On Monday, the 9th of May, Cousin Erik went to work early, leaving me to pack up and shove off. Retracing our eastbound route last summer, I picked up Highway 31 and rode to the Erie Canal well west of Rochester. The ride west through the poorer section of Rochester was familiar.
The Erie Canal is not just a trail with a series of marinas, campgrounds and tourist attractions. Though it does not carry as much freight as in the nineteenth century, large barges still tie up at NYS Canal Corporation bollards, waiting for the next lock to fill. Tugboats have replaced “ole Sal”, the mule immortalized in song. The Canal Corporation is a state-owned entity that keeps the canal open and working.
One of the pleasures of an off-road trail like this is the opportunity to listen to my music as I ride. I never do that when I must listen for motor vehicles. The 74 km to Medina vanished under my wheels as I pedalled to the beat of my favourite tunes. By mid-afternoon, I was checking into the Medina Inn. While the pizza place next door would not attract any food writers from Gourmet magazine, they offered wholesome food at a good price.
Back in the room, I booked a motel in Niagara Falls for the next night. I only worked on the novel for a couple of hours before turning in.
Tuesday, I planned to cross into Canada. Lockport was as interesting this time as last summer, though I had to push my load on foot past the Flight of Five locks, which made Lockport famous. The five locks carry boats up and down the Niagara Escarpment, an elevation change of twenty metres in just three blocks. The canal turned south towards Tonawanda, while I continued west on Highway 31.
As I approached Niagara Falls, the fields on either side featured an ever-thicker proliferation of towers carrying electric power from Canada to the United States. I made my way through town, not pausing before riding across the Rainbow Bridge into Ontario.
After checking into the King’s Inn, I returned to the downtown area, where I had passed several restaurants among the tourist shops. I was in a mood for seafood, and, to my surprise, the Outback Steakhouse was grilling freshly caught walleye.
After supper, I returned to the room, where I laid out the ride across southern Ontario. I was confused by the information available about crossing the Saint Clair River between Ontario and Michigan. Some sources said that the Blue Water Bridge from Sarnia to Port Huron carried bicycles; others said it didn’t. The only other crossing was at the south end of the river, almost in Detroit. Not only was Lake Walpole 100 km out of my way, but it meant that I had to turn southwest after Cayuga.
I called the Bridge Authority in Sarnia and left voice mail, not expecting a return call.
On Wednesday, I set out for Cayuga on Route 20. The Welland Canal bike path from McNab on Lake Ontario to Welland would be a destination in its own right. Smooth and paved. I enjoyed the path until it ended suddenly just outside Welland. A suburban housing development had torn up the farmland and destroyed the canal trail.
I rode into the neighbourhood, using the sun to keep heading west. Eventually, I found my way past Pelham Centre. I rode up to the Carrousel Bed & Breakfast in Cayuga in the late afternoon. My host, Bernadine, welcomed me into conversation with her friend in the gazebo in the back yard. While they went to a social commitment that evening, I rode to the supermarket at the end of the road to stock up my panniers with snacks for the road.
Cayuga is a small town at the intersection of Routes 3 and 24. While I was settling in after shopping, a phone call from the Operations Shift Supervisor at the Blue Water Bridge resolved the issue of crossing the Saint Clair River. The Shift Supervisor would carry me over in their pickup truck when traffic was light enough for them to be out of the office for as little time as possible. I thanked her profusely and promised to check in with them when I arrived in Sarnia. To make the transfer as easy for them as possible, I would arrive the day before, and be ready whenever they were.
That phone call allowed me to choose Route 24 and ride through Brantford and London on my way to Sarnia. Otherwise, I would have continued on Route 3 to Walpole Island, where the only ferry across the river is located.
There is not much to say about this part of Ontario except that the land is flat and fertile. The fields were rich with all sorts of crops and stretched to the horizon as I rode. I spent the Thursday night at the Days Inn in Brantford. The headwinds were mercifully mild, so I moved quickly.
Dark clouds signalled the arrival of a cold front as I struck out for London, Ontario, on Friday morning. I had arranged to stay with Grant and Paulette through Warmshowers. They generously extended my stay for an extra night, considering the approaching rain.
London is a big city, and my hosts lived on the west side. Crossing the town allowed me to appreciate the bicycle facilities, especially the bike paths along the Thames River.
Grant and Paulette are also cyclists, so we enjoyed each other’s company very much. On Saturday, they ran their errands, while I explored the linear park along the river, and the commercial district of North London.
Sunday, I took pictures with my new friends, and headed for the bike path, which carried me west of the city. The rain was starting as I rolled up to the motel in Sarnia. It could not have been more convenient, squarely across the street from the Operations Building of the Blue Water Bridge Authority.
I called the Shift Supervisor. Mike was happy to hear from me. I told him what Ann had told me on Wednesday, and that I wanted this to be as convenient as possible for them. They were delighted that I had come in the day before and was so flexible.
“Most cyclists just show up at our door, and then are annoyed because we aren’t free to take them across right then.”
He told me to call after breakfast and we would take it from there.
The rain was coming down in sheets as I ate breakfast on Monday. The Shift Supervisor told me not to cross the street. Instead, he picked me up under the portico of the hotel and delivered me to the US Border Crossing building a few minutes later, just as the rain stopped.
After the casual formalities at the US Border, I took the ramp away from Interstate 94 and rode the Port Huron – Avoca bike path northwest. I had planned to camp in Lapeer on my way to Flushing, but my cousin Michele was so excited that I was in Michigan, that she met me for lunch at Imlay City, then brought me and the bike home.
The last time I visited Michele and her husband Jon was eight years ago. I spent a week with them, finishing all but the last chapter of Desert Crossing, riding around Flushing, and visiting Flint. Even when there are no bike lanes, this part of Michigan has painted shoulders on almost all the roads. I felt very safe as I zipped through the woods and neighbourhoods.
On Thursday, I had a Zoom meeting with translator colleagues in London, which I had to do on audio only. After several hours Friday and Saturday with tech support at Microsoft, we determined that my new Surface Go3 had a defective camera. Before I could protest or ask questions, the tech had created a return ticket and started a fourteen-day clock for me to return the machine.
I was on my way to Ohio to visit my friend Jan, but I could not go another month without my work. The old computer worked fine, but it was in Norfolk.
Sunday, I booked a rental car to return to Norfolk. Monday morning, I picked up a Toyota Prius at the Flint airport and drove non-stop to Norfolk with my bicycle and bags in the car. It was my first experience driving a hybrid, and I was surprised by many things. The car got 61 miles per gallon until I started over the Alleghenies in West Virginia, then the mileage dropped to “only” 54 mpg. The car easily swallowed my whole bicycle with room left over. The Bluetooth display system played the streaming music from my phone.
Nine and a half hours after leaving Flushing, I turned the car in at the airport in Norfolk and rode home.
I mailed the computer to Texas the next day. I am writing this on the replacement computer. The novel is written and in revision now.
Until I hit the road again, I invite you to my author’s blog, where I post short stories. Some continue the backstory of Emily & Hilda and Lockhart, but others are unpublished stories from my files, which I hope you will enjoy.
Smooth roads and tailwinds,