Bon Ton Roulet: Tribune Editor Makes Amends For Being Too Studious By Bicycling Around New York’s Finger Lakes

My arms glistened with sweat streaked with sun block.
My eyes stung from perspiration.
My heart pounded as it seemed to crawl from its usual location to my throat. That was inconvenient because I was gasping for air as I pedaled up what seemed like another in an endless series of hills surrounding the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York.
It seemed that most of the other 559 riders in the tour had passed me. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, my friend, Bob Hines, was among them. He was somewhere over yet another hill that awaited me.

A cyclist climbs one of the many hills July 25 on the way from Penn Yan to Watkins Glen, N.Y.

I was riding the Bon Ton Roulet and it was glorious.
The annual bicycle ride around the Finger Lakes had been on my to-do list for several years.
While I was in the Navy, I spent a year studying at nearby Syracuse. I was too involved in my classes and didn’t take the time to explore the countryside.
So when I received a brochure in the mail five or six years ago about the Bon Ton, I was interested right away.
What a great way to make amends for spending too much time processing film and making prints in the photo lab in the bowels of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.
All I knew about the Finger Lakes in those days was that they affected the local weather and somehow contributed to the ridiculous amount of snow that hit the area in the winter of 1976-77.
I would have appreciated some snow by the second day of the ride. The temperature rose past 90 degrees by early afternoon. As we rode from Auburn to Geneva, N.Y., riders were pulling over wherever they found some shade. The heat was more than some could stand and they rode support vehicles to Geneva.
It was still 90 degrees at 8 p.m., according to the National Weather Service.
By the next day, it had cooled and the weather wouldn’t be an issue until we encountered rain during the last two days of the week-long ride.
While the weather varied, the hills were a constant.

We hadn’t ridden too far on the first day of the Bon Ton Roulet, July 22, when we rode by a field of sculptures made of scrap metal.

A couple years ago, Bob and I rode in the Bicycle Tour of Colorado. There we did our best to pedal miles in thin air up mountains and endure the terror of coasting down them.
In New York, there was air plentiful because we were riding at an elevation much closer to sea level.
And while we might spend the better part of an hour moving at 3 to 5 mph up a Colorado mountain, it seemed to take much less time to reach the top of the taller hills in New York.
Rolling down those hills out East wasn’t as fast either. Just as we were picking up speed, we’d usually see the next hill and knew we’d be slowing down soon enough.
The tour’s organizers, the YMCAs of Auburn and Cortland, N.Y., call the Bon Ton two tours in one because they offer short and long routes to each day’s destination.
Bob’s middle name, however, seems to be “Never ride one mile when you can go three.” We always took the long routes.
Taking some of those longer rides meant we went in loops, which became clear to me one day when I noticed how similar the layout of the school at our second rest stop was to the school at our first stop.
It wasn’t until Bob explained to me that it was the same school that I realized we’d ridden in a circle.

On day 2 of the ride, July 23, we joined a convoy of cars and trucks rolling over a stretch of road with only one lane open because of repairs.

But riding that circle meant we saw more of a country that Bob termed indescribable. So, of course, I’ll try to describe it.
Upstate New York is, as you can tell by what I’ve already written, is rolling.
Some of the hills are high enough that from their tops you get an almost aerial view of the landscape below. What you see is like a quilt of many patterns.
From vineyards and fields of green and red cabbage to towns and the ever-present Finger Lakes, the view was always green, blue and pleasant.
Riders on the tour stopped to take photos of the scenery, picturesque farms and buildings and novelties like a menagerie of animals created from scrap metal or a waterfalls — somewhat diminished by weeks of dry weather — spraying down a rock face of at least 100 feet into a pool below.
It didn’t stay dry all week. Clouds filled the sky and gave the verdant landscapes a dark, ominous tone Friday. It rained a little that day.
On Saturday, the tour’s final day, we pedaled through a steady, heavy shower for an hour or two. I was grateful the downpour hit after our long, steep climb out of Ithaca, N.Y.
But it had been dark and cloudy that morning as we rolled at 4 or 5 miles an hour up the hills surrounding Ithaca.
A pair of deer grazing in the yard of a home on that hilly road observed us casually as we pedaled past until some of us stopped to take their pictures. They demonstrated their preference for privacy by disappearing into a wooded area.
Rain began to fall as Bob and I left the first rest stop.
It was warm rain that soaked us as we pedaled. I was glad that day’s ride was the shortest of the week.
Instead of two routes and a minimum of 45 miles of riding, there was one 34-mile course that Saturday. That meant we had another 20 or so miles to Cortland, where the ride had begun the previous Sunday.

While the Bon Ton lasted a week, our sightseeing began as soon as we arrived in New York the day before the tour began and continued the day the ride ended when we drove to Buffalo, N.Y., where my Navy friend and his wife gave us a tour of Niagara Falls.

After loading our bikes and bags into Bob’s truck when arrived in Cortland, we headed to the local YMCA for a shower. Then we drove to Buffalo where a friend from my Navy days gave us a tour of Niagara Falls.
From Buffalo, it took us two days to drive home.
We probably could have driven straight through, but we’re old and biking around the Finger Lakes wore us out.