In July of 2008, my wife went on a weekend camping trip with friends up to Brushwood, a private campsite in New York. I went along and took the opportunity to ride the Chautauqua Trail. (Not very well developed for bike riding, by the way.) When I returned from my day of riding, she was talking about attending a week long camping event the next July and I almost instantly decided that I would take that opportunity to ride the Erie Canalway. I had ridden the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal half a dozen times and I was looking fo some other long ride, considering either the Little Miami Trail and others in Ohio or the Erie Canalway from Buffalo to Albany. The confluence of my wife's camping at Brushwood and the Erie Canalway made the decision for me.
And so began a year of planning. Well, it certainly doesn't take a year to plan such a trip but there were a few things that needed to be sorted out. For example, getting to Buffalo would be relatively easy but I would then have to get to Albany to ride back. I considered riding the train but, with Amtrak's lack of roll-on service and the requirement that I dismantle and box up my bike, I decided that a car rental would be the way to go.
As the date approached, however, my wife's job changed. Her IT department was taken over by an outside contractor and that threw her ability to take the week off into turmoil. I understood in advance that things like that could happen so I had planned to be able to do it all on my own. Favorably, though, the mother of a friend of mine lives in Buffalo. That made the plan shake out to something like this: Drive to Buffalo after work on a Friday. Stay at my friend's mom's house. Have her drive me to the airport on Saturday, drop me off and take the car back to her place. I would rent a car, drive to Albany, drop the car off at the airport and ride back from there. I would camp at canal locks (because they are free) and roll into Buffalo on Thursday. On Friday I would ride up to Niagara Falls and then drive home.
Thursday 9 July
I packed everything in the car Thursday night. I made a list so that I didn't forget anything, crossing off each item as I put it in the car.
Friday 10 July
I left Pittsburgh after work and in less than four hours arrived in Tonawanda without any incident or wrong turns. Things were off to a good start. Happy birthday to me.
Saturday 11 July
The Alamo car rental opened at 6am but I decided I didn't need to get my hostess up that early to drive me there. Instead, we got going a little later and arrived at the airport at around 8:20. I checked in, got my key and loaded up the car, a Ford Focus. In short order I was on the road taking I-90 East towards Albany. The car had Sirius satellite radio but I couldn't find anything decent so I plugged my iPod into the 12v power adapter, stuck in the headphones and enjoyed my drive.
For an hour and a half.
I started thinking about what I would need to do once I got to the Albany airport. I didn't know whether I would have a place to leisurely unload the car and put my bike together or if I would need to dump stuff curb-side and get moving in a hurry. I wondered if my trailer would. . .
My BoB trailer and all of the gear that went in the trailer was still in my car.
Eighty miles back.
I yelled for a while. I yelled till my throat was sore. I yelled until my ears went numb. I yelled until the next exit and only stopped yelling when I pulled up to the toll gate. I then turned around and went back through the gate, taking the ticket from the same person who had taken my money a few moments before.
After that, I yelled a little more.
About half way back to Buffalo, I ran into rain. Heavy rain. Cats and dogs rain. Slow down to under 40 miles per hour because you can't see for shit and don't want to hydroplane to your death rain. The rain did lighten up a bit but was still fairly heavy all the way back to Buffalo. Since I didn't expect to be driving back to Buffalo, I didn't bring my Google Maps directions and so I turned an exit too soon. Had to turn around and try again. I got to the house and unloaded my car in the rain.
I checked to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything.
I checked again.
All told, it cost me three hours.
I outran the rain about 100 miles from Albany. Based on where I ran into the rain on my way back to Buffalo, I figured I would get an hour or two before it caught up with me once I started riding. In either case, I was going to get wet before I would be able to make camp in Waterford.
I pulled into the Albany airport at 4:20 but it took me 40 minutes to empty the car, put all my gear together, hitch up the trailer, ride over to the terminal and check my car in. Waiting in line to pay the $112 for the car took longer than everything else. I left the airport at 5pm and it was about 9 miles on the road to where I wanted to get on the trail in Albany.
One of the things I wanted to do in Albany was get into the downtown area to see some of the historical building. The State Capital. The museum. The three hour backtrack encouraged me to focus more on moving so I could get to Waterford before it got dark. That also meant that I had missed touring the USS Slater, docked on the Hudson River. Tours ended at 4pm and I'd missed it by nearly two hours.
The rain started about half an hour later. It wasn't as bad as I thought it might be. Aparently the long trek across New York had diminished the storm's power to that of a steady summer rain. It was actually somewhat pleasant to ride in the rain.
At about the same time, the trail ended and I had to take to the road. There were plenty of signs indicating where to go to keep on the Canalway, until I got to Cohoes and had to leave the mainline of the Canalway to get up to where I was camping in Waterford. The map book was not entirely clear and, without signs, I made a few wrong turns. But, eventually I found another section of trail along the canal and that took me to where I wanted to go.
