Archive for the ‘NJ / NY State trips’ Category

A weeklong bicycle tour through the middle of nowhere in Upstate NewYork and Pennsylvania? Why not!!!

The focus of this tour was the sixty-two mile long north / south Pine Creek Rail Trail in north central Pennsylvania. On the map below it is the line between Wellsboro PA and Jersey Shore PA. My friend Lyman Labry and I bicycled total about two hundred sixty miles over seven days.

Getting to a starting point was complicated! Lyman lives in Texas but was visiting in nearby Durham NC. I picked him and his bicycle up in Durham at 8:00 AM and we drove my Ford Escape Hybrid about seven or eight hours north to the Harrisburg PA airport, where we picked up another car, a Hertz rental. We drove both cars seventy miles north before parking my Ford across from a bike shop in the town of Lewisburg PA. The guys at a bike shop said they would keep an eye on my car for week. We then drove the rental car four hours north to Rochester NY, where we planned to turn in the rental car the next morning.

transferring folding bikes into the rental car

By car we arrived into Rochester NY at 8:30 at night, just before closing time at a restaurant called the Owl House. We luckily got an outdoor table; drinks and each a sesame noodle bowl. Gourmet health food! While both Lyman and I fully vaccinated, I am a worrier about COVID. I wanted to stay out of crowded indoor spaces and to eat al fresco. During the next week we would be bicycling through an area where vaccine rates are low and Trump support high. After leaving Rochester we saw almost no one wearing a mask.

It was a Saturday night and hotels in Rochester were either full or very expensive. I had found an unusual Airbnb in what I now know is the poorer northwest side of Rochester, the Maplewood neighborhood. The hostess did not seem to mind meeting at eleven at night to a large early twentieth century house, on a street of similar houses. It had seemed to be an especially good deal because Lyman and I each had our own room.

As we walked in we were requested to leave our shoes at the entrance. We added to the pile and walked up the stairs.

My room as it was presented, soap, toothbrush, towel, bible open to the Old Testament
Lyman got the larger room, no open bible, LOVE wallpaper, roll of toilet paper

Both rooms opened directly onto a kitchen whose refrigerator was stuffed with other people’s food. There was a Jamaican flag on the mantlepiece in the other room. Another guy, who seemed perfectly nice but whom we did not know walked into the kitchen, he was staying here as well. Across the kitchen was the shared bathroom for the three of us.

non functioning old fashioned pay phone, plastic flowers
RULES FOR LIVINING

In the morning I walked around the neighborhood, waiting for Lyman to wake up. The neighborhood looked generally well maintained. Most houses were cut up into apartments. I learned later that houses in this north side neighborhood sell for less than half the price of houses on the other side of Rochester a few miles away.

A very old looking man was sitting on his porch Frisbee-ing pieces of bread out onto the sidewalk. I guess he wanted to watch the birds.

Our bicycles were still in the car as left the Airbnb and drove first to downtown Rochester;

Kodak Building in the distance

then to Cafe Sasso on the wealthier southeast side of town for breakfast with a bicycle touring hero of mine who lives in Rochester. I had met him on Amtrak a few years ago. Harvey Botzman has circumnavigated all of the Great Lakes by bicycle, some more than once, and he has written books about it.

Cafe Sasso
Harvey showing me some route details (photo by Lyman)

Before leaving Lyman and I drove and Harvey bicycled a few blocks away to see local architecture.

Lyman and Harvey in front of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Boynton House, from 1908

We could finally start bicycling! We drove the rental car a few miles to the Rochester airport, pulled our folding Bike Fridays out of the back, and returned the car to Hertz. Getting away from the airport by bicycle was easy, as the three hundred mile long Erie Canal Heritage Trail runs right next to the Rochester airport.

Erie Canal Heritage Trail

The next major town with places to stay was Geneva NY, fifty-five miles to the southeast.

We crossed and re-crossed the Erie Canal

After about fifteen miles on the trail we turned south on conventional highways. Harvey had bragged to us that all significant New York State highways have paved shoulders, and he claimed to know the guy who in the 1960’s implemented this policy. It is absolutely true that almost all two lane highways in my home region of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia lack these wide paved shoulders.

a New York State highway south of Rochester
Lyman bicycling on the shoulder
Sometimes there was so little traffic that we felt we could take the whole road!

In the afternoon we returned to cycling on a path, this time for a few miles on a roughly shod rail trail called Ontario Pathways. The ride was bumpy but lovely.

We arrived into Geneva NY, population 13,000. I attended Maryland’s tiny Washington College for four years in the 1970’s. The college that cruelly prevented mine from winning the Division III lacrosse national championship was a college that we had never heard of: Hobart College in Geneva NY. Now I could see it for real, at the top of one of the the Finger Lakes: Seneca Lake.

Where should we stay? Hotels were over two hundred dollars and we would have to share a room. Harvey wisely had encouraged us to look at Airbnb. Lyman and I got separate Airbnb’s located about a mile apart for about total seventy dollars each. Each was run by quite different eccentric fifty something guys. Lyman’s Airbnb was messy and artsy and the host had a 919 area code on his cell phone, (he said he used to live in Clayton NC.) My Airbnb guy was a photographer and neat freak, obsessed with order and cleanliness to an almost OCD level. Those are great attributes in an Airbnb host. He was married with children but I did not see or meet them.

My host’s clothesline

We went looking downtown for a nice meal where we could eat outside. The temperature was in the low sixties but we had hats. Many of the restaurants in town were closed on this Sunday night. At Bella’s Sicilian Ristorante and everywhere else in Geneva NY no one else seemed to care about COVID and the other patrons were jammed indoors unmasked. At Bella’s one table on the sidewalk Lyman and I split an eggplant parmesan (pasta and side salad included) and a bottle of wine. The service was prompt and friendly. Like most mainstream Italian restaurants in America, a portion for one is really a portion for two, especially if you get an extra salad. This was my favorite kind of food and a very good deal. I could do nothing but leave them a big tip.

on the sidewalk at Bella’s, Geneva NY

We biked back to our respective Airbnbs.

Geneva NY

The next morning we went to the local Monaco’s Coffee. I had an almond milk latte with one pack sugar, and some kind of breakfast thing, a cheese scone? It was unusually fresh and delicious.

It was forty miles south along the western shore of the Finger Lake Seneca Lake to our day’s destination Watkins Glenn.

We had brought along peanut butter and jelly for lunch and at about the halfway point the otherwise vacant looking town of Dresden NY had a nice picnic table in its park.

Abandoned looking hotel/restaurant, Dresden NY

It must be a Northeastern thing. On the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, with lots of chickens and ducks running around the yard, was an absolutely gourmet ice cream parlor. I had seen word of the Spotted Duck on Google Maps and we had to cycle off our route for more than a mile, almost all uphill. The ice cream was clearly homemade with high cream content. There were exotic flavors.

Note: two flavors served on real utensils, a non-plastic metal dish with a non-plastic actual metal spoon

It was still quite a few miles into a headwind before we finally arrive into Watkins Glenn.

photo by Lyman Labry

I grew up devouring my father’s subscription to Road & Track magazine, so I knew all about what Watkins Glenn once was. From 1961 to 1980 Watkins Glenn NY was the home of the Formula One car race U.S. Grand Prix. The car track is a couple miles out of town and continues to host other racing events, especially NASCAR. The track complex also has had rock concerts, including the 1973 billing of the Allman Brothers, The Band, and the Grateful Dead that drew six hundred thousand. Although there was no apparent event this day, hotel space in the faded tourist town was tight and we got one of the last rooms at the Watkins Motel on the south side, two double beds. For an older motel it was unusually clean and pleasant, with a welcoming proprietress.

friendly owner, Watkins Motel

A lot of restaurants are closed on Mondays and restaurants in tourist towns are already suspect. I really did not want to eat a bad dinner indoors. It was a lovely evening and much more pleasant to sit outside our motel room in the blue chairs in the fading light and drink a bottle of local Finger Lakes wine, accompanied by Whoppers and fries from the Burger King across the street.

