Biking Albany to Canada Around Lake Champlain

Day 11: Thursday July 21. Troy NY to Glens Falls, NY (48 miles)

Today’s story is about the weather.  My original plan was that today would be the longest mileage day of the trip.  The plan was to do 90+ miles and pedal from Troy, New York to Ticonderoga, which was the site of a famous Revolutionary War battle.

I had been watching the weather for a while and today’s weather was not good for spending hours on a bike.  The weather service was predicting “severe thunderstorms” at lunch time.  Specifically, from noon to 2 PM, followed by scattered showers.  Lightning is not a bicyclist’s friend, especially when you are pedaling in farm country and the bike is the only metal object around.

Because of the chance of thunderstorms, I did not book a hotel room ahead of time.  Instead, I mapped out a hotel that was 12 miles from Troy, one that was 30 miles from Troy and one that was 50 miles.  I did not want to chance anything beyond 50 miles out.

I woke up early and went down to the “free” breakfast in the lobby as soon as it opened at 6:30 am.  There at the breakfast bar was another cyclist.  You can tell a cyclist from a mile away in a hotel since they are the only ones wearing bike cleats to breakfast.  His name was Mike and he was pedaling from New York City to the Canadian Border along the Empire State Trail.

It turns out we had stayed in the same Super 8 motel the evening before and got to this Best Western hotel within 5 minutes of each other.  However, we never saw each other yesterday on the road.  I had a quick breakfast and then checked out a little after 7 am so that I could complete as many miles as possible before the bad weather.

The weather was certainly threatening.  There were dark clouds in the sky and the wind kept shifting direction.  It felt quite ominous.  Mike left the hotel at the same time and pedaled around Troy to take photographs.  I made a beeline for the trail.  I stopped to take a picture where the trail split.  One way went North to Canada.  The other way went West to Buffalo.  Maybe someday I will try the Buffalo Route.

After the split, the trail alternated between streets and following the tow path on a canal that ran parallel to the Hudson River.  The canal was slowly being retaken by Mother Nature.  The tow path was okay.  It was a stone dust path that was somewhere between good and bad.  I never worried about crashing in loose rock, but I had a tough time speeding along.

At 9 am, something happened to the weather.  The clouds disappeared.  The sun came out.  It suddenly became a clear, sunny and oppressively hot morning.  I began wondering if this was another over-hyped weather event that turned out to be nothing.

After the weather turned beautiful, I slowed down.  There was nothing to be gained by racing to the hotel 50 miles out, only to be told check-in was hours later.  I stopped at a historic blockhouse fort.  I met Mike again at the Saratoga Battlefield, which was the site during the Revolutionary War where the British first surrendered a unit to American forces.

I even pulled into a waterfront park, took off my shoes and stuck my feet in the Hudson River.  I was going to go for a swim (the bike clothes are quick drying) but the sign on the river’s edge said the spot was an EPA polluted site and there were a lot of PCB’s in the area.  The warning sign tempered my enthusiasm for doing anything more than getting my feet wet.

Around 11 am I caught up to Mike again at a small market.  He was just setting off but told me about the lady in the back of the store who made great sandwiches.  I went inside and ordered one.  It was delicious and quite filling.

Once the weather shifted, I changed my personality from hard pedaling to laid back and it was a fun morning.

After my sandwich stop the bike trail crossed the Hudson River twice.  Once from West to East and then back again about a mile later.  It was amazing how small the river had become.  The crossing back to the western side was problematic.  The bridge was a steel grid.  This means it doesn’t have a solid floor.  Instead, there are small geometric pieces of steel.  Cars and trucks have wide wheels and steel grids only cause a tickling sensation as you go over them.  Bikes with skinny little tires can make it over these bridges, but I crashed once decades ago on a steel grid.  You have to be very careful since they are quite slippery even when dry.

