Friday, September 12, 2014

Road Trip: The Finger Lakes (Cross Country Road Trip Ep. 1)

This summer marked the beginning of a new chapter in our life. My wife and I decided that we would be departing from the East Coast to return home to California to be able to spend more time with our families. Rather than just pack our stuff up and fly across the country, we decided this was the perfect opportunity for a cross country road trip as who knows how long it would be before another chance came along. This series will chronicle our adventures, which were partially shared on our Facebook page during the trip, as we explored many parts of the US that neither of us has spent much time in. We hope you enjoy the adventure!


Our departure time already upon us, I quickly scrambled to get the final items loaded into the back seat of the TSX. The trunk, strategically arranged for priority of access, was already full to the brim and the bikes were already on the rack. My wife's aunt, who had kindly allowed us to bivouac at her home for our final few days in the Boston area, saw us off as we finally set off, a bit later than we had originally anticipated.

Despite being loaded like a pack animal, its rear end sagging noticeably, the TSX still felt sprightly, turning with aplomb and only suffering modestly in acceleration. Of course, with the added weight of both of us, our luggage, our provisions for the trip, and the massive bike-rack with two bikes on it, I was most concerned about stopping more than going, Acura's brakes having long been one of the weakest links in the performance chain. Still, aside from a bit longer stopping distance, the TSX delivered predictable stopping power and got us safely to our destinations.

Jumping on the Mass Pike, we crept our way through parts of central Massachusetts before the roads cleared and we cruised through Western Mass into upstate New York. The setting sun, hanging low in the early evening sky, cast a pale pink glow over the vast expanses of greenery bordering the Mohawk River. As we drove on, and the sun set further, the areas bordering the road filled with dense fog covering up most of the scenery and making for a rather eerie experience. We pressed on, passing through the college town of Syracuse, chasing the final glimmers of daylight.

By the time we pulled off of I-90, the skies had darkened to an inky black as we wended our way through the back roads. The only indications of civilization were the reflectors on the side of the road marking the position of mailboxes along the roadside. Suddenly one of those reflectors began to shift off in the distance. We slowed our pace and as we edged closer, a young deer bounded across the road and disappeared in to the brush. No other wildlife appeared during the remainder of the drive until we arrived at our destination and nearly crushed one of the local inhabitants that was hanging out on the driveway. Exhausted from the long drive, we unloaded the car and settled in for the night.

The next morning, we awoke to the sound of birds chirping off outside the windows of our cozy cabin. Finally able to view our surroundings, I stepped outside to take in the fresh air and check out what I had missed the night before. Tucked away in a little cul-de-sac, our cabins were high up on a cliff overlooking Seneca Lake. The deck of the main house offered expansive views and kayaks were provided for those who wanted to venture out. We gave it a quick thought, but the rough chop deterred us for the moment. Instead, we prepped our bikes, grabbed a quick bite, and set out to explore the area.

Immediately, as soon as we turned out of the cul-de-sac, we encountered a steep incline that slowed our progress. To make matters worse, despite having taken precautions to inspect the bikes prior to the trip, my wife's bike quickly developed a shifting problem, necessitating a road-side repair. I quickly got the bike patched up enough to ride out to near the main road where I was able to manage a more thorough fix of the issue. If nothing else, this trip would be a test of my skills as a shade-tree mechanic since we would encounter various challenges along the way.

Out on the main road, we were able to finally cruise. The road sloped gently down, flowing past at least two dozen wineries and numerous roadside stands selling local produce and cheeses. It was early afternoon already and we had some 10 miles left to cover to get to our lunch destination, the Stonecat Cafe. One thing of note was that the drivers in this area seemed to be extremely attentive and gave lots of space to cyclists as nearly every car moved over into the opposing lane to pass us, giving a wide berth.

After a substantial and excellent meal, consisting largely of local ingredients, we chatted with the hostess, who was a fellow cyclist, and set back out on the road, this time headed back the way we came. This meant a fair amount of uphill riding, although luckily the grade was pretty shallow and we had plenty of energy from the meal. Our first post-lunch stop was a winery, recommended by the wait-staff at the restaurant, that had decent wines and a rear deck with an excellent view of the lake. When we arrived, we were the only patrons, so we sipped slowly and chatted with the tasting room attendant, who told us about the history of the winery as well as the story behind several interesting pieces of art scattered throughout.

A matter of meters down the road, we stopped again, this time at Hazlitt Vineyards, one of the largest and most popular vineyards in the area. Known for Red Cat, a sweet rose-looking wine, Hazlitt appears to be the party destination for locals on Friday evenings. After a brief tasting, including a couple of very overly sweet wines that I found barely palatable, but my wife thoroughly enjoyed, we hung out at The Oasis, an outdoor covered bar area with a bit of a tropical feel, that served wine slushies. The concoction, think an Icee with a hint of wine mixed in, tasted pretty good in the afternoon heat, and we found a lovely bench swing to settle into to enjoy the late afternoon breeze and live music emanating from the bar.

The sun hanging low in the sky once again, we gulp down some water, pry ourselves out of the swing, and shake off the alcohol induced stupor. We mount back up and press on, working hard up the inclines, past numerous other vineyards, all shut down for the day, and watching the sun continue to sink towards the hills on the other side of the lake. We turn back onto the side roads, rolling past several Amish farms, and at least one Amish person on a home-made scooter, headed back towards our cabin.

Once we arrive, my wife looks out at the lake and discovers that the heavy chop from the morning had disappeared, now replaced with a calm that made the surface of the lake smooth as glass. We decided (or really, she talked me into) a quick jaunt out onto the lake in kayaks. Rowing out about a half a mile from shore, we pull our kayaks together and just sit in the calm waters of the lake, watching the sun continue its journey behind the hills. Dragonflies and other bugs dance around our heads as the light begins to fade and a slight breeze begins to pick up. Taking in the final moments of sunlight, we turn around and head for shore, the perfect end to what has been a rather activity filled day.