May 20: Hudson Valley

May 20: Hudson Valley

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on May 20, 2005]

Greetings from Whitehall, New York, where the Hudson River valley becomes the Lake Champlain valley. I was planning to wait to write until my last day in the US, but I have time now and won't then, so...

I left New Jersey on Thursday the 12th and saw a little bit of the Catskills. The rocks are really beautiful: lots of gneiss and schist. I crossed the Appalachian Trail on Friday at the Bear Mountain bridge. I didn't have to wait long to meet my first hillbillies: the guy who checked me into my campsite had only three teeth. One of the other campers insisted that I was lying about how far I had bicycled and then demanded that I confirm that I was as "wacked" as he is. "C'mon, say it: you're wacked like me."

The series of flats in my rear tire that I thought I had fixed in Montclair continued, so I stopped in Fishkill to get the rim looked at. (The punctures were occurring on the rim side of the tubes.) The husband-and-wife owners couldn't find the problem, but they did install a new rim band and a "thorn-resistant" (i.e. thick) tube in my size. So far, so good! It probably helps that I'm out of the city, too!

On Saturday I passed through Poughkeepsie, and my friend Anna showed me all around the Vassar campus -- which is more like an arboretum than a shady lawn -- and the art museum where she works. She treated me to lunch in the dining hall, and I felt pretty cool hanging out with the college crowd ... until I learned that Anna's friends had assumed I was her father! Don't get me wrong, her father is a good-looking guy and one of the most influential environmentalists in the state of Minnesota, but he's gotta be 20 years older than me...

In Hyde Park that afternoon, I toured the grounds of FDR's house and would have gone to see Vanderbilt's mansion, but the driveway was dauntingly hilly. Hyde Park would be a nice weekend destination: lots of inexpensive motels, and all the tourist destinations are connected by a walking trail through the gorgeous, forested valley.

On Sunday I went farther than I'd planned, since the campground wanted $30 to let me set up my tent in the rain. Hudson, NY is a nice little town with an old-fashioned main street, like Hudson, Wisconsin but about three times the size, and located on the actual Hudson, and with a more diverse population. I got a room in "The first motel ever converted from a movie theater and located in a small community," according to the plaque outside. The clerk told me that the rates are about to go way up in two weeks; when I asked what the attraction was, she said, "antiques." I hadn't known there was an antique season... I wonder if they have to put blaze-orange vests on anything that's not for sale?

I arrived in Albany on Monday and stayed through Thursday morning with my college friend Eleanor. The Empire Film Festival was in progress, so we attended and cast ballots on several showings of short films from around the world. The best of the bunch was "West Bank Story," a musical about love and hate among feuding falafel vendors. I got to explore downtown Albany a bit. I was particularly impressed by the Empire State Plaza, although Eleanor tells me it's "a textbook example of totalitarian architecture." I just think it's an efficient use of space: in about the same footprint as the Minneapolis Convention Center, there's a parking ramp, convention center, five government office buildings with plenty of windows, a park (on the roof of the convention center) and a performing-arts hall ("The Egg"). An overpass doubles as a stairway to the State Museum and amphitheater seating. Very cool. And the whole plaza looks as good as new, even though it was built before I was born.

The State Museum features the first permanent exhibit about 9/11. I got sucked into a film made by a pair of French brothers who had intended to chronicle a day in the life of NYC firefighters, but instead they got the World Trade Center impacts and collapses. One of the brothers was in the lobby of WTC 1 while bodies were falling from the tower -- each sickening THUMP on the lobby roof made every firefighter wince -- and when WTC 2 was hit, and while WTC 2 collapsed. The smoke was so thick they couldn't see the other tower and didn't know what had happened, but when they stepped outside everything was covered in ash and paper. Fortunately they evacuated the lobby before tower 1 collapsed as well! It's an extraordinary film.

Yesterday I had a very short ride to a campground in the town of Schaghticoke, near Mechanicville. My campsite was right on the edge of a plateau overlooking a stream valley. I swear the sun rose earlier than usual up there: it woke me at 5:30 this morning! I parted company with the Hudson River at Hudson Falls and continued north with the Lake Champlain Canal. I was getting nervous about crossing the mountains tomorrow, so I gave away about two pounds of clothes to some folks who were having a garage sale. I shouldn't need so many now that summer is really here.