Just before crossing the steel bridge a giant truck came up behind me.  I stopped and let them go first.  The truck drove right down the middle of the bridge, making it a one lane road.  About three-quarters of the way across the bridge a car started driving towards us.  It was clear that there wasn’t enough room for the car and the truck to pass.

No accident happened, but a shouting match ensued about who needed to back up.  I really didn’t care but I was wobbling on the deck and just wanted to get back on solid land.  After lots of insults the car driver slowly backed down the bridge and let us through.

The Empire Trail has been perfectly marked up till this point.  At the end of the bridge, I had a choice, left or southbound, or right, northbound.  There was no sign which way the bike trail went so I picked right.  Wrong choice, or maybe it was the accidental right choice.

I immediately hit a huge hill and just made it to the top without having to push the bike.  At the top of the hill, I turned on Google Maps.  It said Glens Falls, the furthest hotel I had mapped out, was about 14 miles away.  However, I had made a mistake and there were no towns between my location and Glens Falls.  If I had been on the official trail it would have been about 4 or 5 miles longer, but there would have been at least two towns for protection along the way.

There was no sense going back down that massive hill to pedal an extra 4 or 5 miles.  I pedaled for a few minutes through corn fields before looking down at my watch.  It was noon!  At five minutes after the hour the weather changed dramatically.  One large black cloud with a funnel shaped end came roaring into view.  Suddenly, I could hear booms in the sky.  I thought to myself “do the clouds read the weather report” since they showed up exactly when planned?

There was no protection out there, so I started to pedal like mad.  Luckily, the storm created a nice tail wind.  I even did a sustained 10 minutes at 22 mph, which is what adrenaline will do for you when you think your life might be on the line.  There was one giant lightning flash, though it was not close.  I was still about 8 miles from the hotel.  There was no way I could sprint with a pack that distance.  Then the thunder started to slow down and so did my speed.  I dropped to about 11 mph since the danger seemed to have passed.

As I got closer to Glens Falls the road looked drenched.  There were giant puddles everywhere even though the sun was shining.  It looked like I actually missed the storm by a few miles.  I pulled into the Queensbury Hotel at one o’clock.  It was my shortest day of pedaling this trip.  The mistake I made losing the trail actually saved me a few miles and probably saved me from getting soaked.

The front desk staff were quite nice and said there were plenty of rooms available.  While I was checking in, the rain came back with a vengeance.  It looked like someone turned a firehose on the hotel, but I didn’t care.  I was inside the lobby, safe and dry.

When the front desk clerk told me that there was a hot-tub and pool on the 2nd floor I knew I made the right choice on where to stop for the night.  I dropped the bike off in my room, looked outside and the sun was shining again, even though there were more deep puddles everywhere.

I put on my bathing suit and went to the pool.  Above the pool was a huge skylight.  I thought to myself, it is a shame that someone painted this giant skylight gray, preventing anything outside from being seen.  I got into the hot-tub for a soak when suddenly the heavens opened up again.  The skylight wasn’t painted.  The outside was suddenly dark gray.  I had a lovely soak, while the heavens turned another fire hose onto Glens Falls.  I got wet in the hot-tub, but the bike and my gear stayed dry, instead of all of us being drenched.

By the time I got back to my room the sun was shining again.  I was happy that I managed to avoid most of the foul weather and still get some miles down.  Given the uncertain weather I decided instead of walking around Glens Falls to take a long nap.

Dinner was at a nice Italian restaurant (Radici Kitchen & Bar), where I ordered way too much food and walked out stuffed.  I came back to the hotel to type the day up and will turn in early to get ready for more adventures tomorrow.

Day 12: Friday July 22. Glens Falls, NY to Middlebury, VT (71 miles)

Today’s story is about flexibility.  Yesterday afternoon and evening were quite pleasant once I was safe and secure from the weather.  Dinner in a fine restaurant was a treat.  The nap on a comfortable bed was refreshing and the soak in the hot-tub relaxing.  I typed up the day’s adventures in a great mood.  Then, just before going to sleep I remembered that I needed to book a room for the next night.

