badphoto-journal: random fall 2021 trip
as requested by a few friends&family
part 1: montreal-nyc, the weird way
november 4-5, 2021
I left home at 5:30 in well below freezing temperatures. My feet and hands lost some movement early on, despite fleecy layers attempting to keep them warm. It was dark outside for the first few hours of the ride, since this was the week before daylight savings. Once I’d escaped the last of the suburbs for the long stretch on Rang Saint-André, the roosters were calling, the reddish portion of the rainbow started encroaching upon the horizon to my left, and the frost covering everything but the road started glowing.
Morning views along Quebec roads
The weather at least looked clear and the winds were low. The terrain was flat, and the roads throughout Quebec were empty all the way to the border. The only hitch encountered was a road closure just before where Rang du Coteau meets QC-217, overcome with a few u-turns and some quizzical glares from construction workers.
Gatorade slushie, cold limbs, and a cue sheet
My bottle of Gatorade, as well as the larger bottle of water in the bag behind me (well, both were Gatorade diluted in water, but one was stronger than the other) had turned into slushies within an hour or so of leaving, and would not return to their liquid state until arrival in Plattsburgh hours later. The agent at the US border noticed this and let me through with little questioning, allowing me to stay relatively warm and keep a certain rhythm.
An old wrought iron bridge south of the border
After passing some school drop-off traffic just south of the border, I rode lovely backroads in upper New York as the Adirondacks started to show on the horizon. I was mostly surrounded by farmland, as in Quebec. I then took a final left turn onto US-9, the first road so far to have any significant amount of traffic. After providing wonderful views of Lake Champlain to the east, it quickly became an unremarkable and boring backroad into Plattsburgh.
Plattsburgh calorie restock
Having arrived in Plattsburgh with an hour and a half to spare, I made my way to a local coffee shop, where I ate a not-as-good-as-Costco muffin with a cup of joe while I took my feet out of my shoes to accelerate the defrosting process. Then, after the coffee shop closed at 11am for electrical repairs, I made my way to a deli, where I purchased a mediocre reuben to eat at the bus stop.
Clinton County Public Transit bus
Blue tokens are being Terminated
At the bus stop, snow started to fall, making me increasingly nervous for the upcoming ride on the other end of the bus journey. The driver arrived early and allowed me on the bus, which was welcome given my still-cold extremities.
After passing a sad-looking motel (welcoming francophone travellers!), the bus dropped me off in a parking lot in Keeseville, a dead-looking town I was more than happy to immediately leave, despite the rather sizable hill awaiting my exit. The snow had passed, and the skies were once again calm, if not perfectly clear.
View of Lake Champlain from bus; francophone-friendly motel
Those last thirty or so kilometers into Elizabethtown were gorgeous. This section of the US-9 was near-empty, and rubbed right up against giant rock faces hundreds of feet tall, gleaming in the surrounding late-fall palette.
Approaching a rock face on US-9
Arriving in Elizabethtown two hours before the ensuing bus, I stopped at a local pizza shop right as it opened. The owners were kind and the prices were cheap. The pizza wasn’t half-bad either: crispy yet well-risen crust, passable tomato sauce, generous cheese application, with a satisfactory dribbling of pizza grease here and there.
Bubs Pizza & Deli
Having surely recuperated any burnt calories, I rode up the hill to the gas station marking the middle of the town, which despite its rather depressing prominence offered wonderful views of the surrounding mountains. As I was eating my Reese’s and gas station coffee, I watched some local kids toy around on their friend’s brand new mountain bike, mostly consisting of failed wheelie attempts. They came up to check out my ride. After having learned that I was not, in fact, a local, the cool kid of the group loudly proclaimed, “You’re from the city? You must have BIG money.” The kids then proceeded their parking lot antics until their moms came to pick them up. Responseless, I put on some headphones and awaited the bus in peace.
