Day 3 – Thursday, May 30
Early morn 56 & foggy, warm breezy morning, afternoon sunny & 89
Whitney Lake to Watkins Glen, New York
Awoke to thick fog after a damp, but not unpleasant night. Many thanks to my host Ron for a level place to set my tent. My down sleeping bag had become a camping bag desiccant. All the rainstorms yesterday were absorbed in it. Although the air was hot, evening rainstorms did not allow me time to dry it out. Nevertheless, I managed a comfortable night’s sleep.
Breakfast and internet was provided by the Country Kitchen on the Catskill Turnpike, also known as Route 11, just across the street from the Whitney Lake Middle School. You can’t miss it. Besides being an unlikely place with free wifi, the Country Kitchen has a great claim to fame, they have the least expensive two-eggs, toast, & home fries in the USA, $2.85. Coffee is 90¢. A scampers delight.
I sat sipping coffee and plotting my route to the day’s destination, Watkins Glen, New York. There is one state highway arching its way up through Utica and down to The Glen, Highway 79. It is 54 miles. Not a long day. However, I plan to zig and zag on county roads between the two points. So I spend an inordinate amount of time zooming in and out on my map looking for road names and designations: High Street here, Hill Road there, County Road 89 further on. I decide on the optimal combination and jot them down in my shirt-pocket notebook. This system depends on a great deal of memory and faith.
I am now in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. On a typical road map you might think this region is flat. Nothing could be further from the truth. The ice age did an interesting number on the geology here. Land between lakes is steep, gouged, and rugged. The flat calm lakes belie greater depths. Secondary county roads through this area zig and zag in long unbroken lines. Think W-shaped travel.
Fifteen minutes out of the Country Kitchen I made my second turn as my notes indicated. There were road and street signs. Thank you New York. Then came an unexpected T intersection. My first of very many choices to be made this day. My notes were now, as the British say, made redundant. Given the blue sky and sunshine, I didn’t care. Rolling through rural upstate New York is a delight.
I rolled along back roads drifting westward without going too far north or south. If I went too far north I would run into Route 79 or Utica. That would be obvious. What I wasn’t sure about was drifting too far south. The only boundary would be Pennsylvania. Although I was technically lost all morning, I wasn’t lost at all.
There are fewer farms in this area. Where I saw tilled soil I saw fields filled with rocks. Not the large border fencing rocks of New England, but softball and football sized rocks evenly distributed through the field. There are great forests here too. At times I would be out in blazing sunshine and a few moments later plunged into a shadowy forest where the rains do not easily evaporate.
I stopped and spoke with convenience store clerks, town maintenance workers, a postal delivery person, and one fellow taking a break from mowing his large yard. They all had suggestions and observations about ways to get to Watkins Glen. Most had 10 or 12 points of reference and things to watch out for along the way. My mind can only remember two. I made Watkins Glen by mid-afternoon. A 54 mile drive that I made in 106. The joy of scamping.
In Watkins Glenn I headed for the State Park Campground and checked in for two days. I will explore The Glen and the Racetrack, take several hot showers, do a laundry, and pick up a few items I need. Life will be good. Until it isn’t.
After loading my wet sleeping bag into a dryer and starting a load of laundry, I was driving to a sporting goods store when Ruby’s motor stopped running. I coasted into a parking lot. The engine would turn over, but not fire. A terrible feeling filled me. I catastrophize things easily. Life as I know it was over.
The streets in Watkins Glen are in bad shape. They are very bumpy, filled with holes and railroad tracks. I was bouncing and banging along when the engine cut out. I decided the spark plug connector had come off. I jumped into action pulling tools out from under the seat, unscrewing the front plate that hides the engine. There was the spark plug connector, still in place. I pushed on it just to make sure. It felt to me as it usually does (I changed the spark plug a few days ago.) I tried the engine again. It fired right up! Happily I replaced all the parts and screws, reloaded the tools under the seat and got ready to go on my way. This time it did not start. Out came everything again. This time I disassembled the seat and top of the bike to expose the engine. It was swelteringly hot. I reseated the spark plug connector and traced it back into the engine where it connected with other mysterious wires and connectors. I made sure each of these was secure. The engine fired right up. I had to shut it off to reassemble everything. This took time. I sweated. With everything reassembled I turned the key and pressed the start switch. It fired right up.
I finished my errands and laundry and headed back to the soothing woods of Watkins Glen State Park. This long winded entry was written in the Watkins Glenn Dunkin’ Donuts, open 24 hours a day with free wifi. This is why I’ve joked with some motorcyclist friends that my treks are Adventure-Lite.