Saturday, September 16, 2006

Tour de Canal

The Erie Canal was once the economic life blood of New York State, and was responsible for Buffalo becoming a large and important port city in the 19th century. This was part of why Buffalo was chosen as the location for the 1901 pan-am, which in turn made Buffalo the location for the assassination of President McKinley. But that's not what I came to tell you about today.

In it's modern life, the Erie Barge Canal is a lovely waterway that runs throughout the middle of New York passing through old canal towns, parks, woods, and farmland. As anyone who knows the song (which I don't) will tell you, the canal barges were once pulled along by mules walking the path on either side of the canal. That "towpath" has been made into a bike trail, running from Buffalo to Albany--just like in the song.

When I lived in Rochester, I notice how directly the canal connected Rochester to my parent's house in Pendleton. It looked to be about 70 miles, and I decided that I wanted to bike that stretch of the path out and back over a long weekend. In my six years in Rochester I never managed it. I was waiting until I could go one way in one day, I was waiting until I had a cell phone, etc.

Well, Chris and I together took on this life's goal. Now that Chris has started biking fervently, I had the safety of a companion to travel with me (a companion with a cell phone). Chris bought a great book called Bicycling the Erie Canal which not only gave us maps and points of interest along the way, but also marked the free marinas all along the canal. They provide places to moor a boat, electric hookups, showers, and a small strip of grass where cyclists and folks whose boats don't include sleeping quarters can camp for the night. Did I mention that they're free? Knowing this, we plan to cycle the rest of the canal path in sections over the next few years.

This all sounds well planned so far, doesn't it? Well, I'll leave Eddie Izzard to tell you about the best laid plans of mice, but our human plan did hit some snafus. We didn't leave my parent's driveway until almost 8 o'clock at night. Luckily we were a mile or two down the road before the sun went down completely and my Mom realized how foolhardy we were. She was pretty confident in our plan up until then!

We always ride equipped with head and tail lights, and after the first ten miles we were out of traffic and onto the towpath, which does not allow motorized vehicles, and was for some reason free of other cyclists, joggers, etc at that hour.

Now here comes snag the second. This was on Friday September 1st. That night, tropical storm Ernesto was scheduled to hit New York State with a day of soaking rain and high winds--not conducive to sleeping in a tent (especially with the canal right there to get blown into) or to biking the next day on a cinder path. We did what anyone would do, we begged friends in Medina to take us in for 2 nights and a day. Our nice friends Daina and Kevin (known to letterboxers as the Sprite and the Highlander) gave us their couches to stay on, and stayed up for our midnight arrival. Now I had been talking with Daina over ye olde internet for about a year, as she was very helpful getting me started letterboxing, but we had only actually met the week before, and here we were freeloading the next week!

We had a great time watching geeky movies about gaming (you know, Dungeons and Dragons? How kids worshipped Satan in the 80's?*) Yes, there's more than one geeky movie about gaming. We also got to know each other better, and on Sunday morning our lovely hosts drove us to the place we would have started out from on Sunday if it hadn't been for losing Saturday to the storm. It was disappointing to skip that part of the trip, but we had a date to get sushi in Rochester and had to get there before the Sunday afternoon special ended!

Needless to say, starting in the dark, missing day 2, and finishing fast, we forgot to take any pictures on the way there. Once in Rochester we visited our good friends Jer and Brenna, who were nice enough to put us up for a night so we got time to hang out with them and their boys Natty and P.J. as well as time to read the comics we bought after sushi.

We left Rochester on labor day itself, and actually have photographic evidence of the return trip. The canal dips south of the city of Rochester itself. The Genesee river runs North/South and meets the canal in Genesee Valley park right near my first two apartments in Rochester. I used to bike to work downtown along the path paralleling the river, but we decided to take a more direct route in and out of Rochester itself and not join up with the canal path until somewhere between Rochester and Gates. This took us past the infamous Nick Tahou's, home of the garbage plate.

We biked about 30 miles on Monday, starting from Jer and Brenna's around 5pm. I have no idea why Chris thought this picture was so funny.

I wish I knew how that park got it's name. And yes, you're reading it right, we did in fact bike all the way to Greece. Gotta love the ancient world as it appears splattered all over New York.

We made it to Holley New York, near Brockport. Being along the canal, about half of the towns we passed had names ending in "port." It wasn't until the return trip that we were finally able to use the lightweight backpacking tent that we bought. Why lightweight? See those saddlebags? Everything we needed had to fit in there, and even though we were very good about keeping lightweight, boy does that change the way the bike handles and how fast you can go. The extra weight of tent, sleeping bags, food, camp stove, and clothes probably took close to 5mph off our speed on this trip. Luckily the canal path, at least west of Syracuse, is really really flat!