Lock #2 at Waterford was my first encounter with a working canal. Sure, on the C&O there is a lock at Great Falls and a few in Georgetown that function so that tour boats can move back and forth but this was an actual, modern, working canal lock. In Pittsburgh, the locks are secret places; fenced off with chain link and barbed wire. But here, there was no guard or attendant to keep an eye on you or warn you away from places they didn't want you to go. You simply walked up and walked across the closed gates to get to the other side. There were a few signs keeping you away from the lock edge itself to keep people from falling in but that was merely a safety warning.
It all seemed very reasonable and civilized, due in no small part I'm sure to the canal's having been in continuous use as part of the local transportation infrastructure for 180 years.
When I arrived at the Visitor Cener in Waterford, the rain had pretty much ended. Even though the center was closed, the two attendants were still there. They very graciously unlocked the rest room and shower so I could clean up. They said I could pitch my tent in the grassy area beside the center but I said that, with the wet grass, I thought I might just lay out on one of the picnic benches under the porch overhang next to the park police station. They didn't say I couldn't and so I took that as tacit permission.
After nightfall, I pulled out the Jet Boil and made a Cup-o-Noodles for dinner ("It's seasoning flavored.") as I hadn't eaten anything since about 10am. I discovered that I had forgotten to pack the Tang. I had gotten some, not only because I happen to like Tang and it's good for me but it's cheaper than Gatoraide. Water would have to do.
One of the boaters parked dockside came ashore and, after a conversation about my camping plans and the weather, told me that the rain was done for the evening. Later, her husband came ashore to throw away some trash and informed me that they had looked at the Weather Channel and there was, in fact, more rain expected. With that, I decided that I would sleep on the porch. This would save me from having to pack a wet tent in the morning. I ended up putting my pad on the concrete next to the picnic bench as the bench was too close to the edge of the overhang to stay completely dry when the rain came just as I was settling down to sleep at 9:30.
The only problem was the lights. Fairly bright and on all night. A towel over my head was a sufficent solution.
I was awakened by someone nearby. I pulled the towel from my head, startling the guy kneeling right beside me.
"Dude, I just wanted to leave you a cigarette if you wanted one," he said as he set one down on the sleeping pad right in front of my face.
"No. Go away."
He took his cigarette and left. It was just after two in the morning and the bars must have just closed
Sunday 12 July
I had set my alarm for 5am and when it went off and I woke up, the sun was already up. I had failed to take into account that I was several hundred miles further East than I normally am when I start out on one of these trips so the sun comes up earlier here. Even so, I took my time getting going. I made breakfast. Talked to the attendants who showed up to begin setting up for the farmer's market that would be going on later in the morning.
Sunday was also the same day that an annual fully supported canalway ride was setting out from Buffalo. I had thought for a moment about going on the supported ride but there were a lot of factors against that: Riding with lots of people. Preferring to camp with no one else around. but mostly I think it was the $520 price tag in addition to the transportation. I figured I was doing this ride for $100 plus transportation and incidentals so there was a lot of savings.
Some road riding through Cohoes, climb a hill and I'm on the Mohawk River Trailway, a rail-trail that, aside from being paved, wasn't much different from what I was used to riding on. After a few miles, I switched the map in my handlebar-mounted holder to the next page and realized that I had not gone to see Cohoes Falls. My original plan had been to see that on Saturday before camping at Waterford but, running late as I was, I completely skipped it.
But I could hear it. I found a place that I could get on the road and ride back down the hill to visit the falls. It was pretty impressive. There was a lot of construction nearby as they are rebuilding the bypass and powerplant spillway. It's interesting to note that even as impressive as it is now, before the construction of the plant and spillway in 1831 it was even more so, said to be second in beauty only to Niagara Falls. But now, power generation and municipal water use will often reduces the falls to little more than a trickle.
Climbing back up the hill and back on the trail, it was about a mile and a half before I had to take to the road again. At Crescent Station, the trail was closed and I had to take to the road to go around. And, unlike the road secions in Albany and Troy, there were no signs directing one along the detour. The mapbook was sufficent, though.
Then, it was back on the trail for less than a mile and another short on-road detour. This one well marked as a more permanent way of not crossing a four-lane highway.
After passing Lock #7, the trail again left the railroad bed and climbed the hill. There were plenty of Department of Energy "No Tresspassing" signs as the trail is detoured around Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory and General Electric Research and Development Center. Knolls develops nuclear sub power plants so it is not unexpected that they detour the trail around. They have even gotten Google to blur their maps. For me, it was just an unpleasant hill climb.
Rolling into Schenectady, the trail again disappeared and I was back on the road. I rolled straight into a farmer's market in front of City Hall. I was tempted to buy some wine for my wife but was deterred by not knowing the first thing about choosing a good wine, nor did I know what she would like. Also, I wasn't sure the bottle would survive the punishment of the rest of my ride to Buffalo. It would be pretty awful for the bottle to rupture in my trailer bag. I bought a big chocolate chip cookie but no one had any milk.
On my way out of Schenectady, I stopped by a convenience store for the required milk. They had signs warning people off of loitering in the store. Loitering outside the store. Doing anything other than shopping and then getting the hell out. Schenectidy must be a tougher town than it looked. Just to be contrary, I loitered outside on the sidewalk in full view of the clerk to consume my milk.