Almost a year after the election; woman wearing a WOMEN FOR TRUMP hat inside Burger King, Watkins Glenn NY

Early the next morning I walked around the town of Watkins Glenn.

Is this Ford LTD a 1971 or 1972?

The town of Watkins Glenn was originally built and promoted in the late 1800’s not because of car racing but because of the gorge on Glen Creek. I had visited Watkins Glenn State Park with my parents in the 1960’s when I was about eleven years old and I remember thinking: this gorge is the coolest place I have ever been. The park is adjacent to downtown; we could walk there from our motel.

I have seen nowhere else where water cuts so intimately through rock. It is like a miniature Grand Canyon, squeezed together. Lyman and I spent about an hour walking up and back on the walkway through the waterfalls.

Back at the hotel room we pumped our tires getting ready to leave. Lyman’s front tire and tube essentially failed. While we had brought spares it would be better just to buy new ones but there was no bike shop in Watkins Glenn. Luckily, I bicycled two miles over to the Walmart in Watkins Glenn. A BMX tire and tube from Walmart fit Lyman’s bicycle perfectly.

Our next destination was Corning NY to the south. Heading out of Watkins Glenn we cycled the first fifteen miles off-road on the Catherine Valley Trail.

South of Watkins Glenn the trail goes nearby Montour Falls
Then the rail trail continued

The trail ended near Horseheads NY, part of suburban Elmira / Corning. We got back on regular roads to ride the remaining fifteen miles to downtown Corning NY while dodging highly trafficked areas of dying shopping malls and Walmarts.

Corning NY (population 11,000) feels like a much bigger place. It is home to the famous glass museum and the glass technology company of the same name. Lyman and I looked for a coffee spot.

photo from Wikipedia

Market Street Coffee and Tea sadly does not make lattes, it just sells brewed coffee by the cup. We made do and sat out front, looking at hotels on our phones.

We decided to take a cheaper hotel, the Quality Inn, on the clearly less hip north side of the Chemung River that divides the town, but splurge on separate rooms. We bicycled over there in a light rain. We would still be able to bicycle back across to downtown that night for dinner.

View looking from the hotel parking lot

A little later it was a short bike ride to a brewery called The Iron Flamingo. Breweries have popped up everywhere in America; Corning has at least three. Inside the Iron Flamingo brew pub there were a few people, unmasked, sitting socially around inside at the bar. I nervously insisted that we take our beers out to a picnic table in the yard. The beer was delicious.

It was about dark when we starting cycling back across the river to downtown, looking for a place to eat. We went to Nickel’s Pit BBQ because we could sit outside and almost everywhere else was closed. Lyman (originally from Louisiana) swears the sandwich we split called The Cajun was the best thing we had eaten on this trip, even though the sandwich had little to do with Louisiana. New York State barbecue joints do not feel constrained the “rules” of barbecue of more famous barbecue states. This place also charges fifteen dollars for a sandwich. Ouch.

We headed out the next morning, stopping first in a coffee place on the fringes of Corning.

There was expected light rain or drizzle as we cycled into the woods near the New York/Pennsylvania state line.

Shortly after crossing into Pennsylvania we unexpectedly came upon this barrier. I fault Google Maps for not indicating this.

Touring cyclists takes these warning signs with a grain for salt, in most situations a cyclist can get around these barriers. This was an exception, we would have had to swim across.

Someone left a bridge-out scarecrow!
A boat! let’s steal it and paddle across!

We declined the temptation to steal a boat and had to turn around and cycle the long way around. Our original route was following a creek with small mountains rising from each side, so the detour involved some steep hills.

For lunch we looked for some kind of restaurant in the town of Tioga PA (population 650).

Tioga PA

We watched a woman make us submarine sandwiches (with too much mayonnaise!) at a Citgo station mini-mart. Repeating a pattern seen all across central Pennsylvania and southern New York State, this tiny town has made a huge effort to honor military veterans. We ate our sandwiches sitting around a tiny veteran’s memorial park, hoping the rain would not start again.

It was still seventeen miles to our night’s destination of Wellsboro PA, the only town in the region that has motels. Right after we started cycling after lunch the skies opened up and we both got quite wet. We pulled into Wellsboro looking to dry out.

Wellsboro PA (population 3,200) is isolated; by car it s two to three hours drive to either Buffalo NY, Rochester NY or Harrisburg PA, four hours to either Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, or New York City. The town is cheerfully well maintained and has an obvious tourist industry.

We had made a reservation at the Penn-Wells Hotel, right on Wellsboro’s Main Street. Its building goes all the way back to 1869 and was heavily renovated in 1928. As with most older hotels the rooms are small so we got two adjacent rooms. The floors were creaky and slanted but everything was clean and the mattresses firm.

hallway, Penn Wells Hotel

Despite the rain and the small choice of restaurants that evening I kept my insistence that we eat outdoors. Lyman cheerfully went along. The Wellsboro House Bar & Restaurant served us beer and dinner outside under the overhang. It worked out quite happily.

I got salmon with potatoes and vegetables
Lyman had a cheeseburger with chips

The next morning we did not started cycling until almost noon because of rain. As we were heading out of town my rear brake cable repeatedly jammed. I theoretically could have fixed it myself but luckily we were a few blocks from a bike shop called C S Sports and we waited an hour while they re-cabled my brake.

workshop of C S Sports

The Pine Creek Rail Trail is sixty-two miles long with its northern terminus just three miles from Wellsboro. It follows the Pine Creek Gorge for almost its entire distance. For most of the area there is no cell phone coverage at all. As we started cycling down the trail we were surprised as to how well it is maintained with smooth fine gravel or pavement the entire distance. We planned to cycle the trail in two days and had a reservation at an inn at about the halfway point.

It had been raining for days so the water is the creek was high

Steep slopes rose from the left side of the trail, and impromptu waterfalls cascaded down. There had been a lot of rain but the sun was now coming out.

It was so peaceful that I had to stop and play a song! (the image will correct its alignment)

In the late afternoon we arrived at about the halfway point of the trail. Cedar Run Inn is next to the trail and is essentially the only lodging around here. This welcoming place is the rare American small hotel that offers quality food and lodging for one low all-inclusive price. We paid $ 95.00 per person, including dinner and breakfast, cash only! I had made reservations almost three weeks in advance for a weeknight and they said I was taking the last available rooms. In talking to other guests, many had been coming here for years, most were from other parts of central Pennsylvania, and none were touring bicyclists.

Cedar Run Inn

There is a full bar in the inn. We settled for beers, which we took out onto the porch.

We were given separate small rooms upstairs with a bathroom down the hall, passing a bear skin on the way up the stairs.

Myself, the COVID nervous ninny, I was facing the first restaurant of the trip where we had no choice other than eat indoors. Sure, both Lyman and I had been double vaccinated, but no one here, employee or guest, wore masks. It did help that the food was delicious!

In the morning we ate again at the restaurant, a full blown American breakfast.

We packed up and set out by bicycle.

This man who we met at the inn was lifting the bicycle off the bike rack on his car, then going for a day ride with his son and daughter-in-law. Nice guy. Ninety years old.

Once again, the scenery was lovely, the trail smooth, car traffic non-existent.

The trail crossed and re-crossed Pine Creek, It was all so peaceful that I had to again break out the music, this time a song by John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats.

