Author of the JP Weiscarver Mystery Series
Walk the Erie Canal
Leah and I have had – and continue to have – some outstanding travels and adventures, but one in the spring of 2016 has an excellent chance to forever retain the title of The Neatest Thing We’ve Ever Done.
Over the period of five weeks, we walked the Erie Canal Trailway from the Niagara River near Buffalo, New York, to the Hudson River near Albany, more than 360 miles.
We met so many neat people along the way, fellow travelers on the trail, folks at businesses we entered, casual encounters. We spent nights in some nice hotels, a few questionable motels, several B&Bs, and one haunted mansion. We read scores, if not hundreds, of informational signs and historic markers. We walked in rain, sleet and scorching heat. We walked through cities, many small towns, and lonely paths where we went hours without seeing another soul.
Along the way, we shared comments, stories and photos via a website. Below, I’ve condensed that somewhat, leaving a chronological report of our adventure. We took turns writing about different things, as noted by our names beginning each section.
Pull on your good socks and boots and let’s go.
May 5, 2016
Steve: I don’t mind saying, Leah and I were collective bundles of nerves by the time we left the house this morning.
We’ve been planning this trip – this 360-mile end-to-end hike of the Erie Canal Trailway – almost a year. Indeed, knowing many of the towns along the way only have a bed and breakfast, we started making reservations for those critical spots as early as last August.
We’ve hiked more than usual this past winter to help prepare ourselves for today or to at least know what we feel capable of doing.
Then, as we got closer to today’s kickoff, the weather looked questionable. We knew starting this early in the spring in upstate New York was chancy, but it was the only time that would work for us. However, as for now, the weather forecast is more hospitable – slightly warmer and less rain.
When we got up this morning, there really wasn’t much left to do but wait until our planned departure time. That’s what makes one nervous.
The time came and friends Pam and Anna, who are from this area, drove us to the starting point. As an extra bonus, a friend from Texas who now lives here came out with her two young children. As we stepped off at 11:15 a.m., it was with a small band of cheerleaders pushing us onward.
I purposely scheduled a short walk for the first day, some 7.6 miles, which means we arrived at the motel early. That was OK; we took our time recuperating and showering after making a one-mile walk (without backpacks) to get something to eat.
I apologize for the boring start, but we won’t have to go over that again. I hope to find something interesting to talk about most days. On our first leg, it’s the Jack-Knife Bridge, seen in the photo with a train crossing it.
According to information along the trail, the cantilever-type bridge was built in 1919 by the N.Y. Central Railroad. At the time, the state planned to rebuild all bridges along the canal to allow passage of vessels with masts. However, projected costs led to them dropping the idea. Therefore, this magnificent bridge was raised only a few times for testing and has never been raised since.
May 6, 2016
Steve: For those of you who looked for this post last night, don’t be surprised if I often don’t publish until the next morning. I’m a morning person and don’t think well when I’m tired.
We did 13 miles Thursday, too much of it on the shoulders of rural roads. We know there will be plenty of that on this trip. Today, however, after walking through the city of Lockport, we’ll be almost entirely on the trail alongside the canal, a total of 18 miles worth.
It would have been nice to work up to 18 more gradually, but there’s no place to stay between here and Medina, tonight’s destination. To make matters a little more difficult, I worked up a blister on the ball of my left foot. We’ll see how that plays out.
Thursday’s highlight was a local historical and heritage museum in Amherst, right off the trail. It was an amazing place. We finished by observing Cinco de Mayo at a wonderful Mexican restaurant, Aguacates, and bedded down for the night at Quality Inn.
Leah: Last night, we stayed at the Scottish Inn, a cute, fixed-up 1950s motor court with a gracious host, and it was just right for us.
Today, we discovered spring is really just starting here in western New York and it’s gorgeous — lilacs, fruit trees, wild onions, wild strawberries, daffodils, dandelions, forsythia, and a whole lot of things I don’t know the names of. Before long there will be roadsides full of wild roses.
The highlight of our journey today was the Amherst historical museum which was right on the trail. It was fabulous and it had a bathroom, which has been hard to come by on our trek.
Just keep …
May 7, 2016
Steve: We figured out the secret.
We walked 7.5 miles Wednesday and 13 miles Thursday. Friday, we were looking at 18 miles. There is, it seems, a trick to doing it.
Just keep walking.
A friend on Facebook pointed out after our 13-mile day how the “pickers” working in Amazon shipping warehouses are known to walk 12-15 miles a day. I wanted to point out they have carts and don’t have to carry everything on their backs.
Seriously, you just keep walking.
My initial blister has subsided, due to changing shoes and/or wearing two socks. A blister on the other foot’s heel came up and we stopped along the trail for Leah to apply bandages. That worked well. When we got to our destination, Garden View B&B in Medina, and I pulled off my shoes, I felt another blister on the other heel. I’ve never really had blister issues before, but we’re dealing with them.
Other than that, good night sleeps have eased most of our aches and pains.
This B&B is owned by a charming couple who do a great job of making you feel at home. They’ve also been quite interesting to talk to.
Leah: Today was exactly how we had pictured the canal walk to be – long and straight along the canal. It was mostly all rural with many farms and vineyards. And, of course, spring is still busy springing.
We saw several families of Canada geese with the tiny goslings paddling behind mama. If you are walking through Lockport be sure to visit the Erie Canal Discovery Center across from the Presbyterian church with the Tiffany windows.
As you go down the trail on the way to Medina, there are mile markers and also markers that tell where water pipes are. Just past the marker 119 is a lovely bench under shade trees (well they will be shady when the leaves sprout) and there is a cluster of large lovely useful boulders. Elsewhere along the trail, you will occasionally find a bench or a place where other hikers have camped.
The downtown of Middleport was right across a bridge around mile marker 11. We ate a late lunch at Village Pizzeria. Wow! Great pizza with a homemade sauce. And the owner and his daughters were so gracious with their service. They even helped us pack the leftovers up nicely so they would fit in our backpacks.
I have said about some hikes, “Oh, that was nothing.” Well, 18 miles is something.
May 7, 2016
Leah: Today proved just what warm, welcoming people western New Yorkers are.
We spent a comfortable night at the Garden View Bed and Breakfast in Medina. Our hosts, Pat and Bob, made us feel like we were visiting friends, and I have never been in any place that was as clean as their home!
After breakfast, Pat fixed us a to-go bag of homemade banana bread and blueberry muffins and threw in some energy bars.
At 9:30, three of my workmates from Darien Lake last year, Theresa and her son Nick and daughter Izzy, came to pick us up and give us a lift to the trailhead – mainly so we could visit a bit.
Then, just down the trail at Knowlesville, a woman was out in her yard walking her dog. She offered us water and a bathroom and let me pet her 14-year-old dog, Snoop. She also wanted to make sure everyone in New York was treating us kindly. I assured her they were!