There were no signs for finding the trail out of Schenectady. I ended up crossing the bridge and could tell that I had missed something and went back. The map book said Rice Road but I couldn't find any street signs for Rice Road and the only Rice Road I could find on my GPS was a mile away. I found a pedestrian walkway that took me over the highway and could see the Rice Road exit but I figured out that this wasn't the way to get there. Back in Schednectidy, there was a street map near a bus stop that wasn't helpful. Eventually, I made a guess, took a turn and finally found a bike trail marking painted on a sidewalk connecting me up with the trail. It easily took half an hour just figuring out how to get out of Schenectidy. They really need a sign. One sign would have taken care of things.
At Rotterdam Junction, the trail made a turn and there was a train. The trail crossed the railroad and there was a parked train blocking the way. The trail book indicated I should have taken the road but there was no indication as to why and at the entrance to this section of trail there was no sign saying the trail didn't continue all the way through. Just a Ghost Bike for a cyclist that had been killed there in 2006. Another cyclist came along and we talked about the situation. He said that the railroad was upset that trail users were crossing the tracks and were unwilling to compromise with the trail developers to come up was a safer way across. (Apparently a sign that says "be careful" as is seen at many automobile crossings isn't enough.) Instead, they parked a train in the way to form a metal wall to discourage tresspassers.
Ultimately, that plan didn't work as I and the person I was talking to were able to get our bikes across the tracks under one of the cars with little difficulty. The railroad's pursuit of their own version of safety, which I suspect is more to do with prpoperty rights than with actual safety, have actually created a situation that is more dangerous
At Fort Hunter, I came across a community Canal Days with food, vendors, classic cars, a book sale, kids games and other such things. But what caught my attention were the field full of antique motors, engines and pumps. Most were gas powered and they had an odd habit of burping and belching. As they were driving pumps, they didn't need a lot of power and rotary governors regulated their pistons, adding fuel and igniting it when the motor needed a kick to keep the flywheel spinning. That way, it only need to power evey four of five strokes. There were a few small steam engines and I was disappointed that they weren't operating.
I spent nearly an hour there and ehen I finally got going. . . *bink* . . . I recognized the sound of a breaking spoke. I had bought a replacement rear wheel two years before when I had simply stressed and bent the axle too much. Since then, I had broken half a dozen spokes, more than I had broken in 20 years of riding previously. I had broken two spokes just a few weeks before on a training ride on the Youghiogheny River Trail.
But I was prepared. I had purchased a number of FiberFix Spokes from Adventure Cycling knowing that the odds of me breaking a spoke on the Erie Canalway were very high. A cam holds a Kevlar cord in place and, because Kevlar doesn't stretch, it holds the wheel in place as well as a steel spoke (or whatever kind of crappy alloy they make spokes out of that I'm breaking them evey couple of months). I was able to true up the wheel and continue on my way
I ran into someone with a trail monitor shirt and rode with him for a while. Through Canajoharie, we talked about the organized canalway tour and he pointed out a number of painted marks on the asphalt, circles with direction hashes that were set down to help direct cyclists along the route. It would have been very useful for me to have known these for what they were when I was trying to find my way out of Schenectady.
At Fort Plain, I pulled into the campsite at Lock 15. The lock campsite wasn't much, with some picnic benches, bike racks and plenty of grass to pitch a tent. I hear tell that there were showers to be had but I didn't see any signs. I did find a water spigot next to one of the buildings and that served my purposes of washing my hair and having water for my meals.
The door to the power house was open and inside were a pair of beautiful Westinghouse 25 kilowatt diesel generators. The sign on the door said "Keep Out" but I looked and couldn't find the lock tender so I ducked inside to get a closer look and took some pictures. I'm not sure when they were made but the patent stamps on the ID plates were 1902-1906. They looked brand new, meticulously maintained for a centrury, and I really wished I could have been there earlier in the day when the light was better. The flash of my camera did not do these marvelous machines the justice they deserve.
It was 76 miles for the day.
Monday 13 July
It was surprisingly cold overnight and I didn't sleep well. Once I hit the trail in the morning, it wasn't long before I came across a number of trees down across the trail, perhaps blown down during the thunderstorms on Saturday. I wasn't able to find a way around them so I had to disconnect my trailer from the bike and carry each piece across the wreckage.
At Little Falls, I stopped at Lock 17. The original canal locks used to lift some 8 feet to bring the boats up to the next level. This modern lock is pretty damn big with a 150 ton vertical gate and 40 feet of lift. It takes 15 minutes to fill the lock with water and I stuck around to see that happen. Nothing exciting, but it is kind of neat to watch. Better when it's compressed into a series of pictures. If I had my other camera, I would have set it up to film in real time and make a time lapse.
At Mohawk, I was needing to find a rest room so I crossed the river into Herkimer and found a KFC. There I had a beverage and some chicken nuggets and, before riding on, shaved. There comes a point when I haven't shaved that the hairs on my neck start getting caught in the chin strap clip of my helmet. I had reaced that point and taking advantage of hot water, decent light and a mirror, I shaved to solve that problem.
