Washouts, Blowouts, Shutouts and Wipeouts: Finger Lakes, New York

The scenic Finger Lakes region in upper New York state comprises 11 elongated lakes oriented in a north-south direction and formed during the last glaciation. An easy 4.5 hour drive from home, Seneca Lake is one of the longest (close to 40 miles long and not more than 3 miles wide) and also one of the deepest in the United States, with its lakebed well below sea level. The hills, deeply gorged river valleys, quaint towns and inviting vineyards in this area provided a nice setting for a short getaway to hike and bike with friends….or at least attempt to.

We stayed in Geneva, on the west shore, and took advantage of the very inexpensive but spacious accommodation at the residences of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. The houses in town are an interesting mix of Greek Revival, Queen Anne, Victorian, Federal and Italianate architecture and we spent an hour on our arrival walking with a local historian who explained much of their history.

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Unfortunately, many of the commercial buildings in the centre of town were either destroyed by fire in the 1800s or torn down and replaced with modern buildings in the 1960s. Being able to view only photographs of these original buildings offered a convenient excuse to cut short our walking tour and instead search out a cosy pub with a patio and good food.

Early the next morning we began a walk along the Seneca River near the town of Seneca Falls.

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I say “began” because a torrential downpour within the first 30 minutes challenged our rain gear to the point of failure. The washout, however, offered a convenient excuse to head back to the uni res for more coffee.

When the sun emerged, rather than resume walking with the others, three of us chose to cycle the east side of the lake instead. About 45 minutes into the ride I had a puncture but as luck would have it the blowout occurred in front of a beautiful winery with a lovely balcony that overlooked vineyards and the lake. I hadn’t thought to bring along spare bits of anything with which to repair the tire. This offered a convenient excuse to taste wines and then sit on the balcony in the sunshine sipping ice wine until my two chivalrous friends (who had volunteered to ride back and fetch the car… yes really) returned.

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Once the bike was repaired, rather than resume cycling, we shifted gears again and decided to head to the tennis court where I was summarily shut out of winning a game, let alone a set, against these same chivalrous friends. They showed no mercy as they had me running up, down and in circles on the court. I hadn’t played tennis in eight years but it wouldn’t have made any difference if I had. My Fitbit later told me that I had taken 22,000 steps that day so at least I went to bed feeling fit, even if my tennis score didn’t reflect it. Despondency at having my bike ride cut short by a puncture offered a convenient excuse for my poor performance on the tennis court.

The next day was a magnificent day of gorge walking and waterfall gazing at Watkins Glen State Park and in the village of Montour Falls. Things seemed to be looking up.

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On the fourth day we again abandoned the walkers to cycle the west side of the lake through Mennonite country.

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Outfitted with the latest cycling equipment, we puffed and struggled our way up a particularly long hill when we were passed quietly, calmly and very quickly by a Mennonite couple riding bikes at least 30 years old with only one gear. This offered a convenient excuse to punctuate our ride with frequent stops at wineries, distilleries and breweries to help heal our battered egos.

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Near the end of the day, at the 65 km mark, on leaving one of the vineyards, I had the wise idea that I could shave 50 metres off my ride if I exited up a gravel drive to one side of the building. In attempting this, my bike slid into a gully eroded into the gravel and I fell off. A friend, on looking back at me began to laugh and also immediately fell off. Just deserts I thought. I envisioned the remaining customers at the winery shaking their heads in disgust at the pathetic, seemingly drunk Canadians trying to masquerade as cyclists. This wipeout offered a convenient excuse to call an end to the ride, cycle back to the car and drive back to our previous stops to buy bottles of the whiskey, wine and the vanilla porter we had tasted.

On the last day, before heading home, we squeezed in a final hike in Letchworth State Park to view waterfalls on the Genessee River.

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As an enjoyable week of convenient excuses came to an end and we began the drive back to Canada, we distributed the receipts for the many bottles of alcohol evenly between us to ensure smooth passage through customs. Then, on dropping off everyone at their homes, my losing tennis racquet was mistakenly taken by the winner and I was left with the winning one. It has occurred to me that this offers a convenient excuse to demand a rematch. On second thought…..

by Anne Neary

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