We arrived with some trepidation at the Dollinger Motor Inn in Albion since some had warned it wasn’t a very nice place. Well, they were wrong-wrong-wrong! It is charming, clean, and very comfortable with everything we could possibly need – including being next to a Tops grocery store. As a bonus, we were able to watch the Kentucky Derby.
The young man at the desk was so welcoming. And when I needed ice for my ankle, he fixed me up with a small bag just the right size.
On top of today’s events, Steve had a visit Friday with one of his co-workers from last year when Karen swung by the B&B right after we arrived.
So, thank you, western New Yorkers!
Flashes of history
May 8, 2016
Steve: We have found just a bit of a flaw in our plan.
Walking the Erie Canal Trailway was envisioned as an opportunity to not only see the famous canal but to learn about the area’s history and meet its people.
Well, the truth is, there is a lot of empty canal space.
We’ve walked miles and miles without encountering another person. Then, when we get to our evening stop, it’s a long walk to those interesting things we’d love to see. And we’re tired. And car-less. And sometimes we’re dodging weather.
In other words, we’ve mostly seen just a lot of canal and only a tease of the communities. However, some of them have been quite interesting.
We have met people, of course, such as Mike and Bernadette, the couple Leah mentions below. As we approached each other at some barren spot on the trail, I whispered to Leah, “Kindred spirits?” They recognized the same in us, as was evident in how we greeted each other.
Oh, yeah, we’ve also seen a bit of wildlife. Today’s included a groundhog and four deer. There have also been snakes, chipmunks, frogs, turtles and hundreds of Canada geese.
Leah: We learned something today. We are not the only crazy people in the world.
As we were walking along, we saw a couple approaching us and what do you know, they were walking the canal trail in the other direction. They soon would be staying at the Garden View B&B where we had stayed, and we were on our way to the Rosewood B&B, where they had stayed
The Rosewood, in Holley, is a large B&B with 5 guest rooms, but we’re the only ones here tonight. We are in the Peach Room.
The owner, Karen, is a busy lady who works full time, makes jewelry, gardens, keeps her grandson for the summer AND runs this elegant B&B. We scooted in the door right before it started to rain.
Now you know
May 9, 2016
Steve: Here’s a little information you might find interesting, according to a marker in Holley, N.Y.
Leah: Today was glorious!
We had a leisurely breakfast of homemade banana bread, juice, strawberries and cream, sausage, hash browns and an asparagus and cheese omelet. I guess our hostess at the Rosewood B&B thought we looked hungry.
The day was sunny and cool enough to make exercise feel good. Today’s trail had more people biking, walking and fishing. At Sans Souci Park, there was a neat rest stop (yes, a portable toilet!).
It was only a 7-mile walk today, so we could go slowly. We arrived at Brockport and what do you think was right by the bridge we had to cross? The Stoneyard Brewery Bar and Grill.
After a lovely lunch, we checked out the boater/hiker/bicycler welcome center. It had showers, laundry, a couch and a computer. Nice, but we were headed another mile and a half – to the Hampton Inn.
A week already?
May 11, 2016
Steve: One week in with four remaining on our little trek. As things like this tend to do, it seems already that the days are passing faster.
Tuesday was our second consecutive short day and that was refreshing. Brockport was a lively, interesting town. From there, we made our way to Adams Basin, which I would describe as a community. (The use of the words town, village, township, city, etc., have meanings we haven’t exactly had anyone explain to us yet. They’ll say it’s in the Village of Something in the City of Whatever.)
Because there are no dining places near our stop, we packed in extra food for our Wednesday dinner, highlighted by a can of Vienna sausages for each of us. I cannot venture a guess as to how long it’s been since I’ve eaten those, nor how long it will be before I do so again. We made it fun, dining on the porch in front of a former tavern that catered to the people who once floated the canal.
Dave, our host at Adams Basin Inn, told us there was once some 1,500 such taverns – roughly one every quarter mile – and that this is the only remaining example still in its original condition. Dave obviously enjoyed doing extensive research on the inn and the canal, as well as many of the artifacts and how they were used.
After breakfast this morning, we’ll be back on the trail. Some 10-plus miles today will take us into the western edge of Rochester. This weekend, we have another treat lined up. We’re to be joined by another old workmate of mine. She was a college intern in Denison, Texas, the summer of 1993 or 1994 and I haven’t seen her since.
Leah: At the end of a short (6-mile) walk on a gloriously sunny but cool day (that really doesn’t happen in Texas very often), we arrived at the 200-year-old Adam’s Basin Inn. Dave and Pat, our hosts, gave us a fantastic tour with hints of more to come.
There aren’t 200-year-old houses in Texas, so there were some interesting discoveries. For instance, did you know that insurance companies used to pay firefighters? It was a whole different system.
We were introduced to the pump that once pumped beer from barrels in the basement. The tavern in the old inn is original (well, the spittoons have been washed and electricity has been added).
One amazing discovery was a 150-year-old quilt that Pat had been given. It is a double Irish chain pattern and quilted in the old style with no batting. Well, lo and behold, I have the same pattern in the same colors that came from my grandmother’s family. Mine is yet to be quilted, so I think I will try doing mine in the old style.
And, one more discovery, our host Dave is a sax player like me and plays in 2 local bands. He gets to play baritone sax with his group in the big jazz festival in Rochester coming up soon.
For breakfast, we have been promised something delicious as well as more history. And I will say, they are both excellent storytellers!
A good walk
May 11, 2016
Leah: If you are planning to walk one segment of the Erie Canal, this is a great section – from Adams Basin Inn (and be sure to stay there because Pat and Dave will send you off with a great breakfast; Pat is an artist with food!) to Rochester.
First, only three miles down the trail was a great welcome center in Spencerport run by a very welcoming young woman, Nora. Then it was only three more miles to huge Greece Canal Park, where we could picnic.
Then Henpeck Park (wasn’t explained but we can all hypothesize) and Junction Lock – which used to be something but isn’t anymore.
There were lots of people on the trail today to visit with, many people fishing and boaters venturing out.
I was nervous about trekking through Rochester because of traffic, but there’s a lovely trail! And our motel is practically on the trail. Hopefully, tomorrow, for the second half of Rochester, the trail is as nice.
May 13, 2016
Steve: What’s happening in this photo just blows my mind.
Thursday, we hiked through parts of Rochester along the canal. At this point, the Erie Canal crosses the Genesee River. You’re going to have to use a little imagination and trust me a bit because this was the best photo I could get.
See the bridge toward the left? Underneath it is the Genesee River flowing northward toward Lake Ontario. Shift your view to the right and you can see where the Erie Canal flows east toward the Hudson River.
Now, to the far right, you can just see how the river comes in from that direction. However, to the left, you’re going to have to take my word for it that the canal comes in from that way.
Like two roads that junction and then continue their separate ways … but bodies of water don’t do that naturally. When two rivers come to a confluence, one larger river usually results.
Of course, the entire concept of the Erie Canal involved overcoming water’s natural tendencies, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise what it does here, too.
