Roger Fulton has a variety of sources for his nature guides — local books, sometimes the internet. Kids.
“If I get into an area and I want some detail on it, I find a 13-year-old on a bike,” Fulton said. “They know everything.”
“I was riding a bike in the Thousand Islands. Three quarters down a path, behind a school, I got into weeds.”
Fulton pushed through until he came to open ground, where he burst onto three teens. They were stunned. Here was an old man coming out of the weeds with a bike.
He needed their guidance getting back onto the right path — not that he was lost.
“It’s like asking Daniel Boone, ‘do you ever get lost?’ ‘Lost? Me? No. I may have been turned around for three days. But not lost,’” Fulton said, laughing.
The Cortland man, who also lives in Deland, Florida, is a nature writer with 50 books or guides to his credit, some he co-wrote with Mike Carpenter.
Fulton, writing solo, just published “716 Miles of Non-Highway Biking Trails in Upstate New York – Safer is Better.” It’s a look at 50 trails people can enjoy without riding in traffic.
“I go here and I go there and I have fun doing this,” he said.
The retired New York state trooper avoids bicycle riding on roads and streets.
“I have seen too much,” he said.
He noted two recent incidents, one in June when a driver veered into bicyclists, killing one and injuring another on Route 26 in Cincinnatus. And there was a case where a Volusia sheriff’s officer was on a 20-mile bike ride in Port Orange, Fla., when he was hit from behind by a driver who was shopping on her cell phone. Her car mirror impaled him in the back, though the biker lived.
“I see more and more distracted drivers,” said Fulton, 73.
Lisa Belknap, co-owner of Action Sports bike/ski shop on Pendleton Street in Cortland, said she is getting choosier about where she rides, too. She goes for roads with less traffic, in the Truxton area.
“A lot of people text while driving. It’s always a risk. You want to go where you can be safe,” she said. She advises people to be as visible as possible.
A flashing taillight on the helmet, under the seat, a head light and bright clothing all help. “And like swimming, don’t bike alone. Go with at least one person,” Belknap said. “Don’t listen to music when biking. You want to stay alert. Things can happen quickly. Cars are going faster than bikes. Be on high alert.”
Or leave the streets behind and check out non-highway biking.
The bike trails Fulton features are off-road paved and unpaved for the average rider, from Buffalo to Albany, Massena to the Southern Tier.
Fulton said one great trail is at Dryden Lake Park, which connects to the Jim Schug Trail.
“They’ve extended it, opened it from Dryden to Freeville,” he said. “This is a very nice trail. It’s old railroad bed, mostly cinder. You want wider tires than a road bike, when riding.”
“I have never ridden a road bike. I have ridden a hybrid, a mountain bike and a touring bike, Fulton said. “You see so much more. You get away from traffic. It’s not like off-roading for a mountain bike.”
Fulton also features the 316-mile Erie Canal bike trail, which has its own chapter. “I break it down into segments.”
The Erie Canal bike path keeps getting better. “Some of it is paved. Some are stone drives. I have ridden it two times, in 2010 and 2015. I have written a book on it.”
For the latest book, Fulton features 716 miles. “And I have ridden every inch of it. It took me a while.”
Fulton, who can’t type, hired an assistant, Amy Riotto of Cortland, to type and format the copy for the publisher.
Working on Fulton’s guides has opened a new world to Riotto.
“I have lived here 29 years,” she said. “I didn’t realize how beautiful Central New York was.”
Others weigh in
Spider Rybaak of Lakeport, a fisherman for 70 years, writes books on fishing, whether exploring the Salmon River or Oneida Lake. Right now he’s writing a book on fishing the St. Lawrence River.
“It’s to educate me about the place,” he said. “I am very curious. I love the outdoors. New York is a wonder land, with lakes, fields, trees and streams. If I want to get lost for a while, I can go to the Adirondacks or the Catskills.”
Or he does mini jaunts to Oneida Lake, which he never tires of.
“I never get bored,” he said. “I like to cleanse my soul, clear my mind after pounding the keys. Nature always does it for me.”
Charlie Yaple of Marathon, a former director of Lime Hollow Nature Center, agrees.
“Too many people spend too much time indoors,” he said, and bike trails are the way to go.
“I just read an article on the kinds of exercise that is good for older people. Two of the best ones are swimming and biking,” Yaple said. “Those exercises are not as tough on old joints and ligaments.”
He likes the slower pace of bicycling, too.
“They are going to see the beauty of the land. People that bike through the countryside are more likely to take care of it,” Yaple said.
Fulton’s next book will explore nature adventures in Central New York.
“Rather then telling someone, go for a bike ride or a hike, let’s go in search of meromictic lakes.”
Lake water as a rule turns over, so the bottom becomes the top, he says.
“In meromictic lakes, and there are only three in Central New York, they don’t turn over. Green Lakes State Park has two. The other one is in Jamesville.”
Get out and ride
But as for biking trails: “People should know that these trails exist and get out there and enjoy them,” Fulton said.
One of the wildest sights he’s ever seen was in Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge in Deleon Springs, Fla.
“Something came out on the trail. I had a friend with me. ‘Mary, what was that?’ ‘I don’t know,’ Mary said.”
This woman was experienced with horses and other animals. She was no lightweight.
“What came to mind was a kinkajou. I have not seen a kinkajou except from a zoo. I looked it up on Google. It was a kinkajou,” Fulton said. “Out of South America. People keep them as pets. It looks like a poor man’s raccoon. They are cute, but they are nocturnal. I’ve never seen one that close. I’ve seen deer, songbirds, armadillos. I have a birder friend who is a retired state trooper. He had never seen a scrub jay, native to Florida. We spent the whole day looking for scrub jays.”
Only at the end of their jaunt, not only did the birder see a scrub jay, but an armadillo.
“It made his day. He bought me a half-gallon of whisky.”