We woke up in a fog, both literally and figuratively, but by 7:30 AM I’d flicked about 30 loogie-like yellow slugs off of the tent and its underlying footprint, packed up, and pedaled out. We rode a little ways into the town of Medina, where we met a cycling couple who were riding from Albany to “The Falls,” but I didn’t get chat long because I was on a mission to find a public restroom. They were traveling much lighter than I, so even though I suggested we might see each other again in Niagara, I figured they’d probably toast me in speed. Either way, I was determined to make it there and see the falls from the Canadian side.
At a breakfast chain shop a little ways out of town, I had a rest stop and a cup of coffee to go with my first PB&J for the day. A few guys wearing neon safety vests hopped ot of a construction vehicle and came over to talk to me. They couldn’t believe that I would ride alone, although as usual, I gestured towards the sleeping Tunes and maintained that I was, in fact, not alone at all. We eat together, she sleeps on top of me every night, we walk, ride, and take water breaks together, I play games with her every day (fetch or peekaboo with her squeaky raccoon), I keep her clean and tidy, pick up after her, laugh at all the silly things she does, and enjoy her snuggles, puppy kisses, and company. I wonder if riding really alone would be kind of boring, although plenty of people come up and talk to me even before they see Tunes in her carrier, so I imagine it would still be a social activity. Still, I’m glad she’s such a fantastic travel companion.
By 9, the fog had burned off and it was a gorgeous day, but it was predicted to get cloudy by the late afternoon. I’d never been to Niagara Falls before, and I was excited for this big landmark– especially because my route included a 30ish mile stint into Canada, where I had also never been. I was determined to make it while the weather was good, as the next two or three days were supposed to involve miserable amounts of rain. I hardly slowed my pace when screens of canal bugs clouded the path and adhered to my sticky sunblocked face like I was a sheet of fly paper. I was racing the clouds to the Falls, and the flat, mostly smooth rolled stone dust and gravel made it pretty easy riding, and I was stoked that the route had included these 90 miles of glorious rail-trails alongside these very small towns. The village of Gasport’s painted welcome sign read: “Population: Just Right.”
Along the way, I rode through a town in which a 12 year old blonde-haired white boy sauntered down the main street in a hot pink t-shirt shirt and khaki shorts sagged and strategically belted to reveal his entire gray-undie-clad rear end. A recently popular rap song tinnily blared from a cell phone somewhere on his person. In his hand, he casually gripped a shining silver BB or cap gun. I was momentarily stunned and I circled back around, thinking that I might ask his permission to take his photograph, but I never did. I didn’t know how to explain to him why his actions were potentially fatal, but because of his skin color, he’d probably survive his walk. Just last year, Tamir Rice wasn’t even a teenager yet when he was killed on November 22 in a Cleveland, Ohio park. From The Daily Beast: “The 12-year-old boy was shot by a police officer after brandishing what turned out to be a BB gun. A call made to police beforehand described Rice as “a guy with a pistol” on a swing set, but said it was “probably fake.” When officers arrived at the scene, they say Rice reached for his toy, though did not point it at them, prompting a first-year policeman to fire two shots at Rice from a short distance.”
A little under 10 miles of my route went through the Tuscarora Indian reservation. There were some nice homes and pretty areas, but what defined the region were the multitude of “smoke shacks” hawking cartons of low-priced cigarettes and beer, marketed with images of iconic warrior Native men in feathered headdresses. I could practically smell the tobacco in the air. Two overweight shirtless preteen boys shouted at me from the trampoline on the lawn in front of their boarded-up trailer, “What up, punk?” My smile and wave were met with a hostile glare.
I cleared the reservation and came to a big intersection where my map intructed me to take the first ramp towards Canada, but intstead, I saw orange barrels barricading the bridge, and a detour sign that pointed towards the highway, where bicycling was definitely a no-no.
“How long as that ramp been closed?” I asked a couple of women in scrubs lunching at an outdoor picnic table at a medical services building just across the street from my would-be turn. “Ohhhh, gee, quite a while now. Hm, yeah, I don’t know how to get around it without taking the highway.”
I consulted my phone’s GPS to see if it showed an alternate route, but it insisted that highway ramp would be fine. Then I checked the Adventure Cycling website for map addenda, but there wasn’t anything noted. I thought this was kind of too big of a deal to not have any notes about, so I tried to check their temporary road closure forum, but it sent me to a page that asked me to download an app to access the forum, which seemed an obstreperous system, so I went old school and called ACA to see if I really had to double back or miss the Canadian side all together. Melissa in the mapping department said she hadn’t heard of any road closures near Niagara, so she’d look into it and call me back. It was lunchtime by then, so I got fancy and had a peanut butter banana mini bagel with some trail mix. As I inhaled the last bite, vowing that tomorrow I’d break it up and use my little packet of almond butter instead of peeb’, I got a callback with confirmation that I could head south on the NY side and cross into Canada at Rainbow Bridge, missing several miles of bike path on the CA side. Good enough. The route there was great anyway, with a dedicated and paved bike road, complete with lane divider lines and a barrier between the car route. But best of all were the cliffside views of the bright blue Niagara River.
