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Baltimore to Weedsport

Ready to start!

Getting Ready to Go! Starting out in Glen Burnie, Maryland on September 4th, 2005

As I huffed and puffed my way up a gentle grade on the Baltimore-Washington International airport fence line, in the southern Baltimore suburb where I live, a fellow bicyclist rolled up to my side and asked where I was headed.

“Upstate New York,” I replied between deep, measured breaths.

“Wow! What motivated you to do that?” he asked, obviously concerned for the safety and sanity of a 46 year old man who was working pretty hard to haul a bicycle loaded with four panniers and handlebar bag up a very small hill.

It was a fair question. I just told him it was something I’d wanted to do for decades, but the real answer involves a desire to tangibly connect the present with the past.

Some of the happiest memories from my youth are of pedaling my Raleigh ten-speed bicycle around the countryside surrounding my hometown of Weedsport, New York. The roads around the Finger Lakes were - and are - almost uniquely suited to bicycling - gentle rolling drumlins (hills) deposited by ancient glaciers, quiet roads, and beautiful scenery all about.

I first fell in love with bicycling during summer vacations in the first half of the 1970s, when I was in my early-teens. The everyday sounds, sights and smells of that time are burned into my memory - red-winged blackbirds calling out their territory on the cat-tails by Oakwood Road, the roar of the Weedsport Speedway coming through the screen window on a muggy August night, the sweet smell of the purple lilacs. In those days between the innocence of childhood and the responsibilities of adulthood lay a mystical time of exploration, and there could be no better place to spend that time than the town named after the Weed brothers’ stop on the Erie Canal.

Life’s winds and currents have since carried me all over the world - Florida, Massachusetts, Germany, Texas, Virginia - and now Maryland, but always I’ve carried the small town values from where I was raised. And always, I’ve been drawn back. I’ve visited the town many times since I left in 1975, but lately I had been driven to feel a connection that can only come by traversing the distance between where I am and where I was under my own power. A bicycle permits a rider to fully savor every sight, hear every sound, and feel every detail of elevation change during a voyage in a way that no other form of transportation permits. And so I planned my two-wheeled journey to Weedsport.

Planning such trips is far easier now than it used to be. I’ve always been a technophile, so I enjoyed using topographic mapping software on my computer to plot the route and load it into my bike-mounted Global Positioning System. My planned route took me around the western suburban outskirts of Baltimore, northwest to Gettysburg, then northeast to Harrisburg. I would get past most of the mountains of central Pennsylvania by following the roads along the banks of the Susquehanna River. From there, I’d travel north to Williamsport, then northeast through Mansfield, Elmira, Ithaca and finally along the shores of Owasco lake to Auburn and Weedsport. The computer calculated the distance to be 397 miles. The elevation profile showed some pretty challenging hills in northern Pennsylvania and south-central New York, so I scheduled daily rides of 45 to 72 miles, with a rest day in the middle of seven days of riding.

I’d packed enough clothes to go four days between laundries, over a gallon of water distributed between two bottles and a backpack hydration system, snack foods, maps, bike repair materials, a camera to record the trip, and a wireless Internet capable handheld computer and cell phone to keep in touch with family and friends. Early September seemed to offer the best chance of avoiding excessively hot or cold weather and spring rains. Being a native of central New York, I packed a comprehensive wardrobe of rain gear which, astonishingly for a trip of this duration, turned out to be completely unnecessary. One could not have hoped for more spectacular weather for such a journey! Blue skies and beautiful fluffy white clouds accompanied me for the entire trip!

Though I didn’t know it at the time, my first day (to Gettysburg) was the most difficult – but was rewarded with a chance to see civil war reenactors in Gettysburg National Park, fireworks, and a star filled sky impossible to view in the light-polluted Baltimore-Washington corridor.

I passed over a Labor Day festival while crossing the Market Street Bridge in Harrisburg, and enjoyed overlooking the bucolic Susquehanna River as I worked my way up into central Pennsylvania. By the time I got to the aptly named Endless Mountains region of north-central Pennsylvania, my physical conditioning had improved, and the climb to the highest elevation of the trip, about 2,000 feet, wasn’t the ordeal I had feared it would be.

Northern Pennsylvania is, perhaps, the best-kept secret in America in terms of its natural beauty. Gentle hills densely carpeted with forest separated by sleepy farms make every road look like the front of a Hallmark card!Rolling into the towns of Williamsport and Elmira was a lot of fun! In both cases, tough uphill climbs were compensated by miles of coasting at 20 to 30 miles per hour into town. Of course, climbing out of Elmira again was another story – not so much fun, but rewarding in its own way.

Even more rewarding was seeing the “Welcome to Weedsport” sign as I coasted down South Seneca street into the Seneca river valley where my final destination lay. Weedsport’s welcome signs are the most artistically beautiful of any I saw on the voyage, and reflect the well-deserved pride of Weedsport residents in their village.

It appears my little hometown is doing all right for itself! I can recall when there were only a couple of restaurants in town – now there are over half a dozen spanning the spectrum from an open air roadside stand to haute cuisine. Many of the Erie Canal era homes that had fallen into disrepair since the canal closed have been renovated and restored to their original splendor. While I regret the closing of the downtown Five and Dime where we kids would spend our allowances on candy, kites and toys – there are now more choices in housing, banking, lodging, dining, shopping and recreation than I have ever seen in Weedsport before, while at the same time the village has very much retained its character and identity.

When I set out on this voyage, I wondered if it could ever have met my expectations. In fact, it exceeded them, and brought to mind the words of T.S. Elliot:

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time”

Trip End to End

400 Mile Bike Voyage from Glen Burnie, MD to Weedsport, NY

4 September Map

GPS Map for 4 September

Cannon in Gettysburg, PA

Cannon in Gettysburg, PA, 4 September

Map for 5 September

GPS Map for 5 September

GPS Map for 6 September

Near Harrisburg

Bridge Near Harrisburg

Fish Under the Bridge

Fish Congregating Under the Bridge

7 Sep map

Bridge over the Susquehanna
GPS Map for 7 September
The Susquehanna is a Beautiful River!
GPS Map for 9 September
Over a Creek 10 September Map Welcome to NY!
Saying Goodbye to the Susquehanna Headwaters GPS Map for 10 September So Glad to See this Sign! Pennsylvania is a big state!
Map for 11 September Weedsport Map Dave in Weedsport
GPS Map for 11 September
GPS Map of Weedsport
Mission Accomplished!
Happy Moment

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