Binghamton, NY

As I sit here, I try to imagine what it must’ve been like to live here 60 years ago. Binghamton, the little known city in New York’s Southern Tier and once home to thousands of manufacturing and defense oriented jobs, is now the picture of poverty. IBM was founded here. Ansco Cameras, Endicott-Johnson Shoes and General Electric all called the Triple Cities (Binghamton, Endicott and Johnson City) home. The Flight Simulator was invented in Binghamton and the area was the second largest manufacturer of cigars in the United States, giving it the moniker, the “Valley of Opportunity”.

As the Cold War ended, the region lost thousands of manufacturing jobs. These days, industry is all but gone and abandoned buildings dot the landscape of an extremely depressed urban theater.

I was able to manage a few rides throughout the city and around the outlying areas. A dawn patrol pedal through the quiet streets took me over the South Washington Street Bridge and up Vestal Parkway to Vestal Avenue and into Endicott. The return trip pushed me the opposite way around the city.

The Chenango and Susquehanna Rivers flow through a downtown area littered with cafe’s, pizza parlors and quaint shops. It has an old world charm reminiscent of better days. Binghamton University, has a downtown campus and a lot of student housing for the main campus in Vestal have moved here, creating a shift for businesses to cater to student life.

A few days later, I crossed the Exchange Street Bridge and ascended Pennsylvania Avenue to Hawleyton Turnpike. The 4 mile climb above the tree tops, made for an exciting descent over pot holed, chopped up pavement. My return to downtown led me through some residential areas and back into the city center.

I’m not an urban renewal expert, but I’m pretty sure that a few coffee houses and trendy shops, although well intentioned, won’t bring this once thriving center of industry back to prosperity. The floods of 2006 and 2011 have halted progress. That said, this area needs some big companies to take a chance and re-locate here.

What’s Playing (what am I listening to while writing or what’s dancing around in my head while riding), today – Looking Glass – Brandy


Southern Comfort

Usually, I stay in one place for at least a few weeks. However, this trip has been a long, strange ride through the south. I would normally take the road bike, but this time the ease associated with the folding bike made sense, as I would have to pack it up about every 4 days.

The first stop, Homewood, Alabama, borders Birmingham. An upscale bedroom community. Homewood is extremely hilly. My dawn patrol ride became the McMansion tour of the south. Atop every hill, it seemed that almost every home was incorporated into the landscape. The trees dwarfed the homes, creating a gorgeous setting.

Next, I was lucky enough to stay in Horn Lake, Mississippi. Horn Lake is another bedroom community, just north of Memphis, Tennessee. With very little time in the schedule to ride, I decided that I was going to split one ride between both states. My hotel, on the Mississippi side, was 2 miles from Memphis. I jumped out of the hotel and pedaled into traffic, crossing the state line for a 10 mile ride in Tennessee. On the way back, I passed the hotel, cruised around Horn Lake and avoided the oncoming hurricane by a few minutes.

It poured the entire next day as I drove to Little Rock, Arkansas, creating some down time to plan routes throughout the Rose City. My hotel was in North Little Rock, about 8 miles from downtown. With little time, my lunch ride from the hotel, was rather flat. A windy spin around North Little Rock that was pretty uneventful. A few days later, I hit the jackpot. A tip, sent me over to the Big Dam Bridge.

Originally intended to be called Murray Bridge, the Big Dam Bridge spans the Arkansas River and Murray Lock and Dam between Little Rock and North Little Rock and is open only to pedestrian and bicycle traffic. At 4,226 feet in length it is the longest pedestrian/bicycle bridge in North America that has never been used by trains or motor vehicles. It rises to 90 feet over the Arkansas River and 30 feet over the dam. The span over the river is 3,463 feet, with the ramps on either side of the river accounting for the rest of the length. The southern end of the bridge is near Little Rock’s Murray Park, while the northern end is at Cook’s Landing Park in North Little Rock.

You exit the bridge on the Arkansas River Trail. A smoothly paved cycleway that runs through beautiful landscape to and through downtown Little Rock. You glide across the Arkansas River and over several bridges before arriving in the downtown section of the city. I can’t wait for my next visit to the area. I’ll bring the Ritchey to explore even more of the Arkansas Trail.

All and all, I was pleasantly surprised at how hilly the south is. Not mountainous, but compared to the Mid West, it was a nice change to be able to climb a little.

Almost Autumn

My return home, however short it may be, is enough to renew my spirits. Being away from family, friends and familiarity is difficult for long stretches at a time. I took a few days off the bike to rest and recover from long work days and travel.

Wanting to get back in the woods, I hopped on the gravel bike and pedaled into the Delaware State Forest to regain some more familiarity. As soon as I crossed through the deer trail that connects my community and the forest, my stress level dropped significantly.
Being away so long, I forgot how beautiful the beginning of fall foliage is. The through roads were littered with fallen leaves and acorn, but not so much that you couldn’t see the gravel surface.

About halfway through my ride, I crossed onto the Burnt Mills Snowmobile Trail system. With the addition of new gravel to cover the rip rap, this trail is becoming one of my favorite routes through the forest. It has some short, steep climbs, as well as loose, twisty descents, dropping narrowly through thick brush and wetland before climbing back up. Most of the trail system sits just below, but parallel to Flat Ridge Road.

My ride back was filled with the sights and sounds of Northeast Pennsylvania, enough to fill my head with happy thoughts as I hit the road again in a few days. Here’s a few more pics:

What’s playing (what am I listening to while writing or what’s dancing around in my head while riding), today – Billy Joel – The Stranger