Pine Creek empties into the Susquehanna River at the incongruously named town of Jersey Shore PA and our Pine Creek Rail Trail ended there. We had not passed anywhere to eat all morning but near the end of the trail we arrived at what turned out to be a biker bar. (Motorcyles!) We got two cheeseburgers. Yes, several guys looked vaguely threatening but I passed this off as a style issue. Lyman was more concerned, we took our sandwiches and beers to a table out by the trail.

We bicycled onward though the streets of Jersey Shore PA. At a stoplight I saw a pickup truck whose tailgate had been painted (not just stickers) to indicate NO VACCINES, NO MASKS, TRUMP.

Jersey Shore PA

It was still seventeen miles to the larger town of Williamsport PA, where we had reserved an Airbnb. Part of the distance we unfortunately had to cycle on the four lane highway US220.

We headed onwards until we arrived in Williamsport PA; population 28,000, about the same population as it was in the year 1900 when it was a lumber boomtown. Its claim to fame since the 1930’s is being the home of Little League baseball. Our Airbnb was run by a reliably eccentric couple (she a graphic designer, him a political filmmaker) who live in a large turn-of-the-twentieth-century brick house.

Our hostess Melinda showing us our room. She and her husband have several rambunctious dogs.
the back of their house

A little later we bicycled the mile or so to downtown Williamsport, once again looking for somewhere to eat, but also to eat outside. It was Friday night and the restaurants were really crowded. Drinking beer and having dinner on the sidewalk outside the Bullfrog Brewery was a great time although the food was only just OK.

We watched across the street as people were arriving at the Community Arts Center; a 7:30 PM show by the Machine, a Pink Floyd tribute band. (The following night would be oldies standbys Tommy James & the Shondells!). I now know that inside the Center it is a gilded 1920’s former movie palace. We watched as the patrons were asked to put on masks, about the only time in Williamsport we saw anyone wear a mask.

we watched from across the street at the Brewery

Our Airbnb was quirky with a narrow dark back entrance and an elaborate kishy decor. Our hosts had no obligation to feed us the next day, but they cooked us eggs just to be nice. They certainly had no obligation to offer to drive us the first twenty miles of our bike ride the next day, so that we would not have to cross over a mountain on a freeway in the cold fog. We folded our bicycles and put them in her car. Melinda’s Jeep was colorful. One of her dogs came along for the ride.

Melinda dropped us off. I gave her a twenty dollar bill which she did not ask for. We had only fifteen miles to cycle back to my car that had been parked for a week in Lewisburg PA. While Lewisburg seems a prosperous town with the vibrancy of having Bucknell University, just north of Lewisburg the town of Milton has seen hard times. Milton must have once been an important place because in the 1930’s the U.S. Postal Service chose to build a certainly expensive and lovely Art Deco post office with likely original artwork. Lyman insisted that we go inside. As a retired historic preservation architect he was impressed that the Postal Service has kept the building mostly original and intact. (photos by Lyman)

Post office, Milton PA

carving in the Milton PA post office

Back on the bicycles, we headed on to Lewisburg. The guy at the bike shop had succeeded, our car was still there!

We drove back to Chapel Hill NC which took almost ten hours, arriving about 9:00 PM. Lyman’s partner Gillian was waiting with my wife Tootie at our friend Maxine’s house. We had their dinner leftovers which were really delicious.

I follow the weather obsessively on my I-phone.  I had just bicycled in the mountains of North Carolina.  Where else could I bicycle tour during a pandemic with cooler weather?  It seemed just plain hot everywhere.  How far north would I have to drive to find weather not so oppressive?   What type of 2 -3 night bicycle tour could I take in cooler weather during a pandemic that would entail minimal risk either to myself or to others?

I picked a spot on the map ten miles south of the New York State line, a Walmart parking lot on the north side of the town of Warren PA, on the northern edge of the huge mountainous forests that cover northwestern Pennsylvania.  Here is the bike ride I did over 3-4 days.

It had been a ten hour drive from Chapel Hill NC.  At four in the afternoon I pulled the Bike Friday from the back of the Prius in the parking lot of a Walmart in Warren PA.   Other people there did not seem to notice.  I was making a big assumption that Walmart would not care if I left our car here for 3-4 days.

 

After the long drive I needed to do some bike riding to clear my head and loosen my body after sitting for so long.   It was eighteen miles north on US-62 to the small city of Jamestown NY.   The temperature was eighty degrees, about ten degrees cooler than North Carolina.

 

In ten miles I bicycled across the New York state line.   Once in New York the two lane road had a shoulder even wider than Pennsylvania’s, making for less stressful bicycling.   Geography fans take note:  this area is nowhere near New York City.  It is 400 miles from New York City, almost as far as the 560 miles back to Chapel Hill NC.

 

Jamestown NY is the birthplace of not only Lucille Ball but also the band 10,000 Maniacs and their lead singer Natalie Merchant.  I have always found far upstate New York fetching;  to me it just seems exotic, so unlike my native South.   A factory town, Jamestown was the birthplace of the Crescent wrench.   Jamestown used to claim itself Furniture Capital of the World but the city was more run down than I had expected.   It has been losing population for years.  (Its population in 1910: 31,000; in 1950: 43,000; in 2019: 29,000.)

 

 

Entering Jamestown I saw an attractive small house for sale:  $64,000.00

Other houses were not as well kept up.   In a region where many buildings do not have air conditioning there were lots of people hanging outside in the early evening.

 

I was a little worried that my Airbnb might be also in a sketchy neighborhood but the vibe improved just a block or two before I biked up to the house listed as my Airbnb address.

It was about six thirty in the evening.   During this pandemic where and how to enjoy food safely while on a bicycle tour becomes a major hurdle.   I was not interested in a crowded restaurant even if there had been one to go to.  Having found the specific location of my sleeping accommodations, before checking in I bicycled a mile downhill to downtown to look for some kind of dinner.  Many restaurants downtown were closed but a few were open for takeout including an Italian place called Sauce.   I phoned in an order for eggplant Parmesan, to go.   They said it would be ready in twenty minutes.   While waiting I noodled by bicycle around downtown Jamestown.   Sights included the Lucille Ball Museum and their new hopeful attraction, the National Comedy Center.   Jamestown also joins my list of cities where the tallest building even now was built during the 1920’s building boom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My to go dinner was ready.

 

 

Balancing a styrofoam container of eggplant-with-cheese-and-penne-pasta-and-tomato-sauce on the handlebars of a bicycle is challenging but I managed to cycle the one mile uphill back to the house where a couple slightly older than me Airbnbs their spare bedroom.   I met the man in his driveway at a distance.

The house has an attractive front porch on which I laid the styrofoam container of  eggplant.

 

This Airbnb turned out to be quite nice, but after leaving the next day I resolved to do better next time, to be even more vigilant at keeping physical distance.

On arriving I told the man I wanted to take a shower and then could I eat on their porch?    I put on my mask before we got close and entered his house.  He told me not to bother with the mask but I kept it on anyway.   I made sure not to get close to him and his wife, especially indoors.    I had wanted to eat alone on their porch.  When I finished my shower and came outside he or his wife had picked up my eggplant in styrofoam (without asking me) and put it on their porch dining table, inviting me to eat and talk with them outside while he and his wife played a board game similar to Scrabble.    Because of the pandemic it made me uncomfortable but as they were nearly six feet away, across the table, and it was all outdoors, I decided to stop being uptight and enjoy the evening.   I talked to them for about an hour; they were very friendly. She was born in Sicily.  He has worked mostly in construction.  They have three grown sons who all still live in Jamestown; the oldest is fifty.  For thirty years they lived just outside of Jamestown in a house with a large yard but they moved into this city house three years ago.  Our conversation danced around the political situation.  I think he is a Trumper but he never said so explicitly.

Keeping an Italian-American tradition, my fried eggplant and pasta portion from the restaurant was huge;  enough for about three people.   My hostess encouraged me to put it in their refrigerator and “save it for lunch tomorrow.”    During a pandemic that is not such a bad idea.

