Friday, November 9, 2018

The End of Land

Photo Credits: Joseph Insalaco and Hans-Peter Tinguely

We met in 2002, on an Adventure Cycling bicycle trip across the United States.  Joe is from New York State, HP from Switzerland, and I am from Virginia.  Those many years ago, we had to get up every morning, pack our tents, and cycle.  There was a schedule and no debate.  Now our cycling adventures are more relaxed: off route stops are encouraged, short cuts accepted, long lunches at a micro-brewery are contemplated, and tents left at home.  In July 2018, we cycled the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec, Canada, where beautiful waters and challenging climbs abound. 

The Gaspésie (official name), or Gaspé Peninsula, is a peninsula along the south shore of the Saint Lawrence River that extends into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.  The origin of the name "Gaspé" means "end", referring to the end of the land. Our 11 day journey around the end of the land was 540 miles and included 36,000 feet of climbing.

We met in Ste. Flavie, a tourist town on the Saint Lawrence River.  The town dates to the mid-1800 and has many restaurants, hotels, a beach, and an artist community.  While Joe and I drove there, HP flew from Switzerland to Montréal, rented an E-bike and then cycled over 400 miles to Ste. Flavie for the start of our trip. 

Our Gaspé cycling began under overcast skies and light rain.  Not wanting to miss any highlights we made 2 stops within the first few miles.  At the Parc de la Riviere Mitis, we toured the museum and hiked the trails.  The museum contained some very interesting fossils and native artifacts.  We next stopped at the Reford Gardens.  The gardens have 3,000 species of native and exotic plants in 18 areas, as well as many sculptures, both traditional and modern.  According to our guide book, it is “the most renowned and internationally recognized gardens in North America.”  We agreed that the gardens were spectacular.  In contrast to day’s overcast sky and light rain, the flower’s vibrant colors popped, enhancing our enjoyment of the park’s beauty. 

Later, the weather cleared, the sun came out as we continued north east on route 132, the only route around the peninsula.  While we had GPSs and maps, none were needed.  For the most part, the traffic on route 132 was relatively light. However, every chance we had we diverted to the “old route 132” that went thru the towns and along the St. Lawrence. 

We met 2 guys cycling the peninsula in the opposite direction. They claimed the climbs were easier that way, but the head winds were tough.  One was a high school science teacher the other an oceanographer, both in their 20s.  We enjoyed their stories of wild camping, subsisting on the fish and crabs that they caught, and their nightly parting in brewpubs.  Their wanderlust was an interesting contrast to our indoor lodgings, restaurant meals, and early bed times. At their recommendation, we next stopped in the city of Matane and had lunch at the La Fabrique micro-brewery. 

In the town of Sainte-Felicite, we stayed at a hostel (Auberge de Jeunesse du Manoir des Sapins).  While the building was old, it was well maintained and staffed by some of the nicest people.  The down side of the hostel was that it did not serve dinner or breakfast and no restaurants were nearby.  HP went to the only (but not well stocked) grocery and found fixings for our dinner which he cooked in the hostel’s kitchen.

The next morning, we left the hostel without breakfast but found a restaurant about 5 miles away.  The early part of our ride had many hills and each one was a little longer than the last.  While none of them were steep, they were tiring.  The middle of that days’ ride was flat but we encountered head winds which weren’t so bad.  In fact, they helped keep us cool in the warmth of the afternoon.  About mile 40, in a 52 mile day, we got off the highway and cycled thru a “one-street” town that was nearly 5 miles long.  The town had hotels and restaurants, all calling us to stop.  However, we moved on, encountering several more hills before arriving at our nights lodging.

This night’s lodging was chosen to balance out our daily mileage.  We reached the Auberge Festive Sea Shack by dropping off the highway down a steep gravel road.  The Sea Shack is a compound of yurts, A-frame cabins, and tent camping on the beach. They have a circular open-air bar overlooking the beach, and a carryout food-stand that “cooked-to-order” some interesting meals. Blues/rock music played at a moderate volume over the compound and the bar had half a dozen micro-brew beers and ciders on tap.  An interesting sign posted near the bar prohibited smoking "grass" on Sea Shack property but further stated that “everything was okay on the beach”.  Except for us old guys, the average age was in the mid-twenties.  Most males and females were minimally clothed but full of tattoos and piercings.  However, several females were in dresses and hats that looked like vintage clothing from the 1930s. While it was relatively quiet, the Sea Shack is known for its wild summer concerts.  No concert was scheduled for that night but around 11 p.m. the music style changed and the volume increased to a loud pulsating cacophony of endless noise (yes we are old) that lasted until 3 a.m.

We decided on an early start and were tempted to make noise; however, we behaved and left quietly.  Joe and I pushed our bikes up the steep gravel road to the highway but HP road his electric bike.  He looked like a potentate on a sedan chair waiving and smiling at the peasants.  We started without breakfast but, after several climbs, we came upon a small café that was just opening for the day.  Antoine, the owner, roasted beans on-site and served us Brazilian coffee and homemade muffins.  About half way thru the day’s ride we finally found a restaurant for a full breakfast.  While the day started with climbs and headwinds, the cycling gods smiled on us. The road flattened and we picked up a powerful tailwind that pushed us at 20 plus mph to our night’s lodging.

