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Albany to Amsterdam and Beyond

SUNY campus, downtown Albany, New York. Photo: Todd Tracy May 17th, 2020 — American Bicycle Odyssey

I walked my Cannondale cyclocross bicycle across the bridge over the Hudson River into downtown Albany, the capital of New York. It was the morning of my third day out on my transcontinental trip, May 17th, 2020. For all intents and purposes, the world was on lockdown, because of the pandemic, COVID-19, and downtown Albany was a deserted theme park-like world of amazing architecture. It felt apocalyptic, the city was empty of people. Downtown Westport, empty, was one thing but this was something else. The city center was beautiful without people, however.

I peddled my way down Broadway Avenue over to the main road, and then left up the hill towards Central Ave, that hopefully would take me out of the city, 20 miles to Schenectady. I was hoping to meet up with a special bike or canal path. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Very quickly I had passed from the Disneyland-like downtown into areas with dilapidated and gutted buildings. I was surprised that areas of the state capital, so close to the center, could be in such disrepair. I wondered that Cuomo hadn’t tried to rebuild the once beautiful homes along the main thoroughfare. Not knowing the neighborhood, I felt in a vulnerable position; had someone wanted to, one could have quite easily knocked me off my bike and ride away with my stuff. I have never had an experience like that but I have read a lot about that kind of thing happening to bicyclists in urban zones. One lesson I learned while traveling in Europe is to always look like you know where you are going. I scrolled my finger across my 800 dollar smartphone, spying directions, while rolling through the different neighborhoods. I remember thinking that Cuomo should revamp the parts of the city that don’t look as created by Walt Disney. I had just spent two months watching his daily briefings on TV. His voice was clear in my mind during the beginning days of my journey.

Google was pointing-out that the road was very straight. I found myself in unbearable heat and sunlight with no relief in sight. I thought to myself that it might not be possible to proceed if this were to continue. I found a tree on the very busy road and hopped-off to lay in the shade. I called my girlfriend. This was the only shady spot. I had made it out of Albany and was in the town of Colonie, self-proclaimed the safest town in New York, I wasn’t so sure. I guess I felt safe enough to rest on the side of the busy road. It wasn’t the rest that I needed but the shade.

After 20 very slow miles, I made it through the busy city life of Central Avenue to Schenectady, not unlike the Post Road in Connecticut(Milford route 1). Then I made it past a park area and then out to the country, what a relief it was to be out of the city zones. I made it to the Canal. This was a pick me up, though I had developed very painful rashes near my seat area. I had not been wearing bike-shorts. I was wearing my weird sporty stretch pants. The pain was insane. I wasn’t sure how to address the rash situation.

I got to Lock Area 9 of the Erie Canal. I felt like I was way behind schedule, however, looking back it was only my 3rd day out. At the time I was desperate to put miles behind me.

Apparently, there were a couple of different ways I could go. The main road west is called bicycle route 5 but I was looking for the towpath. First I needed to inspect this Canal Lock 9 because my imagination was trying to picture how it might work, the scale, dimensions, and the water displacement.

It was an interesting destination, no doubt.

And, luckily, there was the slightest bit of cloud cover. The Lock was impressive. I filmed a quick video so my Facebook friends could participate in my progress and then I moved on. I found the towpath. It was glorious, flat, and straight.

Again, my mood was a reflection of the road conditions, and they were becoming spectacular.

There was a town called Rotterdam and then a town called Amsterdam.

Arriving Amsterdam, it was getting late in the day and I was trying to decide if I should continue or not.

In Amsterdam, I found a laundromat that was open! I quickly went in and got to work straight away. I pulled my bicycle inside, seeing that no other customers were there.  I plugged my phone and bike lights into the wall outlet. I grabbed my dirty clothes, socks, and stretchy bike shirt. I went right into the bathroom. In the sink, I washed all of my clothes and my entire body in just a couple minutes. You must understand that I wasn’t running into places that were open. Everything washed, I exited the bathroom dripping from head to toe. There was a lady there now, she looked at me askance but continued with her business. With my spare change, I bought a soda. With a quarter, I put my clean wet clothes into a dryer. I waited patiently sipping the coke while my clothes dried and my phone charged. I watched local Albany pandemic news on the TV screen. I walked out of there at 6pm, wondering if I should look for a place to camp or continue west on route 5. The rain was coming in at 9pm. Three hours of cycling could be big. Things had cooled down. I was clean, fully charged, and feeling strong.

This was how things looked after leaving Amsterdam, NY on May 17th, 2020 at 7 pm/photo: Todd Tracy — American Bicycle Odyssey

 

 

 

So I hooked up back with the bike path. There were huge rock ledges going up hundreds of feet to my left. The landscape began to take shape. It was getting near dusk. No one else was on the trail. I was really cooking along. I was making up lost time. Rabbits were all over the path crossing in front of me crossing this way and that. I was dying to get miles in before the rain arrived. There were no major towns, it was just New York State in its rawest form. I was amazed by New York. it felt like a different country.

At around nine it started to become dark. I was going more than 20 miles per hour, with no traffic to slow me down and no hills to tire me out. I was flowing into a trance-like state. I barely could see where I was going but I could feel the wind on my face. I was kind of out in the middle of nowhere. But, as the rain never arrived, I pushed on. I could have camped out almost anywhere and that was a relief. I felt most comfortable out in the middle of nowhere. I felt free. Even the pain from the rash, I was able to put out of my mind.

Then, I was in a town center. It had an unpronounceable Indian type of name. “Canajoharie”

I kept going. It had been four solid hours of progress since I had been at the laundromat in Amsterdam. I was moving like the wind. I went through a creepy tunnel that took me under interstate 90.

Then I saw it! A sign! It was a picture of a camping tent with an arrow pointing to the right! It was an unmistakable invitation for a bicyclist to camp! Perfect!

I pulled in. There was fog now all around. I had my lights on at this point. there was no way I could pass up the opportunity. I did a quick loop around the campsite and set up my tent under a few pine trees on the wonderful green grass. There were strange buildings all around. There was the weird sound of water moving by, like a fast-moving river. There were trains going by as well. The highway was on one side and the train tracks and water were on the other. I was right in the middle of a camping green with bicycle parking spots. There was a kind of bridge I could see in the fog. I didn’t know where I was but I was perfectly content. Big rains were on the way and I was safe and dry inside my, now set up, tent.

I wondered how lucky I was to have pushed so hard and to have ridden so fast, to be able to get to this camping spot. Obviously, there were no other tents or campers anywhere around. I didn’t have to worry about trespassing because it was an official camping spot of some sort, the exact nature of which I was not aware. I called my girlfriend to tell her I was safe, and my phone died out. I fell asleep, content with my good luck and well-deserved progress. The rain was pattering away on the tent. My body was in quite a bit of pain at the end of my third day,  and I was not quite sure where I was.