The view from Elizabethtown
The bus journey to Ticonderoga was at once beautiful, hilarious, and frightening. The wonderfully kind driver, engaged in local gossip with my fellow passengers, took the curvy and surprisingly steep roads at a breakneck pace, and this being a bus without a front bike rack, I was forced to clutch onto my bike as we careened around bend after bend. At an antique shop on the other side of I-87 from Elizabethtown, an old man got on with a shit-eating grin and his newest buy: and quite ornately decorated, wooden toilet seat. He proceeded to extoll its beauty for the ensuing thirty minutes, repeatedly emphasizing that it was the work of a ‘renowned’ local artist nobody else on the bus had heard of. After Port Henry, I was the only person left, and the bus driver wished me well as she dropped me off in front of the combination Super 8-Walmart.
Essex County Public Transportation
The Walmart pickings for individually-sized items were slim: my dinner that night consisted of beef jerky, a piña colada shake, and a banana. A hearty breakfast, then, was of the utmost importance to start off the second and final day of the trip down to New York City. The Dunkin across from the motel did just the trick. My croissant bacon egg and cheese hit the spot.
Sunrise Dunkies
After going up and over a small hill, NY-9N aligned itself with the west coast of Lake George, and I rode alongside the sunrise over the lake for an hour with little interruption from other road users. The shore was peppered with small vacation houses and a few private marinas. My enjoyment of this rather serene setting was soured only by the impending doom I knew awaited me.
Sunrise along Lake George
Once the road veered to the right after Sabbath Day Point, I knew I was in for a long, arduous climb up to the top of an unnamed mountain pass rudely cutting off the northern shore of Lake George from its southern counterpart. The climb started aggressively and did not let up. After no more than a kilometer or so I hopped off, crossed the road, and walked the rest, unable to ascend the constant ten-percent grade in my one chosen gear. Having expected this outcome, I took the time to enjoy the lush forest surrounding me. For the next twenty or so minutes, less than a handful of cars passed in either direction, and I was left to bask in the crisp late-autumn air in peace.
Up and over the mountain pass, feat: extremely blurry photo
At the top turnout, I ate, shed a layer, and prepared for the exhilarating and frightening descent into Bolton Landing, which I had assumed would mark the end of the difficult riding for that day. This was a miscalculation, as the remaining portion along the lakeshore was to be as long, as difficult, and much busier than the first. Slowly entering civilization, I passed through some rather depressing and visibly off-season resort towns, one including the Montreal motel and a Mediterranean restaurant called Alibaba Express.
Past Lake George, I joined a surprisingly beautiful rail-trail that took me down to Glens Falls, which I sped through before stopping at my second Dunkin of the day - this time for an apple fritter and more coffee as I procrastinated the last part of the ride: a boring slog through densely-populated rural-ish flatlands. Construction not five minutes past the Dunkin requiring me to stop and re-route didn’t help.
I eventually made it to Wilton Mall, which was even more depressing than Street View had led me to believe; the poorly-marked bus terminus was located outside the doorway of an abandoned department store. Unsure if I was in the right place to catch the 450 route to Schenectady, I asked an older man for bearings, and once he had allayed my fears, we ended up discussing the perils of car-centric urban design at length. He was happy to cite his decade spent in Europe, where he proudly lived in Málaga and London car-free prior to, rather understandably, feeling compelled to purchase one to live in the exurbs of Albany. He was on a new car-free regime, and though I applauded the effort, we both admitted to doubting its imminent success.
Boarding CDTA 450 at Wilton Mall
I loaded up my bike onto the rack, with some help from this lovely man, and plugged my phone into my backup charger to watch my coworker Cameron don my beloved workplace Mardi Gras beads to deliver my slides on the Seattle Alaskan Way tunnel project. Ideal entertainment for an otherwise boring bus ride.
Once in Schenectady, I transferred to a BusPlus to Albany, one of America’s many fake BRT disappointments. The bus was packed most of the hour-long ride downtown. I got off the bus and biked the remaining kilometer or two across the Hudson to the train station, where a small and peculiar bar served me fries and a Miller Lite as I awaited the 4:30pm Empire Service to Penn Station.
Empty bar outside Albany-Rensselaer; the Tappan Zee bridge illuminates the night
The train was near-full but offered incredible sunset views across the Hudson. Once the sunset had turned to near-darkness, the new Tappan Zee bridge was there to pick up the slack, lighting up the night sky with a boastful display of bisexual-vaporwave energy.
