It has been more than a week since my son and I completed the Cycle The Erie Canal bicycle ride produced by Parks and Trails New York and directed by April and Al. It was my eighth time on the ride and Eric’s fifth. Every ride has been different and each one full of great memories.
This year, there were several things that were especially memorable. In particular, the Storm at Seneca Falls and the Bike Corral at Fort Stanwix. We noticed one more very significant thing about the trail itself. During the time since our previous ride in 2019 and the hiatus of 2020, there have been significant additions to the trail.
There Are Many Trail Improvements
The ride through Syracuse, the ride into Little Falls, the ride out of Canajoharie, and the ride into Albany in particular featured new sections of trail that make the ride safer and more enjoyable. It takes years to negotiate rights of way and funding for these improvements. That is why I am a member and supporter of Parks and Trails New York, the advocacy organization that makes it happen.
The new riders have missed the transformation. The ride into Syracuse was all on-road as was the ride out of the city. The ride out of Syracuse also challenged riders with steep uphill grades. The same was true of the ride into Little Falls and the ride out of Canajoharie, featuring hills and roads. The trail additions make it much more feasible for less experienced riders to experience the trail and to succeed.
The outfall from the pandemic required some changes in camping venues. At Fairport, Seneca Falls, and Rome, we camped at unfamiliar places, but they were all excellent. The logistics at Rome were complex and well planned.
We Used Some New Campgrounds
Our usual campground in Rome at Fort Stanwix was closed and we were bused to Oneida Lake and Verona Beach State Park. Our bikes were kept safely within the gates of Fort Stanwix. There were shuttles from the camp site to Sylvan Beach where we enjoyed restaurants, ice cream, a car show, and the start of the annual Sylvan Beach Pirate Weekend, all enjoyable.
There was much more going on at the Rome stop. Box breakfasts were provided at Verona Beach so that we could eat during the bus ride back to Rome to fetch our bicycles. Our bicycles were organized into pods with catchy names so that it was easy to find them.
It Was A Memorable Ride
The ride itself was excellent. We were fortunate that we only rode in the rain in the morning on one day. The forecasts were for rain most of the week. Instead we had clouds and cooler weather that was perfect for riding. The sun made several appearances that were too brief, but that did not detract from the personal achievements of most of the riders in completing the nearly 400 mile ride.
When I did my day tours in the Memphis area, Josh at the Peddler Electric Bike Shop on South Main Street introduced me to a useful Strava feature. I have been a Strava member for several years and long ago upgraded to a premium membership since I liked it so well. I was not aware of the heat map feature.
Heat maps are used to graphically display data as an aid to interpreting it and turning it into actionable information. The idea is simple. Large amounts of data are aggregated and plotted on a graph or a map as in the case of the Strava heat map. The places were the data density is low are shown in a cool color and as the density increases the colors get warmer. The the coolest color of the Strava heat map is blue and the colors get warmer through purple, red, yellow, and white, which is the hottest.
The Strava heat map carries a copyright, so I can’t show screen shots. You can follow along by going to https://www.strava.com/heatmap. To see only bicycle traffic, you need to use the Global Heatmap control panel to select the cycling icon as the Activity Type. You will see a dark outline of the United States with areas of heat map showing the density of bicycle traffic in every corner of the country. You can pan to see other countries and you can zoom to get more detail. The detail goes down to the street level, but only if you are a registered Strava member.
Josh showed the area around Memphis to me. It is clear that most of the bicycle traffic is east of downtown. I was hoping to ride into Mississippi, but Josh explained that there is no easy way to get there and that is indicated in the map. You can see some light activity going north, but the density of the traffic is much lighter.
As you pan toward the east coast, you can pick out the C&O and GAP trails going from Washington DC to Pittsburgh. The sharpness and the whiteness of the heat map trace validates my opinion that the route is one of the best in the country. If you pan up into Canada, you can see the route around Lac St-Jean, the Veloroute de Bleuets. Panning back to the center of the U.S., there are two routes across Iowa that pop out. Surprisingly, neither is the route of RAGBRAI ( The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa).
Of interest to me is the apparent route in Canada that runs from Toronto along the shore of Lake Ontario and along the St. Lawrence to Quebec City. From there the route seems to cross the St. Lawrence and circle the Atlantic Ocean side of the Gaspe Peninsula. I have read about bicycle tours along that route and wondered about the viability. I may be planning a Canada tour this summer.
The Strava heat map is another tool for tour planning. For the Canada tour I would of course supplement the heat map information with detailed route planning, including camping and lodging along the way. The heat map is a good way to get started, identifying the best possibilities by studying the most popular choices of other cyclists.
My wife went to Memphis to play in a bridge tournament and I tagged along to bicycle and to do some street photography. During our week in Memphis I did three rides on a bicycle that I rented from the Peddler Electric Bike Shop located on south Main Street in Memphis. Josh at bike shop was very helpful in recommending routes. My rental was a Trek 7.3 FX hybrid. It is a decent low-end bicycle that is light and reliable enough for day trips.
My rides totaled
about 120 miles. The first was a short 15 miles along the Mississippi River due
to my needing to drive to the airport to pick up my lost luggage in the
morning. My next was a 58 mile ride that took me east on Madison Street to pick
up the Shelby
Farms Greenline trail. I rode the trail and took an excursion through the
park. I picked up the Germantown Greenway along the Wolf River and rode to the
eastern trail head.
