Winter Dreams: Coasts and Shores

January, the most useless month. I wish I could sleep through it and wake up when the crocuses are finally nosing up through the grass. Here in Bethesda, the foot of snow that fell just over a week ago is mostly gone. The temperature bottomed out at 10 degrees the other night and is rising back into the 50s tomorrow, bringing with it more rain of course. It’s January all right. The midwinter blahs have set in.

Smithsonian museums and national parks are still closed, thanks to our ungovern-ment, so I haven’t been volunteering. In the meantime, I knead dough into rolls that will warm the kitchen and make the house smell good. I make plans to remodel my workbench and to build an armchair from the pieces of an old wooden couch, once it’s warm enough to haul my circular saw outside. I sort through drawers and folders and reorganize stuff, my go-to activity when I’m bored. I check out book after book from the local public libraries. I plan trips, some of which I’ll never take, but I can dream.

On my computer desktop, a full-screen image I’ve taken of a coast or shore over the last dozen years transports me to somewhere else. I have at least 90 images loaded into a slideshow that washes a new view across the screen every few hours. For the sake of something new to do over the past couple of days, I gathered a few of them here. After all, it’s January, a time for dreaming.

The Mid-Atlantic

The Southeast and Florida

The Pacific

David Romanowski, 2019

Four Northeastern Bicycle Trails

Despite the presence of hurricane remnant Hermine, who had parked herself in the Atlantic near New England and refused to leave, Sue and I drove north in early September do some bicycling. We managed to ride four bike trails, three of them new to us.

Norwottuck Rail Trail

The trail crosses the Connecticut River on an old railroad bridge.

The trail crosses the Connecticut River on an old railroad bridge.

Northampton, Massachusetts
Length: 11 miles
TrailLink

The Northampton-Amherst area of central Massachusetts is home to many colleges and universities, as well as an extensive system of interconnecting bike trails on former railroad lines that link that city and town and many of those institutions.

I am completely confused about the proper names of these trails, exactly where one trail ends and another begins, and even how long some of them are. The various maps and sources I consulted offered conflicting information.

You can transfer to a bike trail that leads you downtown and crosses over Main Street on another old railroad bridge.

You can transfer to a bike trail that leads you downtown and crosses Main Street on another old railroad bridge.

We biked the Norwottuck Rail Trail (Mass Central Section)—or is it the Norwottuck Branch of the Mass Central Rail Trail? It is either 10 miles long (says TrailLink) or 11 (says a park map). I am at least sure that it runs from Northampton to Amherst and then several miles beyond.

All that confusion aside, it’s a very nice trail. It appears well maintained and has good directional signage and trail maps along the way. The crossing of the Connecticut River on a converted rail bridge is perhaps the trail’s most scenic delight. Connecting to other trails from where the Norwottuck (apparently) ends in Northampton is easy—once you figure out how to do so. Be prepared to consult Google Maps or rely on the kindness of strangers. We did both.

The Connecticut River from the bike trail.

The Connecticut River from the bike trail.

East of Northampton, the trail runs mostly through rural countryside and past the town of Amherst and Amherst College. You can take a spur trail, the Swift Connector, about 2 miles north to the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Farther on, the Norwottuck becomes more remote and passes by a swamp preserve before ending at a small parking area.

We stayed at a Hampton Inn in South Hadley, just east of Northampton and a short bike ride to the trail. Maple Farm Foods, a large market right beside the trail midway between Hadley and Amherst, is a good place to stock up on food or treats or to enjoy a picnic on the tables outside.

East Bay Bike Path

The bike bridge over the Barrington River.

The bike bridge over the Barrington River.

Bristol, Rhode Island
Length: 14 miles
TrailLink

Our driving tour of coastal Rhode Island led us to Bristol, a historic town on Narragansett Bay and the starting point for the East Bay Bike Path, which runs north to the city of Providence.

On the afternoon we arrived, Hermine was making her stormy presence known. The sky kept shifting from brightly cheerful to darkly threatening, the path was soggy in places, and it started to rain as we neared the far end of the trail. So weather dampened our impression of the East Bay Bike Path.

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Contrary to most bike paths, pedestrians here are supposed to walk toward oncoming bicycle traffic in the same lane. [Photo: TrailLink]

The trail begins along the bay front in Bristol, runs north past neighborhoods and marshes into the neighboring towns of Warren and Barrington, and then alongside the Providence River into South Providence. It ends at India Point Park across the river. We turned around a mile or so from the end.

