The European Capitals Tour 2014

The European Capitals Tour 2014 – 9 days on the Road with KVC
This year a record 10 participants participated in the KVC weeklong ride – a journey that traversed a range of exotic European capitals, aka central New York State. We exited Kingston on July 26 via the Wolfe Island ferry under overcast skies, ready for adventure, fun and physical challenge in a foreign land – and found plenty of all the above! From thrilling mountain climbs to ferocious storms, we saw it all….
Day 1 took us across the two ferries, through Watertown, and on quiet roads to the village of Copenhagen (83 km). The day was overcast, but improved steadily as it progressed, and we were greeted by a town alive with the annual Firefigher’s Festival. There being no campground, Hal had arranged accommodation for the campers at the local school.  The caretaker and groundskeeper welcomed us like old friends, as they opened the school for our showers, and pointed us to a grassy field for camping. We were treated in the evening to the Firefighter’s parade – a short but spirited event featuring all the squads from the local counties, the highlight of which was the Belgian horse-drawn patrol. The Veloists, perched outside Jacobs Place (the only restaurant in town) were probably the most animated of all the spectators, and Graham in particular was very good at snagging the candy being thrown to the crowd. Margaret and Maureen ended up with lovely mardi gras beads, which draped over their panniers as they rode on through the week. Other than that, the town was remarkable only for its Stewart’s variety store and gas bar, which was all things to us: washroom, ice cream stand, beer outlet, and breakfast cafe.
Day 2 started late due to lingering thundershowers that had awakened us all about 4AM and persisted as light rain until nearly 9AM. It was a hilly day, with only a few sprinkles of rain – but a LONG stretch on the unpaved and hilly state route 45. When we finally hit the paved highway again, a roadside diner called the Gathering Place emerged like an oasis in the desert. It was fabulous. We were rewarded after that with an easy ride, tailwinds all the way down to route 69, which took us into Rome. The campers stayed under the cover of a large pavilion at Erie Canal Village, an interesting little attraction beside the Erie Canal and the Erie Canal trail. The day totalled just over 100km.
Day 3 started with some rain as we all met up at the Denney’s in the center of town. Much of the day was spent on the somewhat muddy and puddle-filled Erie Canal bike path, leading us to call out the motto, Keep Calm and Pedal On (or equally appropriate, Keep Calm and Puddle On). The trail guided us to the town of Utica and the Saranac Brewery, where we left the bikes under cover from the ensuing showers and enjoyed a brewery tour complete with free beers in the “pub” at the end. A good and educational time was had by all. We then proceeded under overcast skies to the town of Ilion, named for the Greek island and Athens suburb (total distance 55km). The campers again found shelter from the rain under a pavilion, this time at the marina campground, and met up with the rest of the group for an Italian dinner at the Sorrento Italian restaurant.
Day 4, and finally some serious sunshine. Again we followed the Erie Canalway Trail for part of the day, but opted for the parallel Route 5S most of the way. It was a rolling, beautiful highway with amazing views of the river valley. After the required afternoon ice cream stop, we started our final 15 km ride to Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Amsterdam, where the majority of the group were to spend the next two nights. This journey was memorable for Switzer Hill Road – a brutal ascent none of us will soon forget. This climb gave Wayne a crunched derailer which made the rest of the distance to the college precarious. Nonetheless we all made it, and were greeted as celebrity guests by the College President and the Director of Student Life. Our main man Coy took care of us at the residence hall, and drove us all in his air-conditioned mini-bus to the nearby town of Johnstown where we celebrated our 75km day with beer and dinner at Applebee’s. Moe joined us for this one final meal, as she was due to head back to Kingston with her friend Don the next day.
Day 5 Hal gave us a break – a well needed rest day.  The group split up, with 4 riding to Amsterdam centre, 3 riding back to Johnstown, and Bob & Margaret off hiking with Bob’s daughter, Rebecca. Those at the College had a smorgasbord feast that evening – way too much food and beer, but a great game of cards for entertainment.
Day 6 we departed the College and headed for Lake Pleasant. We met an affable old gentleman who was working in the NY Information Center at the Junction of Hwys 29 & 30 where we were to meet Margaret & Robert.   He provided lots of local lore, and supplied us with maps. Hal asked him, tongue in cheek, if the route to Lake Pleasant was flat. The old guy had a great laugh and replied, “Yeah, that’s why they call them the Adirondack Mountains – because they’re flat!”. The old guy was right – they weren’t flat. We later endured a ride in a thunderstorm as we valiantly tried to make it to our lunch spot at Sport Island – after which we were all thoroughly drenched – and then rode mostly uphill to our final destination at Lake Pleasant. It was over 100 km in the end – and we were all dog tired. Those beers at Logan’s Pub &Grill that evening tasted pretty good.
Day 7 was a generally uneventful day (read sunny, not too hilly, no missed turns) which saw us ride 107 km to our destination at the North Country Manor B&B in Boonville. Our plan for the night was to have the campers stay on the grounds of the B&B ($20 for use of shower, washroom and breakfast) while the indoor folks stayed in the inn. Shortly after our arrival in Boonville we met a couple who were crossing the US on a tandem bike. They were close to completing their journey, with what they estimated to be about 500 miles left to reach Bar Harbour, ME. We invited the couple to join us rather than trekking out to the closest campground, so we all spent the next 12 hours or so together at this beautiful, historic inn set in the rolling hills of eastern New York.
Day 8 took us across lovely, rolling terrain to the town of Lowville, which as one might expect, sits at the bottom of a deep valley. After our coffee break, we braved the long ascent out of the valley and up onto the high plain. Not long after we hit the level ground we noticed dark clouds. These soon turned into a violent storm – one most of us have not seen the likes of in Ontario or otherwise. The group ended up taking shelter in 3 different barns and/or abandoned houses along the way, and we all watched while winds estimated at well over 100 km/hour whipped through the countryside, along with heavy rain and hail. The group closest to the centre of the storm was holed up for over 2 hours. Luckily the farm of our choice sold cheese curds, so that even in the absence of the owner, we were able to self serve, and we had lots of food to finish up. The rest of the day seemed comparatively calm and quiet, and found us in Watertown by about 5 PM. Total riding that day was just over 80 km.
Finally, Day 9 – Watertown to Kingston (70 km after getting off track a few times). There were rumbles of thunder, the leader got lost from the start, and Margaret had 4 flats – but other than that, we all made it back to Cape Vincent for our final meal together at Captain Jack’s. The day was perhaps symbolic of the trip – some ups, some downs; beautiful scenery; some missed turns; threat of rain;  mechanical issues; good food; and most importantly, good company to share it all with. One way or another, we all made it back to Kingston and to our own start points – with a great adventure under our belts.
Lessons learned:  We discovered some interesting things along the way…
– Google maps cannot be trusted to indicate when roads are paved or not, if the pitch is flat or intensely steep. Local knowledge is invaluable
– Diners provide voluminous servings of good honest food at low cost; “restaurants”, or even “restaurant-taverns” are priced more like what we are used to in Kingston, with slightly more upscale menu offerings
– Ice cream in New York is plentiful – and the servings are HUUUUGE. Be careful what you wish for!

Written by Rosemary Lysaght

For pictures, see gallery