That’s the payoff for travel. Memories of sights seen, of people met, of challenges overcome … memories of new food, new sounds, new feelings … memories of being in a different place and having it change you to some degree.
Leah and I just completed a 35-day walk along the Erie Canal hike and bike trail, covering some 360 miles. We stayed in 30 different places – from a barebones motel to a fancy bed and breakfast to a haunted mansion. We dined at some fun restaurants and we ate Vienna sausages and granola bars out of our backpacks.
Now four days after arriving at the Hudson River (in the photo above) and getting back to our home, here are some of the random memories that pop into my mind.
(1) The feat of building the canal is still amazing. It happened almost 200 years ago and we tend to forget how different life was then. The initial canal was dug mostly by hand. They built aqueducts where streams passed over the canal or vice versa. There were the locks where boats were lowered and raised to offset changes in elevation. The things they accomplished are dazzling and I won’t risk diminishing them by inadequately explaining what happened.
(2) People were so inquisitive and supportive. We were distinguishable by our backpacks as well as by our general appearance, I suppose, and we were often asked what we were doing. “How far are you going?” was probably the most common ice-breaker. Our standard response was something like, “From the Niagara River to the Hudson River.” Everyone said something nice about our adventure.
(3) Solitude. There were often times we would hike for miles without meeting anyone else. I believe we went 10 miles one day, just the two of us. We talked about all kinds of things. At times, we drifted into our own quiet zones for a while.
(4) You just keep walking. With apologies to Dory in the movie “Finding Nemo,” we often repeated her advice … or adapted it … when we got weary. It wasn’t so much the distances – which ranged from 5-18 miles at a time – because we’ve often done similar hikes, but it was the fact we did it day after day. Yes, there were blisters and sore muscles. On Day 10, a knee started giving me big problems, but we had our first day off the next day. Then, on Day 12, it acted up again. We were scared at that time we would have to stop, but it was OK the next day and didn’t bother me again.
(5) Springing spring. We started our walk May 4 in Tonawanda, just outside Buffalo, where the canal leaves the Niagara River. Most of the tree limbs were barren and there were few, if any, flowers blooming. Before we reached the Hudson River in Waterford, we were walking through tunnels of leafed-out trees alongside the trails and wildflowers were popping up all over. Likewise, the weather was rather cool when we started and at times oppressively hot toward the end.
(6) Don’t judge too quickly. This memory could apply to a lot of things, but I’m thinking about our lodging. Many villages had no motel or bed & breakfast that we could find. Others had only one or two to choose from. While B&Bs varied to an incredible degree, they were all good places to stay, but I was suspicious of no fewer than eight motels where we made reservations. Any one of them, I feared, could end up being a horror story. As it turned out, each was just fine. We’re not talking five-star lodging, you understand, but we always felt safe, we never saw a bug or rodent, and each room was clean.
(7) Keeping it real. Early on, a question on the blog asked if we were actually following the canal or if we were cutting corners … something like that. I explained we were following the trail (which is not always on the canal), that we had not cut corners, but that we were not above doing so. We promised ourselves to not let pride press us into doing something we shouldn’t. Twice, we “cheated.” We had chatted along the trail one morning with a couple of bikers and gave them a card. They lived near our destination that day. Later, she sent an email and offered to give us a ride at the point we would leave the trail and start a four-mile roadside walk to our motel. It was perfect timing and we took her up on it. Then, on the last Sunday, we had 17 miles to walk and the forecast was for lots of rain pretty much all day. Instead, we used a mostly rain-free period in the morning and walked three miles to the Amtrak depot. There, we caught a train for the trip into Schenectady. Both instances were bonus experiences and we had no regrets about taking advantage of them.
(8) The biggest memory, of course, is spending 35 days with my best friend helping her fulfill a dream and sharing all of these experiences. As time passes, we will retell these stories hundreds of times. There is no price you can put on that.