Except for jarring cracks in some spots, the trail seemed in fairly good shape. Interpretive exhibit panels about areas we passed stood alongside the path here and there. But I would have liked better directional signage in some places, an occasional trail map, and especially mile markers, which the trail inexplicably lacked.

Pomham Rocks Lighthouse near Providence is an especially photogenic site along the trail. [Photo: TrailLink]

Pomham Rocks Lighthouse is an especially photogenic site along the trail. [Photo: TrailLink]

My rear derailleur began shifting poorly, so we stopped at The Bike Shop, right beside the trail in Warren. The helpful folks there found a fraying cable and replaced it on the spot.

We stayed at a Best Western in nearby Seekonk, Massachusetts, and returned to Bristol the next morning to drive and walk around. I was quite taken by this compact, charming, walkable, and bikeable town. I’d like to return in better weather to give the East Bay Bike Path and Bristol another look.

Cape Cod Rail Trail

This beach on Seymour Pond south of Brewster makes a nice rest or picnic stop.

This beach on Seymour Pond south of Brewster makes a nice rest or picnic stop.

Eastham, Massachusetts
Length: 22 miles
TrailLink

We had biked the Cape Cod Rail Trail before, but it’s always worth revisiting. The trail runs from South Dennis to South Wellfleet, and a spur trail branches off toward Chatham at the only rotary (traffic circle) for bicycles I have ever encountered.

We stayed near the northern end of the trail at the Viking Shores Motel in North Eastham. This inexpensive, comfortable motel sits right beside the trail between Miles 18 and 19. A few cycling miles to the north is Marconi Beach. A few miles to the south via local roads is Nauset Light Beach, Coast Guard Beach, and the Cape Cod National Seashore Salt Pond Visitor Center.

Marconi Beach near Wellfleet, part of Cape Cod National Seashore.

Marconi Beach near Wellfleet, part of Cape Cod National Seashore.

On the afternoon we arrived, we biked the 4½ miles to Marconi Beach. The next day we headed toward Nauset Light Beach, but never got there. The neighborhood roads early on this weekday morning were clogged with buses and cars going to and from the local high school. We detoured toward the seashore visitor center and then found our way back to trail, which was blessedly quiet and empty.

We biked south past Nickerson State Park to the ponds between Miles 5 and 6. The trail goes through pine woods, passes salt marshes, and connects town centers. Tucked within the neighborhoods along the way are lots of cozy little shingled houses I could imagine living in.

Nickerson State Park lies close to the midpoint of the trail.

Nickerson State Park lies close to the midpoint of the trail.

The trail itself is wide and smooth. Drivers invariably stop for you at the many street crossings. In a few places where you approach a crossing, a sensor sets off a flashing yellow light to alert oncoming vehicles. It’s a model rail trail, and probably jammed with bicycles and pedestrians in summer.

We didn’t reach the bicycle rotary or ride the other fine bike trails we’ve ridden through Falmouth to the Woods Hole ferry and along the Cape Cod Canal—something to look forward to next time.

Zim Smith Trail

Victorian cottages in Round Lake Village.

Victorian cottages in Round Lake Village.

Ballston Spa, New York
Length: 9 miles
TrailLink

Despite an enviably rich retirement schedule, our friends Tad and Lea, who live just south of Saratoga Springs, New York, graciously agreed to host us on short notice as we headed home. This gave us the chance to ride one of their favorite local trails with them.

The Zim Smith Mid-County Trail begins at Ballston Spa, southwest of Saratoga Springs. We got on it a few miles away at Shenantaha Creek Park, where there’s a large parking lot and restrooms. The trail is largely shaded, rural with lovely scenery, and paved for much of its length. It turns to smooth gravel a few miles from its southern end. There are plans to extend the trail about 3 miles east to Mechanicville on the Hudson River.

We could only peek inside the auditorium to see the 1,900-pipe Ferris Tracker organ, the oldest and largest of its kind in the United States.

We could only peek inside the auditorium to see the 1,900-pipe Ferris Tracker organ, the oldest and largest of its kind in the United States.

