Day 16: Rochester to Middleport
The Erie Canalway Trail is a flat packed gravel path that runs right alongside the canal. The sun is shining, and I’m grateful that the only traffic I have to contend with is an abundance of Canada geese. I try to give them space, but some of them hiss at me as I roll by. Too close to their goslings, I guess. Thankfully, I escape unscathed. At times, I have to deal with a pretty fierce headwind, but mostly the trees and homes alongside the canal provide a good break from the wind.
Every few miles, I run into a small town with a green drawbridge over the canal and usually a small rest area with a gazebo and a display about some piece of canal history. After riding 48 miles, I stop at one of these small towns — Middleport — and set up camp at a park right on the canal. There are picnic tables, electricity hookups, water, and public restrooms with showers — all for free.
It’s a nice night, but the only other person in the park is an older gentleman who came down “after supper” to enjoy the weather and fish in the canal. He hands me a prayer booklet, asks me twice where I am riding to, and says he’ll say a prayer for me. He asks my name, and as he walks back to his truck, I hear him repeat it to himself so that he’ll remember it. For the prayer, I suppose. I’m not at all religious, but I appreciate the thought.
Day 17: Middleport to Niagara Falls
Today’s ride is relatively short, just 41 miles from Middleport to Niagara Falls, Ontario. I follow the instructions on my map to get through customs where I have to walk my bike through the toll booth, alongside all the other traffic navigating the Lewiston-Queenstown bridge.
After exiting the booth, I misread the instructions and continue straight where I should have pulled a u-turn around the building, and find myself on the shoulder of a very busy road with no exit in sight. I quickly realize my mistake, head back the way I came, and locate the bike path that takes me down along the Niagara River. I check into the HI-Niagara hostel, get my bags up to my room, and then bike down to the falls. They’re very pretty of course (and huge), but the area is disappointingly touristy. Weirdly, I count at least four haunted houses as well as other gimmicky crap like Ripley’s Believe It or Not, a wax museum, arcades, fast food, and more. I decide to buy a ticket for the night boat tour and head back to the hostel.
There’s a street festival going on just a couple blocks from the hostel, so I head over there to see what it’s all about and to find some dinner. It seems like every high schooler in Canada is at this festival and they are all dressed up like it’s the homecoming football game or something — athletic gear, face paint, air horns, lots of chanting, etc. There’s some kind of competition between the different schools, but I never really figure out exactly what’s going on. Because this is Canada, the food stands at the festival are all offering poutine, which I happily order. I mean, when in Canada, right?
The sun starts to set, so I walk back down to the falls for the boat tour. It takes me about half an hour to get there and the walk is pretty pleasant, because it’s mostly along the bike path. I get in line for my complementary poncho and board the boat along with what must be two hundred other tourists. It’s dark now, and the falls are illuminated by lights installed in the rock faces behind them. As the boat pulls closer to the falls, the mist picks up but it never gets too bad. Still, I do my best to keep my camera under the poncho when I’m not actually shooting.
After about half an hour of cruising by the falls, the boat turns around and heads back down the river. They cut the lights, and then there’s a nice fireworks show over the falls that lasts for about ten minutes. After the boat docks, I walk back to the hostel and crash.
Day 18: Niagara Falls to Buffalo
After taking advantage of the hostel’s free breakfast, I set out towards Buffalo. The route here takes me along the Niagara Recreational Trail towards the Peace Bridge. It’s sunny and hot. So hot. I’m not sure of the temperature, but it must be over 90 degrees. I only ride about 30 miles, but because of the heat, it feels like much longer. I don’t think I have ever sweat this much in my life. I get a dehydration headache quickly, despite drinking two bottles of water. After I cross the bridge back into the U.S., I stop at a small custard stand for a burger and fries. I sit in the shade to try to cool off.
I’ve arranged to stay at the home of a Couchsurfing/Warmshowers host recommended by a fellow tourist with whom I have become friends on Instagram. Joe and Emmalee have done several bike tours, the longest of which lasted 13 months and took them from Buffalo to Alaska to Florida and back. We go to Joe’s grandfather’s home in the country for a campfire and there we meet four other Couchsurfers who have driven up from New Jersey for the holiday weekend.
After enjoying our fill of s’mores, we head back to Joe and Emmalee’s place where we meet two more Couchsurfers, a young guy and his mother from New Zealand and Taiwan, respectively. Including Joe’s friend Wilson (who also spent the night), there are eight guests at the house, but there’s plenty of room for everyone.