Leah: Yea! Thursday, for all 11ish miles, my feet didn’t hurt! I think I’m finally getting used to this looooong walks everyday thing.
I said yesterday the segment we were walking would be a great one if you just wanted to walk a section, but, oh ho, today was even better!
The trail passed through real city parks (complete with portable toilets), and we got to see two of the locks on the canal.
Best of all, the Canal Lamp Inn is a lovely B&B right on our route next to a neat touristy row of eateries and shops along the canal called Shoen Place.
We saw so many carpets of blue wildflowers. Little tiny flowers of several different kinds (alas, no bluebonnets) – just breathtaking!
May 14, 2016
Steve: Squiggles such as the one in this photo have been a bit of a blessing as we walk the Erie Canal Trailway.
We first became aware of them when we set out from Tonawanda, N.Y., on May 4. Leah noticed they were directing us along the pathway. One might think that shouldn’t be necessary, but there are many places where paths cross or branch off and it’s not always obvious which will continue and which will dead-end in a subdivision.
“We’ll see how long this lasts,” I said. Well, we’ve made it to Rochester now and they still pop up with regularity. We’ve taken to relying on them and, if we have any doubt, we go with the squiggle.
I suspect some bike club did it. Possibly, the state did, but the folks from there are more likely to put up signs, which, so far, have done a pretty good job of marking the route, but we’re glad to have our squiggles, too.
Friday’s walk wasn’t particularly note-worthy, mostly because I somehow hurt a knee early on. Usually, a pause and massage gets things going again, but this time any relief was short-lived and the last five miles were pretty miserable.
Once we got to our quarters at Twenty Woodlawn B&B in Fairport, our hostess prepared an ice pack. A while with the ice and we were able to walk to dinner just fine. It’s still feeling well this morning and I’m looking forward to a day without having to carry my backpack.
Yep, after 10 days of walking, we’re off today. An old friend and her family are meeting us this morning to show us around and we’ll spend two consecutive nights in the same bed.
Fun with friends
May 16, 2016
Steve: Playing a little catch-up today. These B&Bs are not often conducive to sitting down with a computer. Sometimes not even to sitting down. That’s all I’m saying about that now.
Leah: What a super fun day!
Started off with a breakfast where we made new friends with our hosts, Connie and Bill at Twenty Woodlawn B&B in Fairport.
Next, we spent the day with Marketta, a former workmate of Steve’s from more than 20 years ago. She and her family showed us all over the Rochester area. It was sort of like a preview of things we could return and see later.
We saw Susan B. Anthony’s house, George Eastman’s house (as in Kodak), the National Museum of Play (which my grandson needs to visit!), a really old cemetery, the place where Marketta works, the Concrest housing development, St. Michael’s Cathedral with its glorious stained glass windows, another church with Tiffany windows, and numerous other buildings that were beautiful and interesting.
Not only did we see all those places, but Marketta and her husband, Brian, were so great at explaining just what we were seeing. They really could open their own tour guide service!
Of course, in seven hours of sightseeing, we had to have a little lunch. We ate at Pi Craft pizza. Ohhhh, it is good! New Yorkers know pizza like Texans know barbecue.
Last, we had to go by and see the Pittsford Dairy – and get ice cream! Marketta’s family was also kind enough to run us by Wegman’s to shop for supplies.
Today, I made two new playmates – Benjamin and Colt, who also like Minecraft and who I can’t wait to see again.
But wait, there’s more –
We got home a little after 5 p.m. and had a wonderfully enjoyable conversation with our hosts about anything and everything in the world.
Whew! It was a day off from walking but not a day off from fun!
Singin’ in the sleet
May 17, 2016
Steve: One of the highlights of the trip, so far, was a brief moment just blocks from completing this leg. After walking through uncomfortable conditions the entire way, we were plodding up Palmyra’s Main Street on the sidewalk, both us and our packs covered by rain gear.
Then I saw, racing toward us in the opposite direction, were two bicyclists in the bike lane. They, too, were decked out for the weather and their bikes loaded with gear. It was obvious they were doing something similar to us but on wheels and headed west.
In that moment, I gave a big wave. They both waved back, but the guy, recognized the same thing I did. He gave me a big grin and wave just like we were lost friends.
Later that night, we got an email from Mike and Bernadette. We met them on the trail May 8, walking the opposite direction. They weren’t doing the entire distance, though, and have since finished.
Apparently, they live near the end of our journey, in the Schenectady or Albany area and said they’d like to treat us to a home-cooked meal when we get there. I hope we can get together and swap a couple of stories. (Update: Alas, we were too spent to do so at the end of our journey.)
These are the moments I envisioned when we were planning this walk.
Leah talks below about the detour we were forced to make. Hey, things like that happen, but what was frustrating was the lack of information. The sign (for which I should be thankful, I know) only said the trail was closed at the next highway crossing. There was no detour offered. It really would have been nice to understand just what they meant by closed and where it would reopen.
One additional note. Leah mentions the cemetery and the marker dedicated to the canal workers buried there, but she also did a little research that indicates more than a thousand workers died during the Erie Canal construction, many of them due to malaria during a swampy stretch that we’ll be walking through this week.
Leah: Today we braved 40ish degree temps to walk to Palmyra.
Started off pretty easily, but then we hit a detour at Waynesport Road which said the trail was closed at Canandaigua Road, which meant we might not be able to go further. So, we had to find a detour, but it turned out to be interesting.
About a mile into our detour north on Waynesport Road, we came to tiny Union Cemetery, where 26 Erie Canal construction workers who had died were remembered. The sign was erected “by people who cared.”
After the cemetery, we turned right onto Quaker Road. Then an amazing thing happened: it started sleeting! That was much more pleasant than rain! It bounced off us instead of getting us wet and melted soon after it hit the ground. Sort of fun! We were occasionally pelted by sleet the rest of the day.
In Macedon, we could get back on the trail, but first we had a little break at the lock park – picnic, a portable toilet, and shelter from another sleet storm. Then it was off on the trail again.
In no time, we were in our destination town of Palmyra and walked down Main Street to reach the Beckwith Mansion. It is owned and managed by D. Brent & Elizabethe Walton and is a tourist home, which is a different sort of lodging than a bed and breakfast.
The house is historic and roomy and busy. Brent is a professional photographer. Elizabethe is an artist who designs amazing greeting cards with paper crafting. She also designs costumes and other beautiful items.
Best of all, she has a workroom that was sinfully wonderful – it made me covet it and I’m pretty sure her spacious well-organized workroom will not fit in my RV! They are very generous, wonderful people to have as our hosts.
Fuel for the bodies
May 18, 2016
Steve: Monday morning, we scooted out of our room a bit earlier than usual because breakfast was not part of the deal there.
Near downtown Palmyra, we stopped at Akropolis Restaurant. We have not stopped at restaurants often while wearing our backpacks, but we figured out early that a booth is ideal seating … room for our packs and for us.