My room upstairs was fine.  With a window unit it was the only room in the house with A/C.

 

In contrast to the other decor in the room, maybe because Jamestown used to be Furniture Capital of the World, the dresser in my bedroom was mid-century modern, probably an original from the 1950’s-60’s.    I really like it.

My hosts had both departed the next morning at 7:30 AM leaving their house to me, telling me to just to lock the door on the way out.   At about 8:30 AM I packed up my stuff.   After putting my trunk bag on the back of my bicycle, on the way out I went to the refrigerator, got the container of leftover eggplant parmesan, and strapped it on top.  Lunch!

For breakfast I cycled downtown and found coffee (almond milk latte) and oatmeal at the locally owned Crown Street Roasting Company.   I could sit on the sidewalk and be socially distant.  It was very pleasant, totally relaxing.  It made me want to sit there all day.

 

I got back on the bicycle and started cycling westward along the southern shore of Chautauqua Lake, which is seventeen miles long and up to two miles wide.  I realized pretty quickly that the residential money and energy of Jamestown had been transferred to the lakeshore, starting with Celoron NY, adjacent to Jamestown,  which claims to be the REAL birthplace of Lucille Ball,.

 

As I biked along the shore I could see Chautauqua Lake between the houses or on a dead end street.

 

I had first heard of the Chautauqua Institution from my late mother, maybe ten or fifteen years ago, when she was in her late seventies or early eighties.  She was going with a friend to some kind of two to three day event at this place, quite a long distance from her home in Virginia Beach.  Chautauqua Institution was started by Methodists as an adult education movement over a hundred years ago.   It is a now a tony summer resort that has “serious” events such as lectures and concerts.   I had assumed I could just noodle through on a bicycle.   I had not expected an almost military level of security which appears to pre-date this pandemic.

 

I did not want to get involved in any personal contact, even if they might let me in.   I just biked on, occasionally looking through the fence.

In the next town Mayville NY I found a park with nice empty picnic tables under a shelter.   I pulled out the eggplant parmesan.   I assumed since there was no meat it was fine even though it had been out for several hours without refrigeration.

water skiing

It would be another twenty something miles to my day’s destination of Dunkirk NY where I had booked a hotel room.   Mayville NY has a nice paved bike path along the north shore of Chautauqua Lake.

 

I then bicycled through the New York State countryside.

 

 

I saw quite a few horse drawn vehicles used by what I assume are Amish.

 

As I neared the Lake Erie coastline there were enormous fields of grapevines.   I saw them both this day and the next.   I wondered, what kind of wine is made here?   This sign answered the question; Welch’s Grape Juice.

 

 

 

I had never heard or thought of Fredonia NY before, but it seems a nice town, home of State Univ of NY at Fredonia.   Following a trend I have seen all over America, where “normal” towns usually look worse for wear “college” towns almost always appear prosperous.    Fredonia looks much more put together than the Jamestown I had left that morning.

Fredonia and neighboring Dunkirk NY are pretty much one continuous town in the four miles from downtown Fredonia to the Lake Erie waterfront in Dunkirk.   The previous evening I had booked this hotel which fronts Lake Erie.

 

Where to have dinner without getting near anyone?   There was a quite good Mexican takeout across the highway from the hotel.   I got two tacos plus beans and rice, all to go.   I had bought a bottle of wine earlier in the day.

 

The hotel’s restaurant was closed because of the pandemic and the outdoor seating clearly had not been used since the previous summer. I found a spot among the empty chairs and tables and had waterfront al-fresco dining by myself from styrofoam containers.   It was nicer than it looks, very relaxing.

After dinner I strolled around the Lake Erie waterfront at sunset.

 

 

I was paranoid about germs on the remote control so I used a tissue when watching TV.    The room was nice; unlike most mainstream hotel rooms in the South, up here they have windows that open, with screens.     I could listen to the lake at night.    At first I thought clucking sounds were of birds, it turned out the repeated noise was the boats knocking into the piers with the gentle waves of the lake.

It would be about fifty miles the next day along the Erie lakefront north to the big city of Buffalo NY.    I booked an Airbnb in South Buffalo and headed out from Dunkirk .   Because of the pandemic the hotel did not have their normal breakfast buffet; instead they had to-go paper bags each with an apple and a packaged granola bar.   And coffee.   It would have to do.

I rode through various towns along the lake.

A Great Lake is amazing, it seems like the ocean.    Along Route 5 one could occasionally see Lake Erie through someone’s yard.

 

 

 

There was one point where the highway came right along the lake and this old guy had stopped for a swim.   He was talking on the phone.

I passed this place; statues for sale.

Highway 5 runs through the Seneca Nation for several miles.

 

This was at an American Indian-run gas station.  I had thought these caricatures were considered offensive.

 

Twenty-three miles south of Buffalo is the small lakeside working class community of Angola NY.   I remember from 1988-92 watching Duke basketball on TV and a figure that many UNC supporting friends consider sent by the devil himself.   At the start of each Duke game at the announcing of the lineups “from Angola New York Christian Laettner.”    Angola is mostly residential but has a couple of beach-town looking bars opening onto the lake.

Also in Angola was the kind of grocery store we hardly have in North Carolina;  a locally owned grocery store that has an Italian deli selling submarine sandwiches.

In the South we have all sorts of ways of excluding people but uniquely Yankee is the practice of using stickers and badges to denying access to public parks to those who does not live in that specific town or county.  I ignored the sign and set up an outdoor lunch of the delicious sandwich from the grocery store.  People usually do not bother people on bicycles.  (on the sign “No Bikes”)  It was peaceful, no one else was around.

 

 

I chilled for a while in the park but eventually got back on the bicycle for the final stretch into Buffalo.   After a few miles I rumbled to a stop with a flat tire.    There was a bench on the edge of someone’s yard next to the highway where I could sit in the shade while I pulled off the wheel and patched the tube.

 

Starting in the late 1800’s Buffalo’s elite started building big summer houses fronting Lake Erie on Lake Shore Road.

 

 

I bicycled by the entrance to a large house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that is usually open to the public but was closed due to the pandemic.   A fence and hedges blocked the view.   Here is a photo taken from the internet.

At a park called Woodlawn looking in one direction you could see downtown Buffalo in the distance.

In another direction it just looked like the ocean.

 

Slightly further on was this interesting public library building.

 

I am not sure what to say about this house.  It was trashier looking than the photo indicates.

 

I was getting close to my Airbnb in South Buffalo.    It is startling how many Catholic facilities one passes in the Buffalo area.

In an otherwise nondescript suburban area surrounded by gas stations I stumbled onto this impressive place of worship, Our Lady of Victory Basilica.    Completed in 1928, it was built mostly due to the lobbying and fundraising by one man, Father Baker.   I think the architecture looks a little Mussoliniesque but it is more likely that Fascists copied church architecture than the other way around.

This is the neighborhood of my Airbnb.

My Airbnb took up the entire first floor of this house.

 

It was larger and more expensive than I needed but it was the only Airbnb I could find that was totally accessible by key code.   In this pandemic I did not have to interact with any human and I had the whole space to myself, a lovely and very clean early 20th century two bedroom apartment decorated with all sorts of posters promoting Buffalo.

 

What to do about dinner?   There were several restaurants within walking distance but most were Irish pubs or similar types of bar food, mostly for takeout only.   I had been eating out greasy meat for three days and craved vegetables.  I had just bicycled fifty miles and was really hungry.    A nice grocery store was within easy bicycling distance.   The apartment had a fully equipped kitchen including a few staples, like olive oil.   I could cook for myself!