We pitched our tent at the free marina in Holley. The marinas are not staffed, but they seem to all be next to lift bridges so that the bridge operator can keep an eye on them. We met a fellow named Brendan at the Holley marina who was canoeing the canal from lake erie all the way to the ocean. He told us that he had already hiked the Appalachian trail a few years ago. He was also the one who had met a local police officer who confirmed that yes, we could all camp there for free, and that in addition to the bridge operators, the local police checked the park every 45 minutes or so all night. We felt very safe staying there, another reason we want to do the whole path now.

Tuesday afforded us some interesting and unique sites. There was the only place where the road goes under the canal.

There was a giant apple--I don't know why, it's a monument to NYS apples according to the sign.
And there were lovely orchards filled with real apples.

You'll notice that we left our helmets on for all the photographs. That's because despite the gel we packed out of vanity, biking 20-30 miles a day leaves one's hair looking terrible. Mine was a sweaty mess, and Chris, who doesn't sweat for religious reasons, gets a series of alternating high spots and dents across his head in the pattern of the helmet air vents, which makes him look like a very awkward wolverine rip off.

I was almost hit by a careless driver in Albion, county seat of Orleans County. Luckily I am a very attentive cyclist, because he was looking back over his shoulder while turning left in front of me. He heard me yell and stopped. He seemed rather unconcerned at how close he had come to causing a major accident, and when I hollered at him "what on earth is wrong with you?!?!" he responded with "well, you are kind of hard to see." I informed him that if he cannot see an adult human on a bicycle he'll never see an adult in a crosswalk or a child anywhere and should not be driving! He seemed unimpressed. Jerk. Chris was a little ahead of me at the time, and heard the incident behind him. He said that he didn't worry if I was ok because as soon as he heard me yell there wasn't time for a second of panic because he immediately heard my voice start in lecturing the guy, so he knew I was ok. I don't blame the town of Albion, though, which has a lovely old government building in the center of it. (That and replenishing our supply of power bars was the reason we rode into town in the first place.)

We spent the second night in Middleport, where we had a very nice meal at a restaurant right next the marina. After the 30 mile ride each of us pulled his/her bike into one of the two shower rooms and cleaned up before setting up camp or eating or anything. That was enough time for my legs to stiffen up completely after our 100+ miles of biking over 4 days. I sort of hobbled over to the restaurant, and spent the rest of the evening groaning and stretching as we made camp. It is now my goal to bike every week outdoors or at the gym, so that I am better prepared for the next trip and travel more miles each day. By the last day I was finally in condition for the kind of riding we had been doing and wasn't sore at all at the end of the trip. Of course at the beginning I thought I might not make it any further than Daina and Kevin's house, I was sore to the point of minor injury. Thank goodness for yoga.

Speaking of mileage. Chris, who has WAY outperformed me when it comes to biking, has hit a real milestone. He bought his bike about a year ago, along with a bike computer that tracks speed, miles covered, etc. During our trip he hit 1000 miles on his odometer. I think I'm only at four hundred something. What a guy!

I'm going to copy-cat my good friend Lisa for a moment with pictures of some of the wildlife we saw along the canal. There were tons of great blue herons. If it's possible maybe Chris could post the video he took of some of them with his camera. We were surprised to see them in populated areas, where roads and businesses were right next to the canal.

As a kid I saw tons of monarch butterflies every summer. I've heard that the population has dwindled, but I think the biggest reason that I didn't see as many as I got older was that the milkweed lined field next to my parent's house was plowed under and replaced with a house. No milkweeds, not so many monarchs. This one was obliging enough to sit on a purple thistle for a lovely photo.

These obnoxious geese refused to let us pass until we told them the capital of Assyria. Bonus points to anyone other than my parents who can tell me the capital of Assyria and what book of the Bible takes place there.

Totals for the weekend: 5 days, 130 miles, 1 tropical storm, 8 rolls of sushi, and 2 sore butts.

*no one actually worshipped Satan while playing D&D. Not in the 80's, not ever. No matter what Jack Chick tells you.


Anonymous said...

Lisa and Robb said...

Wow...that looks like a super fun trip!


Lock Wench said...

Did I mention the canal runs through the Syracuse area? Nevermind...I think I owe YOU a trip.


knitica said...

Actually, we were planning on doing Rochester to Syracuse next time, and let's just say you're on the short list of folks to crash with!