Sunday, July 27, 2014

Day 33 (Final Day): NYC to Niagara Falls

July 26, 2014

This was the final day of our family cycling adventure from New York City to Niagara Falls and back.  As I calculated our final route, I realized that the total distance came out to almost exactly 1,000 miles from start to finish.  Is it too much to ask of a 13-year-old and 7-year-old to pedal that far?  I don't think so, and Sho and Saya didn't either.  The trick is to keep the pace manageable, take breaks when needed, find fun things to do along the way, and of course, keep the kids fed.

In the morning, we said goodbye to my good buddy Paul Descloux, who let us sleep in his home in Ossining.

Then we made our way toward the urban megalopolis we call home.  Many people we spoke with were intimidated by the idea of cycling out of and back into NYC.  Here's how we did it:  from Ossining, we rode a few miles on side streets, then got onto the North County Trailway, a paved rail trail that covers dozens of miles from Westchester County to the northern tip of Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.  It turns into a dirt path that we followed for a few miles through the park:  

We then cycled on busy urban streets, going slowly and sometimes riding on the sidewalk in order to stay safe.  We crossed over the Harlem River Ship Canal on the Broadway Bridge, which marked our return to Manhattan:

We followed Broadway to 181st Street, staying close to the side of the road to allow cars to pass, and made our way over to the Hudson Greenway, a bike path along the Hudson River.  Here is Saya with the spires of Midtown Manhattan in the background:

We arrived at our apartment on 25th Street at 6:45 p.m., where my wife Eiko treated us to a congratulatory meal of sushi, miso soup and salad.  Eiko cycled with us for the first 2 weeks of this ride and would have preferred to ride the entire trip with us, but she needed to return to her job in NYC.

  This is the fifth "family adventure" I've taken with my kids, in which we spend their summer vacation cycling long distances, linking each ride to a charitable cause.  We've pedaled over 7,000 miles across Japan, Iceland, Europe and the U.S., carrying our gear, figuring out the route, and deciding where to sleep as we go.  The trips have been physically challenging and stressful at times.  I tell my kids, "Sometimes, an adventurer just suffers for a while."  We've been pounded by heavy rains, struggled to pedal through gale-force winds, cycled over many mountain passes, learned to keep pushing when we thought we didn't have any more energy left, and experienced the remarkable kindness of strangers around the world.  

We've become closer as a result, like team members who learn to trust and rely on one another to achieve a difficult goal.  My kids bicker and sulk from time to time.  So do I.  That's called being human.  But they also have learned the remarkable feats their bodies are capable of, the power of self-confidence, and the joy of uncovering nature's secrets.  

We live in a world full of stunning beauty, and the time we have to appreciate that beauty is all too short.  I hope that these trips will linger in my children's memories, reminders to look for ways to treat each day as a gift, to protect nature like you would a family member, to seek adventure and to have the confidence to craft a life full of love and meaning.

Days 31 - 32: NYC to Niagara Falls

July 24 - 25, 2014

After sleeping in a hotel in the town of Hudson to escape the lightening storm, we continued our journey south along the Hudson River, enjoying cool temperatures and the bounty of the surrounding farmland.  One of our snack breaks was at a stand selling locally grown fresh produce.  We ate delicious cucumbers, blueberries, peaches and raspberries.  Saya liked the fresh food so much, she asked if we could move out of NYC and become farmers, so that we could eat like this all the time.  Hmm, not a bad idea...

A few hours later, we eliminated the middle man and just ate raspberries straight from the bush!

After cycling about 40 miles, we set up our tent in Mills Norrie State Park, 1,000 acres of woodland along the Hudson River that includes a camping area.

Sho and Saya have become proficient at building a fire and enjoyed the fruits of their labors by roasting marshmallows.

People have asked me how we deal with laundry on a long trip like this.  Sometimes I find a laundromat, but another option is to use the Scrubba wash bag.  It's compact, easy-to-use, and turns stinky socks back into something fit for polite company.

Childhood slips by too quickly, and as a dad, I'm always trying to slow down time with my kids.  If you're looking for ideas, I suggest fishing at sunset on the Hudson River.  We won't forget this for a long time.

On July 25, the penultimate ride of this 33-day adventure, we pedaled about 54 miles from our campsite to Ossining.  On the way, we spotted a Great Blue Heron that took off just after I snapped this photo.  We've seen perhaps a dozen of these gorgeous creatures over the past month, always at water's edge and always quick to fly away when humans are near.  They are majestic in flight, their broad wings fanning up and down elegantly, almost like an aerial dance.   

We stopped regularly to take short breaks on today's long ride.  

On one of the breaks, we met three adventure seekers who were hiking the length of the 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail.  The journey typically takes from 4 - 6 months.  Here's a pic of Sho with Megan Kelly (trail name: Peter Pan), Adam Beard (trail name: Bilbo Baggins), and Josh Hunter-Duvar (trail name: Skippy).  Good luck to you three -- you're looking great.

Including breaks, we spent about 9 1/2 hours on the road.  This was one of our most challenging rides, as the terrain became seriously hilly.  By the end of the day, my legs were spent, and I had difficulty pedaling up the long climbs.  Sho, on the other hand, said he felt great and bounded up 10% grade climbs without difficulty, waiting patiently for Saya and me at the top.  