In Fort Ann I met a cyclist named Richard coming the other way. He said he's been on the road for 12 years and hasn't paid to camp in 10... he knows the northeast in detail and knows where he can camp without disturbing anyone. His trailer is custom-built with a heavy steel frame carrying an even heavier load -- including a huge solar panel charging a car battery and an inverter so he can use appliances. No motor on the bike, though; he rides a mountain bike (these being the mountains) for the low gearing. He says he lives on about $20 a day from his disability check... Who says the fun and games have to stop when you lose an eye?

For my part, I got a hotel in Whitehall, and they gave me a discount for arriving by bicycle. I'll be in the Adirondacks for the better part of three days, and I'll reach Montreal on Tuesday and Ottawa on Saturday (a week from tomorrow)! I'll write again from there. --Ben

Ben Fri, 05/20/2005 - 13:11

To Whirlpool State Park

To Whirlpool State Park

[Note: although my journal indicates the name of the state park was Whirlpool, the park by that name is on the opposite side of the state. I've put the pin for this day in Bear Mountain State Park instead.]

The forecast rainstorm for today didn't show; in fact the weather was lovely all day.  I had no trouble biking out of New Jersey.  My campground for the night in Whirpool State Park was several miles into the Catskills, so I walked my bike quite a lot.  It's a beautiful park, rustic but not too rustic, and only an hour's drive from Manhattan.

Ben Thu, 05/12/2005 - 09:36

To Fishkill, NY

To Fishkill, NY

I had a lot of fun this morning riding down all the hills I had struggled up yesterday, but alas I had a slow leak in my tire and had to stop to pump it every few miles, all day long.

The highlight of the day was when I crossed the Appalachian Trail (and the Hudson River) at Bear Mountain.  I wish I could think that this was also the high point of the trip, but that will be more than 500 feet higher...

I didn't have to wait long to meet my first hillbillies: the guy who checked me into my campsite had only three teeth.  One of the other campers insisted that I was lying about how far I had bicycled and then insisted that I confirm that I was "wacked like me."

I left my trailer at the campsite and rode into Fishkill to get my tire looked at.  The bike shop was a real mom & pop place... not much selection, but they did have a 20" thorn-resistant tube!  (i.e. thicker rubber.)  They didn't have any more luck than I'd had locating the source of the punctures (which was on the rim, not the tire), but they installed a new rim band, and with the thicker tube I should be in good shape.

Ben Fri, 05/13/2005 - 15:13

Through Poughkeepsie

Through Poughkeepsie

I rode into Poughkeepsie this morning, expecting to get there around 11 but actually closer to 10.  I waited at a community garden near the Vassar campus until Anna was ready to see me.  She showed me all around the campus -- which is more like an arboretum than a shady lawn -- and the art museum where she works.

In the dining hall, I felt pretty cool hanging out with the college crowd ... until I learned that Anna's friends had assumed I was her father!  Don't get me wrong, her father is a good-looking guy, but he's gotta be 20 years older than me...

North of Poughkeepsie is Hyde Park, where the Roosevelts and Vanderbilts lived.  I toured the grounds of FDR's house and would have gone to see Vanderbilt's mansion, but the driveway was dauntingly hilly.  Hyde Park would be a nice weekend destination: lots of inexpensive motels, and the tourist destinations are all connected by a walking trail along the Hudson valley.

I stopped for the night at Mills-Norrie State Park.  I had thought I might face heavy competition on a Saturday evening, but the campground is as empty as it is isolated.  Perfect!

Ben Sat, 05/14/2005 - 15:15

To Hudson, NY

To Hudson, NY

I was expecting a short day's ride today, so I had a very leisurely morning -- the ranger never did show up to collect payment for the campsite -- and rode at a slow pace.  The rain was substantial for a few hours, so when I got to the campground and found it would cost me $30 to set up my tent in the rain, I decided to ride on into Hudson and get a hotel instead.

Hudson is a nice little town with an old-fashioned main street, like Hudson, Wisconsin but about three times the size, and located on the actual Hudson, and a more diverse population.  I got a room in "The first motel ever converted from a movie theater and located in a small community," according to the plaque outside.  The clerk told me that the rates are about to go way up in two weeks; when I asked what the attraction was, she said, "antiques."  I hadn't known there was an antique season... I wonder if they have to put blaze-orange vests on anything that's not for sale?