I cruised along with the radio on a fun rock n’ roll station, and in between the jingling ads conflating love with new cars and lawyers all but promising to get you out of a DUI conviction, a weather report cauht my attention. The announcer said that the high temperature for tomorrow would be 17º and I half-flinched before remembering that I was tuned into a Toronto station and they were smart and using the metric system like most of the world. But in the next breath, he said that there would be nearly two inches of rain falling. It was clear that I’d reached the border!
Before I busted out my passport, I took a spin around the NY side of the falls, and soon realized I was being photographed by all of the other camera-wielding tourists. One photog introduced herself, and she was a charming woman from the South of England who resembled a tattooed Kate Winslet. She told me she’d studied photography in college, which was lucky for me! I had her take a few shots so I didn’t have to unpack the selfie stick my sister had given me for Christmas.
It was a warm day, so Tunes was happy to hunker down in her dogpod and drink a lot of water for the most part, especially when we got stuck in traffic going over the Rainbow Bridge to customs.
Once on the Canadian side, the long observation walkway was packed with people, and we walked down the lane, talking to lots and lots of people. We covered maybe one mile of sidewalk in an hour, but met many lovely people who were enamored of Petunia and intrigued by my adventurous set up. I stopped to pose for some photos with passersby, and had longer chats with other travelers and cyclists and folks who were genuinely curious about this adorable dog on a bicycle and her human. One Canadian woman who stopped to talk said she’d done a cross-country ride, “but we had a support vehichle. I’m too old to do it like you are. Plus, on the Canadian side, there is so much empty space– the truck had to go a long distance to bring us food and water sometimes. I wish I could go like you, but I’m getting too old, it feels too hard.” I laughed and told her I was feeling older and rougher since my last trip, but she knew better and shook her head, “you say that now, but you’ve done two big trips- I would keep going if I were you, as long as you can.” It struck me as immediately true. A few nice folks offered to take a couple of pictures of us as well, and we were happy to return the photographic favor.
Once we passed the commotion of the immediate tourist area, we began following the flat, paved Niagara Recreation Path that paralleled the river as it ran south.
It was a serene ride with one stop for a sandwich and a granola bar, plus I treated myself to a hot cocoa packet mixed in with a day’s-warmed water bottle, and we had plenty of daylight left to hoof it back to our home country. When we got close to the crossing at the Peace Bridge, we met a woman named Lori Dawn and her dog Boomer who told us that just up ahead in Fort Erie was the annual Friendship Festival, a carnival celebrating the good relations between Canada and the United States of America since the end of the War of 1812. There were rides and fried foods and music, and we cruised around a little bit, but I hadn’t exchanged any currency and I thought it would be best to get back to the States to find somewhere to stay for the night, since I’d promised the customs officer that I was only in Canada for the day’s ride-through. So with a little help from folks who clarified the directions to the pedestrian walkway over the Peace Bridge, we crossed the border once again and made our way into Buffalo around 6 in the evening. We’d done it! We’d made our international debut and seen a major landmark on our route, and the timing and the weather couldn’t have been better for it!
In Buffalo, we rode along the riverway and saw lots of folks hanging out, fishing, and I had a good laugh when I said good evening to a couple of women in lawn chairs and one exclaimed, “Well daaaang, you got everything you need, ain’t you? Go on, girl!” “True story!” I called back over my shoulder, because it was.
My bum was starting to feel the heat after an almost 80 mile, dual-country ride, so I checked Warm Showers to see if there were any hosts who might be willing to let me do a last minute stay on their lawn, and lo and behold, a man named Cliff answered my call. In about half an hour, he was welcoming me at the headquarters of Teen Treks, a youth cycling trips program he ran. Not only was there lawn space available, but there was a warm outdoor shower, an indoor restroom in the basement, and a playmate for Petunia– his own 8-month black Lab puppy, Howie. In the heart of a nice neighborhood in the city, it was urban camping at its finest.
Cliff was a joy to talk to– a vivacious liberal with a great sense of humor and imagination, he’d traveled so much of the world on a bicycle (his favorite place was Cuba, which is now on my list of places to ride). He’d also turned his passion into a vocation, leading young people on bicycle tours to share this great way of traveling and learning. As a special treat, he fixed up an amazing chicken dinner with salad greens fresh from his garden, and some tortellini too. It was heavenly– even the little cow got some meat. The air was so comfortable that I slept with the tent door open, and early in the night Howie the puppy bounced over and stuck his nose in to give me a slobbery goodnight kiss.
Between some of the challenging sights I saw, the thrill of riding through Canada and seeing Niagara Falls, hearing the great news about the historic Supreme Court Decisions, and meeting so many neat people while experiencing a bit of bizarre celebrity, it had truly been an epic day.