Shortly after heading south from the park, we left the trail to explore adjacent Round Lake Village. Born as a Methodist camp meeting site in the late 1800s, Round Lake reminded us of sections of Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard and Ocean Grove on the New Jersey Shore. Attractive small Victorian cottages and buildings line the quiet streets. The village centers on the impressive Round Lake Auditorium, which used to host revival meetings and now serves as a performing arts venue.

After we reached the end of the trail, we doubled back to Ballston Spa, the other major attraction on the route. The center of Ballston Spa is about a mile ride on local streets from the trailhead. Along the way we passed some big Victorian houses, stopped to sample the spring water flowing from a public tap, and had a leisurely dessert lunch (the best kind!) at Coffee Planet, a café right at the center of the thriving downtown.

Coffee Planet: a great spot for coffee and dessert.

Coffee Planet: a great spot for coffee and dessert.

Sue said she liked this trail better than the East Bay Bike Path in Bristol. I didn’t agree, but I did really like exploring Round Lake Village and Ballston Spa. And any rail trail ride is always more enjoyable with good friends.

David Romanowski, 2016

Different Strokes: 20 Bicycle Tours | # 3

Bike Overnights

About a year ago, the Adventure Cycling Association introduced Bike Overnights, a blog featuring readers’ stories and photos about their own brief bicycle adventures. Adventure Cycling describes a bike overnight as “a short getaway by bike, involving at least one night away from home.”

When I was looking for a term to describe the short bicycle trips that groups of cycling friends and I planned and executed over the last four years, I thought “bike overnights” worked as well as anything else, so I adopted that term. I devote this third “Different Strokes” to those half-dozen trips.

Rest stop on "The Farm, Fruits, and Forest Tour” in Pennsylvania.

A rest stop on “The Farm, Fruits, and Forest Tour” in Pennsylvania.

Three of those bike overnights were planned in conjunction with Bike Florida’s annual spring tour. In each case, a group of us got together in Florida before the tour and did some exploring by bike on our own. For the rest of the trips, we gathered in other places for a couple of days of cycling.

An obvious advantage of a bike overnight is that you can schedule and plan it whenever you want and cancel if the weather turns bad or other issues arise. But it may still require considerable advance planning, travel to the base site, and lodging or camping reservations. On several of our trips, rain was either a threat or a minor inconvenience, but it didn’t wash away any of our plans. The length of our rides each day was modest, often 35 to 40 miles, sometimes less, which allowed us plenty of time to relax and enjoy the ride.

Pinellas Trail, Florida

The group in Dunedin.

The group in Dunedin. [Photo: Tad Darling]

Base: Seminole, FL
Riders: 9
Biking Days: 2
Daily Biking Mileages: 38, 38

Before Bike Florida in 2013, a group of us rendezvoused at a friend of a friend’s home in Seminole, a couple of blocks from the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail. The trail extends about 44 miles from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs. It is one of the best known and most heavily used rail trails in Florida.

On our first day, we biked the southern half of the Pinellas Trail and explored St. Petersburg’s downtown, waterfront, and lovely nearby neighborhoods. As a bonus, race cars were whining down the closed-off streets near the waterfront, practicing for the IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. I had never gotten so amazingly close to a speeding race car!

The next day we planned to bike the rest of the Pinellas Trail to Tarpon Springs. But along the way we decided instead to detour off the trail near Dunedin onto the causeway that led out to Honeymoon Island State Park, which occupies a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico. We ate lunch there and enjoyed the park’s unspoiled beach. Tarpon Springs would wait another day.

Amelia Island, Florida

2014-03-21 15.51.08 (2) (Medium)

The sand dunes near American Beach.

Base: Fernandina Beach, FL
Riders: 3
Biking Days: 1
Daily Biking Mileage: 38

Before my next two Bike Florida tours, I linked up with two friends from the Pinellas Trail group: Tad and Lea from New York State. In 2014 we rendezvoused at Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island in the very northeastern corner of Florida. We booked a suite at the Hampton Inn and spent a full day exploring the island by bicycle.

We biked around the Fernandina Beach historic district; visited Fort Clinch State Park, with its canopy road, Civil War fort, and half-mile long fishing pier; and biked down the coast to American Beach, a historic African American community and the site of the highest sand dunes in Florida. We returned via an inland route that took us through a mid-island nature preserve.