Riding up Eighth Avenue at dusk was a rude welcome to New York. Luckily, the city’s horde of e-bike delivery drivers often offer a slim but efficient path through the gridlock, provided one has the legs to keep up. My brother greeted me with braised duck, radicchio salad, and a bottle of wine. I made a subpar salad dressing and we ate.
part 2: nyc-philly-nyc
november 8-9, 2021
An early Monday jaunt down 11th Avenue marked the first few kilometers of the long day trip down to Philadelphia. I was greeted with a pristine sunrise on the short ferry trip to Jersey City. Once on the other side, I procured another Dunkin croissant bacon egg and cheese before tackling some of the worst riding I’ve ever done: the repulsive US-9 bypass, dropping me off onto the Newark airport backroads, where a staggering amount of stop-and-go traffic watched me fly by in the opposite direction, desperately trying to escape this polluted jungle of discarded auto parts and broken glass.
Sunrise from the ferry to Jersey City
I somehow made it without a flat tire to a small forest south of Union, the downtown of which was replete with banners admitting the city’s own plight in a rather confusing acrostic poem, urging citizens (and passersby, I should note) to “reunite” and “renew,” among other “re” verbs I have since forgotten (reinvest?). The nearby forest was unremarkable but was at the very least a literal breath of fresh air from the heavy pollution that had permeated my ride thus far.
Forest south of Union, NJ; Queen City Coffee Roasters
Outside of the forest, I stopped at a small coffee roaster in Plainfield, where I received a kind welcome and decent coffee before a large man entered the door, asking me if I owned a Suburban that was parked in front of a nearby driveway. No sir. I sipped the rest of my coffee in peace.
Forest south of Union, NJ; Queen City Coffee Roasters
After a dozen or so kilometers of drab roadway leaving the coffee shop, I made it to the Raritan river canal trail, which would guide me all the way to the state border with Pennsylvania. That is, until I noticed what the state park’s definition of a ‘gravel’ trail was. I quickly left the rockbed for a calm road paralleling the waterway, which turned into a near-empty and quite wonderful path through a medium-density forest. For the next hour or two, I enjoyed the unexpected beauty of this transect of the state, a welcome and necessary change from the first few hours of the day.
River/canal scenery
Just before the canal trail was to bring me into Trenton, I hopped off in Lawrenceville to stop by a corner store/deli that my brother had insisted I visit. I got the local specialty - pork roll egg and cheese - as well as some weird looks. The sandwich was delicious. Sitting on the curb of the strip mall, I wolfed it down in about two minutes before refilling my water and Gatorade bottles for the final third of the trip.
Pork roll at strip mall; small building along canal
The final third was vastly unremarkable. A poorly maintained rail-trail accessible via the dumpster cluster of an exurban La Quinta greeted me on the Pennsylvania side. This was not the river scenery of the last stretch; viewing opportunities included RV parks, trash piles, and highway overpasses. Once the trail was subsumed by a four-lane stroad, a couple of gargantuan intersections led me to US-13, an ugly two-lane road whose only upside was a supersize shoulder mostly free of debris. It eventually took me all the way to Philadelphia. I entered via Torresdale and Kensington Avenues, and opted straight for some food and beer recommendations handed to me by family and friends: a falafel joint downtown, and a brewery further south. I then returned to my accomodations for the night, marking the end of a long, often ugly, but nonetheless extremely satisfying day trip.
Arrival in Philly: falafel and beer
I woke up to yet another day of promising weather. I stopped at a coffee shop near Rittenhouse Square to start the day before heading down to South Philly for the breakfast of champions: two warm, soft pretzels with spicy brown mustard.
Beautiful morning in Philadelphia
I continued my tour of the city by taking Passyunk across the Schuylkill, where I was greeted with large piles of auto parts (that would, two weeks later, burn in an epic, literal tire fire) and broken glass. I continued through the west side of the city, enjoying the unique rowhouse-lined streets, until I made it to Fairmount Park, a truly wonderful urban oasis.
