Erie Loop - The Ride

May 15, 2005

Map of the route I took to loop Lake Erie

Since starting school in January, I had been planning to cycle around Lake Erie, seeing Niagara Falls and visiting some major cities like Buffalo and Cleveland. Watching experimental videos involving long studies of landscapes inspired me to do the same.

My bike was not a touring bicycle, but for my budget it will have to work. I didn’t upgrade any components – I merely bought more panniers and bags. I brought along my photo/video gear.

The days before the departure didn’t look good. It was raining and forecasted to rain most of the week through May 1. Three days before departure, it snowed. I began to worry about low temperatures and asked for opinions over at BikeForums.net. Most were encouraging me to go ahead and simply dress enough for it. I had experience cycling long distances in winters so I thought I was experienced for spring rides.

After the last school exam, I packed my stuff and got ready to go.

Day 1 – Rondeau Provincial Park, Ontario

My bike, all ready to go

The first day was cold, windy, and overcast. Halfway through it rained a bit and even hailed. There were sunny breaks in the afternoon. I stopped in Merlin at a Chinese restaurant. Things were cheap there. Something that would cost $8 in Windsor was just $5 here.

By 6pm I had reached my first night stop, Rondeau Provincial Park. It started to rain halfway through setting up my tarp tent. It worked pretty well keeping rain and wind away but as night fell, I noticed a huge problem with them. They excel in keeping moisture out, but also in keeping moisture in. By 2am my respiration had gotten everything in the tent – camera, maps, journal, food – wet.

Moody clouds fill the evening sky at Rondeau Provincial Park

I was awoken by noises of plastic wraps getting disturbed. I thought a bear was ransacking my bags looking for my food, but it didn’t sound like a bear, or wolf, or anything that could kill me. I was afraid to check but I couldn’t sleep with all the noise. Finally I braved myself and peeked outside the tent to find a big fat raccoon. It didn’t seem to fear me at all, continuing to eat my food while I stood there. I had no choice but to throw my food far away from my tent so I could sleep.

I checked my food compartment the next morning. All my food was gone. I did zip it up but apparently they were smart enough to open it up.

Day 2 – Port Stanley, Ontario

Weather the next morning was the same. I got to a men’s room to dry everything that got wet the night before. I also cleaned out the bag’s food compartment as much as I could as there were cookie crumbs in it. I used the hand dryer to dry my gloves and maps.

By the time I was ready to leave, the sun had finally broke through the clouds. While stopping to take pictures at one point, a gust of wind blew my bike over. It came crashing down and the camera mount was smashed into pieces. From that point on, there were no more video recordings from the top tube of the bicycle.

Outside Port Stanley

By afternoon, it was getting warmer but still cool. I had a pretty strong tailwind and covered great distances. By late afternoon it was cold again. I arrived at Port Stanley and had a chicken pie to keep myself warm. But the heat provided was nothing compared to the heat I was losing every minute.

I arrived at Port Burwell Provincial Park before night fell. I pitched my tent outside the park office (which was closed - off season), thinking I might stand a better chance keeping myself warm and dry by sleeping on a concrete floor. There I got to recharge my camera batteries as well. Before going to sleep, I locked my food compartment to prevent animals from stealing my food again.

I still couldn’t sleep well because of the cold. In fact, concrete floors were even colder. I decided to buy something to cover my legs as soon as possible. Up to today I was still wearing cool summer shorts and sandals with wool socks.

Day 3 – Dunnville, Ontario

On the way to Long Point Provincial Park

I started early again, at about 5am. The day was starting to break and the sun was trying to shine. By 10am I had reached Long Point Provincial Park.

I stopped by at a restaurant and had a nice breakfast filled with omelette, bacon, sausages and hash browns. I also got a chance to refill my water supply. By noon, I moved on.

Dunville, Ontario

By night I had reached Dunnville. I ate fish & chips, served really hot. I quickly found a thrift store and bought a nice, warm pair of trousers for only $10. I realized that I might be getting sick the moment I put it on.