As we wandered around Fernandina Beach after dinner in the evening, we came across a carnival in a local park, an unexpected treat and a nice way to end the day.

Pinellas Trail, Florida

The view from the visitor center at Honeymoon Island State Park.

The view from the visitor center at Honeymoon Island State Park.

Base: Dunedin, FL
Riders: 3
Biking Days: 2
Daily Biking Mileages: 35, 25

This past spring, Sue and I rendezvoused with Tad and Lea at the Palm Court Motel in Dunedin, across the street from the Pinellas Trail and not far from the causeway to Honeymoon Island.

An unexpected health issue sidelined one of us, but the others enjoyed revisiting the Pinellas Trail. On the first day, we biked north and finally made it to Tarpon Springs. Later that day we also revisited Honeymoon Island State Park. The next day, we headed south to Largo, where we visited two sites just off the trail: the Florida Botanical Garden and Heritage Village.

While the Pinellas is a fine trail, it could use more maps and signage posted along the way to direct you to nearby attractions. We had a difficult time finding the Sponge Docks area in Tarpon Springs, a major tourist draw, and we would never have known about the other two sites had I not read about them beforehand.

Eastern Shore, Maryland

Riding the ferry from Oxford to Bellevue.

On the Oxford-Bellevue ferry. [Photo: Tad Darling]

Base: Easton, MD
Riders: 5-6
Biking Days: 3
Daily Biking Mileages: 10, 40, 25

Tad and Lea and two other friends from our cycling network—Barb and Michael from Pennsylvania—invited me and Sue to meet up with them for another bike overnight. In late October 2014 we rendezvoused at a Comfort Inn on the outskirts of the historic town of Easton, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Soon after driving across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on our way there, Sue and I stopped on Kent Island to bike the short (5 miles) but lovely Cross Island Trail.

The next day the group biked the circle route linking Easton, Oxford, and St. Michaels, one of the best known and most scenic Eastern Shore cycling routes. We explored all three towns, and the sailors among us especially enjoyed visiting the Cutts & Case Shipyard in tiny Oxford. We all enjoyed taking the ferry from Oxford to Bellevue and then continued on to St. Michaels and back to Easton.

The following day we biked on Tilghman Island (really more of a peninsula than an island). As Sue and I drove home the next day, our friends stayed longer and went on to explore Hoopers Island (an actual island) a bit farther south.

Vermont and New York

Biking through the Vermont countryside.

The Vermont countryside. [Photo: Tad Darling]

Base: Burnt Hills, NY
Riders: 5-6
Biking Days: 3
Daily Biking Mileages: 45, 40, 17

In August 2015, the same group from the Eastern Shore tour rendezvoused at Tad and Lea’s home north of Albany, New York. The next day, we drove to Middlebury, Vermont, and biked a loop route from there to the Lake Champlain Bridge at Crown Point, New York, and back via Vergennes, Vermont. The route Tad had mapped out rewarded us with spectacular vistas, rolling hills, and classic New England towns and countryside.

We returned to New York and did two more cycling day trips. First, we explored the rural countryside near Tad and Lea’s home. Then the next day, we biked along a short section of the Erie Canal and through Schenectady’s Stockade Historic District.

After our Burnt Hills bike overnight, Sue and I went traveling on our own for a few days. We rode the 11-mile Burlington Bike Path, which extends from downtown Burlington, Vermont, along the lakeshore and out into Lake Champlain on a narrow causeway. We biked the 5-mile Stowe Recreation Path through the countryside near Stowe, Vermont. Finally, we biked the 11-mile Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, which runs from Adams, Massachusetts, south toward Pittsfield.

Southern Pennsylvania

The contents of the welcome bag provided to each tour participant.

The contents of the “goodie bag” provided to each tour participant.

Base: Carlisle, PA
Riders: 4
Biking Days: 2
Daily Biking Mileages: 40, 38

My Pennsylvania cycling friend Dana got especially  creative when planning his bike overnight. In July 2013 he invited me and two other friends in our cycling network to his farm just north of Gettysburg for what he called “Bike-o-Rama.”

When I arrived at his house, I found a tour sign-in sheet; route cue sheets; a “goodie bag” filled with snacks, home-grown veggies, and ride souvenirs; and a custom-designed ride t-shirt! His son followed us on our ride in Dana’s pickup truck, which served as a sag wagon and lunch wagon. Dana’s wife Andy provided medical and meal support back at the farm.