But I’m talking about eating right now.
If possible, we attempt to get one hearty meal a day. Lunch is almost always the snacks we carry with us. We’re usually able to get a decent breakfast and often have dinner at a restaurant.
We burn up enough calories during the day that we’re able to eat like this and, when possible, even have a beer or two with dinner.
Well, our breakfast at the Akropolis outdid everything else. It was one of the few times I’ve not cleaned my plate of a morning.
Leah: Monday’s walk was leisurely.
Thanks to a birder we met on the trail, we saw an oriole, a rose-breasted grosbeak, and a yellow-colored warbler. We had already seen a goldfinch, because thanks to my sister-in-law Tina, we knew what one looked like. I’m not a big birdwatcher, but these birds were so brightly colored it made them easy to spot and they practically posed for us. It was fun!
The nine miles we walked boasted only one park with facilities – Swift’s Landing Park, not too far outside Palmyra, which by the way used to be named Swift’s Landing. The trail seemed so remote even though we could often hear heavy traffic from somewhere.
We ended in Newark at the Vintage Garden B&B. This place deserves its name: well-manicured lawn, fountain spouting amid tulips and other flowers, herb & vegetable garden, multiple areas of all sorts of flowers and flowering trees, a green house, and a small woodland trail. Oh, AND real flowers in vases in the house.
Kimberly, our host, said she aimed for the 1920s for decorating inspiration. I can just picture “The Great Gatsby” set here.
Our room was spacious and well-lit. Best of all, Steve had a little table and chair so he could write.
Before settling in for the evening, we made it to the Clock Museum. Amazing collection of all sorts of time pieces that was donated by a local couple, the Hoffmans, and is housed at a wing in Newark’s public library. Glad we got to see it.
May 18, 2016
Steve: After leaving our overnight home and heading to the canal, we neared a young woman outside her tent (you’re allowed to camp along the way) rolling up her sleeping mat and we said good morning.
“You’re the couple walking the canal, aren’t you?” she said. We then figured out she was who we saw paddling a kayak on the canal the previous day.
“I can’t believe you saw us through the trees,” I said.
“No, but I heard about you at the tourist centers where I stopped.”
How neat is that? People are talking about us.
But I’m sure they’re talking about Desiree as well. In her 30s, she decided to break out of the routine and paddle the canal. She started in Lockport and plans to go all the way to the Hudson River.
Bottom line, she’s an amazing woman. I hope our paths cross again downstream.
Next, Leah’s going to knock out Tuesday and Wednesday – Days 14 and 15 – in one post so we’re caught up again.
Leah: The walk from the Vintage Gardens to Erie Mansion was mostly on roadsides on the shoulder. It wasn’t until we got to Lyons that there was a little park, Abbey Park, and then before we left town there was a McDonald’s for a timely meal and rest room break.
Then, a long section of the trail followed Route 31. However, half a mile after passing the Ganz-Stokes Road intersection we turned right on the Old 31 and there was a tiny, pretty park called Canal Side park and it had a rest room.
We saw NO cars on this road until we got to the last block where there were some businesses. Then before we knew it were walking down the sidewalk in Clyde and standing before the Erie Mansion.
If staying in a haunted house is on your bucket list, then this is the place for you!
The owner, Mark Wright, has fixed up the 40-room mansion extravagantly. Angels adorn the front porch and gargoyles sit on the windows in the back and, yes, there’s a dungeon!
For $10, you can have an hour tour, but even better, you can spend the night at bed & breakfast reasonable prices. The suites were very clean and comfortable with a bathroom, TV and a mini-kitchen. But the fun part was the decorations.
Our room was the Red Room. Very romantic. Another room was all Gothic – would be way cool on Halloween! There’s a huge Honeymoon Suite, and more.
If you like motorcycles and cars, you will enjoy seeing Mark’s collection. He also has an assortment of autographed pictures of famous people he has chauffeured when he owned the highly acclaimed Right Limousine in Trumansburg, N.Y. Not your typical B&B owner, but he made everything fun for us.
We slept hard after our 14-mile walk, so we saw no ghosts, but I looked for them before I went to sleep!
Wednesday, May 18, was a difficult journey to start our third week, but we were prepared for it. The route was off the trail because we would have had to walk much too far in order to reach the next room near the trail.
Another 14 miles down small country roads to get to historic Montezuma took us to the Hejamada campground. We are staying in a rental RV tonight. If you decide to walk this route, be aware there are no facilities at all on these 14 miles. It is all private open farmland for miles and miles.
May 20, 2016
Steve: Thursday’s walk wasn’t too spectacular, but it was free of problems … that’s good every now and then.
Leah had a tough time Wednesday, like sore feet and general discomfort. Last Friday and Sunday (two consecutive walking days since we took off Saturday), I had considerable issues with my left knee, but I’ve had no problems since.
So, Thursday, we walked mostly through the countryside, past one farm after another.
There was yet another hailed greeting. We were passing what was apparently a Mennonite family (which, along with Amish, are common around here) with the mom and children, or maybe two moms and children, working in the garden. One girl, about 13 years old, was pushing a hand-driven plow. The others were doing an assortment of things.
Mom yelled out, “How far are you going?” That’s probably the most common way for people to ask about what we’re doing. (There was a guy as we passed through Port Byron who asked, “Are you walking?” as we were putting on our packs after a break. I resisted the urge to say, “No, we’re flying; don’t you recognize our jetpacks?”)
Anyway, Leah exchanged pleasantries with the mom before we went on.
Leah: We learned something Thursday: walking long distances is ever so much pleasant when you can take a nice long break to see something interesting or have a slow lunch.
We had the most pleasant meal at the Port Byron Diner. Best BLT I ever had.
To me today, the walk was sort of sad. We walked along the old canal from Port Byron to Weedsport. Most of the way, the canal was nothing more than a creek running through a sea of cattails.
It was the original canal, dug by hand, only 4 feet deep. Now, those hardy individuals have been replaced by beavers working hard to construct a new landscape.
After the first digging of the canal, it underwent two upgrades and now it is part of the New York barge canal system. But as we walked past the old canal, I thought about all the artifacts from by gone days on the bottom of that big ditch, and all the people who traversed the state via canal.
Some cities have dwindled to tiny villages since the boom period of the canal ended.
Our canal trailway has hundreds of signs relating stories about the building of the canal and the people who lived and died during those amazing years.
The neatest people
May 20, 2016
Steve: You can meet the neatest people while walking around with a pack on your back.
As I said earlier, folks often ask us what we’re doing and chat for a few seconds. (A follow-up question, after we’ve said a few words, is, “You’re not from around here, are you?”) Sometimes, it’s more than a few seconds, cases of which I’ve mentioned before and will add two more examples today.
As a side note, we are now halfway complete with our walk.
