Someone/thing out/up there is definitely looking after us — including of course all of you with good wishes, and many tips and research.  Our winds have been mostly favorable.  Weather has been perfect, including the fact that it’s raining cats and dogs today, the day we wanted/needed/decided to take our rest day.  And help has been at hand when there has been trouble.  Amazing, encouraging, inspiring.  It’s been the hills that have been killer.  But more about that later.  First a catch-up since the last note.

After our time in Lake Pleasant, aka Speculator in the Adirondacks, we headed south, staying on bike route 30, then taking routes 8 and 10 (in case you want to track the trip), to head to Palatine Bridge/Canajoharie, NY.  It was a ‘down day’, meaning mostly down hill (not common on this trip). That let us do 50 miles (80+ km), also not common on this trip!  Our motel overlooked the Mohawk River and Valley, rich in native settlement, skirmishes and battles, transportation, farming, and a long history of Mennonite and Amish settlement.  Dusk was glorious, and the fog in the valley in the morning with patches of blue, lifting as we headed out, was too.  The Arkell Museum of American Impressionists is worth a visit all by itself.  Beechnut ‘Nutrition’ used to have its very progressive factory in Canajoharie (an Indian word meaning ‘pot that washes itself’ from a section in the Mohawk River), but was taken over by a less than progressive management — sad story.

Next day we reached Richmondville, after cycling up a very long, steep hill on Rt. 10. We’d heard about this hill from almost everyone!  We met a cyclist at Sunset Corner who gave us a blow-by-blow about what was to come…in a word, some big hills! The little shop had fine blueberry muffins, and great cookies which would be most welcome as we continued to encounter long, super steep hills up and out of the valley and into the Catskill Mountains.

At the Red Carpet Inn, enjoying our home-cooked grain and veggie dinner and the panoramic view of the countryside, we made a tough choice. After much soul searching, and given the hills, plus the lack of campgrounds (and of the few there were, many were closed after Labor Day), we decided to lighten our load and ship home our camping gear.  Hard decision, but the hills that we continued to encounter meant we did not regret it the transformation.  We felt sad, but smart and relieved. So the next morning we cycled to the post office, and with the help of a very large and extremely helpful fellow, Mike, we packed off about 25 pounds for $28.  Whew and  🙁 .  We kept sleeping bags, just in case.

The super steep hill up to the town aptly titled ‘Summit’ the very next morning made us glad for our lightened load.  On the way up a local fellow, name of Alan Ginsburg (the poet by the same name actually had a place near by!), who is a reporter for the Schnectady Gazette, and who had heard about these crazy folks on the odd bikes from Mike, the postmaster, stopped and spent some time with us.  The interview will appear in the “Prime Time” (targeting 50+ers)  of the Upstate Capitol Region section of the Gazette later this fall :-).

When we finally reached Stamford (still some up from Summit!, but through lovely rural countryside), our path became blessedly downhill, following and then crossing, the West Branch of the Delaware River, all the way into Delhi (pronounced Del High), the county seat of Delaware Country, and home of a SUNY (State University of NY) campus, and a quiet, pleasant town.  Our Buena Vista Motel was perfect.  We slept well, nestled in the heart of the Catskills!!

Our last day in NY we turned south onto 268 south, and encountered the steepest hill we’ve ever tackled. It looked like it went up to the sky!  But from Apex, at the top, and a promising name, we thought, again we had a long downhill, into Hancock (which bills itself as the Gateway to the Upper Delaware), only to find that the motels were all full.  Only the spendy Hancock Inn had space, but we enjoyed a pleasant balcony, and lo and behold, a front row seat for the Homecoming Parade that brought out all the locals, featuring the high school Queens of this and that,  and complete with fire and police escort!  Dusk on the river, walking the trestle of the formerly bustling train track and switching station was luscious. Now Hancock is a busy base for kids’ camps, in NY and nearby PA, and a popular fly fishing destination.  Truckers the next morning at breakfast allowed as how it was the best place on earth!

