A ride in my hometown

Wednesday through Saturday last week I was "up home", in upstate NY, near Binghamton (in Upstate NY [i.e. not near NY City] just north of the NY-PA border, in fact not too far from Ithaca). My Mom had rented a cabin in the local state park (Chenango Valley) for that week, and I welcomed that chance to get away somewhere cool, green, and quiet. Despite being not very far from Philly (where I lived at the time), it is always noticably cooler there, which is not so great in winter, but very pleasant at this time of year.

On Friday I went for a 66 mile ride that I found satisfying in many ways. One was that it was the first time I met in person Marshall Lake, a fellow I'd corresponded with for a few months. I'd met him through the Bike Club of Philly mailing list, when he was asking for route suggestions for a ride he and his nephew will be doing from Washington DC to Binghamton (they'll do this next week). I wrote back to him, and we've been trading email every now and then since then. It turned out that on Friday he was in town to attend a family reunion (his hometown is also Binghamton), and since I'd be there as well, we thought this would be a good opportunity to meet and go for a ride together.

Despite having been into biking ever since I was a kid, I have not done all that much biking in my hometown. When I went riding I'd tend to stick to the areas I know, and I never got much out into the country.On my trips back to visit my family I've done very little biking, only going out with my dad every now and then since he's gotten a nice bike. I'd never taken out a map and looked for what might be an interesting route, as I've done so much of recently for rides around Philly. Marshall left the plotting of the route we'd take to me, so this was my opportunity. I collected some of my family's maps and tried to figure out where I wanted to go. Immediately I saw that several of the places that I have fond memories of from my childhood years were not that far from the park, where we'd be starting. So I plotted a route that would cover them.

I met Marshall in the parking lot of the park office 9am Friday, we made our introductions (there was no mistaking who we were, we were the only people there with bikes) and we headed out. It was a sunny day, and it seemed that it might get hot.

The first stop was Cole Park, a county (Broome County) park that I'd been to many times as a kid. I'd spend hours swimming in the lake, paddling around in a rented canoe, playing on the wooden jungle gym (one of the first I'd seen), eating picnic food, watching the 4th of July fireworks. After a bit of reminiscing on my part, we filled our water bottles and headed on. Just after leaving I noticed that my tire looked a bit low on air, to we stopped for me to fill it up.

The next destination was the road I lived on from ages 2 - 14. It was the first time I'd been there for ... gosh, probably close to 10 years. I remembered the huge hills that I'd struggle up as a kid on my old, heavy one-speed, and I laughed. They were a peice of cake on my touring bike, with my adult muscles. I pointed out to Marshall the house of the friendly math teacher that I liked to visit with, the road with the daffodils at the end, the deep dark scary pine woods, the road that the lady who taught me to rollerskate lived on, the house of the people that had the exotic pets (a pair of moutain lions, an ocelot). And I saw my old house, the first trees I climbed, the fields I explored... Somehow everything looked smaller than I remembered.

Then on to the north, following side roads (some of which turned out to be unpaved) to the little village of Greene for lunch. Neither Marhshall nor I were very familiar with this town, so we didn't know where to eat. We chose a place that had a big window so we could watch the bikes as we ate (neither of us had locks). The prices there were astonishingly low: I got a $2 turkey sandwich (includes chips) and three lemonades... From there we headed west, then turned north on an unnamed road. It was unnamed on all my maps (except on one map it had a little 2 on it), but I figured that I'd find it because it was the first major road we crossed, and because it went to the town of Smithville Flats, so I thought there'd be a sign indicating this. Indeed, finding it was not a problem.

Upon arriving in Smithville Flats we turned left (west) onto a little road called Round Pond Road. This road leads to the top end of Whitney Point Lake, a big (5 miles long) man-made lake that my family liked to camp at. This road went perfectly straight, ignoring the terrain, which was hilly. So we'd go up a moderately steep hill, get to the top, go down a steep hill (often getting above 40 mph), then repeat the process. This was getting annoying. Not to mention that it was getting pretty hot. We were making jokes along the lines of "you know it's hot when..." including "you know it's hot when the major sound as you ride is the bikes tires popping the tar bubbles on the road" and "you know it's hot when you welcome a headwind because it cools you down" (both of which happened to us). Going up each hill, we began to think: maybe this one is the last one, then we'll be at the lake... I was better at hills than Marshall, so I'd get to the top, and then sadly report "Darn, yet another hill". Finally, I got to the top and said "I see another hill... but it's far away; I bet the lake is between us and it". And so we went down for a very long time and found the lake at the bottom.

We pulled into Upper Lisle Campgroud, at the top of the lake, for a bathroom/refill water bottles/eat snack stop. Also I changed the tube in the rear tire, since it was getting low again. And then we headed off. We were getting tired with all the hills, and it was hot, so we abandoned most of my plotted route, which went along side roads (which often turned out to be dirt roads), instead taking route 79 back to the little town of Chenango Forks, and a little road from there to the park. Back at the park office, Marshall and I shook hands and parted, he to meet his brother for dinner, and me to the cabin.

I really enjoyed this trip. Partly this was because it gave me a chance to meet Marshall, but there was much more. Part of it was that the route I chose ended up being very nice. Hilly, but scenic. Part of it was that it gave me a better idea of my hometown -- for example, I hadn't realized there were so many dirt roads in Broome County! Part of it was seeing again places that had so much meaning for my childhood. Part of it was going to these places, for the first time ever, by bike. I also impressed my family and friends. When I described the route, and mentioned eating lunch in Greene, they'd say "Oh, and then you took 12 south back to the park, right?" and I'd say "Nope, we went on north and west to Whitney Point". There is a certain thrill about going someplace by bike that you've always been to by car. For example, last year I went on a bike club ride to the Pagoda in Reading. This ride started at a park not too far from Reading, but we still had to go up the mountain, and it gave me a great feeling of satisfaction to get to the top by my own muscle power, after going up so many times in a car.

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