Bike Tour 2008 - Ups and Downs Tour

Jim and Tom's 12th bike tour


This year's destination was one of the Finger Lakes--Owasco Lake near Auburn, NY. The Finger Lakes of New York look, you guessed it, like the fingers of a hand.  These deep and long glacial lakes offer many forms of recreation and help produce conditions favorable for growing grapes.  The glaciers also sculpted many hills. Our route began with abundant hills in western Pennsylvania's dissected plateau.  Our four-day trip offered the usual pleasures and difficulties of a bicycling trip: discovering new scenery, gliding along under our own power, and meeting friendly or quirky people but we also have to get our aging bodies up the hills and across the miles or deal with inclement weather and technical problems.  We've been lucky that the pleasure to difficulty ratio on our trips has been very much in our favor, partly because of luck and good planning, but the law of averages caught up with us a little bit this time.

Finger Lakes Map  
(Source: Wikipedia)

Overview map

overview map

Day 1: Mercer, PA to Warren, PA
Monday, July 7, 104.8 miles, 8h29m riding time, Avg 12.3 mph, Max 42 mph, 37 hills, 8,300 vertical feet.

day 1 profile

A quirk in the Topo software meant that I produced two profiles for the day.  The one on top shows the first fifth of the ride and the bottom one shows the final four fifths.  The bottom profile has five deep valleys, beginning with Sandy Creek, a tributary of the Allegheny River. The remaining four valleys are places where we crossed the Allegheny River: Franklin, Oil City, Tidioute, and Warren (only the downhill side of the valley is shown).  The profile shows that we rode upstream, because the elevation of the river at Warren is several hundred feet higher than at Franklin and Oil City. Apart from the deep valleys, the profile is very spiky, nicely illustrating the idea of a dissected plateau, a plateau that has been severely eroded so that the relief is sharp. As cyclists, the spikiness meant that we were continually going up or down. Finally, the profile shows that we ended the 100-mile plus ride with a nice 3-mile downhill.

We started at 7:30am with a temperature of 68 degrees.  We rode through some green tunnels where trees completely shade the road and occasionally got dripped on.  


Not much wind, as shown above.


This sign precedes the descent into Sandy Creek valley.  We do the opposite of what the signs says and get into our hardest pedaling gears.


Here's a view from our ascent of Sandy Creek valley.

We take a long, steep downhill into Franklin and ride through the well preserved Victorian era commercial district and stop at Fountain Park, Here we watch a couple dozen 3-year old kids run in random patterns--perhaps understandable to them but not to us. They left tethered together under the guidance of their supervisor.


Thinking about something in front of the namesake of Fountain Park. 

We head out of town and pick up a nice paved bike trail that goes about 10 miles to Oil City.  Franklin and Oil City are trying to reposition themselves as tourist centers focusing on nature trails, oil heritage sites, and Victorian architecture. 


On the trail, with the Allegheny River in the background.

mtn laurel 
It's the tail end of the season for mountain laurel, Pennsylvania's state flower, but we see lots of them.


Oil heritage.

John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln, invested in an oil drilling site along the Allegheny River in the 1860s.  I may be standing on the former site.


This sign on the outskirts of Oil City appears to show a car pursuing a cyclist..


The Allegheny River, with Oil City in the background.

Oil City is where Oil Creek meets the Allegheny River.  Upstream on Oil Creek is where Colonel Edwin L. Drake drilled the first commercially successful oil well on August 27, 1859, in nearby Titusville. Oil City subsequently hosted headquarters for the Pennzoil, Quaker State, and Wolf's Head motor oil companies, but they have all relocated. 

We have a good lunch in Oil City's "The Howling Dog." It has interesting modern art on its walls. There's a Charlie Chaplin plaque across the street in front of a theatre.  The plaque says that Chaplin signed his first movie contract while he was in Oil City.

We climb 500 feet while leaving Oil City and go by some abandoned homes. Oil City's population has halved from 22,000 to 11,000 in recent decades. The homes date to the late 19th century. In those days, through its oil exchange, Oil City controlled the world price of oil for years.

We get on Grandview Road above Oil Creek Valley. It lives up to its name, although it was busy, rough, and had a bad shoulder.  We're now on top of the plateau going through places like Pleasantville and Neiltown.




Cruising along a country road.


Wonder what the story is behind this crumpled mobile home?

We exercise caution while coming down off the plateau because PA 127 is a little wet and rough.


Tom stops and smells the flowers (day lilies).


The bridge across the Allegheny at Tidioute. According to Wikipedia, the name is a Iroquoian word meaning "protrusion of land", referring to a sharp bend in the Allegheny River.

After we get across the river we ascend long and steep Red House Road, our toughest climb of the day.  Tom's bike gets noisy toward rear wheel.


