May 12: Sodus Point to Rochester, NY - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

May 12: Sodus Point to Rochester, NY

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THE FIRST VILLAGE after Sodus Point is Pultneyville. All I knew of it was someone's comment that Hugh's campground smelled of goose droppings. It says something for the internet that this single comment, read halfway across the world of a tour years earlier, damned the place.

In reality, Pultneyville is millionaire's row. You don't live here if you can't find two coins in your pocket. Battles were fought in the 19th century and historical markers remind you of the fact. There is nowhere to buy coffee and sticky buns, not on a damp morning, even one with a tailwind.

On the way into town we passed one of those historical markers that said the house at the far end of a generous and well-mowed garden had been a station on the Underground Railroad. I should point out here that American history is not

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a strong point of a European child's education. Independence from Britain is a huge event in American history but a footnote in British books. In France, every child knows independence was won thanks to Lafayette and that British surrender came after the French bottled up the Royal Navy in Chesapeake Bay. But there the interest ends. We know America had a civil war, but then so did Britain and France. We know the American civil war was about slavery and we know who won but, beyond that, it was like hearing the neighbours having a good row but not knowing why.

The Underground Railroad was therefore new to me. Had the Adventure Cycling Association not named one of its routes after it, it would have been as unknown now. And yet it is a moving history. Brave people whose motivations weren't wholly well received developed a network to get slaves from the southern states up to the freedom of Canada. They passed the slaves from safe house to safe house - the stations on the so-called railroad - and passed them from one stationmaster to the next.

The number who escaped wasn't enormous given how many slaves there were but the significance was colossal and the upset to the slave owners considerable. The numbers who got free were fewer than the babies born into slavery on plantations but the point was made and many escaped slaves were able to work in Canada and pay for their family to join them. For the escape route was considered too dangerous for women and children.

Being denied coffee and buns in such a posh place, we rode on to Palmyra, a genial town known for the four churches that stand so inconveniently on the corners of a single junction that they are impossible to photograph. What the town ought to be known for is the shop two doors down from the little museum.

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It has become a time bubble. We spent a wonderful hour there, shown around by an ebullient guide.

The story is that the shop began when the Erie canal was being built and towns sprang up along the route to supply and profit from the workers. The original doors faced the waterway but that only made it easy for the workmen, who were transient, boisterous, not often sober and even more infrequently honest, to come in, take what they wanted and leave.

From about that time the shop remained much as it was, its front door now on the street. The owner was an unyielding man and so was his son. And so, at the start of the 1940s, when food stamps and rationing made their way into commercial life, the owner shut shop and left it untouched. And when you look around now, there are eggs which have been waiting to be bought for seven decades, and bottles of scents, tinctures and medicines, and boxes of food from makers your grandmother would have known.

Eggs were on the counter the day the shop closed. They are still there today.
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What you see on the shelves has been untouched for decades
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The street fell into bad times. The town planned to pull it down in the 1960s, leading a fledgling conservation society to fight it off. The society knew the owner's family would die and that it could then buy the shop and the printing works just up the road and have an instant museum, one all the better for never having been touched.

Palmyra: if only the owners of this café knew what the name means in UK English...
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Our destination for the night was the home of the delightful Dale and Sue Maddock, who describe themselves as

Dale and Sue in Rochester: a lovely couple.
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"an older couple" but are in fact younger than I am. We were their first visitors after joining the Warm Showers network and now, doubtless, they are pondering whether to leave it again!

Dale and Sue found each other after finding themselves alone again in life and their happiness is infectious. We spent a wonderful evening at their house and we felt a friendship had been born. They were polite enough to say the same. Thanks, Dale and Sue!


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