The next day was a tough day, a long day, a constant climb day, and it was hard.  We went over the mountains that separate the Seaway from the Atlantic Ocean.  As soon as we left our motel we started climbing.  It was long and steep. After 2 more miles we had a short downhill before climbing again.  That was typical of the day.  The downhills even had up-hills and the up-hills had false crests requiring more climbing.  The few screaming down hills required diligence to stay out of the ruts and pot holes in the road. Our typical day had between 2,000 and 3,000 feet of climbing.  Getting to the Atlantic side required almost 7,000 feet of climbing.  On the brighter side, the views of the Atlantic were spectacular.  Even with his electric bike HP was tired and Joe and I were exhausted. 

Our first day on the Atlantic side was beautiful. We woke to blue skies, pleasant temperature and a fresh ocean breeze.  The day began with a long climb which took us inland from the coast. At first, our leg muscles reminded us of yesterday's 6,600 feet of climbs, but soon we warmed up and made the ascent in good shape.  Then a fast descent took us back to the coast.  Mid-morning we arrived at the bay L'Anse-au-Griffon and the Forillon National Park. This scenic park juts out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence and is wild and rugged with scenic limestone cliffs. The park is also the site of a historic lighthouse, the tallest in Canada and one of many that were along our route.

Rather that cycling around the park’s perimeter, we chose to cycle thru the park on a trail.  The trail had a big climb but we were sheltered from the sun by the thick forest.   The seclusion and silence was only interrupted by the birdsong that encouraged us onward.

Exiting the park, we returned to civilization and got back on route 132.  We soon stopped to explore Fort Ramsay. The Fort was built in 1940 to protect the bay from a German invasion. A few miles further along the bay, we reached our day’s destination, the town of Gaspé.  The town is the peninsula’s administrative and commercial center. In July 1543, Jacques Cartier landed here and claimed the land in the name of the King of France. 

The next morning we left the town on a 6 mile paved trail that took us back to route 132.  There we met a jogger who told us that route 132 had some dangerous sections ahead and suggested a short cut.  Our ride quickly got very interesting. The short cut dumped us onto a soft-sand path.  We quickly found ourselves up to our knees in weeds and sand so deep it was hard to push our bikes.  Next, we had to cross an abandoned railroad bridge that required careful steps on the wooden ties.  On the other side of the bridge we had more soft sand before returning to route 132.  We felt like hobos, but taking this 2 mile short cut saved us 9 miles of questionable highway cycling. 

Our day continued with rolling (but gentle) hills until we got to another shortcut. This trail was labeled as the “cycle route” and went thru the Malbaie Salt Marsh.  The cycle route was just as challenging as the last shortcut.    In many sections the asphalt was washed away by the tide and in some places replaced by loose grave that made it difficult to push our bikes.  We could not believe that this was a designated cycle route.  On the other side of the salt marsh route 132 had another big climb.  We were told that this would be very difficult but after the past several days of climbing, we thought that it was not as bad as described.  At the top of the mountain we stopped at a café that provide a fantastic view of the bay and Percé Rock below.  After a locally brewed beer (only 1 each) we dropped down into the town of Percé, enjoying a fast 17% decline.  Percé, was a fishing village that is now a popular tourist stop.  The town gets its name from a heavily eroded rock, which is pierced (percé in French) by a large hole at one end. Indeed, the whole coast is a magnificent natural spectacle that's incredibly picturesque with rocky outcrops, towering cliffs, and surf. 

Our route first took us northeast along the St. Lawrence River, then out to the Atlantic Ocean. Leaving Percé we cycled along the south side of the peninsula by the Baie de la Chaleur (bay).  The bay is known for its warm temperatures where salmon spawn in the gravel banks of its tributaries.  In contrast to the earlier part of the peninsula where the climate and terrain were rugged, here we saw sandy beaches packed with sunbathers.   While we did not stop for a swim, HP likened it to one of his Mediterranean holidays.

We ended our day at the Gîte A l'Abri du Clocher. This B&B is located next to the Catholic Church and was once its rectory.  It had been carefully renovated and beautifully decorated by the owners Michèle and José. They still keep one room available for a possible visit by the bishop, even though he visits only once every four years.  The next morning our hosts provided us with a great breakfast of fresh fruit with homemade cream, homemade pastries, fresh crepes, coffee, and juice.  Our breakfast made for a good start to cycle into a rainy day. However, after an hour, the rain tapered off and the temperatures rose. 

For the day’s last 20 miles, we cycled next to the Matapedia River.  Mid-day, we took a break under a gazebo overlooking the river.  There, we sat in the shade, ate our lunch, and met Chery.  She told us that she was born and raised nearby and that the home where she lived was in her family for seven generations.  Many of the men in her family either worked for the railroad or were fishing guides on the river. 

We continued along the river to our nights lodging (Auberge de la Riviere Matapedia).  The fishing lodge was on the opposite side of the river, accessed by a long covered bridge.  Upon our arrival, Sophia, our hostess, made us comfortable on the veranda and brought us ice cold beers.  Waiting for our rooms to be ready, we watched the humming birds feed just above our heads and listened to the river flowing over the rocks.  Later that evening, the host prepared dinner for us and a family visiting from France. 

We had a good night’s sleep at the fishing lodge and woke to a nice breakfast of “pancakes”.  The pancakes that we had been eating were more like crepes than the pancakes we got in the US.  They were very dense, some were small but todays were plate sized.  Joe and I got an early start but HP delayed his start to socialize with the French family.  Our route continued along the Matapedia River and we stopped to watch the fly fishermen work their rods in a ballet of fluid motion.    The temperature rose during the morning and the humidity was stifling.  However, the last several miles were next to a lake and picture perfect.  The night’s B&B (Gite Grand-Pere Nicole) sat just across from the lake and a park.  Upon our arrival, our hostess and her daughter made us feel very welcome and the offer of the use of their pool was quickly accepted.