Biking to the store I enjoyed looking around this Buffalo neighborhood by bicycle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After going to the grocery store here is what I came “home” with, total cost $ 8.32.   A roll, a small head of broccoli, one ear of corn, a package of sliced portobello mushrooms, a package of three uncooked hot Italian sausages, and one head of garlic.

 

These ingredients were available in the kitchen.  (Someone must live here when not Airbnbing!)

 

I made this up as I went along.    I first cut the stem off the broccoli and cut each floret into bite sized pieces.

 

I boiled a saucepan of water and boiled the broccoli for about three minutes, then drained it and rinsed it with cold water.

The store did not sell less than three sausages so I conceded that I would have to leave two sausages unused here at the Airbnb.   I took out one sausage and cut it in half.

 

I took the half of a sausage out of the casing and squeezed it into a frying pan.

After a few minutes I took the sausage out to a plate and then added the sliced mushrooms and garlic with a little olive oil.

After the mushrooms had reduced by half I cut the corn off the cob and added this to the mushrooms.

 

I put the cooked broccoli and cooked sausage pieces back in the frying pan, keeping it all cooking for a few more minutes.

For a moment I panicked because I realized this kitchen had no SALT.    Luckily they had this steak seasoning which added a lot of zap.

I cut the bun in half and put it in the toaster.

 

 

I cooked the other half of the piece of sausage in another frying pan.

 

I still had the wine from the previous day.

 

 

Dinner!

 

The next morning I had a plan.  It would start with a fifteen mile bike ride, from my Airbnb to downtown Buffalo, then through Buffalo’s trendier districts in the north of the city, before turning east and cycling to the Buffalo/Niagara airport, where I had reserved an Enterprise Rentacar.   I would drive the car two hours back to an Enterprise office in Warren PA, drop the car off and then cycle the two miles back to my Prius that I had left at the Warren Walmart.    I would then put the bicycle in the car and drive home ten hours to North Carolina.    It was a lot to do.  I had to start early.  (I always wake up early anyway!)   I bicycled out onto the street in South Buffalo at 6:15 AM.   It was a lovely cool morning.

 

The city of Buffalo has lost half its population in the last sixty years.    Obviously there are going to be empty buildings somewhere.   Once out of the Cazenovia Park neighborhood where I had spent the night and got closer to downtown Buffalo, I started to see more empty buildings.

 

I had no idea Buffalo has a huge Tesla factory, it makes solar panels and cells at the site of a former steel mill.  I just stumbled onto this by bicycle at 6:45 AM.

Even closer to downtown Buffalo, which to an alien-from-another-planet should be the most valuable real estate in the city, I watched the sun rise over streets that must have formerly had houses and were now sitting empty.  The collective racism of our real estate market?

Here is a Trump flag in the window in a nearby desolate neighborhood.

When I lived in New Orleans with Tootie in the 1980’s we were taught the racist idea that a white person should never go anywhere near public housing.   Those ideas are dated and wrong.  In 2020 I biked passed a Buffalo project at 7:00 AM.

 

I know how to solve the urban problem!  Let’s build a casino!   Buffalo must have bought the same consultant’s  report as many other cites.  I biked past their casino just immediately south of downtown.

 

In the casino parking lot was a Covid-19 test site.

 

Downtown Buffalo has some lovely tall buildings.

 

North of downtown are some attractive residential neighborhoods.

I turned right and started cycling eastward towards the airport.   The neighborhoods got poorer.

 

 

These were definitely sketchy neighborhoods but I never felt threatened bicycling through them, certainly not at 7:45 AM.   I really did not see many people.   I eventually arrived at the Buffalo airport, which feels like it is right in the urban fabric.   In this pandemic the airport parking lot was nearly empty.

It really was not difficult to bicycle right up to the airport terminal.    I got a car (Mini Clubman!) with no problems.   It was only 8:10 AM when I started driving.   Chapel Hill NC was more than six hundred miles to the south.    I first had to drop the rental car off two hours south in Warren PA.  The Enterprise Rentacar office was near downtown Warren.    I had to bicycle two miles out to the Walmart where I had left my car.  I was surprised how attractive Warren PA was, a place I had never heard of prior to this trip.

I got home to Chapel Hill at 9:00 PM, in time to eat dinner at home.

This trip had been on my bucket list of many years, to ride the length of Long Island.   To a Southerner,  Long Island seemed this exotic place, its New Yorkedness accentuated by its physical isolation.  (Those living on Long Island essentially have to go through New York City to go anywhere else.)   Was this idea true?

To find out, from my home in Chapel Hill NC I drove by myself up to Richmond VA and took Amtrak from there to New York City.  Amtrak regulations allow a folding bicycle and I have taken my Bike Friday on Amtrak many times.   On previous trips I was always able to put the bicycle in a set of luggage shelves just inside the railcar entrance.    This time these shelves were already full.  I just put the folded bicycle in the overhead rack!   No one said anything.

I arrived Penn Station in Manhattan just before four in the afternoon.   Most of the station is underground.

I hauled the bicycle down from the overhead and hauled it the very short distance out the train door and onto the Penn Station platform.   In a few minutes I had assembled the bicycle and strapped my trunk bag onto the back.   I could wheel everything away up into the Big Apple that lurked above.

I pushed the bicycle up an escalator and then through the maze of crowded hallways lined with stores that comprises Penn Station.

My brother Alex lives in Park Slope Brooklyn, about nine miles from Penn Station.   My son Sam has been living in Brooklyn as well.   To get to Alex’s place I first had to bicycle down Manhattan’s crowded Seventh Avenue.  (Mick Jagger: “I can’t give it away on Seventh Avenue!”)  This is what it looks like in front of Penn Station.

 

 

Bicycling in traffic in Manhattan is exciting but not as crazy as one would think    I cut over to Second Avenue, then to the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn.   I looked back at lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge.

I had brought my own bicycle but New York City did institute bicycle sharing in 2013 and calls it Citi Bike.  I had predicted that bicycle sharing for New York was possibly a good idea but it would be a bloodbath of tourists getting run over.  I was wrong.   There are currently 62,000 public shared bicycle rides in New York EVERY DAY.   It was four years and millions of rides before a woman was run over and killed by a bus.    You see these bicycle stands all over the city.

New York also now has bike paths.  From 2007-2013 the NYC Transportation Commissioner was someone (now somewhat famous) named Jeanette Sadik-Khan.   She discovered that she controlled almost no money or power to build things like bicycle trails, but had almost unlimited power to direct how existing New York City streets were PAINTED.   She directed the painting of bike lanes as she saw fit and did this with abandon across the five boroughs of New York.   Among many streets she had a bike path painted to narrow a prominent street in Brooklyn called Prospect Park West.    Living on this street was and is Senator Chuck Schumer and his wife Iris Weinshall,  herself an important politician.   Iris Weinshall hated this bike path and used her considerable political influence to try to kill it.   It made news to bicycle supporters all over the country that Chuck Schumer was trying to axe a bike path in front of his apartment.   He failed; Sadik-Khan won, and I thought about that as I biked on that very path on the way to Alex’s apartment, Prospect Park on my right.

I had a wonderful sushi dinner that night with Alex, his teenage son Max, my son Sam, and my nephew Danny.   I slept on Alex and Kristi’s sofa and parked my bicycle in their living room.   In addition to Max they have a one year old daughter named Eleanor Claire.

The next morning I headed out.    First I stopped by Sam’s apartment in the neighborhood of Bushwick.  He is in the process of moving out, going to Vietnam.

 

My four days of cycling out Long Island ended up looking like this:

 

On my first day out  I would cycle across Brooklyn, over to the Rockaways and Rockaway Beach, then Long Beach before turning back inland to Freeport.

Brooklyn has neighborhoods of lovely brownstones.

 

In the poorer neighborhood of East New York this guy was bicycling with his dog in one of Sadik-Khan’s bike lanes.