Ilion is the home of the Remington Arms Company and one of my 'must see' stops along my ride. Unfortunately, I arrived far too early in the day to get in on one of the scheduled tours of the factory. I had to settle for a once-around the small museum on site which, in all honesty, wasn't all that impressive.
As I had been rolling into Ilion, a guy on a bike with a Croozer Cargo trailer was almost hit when he cut in front of a truck to make a left turn. On leaving the Remington Factory, I saw the biker again and he pulled over to talk to me. He asked if I was lost since he had expected me to be long gone by now. I explained that I had been visiting the Remington museum. He liked my BoB trailer and it was his admiring my trailer earlier that had allowed him to not pay attention to his driving and almost get run over.
We talked for a while about the Erie Canalway and long distance riding. He liked that my trailer was a single wheel and I told him that I liked the way it handled. It is especially convenient when getting past the various gates that block vehicles from the ends of trails. With a two-wheeled trailer, you might have to stop and walk the bike through the narrow space. My BoB trailer is 16 inches wide, which isn't any wider than the pedals, so I can easily ride on through.
After Ilion there was a lot more road riding. At Utica there was a Childrens' Museum, closed but with a few trains resting outside and at the nearby scenic railroad station.
Then it was thankfully back onto canalway. The GPS mount on my handlebars had been rattling and I realized that the metal plate through which there were screws holding it in place had broken off. I suppose six years of punishmet had finally taken its toll. At a convenience store in Oriskany I asked if they had any gum bands with which I could strap it place, hoping to keep the other side from snapping off and loosing the mount altogether. They did (although they looked at me funny whenh I said "gum band") and I was able to kludge it together and continue on my way.
Four miles later, I got a flat tire. As I working on replacing it, a rider came up and said he was about to ask if I needed any help but saw that I had things well in hand. He was on the board of the local canalway trail support group and we talked for a bit about the trail. I asked about the best way to get through Rome on the roads as the trail maps I had were occasionally inadequite when it came to navigating towns (Schenectady being a case in point). He described a way that seemed to follow what the map book said but also added that there was a trail that paralleled Route 69 out of Rome that would get me off the road. At least, that's what he had heard. He couldn't tell me where to make the turn to get onto this trail.
He had something of a timetable to meet and rode on while I finished putting my bike back together. I caught up with him a few miles later at the parking lot at the end of the trail. We talked some more and I realized that he wasn't as sure of the route from here into Rome as I had been lead to believe. Even something as simple as turning left or right out of the parking lot. I guessed right rather then left and my GPS made it clear that it was the wrong choice. I turned around, went left and this took me where I wanted to go.
More signs. Really. A sign or two would be very useful.
In Rome, I made a circut around Fort Stanwix and took some pictures. The British built Fort Stanwix in 1758 to replace three smaller forts, which protected the portage during the early years of the French and Indian War. It was named for its builder, Brigadier General John Stanwix, the same Stanwix who had repaired Fort Duquesne in 1759 and has a street named after him in downtown Pittsburgh.
I stopped at a Burger King to buy some chicken nuggets and fill up my CamelBak with water. In the rest room, I got a chance to see myself in a mirror and saw just how sunburned my face had gotten from all the road riding I had done. And I still had three more days to go.
As I rode on Route 69 out of Rome, I saw a gate that said "Road Closed. No Tresspassing." The GPS indicated that this was St. Charles Street and once ran further south, across the railroad tracks and beyond to the old canal. I guessed that this was the connection to the trail that had been mentioned to me so I went around the gate and rode down the overgrown dirt road. It opened up into a much larger path with an epic number of mosquitos.
I had found the canalway.
This dirt track kept me off the highway for a mile until I got to the Erie Canal Village. It was 6:30 and I still had more than 30 miles to Green Lakes Park, where I had hoped to camp for the evening. Well, not exactly. I had called the state park to ask about reservations for camping and they said that it would be $15 a night with a two night minumum and an $8 reservation fee. That's outrageous! For that kind of money I could probably find a motel room and have a roof, a bed, a shower, cable TV and free wi-fi. Instead, rather than paying $38 for the privlidge of pitching a tent in a grassy area of a state park, I expected to find a grassy area somewhere along the trail to pitch my tent for free. I wasn't seeing a lot of people on the trail to think that someone would come along overnight to make a fuss about my pirate campsite.
But, at the rate I was going, I was not going to make to even close to Green Lakes so I started keeping a watch for where I would camp. I didn't want to pull up too early because evey mile I didn't ride that day was an additional mile I would have to ride the next. My initial calculations had been that this would be an 80 mile day, but I had only gone 60 miles and had 30 still to go. Clearly, the distances noted in the map book were inaccurate. If the next day had similar inaccuracies, adding 20 miles could be brutal.
