Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
I got a bike her name is Val
It was a short day into State College, which allowed for plenty of time to check out the Penn State campus. It doesn’t have a cohesive theme, and outside of a few buildings, the campus was mostly nice, but plain, and there evidently aren’t many buildings that are especially striking on the inside. The frat houses in the neighborhood nearby were more impressive than the campus itself.
My WarmShowers host in State College was an architect who owns a small property, across the street from his own house, which he uses as an office. My sleeping arrangements were to use my sleeping bag on the floor in the office. A little odd, I suppose, but sure.
Doug had spent the pandemic becoming talented at pizza-making. That included making the dough from scratch and cooking it over split logs in a brick oven he’d built himself. And the result? Good stuff.
The rebel flags have continued into Pennsylvania (and would continue in New York), having started back in Illinois. Strangely, I hadn’t seen any in Missouri, which is the only slave state (but not Confederate state) I’d visit on this tour. And speaking from experience, there are more rebel flags in the northeast than in Texas. What’s the deal? Unlike in the south, people can’t even use the rationale that it’s part of the local history. Here, the only things it can possibly stand for are treason and slavery.
Al had told me about a rail-trail that would take me north through central Pennsylvania, and in particular sold me on it as a pleasant ride. He wasn’t wrong.
There were plenty of other folks riding bikes and enjoying the trail. At one point, I saw a small group gathered around someone’s bike, looking at it as if there were something wrong.
“We’re trying to adjust her seatpost, but nothing happened when we unscrewed it.”
The seatpost clamp was bolted and would need an allen wrench. Instead, they’d unscrewed the casing around her seatpost’s suspension.
“That’s not how to loosen the seatpost. You need to unscrew this bolt.”
“Thankfully,” I added, “this guy has tools!”
They practically applauded as I pulled out my toolbag. A few turns with an allen wrench, a few moments of repositioning the saddle, and a few turns in the other direction. Done! Its rider tried it out again and said her knees already felt better.
In the short time it took to adjust the seatpost, the group asked what I was up to (the bags on Valeria make it clear I’m not out for a normal ride). After telling them I’d be in Ithaca tomorrow, and was ending my ride in Acadia, I had the phone number of two of their friends, one in Ithaca and the other in Acadia. Two more hosts found!
After finishing the entire rail-trail in a single day, I wound up in a town at about 7:00 PM. A church visible from the road had essentially a small carnival going on, complete with a bounce house and a cotton candy maker. Considering how rare it is to find anyone at a church, especially in the evening, this was my best bet. Within minutes of pulling over to ask about a spot on the floor, I was sitting in the kitchen with a pizza and a bowl of cherries in front of me.
The church even had a shower, which after my longest day yet (201 km), felt great. I mentioned that I was heading to Ithaca the next day, and the pastor mentioned that he’d try to find another church there to take me in, but winced and described Ithaca as “too secular”, indicating that universities tend to make towns worse.
One of my former WHS students goes to school in Ithaca, and while she was home in Texas for the summer, she gave me recommendations on things to do in town. Knowing my nature, they involved hiking and natural scenery. In particular, waterfalls. If it hadn’t been for her, I almost certainly wouldn’t have gone.
As it always goes when I visit college towns, I had to check out the campus. Of all the ones I visited on this tour, Cornell was probably my favorite.
And did you know Bill Nye took an astronomy class from Dr. Carl Sagan at Cornell? Interesting that they both became famous TV personalities.
My hosts, Billy and Nancy, lived 10 miles outside of Ithaca, which proved to be a surprisingly tough town to ride through. It had a lot of traffic for its size, and all of it was loud and fast. Usually, college towns are peaceful and bike-friendly, but not this one, at least not once you leave campus.
However, there was once again a pleasant bike path taking me almost the entire length from Ithaca to my host. The northeast is admirably ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to bike paths. The eventual goal should be a bike-only path connecting literally every city to one another, and a bike lane on every road that’s big enough to warrant a yellow stripe. We’re less than 1% of the way there. It’s sad that the situation is so bad, cyclists are thrilled at the mere existence of any infrastructure meant for them. Can you imagine a world where motorists were so excited to see a road - any road - they stopped to take a picture of it?
Billy and Nancy live in a small town in the woods. Billy was a retired mechanical engineer who’s now something of a freelance handyman. Nancy has had stage four cancer for several years and is still around. Their house was simultaneously country and kinda hippie at the same time, something you might see in the woods in northern California. I slept on the screened-in porch.
Their friends were having a potluck dinner at the lake that night, and I was invited. Nancy didn’t have the energy for it and stayed behind. It was great to go, not only for the food and the view of the lake, but also to meet the people there, which included a 99-year-old children’s book author and a doctor from Bolivia, as well as several more interesting folks.
I made it to another college town, Syracuse, the very next day, after riding along one of the Finger Lakes and then the Erie Canal Towpath. Lots of water, and as a result, flat land.
Until getting here, I hadn’t realized just how long the Erie Canal was - over 350 miles! At the time, it was the longest canal in the world, and it must have taken an eternity to dig. It’s shallow, only a few meters deep in places, and rarely much more than 10 meters wide. As a result, the only way for anything to navigate the canal was on a flatboat, pulled by an ox or mule on the shore. Steamboats were too large, and you couldn’t sail in a channel that narrow. That must have severely limited the amount of cargo that could make it through per week, given that the boats were small and could only move as fast as a mule could drag them.
Even so, this was still much faster than loading cargo into wagons, which were even smaller, and having it dragged by a mule anyway, over land. The Erie Canal is no longer in use, and the towpath, where the mules walked, has been converted into a hike/bike path. It’s incomplete, and at times the surface isn’t perfect, but with a little work, New York would have an excellent bike path on its hands.
Trump signs are still just as common as ever in Pennsylvania and New York, neither of which were won by Trump. I’ve counted one Biden flag this whole time, and he’s the president, whereas Trump had lost the election last year; you’d think the flags would’ve been taken down seven months ago. When you see this phenomenon, you start to understand why people were in denial at the results of the election. When you see one Biden flag for every 1,000 Trump flags, it looks like there’s no way Trump could possibly lose. But the difference isn’t that Trump voters outnumber Biden voters, it’s more that Biden voters aren’t the type to become such fans of an individual, they buy a flag with their name on it.
When you’re in college towns, like Ithaca and Syracuse, the Trump flags are replaced by LGBT pride flags and BLM signs. Still, no Biden flags. The right is loyal to people, and the left is loyal to causes.
Syracuse’s campus is similar to Penn State’s in that it doesn’t have a cohesive look or theme, but its buildings on an individual level can be nice.
My host for the evening was Jordan, a guy in his 20s who lived with his mom and uncle. All of them had just gotten back from a five-day hiking trip the same day I arrived. Later, another WarmShowers guest showed up, so on the same day they probably wanted to decompress, they took in two cyclists. What generous folks! I liked the vibe of their family unit; everyone involved, regardless of age or hierarchy, felt like equals.
from Eastern States