The goal was to continue going north on the Empire State Trail.  The next planned stop was Ticonderoga, the site of the famous Revolutionary War fort.  There are three hotels in Ticonderoga and no other hotels around for miles, since the city is surrounded by forests.  I searched on the Internet for a room and saw the dreaded message “No rooms available for the dates chosen.”

I called the hotels, but it didn’t matter what I wanted to pay, every room was booked.  The next major city after Ticonderoga was Plattsburg, which was over 120 miles.  While I have pedaled 120 miles in one day, I didn’t think it was possible right now given we are still in the middle of a heat wave and the route included pedaling over a mountain and many large hills.

My mood went from serenity to instant panic.  My well laid plans were in shambles.

However, one nice thing about the Internet is that when there are no hotels available, websites suggest alternative places to stay.  The city that came up over and over with rooms available was Middlebury, Vermont.

I mapped out the bike route.  Instead of going up the New York, or west, side of Lake Champlain there was an alternate route up the east, or Vermont, side.  The Vermont side would take a bit longer, for example it would add 20 miles to this day of riding.  It would also entail taking two ferries to get back to Plattsburg, New York.  However, it would eliminate cycling up a mountain. More importantly there was a hotel room available for Friday night.  I paid for the room and went to sleep quite late.

In the introduction I said that it was a mistake to “have a hard end-date.”  You never really know where or when you are going on a bike trip.

Determining a new route and booking the hotel took a lot of time.  I didn’t have time to check every twist and turn Google was going to send me down.  I woke up after only six hours of sleep, had a quick 3-egg omelet in the hotel’s restaurant and was back on the road a little after 8 am.

While the previous days of pedaling were quite nice, parts of today were a horror show.  First, I got on the wrong bike trail.  There were two that started close to the hotel.  One went north-west and the other north-east.  I needed the north-east trail.  However, I got on and started pedaling furiously on the north-west one.  Yes, the voice from Google maps kept yelling “make a U-turn.”  I had heard that so many times this trip I just ignored the computer.  I guess even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

After I got on the right bike trail and finished it my goal was to take the Empire State Trail to Whitehall, NY.  Then I spent part of the morning pedaling on New York Bike Route #9, which overlaps with the Empire State Trail in parts but not everywhere.  It took awhile to find the Empire State Trail.  It was a mistake even looking for it.

The trail from the southern tip of Manhattan to Troy, New York is amazing.  From Troy northward I will be generous and call it a work in progress.  There is no need to make a special effort to pedal the Empire State’s Champlain Valley Trail, as the trail is formally called.

For example, after pedaling into Fort Ann, a small town in upstate New York, the trail decided to climb Granite Hill.  The road went straight up and I didn’t have enough power to pedal up it.  I got off my bike and walked for the first of many times during the day.

After Granite Hill the Empire Trail decided to take me down a long gravel road, which ended in a 0.75 mile asphalt paved section.  It looked like no one had been on the asphalt section in a long time.  The weeds along the trail had grown so large that they made biking it difficult, since they were blocking parts of the road.  As soon as I finished this section, Google maps kept yelling at me to take a left off a gravel road.  If I had followed these directions, I would have ended up right in the middle of a giant high security prison.

After lunch at a general store came the magic hours of cycling.  Google put me on a quiet, paved back country Vermont road.  The road had no traffic; just two cars passed me during the hour.  It had gentle rolling hills through pretty countryside.  The farms looked a lot like the ones I saw last week in Delaware.

There was one key difference: in front of many farm homes in Delaware were either signs supporting Donald Trump, the previous Republican President, or supporting the police.  In Vermont many of the homes, which looked identical to those in Delaware, had signs stating “Black lives matter,” or “Science is real.”

