Erie Canal - 2003 - West to east, across New York state

Preface - Erie Canal

06/27/2003 14:06:27 by Administrator

The Erie Canal ceremoniously opened in 1825, and at that time was considered one of the greatest engineering feats of the era. The canal was important in that it connected the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes.

This was a unique trip with highlights that include wonderful educational attractions, flat terrain, moderate daily distances and much of the riding on canal paths separate from road traffic

Erie Canal - Day 1

06/28/2003 14:01:27 by Administrator

From: Lockport, New York
To: Lockport, New York
Mileage: 38

Bright and early on June 28 my Dad, Dustin, Mary and myself took off in the motor home for Lockport NY. Clyde (our trusty Cannondale tandem) was comfortably riding on the back, with stuffed panniers and our Bob trailer tucked in the shower compartment inside. Katelyn had to work, so she stayed with Grandma for the week. Don't feel too sorry for her, she had an adventure, also, but you will see. Our plan was that Grandpa and Dustin were going to spend the night with us at the campground in Lockport, and head on their way visiting colleges on the route back to New Hampshire. On Sunday, Dustin and Kate would come pick us up near the NY/Mass boarder. This would be one week of biking and camping with a hotel or two for breaks and some good hot baths. But as you will see, sometimes plans don't work out the way you envision.

We purchased a book online called Erie Canal Bicyclist and Hiker Tour Guide, by Harvey Botzman. We also by chance came across a very good Canalway trail map at one of the Route 90 rest/service areas. Although we were happy with Harvey's book, we only used his book for calculating miles for the next day ride and for a guide through Schenectady. We found that the free map was more than adequate, except for in the Rome/Utica area.

The Erie Canalway trail has three large completed trail segments; The 70 mile Erie Canal Heritage Trail (from Lockport to Palmyra), the Old Erie Canal State Park trail which is a 36 mile stretch between Syracuse and Rome, and the Mohawk-Hudson bikeway which is a 25 mile paved trail between Rotterdam and Cohoes. The three are connected by following Bicycling route 5 and some shorter trails.

We arrived at 4:pm at Niagara Family Campground north of Lockport. We were greeted by a "security guard" who was right out of the movies (he was probably even named "Billy Bob"). I'm not quite sure what he was guarding, the campground was 4 miles north of Lockport, in the middle of farm country, and the campground was not worth guarding. When visiting Lockport, we recommend finding other accommodations, something worth $ 22.50. After a very brief set up time, Mary, Clyde, and myself got on the road to find Tonawanda, and the beginning of the Canalway trail system. We picked up the trail a few miles away from the campground and rode it to its terminus in Lockport. From there we tried to use Harvey's book to get to Tonawanda and Niagra falls but couldn't understand why he wanted us to go the roads he had mapped. We had a very strong head wind heading to Tonawanda and after a few miles south of getting off the trail, and getting turned around, we just followed 31 towards Niagara Falls, instead of going south. We did not make it to the falls, which was ok because we have seen the falls before. We reached our 20 mile mark, and turned around to avoid biking back to the campground in the dark. With a tail wind, we "raced" home to our campsite. Only stopped once, back in Lockport, by a flock of Canadian geese (about 40) that were happy to be where they were, and unhappy that Clyde wanted to share the path.

Erie Canal - Day 2

06/29/2003 14:05:55 by Administrator

From: LockPort
To: Hamlin Beach State Park
Mileage: 64

At dinner that night, we made a plan to all meet at Hamlin Beach State Park on Lake Ontario. Dad and Dustin had enough colleges in the Buffalo area and they were planning on being in that area to camp the next evening. So after breakfast, we attached the Bob, loaded the panniers onto Clyde and headed back into Lockport to begin The Erie Canal Heritage Trail. Even though we would meet again at the State Park, we wanted to test the feel and weight of the load. We traveled along the canal until Brockport. Temperatures were in the high 70's and it rained 3 times. A good test to see how wet-proof we were. The rain didn't last very long, but on the third go-around, it came down hard. Everything kept dry. It was the only rain we were blessed with on the trip. During the morning, we "raced" a yacht from Medina to Holley. We also saw lots of wildlife including snakes, red tail hawks, large fish, cardinals, red winged blackbirds, oriole, deer, rabbits, ground hogs, muskrats, golden finches, and more. The trail is crushed packed stone and very flat with rolling hills along either side of the trail and some very pretty homes. Holley had a park with showers (for future reference). There was very little foot traffic, but enough boat traffic to keep us company. Had lunch at the Brockport dinner, it was filling which left no room for the many pies and cakes that I was eyeing in the case. The small towns of Gasport, Albion, and Medina look like towns that we could spend an afternoon riding in.