We left Weedsport Friday morning on a 14-mile walk to Camillus, on the western edge of Syracuse, and had been going maybe 30 minutes when we paused to allow a couple of bicyclers to pass. Instead, they stopped and visited. It didn’t seem to be all that long, but Leah checked her watch and said it was almost half an hour.
Marie and Craig live in Camillus and sometimes make the ride to Weedsport, get a doughnut and coffee, then ride back home, so they were on their way home at this point.
We chatted about all kinds of things, including the fact Craig has cycled the canal trail before, doing a section at a time until he covered it all. He said his son is planning to do it this summer but a little more aggressively. He wants to cover some 90 miles a day and wrap it up in four days.
They rode on and we returned to walking, still confident we had plenty of time to get to our motel before 5 o’clock. Next up was the village of Jordan, where we planned to slide off the trail by one block to the Tops Market where Leah could make a potty stop and pick up a deli sandwich for us while I minded our bags on an outside bench.
Before getting there, a car pulled into a driveway and stopped, blocking the sidewalk. “You look like you’re headed somewhere,” the elderly driver said. We answered and then he got to his purpose.
“Would you like to see our museum?”
Knowing we had already lost time, including the fact we started 30 minutes later than we intended, we tried to decline, telling him we still had a long way to go.
“Sounds like you need a break, then,” he countered.
We looked at each other and shrugged. Sure, we’d love to see your museum.
It was practically next door. After parking, he walked us to the front door and told us to wait while he went in through the back because that was the only key he had.
By museum standards, this place was poorly designed, but it had interesting items from Jordan’s past. Our captor / tour guide John took us straight to what he deemed the featured attraction, which is pictured above.
The story goes that when President Lincoln’s funeral train passed through the town on April 24, 1865, members of the 3rd New York Artillery fired a commemorative cannon shot.
Doubtlessly, there was nothing special about that … except that someone goofed and actually discharged a six-pound cannonball.
“If there hadn’t been an elm tree in the way,” John said, “President Lincoln would have been shot a second time.”
The ball embedded in the tree and remained there until the tree was cut down 70 years later.
Now, you don’t hear that story without letting a random guy kidnap you off the sidewalks of Jordan, N.Y.
So, after leaving the museum and grabbing a sandwich, we started back on the trail. We were into the afternoon and had covered only five miles with nine to go. At that time, my phone signaled I had a message.
“This is Marie from the trail near Weedsport. Call me for a ride to the hotel in Camillus. It’s a long walk uphill and I’m close by!”
Wow! What a timely and wonderfully warm offer. We decided on the spot we would take advantage of it and gave her a call.
We still had five miles to go on the trail, but that breezed by knowing we would not have to walk four more miles alongside a busy country road.
Thanks, Marie and Craig. Thanks, John. It’s people like you who really put the pizazz into our little adventure.
Leah: Today dispelled some of the melancholy of the disappearing of the old Erie Canal.
We discovered many towns are repurposing the canal as well as the old buildings! They have used the sides of the old canal as retaining walls for new buildings, turned old buildings into museums, restaurants and warehouses.
They have cleaned up and mowed the bottoms of the canal to turn them into parks, play spaces and gardens. Of course, best of all, it dawned on me, is the monumental task of rebuilding and maintaining the towpath trail for recreation. According to bed and breakfast owners and some locals, more and more people are walking and biking the trail.
Perhaps the economic boom of the Erie Canal from the 1800s, will return in the 2000s in the form of tourism. So, the old canal will live again!
No telling what else we will find on down the trail!
Not all perfect
May 22, 2016
Steve: Saturday’s walk was, by most standards, just disappointing, but first, the photo.
A few blocks from our motel in downtown Syracuse, we came across a barbecue cook-off in Clinton Square, as Leah talks about below. After scarfing down a pulled pork sandwich, I snapped a pic of the Jerry Rescue monument and read its history. It’s yet another example of the people’s rights fervor that was found in this area, but the story is more than I can convey here, so follow this link to read about it.
One thing that we’ve thought to be pretty much a surety in upstate New York has been the presence of sidewalks within towns. Therefore, we felt pretty good about Saturday’s hike even though almost the entire 11.5 miles was along city streets.
The disappointment was in just how wrong we were.
Not only were there so few sidewalks, but there were many passages that were unnerving. More than once, we went out of our way to cut through parking lots just for a breather.
At one point, we moved away from the road to sit on a low wall at a church driveway. While there, a man in a motorized chair passed down the drive and headed onto the side of the road, literally teetering while clinging to the drop-off, something he did with obvious familiarity.
Leah: Today was 10 miles of suburbs (Walmart, Michaels, Lowes, Target, and more … and I had no room in my backpack!) and 1.5 miles of old downtown.
The old buildings in downtown Syracuse are early 1800s and big; many are drastically repurposed and some restored.
A nice surprise downtown was the big barbecue cookoff. The city closed some roads and the old Clinton’s Square was full of BBQ cookers, eaters and live music. We had pulled pork sandwiches from a food truck that was from the Limp Lizard Bar and Grill.
Well, New Yorkers can make good BBQ. They also put it on good bread.
In the winter, Clinton’s Square becomes an ice rink. And by the way, the square is a filled-in portion of the old Erie Canal, so as the sign at the square said, “ice skaters can once again glide across the ice as they did in the early 1900s.”
I don’t think we’ll come back up here for that.
Keep it clean-ish
May 22, 2016
Steve: Today was the last day of city walking for a while, a short hike to the eastern edge of Syracuse.
We started with a bit of a treat. Since we didn’t have to go far today, we spent the morning visiting worship services at Park Central Presbyterian Church, which was only a few blocks from our motel.
Other than that, the day was kind of boring, though walking through the city does give us different things to talk about.
So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to address something a few have asked about in one way or another … how we handle clothing.
Since we’re carrying everything, minimalism rules.
Basically, we each have one extra set of everything, plus an additional extra pair of socks. Usually, I wear the same clothes while walking. Once we reach our destination for the night, I’ll shower and don my “nice” clothes and hang up my walking clothes to air out. Of course, the nice clothes are also backups in case I need them.
OK, so now you’re wondering about washing them.
Just about everything is made of fabric that dries easily and we’ll regularly wash out items in the bathroom sink. Then they’ll hang wherever, hopefully where the fan can blow across them. As a final resort, the hair dryer almost every room has can be used to put on the last drying touches. We occasionally dangled damp socks from our backpack until they were dry.
Tonight, though, we’re staying at a Holiday Inn Express that has a guest laundry. Right now, Leah’s down there washing just about every piece of clothing we have while I take care of our boring post. This is the third time we’ve been able to machine wash everything.
And with that, Day 19 is in the books. Monday will be 11.5 miles along the old canal until we reach Chittenango.
Man behind the curtain?
May 23, 2016
Leah: Wow, do I have a story to tell today!
Before we started this trip, we planned for a lot of things – rain, dogs, muggers, sunburn, blisters – but I never thought anyone would … well, wait for it.