I followed two other bicyclists as we rode by the enormous field of apartment “towers in the park” Spring Creek Towers, formerly called Starrett City.

 

 

 

On the water side of Shore Parkway there is a quite nice bike path along Jamaica Bay.   A bicyclist here feels divorced from the city.  It was quite peaceful if you could ignore the scream of the cars and trucks on the parallel expressway.

 

 

The path leads a bicyclist by the former airport Floyd Bennett Field, now a park.    I rode on a narrow pedestrian walkway across Marine Parkway Bridge that separates Brooklyn from the Rockaways.

 

 

It’s not hard, not hard to reach.   We can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach.

All I really knew about Rockaway Beach was the Ramones song released in 1977.   I have been listening to that song for over forty years but had never been to Rockaway Beach.   I always felt the song was tongue in cheek, sort of making fun of the New York beach.   But maybe not.  I recently heard a version recorded in about 2012 by the all-female Japanese band Shonen Knife from their tribute album Osaka Ramones.   Here it is performed live.   Listen for a minute, it grows on you.

 

 

I have never much thought of New York City as a beach town but it really can be, apparently.   On this Friday the 31st of May in Jacob Riis Park the lifeguards were out but the summer had barely begun.

 

The residential area of Belle Harbor it could almost pass for my mother’s neighborhood in Virginia Beach.

Eventually there was a boardwalk to bicycle on.

 

It is interesting that while beach real estate in and near New York City can be expensive, it is certainly not THE most expensive place to live in New York.   In a few places on or near the oceanfront there is public housing, subsidized housing for the poor.  Fascinating.

Big airplanes landing at JFK airport passed overhead,  There were coming in from far-away places.   The first photo in an Airbus 380, the largest passenger aircraft.  The second photo is an almost as big British Airways 747.

 

 

I threaded mostly on the oceanfront through various municipalities collectively known as “The Rockaways” until I came to Atlantic Beach Bridge onto the next barrier island, which contains Atlantic Beach and Long Beach.  For cars there is a $2.00 toll on this very short bridge.

 

 

The preponderance of tolls in New York reminded me of the longest book I have ever read, a 1300+ page biography of Robert Moses; The Power Broker, by Robert Caro.

OK, who is Robert Moses?   He was never elected to any office, yet he was so powerful that even President Franklin Roosevelt was sometimes afraid to take him on.   He controlled much of New York City and New York State from about 1928 to 1968.   A major basis of his power was obsession with legal details, especially bond issues.  He personally wrote the fine print for the bonds sold to build stuff like this Atlantic Beach Bridge.   In most cases he hard-baked into the project these tolls and made them impossible to remove.   He made himself director of the Authorities that controlled the toll money.    Robert Moses was instrumental in building many of the nation’s first freeways, New York state parks and “slum clearance” projects.  He got involved nationally in projects to promote what we now call suburban sprawl, tearing down inner cities and building freeways.  Much of the public infrastructure, both good and bad, in the New York area, has the fingerprints of Robert Moses.   On this bike trip I was always looking for Robert Moses projects, his 1930’s freeways and art-deco public buildings.  The toll plaza above and this 1930’s looking traffic sign were among them.

 

On this trip I passed many of Robert Moses’ cloverleaf intersections, some built as early as the 1930’s, to Parkways that prohibit trucks and bicycles.

I walked the bike across the bridge to Atlantic Beach, then started biking east.   For about a mile covering the oceanfront was a series of beach clubs.   Each had the same schtick; “members only” and valet parking.

Another factoid:   Sonny and Vito Corleone lived in Atlantic Beach and Long Beach, adjacent towns.  The location of the the Corleone gated compound is not mentioned in the movie but is in the book.  The scene where Sonny was rubbed out was supposed to have been at the Long Beach Causeway toll plaza.

In downtown Long Beach I had lunch at a “Mexican” bar / restaurant.    It was quite good, in its own way.   Who I assume is the owner stared at me all during the meal.

There was only one other table occupied.

 

 

I biked through Long Beach and the adjacent towns.  They did not look at all Godfatherish, just a beach town look.   For much of the way I could cycle on the boardwalk.

 

 

A Robert Moses legacy was that he loved to build Parkways.   These were freeways that prohibit trucks and buses.   I made it easier for him to keep public transport (and poor people) away from his glorious Jones Beach State Park.   I wanted to but could not bicycle to Jones Beach and see the famous Art Deco bathhouse planned and built by Robert Moses.  Loop Parkway that connects Long Beach with Jones Beach prohibits not only trucks but bicycles.     Ocean Parkway along that beach also supposedly prohibits bicycles.

For this night and the following night I had already reserved and paid for rooms at Airbnbs.    This first night would be in the “town” of Freeport.    I put that in quotes because western Long Island is filled with continuous urbanism but politically divided into a series of towns.  Freeport looks all-American.   Compared to Long Beach, which looks all-white, it took me a while to realize that everyone in Freeport, at least everyone I could publicly see, was either Hispanic or African-American.

 

This is the house of my Airbnb.

 

My room was the front upstairs bedroom.   It was clean and tidy but you clearly were staying in someone’s house.   I shared the bathroom with the family, and at night when I walked out of my room to the bathroom I could see the open door to the seventy-something host couple’s bedroom.   They spoke little English but were super nice and accommodating.  Compared to a cheap hotel, it was totally NOT sleazy.

I am now safe to say that this neighborhood is majority Dominican, as in the Dominican Republic.   A few blocks away I walked into a restaurant.  I had never been to a Dominican restaurant before.

It was brightly lit. There was a bar in one corner.  Being Dominican, they were watching, what else, baseball, or in this case women’s college softball.

I wanted something simple and a seven dollar bowl of chicken soup really hit the spot, accompanied by a side dish of rice and a side dish of beans.

 

This was my route the next day.

 

My ideal schedule when bicycling is to get up early, ride ten or fifteen miles, then stop for coffee and a light breakfast.

The streets in this part of Long Island are relatively well connected so I could bicycle for miles on minor mostly residential streets on this peaceful Saturday morning.  I had come to Long Island expecting, I dunno, the home of My Cousin Vinny.   Instead it all looked pretty normal.

 

 

 

New York Beanery in Amityville had a good almond milk latte and a superb egg and avocado toast.

 

I did see several mega-diners, we certainly do not have these in North Carolina.   I consider these real cultural icons, nowhere else in the world (except maybe New Jersey!).

 

 

Note the two luxury cars in front of this one, a Range Rover and a Lincoln.

Plus this place, not exactly a diner.

I passed by a Saturday morning lacrosse practice.   At the college level lacrosse is an exciting sport to watch.  My alma mater Washington College in rural Maryland had and has a very competitive team and some of the most exciting sporting events I have ever seen were Washington College lacrosse games in the seventies.   I learned then that a huge percentage of great lacrosse players came from either Long Island or the Baltimore area.

Apparently lacrosse is still a big deal on Long Island.    I do not think most areas would have organized lacrosse for very young girls.   How old do they look, about eight?

 

Is was able to bicycle on minor highways and most had pleasantly wide shoulders, almost like a bike path.  In North or South Carolina the highway below would have stopped at the white line.   Maybe in the Northeast wide shoulders are needed for snow removal.

 

 

My accommodations that evening were nice but really unusual.  In an area where motels were expensive this Airbnb cost a low eighty dollars, tax included.   Vectoring off the main road I biked through a normal looking upper working class neighborhood with ranch houses; pickup trucks and RVs in the driveways.   Near the end of the road, in contrast to the other houses were a couple of much larger lots with wooded front yards and long driveways.   I checked the address again and hesitated.  Was I in the wrong place?   The gate and driveway did not look well maintained.  I called my Airbnb contact but no one answered.  The woman finished her voice mail with mas salam malek kum, which I know to be an Arabic greeting.   Whatever.  I took a deep breath and bicycled up the driveway.

