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Change of Scenery

I woke up on the 6th day. I was in my orange tent. It was about 6:30 am or so. The Green Lakes State Park Rangers had been very accomodating, as I needed a place to camp, especially while camping was verboten. I got my stuff together. A routine was being developed concerning tent folding and putting everything away. I had an Ortlieb waterproof saddlebag, in the bike world–called a pannier, only one side, however. All packed, I made my way through the majestic stand of tall pine trees. It was one of those groves where there is no underbrush, only dry needles. I really love that vibe, it was the main reason why I went in there, also it was quite dense providing secrecy.

In front of the Ranger Station, I made quite a show of tying everything down and preparing to leave. The Rangers were in there, but no one came out or anything. I wanted them to see me leaving. It was another beautiful morning. My bike was squeaking and I had the idea of going to a bike shop in Syracuse New York, which was only about ten miles west of my location at the park. I quickly arrived in Fayetteville. It was a nice upscale suburb. “Ah, Dunkin Donuts.” Because of the Pandemic, people were not allowed to sit inside where the outlet was. I asked my server if I could use the outlet to charge my phone while I waited outside. He was friendly and said, “no problem.” I guess I must have looked dirty or like a vagabond because everyone who arrived while I was sitting out front looked at me strangely. This was a problem for me. It would seem that I was always in need of a phone charge. I needed weather updates. I needed to look at maps. I needed to find the bike shop, not yet open. I needed to take pictures and make movies. Especially in a city environment, I needed navigation, turn left, then right, go 500 feet, veer to the right, take this road and that road. But I couldn’t bear to look like a homeless guy waiting out front off a coffee shop.

So I grabbed my phone and split. I also had this very cool solar-powered charging panel that my friend Greg had lent out to me specifically for the trip. The panel took forever to charge the phone, however.

After much cruising around Syracuse, I finally found the Syracuse Bike Shop!

Photo: Todd Tracy / May 20, 2020 — American Bicycle Odyssey

I went in. It was a very upscale shop. Rich people were dropping off their bikes. I need to use an 8-millimeter wrench for less than a minute. It is always a weird thing when you walk into a shop and want to borrow their tools. The head mechanic figured out my deal. He said, “bring it in, let’s see what you got.” I rolled my cyclocross bicycle onto the showroom floor. Right away they could see what the deal was. “Oh cool,” he said, “no prob, did you say 8 mill for the bottom bracket.” I had just pressed new bearings in my bb30 bottom bracket a week before. From my experience, I knew it was a good idea to check to see if the peddles were still at 65 pounds. BB30 bottom brackets are known to creak. The mechanic tightened it for me. As he pulled on the wrench my bike made a loud sound. “Stop,” I yelled and he looked at me. “Yup. That’s it, perfect.” They let me use the pump for my tires. There is an unspoken rule; that bike travelers are to be helped for no charge. They were just glad to get rid of me because they had so many paying customers.

I struck out on the road, looking for the canal path. Rochester was my new goal, 50 miles away. Unfortunately for this leg of the trip, the sun was beating down and the path was bumpy gravel. When the canal path turned to dirt, progress was slowed immensely. It became such a chore that I actually, for the first time, became frustrated. I had been willing to endure any circumstance. But the dirt path was unacceptable. Now listen, I have a cyclocross bike which means that gravel is no big deal, not really. Normal road bikes cannot go on dirt roads for any length of time because they develop pinch flats. But my bike could handle these incredible short cuts on dirt paths, but that was the problem. I was constantly, or more and more, in the rocky dirt, taking a short cut.

Google would never let me know, it would just say, “bike path this way.” But out here, that meant dirt. Sure my bike could handle it, but at 5 miles an hour, it would take forever to get anywhere.

Photo: Todd Tracy / May 20, 2020 — American Bicycle Odyssey

I made it to Weedsport, where I came upon the shuttered raceway. I made a huge mistake. At a dollar store, I bought Jolly Ranchers. For me, this can be the kiss of death. I have weird blood sugar issues, sometimes I can have candy and stay up all night writing or composing music. At other times, I crash so hard I can almost become suicidal in just a few minutes.

At about the Weedsport race track, I was eating Jolly Rancher after Jolly Rancher. One after another, by the time I got to the center, of this very cool town, I started coming down off the sugar. Wow, I lost all confidence. I literally felt like I couldn’t go on. It was a classic sugar meltdown for me. But under the circumstances of having to peddle continuously, not making quick progress, on the dirt track, I just stopped. I decided, stupidly, to rethink everything. I wasn’t gonna make it. I even knew at the time it was my blood sugar, but still, I fell apart. I laid down on a park bench just outside of town. The canal was really starting to piss me off.

I looked at the map, recovering slightly, which is usually the case. Then I saw it. As it turned out, geographically, I was at the top of the Finger Lakes. I was near a national forest!, Finger Lakes National Forest to be exact. And about 50 miles away, down a smooth road, was a town called Ithaca. This was the college town I had been thinking about, not Utica. I began to read about Ithaca and was intrigued right away. Now, my friends, when you are doing a transcon, you can’t get sidetracked, you just have too far to go. But I was weak. I needed instant gratification and the canal was just not providing it for me. and I could not afford to be on the dirt track any longer.

Also, I had been spending too much money on food. I noticed my food budget was depleting much faster than I had planned. I needed fruit, not gummy bears and jolly ranchers. I needed steaks and spaghetti, just, all-around much more food. Heading south could possibly turn me around towards Connecticut. I felt that I wasn’t making progress. It is funny how the mind can play tricks on you, especially when sugar is involved with decision making.