In the morning, our gracious host and hostess had a wonderful breakfast for us.  By the time we ate and loaded our bikes, the winds picked up.  Of course, it was a headwind.  Along the way we saw many cyclists sailing by in the opposite direction.  One of them crossed the highway to talk to us.  John left Vancouver 58 days earlier when he started his trans-Canadian bike ride.  He was proud that he had camped all the way and not spent one night in a motel.  We attribute this to his age. We, on the other hand were proud that we had spent every night in a “real” lodging.  We ended our cycling tour in Ste. Flavie, where we began.

Over all, our trip around Gaspe was 540 miles with 36,000 feet of climbing.  It took us 11 days of cycling with no layovers to make the loop around the peninsula.  Since HP’s journey started in Montreal, he cycled 1,000 miles.  Leaving Ste. Flavie, we drove to Montreal to drop off HP for his flight home, and Joe and I continued our drive south to our homes.   

Day       Miles        E-Gain          Daily destination
1          50.53       2,126 feet     Saint-Felicite
2          54.01       3,736            The Sea Shack
3          51.71       2,887            Saint-Madeleine de-la-Riviere-Madeleine
4          51.31       6,604            Riviere-Madeleine
5          28.77       2,692            Gaspe
6          41.71       3,267            Perce
7          70.32       4,151            New Carlisle
8          58.35       2,908            Nouvelle
9          55.47       2,799            Routhierville
10        37.40       2,115            Val-Brillant
11        36.60       2,511            Ste. Flavie
Totals  536.19     35,796 feet

Our daily bog with maps and more pictures, can be seen at: https://gaspeodyssey2018.blogspot.com/








Tuesday, August 30, 2016

TRAILS THROUGH HISTORY

(Published in SPOKES, October 2016)
Photos by Joseph Insalaco

In the fall of 2015, bicyclists from York County, Pennsylvania, undertook a six-day ride to raise support for completion of the Grand History Trail (GHT).  The GHT is a 300-mile regional trail network that provides a circular tour through 250 years of American history via Washington, D.C.; Baltimore and Annapolis in Maryland; and York, Hanover, and Gettysburg in Pennsylvania.  (The GHT’s web site can be found at www.grandhistorytrail.org/.)

In June 2016, Joe and I cycled a slightly modified GHT. We started in Falls Church, VA and our first history stop was The Falls Church, the church that gave the town its name.  The church dates back to the early 1700s.  During the Civil War the building served as a hospital and then a stable and barracks for troops of both sides.

Leaving Falls Church, we headed west towards Leesburg, VA, a historic town we added to our tour.  In doing so, we substituted the GHT’s route on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trail (C&O) with the Washington and Old Dominion Trail (W&OD).  The W&OD is a 45-mile long paved trail that goes from Shirlington,VA to Purcellville, VA.  It is built on the rail bed of the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad, which operated from 1859 to 1968.

Our first stop on the W&OD was Vienna, VA; where, just off the trail, we passed the Vienna Inn.  The Inn is 60 years old and has been a favorite stop for cyclist since the trail opened.   We also cycled by the unique and award winning “Bikes at Vienna” that specializes in 2 and 3 wheel recumbents and folding bicycles.  East of Leesburg, we stopped to view the cavernous Luck Stone Quarry, a favored rest stop for cyclists.   Entering Leesburg we saw a vibrant downtown with lots of shops, restaurants, and history.  Originally named Georgetown after King George, the name was later changed to Leesburg, in honor of Francis Lightfoot Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. 


In Leesburg we stopped at George C. Marshall’s home.  He was the architect of the European Recovery Program (the Marshall Plan) at the end of World War II. The house retains many of its early 19th-century architectural details.  In addition, we stopped at the Loudoun County courthouse, erected in 1895; the Thomas Birkby House, circa 1770; and the Lightfoot restaurant, constructed in 1888 in the Romanesque Revival Style and housed a bank for many years.  

On local roads, we cycled out of Leesburg to Whites Ferry, VA.  White's Ferry is the last of many ferries that operated on the Potomac River. Our barge, named after the confederate Civil War General Jubal A. Early, carried us across the Potomac River into Maryland. 

We next cycled on the C&O Canal Trail.  Operating for nearly 100 years the canal was a lifeline for communities along the Potomac River as coal, lumber and agricultural products floated down the waterway to market. The C&O Canal trail is 184.5 miles long, but we only cycled on it for about 9 miles.  This section was mostly
single-track with packed gravel.  We saw canal locks and a lock house.  Once we exited the C&O, we headed north on country roads to Frederick, MD.

Frederick’s downtown contains many unique restaurants and shops.  Frederick was an important stop along the Great Wagon Road that came south from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and continued down the Appalachian Valley.  It was also a stopping point on the westward migration to cross the Appalachian Mountains.  We also noted that Frederick briefly became Maryland's capital in 1861.

Frederick is home to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, the Roads and Rails Museum, and the wonderful Carroll Creek Park.  This park began as a flood control project in late 1970s but now includes pedestrian paths, water features, shade trees, pedestrian bridges, and a 350 seat amphitheater.  Interesting public art is incorporated into the park.

Unlike our first day’s ride with 90 degree temperatures, day 2 started out in the 60s.  Google’s best route out of Frederick indicated that we should cycle through Fort Detrick, MD.  While very skeptical that this could be done, we cycled to the gate only to face the inevitable rejection.  However, the ride-around did not take long.