 

 

There were a couple of cars that looked like they had not been driven in a while, including a Lincoln Navigator.

 

I walked up to the front door.   The trim was peeling paint and there was a old plastic water bottle on the door sill.

 

I sucked it up and rang the bell.    Thirty seconds of silence. It was answered by a South Asian looking guy, sixty something.   He smiled and said in accented English, yes, he was expecting me.   Come on in.  He walked me through sparsely furnished or totally empty living / dining rooms to a bedroom at the back of the ground floor.   The room was huge.   I took this picture after I had already messed up the bed; the room was clean and well furnished, with the kind of enormous master bathroom one would expect from such a giant house.   The carpet was spotless.   He had left three fresh oranges on the table.   I ate one the next morning, it was delicious.

If you look at the top right of the photo above you will see water stains where the roof had been leaking.

There was a recently used looking pair of slippers on the floor, size small.

There was a large walk-in closet full of women’s clothes.   Are these Middle Eastern or South Asian garments?

Being nosy, I opened the nightstand drawer on left side of the bed and it contained nothing but a freshly printed stack of paper having something to do with medical school tests or applications.

The nightstand on the other side had only the TV remote and a copy of the Quran.

Because I left early the next morning I was not able to talk to the guy again.  I left the key under the mat.  Regretably I never learned anything more about these people.

I did need to go out to dinner.   After showering and and changing clothes I biked about a mile back to the main road and La Volpe Ristorante, which sat by itself on the highway.   Sophie Loren and other famous Italians had their portraits on the walls.   I love to cook and my current obsession is Italian.   We do not have many good Italian restaurants in North Carolina.

 

I had a nice seat at the bar.  The guy next to me commented on my Southern accent.   Fascinating.  Yes, I am from Virginia Beach and live in North Carolina but I never thought I had any kind of accent.  In the South I am practically a Yankee.   Only on Long Island, I guess.  The bartender who served us was a real pro.

 

I love clams and especially prefer those from colder water in the north.   The further south you go clams apparently get worse.  My buddy Lyman from warm water New Orleans has an innate fear of clams.  At La Volpe in the town of Center Moriches NY fresh cavatelli pasta with clams, mushrooms, beans, and arugula was the best meal of this entire trip.

 

The next morning I slipped out early.   This is a map of my third day out.   My destination was Montauk, the last town near the end of South Fork.

Out on the road on an early Sunday morning it was peaceful and slightly foggy.

 

 

Quite soon I started cycling through The Hamptons.   Towns are named Westhampton, Southampton, East Hampton, Hampton Bay, Bridgehampton.   On and on.  Clearly real estate is worth more if the word Hampton is included.

Westhampton is the first Hampton.  Almost ten miles BEFORE the actual town of Westhampton the name game begins with this development.  One can tell the neighbors: “We bought a house in The Hamptons.”

 

In the same area, likely undocumented workers stood around waiting for a job.

 

In the next three hours I passed dozens of fancy houses that are probably only occupied a few weeks per year.   Most do not have water views.    People are apparently willing to pay millions of dollars for the privilege of having a house in The Hamptons.

I could see more detail when I bicycled off the busy main highway and onto side roads.  Yes, these houses really do cost millions of dollars each.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Past East Hampton there actually is quite a bit empty pine barren.   Much of this is public land like Napeague and Hither Hills State Parks.

Montauk NY.  Just because of its location I have been wanting to come here for a long time.   On the map it has that aura of Provincetown or Key West, a town at the end of the road.  It really is just a small beach town.   My friend John Soehner says Montauk is a great place.   I should have brought him along to show me around.

 

I stayed in Daunt’s Albatross Motel.

 

The restaurants in Montauk are expensive.    I grew up in a beach town and know that spending a lot on fancy food might not get you that much.   I ate in a pizza joint, listening to two Catholic priests at the next table loudly talk shop, problems at their work, one an older white guy, the other younger and black, with an African accent.

The next morning I was really ready to get out of town, back to some kind of less touristy America.

There is an hourly ferry to Connecticut at the tip of the other fork, the North Fork, at Orient Point NY.   That would be my destination this fourth day out.

 

I first cycled back fourteen miles back to East Hampton and and got breakfast at Starbucks.   Starbucks seemed like one of the few gathering places in East Hampton for all social classes.   It was a weekday, there were guys who could have been electricians alongside some very tall and skinny blond women talking some language I did not recognize.

 

The rest of the downtowns in The Hamptons are mostly sanitized, many storefronts turned into real estate offices advertising multi-million dollar houses.

I turned north towards the town of Sag Harbour.   It looks less cutesified that The Hamptons but I now know that it is almost as expensive.

To get to the Orient Point Ferry towards Connecticut I first had to take two smaller ferries,  to the south shore of Shelter Island and then from the north shore of that same island.  It was a beautiful day.

 

It was something of a relief to arrive into the town of Greenport, that last real town going out east onto the North Fork.   Compared to The Hamptons and the rest of the South Fork, Greenport looked and felt like a real town.   I got a sandwich for lunch at Goldberg’s Famous Bagels.

 

It is nine miles further out the North Folk to the tip, Orient Point, where the ferry leaves.

On the side of the road was this beautiful saltbox house, built in 1656.   It did have a historical marker but otherwise I think it is just somebody’s house.

At the end of the road there is a ferry terminal and a small marina / bar / restaurant.   I stopped in for a beer.

The ferry ride to New London CT took about an hour and a half.

 

I had a place to go when I arrived New London CT, an Airbnb booked online.

This part of the country does not get many tourists.    The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area was built around coal mining and offshoot heavy industries.    The cities have been losing population for the last fifty years.

I chose Wilkes-Barre specifically as a starting point because it is right on I-81 which comes up through Virginia.   I was able to drive to Wilkes-Barre from Chapel Hill in a little over eight hours.

This trip would also give me an opportunity to bicycle up to Binghamton, New York; a city on the skids that I have also been wanting to visit for a while.   Why, I am not sure.   I guess it just seems exotic to someone from Virginia and North Carolina.

 

I parked my car in the lot of a Walmart on the northern fringes of Wilkes-Barre.   Walmart is fundamentally American in its outlook and Walmart projects a tired American creed: parking should be free and available to anyone, anytime.    I feel safe leaving a car for three or four days in a Walmart parking lot.  I pulled the bicycle out of the trunk.   My parking space was catty-cornered between the Walmart and a Cracker Barrel restaurant.

The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton area is built in an area called the Wyoming Valley, and the cities are strung together in a line between mountains.   For there to be space to build a Walmart and other suburban sprawl, Wilkes-Barre has grown north into the steep slopes of a mountain on the south side of town.    I biked out of the Walmart parking lot and descended a couple miles downhill into Wilkes-Barre.    The first big building I saw was this impressive abandoned brewery.

I descended a little further into downtown Wilkes-Barre.    This used to be an important city.

 

 

The hour was later than planned, and I decided to not try and bicycle further but just stay here in this city.    Luckily I found a nice motel right downtown.

Even checking with Yelp, there did not seem to be many fine dining options here in downtown Wilkes-Barre.


On this warm and pleasant evening I stumbled onto this bar downtown that was spilling onto the sidewalk. It was quite the scene, even if my dinner was just bar food.

I strolled around in the dark alone after dinner, and discovered that Wilkes-Barre (and Scranton, and Binghamton) have something that Raleigh, and Durham, and Charlotte, and Richmond,  (and probably Atlanta) no longer have:  an old-school multi-story department store downtown.   From searching the web, I learned that the regional chain Boscov’s is privately held; this may be its saving grace.    If it was publicly owned I am sure shareholders would have insisted someone cut the cord.    Here in downtown Wilkes-Barre it stood impressively open at 8:45 PM.