Then Google turned me off the pavement and onto a gravel road.  There was just about 16 miles left in the day.  I should have simply turned around, but I didn’t.  The gravel road had a lot of large hills, most of which I ended up walking and pushing the bike up.  I ended up climbing over 4,000 feet today, which was double Google’s estimate.

At the end of the gravel road, Google told me to take another “road” that was a ¼ of a mile long.  This Google promised would turn into a state highway.  The “road” turned out to be a very long driveway and the owner of the house was quite surprised to find a cyclist standing in front of his garage.  After another 15 minutes I finally got back on pavement.  What a relief.  Then it was a six-mile pedal to the hotel on decent roads.

The hotel (the Marriott Courtyard in Middlebury) had a great shower.  As soon as I was cleaned up, I opened up the computer and looked for tomorrow night’s hotel rooms.  I didn’t want to rearrange the route again.

After booking a hotel room for tomorrow I went to the giant Hannaford’s supermarket directly across the street.  I spent a lot of money buying groceries (two boxes of sushi, three sandwiches, an antipasti salad, a piece of apple pie, some cookies, etc.) and devoured all of it.  I just finished eating all that food.  However, I am still hungry since I burned a lot of calories today.

I wonder what adventures will happen tomorrow?

Day 13: Saturday July 23. Middlebury, VT to Plattsburgh, NY (68 miles)

How much would you pay to travel about 200 feet (65 meters)?  I paid $60.   Was I crazy?  You can answer that question for yourself after reading about today’s cycling adventure.

I woke up in Middlebury, Vermont and had a quick breakfast in the room.  My goal was simple.  First, get to Burlington.  From Burlington there was an acclaimed bike trail that used two short ferry rides to help cross the northern part of Lake Champlain.

While lying in bed last night, I remembered a trick from bicycling cross-country a few years ago.  Google street view only captured paved roads.  When you asked Google for street view, unpaved roads were not available.  Remembering that key piece of information helped me figure out were Google wanted me to pedal on dirt and gravel roads before I started down them!

With that key piece of information, I mapped out the route from Middlebury to Burlington.  Google offered three choices.  Each had between six and ten miles of dirt and gravel roads.  Vermont is hilly and backcountry dirt roads are just not what I want to pedal this summer.  It took 30 minutes of looking carefully at the maps, but I came up with a fourth alternative route that kept me on pavement.

I had a lovely start to my morning’s ride.  I pedaled over the Pulp Mill Covered Bridge (see this link for a picture https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulp_Mill_Covered_Bridge) which was fun.  I rode through some picturesque countryside.  I saw three bicyclists on the road.  I was only passed by four cars.  In my book, that is a perfect ratio.

I stopped in a shaded picnic area in Ferrisburgh, Vermont for my morning snack and watched even more bicyclists pedal by my picnic spot.  Plus, there were lots of cars going by with bikes hanging off their back or balanced on their roof.

At Ferrisburgh I picked up the Champlain Valley Trail.  It is not much of a formal trail.  Instead, it is a collection of quiet backroads that have low amounts of car traffic and are very scenic.  I even ran into a traffic jam in Shelburne (home of Vermont Teddy Bear Factory) because of the local farmer’s market.

A couple of miles before downtown Burlington the mapping program guided me onto the start of the Island Line Trail.  This trail is fourteen miles long.  It was built over the train route that led from upstate Vermont down to Boston and New York City.

The route ran along the shore of Lake Champlain.  I passed by sandy beaches.  Who knew that Vermont had sandy beaches?  It was easy pedaling and very scenic.  I made terrible time since I was stopping so often to take pictures or sit on a park bench to eat while staring out at the water.

Finally, I decided it was time to get moving and do the most majestic part of the Island Line Trail, the three-mile causeway.  The causeway is a very narrow strip of land with the waters of Lake Champlain on either side.  A link to a two-minute video that shows what it looks like is found here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uli4NckzGSk).