Our route now goes through the Allegheny National Forest.

It's pretty empty in these parts--just the occasional camp (hunting or vacation home).  We have the smooth road more or less to ourselves.  The long downhill into Warren is welcome coming at the end of our century ride. At the Bike World bike shop in Warren they work on Tom's bike to get rid of the irritating noise.

Day 2: Warren, PA to Arcade, NY
Tuesday, July 8, 84.7 miles, 7h00m riding time, Avg 12.1 mph, Max 41 mph, 27 hills, 7,220 vertical feet


Day 2 features another climb up the Allegheny River valley, a descent down to the Allegheny Reservoir, and then we leave the Ohio River watershed and enter the St Lawrence River watershed.  That is, on the first part of our trip water eventually finds its way to the Gulf of Mexico but on the rest of our trip water eventually flows into the North Atlantic.  The highest two-pronged hill in the middle of the profile is called Murder Hill, although we don't know why.

We eat breakfast at a Perkins Restaurant in Warren, start riding at 7:20am with a temperature of 68 degrees with a southwest tailwind. The ride begins with a long, smooth 7-mile climb and we're back on the Appalachian Plateau.  It's mostly forested with the occasional patch of farmland.


On Warren-Olean Road near Scandia.

Past Scania the road gets rougher and narrower, but the descent down to the Allegheny Reservoir is a spectacular 2-mile hill with a 7% grade. The Allegheny Reservoir is along the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania and New York. It was created in 1965 by the construction of the Kinzua Dam.


A banged up sign.


Close up.

Not long after being welcomed to New York we made a super steep ascent of 350 vertical feet on West Perimeter Road (NY 394).  


On our way up the steep hill, we pause to admire a pink flamingo.

At the crest we see three layers of hills.  The descent is steep at first (see picture below) and then becomes more gradual.


steep hill

A topographic view of the hill with the steep ascent and more gradual descent. The contour interval is 50 feet and the pink line separates Pennsylvania from New York.


Marina on the Allegheny Reservoir.

Shortly after seeing the marina, we enter the Allegany Indian Reservation.  According to Wikipedia, the population of the reservation  reservation was 1,099 in 2000 and its primarily occupied by members of the Seneca of the Iroquois, but a smaller number of Cayuga, another Iroquois tribe, also reside there.


Allegheny Reservoir from the Allegany Reservation.



O.J.'s Smokeshop. The relatively high high gas price, by US standards anyway, has stimulated the first oil drilling boom in decades in western PA's oil country.

We leave the Allegheny Reservoir, heading north across I 86 and through farmland before it gets hilly again.  We pick up NY 242 in Napoli, do a 300-foot climb and then roll for 2.5 miles into Little Valley. In the areas where Tom and I usually bike the downhills rarely reach a mile, so the long smooth descent is very enjoyable. We didn't find any restaurants in Little Valley, so we get a deli meal at Brooks Market.  We follow 242 out of town and make a long hot climb up Murder Hill.  The temps are now in the middle 80s and it's muggy..

murder hill

Murder Hill is marked by a red triangle in the bottom center of the map.  The red dashed line is the North Country Trail, which winds it way eventually to near Slippery Rock, PA where I work.

After reaching the crest of Murder Hill we are rewarded with a major downhill into Ellicottville. We follow US 219 north out of Ellicottville and do a major climb.  US 219 has a nice shoulder but it's a little busy so it's nice to get on the less traveled Beaver Meadows Road, NY 240, and Roszyk Hill Road en route to Machias.


Roszyk Hill warrants a warning sign.

It's still hot and muggy, so we enjoy Gatorades and ice cream in Mathias.  Then we pass Lime Lake.  It's about a mile long, and it's a popular place on a warm day.

Lime Lake topo

Machias and Lime Lake. Each black square is a house or cottage. I guess the lake was a nice place to locate the County Infirmary.

After Lime Lake we get on County 36.  It's busy, rough, and narrow; but we stop for a barn picture. 


A barn with a fornicate or vaulted roof. This style of roof was common in the first decade or two of the 20th century.

We are not surprised to see rain to the west--thunderstorms often pop up in the late afternoon on hot days.  We pick up the pace and enjoy a nice long downhill into Arcade. We reach the Arcade Village Motel ten minutes before heavy rain starts. Good timing.

Day 3: Arcade, NY to Naples, NY
Wednesday, July 9, 61.8 miles, 5h10m riding time, Avg 11.9 mph, Max 41 mph, 27 hills, 4,880 vertical feet


On Day 3 we have some setbacks: wet weather for several hours and bike problems. There's an overall downhill trend as seen how the profile slopes downward from left to right, but we still climb almost 5,000 feet by the end of the day.

