Bicycling from Michigan to Maine

Sheldon Axler

11 July 1993

After months of planning and thousands of dollars spent for a new bicycle, bike tools, camping equipment, biking clothes, biking maps, etc., I'm finally on my way on this solo bicycle trip. I'm heading east from East Lansing, Michigan, until I hit the Atlantic Ocean in Maine.

My new custom-made touring bicycle feels good, although with all the stuff I have loaded onto it, the thing is heavy. With clothes, tools, camping equipment, food, and other supplies, probably 40 pounds have been added to the weight of the bike.

I planned to limit myself to 70 miles each of the first two days, knowing that the excitement of starting out can lead to bad pacing. But the campground I intended to use tonight was closed, so I had to do a total of 80 miles to get to another one. I'm camped at a beautiful spot in Metamora, Michigan, on a lake surrounded by pretty green trees.

Today was hot, but not unbearable. My legs, knees, and shoulders feel pleasantly exercised.

St. Clair River
12 July 1993

This afternoon I had lunch and a rest at a riverside park in Memphis, Michigan. One of the pleasures of this kind of travel is finding such relaxing spots.

I went a few miles out of my way to see the boardwalk at St. Clair, Michigan. It's less touristy than I had expected. As usual, many people who see the loaded bike ask me where I'm going and are amazed when they hear that my destination is Maine. An old man on the boardwalk asked what I want to do when I grow up. I told him that I didn't plan to grow up.

The St. Clair River is wide and beautifully blue. I rode along it for about 10 miles before taking a ferry across the river at Marine City into Canada.

A bolt had fallen off my rear rack. It was still OK, although a bit shaky. At a small town hardware store, I bought a replacement bolt. Tonight at the motel in Wallaceburg, Ontario, I borrowed a wrench and attached the replacement bolt.

I biked 77 miles today, in weather that was not quite as hot as yesterday, although the wind turned against me in the late afternoon.

13 July 1993

I have no bike maps for Canada, so I started out today without knowing my route. I wanted to go east, but my map of Ontario showed no good roads in that direction. So I had to ask people for advice, which led to my spending most of the day on beautiful and deserted country roads.

The morning was tough--the wind was strong against me. Miles from any town late this morning, I passed a roadside sign in front of a house: ``Raspberries--$2--self-service''. I wasn't quite ready for a break, but one of the lessons of traveling by bike is to take things when they come--parks, rest rooms, frozen yogurt, Gatorade, and raspberries. No one was around, so I left $2 in the jar and helped myself to a container of raspberries, which tasted as delicious as they looked.

I stopped at a tiny town for an early lunch at a Chinese restaurant. When I started again around noon it was hot. But after half an hour the temperature cooled (to warm); the rest of the day was gorgeous and unhumid. I met three people on loaded bikes going in the other direction. We swapped stories about what to expect ahead and chatted about how great it felt to travel by bicycle.

I got stronger in the mid-afternoon--a benefit of the last two days of hard riding--and ended up doing 79 miles, feeling great, and thinking I had had a fantastic day.

I reached the north shore of Lake Erie at Port Stanley, Ontario, where I'm staying tonight at a pleasant inn. Great dinner in the outdoor garden.

14 July 1993

Just as I was about to leave this morning, heavy rain began to fall. So I sat under a gazebo in the inn garden having a pleasant conversation with Kelly, who was also waiting out the rain. She teaches speech at Northern Illinois University and is driving to Stratford to see some plays.

After 2 hours, the rain stopped and I began biking. The late morning and early afternoon wind was against me. I felt tired and wondered briefly if this trip was worth the trouble. If I didn't occasionally have such thoughts, I would worry that I wasn't pushing hard enough. In the late afternoon the wind died. I felt stronger--bike and body felt like a smooth, powerful machine working together.

I had planned to camp tonight, but the clouds caused darkness to come early, so I stopped at a hotel in Port Dover. I met two bicyclists there who are circling Lake Erie with loaded bikes. Even with the rain-shortened day, I was able to do 71 miles.

Flat in Buffalo
15 July 1993

This morning and afternoon I rode on empty roads along the shore of Lake Erie. Lots of beautiful lake views. These roads twist and turn so much that it took me longer to get out of Canada than I had expected. By asking directions and guessing I found a wonderful bike route along Lake Erie. Remarkably, although I had no bike maps in Canada, I never made a wrong turn or had to backtrack.

Around 6 pm I rode across the Peace Bridge over the Niagara River, back to the U.S. in Buffalo, New York. Cars zip through the border crossing, but bikers and pedestrians must go into the immigration office where foreigners are made to wait.

I cycled through downtown Buffalo, past the interesting-looking city hall, and onto a street lined with abandoned and deteriorating warehouses. After a mile or so, my New York bike map directed me onto an inhabited street in a poor neighborhood, where I promptly had a flat tire, naturally on the rear wheel, which is the messiest to deal with. I got out my bike tools, took off the wheel, and replaced the tube.

