The cycle into Ithaca, particularly the final incline to the motel, really took it out of the cyclists and prompted a rethink of the plan for covering what should be the hilliest part of the challenge: the stages in New York State. Rather than attempting three further days of roughly 80 miles on a broadly south-easterly approach to New York City, the route was amended to four days of shorter length. The new route will take us south into Pennsylvania and east through New Jersey.
Today, Ed and I drove from Ithaca down to Binghamton, via a second trip to Toughannock Falls where we looked at the lake and walked along the river bank past some smaller falls that we hadn’t seen the day before. An interesting aside about the river here is that due to its east-west direction, the north- and south-facing sides of the gorge maintain different eco-systems. On the warmer, south-facing side deciduous trees grow, while no more than about 20 metres away the other side of the gorge can support only coniferous trees. Another interesting thing is the pun that appears on all the tee-shirts in the area proclaiming that ‘Ithaca is gorges’.
After filling up on gas, we drove the monster truck south following TomTom’s fastest route setting. The outcome of this was pleasantly surprising as it took us along rolling single-lane highways, passing vineyards and farms for most of the journey, only settling for the blandness of the interstates on the final few miles into Binghamton.
Due to our detour north, Andy and Alex had actually beaten us to the motel by a few minutes so we checked into the motel (we’re in a smoking room – it stinks but was bizarrely $20 cheaper than the fresh air equivalent) and watched some Tour de France to put things in perspective. Neil and Leo, once again suffering due to a lack of satellite navigation to guide them directly to the motel, were later picked up by car from a neighbouring town after overshooting Binghamton and finding themselves almost joining a six-lane interstate.
Neil had been having gear problems with his bike, so we drove to a store about 10 miles away where they replaced the offending parts for a refreshingly modest fee. On returning to collect the cycle, Neil and I made the mistake of assuming that the well-travelled, eloquent owner of the store was not a fan of President Bush. I think he may have actually used the phrase “evil-doers” in his defence of Dubya. In a country where only 22% of the population think their leader is doing a good job, and in a solidly Democratic state, what were the chances that we would find a Bush Republican running a bicycle shop?
For the second time in three days, Ed, Andy, Alex and I decided we would attempt to watch Harry Potter at a local movie theatre. After maybe a mile’s walk (partly along the grass verge, and occasionally having to cross the four lane highway) we turned up to learn that the four screens showing the new film were booked up for another hour and a half. Not wanting a late night, we decided to watch the new Michael Moore film, Sicko, which was just beginning on screen 8.
I’m certain it wasn’t Moore’s intent when he made the documentary, but never have I felt quite so proud to be British as when he spent 20 minutes comparing the NHS to the scandalous system that Americans put up with. Beneath the smiley ‘have a nice day’ surface of this country is a rotten, greedy minority who profit shamelessly off the health care (or, more accurately, the lack of health care) of everybody else. It was strangely warming to hear the laughs of exasperation and surprise from the American audience as they learnt of the better healthcare available in Canada, Britain, France and even Cuba. I hope these people go out and demand better from their government, as if I had to give one reason why I wouldn’t choose to live in their country, that would be it.
Having filled ourselves with the smug self-gratification that comes from living in a country other than America, we went to McDonald’s where we ate cheeseburgers and fries and drank Coca Cola.