At the end of the causeway is a 200 foot (65 meters) gap, that allows boats to travel from one part of Lake Champlain to another.  To get around this gap there is a boat shuttle service run by volunteers.  The service is “free” but asks for a $10 donation for each round trip.  I have been on these bike shuttles before.  There is one on Martha’s Vineyard, which is an island off the coast of Massachusetts.

Usually, the only issue with the boat shuttle is having enough cash to get across.  I showed up around 1 pm on Saturday in July.  This is typically, the shuttle’s busiest time so I was not worried.  I should have been.

I did not see the shuttle at the near dock.  However, I wanted a photo of the gap, so I pedaled a few feet beyond the attendant.  I took a photo and then looked carefully.  There was no boat at the far dock.  I rode back to the attendant and asked him where the shuttle was.  The answer made my heart sink.  He said, “The boat broke about an hour ago.  We put a notice up on our website.  We don’t know if it will be running tomorrow, but it is closed for today.”

I had already pedaled 50 miles.  It is still a heat wave, so I am trying to keep my mileage down to avoid heat stroke.  Going back to Burlington and up the east side of the lake meant at least a 75-mile detour.  Plus, I only had six hours of daylight left and I had eaten most of my day’s food.  It was easy to pick up more food, but that would take more time and pedaling after dark in unfamiliar places is a recipe for trouble.

I could swim the gap easily.  A few days before the start of this trip I swam a long distance in Boston Harbor.  Two hundred feet of swimming was not my problem.  The problem is that my backpack contains two phones, a laptop and my passport.  While all are in plastic bags, none of the bags are really watertight.  Plus, my bike is not meant to be submerged in water.  There was a good chance the bike would be ruined if it went for a swim.

Going back was not a good choice.  Swimming was not a good choice.  So I let my inner-economist out and started searching for a boat.  There were two men fishing in a flat bottom boat that looked perfect to get me across.  I asked if they would take me across the gap for $40 cash.

They said they were in the middle of a fishing tournament and if anyone got on their boat they would be disqualified.  However, if I was willing to pay $5,000, which was the prize they were after they would be happy to give me a ride.  Five thousand was a bit too steep.  I could hire a limousine for that price to drive me the 75 extra miles.

Now I just had to find another boat, skippered by someone who wanted cash.  I stood at the end of the causeway, waving money and screaming at the top of my lungs at every motorboat that went by.  It took about 30 minutes, but I finally convinced one guy to take me.  He was clearly skeptical.  He motored by, then turned around after thinking about it and then hesitated as I ran back to the ferry dock.  When he was about 100 feet away a small boat came up and asked me what I was doing.  They agreed to take me over.

I now had two boats willing to take me over.  Sometimes you get more than you asked for.  There were two boats approaching the dock at about the same time.  I wasn’t sure who really would give me a ride until the bike and I were loaded so I let them both approach.  I gave the skeptical guy $20 and said, “Thanks for helping me out, but it looks easier with the other boat.”  I then hopped in the other boat that had two guys, Neil and Mike.  I gave them $40 and explained why I needed to get the 200 feet across the gap.

They thought it was an amusing story and motored over in about 90 seconds.  They let me off and I asked for a picture.  Mike said sure, but don’t post it on the Internet, so unfortunately, loyal reader, you will not be able to see my ride buddies.

Was that enough excitement for one day?  No; until you are in your hotel room the adventures do not stop.  I was now on a small island in the middle of Lake Champlain.  It was about a 7-mile pedal across the island to another ferry that would take me back to the New York state side.  The island was quite pretty and had a lovely beach.  However, half a mile before the next ferry the sky turned dark and it started to rain.

I sprinted to the ferry’s ticket office window, where they wanted just $6 for a one-mile ride.  I made it under cover just before the rain really started coming down.  By the time I had eaten a small apple pie (yes, I carry small personal pies in my backpack; they are the best snack), the ferry had shown up and the downpour appeared over.  I walked the bike onto the ferry, about six cars drove on after me and the ferry set off.  Twenty feet from shore the rain came back with a vengeance.  Luckily there was a covered area of the ferry, or my bike and pack would have gotten just as wet as if I had decided to swim the 200 foot gap.