Next morning we crossed the border into Pennsylvania, with some trepidation, as we’d heard about the bad roads with no shoulders. The roads turned out to be OK, but the lack of shoulders invited attention and awareness to the task.  Drivers were helpful and it didn’t feel dangerous. Taking route 191 to 370, but puzzling each step of the way about how to approach the next set of mountains (now we were in the Poconos), we stopped at a library, hoping to figure out where to go and stay.

We spent a lot of time and got nowhere.  There are just not many options in that area, sparsely populated, no motels or B&Bs along the way…Felicitously, we thought, we soon came across a PA Bike Route, called “L”, and were greatly relieved. It would take us south, and then another bike route would take us west, and we’d be relieved of having to consult the maps constantly.  (On past trips we’ve been following alongside major arteries, say the Yellowhead Highway across Canada, where we found many campgounds and motels, even though it was not heavily populated.  We didn’t have to look every couple of miles and make choices not knowing the implications in terms of terrain or options.  This was a new ballgame, and not just the hills were challenging.)

We followed Bike Route L into Carbondale, where we found charming lodging, the Heritage House B&B on the Park, and our stay with Darlene was comfortable and pleasant — although her loquaciousness might set some records.  She knew a lot about the area, her dad had been forced to work in the coal mines from the age of seven, and she is now working hard to raise funds for a museum to educate about, and honor, that time and place.  Bitumen coal, the D&H Railroad, and perforated steel were the triple backbones of Carbon County communities.  Hard life and times.  Wrecked the environment and everyone’s lungs.

We got an early start Monday morning, Bike Route L taking us on some wonderful back roads we’d never have found ourselves, through the towns, and rural areas, but then we started up a gargantuan hill, miles and miles, wide road, good shoulders, hot as blazes, and the Moosie Mountain Park was not even the top!  It just kept going up, and we thought what kind of bike route is this?  Not our kind!  And indeed, later in the day, as it was taking us way off into isolated territory, we abandoned it, and took a route that was more direct, PA 435, south.  But there were still no prospects of a place to stay. Everyone we asked confirmed it.  None. Nothing. Nada. And it wasn’t even bush territory, like the miles and miles of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I remember well. Here there were houses all along the way, some businesses, eateries, but no lodging within the limits of our cycling power.

I was already plotting to ask at some house if we could sleep in their garage when we saw some ATVers up ahead — a dad, his grandson, and a friend, we later found out.  We decided to stop and talk with them. They confirmed there was no place anywhere near, but when I asked about sleeping in a garage, Bob said, with great sweetness and generosity, “You can sleep in my garage.”  Turns out he lived not far away, and we cycled there are were set to settle in, when he suggested another option, that he could drive us two exits down the Interstate (about 15 miles, 2+ hours for us, and not in our bones that day), to a motel in Mt. Pocono.  Might be better for everyone. The huge, black, shiny, new 4-wheel drive pick-up was an experience in itself!  (You should have seen the skeptical look on Bob’s wife’s face when we showed up, which turned friendly when she learned a bit more about us, and the beautiful light at dusk and the flourishing garden with a high deer fence around it…an oasis.) Turns out that Mt. Pocono is a rough town, with a casino and recent drug shootings, so Bob insisted we stay on the edge of town.

A short while later we were in the Comfort Inn, which had practically everything we needed. We’d called Lisl with our pickle and she was greatly helpful plotting routes and places to stay for the next while. The iPhone is great, but small and hard to flip pages to do research, at least at my level of ability. And when you look for ‘nearby’ places, they mean for cars, not bikes!!  Thanks, Lisl!!

We headed out early the next morning, taking route 940 to 115 to 903 into Jim Thorpe. Remember Thorpe, the remarkable Indian athlete? It was Bob who had recommended Jim Thorpe as a village worth a visit, and on our general route.  (A big thanks to him for many things.) Well, it turns out that JT was born in Oklahoma!  It was his father, Black Hawk, the Sac and Fox Indian Chief, who urged Jim to go to the Indian Academy at Carlisle, PA, where he began to excel at about everything he put his hand too.  He swept the 1912 Olympics in Sweden in track and field, and played just about every sport there is.  Amazing.