Day 19: Buffalo rest day
In the morning, I ride my bike from Joe and Emmalee’s place to the neighborhood of Elmwood, where there is a bike shop. I noticed a couple of days ago that my back brakes were tapping on my wheel, so I want to get that checked out. The shop is not open yet, so I post up at the coffee shop across the street. I order a slice of what I am told is chocolate chip walnut bread but which turns out to be zucchini bread. A terrible mistake, but somehow I survive. When the bike shop opens, I drop my bike off (two broken spokes, come back around 4:30pm, they say) and walk to downtown Buffalo where I order another coffee and read for awhile. When enough time has passed, I walk back to Elmwood to pick up Fang. The spokes are fixed, the wheel is trued, and I also got some cushy new bar tape and an additional water bottle holder on the frame. Feels like a new ride, even though it’s still covered in dust from the Canalway trail.
When I get back to Joe and Emmalee’s, we ride over to Emmalee’s father’s house for a Memorial Day cookout. Ribs, potatoes, salad, watermelon, cookies — delicious. After dinner, we play several rounds of bags (also known as cornhole here) and I have one particularly good streak where I sink three in a row. There’s campfire and more s’mores, and then we head back to the house. Even though today was a rest day, I ended up riding about 8 miles and walking 4, so I’m tired. I climb into bed and fall asleep.
Day 20: Buffalo to Evangola
Joe and Emmalee invited me to participate in their Memorial Day plans, which include a bike ride across the border to the falls followed by a cookout, but I’m eager to keep heading west, so we part ways. Ten miles in, I hit a stretch of road that is being resurfaced and is currently grooved. This is not fun to ride on. Ten miles later, on a slightly better paved road, I hear a twang from the back of the bike. I get off to inspect the wheel and discover that I have popped another spoke. With no extra spokes, no idea how to fix it, and no bike shops nearby, I have no choice but to ride on.
My plan was to ride to Silver Creek, but by the time I hit Lake Erie Beach, my knees are pretty sore so I decide to stop at Evangola State Park for the night. I set up camp and then walk down to the beach, which is full of Memorial Day picnic-ers. I lay in the sun for awhile, hoping my knees will start to feel better soon.
When I head back to camp, I meet two other bike tourists — Amy and Tim from Chicago — who are on day one of a three week tour from Erie, PA to Bar Harbor, ME. We chat a bit and realize that they will be stopping at most of the places I stopped, so I try to give them whatever advice I can. We seem to be pretty similar in our touring styles (first tour, don’t know much about bikes, just willing to give it a shot), so it’s fun to talk to them. I watch the sun set over Lake Erie and then turn in early.
Day 21: Evangola to Erie, PA
I wake up, make some coffee and oatmeal, and try to steel myself for the day to come. With knees that are still sore, the prospect of riding 67 miles to Erie, PA does not seem fun, but I need to get my back wheel fixed and there are no bike shops until Erie. I pack up, put my knee brace on my left knee (last week it was the right), and roll out. The morning goes fairly smoothly and my knees don’t feel too bad. I stop at Tim Horton’s for a mid-morning snack (doughnut verdict: meh) and then press on. In the afternoon, my knees really start to feel sore, so I shift into a lower gear and try to take it easy. When I cross the border into Pennsylvania, I stop to get a photo at the sign but as I am stepping off my bike, my left foot suddenly clips into the pedal and unable to clip out fast enough, I tumble over. I’m fine and Fang is fine, but sometimes I really hate clipless pedals. I get the photo and continue on towards Erie.
The last 15 miles of the day are not fun at all. My knees (both of them now) are killing me and I get turned around a few times finding my way to the campsite. Finally, I find Sara’s Campground where I book two nights and set up camp right on the beach, fifteen feet from the waves of Lake Erie. I find dinner at a diner just down the road and then spend the rest of the night watching the sun sink below the horizon of the lake.
I’ve decided to take another rest day tomorrow to see if my knees will feel better. As much as I want to keep going, and as much as I hate to see my mileage slow down, my body can only take so much. I’ve been on the road now for three weeks and I think things are starting to catch up with me. I feel like I should be hitting my stride right now. Fifty to sixty miles a day should be easy — and indeed, I know my legs are strong enough to handle it — it’s just that my knees keep getting in the way. It’s frustrating because I’ve never really dealt with knee pain, or any kind of athletically-induced chronic pain, so dealing with this on this bike tour is unexpected and annoying. There’s not much I can do though besides rest, Ibuprofen, and ice, so that’s what I’m doing.
I hate to sound like I’m complaining, because I know most people don’t get the opportunity to do a trip like this. I recognize my privilege. I’m just trying to be honest about how the trip is going. Hopefully, another rest day will give my knees the chance they need to recover and I’ll be able to get back into the swing of things. But right now, I’m going to go dip my toes in Lake Erie.