At Stark's Landing I saw a rainbow. The sky had clouded up a little when I was in Rome and, in this case, a single raincloud was moving across the sky on the far side of a ballfield in just the right place to catch the setting sun. After a few minutes it become what was probably the brightest, most distinct rainbow I had ever seen. It was so bright that there was a second though dimmer rainbow right beside it. A double rainbow. The colors were stunning and the pictures I took don't even begin to do it justice. Considering the miles I needed to cover, I probably spent too much time watching the rainbow slowly fade.
At State Bridge, I found a pull off and a picnic area. I was still 20 miles short of where I wanted to be but it was starting to get dark and I doubted that I would just happen to find a better place along the trail. I turned on my cell phone (I leave it off during the day to ensure I have battery power for emergencies) to check in. There was a message with bad news. Apparently the neighbor kids were playing baseball next to where my car was parked in Buffalo and succeeded in breaking my windshield. The parents were going to pay to have it replaced and the work was going to be done before I got back but still. . . not good news.
71 miles for the day and at least 20 additional miles to make up tomorrow.
Tuesday 14 July
I set out early to try to make up as many miles as I could. This section was nice in that there was a lot of contiguous trail between Rome and Syracuse so I wasn't out on hot and hilly roads. One of the problems, however, was the lack of amenities. After 15 miles or so, I really needed a rest room. Sure, you can just take a few steps into the woods to empty your bladder, but when you have to have yourself a little sit down, I much prefer a real toilet. Of even a porta-john.
There was a bridge across the canal with a sign that said "rest rooms" at the Old Erie Canal State Park. I crossed the bridge, followed the trail, came to a picnic and parking area and found nothing. No restroom. No sign saying where the restrooms were. A woman drove up to take her dog for a walk and I asked her. She thought there was a place up on top of the hill so I rode up the steep hill and found a picnic pavillion and a rest room. There was a State Park pickup truck there and a guy was just walking away from the restroom. By the time I got to the restroom, I saw the sign that he had just put up saying that the restroom was closed because there wasn't any water.
Well, not literally. There would be no craping.
On the outskirts of Syracuse, I again ran into the issue of there being no signs to guide one through the on-road segments and the map book seemed less that it could be. I stopped at a KFC on Route 5 to empty my bowels, have some chicken nuggets and fill up my CamelBak. Originally, the Erie Canal ran right through the center of Syracuse. A nice, level grade except that the space is now filled with active railroads, interstate highways and industries. There's no place for a bike trail or even a simple low-traffic two lane road. That left me to take the road recommended by the map book, up a steep hill and across the ridgetop. Looking at the topo map, if they just put a decent berm along Route 5 into town, that would be better. There might already be a decent berm there and, in following the recommended route, I had missed it.
On Water Street in Syracuse, I found a marked bike lane. Being from Pittsburgh, I was surprised, as my home city is twice the size of Syracuse and only just recently added any sort of bike lane markings. On one hand, Syracuse is right along the 400 mile Erie Canalway. With that, I would expect more amenities like bike lanes. On the other hand, I actually saw very few bike amenities along the entire length of the canalway.
Of course, I wasn't surprised to find the bike lane blocked by a U-Haul truck unloading at a self storage place. The truck was even pulled across a full lane of traffic requiring that I ride into oncoming traffic to get around. There wasn't any traffic to speak of so it wasn't a hardship but there is the principle of the thing. It had me thinking about whether there were any laws about blocking bike lanes in Syracuse. I am pretty sure that Pittsburgh lacks such laws.
I made a quick walkthrough at the Erie Canal Museum. I would have liked to stay longer, really look at the exhibits, read the interpretive signs, but I had many miles to go and settled for taking a bunch of pictures that I could look at later. I also bought a few books in the gift ship and picked up a few more maps.
It was then back on the road out of town. At Fairmont, I missed a turn and had to backtrack a mile. Once I found the Canalway trail again, I was met with a sign that the trail was closed ahead. This necessitated another 1.75 miles on the road to get around and back to the trail. The blockage was caused by construction on the Ninemile Creek Aqueduct. They were lining the aqueduct using original designs and techniques so that this will be the only operating canal aqueduct in North America.
As I approached Camilus, I heard the distinctive sound of a steam engine. At the Camilus Steam Museum, they had a tractor fired up, waiting for the truck that would carry it to a show somewhere. It was even cooler than the engines at the Fort Hunter Canal Days. And just like at the Canal Days, I spent a lot of time there. More than I really had to spare.
But, it was a steam engine! How many opportunities am I going to get to see such a thing in action?
At Weedsport it was back onto the road again. I stopped by an Arby's to have some cheese sticks and fill up my water supply. Only after leaving and a few miles later did I realize that I had forgotten my water bottle filled with ice on the table back at the restaurant. I still had the 3-liters in my Camel-Bak but I had spent extra on the insulated water bottle and was disappointed to have lost it. Plus the ice would have been nice.
As the road miles piled on, it got later in the day and started to get dark. I was making up the 20 miles I didn't cover the day before and, being on the road, there was no place to stop and camp. I would need to muscle through to the canal somewhere.
Thankfully the berm of the road was wide so that there was plenty of buffer space for me riding at night. I only had two people honk their horns at me and one truckload full of morons yell incoherently at me as they drove by.