The flat tire meant that I ended up bicycling for a half hour in the dark to get to a motel in Clarence, New York. I biked 115 miles today, a personal record. Physically I felt good after such a long ride. I gobbled down a huge dinner to quench the hunger brought on by so much exertion.

16 July 1993

Yesterday's marathon ride left me exhausted today. I just pushed on anyway, and got in a full day of riding, going 87 miles. I'm camping tonight in rural Canandaigua, New York. The campground has a laundry machine, so I now have all clean clothes again.

Women's Rights
17 July 1993

My plan was to take off one day per week. Today should have been a rest day, but I wanted to get to Seneca Falls, New York, so I did a half day's biking (42 miles). I'll take the other half rest day later or in pieces across several days.

I left the New York bike route to pick up the Bikecentennial bike route in Geneva, New York. Before leaving this morning I asked a campground employee for a good biking route with low traffic to Geneva. As is common for nonbikers, she assumed that low traffic meant anything except the expressway, so she gave me directions that would have put me on a busy highway. I ignored her directions and took deserted county roads that led approximately in the right direction until I encountered a local biker, who gave me good directions.

In Geneva I stopped at a bike shop to pick up another spare tube to replace the one I had used in Buffalo. The guy working in the bike shop admired the workmanship on my bike frame. A family of four that had cycled from New York City arrived at the bike shop for some repair work on their bikes, which were not really suitable for the loaded touring they were doing. I had lunch in Geneva at a park overlooking one of the finger lakes.

The bed and breakfast in Seneca Falls at which I'm staying also seems to be a permanent residence for a few elderly men. I had an interesting conversation with one of them, a nice guy who seems not all there mentally. He told me he was 59, although he said he looked younger (he looked at least 65 to me). He has a minimum wage job at McDonald's, and he spends his spare money on bicycles. He pointed out to his elderly friend that my bike has a Brooks saddle, and then added in a superior tone that his friend didn't understand the significance of that.

After showering this afternoon, I crossed the street and saw a play about the events leading up to the 1848 Women's Rights Convention here in Seneca Falls. The best part was a recreation of the debate at the Convention, with the actors scattered throughout the audience. This weekend Seneca Falls is celebrating the anniversary of the Convention with several special events, such as the play. Tonight's events included a parade--rinky-dink but fun--with pro- and anti-choice contingents both claiming the heritage of the 1848 Women's Rights Convention.

Missing Bridges
18 July 1993

In mid-morning my front brake was rubbing badly against the wheel. I spent over an hour trying to fix it, and finally succeeded only with some expert help. I was lucky to get any assistance; I had stopped in a country area that had little traffic and only two houses within miles.

My Bikecentennial map said that I should cross the Oswego River over a bridge halfway between Fulton and Oswego. These directions were half right--half of an old bridge spanned the river. I had to go 6 miles north to Oswego to find an intact bridge over the river. After crossing the river, I stopped at a park in Oswego, where a local resident gave me good directions about how to pick up the Bikecentennial trail again. As I discovered, that involved crossing another river whose was bridge was out. This was not a good day for being impressed with New York State's infrastructure. A few miles more detour (not wasted--I found a good grocery store) got me back to the Bikecentennial route. On a trip like this all sorts of little things will go wrong; I've learned to deal with them serenely.

After biking 82 miles today, I'm camped on the shore of Lake Ontario near Pulaski, New York. Again, lots of beautiful water. I rolled into the campground at 7:30 pm with no reservations. It's nice to keep going each day without reservations or worrying about where I'll stay. Each day I just bike until I'm almost ready to stop, then I start looking around for a campsite or motel.

19 July 1993

The rain began this morning just after I woke up. The weather prediction called for rain all day. So I put on my Gore-Tex biking pants, my Gore-Tex biking jacket, and my Gore-Tex helmet cover and set out into the rain (which indeed continued all day). This part of upstate New York is empty, and I enjoyed riding in a hard rain along deserted roads miles from any shelter. Unfortunately, the wind was against me all day. I also started running into many hills, which I handled well. After biking 60 miles I found an old hotel in Booneville, New York, where I'm staying tonight.

20 July 1993

Almost all today was spent biking through the Adirondack Mountains. I'm about halfway through them. Lot's of up and down. The small hills are fun--I get up a good speed going downhill, then pedal furiously to maintain speed going uphill. It's much easier to go uphill fast than slow, but that's possible only on short hills. I had two long uphills in the mountains where I could maintain only a crawling speed of 3.5 miles per hour.

Lot's of lakes on today's route. Along the Fulton chain of lakes I saw 19 deer and 2 wild turkeys. After biking 75 miles, I'm staying in a motel in Long Lake, New York.

