May 20: Hudson Valley

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on May 20, 2005]
Greetings from Whitehall, New York, where the Hudson River valley becomes the Lake Champlain valley. I was planning to wait to write until my last day in the US, but I have time now and won't then, so...

I left New Jersey on Thursday the 12th and saw a little bit of the Catskills. The rocks are really beautiful: lots of gneiss and schist. I crossed the Appalachian Trail on Friday at the Bear Mountain bridge.

I didn't have to wait long to meet my first hillbillies: the guy who checked me into my campsite had only three teeth. One of the other campers insisted that I was lying about how far I had bicycled and then demanded that I confirm that I was as "wacked" as he is. "C'mon, say it: you're wacked like me."

The series of flats in my rear tire that I thought I had fixed in Montclair continued, so I stopped in Fishkill to get the rim looked at. (The punctures were occurring on the rim side of the tubes.) The husband-and-wife owners couldn't find the problem, but they did install a new rim band and a "thorn-resistant" (i.e. thick) tube in my size. So far, so good! It probably helps that I'm out of the city, too!

On Saturday I passed through Poughkeepsie, and my friend Anna showed me all around the Vassar campus -- which is more like an arboretum than a shady lawn -- and the art museum where she works. She treated me to lunch in the dining hall, and I felt pretty cool hanging out with the college crowd ... until I learned that Anna's friends had assumed I was her father! Don't get me wrong, her father is a good-looking guy and one of the most influential environmentalists in the state of Minnesota, but he's gotta be 20 years older than me...

In Hyde Park that afternoon, I toured the grounds of FDR's house and would have gone to see Vanderbilt's mansion, but the driveway was dauntingly hilly. Hyde Park would be a nice weekend destination: lots of inexpensive motels, and all the tourist destinations are connected by a walking trail through the gorgeous, forested valley.

On Sunday I went farther than I'd planned, since the campground wanted $30 to let me set up my tent in the rain. Hudson, NY is a nice little town with an old-fashioned main street, like Hudson, Wisconsin but about three times the size, and located on the actual Hudson, and with a more diverse population. I got a room in "The first motel ever converted from a movie theater and located in a small community," according to the plaque outside. The clerk told me that the rates are about to go way up in two weeks; when I asked what the attraction was, she said, "antiques." I hadn't known there was an antique season... I wonder if they have to put blaze-orange vests on anything that's not for sale?

I arrived in Albany on Monday and stayed through Thursday morning with my college friend Eleanor. The Empire Film Festival was in progress, so we attended and cast ballots on several showings of short films from around the world. The best of the bunch was "West Bank Story," a musical about love and hate among feuding falafel vendors.

I got to explore downtown Albany a bit. I was particularly impressed by the Empire State Plaza, although Eleanor tells me it's "a textbook example of totalitarian architecture." I just think it's an efficient use of space: in about the same footprint as the Minneapolis Convention Center, there's a parking ramp, convention center, five government office buildings with plenty of windows, a park (on the roof of the convention center) and a performing-arts hall ("The Egg"). An overpass doubles as a stairway to the State Museum *and* amphitheater seating. Very cool. And the whole plaza looks as good as new, even though it was built before I was born.

The State Museum features the first permanent exhibit about 9/11. I got sucked into a film made by a pair of French brothers who had intended to chronicle a day in the life of NYC firefighters, but instead they got the World Trade Center impacts and collapses. One of the brothers was in the lobby of WTC 1 while bodies were falling from the tower -- each sickening THUMP on the lobby roof made every firefighter wince -- and when WTC 2 was hit, and while WTC 2 collapsed. The smoke was so thick they couldn't see the other tower and didn't know what had happened, but when they stepped outside everything was covered in ash and paper. Fortunately they evacuated the lobby before tower 1 collapsed as well! It's an extraordinary film.

Yesterday I had a very short ride to a campground in the town of Schaghticoke, near Mechanicville. My campsite was right on the edge of a plateau overlooking a stream valley. I swear the sun rose earlier than usual up there: it woke me at 5:30 this morning! I parted company with the Hudson River at Hudson Falls and continued north with the Lake Champlain Canal.

I was getting nervous about crossing the mountains tomorrow, so I gave away about two pounds of clothes to some folks who were having a garage sale. I shouldn't need so many now that summer is really here.

In Fort Ann I met a cyclist named Richard coming the other way. He said he's been on the road for 12 years and hasn't paid to camp in 10... he knows the northeast in detail and knows where he can camp without disturbing anyone. His trailer is custom-built with a heavy steel frame carrying an even heavier load -- including a huge solar panel charging a car battery and an inverter so he can use appliances. No motor on the bike, though; he rides a mountain bike (these being the mountains) for the low gearing. He says he lives on about $20 a day from his disability check... Who says the fun and games have to stop when you lose an eye?

For my part, I got a hotel in Whitehall, and they gave me a discount for arriving by bicycle. I'll be in the Adirondacks for the better part of three days, and I'll reach Montreal on Tuesday and Ottawa on Saturday (a week from tomorrow)! I'll write again from there. --Ben