We arrived before Dustin and Dad at Hamlin Park State Park on the shores of Lake Ontario. What a beautiful park, we had a nice campsite and set up the tent (for practice) and waited for the "sag wagon" to arrive. After a great home cooked dinner and a walk along the lake we sat down and looked at the map. It was agreed that we would meet again at Nor-Win campground north of Lyons. The sag wagon team had done 4 colleges in the Buffalo area and planned to do 4 in the Rochester area and planned on being in that area to camp the next evening (Is this starting to sound familiar?)

Erie Canal - Day 3

06/30/2003 14:09:27 by Administrator

Hamlin State Park
From: Hamlin Beach State Park
To: Lyons
Mileage: 68

Monday morning found us all back in the Brockport diner for a very filling breakfast. I was going to have the traditional New Hampshire Yankee breakfast (coffee and pie) but had a stack of raspberry pancakes. Outside the restaurant we met a group of 10 riders going from Vermont to Seattle Washington. They were staying in the church for the night, and had to make it to Niagara Falls for the night. They invited us to think about making the trip with them in two years. After exchanging eMail addresses, we got back on the Erie Canal Heritage Trail and our adventure. It was a PERFECT DAY, blue blue skies and temperatures in the mid 80s. The canal path was more active, which is what we like to see. We saw a lot more boating activity on the canal including sculling clubs and state boats actively dredging. We stopped to see 3 boats (yachts) go through lock 30. Prior to that we rode through Rochester New York. This is a bike friendly city, with multiple bikeways. The trail through Rochester was paved, but turned to stone dust after the city. The path between Macedon and Palmyra is getting a new coat of stone dust, which made it very challenging to ride. We had lunch at a small restaurant near the end of the trail and headed towards Lyons on route 31 (bicycle route 5) this part of bicycle route 5 is AWESOME, very little traffic and wide shoulders. We stopped for $1.00 ice cream cones (which our local ice cream stand would have charged us $3.50) and rocked in the rockers they provide on their porch. AGAIN we beat the sag wagon into camp. There was a good reason, Dustin and Dad found a college that made Dustin's top two list. While waiting for the "boys" we had naps under the weeping willow trees in the campground so we really didn't miss them too much. Rochester Institute of Technology has a BioTech program that they wanted to investigate further and go back the next day. So when we met after dinner that night, we agreed to meet at Fisher Bay campground in Bridgeport (on lake Oneida).As they planned on being in that area to camp the next evening

Erie Canal - Day 4

07/01/2003 14:12:08 by Administrator

From: Lyons
To: Bridgeport
Mileage: 70

July 1, and yet another beautiful day. Blue skies, and temperatures in the mid 80s. We left the campground without the Bob and panniers. We decided that since they made little difference to the ride and were full of stuff we would not need. We decided to take a couple of rural routes back to bike route 5. Traveled through the town of Clyde and Port Byron (again two towns that we could spend the morning biking around in). There is a trail that goes from Port Byron to southwest Syracuse, but we stayed on bicycle route 5 instead. Traffic picked up north of Syracuse, but it was still a great ride. We had an excellent pizza and salad lunch. People were probably amazed at the amount of food we packed away. We got to the town of Bridgeport at 2 PM, with a lot of energy in us. We decided to call Verona Beach State Park, but they were booked solid. So we traveled the 2 miles north to Fisher Bay Marina and campground. AGAIN we beat the sag wagon into the campground. While waiting for them, we enjoyed some more weeping willow trees and watched herons; mink, geese, loons, seagulls, and fish do their thing at the lake. After dinner, we found out that Dustin and Dad met with the dean of the BioTech program who was very impressed with what Milford High was doing, and with the knowledge that Dustin had gained. There was a junior who took Dustin on another tour, and found out that the stuff she was during as a junior in college, Dustin had done as a junior in High School. RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) has a program called Bioinfomatics that takes what Dustin is doing now and adds a computer component. Also, for all you Macintosh fans, they are almost all Mac based, and totally wireless. They are currently replacing their G3 towers with G5 towers. They have a graphics art segment that has helped on many of the Disney animated movies (like Shrek).

After dinner, and a dip in the pool we made plans again for the next day. When Mary and I asked Dad to help Dustin look at colleges, we thought they would pick 4 or 5 in NY, and head for home with couple of stops in Vermont and New Hampshire. As it turned out, to all of our great surprise they visited almost all the New York colleges from Buffalo to Albany (along route 90. So we abandoned plan A, for plan B. And they very graciously agreed to see us through to the end of our trek. Plan B now had a 93-mile day from Dewitt (the start of the 36-mile Old Erie Canal State Park trail) to Fort Plain. This would be a good test for the Pan Mass Challenge (our 89-mile ride for the Jimmy Fund on August 2)

