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The Return Home
Sarah and I are not morning people. Yet there we were, bright and early on Sunday morning, loading up the bike to be one of the first to depart.
The prior night I'd been pondering a number Greg had given me a couple of weeks before for how long a trip I should expect to get home — 450. Though he'd clearly given it to me in miles, I'd internalized it as kilometers and mentally reduced it again to under 300 miles. I had been expecting a nice leisurely ride home with plenty of time to make several stops and let Sarah stretch her legs.
As I planned the route home before bed, my error became apparent and weighed a bit heavily on my mind. It would be a ten hour day even if we took the expressways, and the expressways are tediously boring with more noise and wind than I wanted Sarah to have to suffer. The alternative, though, would be more seat time for her on the aging shock. Either way it was going to be the longest day she'd ever ridden.
I opted for the back roads route, as it would also provide a couple of nice opportunities for off-seat time. The basic route headed southeast to Kingston for a ferry to Wolfe Island, crossed the island to another ferry to New York, then headed east across the Adirondacks for the ferry to Burlington and the final jaunt home.
There's not much to tell about the ride to Kingston. It was a nice day and scenic trip, but given the distance we needed to cover — some 250 miles to the ferry — we only stopped three times.
The first stop was just for gas, then a little before 11 we stopped for brunch. The Swiss Inn at Denbigh was one of the only places in the central Ontario region we saw open on a Sunday morning. The food was decent enough but the service was painfully slow, more suited to the after-church crowd than a couple of bikers trying to make it back to New England before nightfall. We killed more than an hour there for a simple meal.
The last stop before Kingston was at a sign board for the town of Ompah, which was plainly incorporated to honor those who have served as organizers for the Denizens of Doom's annual Right Coast Ride event. Ompah is in the Land o' Lakes Tourist Region, which has the amusing domain name LOL.on.ca.
We reached the Kingston ferry dock only minutes too late, watching the boat pull away as we pulled in. It would be a full hour before we would be traveling on the next one. While it didn't help our goal of getting home before dark, it did allow Jeremiah some time to cavort in the sun, campily wearing Jaye's heart ring.
We nearly missed the next ferry thanks to the slowest Tim Horton's ever. I'd popped in to just grab a couple of drinks and 20 minutes later was only just getting to the register as I spied the ferry returning to Kingston port. Hurriedly throwing my cash down I rushed back to the bike only to unhappily discover that one of the workers directing ferry loading had told my wife and another biker that we'd have to wait til last to board. What the hell?
It was very odd to me and made me grumble. Any preference I'd ever seen for bikes at ferries had been to let them board first, not last. I was a little annoyed that I'd have to pass all these people who would undoubtedly be in my way on the other side as we would try to make it to the next ferry before departure. Sure enough, we were held back to last, even after the horse-drawn wagon. C'est la vie!
As an aside, one of the nicest things about the Wolfe Island ferry is that it is considered part of the normal Ontario highway system and therefor has no toll at all. It's a relaxing 20 minute ride or so out to the island. The monkey had some more fun running around a bit on the boat to blow off some energy before he had to settle in for more riding.
As they began letting traffic off at Wolfe, I jumped on the end of the first line of cars disembarking and so only had a couple ahead of me as we exited the village around the dock. Those were quickly behind me and in a short while we'd reached the other end of the island.
The next ferry was already docked, but we had time to spare as it takes a while to load even though it is a relatively small ferry. It is unusual in that it is a side-loading ferry; I've been on a couple of dozen ferries around the US and Canada and I can't remember any quite like it. After they get three vehicles parked in the bow and five more under the bridge at the stern, they can then put two more amidships with a little room here and there for bicycles, motorcycles and pedestrians. Unlike the Wolfe Island ferry, there is a toll here.
It was 5pm when we finally reached the United States at Cape Vincent. With 192 miles ahead of us across northern New York to the ferry for Burlington, getting home by dark was clearly out of the question. We cleared customs and refueled the bike then began our push across the Adirondack dome.
Though we needed to make time, there was one stop we had to make.
There once was a monkey who felt sickAt the sight of the needle (what were you thinking?) Jeremiah fainted dead away. We put him in the tankbag where he rested peacefully the rest of the way across New York.
There was a brief restroom break at Cranberry Lake and another short stop to stretch out in Saranac Lake. Storm clouds were gathering as we headed out of Jay toward Ausable, and I did my best to outrun it as scattered heavy drops started to fall. The clear skies that I could see ahead, however, were not quite in our path and entering Keeseville, a mere half dozen miles from the ferry dock, we needed to stop so Sarah could put on rain gear.
In the last light of day we crossed Au Sable Chasm and made the turn for the road to Port Kent. We descended the hill to claim our well-deserved hour long ride across Lake Champlain to Burlington.
It was dark at the bottom of the hill. Too dark. 10 minutes after 9pm, and we hadn't just missed the ferry by a little — we missed the last one of the day by an hour and a half. I blame the Swiss Inn. Even with no stops at all since Cape Vincent, we woudn't have made it.
The schedule for the ferries to the north and south wasn't posted and my snazzy Internet phone was a useless piece of junk without a signal, so I couldn't get information that way. I wasn't going to pull out the paper maps in the rain to add up little bitty road segments for mileage. Between heading north for the Plattsburgh ferry or south for the Charlotte ferry, I figured if both were closed it was a bit less distance (but still a long way) to the bridge south at Crown Point instead of north at Rouses Point.
Heading away from the port, before we even made it back up the hill the rain became a torrential downpour. Sarah later remarked, "I had no idea rain could hurt so bad." Through riding gear. With me shielding her. "Like glass shards into my legs!" she said.
It continued that way into Keeseville where fortunately a gas station was open, but we didn't want to dawdle there and so after refueling we went right back into the heavy rainfall.
The rain started abating a little by Willsboro, and finally, two dozen miles south of Port Kent, we reached the Essex ferry dock in a light sprinkle. It was 9:45. The last ferry would sail at 10.
No other vehicles waited for it. A few minutes before 10 three folks wandered over from the dockside bar to join us on the trip across the lake. It was a cooly eerie voyage as the full moon peeked between breaking storm clouds, a light rain continued to fall and the near empty ship slipped through the water to the steady thrum of its engines and waves lapping at its sides.
From the Charlotte dock it was another 45 miles to go. I opted to not take my usual fun route through Hinesburg and Huntington, down to the App Gap and across to Waitsfield. Instead we took the dull but direct route, 7 up to Burlington then I-89 home. At 11:15, some 550 miles and 15 hours since we'd started the day, we pulled up our driveway and into our garage. We were home.
Back in a familiar bed, we slept very, very well.
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