It was early in the morning when I rolled into Palmyra and found a place to camp at the park next to the canal lock. The park was officially closed after dark, so I certainly wasn't authorized to camp there but I didn't care. I figured that if a cop came along, I would tell my sob story of riding 103 miles the previous day, getting in at some ungodly hour to catch a few hours of sleep before moving on first thing in the morning. No one came by though.
Wednesday 15 July
It was cold overnight. I didn't sleep well and kept waking up with chattering teeth and one numb arm. I would roll over. Sleep a little longer and wake up again with the other arm having gone numb from laying on it. I couldn't sleep on my back because it would make my knees hurt. I didn't make breakfast and just packed up and left because it was so chilly and I wanted to warm up.
Not far up the canal approaching Macedon, I saw what was the funiest thing I had seen the entire trip. A pair of geese took off from the canal and were headed towards a bridge. One pulled up hard to get over the top of the span but the other tried pulling up too late. He stalled before cresting the top of the span and fell from the sky when his wings lost lift. Kerplop!
It was absolutely hysterical and I had to stop riding to compose myself.
At Macedon itself I stopped at Lock 30 to make breakfast. I ran into some cyclists there, also having breakfast, who has started on the East coast somewhere and were on their way to Michigan.
At Fairport I started running into lift bridges. For most of the canal so far, bridges had been set high enough to allow boats to pass underneath but in these waterside towns, there was simply no opportunity to build bridge decks higher or rebuild the roads to afford greater clearance. So, the bridges are as they had been for the life of the canal, bridges that lift up out of the way.
I had originally wanted to go into Rochester to see some of the sights but given my speed and my lost time on previous days I felt I didn't have the luxury of sightseeing. Before winding my way through the trail's route through Southern Rochester, I was passed by the cyclists I had met at Macedon. It was odd to be passed again by them on the far side of Rochester because I was riding slow and they had jumped off the trail to go into Rochester to find a bike shop and replace a broken pedal.
When I had left my fist night of camping in Waterford, I saw a very nice Victorian-style boat. Having become involved in steampunk, I had spent much of my riding along the canal daydreaming about what it would be like to have such a boat on the canal. I would invite friends over for weekend excursions. Waistcoats and bowler hats. Corsets and parasols. Proper teas and music on a Victrola. It would be a splended way to spend time on the canal. Approaching the end of the trail I began seeing more and more boats on the canal of the type I was daydreaming about (and more modern craft).
Oh yes, if I lived on or near the canal I would definately have a boat like that.
I spent some time to stop in Brockport and had a milkshake.
I think it was at Albion where I saw a bridge lift to allow a boat to pass. Then, once it had passed the attendant ran down the steps from the control house, jumped in his car, drove down to the next bridge and up the steps to lift that bridge for the boat to pass. Somehow I feel that with today's modern video and remote technology they could automate the system so he could control each bridge from a single location. Or perhaps he was just filling in for a second operator that was taking a meal break or something.
Around about 7pm it started to rain a little. Refreshing after a long hot day.
I pulled into Middleport to camp and found the guys heading to Michigan were already there and setup. They had found a nice restaurant in town to have dinner. I was going to boil some water and pour it into a bag to make something resembling lasagna.
The best thing about Middleport was that there was a shower for cyclists across the parking lot on the back of the police station. It felt really, really good to shower and shave.
It was 74 miles for the day.
Thursday 16 July
As is my habit, I got up fairly early, made myself some soup and started on my way. At Gassport, not far down the trail, I stopped to take a picture of a Pirate ship playset and met a trail kitty. A very friendly cat, she rubbed against my bike, my leg, down one side and back up the other. Apparently this was her trail and she didn't think my bike smelled sufficently like her.
Lockport, as is suggested by the name, has a series of locks in the middle of town. There were originally five locks but the rebuilding of the moden canal has reduced that to just two. Thew original locks are still in place, used as a spillway, but I couldn't climb the hill there because of some construction so I had to turn around, go back half a mile, cross a bridge and travel up the hill on the other side of the canal.
As I headed back, I once more ran into the cyclists on their way to Michigan. It was here in Lockport that they were planning on leaving the route of the canal for their path west. With my GPS I was able to give them the best route through town, something their map was lacking in, and wished them luck.
It was back on the road again until Pendleton where I finally met up with the final leg of the trail, a (mostly) contiguous section into Buffalo.
The figurative end of my journey was the Naval and Military Park Museum in Buffalo. Here, then, I arrived early enough to tour the destroyer USS The Sullivans, the guided missile cruiser USS Little Rock and the Gato-class submarine USS Croaker.
Inside the Croaker, I noted that the hatch between the control room and the conning tower wasn't blocked, unlike the other subs I had toured, such as the USS Requin in Pittsburgh. They had removed the ladder though. A gentleman who used to volunteer for the sub and just happened to be there said that, if I were to climb up on the chart table and hoist myself into the conning tower he wouldn't tell anyone. I think I disappointed him but not taking him up on his offer.