The most fun ride was the last one of about 48 miles that took me north toward the Meeman Shelby State Park. The Strava route was given to me by Josh at the bike shop. The route was helpful, but in the future I would use a phone mount on the handlebars. I was stopping frequently to check the route on my phone, keep my bearings and avoid missing a turn.
The route began at
the hotel on Main Street and ran north along the river, using the same trail
that I explored on my first day in Memphis. At the end of the trail I hopped
onto a local road that took me past a small airport. The route wound through a
poor residential neighborhood where I was
chased by a dog. Usually they go after your ankles, but this dummy
decided to try to cut in front of me. He got a fine tire burn on his rear
quarter before squealing and running away. He will either change his tactics in
the future or stop chasing bicycles.
A little later down
another block three children delighted in chasing me. I wasn’t going very fast
and they had fun racing with me. We came to the imaginary line drawn by their
parents and they suddenly dropped behind and stopped. I waved and said goodbye.
After leaving the neighborhood, I rode through countryside with a mix of farms and residences. Both varied significantly in quality. There were both shacks and gated estates. I wanted a grocery store or something where I could purchase a snack. I brought a package of cookies, but longed for something more. I passed two places that were closed and boarded, a possible testament to the economic heath of the Memphis area.
The ride was enjoyable and the rolling countryside was fun to ride. The roads were in great condition and the traffic was very light, especially since it was a Saturday in late March. I was watching the clock, the mileage, and the weather since rain was forecast for the late afternoon. After studying the route during one stop, I decided that it would be prudent to take an alternate route to cut my ride short by a few miles. A little later that turned out to be a good decision.
With about twenty miles to go I discovered the Shelby Forest General Store. The place was hopping and all of the guys wore baseball caps. Everybody was friendly in the nicest way and happy to strike a conversation if you looked at all interesting. Of course, my cycling gear including my bright green jacket made me stand out. After I ordered a hamburger and placed my name on the order, everybody who worked there remembered me as “Ed”.
After my food stop I rode another five miles or so and had a flat tire. I was very happy that I carried a tire repair kit and necessary tools. The amber glass shard causing the flat was easy to find. I got the tube out of the tire and prepared it for the vulcanizing cement. My little tube of vulcanizing goop had never been opened before. I pierced the seal and began to squeeze. Nothing came out. I rolled up the tube and found it empty.
When I began to work on the bike I had noticed a truck pull into the driveway next to the patch of grass where I was working and drive to the barn about fifty yards from the entrance. I decided to walk down there and ask for some of the vulcanizing cement. The entrance to the barn was strewn with beer cans and cigarette butts. One guy was standing near the door smoking. Another guy came out and approached me. He was filthy and had greasy smudges on his face. We spent some time defining terms because I couldn’t remember what to call the vulcanizing cement.
“I need some of that glue stuff to repair a tire,” said I.
“What stuff? What are you gluing?”
“I have a flat tire and I’m trying to patch it.”
“Oh. Wait here.”
He disappeared inside for a while and came out with a can of vulcanizing cement.
“Don’t use much.
Bring it back when you’re done.”
It worked fine and a got the tube patched. I walked back down to the barn to return the can. This time there was nobody outside. I called out something stupid like, “Sir? I brought your can back.” Reluctantly, I entered the barn to find the two of them “praying” over the engine of a beat up wreck of a car. I handed the can to the guy and left quickly.
Back on the road I
pedaled for about five minutes and felt rain drops. I had ridden through a
couple of passing squalls, but this rain felt different because the sky was
much darker. I stopped and put on my rain jacket over my cycling jacket.
It rained heavily
during the final fifteen miles of the ride. I didn’t care that it was raining.
I was satisfied with myself since I was prepared to fix the tire and to protect
myself from the rain.
This was the first test of my rain jacket and I found that it is the best rain jacket I have ever owned. It’s a Marmot jacket that cost a couple hundred dollars. It rained hard, but I was only getting soaked below the waist where the jacket didn’t cover me. To my good fortune, the wind had shifted and I was riding a brisk tailwind.
I dropped the bike at the shop and wasted no time getting out of there when I saw a trolley in front of the store. That is the spot where they turn around and head back to the hotel. Unfortunately, the trolley engineer was not ready to head back and I stood at the stop freezing before he finally started toward me. Thankfully, the trolley was heated and I found a seat right above one of the heaters.
At the hotel I found out how cold I was. I stripped down out of my wet gear and got into bed under the covers. After a while I realized that my fingers were numb and not responding quickly enough. I got up and wrapped my hands in a wet, warm towel. It didn’t take long for my fingers to begin to tingle as normal blood circulation returned. A warm show completed my recovery. I realized that if I didn’t have the rain jacket I might have suffered hypothermia.
Overall, I found
Memphis to be a bicycle friendly city. My rides were all memorable. There are
some crazy busy streets, but there are also alternatives with less traffic to
get you where you are going on a bicycle. Josh at the bike shop gave me a
Memphis & Shelby County Bike Map that is available for free online and from
visitor centers around town.
These are some other
great places that my wife and I enjoyed: Graceland, Sun Records, the Bass Pro
Shops pyramid, the Peabody Hotel duck march, Huey’s for great hamburgers,
Westy’s for great pub food, and B.B. King’s Blues Club for the best ribs that
we had in Memphis. Be sure to ride the trolley on Main Street. Beale Street and
Mud Island Park are great places to just hang out.