Bon Ton Roulet: Exploring the Finger Lakes

We enjoyed this afternoon’s thunderstorm from the comfort of wicker chairs on our front porch. With it came a break from the heat. We relaxed, chatted and sipped chardonnay fron Wagner’s, a winery in New York’s Finger Lakes. Two weeks ago saw us relating to a thunderstorm in a very different way. We were on the Bon Ton Roulet tour of the Finger Lakes and midway into the second day’s ride. John had gotten a bit ahead of me and I fell in with two women who rode closer to my speed. As we chatted and made our way up a long hill, we noticed the horizon darkening and lightning flashing in the distance.   The storm’s and our trajectories intersected about 4 miles from Wagner’s, the second rest stop of the day. John had waited for me and we pedaled together through increasingly heavy rain with lightning that was striking ever closer. By the time we reached the winery we were thoroughly soaked. While there we did a wine tasting, picked out a half case which the Bon Ton Roulet sag vehicles would carry back to Cortland for us (very convenient!) and sat out the worst of the storm on the covered deck. Fortified with snacks and having waited an hour, we decided to continue on, even though it was still raining.  The rain let up, but when we arrived at camp, our duffel bags and the things in them had gotten pretty wet.

That was one of two rainy days we encountered on our 7 day trip. The second one was an all-day rain that at times pounded so hard it hurt our skin and made it hard to see. That one overwhelmed our waxed canvas bags and caused some damage to some of  the small electronics we were carrying.  Outside of those two days we were so lucky with the weather. It was sunny, the prior week’s heat wave had passed and the humidity was low.

This trip included several firsts for me. First group tour, first time to combine camping and cycling, first out-of-state tour and the first time I spent 6 consecutive days riding in such hilly terrain. What was that like for me as a novice/intermediate cyclist? It was beautiful, challenging, fun, exhausting, exhilarating and unpleasant all in one trip. Would I do it again? Yes, with at least one change.

The trip was beautiful. Each day’s scenery included wildflowers, lake views, waterfalls, historic towns, wineries. Some involved ice cream stops, very significant when cycling on hot summer days. The cycling was certainly challenging for me. Each day, I did it, though. I climbed the hills, and there were plenty of them,  one so steep it was out of category. I rode through two big storms.

My bike never broke down, I had no flats and I never sagged – though I did have a road-side meltdown one afternoon. It was hot, and after a long climb we were having to pedal downhill because of a strong headwind. I just got overwhelmed emotionally and physically. After a few minutes of rest and cooling down, I picked myself up and went on, aided by John transferring the things in my Saddlesack into his bag and showing me how to draft behind him.  Possibly I could have managed this trip as a solo rider within the group, but it would have been much harder without John’s consistent support each day. No doubt the ride would have been more fun for him if I were a more experienced cyclist, or if I had liked the camping (see below). He never complained and said that he was enjoying the trip, which I am sure he did. Still, I think it had to have been trying at times.

It was fun to meet new people and to share each day’s experiences with John.  We ran into some friends of his from previous rides, Arnie, Jim, Dale, Celeste and Pat. I even bumped into someone I knew from contra dance. We also met an 80+ year old man from Vermont, a guy from Pittsburgh, another from New York and a woman from Ithaca. We enjoyed our camping neighbors, two women from Ohio there with their young adult daughters. It was great seeing the Finger Lakes region from the vantage point of a bicycle. It was fun people and bike-watching.  One favorite was the young father and 5-year-old boy traveling together by tandem. They were both having a great time.  We had a brutal series of hills to climb when leaving Hammondsport, and as I made my way to the top of the last one, the young boy was at the top, calling “You can do it!” I told him I made it because of him and truly his encouragement was a delight.

Our bikes, my ANT and John’s Atlantis, along with their Sackville canvas bags got much attention, some favorable and friendly and some a bit condescending. There were a few others with bikes like ours, and 3 or 4 Bike Fridays. Most riders were on road bikes and the majority of those looked like carbon frames. The day of the all day rain, we saw 30+ people changing flats and the bike repair service ran out of tubes. Our Schwalbe Marathons lived up to their bomb-proof reputation and neither of us had flats all week.

We started in Cortland, and went to Ithaca, Watkins Glen, Hammondsport, Geneva, Skaneateles and back to Cortland. My favorite towns along the way were Ithaca, Hammondsport and Geneva. I’d have loved to spend more time in Seneca Falls, but it was really raining hard when we got there, so we just got some snacks at the rest stop and moved on.

I was impressed with how well everything was organized. The route was well-marked, the cue sheets accurate, the rest stops were well stocked (though I don’t think I will eat a banana again for at least a year) and the wineries we visited were fun. Most of the towns we stopped in were nice places to visit and the roads we cycled on were great, with a few brief exceptions. So what was the unpleasant part?

The camping experience on this trip just didn’t work for me. To begin with, I dreaded the thought of setting up camp in football fields, using port-a-potties, showering in a truck,  and sleeping on a thin camping mattress after riding 50 miles each day. I lobbied for staying at hotels like we did on our self-supported Tour du Shore last year. John agreed to that, though he didn’t really like the idea. He wanted us to be a part of the community that develops during a tour, which we’d be cut off from by staying in hotels.

It turned out that the hotels were surprisingly expensive, with an additional cost each day for our bags to be delivered to the hotel. So we went with a compromise, paying less (but still plenty) for a company called Comfy Campers to set up a tent and provide us with mattress, chairs and towels each day. That sounded good  and I adjusted my expectations accordingly. The result? It didn’t work so well (to go into detail here gets to be too long, but let’s just say the “comfy” part was quite inaccurate) and I wouldn’t do it again.  

I look forward to my next group tour.  My one hesitance is not  because of the cycling but because of the camping. John thinks I would like it better with our own tent that we could set up in a spot of our own choosing. Well, maybe.  I am far from convinced of that but I would be willing to give it a try. Really, though? Give me the tour that goes from one B&B to another.  That I would really look forward to!


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