Ben Sun, 05/15/2005 - 15:20

To Albany

To Albany

I had a very leisurely day... stayed in the hotel and watched two episodes of Buffy before hitting the road, and then the trip to Albany didn't take nearly as long as I expected.  Near Castleton-on-Hudson I met another bicyclist who lived nearby and was on her way into Castleton for her morning coffee.  The cafe turned out to be the only business in Castleton that I could see.  I told her that if she wants to help cyclists she could open a campground or hostel near her home.

I got to Eleanor's apartment around 2:00, but she was out of town, so I got lunch and sat and read until she got home at 6.  We spent two hours cleaning her apartment and then walked to dinner and a set of short films in the Empire Film Festival.

Ben Mon, 05/16/2005 - 15:23

Albany

Albany

Eleanor and I both slept in until about 11, and then I caught up on my e-mail while she ran errands.  Around 2 we took a bus to downtown.  While she watched some AIDS documentaries in the film festival, I walked around downtown.

I was particularly impressed by the Empire Plaza... although Eleanor tells me it stands as a textbook example of "totalitarian architecture," we both rather like its creative use of space (for example, the sprawling convention halls are underground, and an overpass serves as both a stairway and an amphitheatre), its balance of office towers and public squares, and of course "The Egg."

After the film, we went to dinner and dessert, getting back to her place around 11 PM.

Ben Tue, 05/17/2005 - 15:25

State Museum

State Museum

This afternoon, after several hours of route research on Eleanor's computer, I biked back to the Empire State Plaza and the State Museum.  I spent most of my time there in the 9/11 museum, the first permanent exhibit on the subject.

I got sucked into a film made by a pair of French brothers -- they had intended to chronicle a day in the life of NYC firefighters, but instead they got the World Trade Center impacts and collapses.  One of the brothers was in the lobby of WTC 1 while bodies were falling from the tower -- each sickening THUMP made every firefighter wince -- and while WTC 2 collapsed.  The smoke was so thick they couldn't see the other tower and didn't know what had happened, but when they stepped outside everything was covered in ash and paper.  Fortunately they evacuated the lobby before tower 1 collapsed as well!  It's an extraordinary film.

The museum also had a nice exhibit about New York's geological history, including maps showing the continents' positions during each geological era.  It certainly gives one some perspective.

In the evening I baked some chicken for Eleanor and myself, and then her friend Thu picked us up and drove us to the film festival.  "West Bank Story" was the one she really wanted us to see.  I was a little disappointed that it was an American film rather than actually Israeli or Palestinian, but it was very clever, and if not inoffensive, at least mutually offensive to both sides!

Ben Wed, 05/18/2005 - 15:26

To Schaghticoke

To Schaghticoke

I had a very short ride today: I was at my campsite by 2:00!  But my knees let me know I shouldn't try to make it to the next place.

I was put off by the price of the campground that was given to me over the phone, so I looked for other options, but it turned out that was the peak-season price, and the season doesn't start until May 27.  I've managed to follow the off-season all the way north from Florida!  It'll hit me hard in Michigan, though, I'm sure.

My campsite is up on a plateau overlooking the river.

Ben Thu, 05/19/2005 - 15:29

To Whitehall, NY

To Whitehall, NY

I swear the sun rose earlier this morning up on the plateau... I woke at 5:30 and completed the day's 50-mile ride by 3:30.

The Hudson River and I finally parted ways at the town of Hudson Falls; I followed the connecting Lake Champlain Canal the rest of the way to Whitehall.

I was getting nervous about crossing the mountains tomorrow, so I gave away about two pounds of clothes to some folks who were having a garage sale.  I shouldn't need so many now that it's summer...

In Fort Ann I met a cyclist named Richard coming the other way.  He said he's been on the road for 12 years and hasn't paid to camp in 10... he knows the northeast in detail and knows where he can camp without disturbing anyone.  His trailer is custom-built with a heavy steel frame carrying an even heavier load -- a huge solar panel charging a car battery and an inverter so he can use appliances.  No motor on the bike, though; he rides a mountain bike (here in the mountains) for the low gearing.  He says he lives on about $20 a day from his disability check... Who says the fun and games have to stop when you lose an eye?

For my part, I got a hotel in Whitehall, and they gave me a discount for arriving by bicycle.

Ben Fri, 05/20/2005 - 15:31