I found a place behind an empty building and slept without a tent for the night. I used the tarp as my floor mat. I wrapped myself tightly inside the sleeping bag but I was still shivering. By 3am it started to rain. I moved into a bus depot and tried to get some sleep. It was then I decided that I needed to stay in motels for the remainder of the trip.

Day 4 – Niagara Falls, Ontario

A wet, windy and cold jouney to Fort Erie

I reached the lowest point of the trip today. Not only was it raining heavily and temperatures were hovering just above freezing, I had to face strong headwinds as well. I originally planned to cycle to Fort Erie before turning north to Niagara Falls, but cancelled the plan as my morale and energy wore paper thin.

Learning from the past few days I covered my hands and feet with plastic bags to fend off chilly winds and moisture. It worked pretty well, but I was still cold and my toes were numb all the time. I managed to cycle at only 8 kph on average, managing to go 68 km before reaching Niagara Falls.

A streak of dirt on the back of my jacket from road spray

I looked for motels that I found while preparing for the trip but didn’t have a map to locate them. Desperate, I jumped into the first motels I found. Luckily, there was a nice guy who offered to charge me only $39 for a night.

Knowing I wasn’t feeling well, I decided to dip myself in a hot tub. It was great to feel warm again. Areas where my skin was exposed to cold felt a burning sensation. I felt better after a while.

The motel room in Niagara Falls where the bike and I rested

I was hoping to explore the city, but I knew I had to rest just 10 minutes out of the motel room. I bought a large bottle of orange juice and drank it like water. Then I went to bed.

Day 5 – Still Niagara Falls

I woke up relatively late (8am) and decided to fix up my bike after the rough ride the day before. I flipped it upside down and began to wash it with warm water by using a piece of plastic bag as a sponge. I checked the brakes, wheels, and derailleurs. Apparently, I cycled 68km with the rear brakes on.

I tried to true both wheels. As I trued the rear wheel, one of the spokes snapped. I decided to change the entire rear wheel, knowing that it might not have any longer life in it.

In a bike shop. Taken while waiting for my bike to be fixed

I went to the nearest bike shop to replace the wheel. When the mechanic was about to adjust the rear brakes, I stopped him, telling him that I like it loose as is. Little did I know, he gave me a skinnier wheel, rendering the brakes ineffective. I tried to adjust it back in the motel but found that the adjustment screws were already stuck. I had no choice but to leave the rear brakes open permanently and depend only on the front brakes to stop the bike.

My body began to show signs of exhaustion after a night of good rest. To my surprise, my Achilles tendons hurt the most.

A cloudy day at Niagara Falls

I went around shooting videos of the Falls. Originally I had planned to cycle about 20km north to Niagara-on-the-Lake, but decided to just take things easy and sleep as much as I could. I headed back to the motel and napped until 5pm.

By then the clouds had blown away, and the sun was beginning to set. I cycled around shooting videos and taking pictures. A middle-aged lady came cycling down against traffic on a pedestrian path yelling at me to move away. I unhurriedly moved my bike over when she reached me and had to stop.

“Shouldn’t you be cycling on the road?” I asked.

“No! This is a cycling path! Jerk!

No, it wasn't.

I went along Niagara River up to the whirlpool. I wanted to get to the bottom of the canyon to shoot videos. Alas, time was not on my side. I needed to cross into the US and reach southern Buffalo by the next evening.

I finished the day at about 9pm.

Day 6 – Buffalo, New York

I woke at 7am and headed to the post office to mail full videotapes and a book I brought but never read. I also sent some postcards to my friends and family. Then I headed towards Peace Bridge.

Crossing Peace Bridge into the United States

The route was confusing – I didn’t know where the entrance was until I was at the entrance. I wanted to tape my crossing but I was so excited to cross I forgot to do it. I had a nice chat with the immigration officer. I didn’t think he asked me tough questions. In fact, he was all smiles.

The winds that day were good. I had tailwinds most of the way across Niagara Falls, New York. But by the time I entered Buffalo, headwinds were up again.

