I am up early and join riders leaving the camp area. We cross over the Western Gateway Bridge to the Stockade district, the oldest neighborhood in Schenectady. We ride past an amazing assortment of architectural styles that have evolved over its 300 year history. I lived in one of the historic brick Colonial style homes in a small apartment over 30 years ago, before I married. Included was access to the lower part of a long narrow lawn that ended at the edge of the Mohawk river- part of the Erie Canal. Little did I know that river would flow into my future.
The trail is on the street for a brief period until we reach the section of the Mohawk-Hudson bike trail I have pedaled many miles on. I feel at home here, almost cocky, as I travel my ‘home trail’. Along the way, we pass a house we owned for a few years situated directly between the trail and the river.
Parts of the trail are also unfamiliar. I have never ridden a bike into the towns of Cohoes or Waterford. Waterford is where the Mohawk River/ Erie Canal meets the Hudson River. The Hudson begins high in the Adirondack Mountains and flows south for 315 miles to the Atlantic Ocean in New York Harbor. Near this confluence of the Mohawk and the Hudson we stop at Peebles Island State Park and the Erie Canalway Visitor Center. I discover this was an important location, where we prepared to defend against the British during the Revolutionary War. Who knew? Though I have not taken part in all the history gathering this trip offered, I feel drawn to learn more about this area of the state I have lived in for my entire life. This is our last rest stop of the trip. The air pulses with energy. People are laughing and chattering loudly all around me. Everyone seems to have a story about the trip. The group of 500 strangers in Buffalo has evolved into a tribe of fellow adventurers nearing the end of a shared journey. And I am one of them.
From Peebles Island, we head into Troy. Once again, we are on city streets. The terror I felt earlier in the trip returns as traffic forces me to stay to the side where huge drainage grates threaten to grab my thin tires between their narrow iron bars. I hold my breath each time I swerve around the grates and move closer to the passing cars that could end more than just this trip. Potholes are as prevalent as the drainage grates-but with less predictability. Less than 10 miles to go and I wonder if I will make it.
Finally, we reach the wide paved bike trail that leads to the finish line. No more city streets! I can breathe again. This section of the trail feels like an old friend-traveled many times when I lived in Albany. It is relatively flat and follows the Hudson River. But the thermometer has soared to the mid-90s, and there is not a cloud in the sky. It is the hottest day of the entire trip. The air is heavy and my ‘breathable’ sleeveless shirt drips with sweat. I am forced to stop several times to cool down in the shade. What I envisioned as the easiest day of the trip has turned into one of the most challenging.
Just when I think the trail will never end, I see a familiar skyline. A rainbow of balloons float above the finish line at the Visitors Center in downtown Albany, New York State’s 300-year-old capital. A small crowd cheers for each rider as we pass under it. Laughter and the buzz of excitement accompany achieving this major goal. We pat backs and offer congratulations to each other. A woman standing next to me jests: “I don’t think my fingers will ever straighten out again after holding on so tight for so many days!” I laugh and agree full heartedly. Apparently, I was not the only one that held on for dear life across the miles!
I find my ride share guy with my tent mate. Everyone is bustling about gathering gear, loading cars, heading for the bus to return to the Buffalo starting point, hugging, and chattering. It is dizzying. I say goodbye to my tent mate and we promise to keep in touch, but don’t. My husband picks me and Mr. ride share up–his car is still at my house–and we head for home. It’s over. I did it. I feel satisfied yet unsettled, energized yet tired, altered yet the same… It will take time to sift through the range of emotions that have traveled with me to this finish line.
To be continued….