We had walked a couple of hours into our trip and waited at a crosswalk with two joggers, men about our age. One of them queried, “How long until you get to Albany?” And he laughed until I said we’re about halfway there. He said, “Oh, you really are walking all the way?”
They wished us luck and were on their way. (We were impressed they were running; we don’t do that anymore.) About 20 minutes later, they had made their turnaround point and were headed toward us. One asked, “Do you mind if we ask how old you are?”
Steve answered that the trip was my 60th birthday present and one of the men said, “Oh, my!” and congratulated me. Then, he reached out and gave me a little hug and a big kiss on my cheek! I gave him one of our cards — so if you’re reading this, thank you for the birthday kiss! You made my day. (My birthday is in December, but I’m not walking this trail in the snow!)
Although we are walking the official Erie Canal Trailway, we often must get off to find our lodging. Thank goodness, or we might never have landed in Oz!
Chittenango is the birthplace of L. Frank Baum, author of “The Wizard of Oz” books. They do it up right here. Businesses are named with words from the story – Emerald City, Yellow Brick Road, etc. The city sidewalk includes a yellow brick road.
We stopped at The Medicine Shoppe as we entered town because it proclaimed, “Welcome Oz fans” and was full of gifts and souvenirs about Oz. Then we stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts for a coolotta and they had pictures from the movie and of Munchkins actors who used to come to Chittenango to visit for the big Oz-Stravaganza. It’s right around the corner, June 3-5. We’ll miss it. But the poppies are blooming and the posters are up.
Going into a town can be a wonderful change of scenery, not to mention food and fun. Walking along the highway is not fun, but sometimes you must.
May 24, 2016
Leah: We started our day after a great night’s sleep at the Bird Brook B&B. If you ever visit the land of Oz (Chittenango, N.Y.), I heartily recommend this place.
It is a short (honest, I mean it) walk to the downtown area and the La Cocina has real Mexican food. It’s neat to look at all the old houses and they are all old because of the canal boom years. The Bird Brook was built about 1830 but it is all updated. In our room, there were plenty of plugs for our electronics, a ceiling fan, a private bath and a private exterior entry.
Our hostess, Terry, did the decorating and used solid, warm colors on the walls instead of wallpaper and added just enough decorations in the room so it doesn’t take up the guest’s space.
We then walked about five miles on the canal trail that is part of the state park. It has benches at reasonable intervals and signs giving the history of the canal. It’s like walking through a really, really, really long museum.
Today, I learned some items to share. I had been worrying about all those people going up and down the canal on their boats and where did they stop to go to the bathroom. Well, one of the signs answered with what I had suspected – everything went overboard.
At least they were smart enough not to drink the water. They filled barrels with fresh water when they stopped at the villages. In the winter in the areas where the canal was not drained, they made ice. And I’m thinking – no! – but, the sign said the canal ice was specially labeled so it wouldn’t be consumed. Whew!
Lots of families lived on the canal full time because of their business. Canal family children might only go to school from December to March when the canal couldn’t be traveled.
We got off the trail at Canastota and discovered it was there the Watson dump wagon was invented. This sped up canal work and railroad work tremendously because a man could pull a lever and dump the contents out of the bottom rather than having to scrape it out the back.
Tonight, we are staying in Oneida – home of the Oneida Nation, Oneida silverware, and the Oneida Community (a utopian commune started in 1848).
Take a break
May 26, 2016
Steve: The headline today is we’re taking a day off.
We initially walked 10 days, took a day off for sightseeing with friends, then walked 11 days. To top it off, the last three days were long, ending with a 16-mile walk that was mostly along a shoulder of a busy highway. The result, we were worn pretty thin by the time we reached our Hampton Inn stop in Rome, N.Y., Wednesday afternoon.
Today, we awoke from a good night’s sleep, enjoyed a breakfast (with coffee, which we don’t drink on hiking days) and then rested. Shortly after noon, we walked maybe two blocks to a restaurant for a nice lunch. And now we’re resting again.
We also made a big decision about Friday’s walk. We’re calling a taxi in the morning to take us to the head of a trail along the Mohawk River instead of backtracking about three miles through town. That still leaves a 14-mile walk but a much more pleasant one.
The good news is, while we felt Wednesday night like we might not be able to go on, a night’s sleep seemed to assure us we could still do it. The human body is an amazing machine.
Leah: I was sure I would have nothing to write after Wednesday’s leg because all we did was walk 16 miles down a highway shoulder.
But, on the way to our hotel, we passed by Fort Stanwix National Monument. I had seen it on the map but had no idea of its historical significance. We have been learning the history of the Erie Canal on our hike, but Fort Stanwix is all about the Revolutionary War and the French and Indian War.
The city of Rome, on the Mohawk River, was at a pivotal point, literally known as the carrying place for trade and transportation between the Great Lakes and what would be the United States. The battles in and around this area were bloody and complicated, involving colonists, loyalists, and six nations of native Americans.
We just tasted the history of this area at the national monument with the help of Tom and Dave, and the ranger at the desk, a retired Air Force veteran from Tyler, Texas, whose name I didn’t get.
Thank you all for giving us new insights into our country and our ancestors.
The heat is on
May 28, 2016
Steve: Friday was a different day.
Due to the distance we had to go, our location in Rome that was nowhere near the trail and the fact we were already tired and looking at unpleasant walking weather … we called a cab to take us to the trailhead, cutting off some three miles of city walking, much of which we had already seen. It was 10 bucks well spent.
En route, we had an interesting visit with our Elite Taxi driver, Jennifer.
Like most upstate New Yorkers, she wants people elsewhere in the country to understand that residents here and life here is nothing like New York City, which is only a 5-hour drive away. In fact, she said she had only been there once … well, twice back-to-back.
She said she was making her first visit to the Big Apple on Sept. 11, 2001, when the terrorist attacks took place. Fortunately for her, she was driving. Though it took her several hours to work her way out, she eventually got home.
However, as an emergency medical technician with the local department, she simply gathered her gear and returned with others from her area to help search for survivors and victims of the bombings.
The 9/11 tragedy affected our entire nation, but this was not the first time I have had the opportunity to understand that people who live so much closer to New York City had a more intimate and rawer relationship with the event than those of us hundreds of miles away.
Jennifer dropped us at the trailhead, and we set out before 8 a.m. We’re starting much earlier now that the weather has warmed up. Even so, the humidity had us sweating in no time.
Regardless, we felt good. The day off Thursday had our feet feeling light and pains were minimal. There also weren’t many distractions and we set a good pace.
There was one stop though. A lone bicyclist was approaching us. Our practice when meeting others on the trail is for Leah to slip in behind me to give everyone room. As the guy neared us, I spotted a snake lounging across our side of the trail and I stopped short, reaching back to take Leah’s hiking pole in order to prod it to move on.
Meanwhile, the cyclist rolled to a stop and commented on how he has to be on the lookout to avoid hitting snakes and other critters. I decided the snake was dead when it didn’t respond to the pole and the three of us talked for a few minutes.