On the first day, “The Great Battlefield Ride,” we biked from Dana’s farm to Gettysburg National Military Park, where we rode around the battlefield and then loaded the bikes onto the pickup and drove home. The next day, “The Farm, Fruits, and Forest Tour,” we biked around the countryside near Carlisle. Despite occasional drizzle, we had two fine days riding over the rolling hills of southern Pennsylvania.

David Romanowski, 2016

Different Strokes: 20 Bicycle Tours | # 2

Fully Supported Tours

I took part in 10 fully supported tours over the past 13 years. They varied greatly in duration, numbers of riders, and the nature of the routes, but they also shared many similarities.

Tent rentals at Bike Florida.

Tent rentals at Bike Florida.

On each tour, we stayed in campgrounds, parks, schools, colleges, fairgrounds, or convention or recreation centers. On most tours you can camp out, sleep on the floor in a building, pay a tent rental service to handle your camping needs, or book lodging on your own. You usually have the option to sign up for catered breakfasts and dinners for an extra fee. On many days, you often have the option of different routes of varying length.

Cycle Maryland, which I went on 2006, was discontinued a year or two later. That year it was based at Princess Anne on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and was similar in nature to the Cycle North Carolina Coastal Ride described below.

Bike Florida

One of the rewards of biking in Florida: beaches.

One of the rewards of biking in Florida: beaches.

Takes Place: late March or early April
Duration: 7 days
Riders: Hundreds
Where: Different regions throughout Florida
Routes: Loop routes among 3 or 4 host sites
My Tours: 2004, 2013, 2014, 2016

www.bikeflorida.org/

Bike Florida was my very first bicycle tour, and the only one I’ve gone on more than once. I enjoy exploring Florida, and this tour makes for a nice end of winter getaway. Bike Florida has taken me through the springs-rich region of northern Florida between Gainesville and the Gulf of Mexico, the citrus-growing region of central Florida south of Orlando, the Atlantic Coast region of northeastern Florida, and the Gulf Coast region around Sarasota.

At Gasparilla island State Park on Boca Grande on the Gulf Coast.

At Gasparilla Island State Park on the Gulf Coast.

On Bike Florida tours, you can look forward a lot of flat riding, although some regions have more hills than you might expect. Another thing you might not expect is the wide temperature range. It can get surprisingly cold at night—down to the low 40s—in northern or central Florida in early spring.

I plan to publish a blog post soon on Bike Florida, its past routes, its plans for the future, and next year’s spring tour.

Bon Ton Roulet

A typical view in the Finger Lakes region.

A typical view in the Finger Lakes region.

Takes Place: July
Duration: 7 days
Riders: Hundreds
Where: Finger Lakes region, New York
Route: Loop route among 6 host sites
My Tour: 2012

bontonroulet.com/

Besides cycling in Florida, I’m partial to exploring my home state. The popular Bon Ton Roulet tour introduced me to the Finger Lakes region of central New York. Each year the route and overnight locations vary. But you can always be sure of lovely rural and lakeside scenery, farms, wineries, handsome historic towns, lots of rolling hills, and the occasional steep climb.

Exploring the beautiful gorge in Watkins Glen State Park.

Exploring the gorge in Watkins Glen State Park.

My tour led me through beautiful areas and towns I’d missed seeing during all those dozens of times I’d driven straight across the state. Among the places where we stayed were Cortland, the starting and ending point; Auburn, at the head of Owasco Lake; Geneva, on one end of Seneca Lake; Watkins Glens, on the other end; and a state park just outside Ithaca.

I decided to try the tent rental service, which included a roomy tent, thick air mattress, chair, and other perks. I enjoyed letting someone else do the work of setting up and breaking down camp. One particularly memorable experience: the fierce, blinding downpour during the tour’s final couple of miles—one of the worst storms I’ve ever been caught in while on a bike, and an experience my friends and I still talk about.

BubbaFest – Florida Keys

Lots of bridge crossings and beautiful waters in the Keys.

The Bahia Honda Bridge in the Lower Keys.

Takes Place: November
Duration: 6 days
Riders: Up to 200
Where: Florida Keys
Route: Key Largo to Key West and back
My Tour: 2009

www.bubbaspamperedpedalers.com/

Bubba’s Pampered Pedalers, those cheerful folks who provide tent rental services on many bicycle tours, run BubbaFest. As the name implies, Bubba aims for a rollicking good time. The result is partly fun and partly tacky. It has its fans; many people do BubbaFest year after year.