Fairmount Park; re-entering center city
After crossing back over the Schuylkill and into the northwestern section of the city, I made it to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, with the long alley of flags welcoming me back into the center of the city.
I passed once again through downtown and into the old city, where I notably did not find the Liberty Bell but did hurt my butt on some gnarly cobblestone roads. After a small tour of the old city, it was time for an early lunch: a roast pork sandwich at an old restaurant east of the interstate. It was obscenely good. Then, craving something sweet and another excuse to enjoy the beauty of South Philly, I retraced my steps for a donut and a fantastic cappuccino.
It was then, unfortunately, time to leave Philadelphia. After passing once again through the old city, I started up the bridge to Camden, New Jersey, which had a surprisingly large pedestrian/bike path that provided for panoramic views of the city. Once safely on the other side, I weaseled my way through a couple of intersections before spotting the River Line light rail a few blocks to my right. Knowing that this train’s frequency was a measly thirty minutes, I pedalled at full strength until I found the rail right-of-way a block or two further down. Seeing no other path to the station, I rode down the side of the tracks, beating the train by a few seconds. The light rail and connecting NJ Transit train uneventfully took me back to New York.
Leaving Philadelphia
part 3: upstate fun
november 10, 2021
Less than a day later, I found myself on yet another commuter train. This time, it was a midmorning Metro-North taking me to Tarrytown from Harlem, after a morning spent enjoying coffee and baked goods with my brother and his roommates. The train ride was longer than I expected, so I bolted off the train with my bike, attacked the steep hill out of the train station, and entered the Old Croton Aqueduct trail at Franklin Street, trying as quickly as possible to find a secluded space to relieve myself.
Bike on Metro-North; view of the Palisades from the train
I was unsuccessful for longer than I had wished, but once I had pedalled out of Tarrytown, the trail quite literally winding through people’s backyards, the forest quickly became dense and beautiful. The trail was rough, and the subpar road tires I was riding on were inadequate for the job; the handling didn’t bother me all that much, but the persistent fear of a flat certainly did. The canopy of fallen leaves, while beautiful, did a fantastic job of hiding the trail’s many ruts, fallen branches, and rocks.
Old Croton Aqueduct trail
I spent more than an hour enjoying this beautiful trail mostly to myself. There were plenty of rough spots: hills that were barely walkable, let alone rideable, as well as a few stretches of riding alongside busy roads.
The trail’s final, quite gradual climb took me to the top of the Croton Dam, which provided awesome views of the surrounding forest and the dam’s reservoir. Near the end of the passageway over the dam was the reservoir’s outlet, where water cascades into the Croton Gorge and the river below. I had not expected such a huge dam; it certainly isn’t the Grand Coulee, but I couldn’t help thinking of it.
Views from the Croton Dam
At the other side of the dam, I encountered some navigational difficulties. First, I missed my turn-off onto Mount Airy Road from NY-129, having to double back, then confirmed a worry that I had in planning this route: the ‘Briarcliff-Peekskill’ trail, proudly featured on both Google Maps and OpenStreetMap, was nowhere to be found. Preferring riding circuitous but calm backroads to bushwhacking a more direct route, I abandoned the planned path into Peekskill, which ultimately was the correct choice. The roads were minimal intrusions into the surrounding forest, and the only nuisances came in the form of occasional ostentatious McMansion sightings.
Vibrant trees past the dam; beer
The difficulty of the riding up to that point had depleted my energy levels, and arriving into Peekskill, a generous calorie restock was in order. After a jaunt through the rather depressing town, I stopped at the local brewpub for lunchtime beer and pizza, which tasted much better than it probably should have. As I was eating my pizza, a kind passerby noticed that one of the covered ashtray doohickeys outside of the establishment was smoking, and I watched as an employee brought out cups of water to put out the cigarette fire.
I then went across the way to the bakery, where the massive display of yummy-looking baked goods led me to indulgence: two apple cider donuts - a seasonal specialty! - and a cream-filled cookie sandwich. I saved one of the donuts for later, ate the rest, refilled my water bottles, and set out for the afternoon.