Once out of the city, our route was mostly country roads with farms and orchards.  At Catoctin Furnace, MD, we had our day’s first photo stop.  Catoctin Furnace is a sleepy village at the base of Catoctin Mountain.  The village got its name from the iron furnaces that were built in the 1770’s, making tools and household items.  During the American Revolution, they made military shells.  After the Civil War battle at Gettysburg, PA the furnace hired both Northern and Southern troops escaping the war.

From there, we went thru the town of Thurmont, MD (founded in 1751) and close to Camp David, the Presidential retreat.  We soon crossed 2 covered bridges.  The first, the Utica Road Covered Bridge crossed over Fishing Creek.  The bridge structure was originally built in 1834 and spanned the Monocacy River.  An 1889 flood damaged the bridge and the surviving half was moved to Fishing Creek in 1891. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 23, 1978

Next we cycled through Emmetsburg, MD (founded in 1785) and through Mount St. Mary’s University.  There we saw the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, and the Basilica and National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who was the first native born United States citizen to be canonized as a saint. We soon passed the National Emergency Training Center campus, which includes the Emergency Management Institute, the National Fire Academy and the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial.  Like Fort Detrick, we could not enter this facility.

Before getting to Gettysburg, we crossed the second covered
bridge. The Sacks Bridge is reportedly haunted by Confederate soldiers that were hung from its rafters.  However, our passage though the bridge was peaceful.  The Sachs Covered Bridge was built around 1854 and in 1938 was designated Pennsylvania's most historic bridge.

Near Gettysburg, we passed the Eisenhower farm which was the home and farm of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  The farm also served the President as a weekend retreat and a meeting place for world leaders.  Next we toured the Civil War’s Gettysburg Battlefield where President Abraham Lincoln delivered his short, but famous, Gettysburg Address.

We stayed in downtown Gettysburg at the Federal Pointe Inn.  The Inn was created inside a 1900’s renovated school house.  Whether our next day’s “late” start was attributable to the hotel’s comfort or us being tired, we cannot say.  After breakfast, we leisurely headed back through the battlefields where Joe took a few more pictures of the many historic homes we passed.  Considering how brutal the battle was, we were not surprised that many of those homes served as hospitals during the battle. 

Next we headed to the town of Hanover, PA.  While the initial part of the route was on a 2-lane road with some traffic, we cycled on a reasonably wide shoulder.  After Littlestown, PA we diverted onto very rural roads with one gravel section. We soon arrived in Hanover which was first settled in the early 1700s and contained some interesting old buildings.   However, our focus was on a late morning pick-me-upper at a great soft ice cream stand.  The cones were large and refreshing.  Refreshed, we headed to the Snyder’s of Hanover for a tour of their pretzel factory.  In contrast to all the “old stuff” we enjoyed on our tour, we were impressed with the amount of robotics used in the production, packaging, and shipping of pretzels. 

Before leaving Hanover, we stopped for lunch at The Original Famous Hot Wiener restaurant.  Since it was famous, it had to be good; right? Our waitress liked cyclist and posed for a close-up photo.  She recommended and we accepted the house special; a wiener with onions, mustard, chilly. 

After lunch we cycled to York, PA on 2-lane roads with traffic and not much of a shoulder.  Most drivers were patient when they could not pass.  Downtown York was easy to cycle and a good portion of our route allowed us to take a full lane.  We stayed in the heart of the downtown in the Yorktowne Hotel which was within walking distance of many restaurants and close to the rail trail that would take us to Baltimore, MD.

In York we saw several notable houses, including the Golden Plough Tavern (1741), the General Horatio Gates House (1751), and the Barnett Bobb House, also known as the Old Log House.

On our forth morning, we headed south on the York Heritage Trail (now called the Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail). Since the trail shares its right-of-way with a railroad it is called a “rail-with-trail.”  The trail was built in 1999 but steeped in railroad history.  During the Civil War, the railroad was a target of the Confederate Army before the Battle of Gettysburg. The Confederate Army’s troops tried to isolate the Union by damaging the railroad, telegraph wires and bridges. In November 1863, President Lincoln traveled on the railroad and stopped at Hanover Junction before giving the Gettysburg Address. 
 
The Heritage Rail Trail has a slight incline as it heads south to the Maryland border and has a crushed stone surface.  The trail has some interesting “trail art”.  In York we enjoyed some industrial looking sculptures and in Hanover Junction we photographed an interesting horse and boy sculpture.   The town of Glen Rock (which is a national historic district) had a mural depicting the town’s history.  We also posed with some very large “bone shaker”
bicycle trail art.  In the town of Seven Valleys we saw a sign that claimed the first commercially manufactured ice cream in the United States.  Unfortunately, none was to be enjoyed as we passed through the town.

During our ride on the Heritage RailTrail we endured gentle rain showers all the way to New Freedom, PA. This was the end of the Heritage Rail Trail and the beginning of the North Central Trail in Maryland.  New Freedom houses an excursion train.  John, one of the volunteers that keep the train

operating, gave us a tour of the rail cars and allowed us into the engine house to view the steam locomotive.  At the edge of town is the former Summers Canning Company.  A large mural, depicting scenes of the cannery, is displayed on a building next to the trail.

Leaving New Freedom on the North Central Trail, the rain got
heavier but we enjoyed the trail’s fast down-grade as we headed south.  The faster we went the wetter and muddier we got.  By the time we reached the end of the trail we were a mess.  We found some large water puddles in the trailhead’s paved parking lot and washed our legs and then our bikes.  We were like two kids playing in the water.

