The Bon Ton Roulet, or Why We Bought Dry Bags

This year was our second Bon Ton Roulet tour of New York’s Finger Lakes. As happened last year, the tour interrupted a summer-long drought.  Last year we thought we’d adequately waterproofed our gear, but no, we had not. We realized stronger measures were called for, and bought Sealline bags for our clothes, and Sea to Summit dry sacks for our sleeping bags.

In another change, this year we brought our own tent and camping gear. Last year we went the Comfy Campers route, paying to have a tent put up and taken down each day. The service came with air mattresses, chairs, and towels. While that made our days easier, it also locked us into their choice of camping spots. This year we  bought a roomy Big Agnes 4-person tent. There’s no way 4 people could fit in it, but it was fine for the 2 of us and our bags. Big as it is, we could set it up and break it down in a matter of minutes. And, very importantly, it held up to heavy winds and rain.

John and our bikes next to Big Agnes

It rained just about every night of the 7-day tour,  mostly after we were settled in our tents for the night. We got rain on our layover day in Watkins Glen and more on the last two days of riding. Yes, we got very wet.

This tour attracts 650 cyclists of all varieties and ages. Most, though by no means all, are middle-aged and older, and probably more men than women.  A small number were African-American and Asian – the rest appeared to be Caucasian – probably a pretty typical tour demographic. As to the bikes,  we saw tandems, Bike Fridays, recumbents, 7 or 8 Rivendells, vintage steel bikes, and modern road bikes. I didn’t see another ANT but I figure mine sort of fit in with the Rivendell group. One of the fun things about a bike tour is seeing so many bikes and getting to meet their owners.

Each morning we packed up and loaded our 600+ person village into 3 large trucks, and headed out for the day’s adventure.

The Bon Ton Village

I wasn’t the very best of chroniclers. Ideally I’d have made notes each day. In fact I meant to, but forgetting to pack a notebook sort of interfered with that.  However some memories stand out.

  • Passing this whimsical metal art shop somewhere outside of Cortland:

Metal Creatures

  • The accident outside of Geneva on Day 2:

John was riding just behind the woman who went down face first on railroad tracks as we entered Geneva. Just 2 miles from the end of the day’s trip she caught her tire in tracks that curved to the right, rather than running straight, which is more typical. It was a very hot day, and the portion of the ride after the second rest stop was unshaded, windy,  and very tiring. Many of us were losing it toward the end.

Very likely these adverse conditions contributed to her fall and injury. As I arrived, the woman’s husband was cradling her against him, pressing a cloth against her profusely bleeding forehead.  Though she had lost consciousness, she was alert at that point.

John called 911. The dispatcher proceeded to ask him a zillion questions he couldn’t answer. We gave our location as best as we could, considering we had no idea where we were.

Before long an ambulance arrived. The paramedics assessed her orientation. “What day is it?” they asked her. “I don’t know!” she snapped. “I am on the Bon Ton Roulet ride. I have no idea what day it is.” That’s pretty much the same answer any of us would have given.

We later learned that she was medevaced to Rochester,  treated for a head injury and a dislocated thumb and sent home. She was well enough to post a Facebook message thanking those who helped her. A number of other people fell at the same spot. I heard people talking about it later that day.  No one else had such serious injuries, luckily.

  • Nightly rain storms:

We had some pretty impressive thunderstorms for several nights, the kind that made the tent walls move in and out and create loud thunder claps right overhead. They woke us up but caused no other problems.

  • Beautiful scenery:

Not sure which lake this is

Admiring the view

Watkins Glen State Park

  • Visiting family and friends, making new friends:

My sister lives en route to Cortland, so we stopped at her house on the way up. There for the first time in my life I saw a cat get a bath. I was impressed. My cat would never put up with that.

Cat gets a bath

Her son and his fiance recently bought 5 acres of land with a small house they’re fixing up for year round use. It’s between Watkins Glen and Ithaca, not far from either town, yet in a very isolated spot. No corner grocery or local restaurant here! It’s a beautiful place and they are proudly planning for their future there. We had a quick visit after the tour’s end, as we had a 6 hour drive ahead of us to get home.

We also had dinner with old friends of John’s who live outside Ithaca. It was a great evening, hanging out at the Ithaca Ale House and then getting ice cream at the Purity Ice Cream Shop, both popular local businesses.

By the tour’s end, we’d made some new friends and had time to catch up with John’s cycle touring friends from 20 years ago, whom we’d met up with at last year’s Bon Ton.

  • Closing thoughts:

So went my third bike tour ever. The first several days I somehow maintained a rather faster pace than I usually can. By the fifth day my legs were very sore, as seems to be my pattern. After a day of rest and using The Stick  (highly recommended!) I felt much better. Though I was feeling pretty good I was slower on the hills on the last couple of days which of course affected my overall pace. I have “someday” goals of riding a century and of doing a Maine to Florida or a cross-country ride.  Right now these seem like very remote possibilities. But look what I can do now compared to just a few years ago! With some (ok, a lot) of effort I believe I can eventually reach both of these goals.


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