I could live among the waterfalls of Ithaca, and think about things, without having to spend much money, just chill out. As luck would have it, I was right at the road that headed south directly to the place. I was imagining myself living there. During the lockdown. There were many colleges and universities there, and of course, all of the students had been sent home, so theoretically I would have Ithaca to myself, hopefully. I set out for the place, south.

Photo: Todd Tracy / May 20, 2020 — American Bicycle Odyssey

Right away I noticed something was different, however. I was going uphill, through farm country that was beautiful, but uphill. What was I getting myself into? This was the adventure part, right. I got to an ice cream place with all the locals parked out front. There was a pavilion with an outlet. I plugged in and chatted with the folks. I called my girlfriend. Everybody was way down to earth. I moved on, the sun was starting to go down. I came to a town called Auburn. It was a prison town and I could see gang-type activity. I wasn’t comfortable there but I got a Subway sandwich before I moved on. Watching my back. I moved out into great farmland. The road was straight, very few potholes. No gas stations or places to eat. At about sunset, I had 35 miles to Ithaca the sign said.

Outside Auburn, New York. Photo: Todd Tracy / May 20, 2020 — American Bicycle Odyssey

I began to have a very strange experience. The Subway sandwich had solved my blood sugar issues and I felt better. But the darkness was quite interesting. I didn’t want to use my light because I didn’t want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere with worn-out batteries. I felt it best to preserve the batteries. My phone was dying. So, it was dark. I couldn’t see how much progress I was making. There were no houses. Nothing. And peddling in the dark makes it hard to tell how fast you are going. The hills pretty much leveled off. I was going real slow. The worst feeling is hitting a pothole that you are not expecting in the dark, on a bicycle. The slower the better. There really was nowhere to camp because the farm fields were all plowed right up to the road, no trees to speak of. It just felt weird. In a huge space, that I could not see, moving along.

I was moving through the darkness. Way off in the distance there were huge radio towers blinking. There were barking dogs alerting the dispersed homeowners of my existence. I wanted desperately to know how close I was to Ithaca. “I must be close,” but it was impossible to tell. The one thing I remember from looking at google maps earlier in the day, was that there was a huge hill I had to go down, and then a huge hill I had to go up, then down again right before Ithaca. My phone was completely out of power. I was sure that I only needed to stay on that road, route 34.

After hours, I began to go downhill. It was important not to go too fast. Wiping out under these conditions was just too easy. Then, I began going uphill. I hopped off and started walking up the hill, miles uphill in the dark. There was a town. At the very top of this hill, I came upon a town center of sorts and there was a bus stop. I searched the bus stop shelter for an outlet but there was none. There was a map of Ithica, however. Apparently, I was in the town of Lansing, New York. I studied the map. Then I saw it, right next to the bus stop there was a fruit stand of sorts. On one of the poles holding up the roof, of the streetside stand, was an electrical outlet. It worked! I saw, on my now working phone, that it was just past midnight. I decided to lie down behind the fruit stand. I was so tired, my 18th hour of peddling. I lay there on the dirt with my phone charging. I was extremely uncomfortable, but my body needed to rest, even for just a little bit.

After about 30 minutes I woke up and felt rested. “I must head into Ithaca now.” It was all downhill from there and for that I was grateful. I rolled into a commercial area with shopping centers, obviously, everything was closed. I rolled passed a cop who looked at me askance as there were no other people. The city was, of course, on lockdown.

I got to the 24 hour Sunoco Station, desperate for a coffee. But that too was closed. I saw on my phone that a few miles further, past the university section of town, there was a 24 hour 7-11. I decided to call before going there. Yup, there were open.

As I rolled into the University section of town, what I saw blew my mind. The hill was steep and it turned this way and that. Cornell was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. There were cliffs and waterfalls and the most stunning architecture imaginable, actually beyond imagination for mere mortals. I had to lay really heavy on the brakes all the way down to the town center.

I made it to the 7-11. I got coffee, water, coke, and nutrition bars, having learned my lesson from earlier in the day about candy, or just straight-up sugar.

I walked out, a homeless man asked me for money, pestering me to talk. I was too tired to engage with the man. “Buzz-off, I have nothing. Do I look like a millionaire?”

Downtown Ithaca, New York at 4 am May 21, 2020 Photo: Todd Tracy — American Bicycle Odyssey

The downtown area was amazing with its bars, bookstores, and gift shops. Ithica is truly a mecca, unlike anything I have ever seen. The students, if any had been there, would obviously love the place for socializing after hours of studying in the library. It made me sad that America was in a lockdown mode. Ithaca was no small town, it is a city, for learning and coming of age. I sat down at 4 in the morning and enjoyed my coffee. I had the entire city to myself. This was an apocalyptic scenario. I kept thinking about the university section of the city, back up the hill. “I must explore on foot,” I told myself while sitting and thinking and sipping.

I had no idea how beautiful a city could be. Ithaca is the model for paradise, in-a-way. Yet no one was there. I was all alone with my thoughts.

Unable to peddle any more, I proceeded to walk back up the hill. Once back at Cornell, I found a parking spot for my bike in the middle of the campus and locked it up. I found an outlet for my phone outside the university bookstore. My muscles found that walking was quite a relief. I was waiting for sunrise. I hiked the entire campus 2 or 3 times.

Then, there was the faint glow of light, it came from the direction I had thought was west. I had been completely disoriented. “Could the east be that way?” Then, there was actual light. I sat on a bench in the very center of campus, on a hill watching the sunshine illuminate the hillside opposite my location. What appeared before my eye was the most spectacular sight I had ever to behold in Europe or the Americas.

 

Cornell University, Ithaca, New York at 6am on May 21, 2020 / Photo: Todd Tracy — American Bicycle Odyssey

 

 

 

 

Cornell University May 21, 2020/ Photo; Todd Tracy — American Bicycle Odyssey