We learned this at the memorial to him, located about half way along a 3 mile long, in part 8% grade steep, hill down into the town.  But that was after plenty of ups, although not such precipitous ones as in previous days.  We could have gone on a few more miles, but the town was charming, and there was no where to go but up, and we decided to spend our rest day here.  Have a look at the town, its history, the centrally located Inn we chose, and you might even make it a destination if you come this way. You can read the story of how the town and the athlete came together.  It’s an interesting one of shared (mis)fortunes.

So that brings us up to present.  Just a few impressions I still want to share.  (There are countless details, moments, reflections, that will remain unexpressed… just too much to put you through, and me!  But isn’t that true of every day, if we take the time to be present, a bit reflective, curious and open?)

I remember the feeling of leaving the Adirondack Park, which had been our home for a number of days:  how its quiet, its cool dark woods, dappled light, numerous moosey marshes, looney lakes, ‘camps’ of all kinds, woods of White Pine, Larch, Spruce, Beech, gave way to the rolling, open countryside of the Catskills — with fields of sunflowers and grain; cows and fences again (there had been none in the Adirondacks); stands of pumpkins and local apples, and then the horses and buggies of the Amish.  Man, do they click right along!

The floods, aftermath of hurricanes, that wiped away houses, parks, whole towns.  Oh my.

We came to appreciate the Stewart’s shops where we enjoyed local ice cream, generally friendly and helpful staff, maps.  Only in NY and Vermont.

And Larry, one of  those folks showing up in time of need, in Janesville, who saw us struggling at roadside with a jammed chain, and stuck with us ’til he and Mike got it functional again. We and he loved his tank top that boasted, “I have the right to BARE arms.” 🙂  given to him by his wife and teen-aged daughter!  (He votes democratic!)

Then the surprising gem of a museum in Canajoharie. Go there if you possibly can.  Among many others, the Maurice Prendergast painting, On the Beach, and the Henry Ward Ranger, Through the Leaves, left deep impressions on our souls.  And learning about the progressive practices (classical piano to work to, classes at lunch…), of the early Beechnut factory was surprising and inspiring.

People and their dogs, their cars!  The ’55 Ford Fairlanes, the old MGs, the big mastiff dog that looked like Mike’s son’s Kong, but sat quietly, not like the other yappy ones, watching us roll by.  The curious interest and comments from all kinds of people.

The overlooks after climbing the hills, in the Catskills, the Poconos; the turning leaves; the expanse of hills and valleys; seemingly quiet places, harboring rich histories and complex stories, personal and political, of settlers, battles, kindness and brutality, mines, farms, towns; ordinary and extraordinary times and lives. The scary level of obesity is also worth a mention.

The pleasure of just us and our bikes, two panniers each, a food bag, first aid and bike tools.  So self-contained, complete, minimalist in a way (though this time I’ve taken along my supplements and good facial care!)  We enjoy our cribbage game each morning, and inquiry most evenings.  Nice routine. There have been carillons in several town, welcoming us at dusk in Malone, chiming through the rain here in Jim Thorpe.  Nourishing for the soul and spirit.

And the birds and animals — a white-tailed deer bounding across the road in front of us, disappearing gracefully into a copse; the Kestrels and Harriers working the fields; Pileated and smaller woodpeckers, flickers; maybe a barred owl?; the stunning and feisty Blue Jays; Great Blue Herons as well; I think I mentioned the gaggles of wild turkeys we saw in the Adirondacks?  that was really fun; wooly bear caterpillers crossing the road, telling of fall…ducks and geese, vultures and hawks, dragonflies and loads of Monarchs… the abundance and elegance of life.

How good it is to cycle along a river, the general tendency is downhill, and gentle!  We’ve had time on the Delaware, the Lackawanna, and probably will connect with the Susquehanna in the coming days.

Jill Schroder is the author of BECOMING: Journeying Toward Authenticity.  BECOMING is an invitation for self-reflection, and to mine our memorable moments for insights, meaning, and growth.  Check the website for a sample chapter, or see the reviews to get a flavor for the volume.  Your feedback is most welcome.

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