Nothing else happened of importance on the way to the hotel.  Dinner was two hamburger platters instead of one with, you guessed it,……..apple pie for dessert.

Tomorrow if all goes well, I will be in Canada around lunch time.

Day 14: Sunday July 24. Plattsburgh, NY to Montreal, Canada (63 miles)

What happens when you reach your goal, but the goal isn’t the finish line?  That, my friends, is today’s story.  The big goal of this trip was to bike from Norfolk, Virginia to Canada.

When planning out this trip, I thought the border was as far as I could go.  For almost two years Canada was off-limits to US travelers because of Covid issues.  This summer the border is open, if you are willing to do the paperwork.

As a long-time college professor, I learned that making things simpler ensures they are memorable.  With that idea in mind I modified the route so that people would remember it.  The route became Norfolk, Virginia to Montreal.

I have been to Montreal a number of times.  My first long distance bike trip started in Boston and ended in Montreal many decades ago.  Because I have been to Montreal there is nothing special I wanted to see or do in Montreal this trip.  I simply wanted to get there and have a celebratory beer.

With that in mind the goal for today was simple.  Pedal a marathon (26+ miles) from the Plattsburgh Holiday Inn to the Canadian border.  Then pedal another 40 miles to Montreal.

I woke up very grumpy because I didn’t get enough sleep.  After writing and posting yesterday’s blog, I had to book a hotel in Montreal and then deal with Canadian Customs and Immigration.  Canada now wants proof that all people crossing the border are vaccinated for Covid.  It took me an hour to download the Canadian Travel App to my phone, upload photos of my vaccine card and passport, plus fill in all the details, such as the exact address of the hotel where I was staying.  Instead, of going to bed at a reasonable time I feel asleep around midnight.

The ”free” hotel breakfast was worth exactly what I paid for it.  The toast was palatable, but not much else was good to eat.  Unfortunately, there was no place close by that served breakfast.

I got on the road around 8:30am grumpy from hunger and lack of sleep.  This was not the best combination to pedal over sixty miles.  Luckily, the roads in upstate New York early on a Sunday morning were deserted so I didn’t have to deal with traffic.  I pulled over around 10 am for a snack of 2 blueberry yogurts, 2 candy bars and 2 bananas, which took the edge off my mood.

The pedaling was easy.  I had a tail wind and close to the border the land is almost flat.  Google warned me about big hills, but the hills were nothing compared to two days earlier.

Last night the Canadian government asked me what border crossing  I would be using and my arrival time.  I told them to expect me at 11 am at the crossing where NY route 276 meets Canada route 221.  This is a tiny crossing, a few miles west of the slightly bigger Rouses Point, New York crossing.

About 10:50 am I came around a slight corner and saw the Canadian flag.  I started to both laugh and cry at the same time.  I have not gotten particularly emotional this trip.  However, seeing my goal in front of me brought out some strong feelings.  First, I was happy to have made it.  It took a year of trying before this journey was able to happen.  Plus, pedaling during a major heat wave made the trip extra tough.  Today in Boston the temperature hit 100 degrees.  It wasn’t that hot out here, but it was not pleasant riding conditions today.

However, I was also sad at seeing the border.  It meant my trip was about over.  I have a wonderful life, but I have many more adventures while cycling than when I am home.  On the road you never know what will occur and this trip has been filled with interesting moments.

Getting through the border was quick since I did all the paperwork the night before.  By 11:10 am I was pedaling in Canada.  The Canadian countryside looked almost exactly like what I saw pedaling in the USA only a few miles earlier.

Then the wave of exhaustion hit me.  All the adrenaline I had been using stopped pumping.  I had carried out my goal.  I did not care about doing the last 40 miles.