The Adirondack Mountains
21 July 1993

I had a hard day biking through the eastern half of the Adirondack Mountains. Longer climbs than yesterday, and also some long downhills. I traveled over a pleasant deserted road with many lakes and forested mountain scenery.

At Ticonderoga, New York, I took the ferry across Lake Champlain to Vermont, and then continued to Middlebury, Vermont. I have a great room for a reasonable price at the Middlebury Inn right in the center of town. All the days of riding, the recent mountains, and today's trip (85 miles through the mountains) have left me physically and mentally exhausted, so tomorrow will be this week's rest day--my first full day of rest.

The Sheldon Museum
22 July 1993

Middlebury turned out to be a delightful choice of place for a rest day. There's lots to see in this charming old town. This morning I took my bike to the local bike shop for a check-up and chain oiling. Then I went to the Sheldon Museum, a fascinating house from 1829 filled with period pieces. I had lunch, relaxed, read today's New York Times, and bought a new book to replace the novel I've just finished.

The Green Mountains
23 July 1993

Shortly after leaving Middlebury this morning I met Randy, a 22-year old from Grand Rapids, Michigan, who is biking across the country following a Bikecentennial route. We rode together all day. Time seemed to pass quickly as we chatted while we rode.

Randy and I cycled through the Green Mountains, encountering some long strenuous uphills that felt satisfying when reaching the top. These were tougher climbs than in the Adirondacks. Randy said that although the Green Mountains are not nearly as high as the mountains he went through in the west, the mountain roads are steeper here. Once we saw a sign indicating that we were pedaling up a 13% grade, a ridiculously steep incline. Of course the downhills were fun, and our efforts were rewarded with gorgeous mountain scenery and pretty Vermont towns.

Near the end of the day we crossed the Connecticut River into New Hampshire. After biking 79 miles through the mountains, we camped at a pleasant riverside site.

The White Mountains
24 July 1993

After almost crossing the continent, Randy had had enough mountains. He headed south this morning to avoid the steepest part of the White Mountains. I continued to follow the Bikecentennial route, which goes through the White Mountains. I rode part of the morning with Juul, a man about my age from the Netherlands who has cycled in many countries; now he's biking from Ohio to Maine, averaging about half my distance each day.

The western half of the White Mountains were the steepest mountains I have encountered yet, with long uphills followed by scary downhills. On one downhill I hit a top speed of 42 miles per hour, and that's with occasional pumping of the brakes--it really wasn't possible to go slower.

I reached Lincoln, New Hampshire, in early afternoon, intending to continue along the Kancamagus Highway, a 32-mile stretch through the eastern White Mountains with no stores, motels, or other services (except campgrounds). All day people had been warning me about this torturous mountain road. I felt pleasantly exercised after the hard mountains in the morning, but still strong enough to tackle the Kancamagus Highway. I intended to camp in one of the National Forest Service campgrounds along the Kancamagus Highway if the mountains slowed me down so much that I couldn't complete the route by dark. However, a Forest Service information officer in Lincoln told me that all the campsites were full (and that this happens every summer weekend in this resort area). Although almost all the campers come by car or RV, she told me that even a biker would not be allowed into the already full campsites. So I had no choice but to stay in a motel in Lincoln, making this a half rest day, after 41 mountainous miles.

The Atlantic Ocean
25 July 1993

The Kancamagus Highway wasn't as steep as the western half of the White Mountains that I biked through yesterday. However, there was no let-up in the constant, twisting uphill. It took me 2 hours to get to the top, and then I had a long, long downhill. Halfway down I saw 2 huge male moose.

In the afternoon I crossed into Maine. I decided to push hard to get to the Atlantic Ocean today, so that I could say that I biked from East Lansing to the Atlantic Ocean--on a loaded bike through 3 mountain ranges--in two weeks. As I neared the ocean my anticipation grew and I biked harder and stronger. Although I had to bike 101 miles today to reach the water, the first sight of the ocean made the whole trip worth it. I whooped and hollered as I realized that I had traveled from Michigan to the east coast using just my leg power.

Tonight I'm staying in a motel in Wells, Maine, overlooking the ocean. Just one more day of biking on this trip. I'll miss this.

26 July 1993

This morning I rode past beautiful Maine beaches and ocean views along the coast, heading south. I crossed into New Hampshire and headed for Haverhill, Massachusetts, where my parents are spending the summer near my brother and his family. My muscles were tired from yesterday's 101 miles, but I knew this would be my last day. After 65 miles I reached Haverhill and rang my parents' doorbell, completing my trip. I'll stay here a few days, and then my parents will drive me to the Boston airport and I'll fly home.

Right now I'm probably in the best shape I've ever been in. My arms and legs are brown from the sun. All that will fade, but not the memories of this trip. What an experience!!

Arriving in Haverhill: me and my bike