We ended the day in Ossining at the home of our dear friends, Paul and Debra Descloux.  They made us feel special, treating us to hamburgers, hot dogs, and corn on the cob, which we ate on the deck of their beautiful home.  It was a deeply satisfying end to a hard day of cycling.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Days 28 - 30: NYC to Niagara Falls

July 21 - 23, 2014

We've made good progress over the past two days and are already in Hudson, New York after stops in Little Falls and Schenectady.  We're about four days from NYC, the end of our 900ish-mile journey.  A ride like this isn't glamorous.  Sometimes we've had to push the bikes over train tracks:

Lunch might be on a curb:

And we got soaked with rain:

It's been worth the effort, and I've loved the chance to share this challenging adventure with my kids.  

On our way through Albany, we met up with Kate Seckinger, who wrote an article about us in the Times Union newspaper three weeks ago.  We left town before the article came out, and she saved some hard copies for us and made time to deliver them in person.  Very cool.  

The weather was hot and muggy as we rode out of Schenectady this morning, and my kids teased me for sweating so much.  But by mid-afternoon, a major storm blew in.  The temperature dropped rapidly, and soon we were riding through heavy showers.  My shirt went from sweat-soaked to rain-drenched.  

During a lull in the storm in the late afternoon, a local cyclist rode up to us and asked if we wanted to stop by his house to chat.  He seemed very nice and mentioned that he planned to do some long rides with his daughter.  One of the best parts of a trip like this is meeting interesting people, and I should have taken him up on his offer.  But I felt pressure to get to Hudson before dark and demurred.  Within five minutes, rain began to pound us and, in accordance with Murphy's Law, I got a flat tire.  By the time I fixed the flat, it was 6:15 p.m. and growing darker because of the storm.  For safety reasons, I don't cycle with my kids at dusk or night time.  But we were still about 45 minutes away from Hudson and without a good option to sleep.  The rain storm made camping a bad idea -- our tent would have been flooded.  

And then the lightening began.  When a bolt flashed nearby, followed immediately by a resounding blast of thunder, I pulled the bikes over to the side of the road.  It was no longer safe to ride.  Just then, a man in a truck pulled along side us and offered to give us a ride.  His name was Tom Eastman, and as he helped load our gear into his vehicle, we agreed that he just earned a bunch of good karma.  Thanks Tom!  You're a gentleman, and we appreciated your help.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Day 27: NYC to Niagara Falls

July 20, 2014

Sho, Saya and I cycled from Syracuse to Rome, NY today.  Much of the ride was along the Erie Canal, which afforded opportunities for Saya to create impromptu public art

And measure the height of corn stalks

And check out a local playground

We also saw firsthand how a canal lock works when we cycled over Lock #21 in New London.  The upstream elevation was 420 feet, and the downtown elevation 394 feet.  Two boats pulled into the lock, and Saya started a conversation with the people in one of the boats.  

As the boat dropped 26 feet over a period of about 10 minutes, she had to lean over the edge and raise her voice to continue the conversation.

Soon, the lock doors opened, and Saya waved farewell to her new friends

Days 25 - 26: NYC to Niagara Falls

July 18 - 19, 2014

We're making good progress cycling back from Niagara Falls to NYC, and are now in Syracuse.  Our route took us through beautiful farm country, including on a dirt road curiously called "Turnpike Road."  We passed several Amish families in horse and buggy:

The weather has been pleasant, and we enjoyed this sunset while in Weedsport, NY:

Sho made time to teach some soccer tricks to a little boy he met at a local swimming pool.  Sho let the child score lots of goals on him, and when it was time to go, the boy didn't want to say goodbye. 

Here's a pic of Sho, as we stopped to document roadkill:

Today's ride into Syracuse was hilly, and I was exhausted by the effort.  Near the end, I discovered that Saya had been collecting rocks and storing them in the rear panniers:

I asked Saya to throw them out, but she teared up and pleaded not to get rid of her "special baby rocks."  I suggested that she start collecting special baby feathers instead, but she looked up at me with big puppy dog eyes, and I gave in.  I guess I'll be pulling a few more pounds the rest of the trip...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Days 23 - 24: NYC to Niagara Falls

July 16 - 17, 2014

We've begun our return trip from Niagara Falls back to NYC.  Here's a pic as we pedaled through border patrol from the Canadian side of the falls.  We had to wait in line just like a car:

We cycled about 60 miles to a camping spot along the Erie Canal in the town of Holley.  

After setting up the tent, Sho and Saya immediately went to work building a fire,

roasting marshmallows and, of course...

... eating some well earned s'mores!

The first words out of Sho's mouth when he woke up the next morning was, "Is it okay if I fish?" 

Saya slept in but soon joined Sho by the canal...

... where she caught her first fish!

After celebrating Saya's fishing prowess, we spent the rest of the day cycling about 45 miles to the town of Fairport, NY.  As we sat down to eat dinner, we started chatting with a father and his two kids seated nearby: Clair Smith (an economics professor), Kendall (age 7) and Ronan (age 3).  We hit it off and spent the next 2 hours together.  Clair gave us a driving tour of Fairport, and the kids quickly became friends.  We got lucky today meeting such friendly people.

Clair even took us to an auto show to check out some fancy cars.  This is a 1931 Chrysler De Soto with wood spoke wheels:

Here's the De Soto's fancy hood ornament:

Hmm, don't be surprised if you see one of those on my bike.