The problem was that corn fields and cows surrounded me.  If there was a decent hotel and restaurant the trip would have been over by 11:30 am.  Given no hotel existed I had to push on, but it was a slow and painful drag.  Luckily, I had a tail wind.  Usually, I pedal constantly.  Once I lost all desire to continue, I pedaled a little and coasted a lot.

On my first bike trip to Montreal, I remember pedaling down some very busy roads as we approached the city.  Montreal in the ensuing decades has changed.  There are very nice bike lanes everywhere.  From what I saw today, it is a very bike friendly city.  Once I hit the edge of greater Montreal I pedaled less than one mile on city streets.  All the rest were on great bike paths.

A bike path stopped about three blocks from the Hotel Brossard.  I picked the hotel because it is on the south bank of the St. Lawrence River and located right beside the Samuel de Champlain bridge, which leads directly into the city.

Officially, the city of Montreal begins in the middle of the river, so I am staying about 1 mile outside the city limits.  I pulled into the hotel at 3:30 pm with little interest in pedaling further.  After a shower and a nap I still had little interest in pedaling another couple of miles.  Then I walked a few blocks over to the closest strip mall that had a variety of restaurants (Chinese, Vietnamese, Argentinian and Japanese).  I ordered sushi to go for three people, with one beer.  The goal was to eat dinner back in the room and then pedal the bridge.

While they were making up my orders, dark angry looking clouds appeared, and it started to rain heavily.  Usually on a bike trip I want the rain to go away.  This time I was hoping the rain would keep going.  It was the perfect excuse not to pedal the last mile.  I walked back to my hotel in the rain and had a feast to celebrate the end of the trip.  I typed up this log and got ready for bed.

That last mile…..well it can always be the excuse for another bike trip.

Day 15: Monday July 25. Montreal to Rouses Point, New York (50 miles)  Plus Rouses Point to Boston (5 hours in a car)

One problem with blogging about a trip every day is that you get instant feedback.  I ended yesterday’s post with the idea that I didn’t need to do the last mile since it could be an excuse for another bike trip.  I then shut off the computer and fell asleep.

While I was sleeping, one of my children sent me a text message that reminded me of one of my favorite lines while parenting.  The line was, “Always finish the job.”  I used the line when trying to convince small children to complete tasks like cleaning the table of dirty dishes or picking up all the clothes on the floor of their room.

There were no dirty dishes around.  Plus, all the dirty clothes were being worn by me.  However, my child had a point.  I said I was biking to Montreal.  Given I could see the end point, why was I stopping?

I got up an hour earlier than I wanted to so I could complete the last mile by pedaling the bridge.  The bridge was a short distance from the hotel.  I watched the traffic out my room’s windows.  However, there was a small obstacle to getting on the bridge; ten lanes of high-speed traffic.

Google maps suggested a simple way to get to the bridge.  Bike back west a few miles, cross under the highway and then bike east a few miles so that I was back at the hotel, just on the other side of the highway.

It was cold, rainy and very windy when I set out at 6:45 am.  The bridge is up very high and is buffeted by strong winds.  At each end of the bikeway onto the bridge is a large electronic sign that tells cyclists if the bridge is safe to cross.  I guess the sign is there so that first responders in Montreal don’t have to fish cyclists out of the river who get blown off the path.  The sign at the approach to the bridge said the path was open and operating under normal conditions at that moment.

The bridge was windy and high above the water, but there was a very tall fence preventing me from being blown over the side.  What the bridge didn’t have was a “Welcome to Montreal” sign in the middle.  Since there was no sign, I cycled across the whole bridge and took a picture when I reached land on the other side.  I can now say without hesitation that I bicycled from Norfolk to Montreal.

I then repeated the process to get back to the hotel.  It ended up being a ten-mile round trip journey.  However, because I didn’t take the backpack or any water the trip was easier than most of my cycling.  Even though the trip was not hard, I still burned a lot of calories, so I put the bike back in the hotel room and went down for some breakfast.

