to the small village of Macedon (which would be huge in Northern Ontario), where I could camp at a lock on the canal for free. The riding was again easy, mostly staying very close to the canal. I awoke to a leaden sky and as soon as I hit the road, a monumental rainstorm set in for the morning. I headed to Newark and the shelter of McDonalds. I have no idea what those poor employees must have thought. At least the rain cleared for the afternoon and I was able to make the Cayuga Lake State Park. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to enjoy the scenery. As soon as I had finished dinner, a huge storm rolled through and all I could do was hide in my tent for the night. From the state park, I was headed into Syracuse. I would spend three nights here so I didn’t arrive in New York too early. The downtown of the city is modern and vibrant and the university looked fantastic. Unfortunately, the hostel I was in was in a very downtrodden suburb that felt very uncomfortable at times.
From Syracuse, it was three days of easy cycling into Albany, the state capital. The only difficulty was some extreme heat and humidity but thankfully, the cycling wasn’t particularly testing. I spent one night at a state park and the second with Michael, a great Warmshowers host. Also staying was Mike. He was cycling to Boston to start a new job.We cycled into Albany together and headed for the pub, where we decided we would easily find somewhere to stay. After spending the afternoon searching for campgrounds and motels, we were slightly drunk and no closer to finding somewhere to stay. Getting desperate, I began speaking to a family sharing our table. I asked if they knew anyone that would allow us to camp in their garden and for some reason they offered theirs! They gave us their address and left us to enjoy the rest of our evening. In the early hours of the morning we left the pub to cover the 7 km to their house. Cycling after a few beers was not as easy as we had hoped but we eventually made it to the right address. Unfortunately Mike missed the last turn to their house and ended up sleeping in a field. I was woken by the sprinklers at 6 in the morning. After a couple of hours of concern, Mike turned up and the Collura family treated us to a wonderful breakfast and shower.
Mike and I headed our separate ways. I turned south down the Hudson valley with four more nights before New York. I stayed in the town of Hudson; sleeping on the lawn of James, another contact through Warmshowers. I then continued south to stay with Linda and Phil. They split their time between Brisbane and Rhinebeck in New York State and host touring cyclists in both locations. Linda and Phil were great hosts. On hearing that I needed to kill a little time before New York they offered me a second night and I was invited to go hiking with Phil. It was wonderful to head into the Catskills and conquer two of the 35 peaks over 3500 ft. My luck with the people I have met has just been remarkable. Linda and Phil were one final example of that.
From Rhinebeck I continued along the Hudson Valley with some fantastic views of the river. The cycling was wonderful with a few rolling hills. I was following the New York State bike route 9 which would guide me directly into the city the next day. The route was easy to follow and stuck to minor roads. There was one slight problem however. To avoid the highway around Bear Mountain, the route diverts along an off-road trail. The path goes from exclusively on road, to seriously off-road very quickly. The terrain is rough and overgrown. There were even fallen trees blocking the trail. It was an absolute nightmare for a couple of kilometres. Thankfully I made it through in one piece. This left me with one final, massive climb to the Beaver Pond Campground. I arrived pouring with sweat having pushed very hard for the final big ascent of the trip. As I pitched my tent it seemed insane to think that, after ten and a half months on the road, the next day I would be rolling into New York City.