I had mixed feelings about my tour. I came alone and at times felt like I was crashing some stranger’s party. I rented both tent and bike, so it was a pretty carefree trip. But I wasn’t in a carefree mood at the time and never got into the festive groove.

The old Seven Mile Bridge from the top of the new one.

The old highway bridge from the top of the current Seven Mile Bridge.

However, for me the biking’s the thing, and I really enjoyed cycling in the Keys. About half of the riding is on bike paths, and most of the rest is on reasonably wide shoulders. The views of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico (sometimes from the same spot) can’t be beat. You go over many bridges, including the iconic Seven Mile Bridge, which takes you about as far out to sea as you can get on a bicycle. You’re usually going with the wind on the way down the Keys and against it coming back. It was an easy two-day ride from Key Largo to Key West, where we had a day off to explore that end-of-road town. A bicycle is the best way to get around Key West, and one of the best ways to see the Keys.

C&O Canal / Great Allegheny Passage

Entering Pennsylvania on the GAP Trail.

Entering Pennsylvania on the GAP trail.

Takes Place: Early summer or fall
Duration: 8 days
Riders: Up to 70
Where: Washington, DC, to Pittsburgh, PA
Route: C&O Canal towpath and Great Allegheny Passage rail trail
My Tour: 2008

www.adventurecycling.org/

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath begins in the nation’s capitol and connects with the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) rail trail at Cumberland in western Maryland to provide a continuous off-road route from Washington to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a distance of some 335 miles.

Many cycle touring organizations run tours along this route. I took mine through the Adventure Cycling Association. At the time, the GAP trail hadn’t quite been completed, so the tour ended in the town of Boston, a little short of Pittsburgh. We were bused back to Washington from there. It’s easy to plan and execute a trip on your own as well, given the availability of campsites, towns, and lodging along the way.

A view from the GAP Trail in southern Pennsylvania.

A view from the GAP trail in southern Pennsylvania.

This isn’t a route for those who want to ride hard and fast, but for those interested in biking past, across, or through transportation relics of bygone days and getting away from it all—you’re really out in the boondocks for much of the way. You encounter lots of wonderful tunnels, bridges, aqueducts, canal locks, and countless other historic structures. The canal towpath is rough in places, but the crushed gravel GAP trail is smoother. By the end of the trip, you’ve traversed the better part of two states and crossed the Appalachian Mountains without hardly realizing it.

Cycle the Erie Canal

The Erie Barge Canal locks at Lockport.

The Erie Barge Canal lock at Lockport.

Takes Place: July
Duration: 9 days
Riders: Hundreds
Where: Buffalo to Albany, NY
Route: Erie Canal trail, some on-road routes
My Tour: 2011

www.ptny.org/cycle-the-erie-canal/annual-bike-tour

Another great canal trip is the annual Erie Canal tour offered by Parks & Trails New York. They have been doing this tour over the same route for nearly two decades, so it’s very well organized and run. For me, it was quite a thrill to bike 400 miles all the way across New York State from the Niagara River to the Hudson River.

The finish line along the Hudson River in Albany.

The finish line along the Hudson River in Albany.

You can park in Albany and (for an extra fee) take a shuttle bus to Buffalo, where the tour starts. The tour route generally follows the still-working Erie Barge Canal and sections of the historic Erie Canal that are no longer used. The riding is mostly off road, and the sections on roads are safe and easy. You go through lots of historic canal towns and small cities. There are many historical sites and museums to visit along the way. Like the Bon Ton Roulet, this tour introduced me to many places in my home state I’d only heard about or seen in passing from a car window. Like the C&O Canal/GAP tour, this tour attracts a more family-oriented, history-appreciative crowd than your typical bicycle tour. Riders range from surprisingly young to surprisingly old. Some have taken the tour many times.

Among all the fully supported tours I’ve taken, I think the Erie Canal tour was my favorite. It was the first tour on which I made friends—and other friends through them—whom I now reconnect with when I go on other tours.

Cycle North Carolina Coastal Ride

Camping along the river in Washington, NC.

Camping along the river in Washington, NC.