I spent over an hour touring the ships and, had I taken my time, could have spent longer but I was tired and wasn't done with my day yet.
It had been 45 miles from Middleport to Buffalo and then 14 miles back to Tonawanda totaling 59 miles for the day. Once I got a shower and changed, I drove around until I found a pizza place and ordered a pizza to go.
Friday 17 July
My original plan had been to ride from Tonawanda up to Niagra Falls to spend the day there. It was only 15 miles or so but in all honsety, I was a bit beat up from my week on the trail. Instead, I would drive up to Niagra and then bike around the falls. Nothing too dramat, I thought.
But on the drive up early in the morning, I saw another spectacular rainbow with the sunrise. I pulled over at Gratwick Waterfront Park to get a decent view of the full rainbow. I got some pictures but it wasn't quite bright enough to show it's full 180 degrees.
Also at the park I met a man out for his morning constitutional with a hydrofoil. It was an interesting bicycle-like contraption that he would hop up and down on. In so doing, the fins under the water would provide lift and raise the machine up out of the water. It was quite a workout. The problem was, once you stopped moving the machine would drop you into the water and there would be no way to get started again without hauling it back dockside to get back on.
An interesting exercise device. An interesting concept. Not transportation
And then, of course there was the drama of the falls. Thirty years ago or so, my family had been on a vacation to Niagara Falls and it was great to be back and see it again. It was also very nice that I arrived so earl;y that the gate to the parking lot wasn't even manned so that I could park for free and be out and about on the American side all by myself.
I knew there was a statue of Nikola Tesla in Niagara, since it was he who designed the first electric generators to take advantage of the power of Niagara Falls, but I didn't know exactly where the statue was. I asked a few attendants at the overlook gate and they didn't know what I was talking about and didn't even know who Nikola Tesla was.
Eventually, I found one who knew where the statue was on Goat Island. I rode back so that I could properly worship at Tesla's feet.
Bicycles are not permitted on the pedestrian part of the Rainbow Bridge to cross into Canada, so I needed to get out into the street to travel where cars were. At the American gate, they simply took fifty cents for the toll and allowed me to continue on my way. It was on the Canadian side that I had to show my passport and answer questions. I had to explain that I had been biking across New York, that my car was in a parking lot in Niagara, that I had to rent a car from Buffalo to Albany thus explaining why my car was here and not on the other side of the state. That I was actually from Pittsburgh.
Holy crap! I'm on a friking bicycle. Do you really think I have some nefarious purpose in coming into Niagara Falls? In all honesty, I don't think he had any true suspicions that I was anything other than what I appeared to be, a bicycle tourist, he just felt compelled to go through the security theater to justify his job.
I spend several hours on the Canadian side riding up and down as the crowds built. I had forgotten that there was a second statue of Tesla in Victoria Park or else I would have made a pilgramage there as well.
In trying to return to the United States across the bridge, I had to wait in line. The que of cars waiting to get through the inspection gates extended most of the way across the bridge. It was nearly half an hour waiting and, by this time, it had started to rain.
Finally, with only two cars ahead of me, a guard came out of the building and motioned me over to him. While someone else took my passport and checked inside on his computer to make sure that I wasn't on some terrorist watch list, he asked me essentially the same questions as his Canadian counterpart had asked me before except that he, at least, made it seem more conversational. In less than a minute his partner came back, having not discovered anything sordid in my record, and was allowed on my way.
No offense, guys, but after waiting in the rain for hanf an hour the minute or two you saved me just then wasn't particularly helpful.
All told, I rode about a dozen miles over about 5 hours in Niagara. I would have liked to have done more riding and, in fact, I had considered riding the entire circut of the Niagara river all the way up to Fort Niagara and down to the crossing at Buffalo because the biking trails on the Canadian side are supposed to be quite nice. However, in doing that I would have spent all my time riding and not had a chance to really see the falls, much like I had not been able to do much sightseeing off of the Erie Canalway. I wasn't going to pass that up and, besides, spending a week on a bike was enough and I deserved to take my time and see stuff.
One such "stuff" was the Pedaling History Bicycle Museum south of Buffalo. After leaving Niagara Falls I drove down to find the bike museum. When I arrived, even though there were a few cars in the parking lot the sign said that it was open on weekdays only to pre-booked private tours. I almost turned away but then decided to try my luck and go inside anyway.
The owner was there and said that they were closed and that the people were there were family for a private showing. I told him I understood about him being closed but I had just ridden 400 miles on the Erie Canalway and one of the things that specifically brought me up from Pittsburgh was to visit his museum. I had heard that the museum might not be able to remain open and, if that were the case, I would have no chance to come back before that happened.
He relented and said that I could only have an hour because he had other places to go. I thanked him saying that I was very thankful for even an hour. As such, I didn't take as much time as I would have liked but took a lot of pictures, even of the signage so that I could read it later.
I had an opportunity to sit on an an Ordinary, what is known colloquially as a penny farthing. A death trap. You are up high with your legs trapped under the handle bars. You go down riding one of those and there is no way to extricate yourself from the accident. There is a reason it's called a header.
