Bicycle Tour of the Finger Lakes

by Leslie Tierstein

A friend recently organized a 5-day tour of the Finger Lakes region of New York state. It was a wonderful (and challenging) bike ride. There were 6 people: 4 riders doing longer distances faster than I could; me; and a friend who was driving between the nightly stops, and walking and/or bicycling from those stops.

Day 0: Driving Day (MD to Horseheads) (15 miles)

Not my car. I rode to metro with a triathlon transition bag on my back, packed with my stuff for the week, and got off in Glenmont to ride to my friend’s house. She drove us to Horseheads. Destination was the Hilton Garden Inn, a lovely hotel, but (unfortunately) along the interstate near the Corning-Elmira Airport, and not closer to downtown.  That gave me the opportunity to get in a short ride, to explore downtown Horseheads. Not much there: a well-preserved business district with some vacant storefronts, surrounded by older homes, surrounded by suburban subdivisions.

Day 1: Horseheads to Ithaca (68 miles)

There was one bonus from the hotel being just north of the interstate (I-86) — the ride was headed south, so crossed under the highway.  The overpass had a gorgeous bas-relief (in brick) on Horse Heads!
finger_lakes_horse_tweakA lovely route, getting into the Finger Lakes region. The four other riders were doing a longer ride, so I was on my own.  That was fine, because it gave me the opportunity to talk with some locals. And non-locals. The highlight was when I saw two guys at the side of the road.  At first I thought they were hikers, since they had fairly large packs.  But then I saw their helmets. It turns out they were a father-and-son team, rollerboarding (longboarding?) from Washington DC to Ottawa Canada. Capital-to-Capital.  They were averaging 30 miles per day, but had done 45 (hilly!) miles the previous day.  I actually ran into them twice more that day, the last time as I was exploring downtown Ithaca (adding an extra 10 miles to the day’s total), and they were headed for a skateboard store near the Cornell campus before finding a place to hang their hammocks for the night.

I, on the other hand, was staying in a hotel. And eating in a lovely restaurant.

Day 2: Ithaca to Canandaigua (48 miles)

The organizer of the tour made up a special route for me for today — going through Seneca Falls. I was not going to come to the Finger Lakes region, and not visit Seneca Falls, home of the first US convention for women’s rights — in 1848!

My special route was almost entirely on NY state highway 89. Unfortunately, that meant more traffic than the route the other riders were taking.  However, it did offer lovely views, especially when the route left 89A and went down to ride right next to Cayuga Lake. One of those detours led me to the Busy Bee, which was delightful, and where I had the best oatmeal cookie (locally baked) I think I’ve ever had.

Also along Route 89 was an outstanding example of some folk art.  (Saw lots of that during the trip, unfortunately most times didn’t stop to take the picture.
Finger Lakes - Folk.jpgThe highlight of the day was Seneca Falls. I met Barbara (my friend driving the car) there, and we had an excellent lunch in a historic hotel (Gould’s).  Seneca Falls has a well-preserved downtown, right on the Seneca River. Unfortunately, the building at the site of the women’s convention was closed (Mondays and Tuesdays), but we stood on the spot:
Finger Lakes - WomenI would have accumulated 74 miles on the bike if I had completed the route, but in Seneca Falls I got in the car for a leisurely drive to Canandaigua.  I got there in time for a nice (ok, short-ish) run from the hotel, touching the tip of Canandaigua Lake, and a stop in the nearby Starbucks (sigh) and Wegman’s. (Wegman’s! Originated in NY state, and much more frequent there.)

Day 3: Canandaigua to Geneseo (50 miles)

The route today was not along a lake front, it went inland.  The first highlight was the  Ganondagan State Historic Site and Seneca Indian Cultural Center. The Cultural Center emphasized the history of native Americans in NY state, and reminded me of all the signs we’d been seeing along the road of native American vs. new American battles that took place during the Revolutionary War, in the Sullivan Expedition. (Interesting tidbit: Sullivan’s dead horses were where Horseheads got its name from.) The Cultural Center featured a video of the Iroquois Indian creation myth:  It features a fight between two brothers.  I think I’ve heard that in more than one other creation myth.   (Sigh)

After Ganondagan came more peaceful, rural (mostly flat) miles. The Honeoye Falls are not that spectacular as water falls, but the town was another standout.
Finger Lakes - FallsOne main street, well maintained, with occupied store fronts and several restaurants to choose from for lunch. The highlight was Six Nations, a native American-owned store which sold crafts made by native Americans (throughout the US). some antiques, and art works produced by local artisans.

I bought a small  kit, made in El Paso, and am still thinking about the mixed media canvass (?) I left behind.

This was a short riding day for me, so there was time to explore Geneseo.  Areas explored (by bike):

  • SUNY at Geneseo; a huge, modern campus, downhill from downtown. Unexciting.
  • Downtown, designated as a historical district.  Fascinating and gorgeous, with a housing stock ranging from 1822 through the Victorian period and beyond, and commercial/government buildings, such as the Wadworth Library, in excellent condition and still in use.
  • The Wadsworth Homestead, a large estate still owned by the original family, on the edge of downtown

The group stayed in the Big Tree Inn, a historic building where the rooms and dinner were okay, the breakfast was non-optimal, and the web site is broken.  Very conveniently located (right on the main street of town) and very accommodating to a group of bicyclists.

Day 4: Geneseo to Hammondsport (65 miles)

For me, this was the hardest day of riding. It had lots of downs, but also lots of ups, including one 11% grade on a straight road that seemed to go on forever.  (Evidently, the terrain of the Finger Lakes does not encourage or require switchbacks.) But it was also a lot of fun, since I actually did the same route as the four other riders.  (Their planned longer ride was not available because the route through Letchworth State Park was not open.)  We both “saw bears”, as we passed another wonderful example of folk art:
Finger Lakes - BearsI always carry emergency food on bike tours. I almost needed the emergency food today, since I wasn’t hungry at the lunch stop at Naples (having just stopped for a second breakfast — see “non-optimal” breakfast in Geneseo) about an hour before. So, I kept riding, since the cue sheet said there would be a restaurant ahead.  Wrong.  As Crista warned me, it was closed.  I was saved by the Keuka Trail Farm Market (just after the 11% grade — good timing) — cold Gatorade, colder ice cream, and lovely Adirondack chairs to sit in and enjoy the food and the view.

Hammondsport is a lovely town, on the tip of Keuka lake.  I explored by foot, with, alas, not enough time to do it justice.  I’m sorry I missed the Glenn Curtiss Aviation Museum, on the outskirts of town.  He was also a pioneering motorcycle designer (and racer)!
Finger Lakes - Aviation

Day 5: Hammondsport to Horseheads (45 miles)

Today I finally stopped to take some pictures of the gorgeous wild flowers that seemed to line the routes. Now, if only I had had an app that would give me the name for a flower based on a picture – Shazam for plants.  Hmm, I just found Garden — I’ll have to try it.

As on Day 2, I diverged from the official routes.  The official routes went through South Corning.  However, I wanted to visit the Corning Museum of Glass. That meant following the first 30-ish miles of the route; improvising 10-ish miles on roads that had many (well-designed) interstate interchanges; and ending in Corning. But it worked and Barbara and I had a lovely visit to the museum. I learned that the history of glass goes back farther than I ever imagined.

We drove back to the hotel and prepared to pack up for an early departure the next day.

Summary: A wonderful trip, too short. Still lots to see and explore in this glorious region.  I hope to get back there.


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