Cycling on the roads took us from a wooded environment to an urban one.  We stopped for lunch in a family run Greek restaurant and were treated like part of the family.  After lunch we rode into Baltimore, MD, passing McCormick’s Hunt Valley plant, Pimlico Race Track, and the Timonium Fairgrounds. We cycled through historic Lutherville and Mt. Washington, and cycled by the
Baltimore Zoo and the Trolley Museum.  We were on the Jones Falls Trail where we met Chris, a local cyclist.  We stopped to chat and he volunteered to be our tour guide as we headed to our hotel.  Chris, works nights as a surgical nurse and was out riding a vintage bicycle.  Chris shared local lore and pointed out many sites. 

On our fifth morning we left our Baltimore hotel under the gloom of dark skies and wondered how soon we would get rain.  We
cycled by the Inner Harbor area on our way to Fort McHenry, a historical American coastal star-shaped fort.  It is best known for its role in the War of 1812, when the Fort successfully defended Baltimore Harbor from an attack by the British Navy.  A large flag was flown over the fort during the British bombardment.  The sight of this flag inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem that was later set to music and become the Star Spangled Banner.

We had rain for about an hour, but the skies soon cleared as we got on the Baltimore-Washington International Airport Trail.  This trail is 10 miles long and goes from Lanham to Odenton in Maryland.  It runs on the former right-of-way of the Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis Electric Railway.

Next, we transitioned to the Baltimore and Annapolis Rail Trail which took us most of the way to Annapolis.  The trail is 13 miles long and goes between Annapolis and Glen Burnie, MD. Just prior to Annapolis, we were greeted by Jon, the president of the Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Bike Advocates.  He filled us in on route options and things to see. Once in Annapolis, we left our bikes and gear at the Gibson's Lodgings (a B&B), and took a walking tour of the town. 

Annapolis is the capital of Maryland and is situated on the Chesapeake Bay at the mouth of the Severn River.  The city served as the seat of the Continental Congress in 1783–84.   We walked passed the Maryland State House which is topped by the largest wooden dome built without nails in the country.  We passed St. John's College (founded in 1789) and the United States Naval Academy (founded in 1845).  At the harbor we saw the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley memorial which commemorates the arrival point of Alex Haley's African ancestor, Kunta Kinte, whose story is told in Haley's book, “Roots”.

All week the weather forecasts for our last day’s ride indicated severe thunderstorms for most of the day.  With this in mind, we spent some time during the evening going over our options: riding in bad weather, spending an extra day in Annapolis, or renting a car.  The storms hit late that evening but at 3 a.m. we woke up to the sound of silence. Outside the weather was nice.  At 5 a.m. we checked the weather forecast and saw that it had changed to just the possibility of storms in the morning.  So we packed our bikes and headed out. While we cycled around some downed trees and other storm debris, it turned out to be a beautiful day.

We followed the East Coast Greenway route from Annapolis to Washington, DC.  The route meandered over back roads and trails. More direct routes exist, but this one optimized safety and off-road trails.  As we approached DC, we cycled on the Metropolitan Branch Trail.  Closer to DC we were treated to a “flyover” of Coast Guard aircraft celebrating their anniversary.  However, there was little to photograph until we hit Washington’s Mall.  From DC, we cycled on George Washington Parkway Trail passed Washington National Airport where we took the Four Mile Run Connector Trail.  This trail quickly led us to the final leg of our route on the W&OD trail to Falls Church.

So how many off-road miles did we cycle on the Grand History trail?  Capturing the larger trails and ignoring the many smaller ones and the asphalt paths paralleling busy roads; about 40 percent of our tour was off-road (130 miles out of the 321 miles that we cycled).  More detailed information about out trip can be found in our daily blog (http://grandhistorytrail2016.blogspot.com/).

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Lake Ontario Loop

Photos by Joseph Insalaco

What draws us to water? We have cycled along the Mississippi River, followed Lewis & Clark’s route on the Missouri and the Columbia Rivers, cycled the Acadian Shores of Maine and Nova Scotia, and traveled along the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay.  Little boys cannot resist a water puddle, nor can we. Our latest adventure took us around the Canadian side of Lake Ontario, along the St. Lawrence River, and then back around the U.S. side of the Lake.

Our cycling journey started mid-afternoon in Buffalo, New York. Before starting, we met one of our biggest fans; Joe’s 103 year old mother-in-law.  With her blessing, we mounted our bikes and headed to the Peace Bridge, linking the United States to Canada.  In Canada we planned to follow the “Waterfront Trail” that goes along the Canadian side of the lake and up the St. Lawrence River.  It is a compilation of well-marked trails, side streets, and highways and is documented in a paperback book entitled Waterfront Trail and Greenway Mapbook and on the internet at http://www.waterfronttrail.org.

After crossing into Canada, we headed north along the Niagara River.  Since it was getting late, we needed to find a place for dinner.  We decided to stop at the first interesting place we found, and hoped for the best.  It was after 5 p.m. and we passed several places that were not appealing.  Then, we saw a bar/restaurant with an interesting name.  It was called “He Is Not Here”.  It had an outdoor patio and a place for our bikes.  The weather was nice and the patio overlooked the Niagara River; it was very interesting.  We asked one of the customers if the restaurant had patio service, or did we need to go inside to order.  She told us to sit down and get comfortable, and she would take care of us.  When she returned, she asked us lots of questions and made several suggestive innuendos.  Then she introduced us to her female friends, one of which was the “mellowed out” owner of the bicycle next to ours.  The food was good, the beer great, and the conversation definitely interesting.