Takes Place: April
Duration: 3 days
Riders: Hundreds
Where: A town in coastal North Carolina
Route: Loop routes from the host site
My Tour: 2015

cnc.ncsports.org/index.cfm

Each year this early spring weekend tour is hosted by a different town that lies in the low country bordering Pamlico Sound, the body of water separating mainland North Carolina and the offshore Outer Banks. My tour was based in Washington (NC rather than DC), a nice little riverside town I enjoyed exploring. Other recent tours have been based in Oriental and Edenton. The daily loop rides (you have a choice of routes from under 30 miles to 100) are rural and flat.

Except for the first night’s dinner, you are on your own for meals. This keeps the tour cost low and encourages riders to patronize the local restaurants and eateries. I’ve come not to expect memorable catered meals on bicycle tours, so a particularly tasty one always comes as a welcome surprise. The fried fish and shrimp dinner served to us on the first night was one of the best meals I’ve ever had on a bicycle tour.

David Romanowski, 2016

I ❤ NY (State)

On one of my many drives between Boston and Buffalo in the early 1980s, I stopped off at a New York State Thruway rest area and bought what was then considered a travel mug. It was a small white plastic thing with a red top through which I could sip coffee while driving without sloshing it all over myself. The bottom of it snapped onto a mount I stuck on top of my car’s dash with double-sided tape. This was before cup holders.

The mug was emblazoned with the famous and enduring slogan “I ❤ NY.” I decided that, in my case, the message needed clarifying. So I added in black magic marker below the “NY” the word “State.”

The mount later grew brittle from sunlight and broke, but I still have the mug. Holding it in my hand again reminds me of so many things: That first car I ever owned, a light blue 1980 Toyota Corolla Sport Coupe Deluxe. Setting out before dawn on the Mass Pike, with a cup of hot coffee steaming the windshield and the first hint of day brightening the sky in my rear-view mirror. That 450-mile trip, all on I-90, except for less than a mile at either end. Place names I learned about long ago in school—ancient old world names like Utica, Rome, Syracuse; new world Iroquois names like Oneida, Seneca, Canandaigua. The memorized succession of exits across New York to Exit 56. Warm parental hugs at journey’s end.

Now that I live in Maryland, driving to New York is less simple and direct. I have to go through all of Pennsylvania from south to north. With apologies to my friends who live there (and to the half of my family that hails from there), Pennsylvania to me is merely the state I have to get through to reach the state I love. When I leave behind Pennsylvania’s endless and inconveniently oriented ridges and valleys and finally reach the hills of southern New York, the vistas suddenly broaden and become more inviting. The road  improves. Blue sky breaks through the clouds. It feels like coming home.

New York borders five states and two Canadian provinces. It bridges New England with the Mid-Atlantic and the Midwest. New York has aspects of each, as well as the urban ankle and foot of New York City and Long Island. Many people consider “New York” to mean “New York City” and refer to the entire upper part of the state as “Upstate New York.” But most people north of the city and its surrounding area of influence consider the vastness and diversity of the Empire State as, plainly and simply, New York.

That vastness and diversity encompasses the Hudson River Valley and Lake Champlain, the Adirondack Mountains, two Great Lakes and the famous waterfalls between them, the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Finger Lakes and the rolling hills of the southern tier, and the lowlands that extend from Buffalo to Albany and provide the only east-west passage through the eastern mountain ranges that extend from Maine to Georgia. I’ve traversed that passage on a bus, on a train, on a bicycle along the Erie Canal, and in a car via US 20 or the Thruway with a plastic New York coffee mug in hand.

The part of New York where I grew up, Western New York—or the “Niagara Frontier” as some still refer to it—has a Midwestern feel. I only realized this after I’d moved away to Boston and later to central Michigan, cultural polar opposites. I think that growing up in Western New York gave me a grounded feeling I wouldn’t have had if I’d grown up in New York City, where many people seem to think they reside at the center and most important part of the world. Growing up in Western New York gave me an appreciation for people and life beyond the American metropolises on which the spotlights of Hollywood and the national media inevitably fall.

WIN_20150908_194206 (2)I’m glad I moved away from Western New York when I did after college. I needed to move away. I needed to experience more of the world. But the shores of Lake Erie were a good place to grow up, a good place to be from.

I ❤ NY State!

David Romanowski, 2015