We mainly learned two things from the cyclist. He had worked with some airline in the past and he hadn’t driven a car in 11 years.
One other thing … he visited Texas once while driving cross-country to California. He drove through the Lubbock area. His remembrances were that you could see forever and that residents got around in airplanes instead of pickups. We didn’t bother trying to make him understand what a small sampling of Texas that was.
Anyway, once he rode off, I resumed to move the snake just so its body wouldn’t startle anyone else and, lo and behold, it was alive … just very, very still.
After six miles following the old canal, we emerged in Oriskany. Across the street was the Oriskany Diner, where we had kind of planned a lunch and rest room break, but our early start and quick pace got us there too early. Hey, there’s no bad time for breakfast, so we reloaded. I had biscuits and gravy.
Soon, after a half-mile roadside walk north, we were hoofing along the trail again, but we were back alongside the active canal. However, our feet were no longer as light nor our pace as lively.
The temperature was rising through the 80s and the humidity had not slipped enough. Undoubtedly, our second breakfast wasn’t helping any, either. We only had eight miles to go when we left the diner, but they dragged by.
To compensate for the conditions, we drank more water than we had been.
Staying hydrated has been a tricky thing for us. We know we need to be drinking, but there are many times finding a place to pee is downright challenging. So, we tend to just sip water as we go to balance out what we’re sweating and try to keep from building up too much in our bladders.
The struggle is real, my friends.
Also, water is heavy, so we’ve both been not quite filling our bottles because we had not been needing it all. Less weight to carry, don’t you know.
Friday, though, we were downing water faster than usual. We both continued to try and spread out our supplies but knew we were cutting it close. We were less than two miles from our destination, crossing a railroad track, when we spotted a bottle of water on the ground.
I suspect the tracks jostled it loose from some biker and we both hoped he or she was carrying more. The bottle cap was sealed but the contents were hot. No surprise because our water bottles were pretty warm by this point.
We were tickled to have it. As it happened, we did not use the found bottle, but simply having it as a reserve made it less challenging mentally.
We made it to our air-conditioned room, shower and fresh water not a minute too soon. Instead of walking an additional mile or so for dinner, we had pizza delivered to the motel.
I’m writing this on Saturday morning and we have another rest day. Due to the way the schedule came together – building it from multiple spots instead of along a single timeline, we were/are off Thursday, Saturday and Monday. When we start walking Tuesday morning, it will be on the last eight days of our trek.
On one hand, it’s difficult to believe we’re already on Day 25. But then, I looked through some earlier photos for something and it seemed like the things there happened three months ago.
Oh, an update on our kayaking friend from earlier. I’ve been following her Instagram and last night she pitched her tent about six miles further up the canal. This is the first time we’ve been close since we met her because she had to stay on the water and our trail led us away from it the past few days. With us taking off today and Monday, I’d say it’s unlikely we’ll meet up again unless she does the same.
May 29, 2016
Steve: Just when you start feeling cocky …
For the most part, we’ve been clicking along on our end-to-end walk of the Erie Canalway Trail. We’ve covered more than 260 miles plus unknown off-course mileage and we’re feeling pretty good about it.
Today’s was 14.5 miles of highway walking – our least favorite kind – but we started early to avoid as much heat as possible and to try and beat afternoon rainstorms.
As we were chugging along Highway 5, we saw two cyclists coming our way. Each woman was pulling a trailer behind her bike and it was obvious they also were on a trip.
They were on their way to Niagara Falls, not far from where we started almost four weeks ago, and I asked where they started.
Our visit had to be brief because we were all racing the storm and they pedaled off with many questions swimming around in my head.
Leah: As we have walked, the trail has changed from time to time – on a road, on the barge canal, in a forest, along the old canal, along farmland, through a city, over bridges, under bridges.
We have been following a long stretch of trailway along the old canal ditch – sometimes containing little or no water. Friday, just after we passed through Oriskany, we began following the barge canal again and that means we were back to seeing working canal locks.
We came upon a small state park with lovely shady picnic tables and portable toilets. However, the park was on the opposite side of the canal! So, we had to cross over the top of the canal lock. It was like crossing the walkway over the gates of a castle, only there was a moat on both sides.
The walkway was a metal grate just wide enough for a person to walk. But I was highly motivated to get to the other side. I think I understand chickens crossing the road a little better now.
Oh, and we had to come back across to get back on the trail. And a short while later down the trail, the trail actually took us over the top of a lock, but I was braver this time!
‘No more wars’
May 30, 2016
Steve: Memorial Day was the final rest day on our walk and we used it to take in observances of the holiday in Herkimer, N.Y.
Monuments we’ve seen during our Erie Canal walk remind us that this is an older section of the country than what we see in Texas. We’ve seen local memorials listing residents who died in wars dating all the way back to the American Revolution.
In fact, the most notable member of the Herkimer family after whom the village, town and county were named was Gen. Nicholas Herkimer, who died from battle wounds in 1777 after taking part in the nearby Battle of Oriskany during the Revolutionary War.
That item was not mentioned during today’s ceremony in a small tree-shaded park. We guessed it’s because locals all know the story. Regardless, conversation was limited to wars that were remembered by some of the audience.
The highlight was a few words offered by Anne-Marie Hansel, age 96, who served as a WAVE during World War II.
The first of what she said I didn’t pick up on, but she spoke loudly and clearly with her parting remarks: “No more wars. We’ve got to stop this. Use your brains.”
Bless her, she’s right.
That does not reduce by an iota the respect and honor we hold for those in military service, particularly those who made the greatest sacrifice. But it’s a bold message for those who make the decisions to fight unnecessary wars: “No more wars. We’ve got to stop this. Use your brains.”
June 2, 2016
Steve: Pardon us for being slow posting. Tuesday was a packed day, as Leah explains in her notes. Then, Wednesday was totally sucked up by a character I’ll tell you about in the next post, which may follow shortly or at least by tomorrow morning.
As for Tuesday, I need to mention some more interesting folks with whom we crossed paths.
On our way to breakfast, we met and chatted with a father-daughter bicycling tandem. Emily had just graduated college and joined her dad, Ed, who was biking the canalway because, “I’ve always wanted to.”
They’re from Ohio and had left their vehicle in long-term parking at the Buffalo airport. When they’re through, they’ll take the Amtrak back west and pick up their vehicle to drive home.
A few hours later, we met another couple of bikers. Of course, I didn’t get their names. At least one of the second pair, if not both, is from Ottawa, Canada, and they’re biking a big loop to take in part of both countries. I gathered they’re primarily camping along the way.
I’m closing out with a guy in Little Falls, our Tuesday destination. The Travelodge where we stayed also had a restaurant and, next door was a two-screen movie theater. For some reason, I presume because we’re so charming, the lady at the hotel desk comped us a pair of tickets to a movie when we asked for more information.