We have breakfast at Nellie's which is affiliated with our motel. The Arcade Village Motel's motto is "comfort in the country." We wouldn't disagree. Our ide begins at 7:30.  It's 66 degrees, cloudy, with a SSW wind. The roads are wet because of last night's rain. We're on NY 39 headed east and soon begin a 2-mile climb.


Wind farm in the distance near Bliss. Road is still wet and not in the best condition.

Biking conditions improve for us: smooth shoulder, a tail wind picks up a little, the road is drying out, but we see rain to the north.  We reach Griffith Road, enjoy a downhill, reach the bottom, begin to climb, and the trouble starts. Tom's chain comes off, he shifts up to try and get chain back on but the chain wedges between the cassette and spokes, bends the derailleur, and the bike stops. Tom pulls the wheel off, tries to dislodge chain with the two of us pulling, but this doesn't work. Time for plan B. We fit the wheel back on to the frame, I crank the pedals while Tom twists the wheel and we manage to free the chain.  

We then discover that the shifting cable to the cassette has ripped out and the cable cap came off. Tom gets the cap back on and stretches the cable and lock onto the derailleur. Tom gets the wheel back on and discovers the side of one link broke away from chain and is bent so bad the link won't pivot, so we use a chain link puller to replace some links (Tom has a complete tool set). The last link pin is difficult to get in but we manage.

Tom puts the wheel back on but the derailleur is badly bent so Tom bends it back by hand. It will only shift into a few easy pedaling gears. Tom tightens the cable some more.  

No one stops to see if we need help. They just speed by. It took us 2 hours to repair the bike.

When we finish we start riding but 300 feet later it starts to rain. We move under some trees for an hour. Finally some guy in a truck stops to see if we're OK. We tell him at this point we are just waiting for the rain to stop. We decide to ride to Portageville. There we wait in a convenience store for another 1.5 hours before rain stops.  For some reason we never think to take pictures of this calamity. 

We decide to shave 20 miles from our route that includes sections of lovely Letchworth State Park.

We head east out of Portageville on NY 436, start climbing, and on the first hill after the breakdown Tom's chain acts up again, and he bends the derailleur again, works on it some more and resumes the climb.  This turns out to be our toughest climb of the trip--1,000 vertical feet over 3.5 miles. Eventually we reach the top and a 4-mile plus descent into Dansville follows. Once again it's ice cream time, this time at a local drive in..


What we like to see.

We do another long climb on NY 63 en route to Wayland underneath 400- and 500-foot bluffs. Now we have sunny skies and a tail wind, but Tom's brain can only think of how fragile his bike transmission is. We see wind farms and rolling farm country.  We continue on NY 21 past Wayland and ride back roads for the final six miles into Naples. On this section the steep green bluffs rise 600-700 feet above us.


This Goggle Terrain view nicely depicts the bluffs on our route.

The ride ends with a downhill into Naples. There we see a bumper sticker that says "Drive Safely, 90% of All People Are Caused by Accidents."

Day 4: Naples, NY to Auburn, NY
Thursday, July 10, 89 miles, 7h59m riding time, Avg 11.8 mph, Max 38 mph, 17 hills, 5,300 vertical feet

day4 profile

Day 4's profile has a different look: lots of hills in the morning with gently rolling countryside in the afternoon.

After getting up at 6:00am, which is highly unusual for me, we leave the Naples Hotel, cross the street, and enjoy a delicious hippie breakfast at the Grainery. Also present were a bunch of males aged about 60-75 laughing it up and catered by a lone young woman. We started riding at 7:45.  A front had passed through so we enjoyed cool dry air and under  fair weather cumulus clouds and blue skies.  As on the previous two days, our starting point was in a valley, so we soon began climbing on NY 53: 1300 feet over the first 8 miles with almost no downhills. On this climb we see flowers, green hills, a few farms, and raspberry stands.  Tom can no longer use the smallest of his three chainrings. In case you're not familiar with chainrings, the figure below shows an exploded view of a crankset with three chainrings. The smallest ring permits the easiest pedaling.

ta cyclotouriste


We reach the top and glide for 3 miles with a tailwind on a smooth road into Prattsburg. We then head east on a lightly used County 74.and Keuka Lake comes into view.


An erratic--the boulder, not the person; an erratic being a large rock that is not of local origin and has been moved to its location by glacial ice. The porches on the left side of the house face Keuka Lake.  They must spend a lot of time mowing the grass.

We proceed on a 3-mile downhill, a little bumpy, and see 4 cyclists climbing in the other direction--the first riders we've seen on this trip. We arrive in Pultaney, missed a turn, go 2 miles too far and go back to Pultaney. An ultra steep downhill takes us right down to lake, as we squeeze the brake pedals hard the whole way.


There are grapevines at the bottom of the driveway.


