For Travel’s Sake

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”
-Robert Louis Stevenson

 

I took off with only the barest of plans – NW to the lake (Ontario), and then W along the shore towards Niagara. Just an afternoon out on the GS, so I didn’t really plan on anything specific. I thought I might end up down by Chautauqua, where I spent a summer as an acting intern at the Institution over 20 years ago.

It just so happens that I wasn’t the only one with thoughts of travelling. Thousands upon thousands on Red Admiral butterflies were also on the move through the area. The swarms were so impressive that the local paper even did a little piece on them, and included pics and video in their online version of the article. And though they were pretty, they also made the day’s ride… messy. At times it sounded like someone throwing a handfull of pebbles against my helmet. I had to stop and clean the bright yellow smears off my faceshield twice in 4 hours.

Temps had climbed into the 70s by the time I finally decided to hit the road, so I dressed light in my new MeshTex pants and Ranier jacket. I tossed the jacket liner in the top case just in case, but I didn’t think I’d actually need it unless I stayed out later than I anticipated (always a possibility).

One of the things I like about always trying to ride roads I’ve never been on is that I stumble across little towns I’ve never heard of, even when I don’t end up more than 80 or 90 miles away from home. And I’ve learned that these little towns, almost without fail, have at least one thing in common: a little park or memorial dedicated to veterans.

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Clarendon, NY is one such town.The park itself is a tiny thing. That plaque and accompanying flag, a pavilion, and a small creek are all that sit in the bit of open greenspace. I doubt there’s even room in the “parking lot” for more than four or five cars.

All the way in the back though, feeding the creek that winds around the park’s edge, is a lovely little waterfall.

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There’s a bench facing the falls, so I sat for a few minutes and just watched the water. Even though I fully agree with Stevenson – the great affair is, indeed, to move – the ability to be still is of equal importance. Engrossed in the concerns and worries of the real world, lately I’ve been neglecting my stillness. It was good to sit. And think. And regain a bit of perspective on those real world issues that steal sleep so regularly.

A little further on, the weather took a sudden turn. In the space of two or three miles, the temps dropped from 77 to 56 and fog rolled in thick off freshly plowed fields. The further north and west I went, the colder and foggier it became, so I turned around and headed south. I inadvertently crossed right through Clarendon again, so I stopped again at the little park, just because I could.

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Further south, I saw off in the distance the northern edge of the Wyoming County Wind Farm. I’d seen the turbines from a distance but never up close, so I decided to see if I could find a way over to them. After a few tries, I came across a little seasonal road that worked well.

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The road was in surprisingly good shape, most likely due to the mild winter we had here in Western NY. Even though the potholes were filled to the brim with rain water, there weren’t many of them and the road itself was dry and fairly packed. It made for easy riding, a good thing since I still have the Anakees on I picked up in Salt Lake City last summer.

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I’m not sure why I never thought about it before, but these windmills are not silent. Even from this distance, maybe a couple hundred yards, a soft, slow “whup whup whup” beats above an even softer hum. It’s a relaxing rhythm, almost hypnotic in a way, an effect not unlike that of the waterfall or a small campfire.

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I was also surprised at the different speeds the blades turn. At first glance, I thought the closest windmill wasn’t turning at all. It was though, so slowly that it took a good 15 or 20 seconds of staring to see that the blades were, in fact moving. Others spun quicker, but it didn’t seem like any were moving at the same rate. And even though they are tall – I saw them initially from about 5 or 6 miles away I think – I thought they’d be taller.

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Part of me wanted to take off up the smaller 2-track and get closer, but there were several Posted signs so I decided against it. Still, though, temps were back into the 70s (and still climbing), so I wasted a few minutes just sitting in the grass and letting the whup-whups sink into my brain.

Back on pavement I wandered around heading basically south and east. I had my Zumo with me, so I wasn’t ever really “lost,” but I wasn’t exactly sure where I was, either. I keep the Zumo on so I can see the tracks of where I’ve been in the last 12 months. If a road has a blue track on it, I avoid it and look for someplace I’ve never been.

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And that’s how I found a new (to me) entrance to Letchworth State Park. Letchworth is one of my favorite parks in New York. I never went there much as a kid, but I’ve been back about a dozen or so times in just the last two years. I’m not an expert on it by any means, but it’s become a sort of default destination for a quick day trip.

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Since it was a Thursday, traffic was extremely light. Of the dozen or so cars I saw, I wouldn’t be surprised if 8 of them were Park vehicles (and 5 of those were probably the same vehicle making Rangerly rounds). The speed limit through the park ranges from 25 to 40 mph, and most folks seem to hang out right around 30 regardless of what the signs read. My brain knows that’s a good thing, especially on a typical summer or spring day when pedestrians and motor vehicles clog the roads, but that day it irked me. The roads are in superb shape, and I wanted to find my own rhythm through the turns that complimented the whup-whups in my head.

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I found a little overlook that I don’t think I’ve ever stopped at before and sat on a bench at the edge of the canyon. The birds in the surrounding trees were louder than the whups of the windmills. Indeed, I doubt I would have even noticed the whups at all with all the singing.

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One of the things I like most about Letchworth – or any canyon park, really – is looking down on birds soaring over the water below. There are several falcons and hawks that I’ve seen on previous trips, but this time I saw about 8 turkey vultures. They’re a scavenger bird and pretty damn ugly when viewed up close chowing down on whatever carrion they find.

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But when they soar, they are beautiful. They glide, riding the thermals in lazy circles as they  search for carrion. Usually I’ve seen them in groups of three or four, so finding eight all in a single area was a little shocking. There must have been an animal corpse somewhere in the gorge below.

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One of the biggest concerns in forests throughout the northeast is the Emerald Ash Borer. The beetle, originally from Russia and China, has only been around in the US for about a decade but has killed millions of ash trees all the way from Tennessee to Minnesota, New York and north into Canada. You can see in the picture how bare the top of the ash tree is. Soon, as the beetles cut off more and more of the tree’s water supply, the ash will die. The result has been a quarantine on nearly all firewood, with restrictions on moving logs from downed trees of all types.

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Hopefully, the research being done at universities across the country will find a way to control the spread of the beetle.

All in all, it was a good day on the bike. With only the early exception, the skies were blue with few clouds and the temps very comfortable. Most importantly, though, I found the rhythm I was looking for. Whether it was the windmills in Wyoming County or the vistas of Letchworth, something clicked in the ol’ noggin and things fell back into place again.

There’s lots of reasons I throw a leg over the bike at every available opportunity, but spring rides are almost always my favorite, especially as the daily riding becomes more and more consistent. Some folks mark the beginning of the riding season with the first 65 or 70 degree day. Others are pickier, not wanting to risk riding in weather that can quite literally change extremes in less than an hour. I even know one rider who uses the Farmer’s Almanac to determine when he starts riding.

Me? Since I ride as soon as the roads are cleared of snow and the temps are above freezing, I look for something else:

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Bug guts.

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