Then it was time to bid Canada goodbye and return to Boston.  Earlier in the trip, during my last day off from riding, I checked out a number of possibilities for getting home.  The first was renting a car and driving it one way from Montreal to Boston.  That idea fizzled out when no car rental agency had a one way rental available.

Another was taking the train.  Amtrak has a train called the Montrealer, which has run for years between New York City and Montreal.  That idea fizzled out when I found out Amtrak had suspended service on the line until Covid was resolved.  Amtrak also has a train that runs from Burlington, Vermont.  However, that train did not start service until July 29th, which was four days after I wanted to leave.

My last idea was to take the bus.  Decades ago when I first biked to Montreal, we got home by pedaling to the Montreal bus station and sliding our bikes into the luggage compartments under the bus.  Greyhound, the bus company, clearly has been listening to my MBA lectures.  They monetized the luggage area.

The space under the bus now only takes regular sized bags.  The rest of the area in the luggage compartments is used for package deliveries.  Bikes, which are oversized, now must be securely packaged, are charged an oversized bag fee and are not guaranteed to be on the same bus as the passenger.  Those requirements eliminated the bus as an option since I didn’t have a box and didn’t trust Greyhound to take care of my bike.

What did I do?  My cousin Loren offered to drive up to Rouses Point from Boston.  Rouses Point is in the U.S. and is where Vermont, New York and Canada all meet.  If I could get back into the U.S. he would drive me home.  This was an amazing offer.  It meant he would drive 5 hours up to the Canadian border and then immediately drive 5 hours home.  That is a very long day!

All I had to do to accept this gracious offer was finish breakfast, pack and then pedal 40 more miles back to the border.  Mother Nature was not happy I was leaving Montreal.  There was a strong head wind that was trying to push me back to the hotel.  Plus, the moment I left the hotel the rain began.  The rain stopped by the time I hit the edge of Montreal.  However, the wind kept blowing for all forty miles.

I reached the U.S. border a little after noon.  You never know how easy or hard it will be to get into the U.S.  I have been grilled at the Canadian border at times and other times have not had any problems.  This was the easiest crossing I have ever done.  The agent looked at my passport and asked if I had anything to declare.  I said the only thing I am bringing back from Canada is a banana.  That was the truth.  I didn’t have time or energy to go shopping for gifts.  He smiled and said bananas this week are still legal and let me through.

I arrived at the meeting point, a coffee house in Rouses Point, about twelve thirty.  My cousin drove up before I even had a chance to take my biking gloves off.  It was very good to see him.  I am not sure he was so happy to get a bear hug from a bicyclist whose clothes were wet from the morning rain and had not done laundry in a week.  Given he still let me in the car I probably didn’t smell as bad as this paragraph makes it out.

The drive back to Boston went by quickly since we had a lot to talk about.  I made it back home in time for dinner.  It was good to see my wife again after more than two weeks.

Conclusion:

I was sitting at breakfast in the town of Glens Falls a few days ago.  There was a television playing across the room from my table.  A commercial came on exhorting the viewer to subscribe to the Disney channel.  They flashed up the words “perilous journey” and hyped the excitement a viewer could have watching the shows and movies offered by Disney.

People often ask me why I do these trips.  The answer is simple.  I get what the Disney channel is offering, but in real life.  Every day is another unexpected adventure.  There are moments of excitement and also times it feels like a perilous journey.  Beyond that there are moments of breathtaking beauty, comedic errors, danger, uncertainty and feelings of great accomplishment scattered throughout most days on the road.

Doing these trips makes me feel alive and that feeling doesn’t end after the television is shut off.  You, too, can have similar adventures.  All you need is an attitude that can be summed up in one simple phrase: when times get tough; “must keep going.”

Thanks for reading about my latest journey.

Economist Biking Around America