Since my camera’s memory card was getting full, I needed Internet access to offload the photos. I desperately looked for libraries when I accidentally found one. Unfortunately, they had the computers locked down tight. I couldn’t find any way to upload my photos. I sent emails to my friends and family about the successful entry into the US.

I managed to find the famed Albright-Knox Art Art Gallery following some useful road signs, but it was closed. I couldn’t stay in Buffalo for one night just to see it because it was closed on the next day too. Something didn’t want to inspire me with art on this trip.

Tasty lunch for the empty stomach

By noon I was looking for food. I stopped by at a Chinese restaurant and had a pretty good meal. It didn’t look like a good neighbourhood. If movies were accurate in depicting gangster districts, that area fit the picture perfectly.

There was a guy with large sunglasses and thick moustache sitting in a black van at the entrance of the restaurant. He saw me and yelled, “Hey! You’re Chinese! Bring it (the bike) inside [the restaurant]!” I tried to pull my bike in, but the cashier inside was looking at me, lips flat, posture fixated, eyes wide opened as if they were about to pop up. I backed down and left my bike outside instead. “Don’t worry, I’ll watch it for you!” That guy yelled again.

Downtown Buffalo

After lunch, I went downtown and circled around since I didn’t know where to go (I only had a crude map of Buffalo). By mid-afternoon I was already out of Buffalo heading as far southwest as I could. I was still looking for a place to unload my photos. A pharmacy chain store offered to have them burned onto a CD for $0.25 a photo, which will be $50 for what I needed to do. That was a little too much.

Although I only covered 78 km that day, I was already getting ready to rest. I found an empty building and decided to “stealth” camp there. By twilight, I saw a patrol car sitting in the middle of the parking lot. I didn’t think much about it because I wasn’t doing anything particularly illegal, though spending the night there is kind of pushing it.

Resting in an abandoned building. A good place to spend the night

I was right and wrong. At about 10pm, a strobe of light shone right into my face. An officer was asking me what I was doing there. I explained about my trip. He checked my passport while I stood between two spotlights mounted on patrol cars on either side. He was pretty cool with it. He even told me that he will inform his platoon about a guest (me) tonight.

But at about 2am I got a light kick on the butt.

“What are you doing here?” It was another officer.

“Just resting from my trip, sir.”

“What trip?”

“A bike trip from Detroit.”

“And you just sleep here?”

“Yeah.”

“Is this a group thing?”

“No, I’m solo.”

“You won’t freeze to death?”

“No, I will be fine.”

“Alright, good luck on your trip.”

“Thanks.”

Day 7 – Erie, Pennsylvania

An early start to a day

I woke at 4am because it was too cold to sleep by 3am. I sat up, wrapped myself in my sleeping bag and ate a chocolate bar. I gathered enough warmth, packed my stuff and moved on at a very slow pace.

Crossing into Pennsylvannia

I covered quite a distance. I passed through Silver Creek, Dunkirk, and finally crossing into Pennsylvania by late afternoon. I finished a 12-inch pizza in 15 minutes in a small town outside Erie, stopped by at a small library and managed to unload 128MB of photos in about 85 minutes. The timing was perfect - by the time the library closed, the upload was complete.

In the library I found that I had to plan carefully to take a ferry from Sandusky, Ohio to Pelee Island back in Canada. They only had them on Fridays and Sundays. That meant I cannot spend a lot of time in my next destination, Cleveland.

I increased my morale by sleeping in a motel that night. I was able to push pretty hard up to 10pm when I reached Erie. I had a great shower, wrote my journal, washed some clothes, and slept at close to midnight.

Day 8 – Cleveland, Ohio

The headlight of my bike smashed into pieces when the bike fell

Just as I got ready to leave the motel in the morning, I had one setback just seconds after exiting my room. The bike crashed onto the ground and shattered my headlight into pieces.

I reached the suburbs of Ashtabula, Ohio in the afternoon. Shoulders were mostly missing. I had to ride on badly maintained roads. I stopped outside at a WalMart to finish off a pack of cookies. The day was mostly sunny, though.