I went inside and was confronted with the obligatory first-floor cosmetics department.    There were several floor levels, and escalators.  I found the men’s department and looked for something to buy, just to do my part.   Sadly, I could not find anything I liked.  I admit, I am picky.

The next morning my plan was to cycle upriver towards Scranton and then, I hoped, head off in the direction of Binghamton.   The Scranton / Wilkes-Barre area has enormous amounts of walkable neighborhood that I wished we had more of in the Raleigh/Durham area.   In the linear strip along the river and Main Street, Wilkes-Barre to Scranton and beyond;  early twentieth century residential areas go on continuously for over twenty miles.

I have noticed in my travels of struggling white working class areas people reach for that last stretch of entrepreneurialism:  drag stuff into your front yard and try to sell it.    On this sunny Saturday morning the Garage Sale scene was humming.

 

It is about twenty miles from Wilkes-Barre to Scranton and I got to downtown Scranton about eleven in the morning.

Scranton is named after the mid-nineteenth century businessman who founded the place; more or less a company town.  The city grew up around what became one of the largest steel works in world.  There are also coal mine tunnels running underneath this entire area.    The coal mining industry here came to an end with a mining disaster in 1959; a coal mine punched through to the Susquehanna River, drowning twelve people.

Now unfortunately the steel industry is pretty much all gone.   Among other industries Scranton had an enormous railroad maintenance facility that also closed many years ago.   In 1986 this area’s congressman got federal funding to make a national park out of that maintenance facility; it is called Steamtown.    It is perfect for old guys like me to walk around and gaze at huge machinery.   They even have a crew on the payroll here who rebuild and maintain working steam locomotives.

I could have spent all day at Steamtown, but after walking around awhile I got back on the bicycle and headed through the northern part of Scranton.   I found an Italian deli and something called antipasto salad.  Three twenty somethings were at the other table and while I ate lunch I surreptitiously listened to them talk about their lives and careers.

It all sounded optimistic.  The young woman had just gotten a nursing degree.   The guys had jobs and all sorts of plans.  It was comforting to know that not all educated young people with a future were leaving Scranton.

Americans have always romanticized about certain parts of the country; Bob Dylan sang:

I had a job in the great North Woods, working as a cook for a spell.  But I never did like it all that much and one day the axe just fell.   So I drifted on down to New Orleans where I happed  to be employed.  Working for a while on a fishing boat right outside Delacroix.

But very few people have romantically escaped to Wilkes-Barre, or written a song about it.  I suspect people do leave town,  but very few come here, especially educated young people.

After lunch I headed further through the valley, through more of this this linear city, municipalities with names like Dickson City and Blakely.

All these towns had signs on the utility poles honoring veterans, from all wars since World War II, dozens and dozens of signs.  I knew that there had been a lot of immigrant groups settling here a hundred years ago, particularly from Poland.   I made a point of surveying the names on these war memorials; in one stretch well over 50% of the last names on the memorials ended with “ski” or “sky.”

 

As I biked further up the valley I had thoughts of where I was going to stop that night.   I called the one hotel listed in Carbondale and they said they were full.   A wedding.   Nothing seemed available on Airbnb either, so I had to turn around and head back to North Scranton, where I had found an Airbnb.

I chilled in the room for a while before looking for a place to eat dinner.   I particularly like to eat Italian when I am in the Northeast.

Casa Bella is really nice restaurant.    On a Saturday night people were dressed up for an Evening Out.   I do not mean to be snide, but there are key differences in what I will call Red America Restaurants, and those in Chapel Hill (or New York City, for that matter.)  The principal one is that prices, even at quite nice places, are lower.   And almost always the salad is included, rather than having to order and pay for an appetizer and an entree.    The wine prices are six dollars a glass, rather than nine or ten or eleven.

As an Italian restaurant it had the obligatory signed photo by an aging rock star, and higher-ups in the Catholic Church.

The wait service here was top notch, middle aged professionals who were always available but never hovering.   And the food was really good.

The salad came already dressed Italian style.   Sure, there was a lot of iceberg lettuce, but that is my only complaint.

My body was craving a good tomato sauce.   Homemade three cheese ravioli was delicious.

After dinner I walked in the dark back to the Airbnb.

The next day I did something that (I swear to you my readers)  I have never done before.   It was almost seventy miles, over a mountain range, from my North Scranton Airbnb to an Airbnb I had already booked in Binghamton NY.      A huge mountain loomed over Scranton.    So, my bicycle and I took an Uber at 7:30 AM on a Sunday morning.

The Uber was just to cover the first six miles, but six miles that were almost continuously uphill,  a mountain climb to a Scranton suburb appropriately called Clark’s Summit.

It became apparent that a large proportion of what is upscale in the Scranton area is up here on the mountain of Clark’s Summit.   I saw a Talbot’s women’s clothing store, for example.   There is a Starbucks’s.  There is also a really nice locally owned coffee house called Duffy’s.    They make a mean breakfast sandwich.

The baristas were fooling around.

I got back on the bicycle and heading down the road on highways through the mountains.

US Highway 11 more of less parallels a railroad that was put in relatively lately, about 1915.     Crossing these mountains, when it was built it was considered an engineering marvel.  Of course, today, it is abandoned.    Senator Chuck Schumer is trying to get it re-started as a commuter rail line to New York City;  a way to bring progress to Scranton and Binghamton.

 

Another rail bridge, even longer and higher.

 

Most of this bike ride was through woods.    There is not much out here.  I did go through two or three very small towns.

Compared to other parts of the country, the Northeast has a lot of small independent old-school ice cream places, usually out on a highway.    I stopped for a chocolate swirl just outside of the town of New Milford.

Back on the bicycle I rode through a mixture of woods and small towns.   It all felt very remote until US-11 crossed I-81, where there were many more cars and strip shopping centers.   I stopped at a Subway for lunch.

Just north of I-81 my highway (US-11)  crosses the Pennsylvania / New York State line as it passes through the quaint small town of  Corbettsville.  Pennsylvania must be a better place to buy guns.

Binghamton has a current population of 47,000, about the same population as it was in 1910.   The population was 80,000 in 1950.    I read that in the 1950’s over 15,000 people worked for one shoe manufacturer (E-J).     Binghamton’s current economic engine, if there is one, is the SUNY campus, called Binghamton University.

I had booked an Airbnb the previous day.   It is in an older neighborhood about two miles from downtown.   This duplex house is the nicest on the block.

I hung out in the room for a while.   It is pleasant where houses frequently do not have air conditioning, so you can sit in a room with the windows open.     I eventually biked downtown to have some kind of dinner.

A brewpub downtown that looked quite new had a few people at the bar.   The old guy with the white beard was quite talkative.

It turned out the the old guy, his wife, and me had something in common.   We were all tourists in a city that certainly does not get many tourists.   The retired married couple were from Australia.   (Tasmania!)  They had only been to America once before in their lives.  This trip they had spent a week in San Francisco and a few days in New York City.   The wife wanted to see Niagara Falls.  They thought that ten days driving around New York State would give them a good slice of what American life is like.   I thought, is this true?

The next morning I biked all over the Binghamton area.    Similar to Scranton, Binghamton looks gray and down on its luck.   It does NOT look completely abandoned like a Detroit or Bridgeport CT.   This lovely 1930’s looking building was behind a warehouse.

I had found a good deal on a one-way Enterprise car rental for the drive back to the Scranton airport.    Two hours later I dropped the car off and then had a couple hours to again bicycle around Scranton and Wilkes-Barre before going back to the Walmart, to get my car and the drive home.

In downtown Wilkes-Barre there is this huge building that looks like a mosque.    It was built in 1907 as a Masonic lodge (Shriners!).   It is currently empty and decaying.