The next morning, we continued along the river heading towards Niagara Falls and breakfast.  It took about an hour to reach the waterfalls and our first opportunity for food.  Watching the morning mist rise off the waterfalls was beautifully.  A few other tourists were there, but it was still peaceful.  Our next stop was the Niagara Park’s Botanical Gardens and Butterfly House.   Established in 1936, the nearly 100 acres of gardens contained perennials, rhododendrons, azaleas, a formal garden, as well as a rose garden featuring over 2,400 roses.

We soon entered Ontario’s wine region, but passed many wineries because they did not open until 11 a.m. Our first stop was at Reif Estate Winery, which first produced wine in its 1870’s coach house. After tasting several wines, we found room in our panniers for a few bottles.  We next toured Fort George.  The fort was built in the late 18th century to protect the British from the Americans and was the scene of several battles during the War of 1812. The fort had been restored and is now a national historic site. The fort’s exterior consisted of earthworks and palisades.  Its internal structures included an officer's quarters, blockhouses, and stone powder magazine.  Standing on one of the fort’s walls we saw America’s Fort Niagara across the river in New York.  

We stopped for lunch in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, a well-preserved 19th-century village.  During the War of 1812 the town was burnt to the ground by the American troops from Fort Niagara.  The town was packed with cyclists and tourist.  We had a tough choice picking a place for lunch from all the town’s interesting restaurants.  In the end, we chose the one with the most bicycles parked outside. For the rest of the afternoon, we cycled past many more wineries.

We got an early start to our 70 mile ride to Toronto, Ontario.  About half an hour down the road we stopped at a Tim Hortons restaurant (similar to Dunkin Donuts) for breakfast.   Unfortunately, we did not find any diners while in Canada and missed fresh eggs and pancakes.  Canada’s breakfast mainstay seemed to be the Tim Hortons, which are everywhere. 

Lakeside temperatures were cool, but when our route took us a few blocks inland we were warm.  No matter what we put on or took off, we could not find the “right” clothes. The closer we got to Toronto, the more cyclists we saw.   Appropriate gear seemed to be an issue for them as well.  Some cyclists were dressed for the cooler temperatures but others for warmer weather. 

In Port Credit, Ontario, we passed through a lake side park where several families were grilling their lunch.  The smells made us hungry and brought back memories of a similar day when we cycled down the Mississippi River. At that time, we were very hungry but did not find any place for lunch. As we passed through a similar community park we came upon a hotdog vendor with a line of folks waiting for lunch.  Today, we had the same experience when we passed a marina hosting a boat show and found another busy hotdog vendor.

Arriving in Toronto had several challenges.  First, the city is very large and it took a long time to cycle through it.  Second, there was a lot of road work that impacted our route and required many detours.  Third, new bike lanes were also being built but were not far enough along to do us much good. 

Leaving Toronto the next morning, we headed south east along the lake where we found the Guild Park.  We cycled through many parks along our route, but this was the most interesting.  The Guild of All Arts was founded in 1932 on 88 acres.   The Park includes a sculpture garden featuring works by notable Canadian artists as well as architectural remnants saved from dozens of Toronto’s heritage buildings demolished in the 1960s and 1970s.

Heading towards Cobourg, Ontario brought several significant changes in our adventure.  First, we moved out of the urban environment that we had been in since our trip began.  Our rural cycling brought less trails, and some of the trails were very rough in comparison to the ones in the urban areas.  Second, the weather changed from daytime temperatures in the 80s to the 50s. 

What hadn’t changed was the abundance of lilac bushes that were in full bloom.  They were everywhere along our route and put forth a sweet smell that filled the air.  The other constant was the abundance of red-winged black birds.  However, these birds continued to be camera shy and avoided our attempts to get a good picture.

Next, we passed through the town of Port Hope, Ontario.  The town was named for Colonel Henry Hope, the one-time lieutenant governor of the Province of Quebec.  A more interesting fact is that the town contains Canada’s largest volume of low-level radioactive wastes. These wastes resulted from the refining process used to extract radium from uranium ore.  Radium was used in "glow-in-the-dark" paint. We arrived in Port Hope “aglow” with thoughts about food.  We soon found Basel’s Deli and stopped for lunch.  This was the first “mom and pop” type restaurant that we found on this journey and was well worth the wait.  We had great sandwiches, hot tea, and cookies before visiting the Canadian Firefighters Museum.

A day later, on the way to Picton, Ontario, we saw a small sign indicating that a café was off-route at a nearby marina.  The Harbor View Café was open and the food was good.  The owner told us that she first opened the adjacent motel, then bought the marina, and just recently opened the café. This was our second interesting lunch stop.  We hoped that this trend would continue as we headed east.

After lunch we continued along the lake before heading inland where we passed over the Murray Canal on a swing bridge.  In the early afternoon, we passed through the Ontario towns of Wellington and Bloomfield, 2 arts communities.  These towns had art studios, craft shops, galleries and quilt murals painted on many of their buildings.  Signs indicated that we were on the Arts Trail. Ontario seemed to have “trails” to suit many interests.  In addition to the Arts Trail and the Waterfront Trail, we had also been on the Wine Trail, and after we left Colborne, Ontario, we were on the Apple Trail. 

We had a short ride to Glenora, Ontario, where we boarded a ferry for a 15 minute trip across the Bay of Quinte.  From there, we headed into Loyalist country where those loyal to the British Crown settled.  Many towns, structures, and monuments were designated “Loyalist…”  One monument along the waterfront commemorated the British frigate Royal George’s escape from the Americans.