Cream cookie thing; apple cider donut
No more than ten minutes later, I heavily regretted the pizza and goodies as US-202 rose up from the water at a noticeable but not impossible grade. If my legs had felt like bricks into Peekskill, it was my stomach that was filled with them out of Peekskill. The developing scenery seemed to hold back the nausea, however: carved into a steep rock face on the east side of the Hudson, the road offered sweeping views of the river.
The road finally reached its apex, and led into a short but steep descent onto the Bear Mountain bridge, where I could see the Hudson for miles and miles in either direction. The pavement was being resurfaced, providing me a sort of guerilla bike lane, which was more than welcome.
US-202 climbing out of Peekskill; Bear Mountain bridge
After having survived the scary roundabout on the opposite side of the bridge, I prepared to face one of the larger ascents I’ve ever done: the thousand-foot climb up Bear Mountain. It ended up being nothing to worry about. The grade never exceeded eight percent over any sizable stretch, the road was calm and exquisitely beautiful the whole way, and despite having an oversized laptop on top of my other baggage, I kept a steady pace for the thirty minutes it took me to reach the summit. And the day was perfect: you could even see the New York City skyline 50-60 miles out. I enjoyed a small chat with an older man at one of the large wooden benches dotting the mountaintop and rewarded myself for the climb by finishing the last donut I had stashed away.
Top of the mountain, NYC just visible
As expected, the descent was a supersized dose of adrenaline: feet on the frame the whole way down, praying for no flats or brake failures. I luckily survived a turn that I had taken a smidge too acutely; the sound of the asphalt scraping my left pedal sent a shiver through my spine.
The next hour of the ride felt at least twice that long: after a frightening quarter-mile on the four-lane US-9W out of Bear Mountain, I commenced the roundabout route to Storm King, which involved crossing the West Point military range on Mine Road. I was quickly greeted with bright-yellow No Trespassing signs dotting the side of the road, warning of unexploded ordnance. The road was empty, apart from a small trailer park a mile in, and just felt ominous. I pedaled as fast as possible to NY-293, where I would at least very certainly be travelling legally.
State Route 293 was unremarkable and boring, but at least provided a supersized shoulder, allowing me a car’s width between the speeding vehicles to my left. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally reached the junction with the US-9W, where NY-293 becomes NY-218 and quickly descends into another beautiful forest.
Forest at the base of Storm King
At the base of the forest, the road enters Storm King State Park. It was mostly empty and some of the best riding I’ve ever done. The fall colours were still resplendent, and after a gradual climb, the road reached a viewpoint carved into the rock face of the mountain, providing views that, with the late-afternoon sun tracing a line through the hills opposite the Hudson, may just have eclipsed those from the summit of Bear Mountain.
Storm King, late afternoon
I took my sweet time at the viewpoint, talking to a few travellers that had gotten out of their cars to appreciate the scenery, and most of all trying to take in as much of the view as possible before the rapidly-setting sun forced me down the other side of the mountain. The small remainder of the ride, once outside of the state park, can only be described as utter garbage, save for one couple I met at the top of Storm King giving me a friendly wave passing me. The roads were heavily used and minimally shouldered, and I was happy to have made it to the Newburgh ferry terminal alive. The sole passenger on the ferry, save for a small family, I splayed out and watched the sun set over the Hudson.
Sunset from the Newburgh ferry; gratuitous tired selfie
I got onto the second Metro-North train of the day to reach Poughkeepsie, where I spent the two-hour wait for the last bus to Kingston at a mediocre brewpub. An older man from the region came in about thirty minutes before I left and gave me an interesting history lesson on the area. The last bus to Kingston was driven by a wonderful woman who knew her regulars so well that she picked one up off the side of the road, knowing he had just missed the last bus. She wished me well (and called me a hottie!) as I alighted in downtown Kingston, where I would stay for the next two nights.
Bus to Kingston at dusk
thanks to
Adrian, Hannah, Nathan: for putting up with me and my bike in New York
Mom: for not freaking out about this every time I brought it up during our FaceTimes
Terry Barentsen: for route inspiration, and keeping me on my bike when I feel like crap
The wonderful bus drivers that shuttled me around upstate New York

and finally: the many kind souls I met along the way, and their well wishes.