Double-double line? Pass illegally and be shot?

At about 50 km outside Cleveland I had a detour. It made for a much longer trip but the day was still early and I was making good time. As I cycled, a guy asked at the top of his lungs, “Where are you heading?” “Detroit!” “Wow!”

Minutes later, I had a puncture. I was delighted because a video of me fixing a flat will be a nice addition to the video I will be making. I did lose 30 minutes though. Incidentally, the numbering on the video tape that had footage of me fixing the flat was… 13.

I stopped at around 7pm at a motel outside Cleveland. I had 2 foot-long subs for dinner. After that, it was bed time.

Day 9 – Still Cleveland

I entered Painesville by 9am the next day. I bought a map of Cleveland and planned my routes. I aimed for an art museum in Cleveland, my first point of interest. On the way I met the first and only cycle-tourer. I waved.

Cleveland, Ohio

I found the Museum of Contemporary Art but it was closed for preparations for the next exhibit. The timing on this trip was absolutely perfect.

I went to the waterfront but the day was getting short. I sped towards Cuyahoga Valley National Park. They had a few nice points of interest but the day was getting short. I had to head back northwest to catch the 8:30pm ferry to Pelee Island in Sandusky.

Cuyahoga Valley, outside Cleveland, Ohio

My plan was to get to an Internet café between the Valley and Cleveland to unload my photos. I found it, but the owner did not want me to download pictures from the camera. I found the library but the computers were again locked down pretty tight. I was on the road again pretty quickly.

Night was creeping in. I was using a shorter, more direct route through the valley instead of the more heavily-used roads north of it. That turned out to be a mistake. Not only were there big dips and inclines, but the lack of streetlights meant I had to cycle in the dark – without a headlight. My biggest mistake was to climb a steep and long hill, only to find that I had to turn around because I took a wrong turn.

I began to worry because I was far from the nearest motel. I thought I could push it but after so many climbs and so many frustrating turnarounds, my body simply refused to comply. I ate another sandwich and slept behind a building under renovation.

Day 10 – Sandusky, Ohio and Pelee Island, Ontario

It was cold. I started the day at 5am and had an early breakfast in a gas station. I brushed my teeth there too.

Lake Erie outside Cleveland, Ohio

The trip out of Cleveland was quite difficult. Coinciding with rush hour traffic, I had to squeeze around cars and trucks through Cleveland’s industrial heartland. Once through, it was nice again along Route 6. Halfway through, I crossed the 1,000km mark. Shortly after that, I bought a pack of cheap and delicious chocolate palettes from a farmer’s market.

I reached Sandusky by 3pm. The sun was pretty intense and I got most of my tan that day. Knowing I am not far from Canada, I tried to use my mobile phone. I left it exposed to the sun and it seemed to be suffering from heatstroke. I tried to turn it on but it merely blinked.

I went to the Carnegie Library. It was the nicest library I’ve been for a town that size. I plugged my phone to a power outlet and found that it was working. The heat must have blasted all the power out of the battery. The computer facilities there were great too – I was able to upload all my photos in 30 minutes.

Waiting for a boat to Pelee Island, Ontario in Sandusky, Ohio

I landed on Pelee Island after an hour long boat trip from Sandusky. I was greeted by an immigration officer. I asked for motels. She pointed out two but I couldn’t find them in the dark.

I blindly headed north, cycling in pitch black darkness. After about 30 minutes, I found a bed & breakfast. It cost me $72, but I had no choice – I was willing to pay that much to avoid sleeping in the cold again.

Day 11 – Leamington, Ontario

I started the morning eating a lot of cereal and bread. Then I started cycling around again. The weather was very nice and the scenery was excellent. I managed to unlock my mobile phone after spending a few minutes at a payphone and started calling and text messaging my friends and family. I called David, a friend living near Leamington for a meet up.