It took about 2 hours to cycle through Kingston, Ontario, a large city with a population of 120,000.  Just past the city, we explored Fort Henry.  The fort is located on an elevated point near the mouth of the Cataraqui River where it flows into the St. Lawrence River at the east end of Lake Ontario.  The original fort was constructed during the War of 1812 to protect the Kingston Royal Naval Dockyard (the site of the present-day Royal Military College of Canada) from a possible American attack. The original fort was replaced by a much larger one in the 1830s and was restored in the 1930s.  As we entered the fort, a large group of school children, carrying sleeping bags, were also entering.  School groups can get a feel for 1800’s military life by staying overnight in the fort’s barracks.

The rest of our day we cycled towards our destination of Gananoque, Ontario. The waterfront town Gananoque has a population of 5,000 year-round residents but a larger number of summer residents.  The town has many fine restaurants and tourist attractions, such as boat tours through the St. Lawrence River’s Thousand Islands (yes, thousand islands dressing originated in this area). 
To get to the United States, we had a pleasant ride up the Thousand Islands Parkway.  As the morning mist lifted off the ponds and river, we had to cross 2 very long high arched bridges on very narrow walkways.  It was so narrow we had to walk our bikes but found that we had little room for us and our pannier laden bikes.  We wondered what would happen if we met anyone coming from the opposite direction.  We walked 1.5 miles and it probably took an hour to do so. 

Back in the United States, we headed east to the town of Alexandria Bay, New York.  There, we took a 2 hour boat ride through the Thousand Islands.  The tour took us past “Millionaire’s Row,” consisting of magnificent homes built during the gilded age.  Some of the boat houses were more grandiose than even the fanciest houses back home.  At the end of our tour we stopped on Heart Island to tour Boldt Castle.  The 120 room castle was built by George C. Boldt who became wealthy as the proprietor of many famous hotels, including the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.  He purchased 6 islands and chose Hart (later changed to Heart) Island to build a castle for his wife, Louise.  Louise died before it was completed so George stopped work and never returned to the island.  From 1904 to 1977 the Castle deteriorated from lack of maintenance and vandalism.  In 1977 the Thousand Island Bridge Authority took over the property and started its restoration.  The finished sections are truly magnificent.  The island also has a child’s play house (also a castle) that is so large it could provide housing and recreation for a school house full of children.

In New York we generally followed the Seaway Tail (http://www.seawaytrail.com/) on our westward journey towards Buffalo, New York.  The Great Lakes Seaway Trail is a 518 mile scenic driving route that follows the shores of Lake Erie, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River in New York and Pennsylvania.

East of Clayton, New York, we stopped at a small batch distiller and sampled some of its aged bourbon.  In Clayton we visited the Antique Boat Museum.  It is a freshwater nautical museum that is filled with over 300 unique and beautifully-preserved boats and thousands of recreational boating artifacts. One of the buildings contained just speed boats that were massive and powered by very large engines.  While impressed with the speed, we preferred the craftsmanship of the pleasure boats and the museum’s boat restoration facility. 

We left Clayton looking for a breakfast place but did not find any until we reached Cape Vincent, New York, a small town on the St. Lawrence River about 12 miles away.  Much of our day’s journey was out of sight of the water.  When possible we took side routes to the water or entered the several river side parks along the route.  One of our side trips was to the town of Sackets Harbor, New York.  While we had marked this town as a possible place to visit, neither of us could remember why, nor did our notes give any hints.  We were pleasantly surprised by what we found.

Sackets Harbor was founded in 1801 by Augustus Sacket, a land speculator from New York City. He hoped that this location would foster trade across the Lake with Kingston, Ontario. As we entered the town we saw lots of old brick buildings, some in bad condition, others restored.  At the town’s visitors center we learned that this was the site of a US Navy shipyard and a headquarters for the Great Lakes. Some of these buildings pre-dated the War of 1812. The Army also constructed a fort to defend the village and Navy shipyard. By the fall of 1814, this was the third-largest population center in the state. Soon after the War of 1812, the Army strengthened its defenses on the northern frontier by constructing Madison Barracks—the old buildings we first saw as we entered the town.  The Madison Barracks have been designated as a Historic District and they are being redeveloped for commercial and residential use.

The receptionist at the visitor’s center also told us that Zebulon Pike was buried in Sackets Harbor and President Ulysses S. Grant served two tours of duty at Madison Barracks.  We were impressed by the town’s lively commercial district, and stopped at the Sackets Harbor Brewery for lunch and a beer.  Besides brewing their own beer, the sandwich rolls and chips were also made on site.

From Sackets Harbor we only had a 10 mile ride to Henderson Harbor, New York, for our nights lodging.  Our motel was on the grounds of the Aspinwall Homestead that was built in 1806, and currently serves as the motel’s office.  The Homestead was visited by Stonewall Jackson and artist Frederick Remington, and was used by runaway slaves traveling to Canada via the Underground Railroad system.


Unfortunately, our cycling trip ended in Oswego, New York.  From Oswego we had planned to follow a route along Lake Ontario’s shore to Rochester, New York, then cycle the Erie Canal back to Buffalo, New York. While we were not able to cycle all the way, we had a great time. We especially enjoyed the Canadian side of the lake because our route kept us close to, or on the waterfront. The New York side provided great cycling on mostly rural country roads.  The terrain on both sides of the lake was mostly flat.  Our daily stories, pictures, and maps can be viewed on our trip blog (http://lakeontarioloop.blogspot.com/).










Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Northwest Lancaster County River Trail

Photos by Dirck Harris

(Published in SPOKES, Summer 2015)

 My cycling friend Dirck is also a rail fan (a railway enthusiast that drives miles to experience railroad trains).  Rail trails are very popular with him, but he especially likes rail trails that have active railroads nearby.  When he discovered that the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail ran along a Norfolk Southern rail line, I knew that we would soon be heading there.  This trail runs along the Susquehanna River between Columbia and Falmouth, Pennsylvania.  It is a fourteen-mile long, multi-use, public recreation trail that goes through several interesting river towns.  While the trail is not completely asphalted, it provided an interesting ride on a warm fall day.


According to the trails website (http://www.nwrt.info/), “The trail follows the route of the historic Pennsylvania Mainline Canal and uses some of the original towpath that remains along the corridor. This provides ample opportunities to interpret the numerous industrial archaeological remains such as abandoned canal locks; the iron furnaces at Chickies Rock; and the old quarry operation at Billmeyer.”  While the whole trail is walkable from Columbia to Falmouth, we found that some sections are not ready for cyclist. 

We drove from Northern Virginia to Marietta, PA and parked in the Decatur Street trailhead parking lot (one of several trailhead parking areas along the trail). Since the trail heading up the river was paved, we chose to first cycle in that direction.  One only needs to look at Google Maps to see that Norfolk Southern has a main line along the trail and several railroad sidings, creating the potential for seeing trains.  Dirck, was not disappointed.  We soon passed a
freight train waiting at a signal. While I was focusing on the surrounding scenery, Dirck was checking out the train’s engines. Leaving the trackside (for only a short period), the trail took us along the river and by several farm fields that had recently been harvested.  We soon arrived at Riverfront Park.  We were told that the park is not only at the center of the trail but it is also a great meeting place for trail users, boaters, and picnickers.
 
Just past Riverfront Park we cycled under the Shocks Mill Bridge.  This bridge carries railroad trains across the Susquehanna River and had to be rebuilt after Hurricane Agnes destroyed a large section in 1972.  At this point, the trail deteriorated from its nice asphalt to rough gravel.  Our bikes bounced and rattled as we cycled over this section.  However, near the town of Bainbridge, (thankfully) the bouncing and rattling stopped. There the trail returned to a wonderful paved surface.  Bainbridge is a quaint river town. It has a restaurant just off the trail and easy access to the river’s edge.  The town also boasts a popular vineyard with summer entertainment.  Just a few miles away is the famous Three Mile Island electric power plant, site of the near nuclear meltdown in 1979.

Leaving Bainbridge we set out on the canal’s embankment.  Still clearly visible, the canal was built in the late 1700s to bypass the Conewago Falls on the Susquehanna River.  This section of the trail is nearly 4 miles long and ends in
Falmouth, PA, another river town.  However, the trail is now only designated as a walking trail.  Our ride on this section was cut short after we stopped to talk to a mountain biker.  He was walking towards us pushing his full-suspension 29er bicycle.  He said that the trail was too rough for him and that he had to walk most of the way.  Since we were on road bikes, we decided to turn around.  Cycling this section of the trail would have to wait for another day.


We retraced our route back to the town of Marietta, stopping only so Dirck could look at more railroad trains, check out some of the old railroad artifacts still visible along the way, and talk to other trail users.  As it was getting warmer trail usage increased.  Many of the users were from surrounding towns but, like us, several had driven miles to explore the River Trail.

Upon arriving back at the Marietta trailhead, we decided to cycle through the town rather than take the hiking trail that ran parallel along the river.   We were heading southeast toward the trails other end at Columbia, PA.  Marietta is an interesting and historic town.  It dates back to the early 1700.  Many old homes have been restored and the river town continues it rich railroad history.  While a small town, it has several interesting pubs and restaurants.   Based on recommendations from a few town folks we stopped at McCleary’s Irish Pub for lunch.  Their draft beer choices were extensive and the food was excellent.

At the other end of town, we got back on the trail at Chickes Rock Park.  The entrance to the park still has remnants of the old iron furnaces and rolling mills that used to be a major part of the town’s economy.  Initially the trail took us on park roads.  Once the road ended, we cycled on a packed earth and mulch trail that meandered through a wooded area for several miles.  About mid-point between Marietta and Columbia we came to a large cliff of quartzite rock that a young man and woman we descending.  While they had on the proper safety equipment and ropes, it still looked scary.  I would rather exercise on a bicycle than hang from a rope off a cliff. 

About a mile from Columbia, we had to get off our bikes and lift them over a large fallen tree that seemed to have been there for some time.  Nearer to Columbia the trail abruptly
stopped just before a tunnel that led into town.  It appears that the railroad has not yet given over this last section of right-of-way for the trail.  We were disappointed that we could not cycle through the tunnel and visit Columbia from the trail.  Reversing our direction, we stopped below the Breezyview Overlook, far above the trail.  Getting to the overlook required a long climb up the side of the mountain on a switch-back trail.  However, we decided to get there by riding the long way around using the roads.  Regardless of how you get there, the panorama of the Susquehanna River is worth the effort. 

We eventually got to Columbia which is the largest of the area’s river towns.  It has more than 10,000 residents with a historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places…and more trains. Eventually, the trail will end here, at the town’s riverfront park.  This nice park has a great view of the river and some remaining Civil War era bridge piers. Other great Columbia attractions include the National Watch and Clock Museum, featuring a collection of over 12,000 time pieces, the Columbia Historic Market House, and the First National Bank Museum.

After loading our bikes on top of the car, we headed back to Northern Virginia.  Since Dirck was driving, our route took us by railroad sites in the Pennsylvania towns of York and Hanover, and the Maryland towns of Walkersville and Brunswick.  While Dirck was enjoying the trains in these towns, I was fantasizing about how those railroad right-of-ways would make great rail trails.