Bike trip day 6&7/7: Ithaca to Syracuse & Syracuse to Utica

This is the sixth of a series of posts about the recent solo bike tour I did from Pittsburgh, PA to Utica, NY.  It’s partly to share for those who are interested, and partly for me to record things so that I’ll remember. This is the last post covering the last two days of the trip.

Day 6, at 55 miles, was one of the shortest days of the trip (route here).  It was also the last day with any significant elevation change.  Most of the climbing was right at the start to get out of Ithaca, so after that I was looking forward to an easy day.  Sure enough, it was pretty easy and pretty uneventful.

Climbing out of Ithaca was steep enough that I ended up walking my bike for one section (probably about 2 blocks worth).  But that was really the only challenge of the day.  I was going to be staying with family friends near Syracuse, and my host wasn’t going to be home until 6:30pm or so.  Which meant that I actually was intentionally taking my time so as not to be too early.  I left Ithaca late, didn’t rush, and took a couple hour break at a park past Cortland.  It turned out that the park was also the location of the Cortland Repertory Theater which was having some sort of Wednesday matinee.  From my picnic table I could see all the theater goers milling about on the outdoor balconies before the show and at intermission.  I waited until they were back inside before getting water and using the bathroom — I felt a bit underdressed for the theater, even though the water fountain and bathrooms were outdoors.

There were some nice views during the day of upstate NY countryside.  Lots of cows, lots of farms, lots of rolling hills.  I went through Pompey during the afternoon — for those who don’t know, central NY is filled with classical names such as Rome, Pompey etc.  I also managed to find my way along a sequence of small back roads without getting lost.  I think they were better signed than the ones in PA.

As I was part way down the long hill going in to Syracuse, my host for the evening passed me on her way home from work.  She stopped and offered me a ride, but I figured I had earned the rest of my downhill so I decided to bike the last 5 miles or so. I made it there faster than she expected — at first she didn’t believe it when her daughter (who had answered the door) told her I was there.  Downhill rides are like that.

I had a very pleasant evening in Syracuse, during which I was told by my host and her younger daughter that I should check out Green Lakes State Park which is practically next to where they live.  I had worked out with my parents that I would meet them the following day somewhere between Syracuse and Cambridge.  I would start heading east in the morning, they would start heading west (by car) in the afternoon and at some point we would meet.  Since I had no particular goal for the last day of biking, I decided to check out the park in the morning.

The eponymous Green Lake was quite pretty, even though it turned out that biking through the park required some rather significant hills (I thought I was done with all that).  I spent about an hour walking the trail that looped around the lake taking pictures here and there.   Green Lake (and Round Lake, which I didn’t see) are apparently rather special geologically, primarily because the top and bottom layers of the water do not mix.  This makes for interesting water colors, among other things.

After seeing the lake, I spent a while trying to figure out how to get out of the park on the north side.  I could hear the road I wanted to be on, but couldn’t find a road that lead out of the park to join it.  I never found a road, but I did find a place where there was only about 10 feet of trees and brush between me and the road.  So I bushwhacked with my bike.  One of the advantages of bikes over cars.

From the park it was only a mile or so to the point where I hit the Erie Canalway Trail.  Canal trails, in my limited experience, are not generally as nice as rail trails.  I think it’s basically because the rail trails have a head start since the railroad is much more built up than the canal towpath.  On the whole, I wasn’t all that impressed with the section of the Erie Canal trail that I saw — but that was only a small portion of it.  It might be nicer in other areas.  Like the C&O Canal Trail, the Erie Canal trail had lots of geese.  And a fair bit of old canal with standing green water in it.  On the other hand, one thing that canal trail have going for them are canal bridges.  I find bridges that cary water over other water to be fascinating.

Really, the most notable part of the day was the group of “old men on bikes” (as I took to calling them in my head) that I met when I hit the Erie Canal Trail.  They were taking a break when I showed up, and asked me where I was coming from and going to, so we chatted for a while.  There were three of them, and they were, as I’ve mentioned, old men (though rather fit, presumably from being on bikes a lot).  They were biking the length of the Erie Canal trail, though they were staying in hotels so had less stuff to carry than I did.  I ended up playing leap-frog with them all day.  They biked faster than me, on average, but also took more breaks.  So I would pass them while they were taking a break and then a little while later they would pass me on the trail.  I stopped for an hour or so for lunch and thought I had lost them, but of course they also stopped for lunch a little later on.  I ended up reaching Utica at the same time as they did.  They went to their hotel, while I waited for my parents.

Even though I was nominally on the Erie Canal trail for the rest of the day, I still managed to get lost.  Coming in to Rome, the trail ends and you have to go on roads for a while.  The thing is, the trail doesn’t actually end.  Somewhere along there, I was supposed to go on the road and instead continued to follow a trail that wasn’t the trail.  I realized I had gone off when the trail fizzled out and became a small track running along set of large power lines.  I figured the power line path had to go somewhere, though, so I followed it anyway.  I hit a road near a river, picked the direction that seemed most likely to lead to Rome, and set off.  Sure enough, I found Rome a couple miles down the road.  Eventually I found the continuation of the actual path, though I must say they could do with better signage.

The same is also true for the path in Utica.  The trail gets in to Utica and then there’s a sign that says “Bike Trail Ends” with no indication of where one might go to find the rest of the Erie Canal trail that goes out the other side of town.  I had maps with me, but given that I almost always got lost at least a little bit trying to get through towns, I decided I was better off waiting for half an hour for my parents to get there.

My parents showed up in my dad’s new car (which is basically the same as my mom’s car, except a different color, which confused me), we put the bike on top, and drove about 2 hours to get back to Cambridge.  I then spent the next week doing nothing in particular.  Most notably not sitting on a bike seat.

All in all it was a really good trip.  It turns out I really do like solo bike touring, so I wouldn’t put it past me to do it again sometime.  Maybe if and when I ever actually manage to finish school?


Bronwyn Woods