Chautauqua, NY – The tiny town of endearing qualities

        The first time I heard about Chautauqua from Agim, I thought she meant Chicago, since the pronunciation was so similar. Later I found out it was an aboriginal name, and that’s where all the excitements began. After googling it, the place was a very important town in American History. It was where the movement of philosophy thinking originated. Philosophy? Ain’t that me? Jerry even said it locates in the mountains. No way. Things were getting out of my imaginations. But, as me being me, I tried not to hold any expectations for it; I ma just let it flow.

So I hopped onto Jerry and Mary’s mini-van, who were kindly to make a detour for me from Albany to Oneonta, and we were on a road trip. The views on the way? Endless hills, farms, and more hills and farms. And most importantly, I was finally driving. I waited so long for Jerry to be tired (that man must love driving), and stepped on the accelerator of the vehicle with MILES for unit. For all those efforts on getting the international driver’s permit (thanks, bro), driving on the Interstates made it worth all the while. The road was…incredibly rough. I told Jerry that if we have got highway like this in Taiwan, somebody was getting fired (but wait, that was Before 2008). Anyway, the road was so bumpy rhythmically that Mary described it as horseback riding. Jerry gave a reasonable explanation that these roads were initially built for horses to walk on. When the government was constructing it for motor vehicles, the blocks of roads were laid in equal fragments, and the clefts were filled with cement, which caused all those noises. It made sense, but didn’t decrease the fuss.

While driving through these roads between the hills and all, I came to think about how amazing it was for the forbearers to travel the distance with horses in the past. We were going 70s and it took us almost a day to go from long island to the west of NY State. Yet for them? On horse carriage? I know in the book “Lauren’s Log House” the family trail blazed from the forest of Wisconsin to the prairies of Mississippi. How much courage, faith and will they must have composed! I drove on the bumpy highway, and thoughts like these sent my mind to wonder.

Another highlight of the trip was to stop by a Casino for dinner, which could only be located inside the aboriginal reservation area. I was looking for some aborigines but couldn’t find any, Jerry said none of them have to work, they pretty much benefited from the casino. I did see some great painting of the aborigines on the dinning wall, something I am always interested in.

The art show was located in the Chautauqua Institute. It was pretty much a community with organized facilities such a central lawn, post offices, groceries stores, beach front and an important element: the philosophy hall. The life there was very genuine and pretty much electronic-free. Some may call it primitive, I call it original. The most prominent sign of it was to see newspaper boys (and girls) calling for sales in front of the post office in the morning. As I was cruising around I saw 3 kids ages 5 or below sitting in front of the house on the coolers in a circle, reading their books. I could tell they weren’t totally entrenched in the books, but on their faces I could tell they were trying to do something, trying to make something special out of it. We are talking about 3 little kids self-organizing with books! I fell in love with the little town immediately. On day one after setting up the booth, I used the day to go to Mayville, via bus, and ran into a group of Amish girls. At the end of the day I obtained enough information on bike rental and trials that had me excited for the cycling journey on day 2 (and day 3 as it turned out to be).

Cylcing was most definitely the highlight of the visit. I had never cycled on hill terrain this rough for this long, not to mention in such beautiful and primitive place. I was pretty much screaming “I can’t believe this” or imitating the USA ultimate players “this is awesome” in the first 20 min of my trip. And then the hills began to come, fatigue started to set-in, and it was all mental since then. It was endless hills after endless hills. My goal for day 1 was to go around Lake Chautauqua, and hopefully hit Lake Erie if my pace was fast enough. On the side there were lands, farms, and forest, and lake, or course. Houses, ultra-fast cyclers, and passion joggers. The view was so pleasure that I wasn’t sure if my brain had enough space to fit them all. Yet the hills were so tough that I had to talk to myself repeatedly to get over them. I remember saying “there’s another hill! Not your first, and ain’t your last!” with a southern accent. Later in the day the rain hit so I decided not to ride to Lake Erie. Yet I remember clearly that just when the rain began to fall, I had already biked for over 4 hours and over countless hills, yet in my mind I laughed and welcomed the challenges. That was a strong sense of self-recognition. In a journey that everyone could have taken, and when obstacles arise, others defend against them, I welcome them. No wonder people were saying I was out of my mind. On the way back I turned into one of the walking trail into the forest and found a huge resort for forest school. It really was something.

Just when cycling day 1 ended beautifully and couldn’t have gotten any crazier (I made over 40 miles of hills in 5 hours), the 2nd day got wilder. The aim was to make it to Lake Erie, bike along the coast and make a circle back. It was great in the beginning as my legs were used o the pace and paddled through Maybille and Lake Eire smoothly. Of course along the way I encountered even more cyclists who were just simply FAST! I had no idea how they biked over the hills without losing much speed. Lake Erie, the “Ocean-Faking-Lake,” was… ocean-like. And that was pretty much all there is to it; it didn’t have that thousand sailing boats like Lake Michigan and all, but still magnificent. So I stopped for a short break in the gas station nearby (where everyone knew everyone), and continued. I was pumped, and had no idea what was waiting for me in the near distance.

So I began to cruise along the lake, for about another hour of hills and such, rain drops began to fall. It’s just rain drops yeah? Big deal. It wasn’t that simple. The rain drops turned into storms with thunder and lightning. Initially I could only see the lightning but couldn’t hear the thunder, but as I continued to paddle through the farms and vine yards, I saw a flash of light that was immediately followed by a ear-blowing thunder. I was so scared that I didn’t know whether to bike. That was some life-threatening experience.

The storm lasted for a bit over an hour. I was completely soaked. Thank goodness I listened to Jerry and brought his rain jacket with me. I took my sox off and tied them on the handle of the bike. This action reminded me how I used to see those mountain bikers having their sox tied on the handle to bring luck. To me, that’s a sign of tested, through the roughness. As the sun shined again, I had already paddled through the edge of my map, and was looking for that left turn to lead me to return. Yet just like that, I saw an unbelievable sign “Welcome to Pennsylvania.” Initially I thought it was Penn county, after all, Penn seems to be all over the US. But when I entered the small town, I knew I had gone too far. All the license plates were Pennsylvania, not Empire State no more. I gotta head back. To top it all, I had to cut through this US Road 76 that was ALL UPHILLS!!! And to make it worse, the surface of the pavement was removed for further construction purpose. For good cause of the future? Yes. It was so rough that pain began to accumulate in the wrist. It became the longest and toughest road I had ever biked!

It was also the last day of the show as well. I was in a hurry to get back to help breakdown. I can still remember for some hills they were just so steep that I had to switch to lowest gear and still couldn’t make it. And just when I thought I had conquered one? Often I was greeted by an even steeper one ahead of it. It was endless, and I was left with no room to rest. The most gratifying thing of all was that whenever I looked back to the road that I’ve made, I knew I was up to something special. I could understand how some people become very emotional when they reach the mountain top or finish a marathon. Because it was the difficulties and battles they have to go through in order to achieve what they could not imagine. Though I could understand, I still didn’t shed a tear. I felt warm-blooded, and that’s already something.

I ended up cycled over 100 miles of hills in storms, rains, and the burning sun within 12 hours, enough to scare the owner of Bike Rent.

I described this journey as hiking the 100-Peak in Taiwan, just much tougher. I knew it was tougher because I never had to inspire/encourage myself so much over a single-man sport. I knew it was something extraordinary because not everyone could push his/herself so hard to end up with 2 steel-pillar legs in the following week. Well, mine did. Over 100 miles of hills in 2 days, enough for my memories of a life time.

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