My New York Intrastate Bicycle Tour of 1981

Don Brouillette

The touring bike
The Super LaTour loaded for travel

Reference Maps
Maps and reference booklets packed into the bike panniers

Starting Point: Elmira, NY
Starting Point: Water Street

Heading north onto Ridge Road
Looking north on Ridge Road

Ridge Road views

near Hector
Seneca Lake
Lodi sign
Sampson State Park
Sunset over Seneca Lake

The Preparation

From elementary school age, I would unfold road maps of New England and Quebec and scatter them throughout the living room floor. I envisioned riding a bicycle to Canada. I had marked out what appeared to be interesting, less traveled, routes suitable for a kid on a bicycle.

During that time, I would pedal a heavy 2 speed Columbia bicycle from my home in Aldenville through 4 or 5 miles to my grandparents home in Holyoke. More than once, my father would have to pick up his son who was stranded in places like Northampton or Indian Orchard, a good distance from my home. By the time I got to high school the dream to do a long distance bicycle tour became dormant, yet not forgotten.

In 1980, the dreams of my youth were awakened. I worked in place of a pharmacist colleague in Lake Placid for 6 months as he traveled by bicycle from Maine to California with a buddy. So, in 1981 I was resolved to make a bicycle trip of my own, albeit on a much smaller scale, alone. I bought a Schwinn Super LaTour a 12 speed light weight touring bike. At that time the Schwinn name was synonymous with quality bicycles. From March through August 1981, I trained to get myself in shape for a bike trip to go across New York. I planned to travel through the Adirondacks and possibly reach Quebec. As is the case today though, I would get calls because someone, somewhere, wanted a pharmacist. So I altered my trip to check out the Grand Union Pharmacy over a weekend layover in Ticonderoga, NY. In retrospect, the original plans should not have been altered!

Several "practice runs" were made from Elmira to Watkins Glen. The Super LaTour was loaded up with panniers loaded with food, clothing, tent, and sleeping bag. The front pannier had maps, guide books and high energy food. By August, a 50 mile per day bicycle trip felt comfortable. Using the same methods from my youth, I studied road maps, looking for roads with low traffic volume or wide comfortable shoulders. A great resource was a bicycle touring map of the Adirondacks, now out print, published by the New York Department of Transportation.

Day 1: Elmira, NY to Sampson State Park Approx. distance: 55 miles

Map of first dayMap 1: Elmira to Sampson Beach

Early on Sunday morning of August 23rd, I began the trek from my apartment on Water Street in Elmira NY. What a great day it was to start! By 6AM, I was on my way, pedaling north by Elmira Correctional Facility. Prison guards were going in to report for day duty. I would pass another maximum security prison on my last day of tour. The next landmark was the village of Horseheads, NY, the bedroom community of Elmira. The first climb of the trip was over Ridge Road, a county road crossing farm lands.

One large advantage in traveling on a bicycle is the ability to enjoy views inaccessible in a fast motor vehicle. Even with windows open in a car, one cannot enjoy the aromas of flowers, pine, and other natural smells. Going at blazing speeds, one cannot see minute details outside. Sounds of tires and internal combustion engines mask the songs of birds.

Crossing route 224 at Odessa, I continued north on small rural roads until reaching 414 near Hector, NY. Other than one less than pleasant encounter with a canine, the day's ride went smoothly. The dog incident prompted me to hold my tire pump as a weapon. That action, which damaged my pump, would haunt me on Day 2. Views of Seneca Lake became visible on the left, usually beyond vineyards. Fresh peaches and plums, great for biking, were available at fruit stands along 414 and 96A.

The Finger Lakes region of New York with rolling hills, vineyards and lakes makes for great bicycle touring.

At Lodi, I pedaled north on route 96A until reaching Sampson State Park. The first day's travel was the easiest, with gentile climbs and refreshing breezes from the lake. Sampson State Park in on the east side of Seneca Lake in the town of Romulus. The park features easy access to Seneca Lake. There, a friend waited for me to help set up camp on my first day.

Day two takes me to Fair Haven.
The ride on day 2 would be more challenging