After touring the museum, I felt compelled to buy something from the gift shop. Perhaps if I threw some money their way they could keep the museum from closing or show enough activity to encourage a buyer to purchase and keep the collection together. I looked at several books but when I saw "De dolle entree van automobiel en velocipee" I knew I just had to have it. It's a collection of reprinted articles from "The Champion" cycling newsletter from 1883 to 1908 with fantastic period illustrations. That the text is all in Dutch never was a consideration.
Four hours later, at about 7pm, I was home. One of the first things I wanted to do on entering the door was to start checking my emails. But as I sat down at my desk, I noticed a few things amiss. One of my books was on the floor and my laptop was gone. Earlier in the week, I knew that my wife had been working on recovering a friend's hard drive and I had recommended that she go ahead and try my machine to see if it would work. I wondered if she had taken my laptop upstairs for that.
My daughter came downstairs to say hello and I asked her about the laptop. It wasn't upstairs in the kitchen. My wife had left for a camping trip and we called her on the cell phone. She hadn't moved my laptop.
It was suddenly obvious that we had been robbed. The police were called immediately. The search began to figure out what had happened and what was gone.
On Thursday, my daughter had left for work just before noon. When she came home at about 6, she noted that the back door was open. Thinking that her mom had come home before going on the camping trip and accidentally left the door open, she closed it, made a sandwich and went upstairs, not to come home until I came home the next evening.
While she was at work on Thursday, the burglar(s) came onto the back porch. Pulled the screen from the dining room window but could not get in. Pulled the screen from the kitchen window and found that they could force the window open. They carefully removed all the glass jars and bottles sitting on the window sill and set them on the porch and climbed in through the window. In the office they found her laptop and took that. (Perhaps they had seen that first through the window.) In the library they took the two replica pistols sitting in plain view on a table and the two brand new paintball guns still in boxes on the chair. They seemed to have searched the library fairly thoroughly. They dumped the toy guns out of a nylon bag and probably put the replica guns (heavy, and perhaps mistaken for real guns) in the bag. They took a few things out of the closet and opened a few comic boxes and removed a single comic from a box. Because it was something weird like "Bondage Fairies #4" instead of something valuable like "Superman #1", they didn't take it. They also grabbed an old VHS camcorder that had sat unused for a decade because the batteries would not hold a charge and an old Thinkpad laptop that had a bad hard drive. They went into the basement and, seeing the big TV, went over a grabbed a DVD player that was sitting unused on top of another DVD player. When they came back to the bottom of the stairs, they must have seen my desk on the other side of the room, set down the crappy DVD player at the bottom of the stairs and scored my laptop instead. They went into the living room and rifled some drawers. They did not go up to the second floor as evidenced by my daughter's laptop still being there. They opened the back door and walked out with nearly $4500 worth of stuff.
The detective from the county found no fingerprints on the moved glassware. The boro officer interviewed the neighbors. No one saw anything but the guy who just moved into the house next door had contractors working during the day, during the time when the house was robbed. The officer said he would be back to interview them.
This was my Friday homecoming.
On Saturday, I noticed that the contractors were actually on site. I tried to call the boro police to let the investigating officer know that they were apparently available to be interviewed and that I also had the inventory list of the items stolen. I got through to county 911 operators who dispatched an officer. Not the same office I had spoken with the night before. He didn't know anything about what was going on, having been dispatched by 911 as if I were reporting the robbery for the first time. I had to go through a certain amount of re-explaining what had happened before he went on his way.
On Sunday, I decided to go over and talk to my neighbor's contractors. I tried not to give away that they were my primary suspects. The contractor said that he had not been contacted by the police but he had passed on all the information he had about the guys he had working for him on Thursday. It would seem that they were temps and that he didn't even know the last name of one of the guys. While that made me highly suspicious, the contractor was very up front and accommodating. The neighbor came out and I spoke with him. He said that the officer interviewing him had said that "they had fingerprints all over the place." Having been there when the county had dusted for prints and found nothing that would even serve as evidence that I lived there, I found the misdirection interesting and tried not to let on that this was not the case. He was also very accommodating and up front.
Ultimately, however, they got away with it. The cops talked to them but they didn't give up any incriminating evidence. Even a year later when the same contractors were back working on the same house and another neighbor had his house burglarized under similar circumstances, the police were unable to gather any evidence to attempt an arrest.
When it comes down to it, I probably won't be going back to ride the Erie Canalway any time soon. I haven't done the math but at least a quarter of the 400 miles is on the road, perhaps as much as a third, and that's a lot of riding on the road. I got some serious sunburn as much of the riding, even that along the canal, has a lot of open sky. And there really need to be more ameneties
It also looks to me that, for the most part, construction is done. I saw a few places where abandoned railroad could be turned into trail but, really, it doesn't look like the canalway will be able to carve too much more out of local property owners. Maybe someone local could correct me on that.
I did have a good time overall, just as even the worst disaster riding is better than the best day at work.
|http://www.tasigh.org/gps/erie2009.html -- Revised: 8 August 2009
Copyright © 2009 Kevin A. Geiselman