Lake Ontario
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197 Lake Ontario June 22, 2014 In the summer of 2014, I embarked on a trek around Lake Ontario, the last of the five lakes for me to circle. It’s the closest to home, and it’s the lake with which I am most familiar. My first relatively long-­ distance bicycle tour was the Iowa ragbrai (the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) in 1989. The race introduced me to the concept of longer touring over multiple days, camping along the way. The next summer, I packed up my old Fuji road bike with a sleeping bag and tent and headed past Syracuse to Fair Haven Beach State Park on Lake Ontario. It felt like a long and pretty grueling ride from Ithaca, with numerous hills and a major thunderstorm. From there, I headed along the shores of Lake Ontario, past Watertown and Alexandria Bay to Ogdensburg. Then I turned around and rode back, this time taking a somewhat more inland route. By my later standards, it was a relatively short trip. But it was a start at bicycle touring and also the first time I rode along the shores of Ontario. At that point, I never imagined that I would someday ride around all five lakes, but I do remember the thrill of seeing the lake and then the St. Lawrence River come into view at the various points where the road touched up against the shore. I still have vivid memories of the deep-­ blue water against a blue sky as I rode north through the Thousand Islands. Fast forward to 2003: I had just moved my spouse into an apartment in Montpelier, Vermont, but I would be commuting back and forth from Ithaca while she served as a judicial clerk Lake Ontario 198 for the Vermont Supreme Court. I drove a U-­ Haul truck. She drove her car. I had decided that when I returned, I would do so by bicycle. On a warm day in early August 2003, I hopped on my bike in Montpelier and headed to the New York border, and then cycled along the northern shore of Ontario, around through Buffalo, then back east to Batavia, and home across Highway 20, which traverses west to east through the central part of the state. The last leg was around 120 miles on a warm summer day and was to that point the longest, most difficult ride I’d experienced. It took everything I had to make the last thirty miles through the hilly Finger Lakes region. Given the two previous trips, when I embarked on this one, I had already ridden much of Ontario. Still, I’d never done the complete circle, so this felt like a bit of unfinished business. I drove with my bike from Ithaca to Rochester and dropped my car off at a downtown garage. Rochester is like so many of the cities that I’ve ridden through with its history of industrial development and postindustrial decline, but of course it has its own individual history as well. The area was originally settled by the Seneca people, one of the five nations of the Haudenosaunee, who were forced out after the colonists’ victory in the American Revolution. The city is located about ten miles from Lake Ontario, on the Genesee River, which provided water power for the flour mills that originally spurred the city’s growth. But mostly Rochester has been defined by its connection to the Eastman Kodak Company. The company was founded by George Eastman in 1888, based on a strategy of selling cheap cameras and making healthy profits on film, photographic paper, and processing chemicals. Eastman brought the formerly arcane practice of photography to ordinary people. As a result, Kodak achieved near monopoly control over the consumer camera and film business and held it until the 1970s. But competition from Japanese rival Fuji, and eventually the displacement of film by digital photography , a realm that Kodak entered late—­ and about the time that cell phone photography began to displace digital cameras—­ significantly undermined Kodak’s profitability. As a result, in 2012 Lake Ontario 199 the company filed for bankruptcy and was saved from insolvency only by selling many of its highly valued patents, for which it received about a half-­ billion dollars.1 Kodak did many good things for Rochester, employing thousands of workers and providing the economic foundation upon which the once very prosperous city rested. George Eastman was a generous...