Shooting videos on Peele Island, Ontario

There were a few interesting trails but things were mostly off season. The fact that there were beaches all over the island was pleasing though.

The boat that will bring me back to Canadian mainland

I boarded the ship to Leamington at 4pm. It was still cold – I stayed in the middle decks and bought a hat to cover my wild hairdo. People were glancing at me curiously as I walked around with a tripod and two cameras.

I got a phone call from David just as I landed in Leamington. He invited me to join him for dinner and stay at his place. I gleefully accepted and sped away to his house.

There we chatted a lot, talked about my trip, explored his area, and played badminton. For dinner we had lots of fish, vegetables and some rice. We had no problems cleaning them up. We finished with some excellent Portuguese wine.

I slept really well that night, although I still woke up at 6am out of habit.

Day 12 – Point Pelee, Ontario

Point Pelee marshes

I had cereal in the morning with David. Being lactose intolerant, I initially refused. He recommended me to take soy milk instead, claiming “it will change your life.” After a “life-changing” breakfast, I bid my farewells and headed for Point Pelee.

Being in Point Pelee once before, I knew the best time to get great pictures was in the late afternoon. I cycled slowly to kill some time.

It was a brilliant day. The sun was shining brightly and the winds were light. Apparently, everyone thought so too. On my way there, flocks of people in their SUVs and trucks with bicycles in their trunk headed towards Point Pelee. It was going to be a busy day.

An impromptu clothesline

I stretched my day as much as possible by taking my time to set up for videos and stills. By 2pm I had already finished recording what I needed for that part of the day. I decided to chill out. Pulling a rope tied to my bike across a lawn to my tripod, I made a clothesline and sunned my clothing. I then laid myself down on a bench under a shadow and closed my eyes.

At 5pm I began to take some finale footage. Food supplies were low; I basically had no dinner. I ate the last chocolate bar of the trip.

After collecting footage and photos I wanted, I had a decision to make. I could either camp for the night or head right back to Windsor. I chose the latter. I had plenty of energy left, having only cycled 40 km up to that point. I stopped at a grocery store, bought a large sandwich and a bowl of salad, and started my journey home at 8pm.

I didn’t have to go too far before stars took over the sky. The ride was scary; I had to watch out for potholes, wild animals and drunk drivers.

I don't think I want to go there just yet - especially being so close to home - thank you very much!

The nice thing about the ride back was the tailwind. I managed to push hard for about 4 hours straight and covered 70 km.

From 30 km away I saw lights from Detroit illuminating the sky. By 1am, I had reached Windsor and had dinner at a Chinese restaurant.

I reached home. Since I was in the middle of moving, I ended sleeping in a sleeping bag.

Aftermath

The chain broke the day after I arrived home

I lost a lot on this trip. My chain needed replacement, I couldn’t engage the high gear, my rear brakes became unusable, my rear wheel needed to be replaced, my headlight was smashed into pieces. I also lost my favourite hat. Some of my toes are still numb from the early stages of hypothermia. I misplaced my sunglasses, too.

I spent about 12 hours processing 614 photos and publishing 155 of them. The photos didn’t turn out as nice as I would like. Video was my priority and many times I realized I had videotaped a shot but forgot to take the still.

I gathered 7 hours worth of video footage. It took me just as long to capture them into my hard drive, and an additional 4 hours to finalize the editing (I was editing and capturing at the same time). The editing was easy because all I had to do was to put the best shots of the day into the track. I liked the results.

Having cycled with heavy equipment up and down huge hills, my legs had visibly grown. My thighs were more toned, and my feet were, surprisingly, thicker. My friends commented on the funny tan lines my gloves and sandals made.

I did enjoy the trip. Even though I spent most of the trip thinking about pure survival, I am proud of the photos and videos that came out of this.

Cycle touring under a deadline required a lot of tactical planning en route. Anyone considering cycle-touring should not base the tour on a schedule, as it will really kill the fun.

Part of the Cycling Trips series →

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Lazy Summer Ride

Video: cycling through Ojibway Park

Cycling with the 18-wheelers