Erie Canal - Day 5

07/02/2003 14:14:22 by Administrator

From: Bridgeport
To: Fort Plain
Mileage: 88

Another beautiful day with highs in the low 90s. Plan B was to ride the trail until it crosses Rte 31 (bike route 5) until Rte 365 (bike route 5) and go SOUTH of Rome and through Utica. We back tracked a little to the beginning of Historic Erie Canal trail, and we were not disappointed, the trail was AWESOME with a wide packed stone base. It followed the original Erie Canal and was filled with aqueducts, old bridges, kayakers, old culverts and stone works. We got off and traveled on the main roads, which started to get busier and busier. I should have listened to Mary (now promoted from stoker to rear admiral) and turned off at one exit, but the bicycle route 5 signs pointed another direction. This direction lead us right into Rome on a major road. Our faithful tandem, Clyde, had our first flat tire (a metal pin). I tried to patch it, but was forced to stop again a couple of miles down the road. This time I used our last tube and the last CO2 cartridge. Not a comfortable feeling, being on a major route without spares. We got Clyde back on his feet and glanced over the highway to see another tandem riding this major highway (bike route 5?) east to west. It's neat that every challenge has a silver lining. Well we made it through Rome and headed south at lock 20. We got a couple of CO2 cartridges at a motor cycle dealer and were told at the diner in Whiteboro (lunch for the day) that the closest bike dealer was an 8 mile (16 mile round trip) down an extremely bike unfriendly route to the mall in south Utica. If we didn't have the cell phone in our back pack AND Dustin and Dad were not in the area, I would have gone down the route. Needless to say, we pushed on with the encouragement of the Rear Admiral. I feel a little bit sorry for the folks in Utica, their city seems to be fighting for breath, and losing badly. We rode through the downtown section were we had to make a decision, follow route 5S (bike route 5) or route 5 (bike route 5). Confused? So were we. We followed 5S, and should have followed 5 because it was less busy, so the folks at Dick's Bike shop in Herkimer told us. So plan B had turned in the plan xyz?

At Dicks, we had a nice rest and talk with the owners. Seems like bike tubes were a big seller that day. They told us that the State had committed to funding for the bike path to run from Herkimer to the Old Erie Canal State Park. This would be a blessing. We asked him how far Fort Plain was and he answered that it was 50 minutes, by car. This was a kind way of not telling us that this stretch of bike route 5 (5S) was hilly. I knew it would be. The Appalachians extend from Georgia to Maine, and the Mohawk River area is the only natural break in the Appalachians, and they are not devoid of hills. We did very well. Mary also allowed Clyde to reach 41 mph down one long hill. Dustin and Dad caught up with us about 4 miles outside of Fort Plain. We were going up hill, again, and I was kind of looking forward to another down hill blast. But it was not to be. We camped at Crystal Grove Campground that was 5 miles (straight up) north of St Johnsville off of route 5, not 5S. After 88 miles and a few unaccounted for miles in Utica when the captain forgot to turn the odometer on we decided to ride the motorhome back 12 miles to the campsite.

This campground was on the expensive side, but a very nice park. Lots of wooded sites. We received exciting news when we called Katelyn that night. Grandma took her down to Daniel Webster College, and she took her first pilot's flight lesson. She had 1.5 hours in the plane and was allowed to fly and taxi it. Needless to say she didn't mentally come back to earth for a couple of days.

Erie Canal - Day 6

07/03/2003 14:17:46 by Administrator

From: Fort Plain
To: Cohoes
Mileage: 69

Thursday, July 3 was the last day of the trip. We were in for another great adventure. Mary and I have traveled on the Mohawk River Trail from Cohoes (Albany) to Schenectady before, but we lost the trail in Schenectady, so we were excited to finish the trail. We didn't expect the bonus. We had breakfast at the Hungry Bear Cafe in St. Johnsville. I had the pancakes again, and I didn't need another thing to eat until dinner. Dad and Dustin left us off at the beginning of the trail in Fort Plain. Temperatures would be in the Mid 90s today, under another blue blue sky. The trail was beautiful, and went into Canajoharie. Outside of Canajoharie we had to follow 5S to Fort Hunter, but as we biked along 5S, we saw that the state of New York was about to complete the bike path that will connect (almost) Cohoes to Ft. Plain. 70 miles of trail, three hours from home. . Can you say, "Weekend trips!" We couldn't wait, so we got on the new trail outside of Randall, and road as much of the new trail as we could. We got a little ambitious and a little lost outside of Pattersonville and tried to ride beside the railroad tracks, which gave Clyde another flat tire. Stopping in the Progressive Insurance Company, we borrowed their sink and found the hole in the tube. With fresh chilled water and a patched tube, we journeyed into Schenectady and through (thanks to Harvey Botzman's book). The rest of the trip was pure joy. Dad and Dusting met us exactly at the end of the trail (they literally had the motor home parked on the trail). Thanks to their patience and good humor we could not have had a better trip. Somehow knowing you have a bit of a safety net a soft bed and a warm meal at the end of the day makes the sun shine a little brighter.Total mileage 397, we finished the trip two days early.