According to scientists, the story of the Finger Lakes began in the Pleistocene epoch. Glaciers, some more than two-miles thick, crawled southward from what is now Hudson Bay, then retreated, and did it all again, several times. Over the course of their journeys, they gouged, tore, and plowed huge trenches in the earth. And then, it got warm.
As temperatures rose, the ice sheets retreated for good, leaving two-million years' worth of sediment to dam the new valleys left in their wake. Long, slender, deep bodies of water formed. In the surrounding hills, new streams and rivers tumbled freely from high, jagged cliffs, eroding the rock, and creating gorges. This slow, steady interaction of land and water that has been shaping Central New York for thousands of years is still at work today, creating one of the most unique and geologically stunning areas in the US. But the sense of timelessness here can be seen in so much more than the region's imposing natural beauty. Roads with four lanes are hard to find, weather beaten barns sit like sentinels atop solid stone foundations, and farmers still operate the faded, rusty tractors of their grandfathers. Even before arriving in my host city of Ithaca, at the southern tip of Cayuga Lake, I begin to understand why the roots of American winemaking run so in this area. Great grapes cannot be rushed, and the pace of life here is decidedly slower.
Rolling into Ithaca on a Saturday afternoon, I sense that the energy level is unusually high. Not uncommon in a college town (Ithaca is home to both Cornell University and Ithaca College), but classes aren't normally in session this late in May. Upon my arrival at La Tourelle Resort and Spa, I'm informed that the annual Ithaca Festival is in full swing, just a few miles away in the heart of downtown. The promise of live bands and food vendors is all I need to hear to get me back on the bike.
I park the Harley-Davidson XR1200 among a gaggle of other motorcycles and scooters and head toward the music. All types of folks from older, distinguished couples, to well-dressed young families, to punk rockers, and hippies are here enjoying the carnival-like atmosphere. The Ithaca Commons pedestrian mall is bopping to the beat of a band. Wisps of smoke carry intermingling culinary scents and tug at my impatient stomach. The clock that was showing such a relaxed pace only a few hours ago has taken on a whole new dimension for the evening.
Owasco, Otisco, and Skaneateles
A couple of open windows and a fresh, cool breeze make rising a bit of a chore. Thankfully, a light breakfast at the resort's Simply Red Bistro is just the ticket to get me off and running. I turn northeast and head up East Hill toward the main campus of Cornell University. The tight, swerving streets lined with shops, bars, and restaurants give this section of Ithaca a European feel.
The quiet, relaxing Route 38 and the crisp, country air makes for an easy pace. In the village of Moravia, the morning is slowly coming to life. Well-dressed churchgoers give knowing waves to the guys manning the big, smoky cookers in the parking lot of the fire department. Barbecued chicken lunches will be served later.
Within minutes, the road dissects the gentle slope of emerald pastures tumbling toward the cerulean surface of Owasco Lake. My only companions are a few grazing cows and some distant, flitting birds.
Motorcycle & Gear
2009 Harley-Davidson XR1200
Helmet: HJC IS-Max
Jacket: Olympia Moto Sports GT Air Transition
Pants: Olympia Moto Sports Ranger 2
Boots: Sidi Doha
Gloves: Held Air
Luggage: Harley-Davidson Genuine Motor Accessories
Though an exploration of the historic city of Auburn at the upper end of the lake is tempting, I opt to shoot back down the east side on Route 38A, and then Rockefeller Road, which keeps me even closer to the shoreline. Family farms define the scenery here, and the spring's early crops wave lightly against the brilliance of the nearby water. Soon, my southerly trek deposits me back in Moravia where the firehouse chicken is ready and folks are lining up.
Route 38A turns me back north and toward Skaneateles Lake. In New Hope, I follow signs down a dirt road to the New Hope Mills along Bear Creek. Unfortunately, the antiquated mill is closed on Sunday, so the best I can do is peek in the windows and snap a few photos of the large, overshot waterwheel.