Keuka Lake, cumulus clouds, broken fence.


On the wine trail.

Riding along Keuka Lake's West Branch we have nice views of lake between the homes, some with whimsical names. Turning on NY 54A, we eventually arrive at Penn Yan at the northern tip of the lake.  The name is a shortening of "Pennsylvania Yankee."  In Penn Yan we enjoy an alfresco lunch at Lloyd's Limited Pub. The outdoor eating area offers nice views of historic architecture and an occasional Mennonite buggy.  Most of our route has been heavily forested because of rugged topography, but now the land is flatter and more suitable for agriculture, thus the presence of Mennonites.

We leave Penn Yan on Outlet Road. The name derives from Keauka Lake Outlet, which drops about 270 feet as it flows down to Seneca lake. The trend is downhill, but there five uphill climbs as the road snaked around the outlet valley. On the first hill, Tom walks his bike up the last half as cranking too hard caused problems.  On later hills Tom climbs in a serpentine fashion as I ride ahead to watch for oncoming traffic. Once out of the valley we're confronted with a strong headwind of about 15mph.

In Dresden, Tom spots a cycle shop, but their business is motorcycles. This brings to mind a linguistic oddity: people who ride motorcycles are called bikers while people who ride bicycles may be called cyclists but are never called bikers.


Tom reaches a dead end in Dresden, by the shores of Seneca Lake.

After Dresden we're northbound on NY 14--nice shoulder, stiff headwind, and a higher level of traffic. Our route is near the lake for about 13 miles.  On the outskirts of Geneva we find a some nice benches perched above the lake and take a long break.


On the outskirts of Geneva, above Seneca lake.

On our way again, we look for North Street. Tom asks an inebriated man who says "I don't know, I've only lived here a year." The next person we ask helps us. In East Geneva we negotiate a tricky set of turns to West River Road and find ourselves on US 20, a controlled access road. West River Road and US 20 parallel the short Seneca River which drops about 70 feet  in its 12-mile journey from Seneca Lake to Cayuga Lake. West River Road doesn't have much traffic, but sections of it are bumpy or had no shoulder.  The Urban Sun Supermarket in Seneca Falls beckons--we're hot and in need of beverages. I try some "Urban Detox" which claims to remove pollutants from the lungs. Of course we believe everything we read. Tom's beverage makes more modest claim about rehydration.  West River Road turns into Bayard St and ends near Cayuga Lake. Another road takes us to US 20. Passing by Montezuma Marsh and National Wildlife Refuge on US 20 we see a pickup truck parked on the shoulder facing the wrong way while heavy traffic proceeded along, making it a bit tight for us. US 20 crosses the Cayuga and Seneca Canal, which links the two lakes to the Erie Canal.


The Cayuga and Seneca Canal. Follow it north for a several miles and it meets the Erie Canal.

A turn of off US 20 brings us to East River Road where people of modest means enjoy housing along the canal. We take a break at Lock Number 1 in an area called Mud Lock.


Lock Number 1 on the Cayuga and Seneca Canal..

Our next task is to find County 1 in the hamlet of Cayuga. The name had changed but we find it and enjoy bucolic scenes on a smooth road headed east. Then to County 6, where Tom's derailleur breaks. A real downer. The chain gets caught between the spokes and cassette and parts of the derailleur bend and get caught in the spokes and the derailleur falls apart. 


A broken derailleur.

I ride alone the remaining 5 miles to the Springside Inn to pick up Laura and a vehicle. Tom waits 30 minutes for them to return and watches numerous drivers illegally talking on their cell phones. Of all the drivers that pass by, only one stops to see if Tom is OK.

We make it to our 7:45pm dinner reservations at 7:50pm.


Tom and Jim's 12th post tour dinner was at the the Springside Inn in Auburn, NY.


So lots of ups and downs--literally and figuratively. In a literal sense the downs and ups even out--you climb about as much as you go downhill. But the time spent climbing greatly exceeds the time gliding downhill. You wouldn't want it to be too easy. Figuratively, the ups outweighed the downs, but maybe when you reminisce you remember the highs more than the lows? Having said that it's still easy to say that it was a good trip. Sharing experiences in new places with a good friend counts for a lot. I feel myself moving into emotional extravagance here, something I think is uncharacteristic of me, so I had better stop. 

Tom's bike is a Greg Lemond Zurich from 2001, and has a stainless steel frame, which is rare these days. Tom took the bike to Freewheel in Minneapolis and they saw that the frame was bent where the derailleur attached to it. Freewheel bent it back into the correct position, something that couldn't be done with a fiberglass or aluminum frame. After replacing some other parts, the bike is again roadworthy. Tom had no significant problems with it on the Lucky 13 Lakes and Dragonflies Tour in 2009.