New York: The Finger Lakes

Text: Ken Aiken • Photography: Ken Aiken

Hot, so hot. Gusting winds keep leaning the bike over, but provide no relief. It's open country. The pavement just keeps rolling over hills and across valleys and I catch myself starting to nod off. I have to find a place to stop that's out of the sun and get something cold to drink. Ironically, these gently rolling hills on this expansive plateau were formed by ice, a mile-high wall of ice grinding southeast across the landscape a mere instant ago in geological time. Nowadays, there's never a glacier around when I need one.

Alternating from a divided four-lane to a regular two-lane highway, Route 20 stretches across the state from Albany to Buffalo. It shouldn't be confused with the New York Thruway, which runs just north of it, because Route 20 is one of those classic highways built for cruising. It also connects the towns and cities that lie on the northern end of the Finger Lakes - Skaneateles, Auburn, Seneca Falls, Geneva, and Canandaigua - and provides access to the roads along the lakeshores and the land between. Technically, there are about a dozen finger lakes in central New York, but when most people talk about The Finger Lakes they're referring to only a handful: Skaneateles, Owasco, Cayuga, Seneca, and either Keuka or Canandaigua.

The village of Skaneateles ("Long Lake" in Iroquois) is on the northern end of the lake with the same name. After hours of riding in the hot sun, I regard this village as one does an oasis. Arriving, I park my Beemer in the shade provided by a row of shops and just sit on a Thayer Park (one of two public parks on the downtown lakefront) bench and enjoy the cool breeze coming off the lake. To further delay my departure, I shopped and bought a pair of earrings in the shape of tree frogs for my wife. Downtown Skaneateles turns out to be one of the best shopping areas in the Finger Lakes - Okay, most of the shops are strictly for the tourist trade, but those I explored offer quality merchandise. Because of its location in relation to my tour, I rode through Skaneateles several times, always stopping and taking a short break before continuing on my way.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the Winter 2002 back issue.