The young man who accepted our tickets and then sold us a bag of popcorn, then ran up into the projector room to turn up the lights or start the preliminary videos or whatever. We were the only people in there for a few minutes but were soon joined by another couple.
After “X-Men: Apocalypse,” the credits began to roll and we were discussing whether there would be a teaser at the end, as the Marvel movies usually do, when our young ticket taker / refreshment specialist / projectionist barged into the darkened theater and took a position in front of his four customers.
He started yelling something and then said he would turn down the volume and ran out, coming back in just a second.
He went on to say there were nine minutes of credits to roll before getting to the final film clip and asked if we’d like to just skip to the end.
Of course, we said we would, he was gone in a flash and fast-forwarded to the final scene.
And that’s something I’ve never had happen in a movie theater before.
Leah: Tuesday. we were just like regular tourists.
We had a beautiful walk from Herkimer to Little Falls. It was like walking through a park even though most of the time we were actually on a small highway. Now, all the trees and bushes are leafed out and wildflowers are even wilder. Cottonwood fluff fills the air.
I saw something so incredible today – yellow swamp iris blooming all through the bogs beside the roads. I had noticed their leaves when we first started our walk four weeks ago and I so hoped I would get to see them bloom, and I have! In the dark boggy areas, it is so amazing to see this carpet of yellow.
So, we have this lovely eight-mile walk and we get to this cool Travelodge, and what do we do? Dump our backpacks and go on a hike! Really. We strolled past cute little tourist shops, then walked across a bridge into a park area where you could see evidence of 200-year-old buildings and bridges that once lined the Mohawk River and canal area.
We headed toward Lock 17 on Moss Island in the river. It is one of the tallest locks in the world – 40.5 feet of lift! We got to see yachts go through.
We also saw rock climbers. The rock on the island is ancient – some of the hardest rock there is – so people are allowed to rock climb all over and hike all over. Let’s just say it’s not a delicate ecosystem.
No climbing for us but we walked all over. Next, we strolled back downtown and got to walk through the Main Street tunnel under all the railroad tracks – smart folks here – you walk from one set of shops to another.
Next, we had dinner in the hotel restaurant – excellent food, but our server, Kevin, was what made dinner so fun. He was from Little Falls so he could tell us all about the area, but mostly he’s just a really great guy. And then there was the movie Steve wrote about above.
And did I mention we walked eight miles?
Too much of a good thing?
June 3, 2016
Steve: After the packed day we had Tuesday, it seemed Wednesday would be a little more … normal.
The trail leaving Little Falls treated us to a deep, cool cover like that pictured above. After about three miles, we looked around the home of Gen. Nicholas Herkimer, who I mentioned in Monday’s write-up.
Back on the trail, we saw someone approaching with a stroller. It wasn’t until he almost reached us we realized the stroller contained not a baby but bags and supplies, this in addition to the backpack he was wearing.
Tom started his walk three days before we did, but he still has quite a while to go. He began at Plymouth Rock. His destination is San Diego.
Why walk across the country? He said he needed to lose some weight (which he added he’s lost about 20 pounds already) and, basically, it seemed like the thing to do.
Best of luck, Tom, and let us know when you get there.
That serves as an appropriate segue to give a final report on Desiree, the kayaker we met a while back. She’s returned home now after tearing a hole in her kayak. However, she put in 220 miles and said she had a great trip.
As I said, Wednesday was a fairly normal day … until we checked in to our bed and breakfast at INn by the Mill in Saint Johnsville. That’s where we got to know Ron Hezel and Thodar.
Ron is quick to tell you he’s 81 years old and he promptly termed us babies. He has had a very interesting life, if you believe it all. I say that because he clearly indicated he had no taste for facts that get in the way of a good story … and he has a ton of good stories.
Just a few tidbits: His parents broke up when he was young, his mother was an alcoholic and a prostitute, he spent time living in a brothel at an age where he didn’t fully understand everything, his mom was always dragging him off to a new relationship, he eventually moved back with his dad, his mother was later murdered, a teacher spotted a spark in Ron and managed to get him enrolled in the High School for Performing Arts, he built the remote-controlled robot Thodar his senior year in high school, that earned him a bit of fame at the time, he taught school more than 30 years and … well, do you really need more?
That’s just a list. Every one of those items had one or more stories attached and there really were more, including some related to the historic buildings that made up the inn.
The problem for us was we were quite tired after walking 12.5 miles that day. We tried more than once to signal that we really needed to hydrate, shower and relax, but he either missed or ignored those signs.
But we actually had another problem. We really enjoyed his stories. We needed to leave but felt an urge to stay. I had at least two other topics I wanted to have him address but couldn’t get my requests in. One was to explain why they capitalize the first N in INn. The bigger one was to hear the story about the building’s role in the Underground Railroad.
So, should you book a stay at Ron and Judith’s place (she, by the way, made some wonderful treats), make sure you’re there for more than one night.
June 3, 2016
Following two exciting days, things slowed down Thursday, beginning with an uneventful 11-mile walk to Canajoharie.
Well, one might consider eventful that we stopped in Fort Plain for a couple of yummy fruit smoothies.
And I did capture the image above. Texas might have a lot of problems, but snowmobiling while intoxicated isn’t one of them.
We reached the Pineapple House Bed & Breakfast and found two friends with whom we were instantly able to be at home.
Janine and Bill Nelson are retired educators and we seemed to share a lot of interests, primary of which might have been telling stories.
This was the 11th and last B&B for our trip and my favorite. However, as much as we enjoyed visiting, it’s nothing to write about. You’ll have to take my word for it that we had a great time.
A walk to ourselves
June 3, 2016
Leah: Spent a restful night at the Pineapple House B&B in Canajoharie with our hosts Bill and Janine. They’re retired schoolteachers, so we had lots to talk about. They are bicyclers and like to travel and are fun to talk to – and it doesn’t hurt that gourmet cooking is one of their hobbies.
The Pineapple House was the last B&B of our trip; we’re getting close to the end.
Friday’s walk was about 12 miles and very unusual in that we saw no other hikers or bicyclers the entire 12 miles. We were, however, passed by two horse-drawn buggies full of Amish teenagers. We all waved at each other as they sped by, obviously on an important errand.
Amazingly, although the trail was sandwiched between an interstate and a state highway, it was still a great hike. Tiny waterfalls dripped through black rocks covered in moss creating green stalactites. Cottonwood fluff filled the air so that it looked like snow; purple phlox lined the trail and trees formed a canopy of shade.
However, traffic from the roads definitely drowned out the frogs and birds and us. We surprised several bunnies.
I realized I hadn’t mentioned facilities in a while. Since we left Syracuse, the trail has veered away from the barge canal and the Mohawk River and I was wondering where the towpath trail was. Then I went “duh” because by the time the canal was all enlarged and moved for the third time, boats had motors and mules weren’t needed.
The trail has lately followed Interstate 90. The canal is out there nearby also, we just don’t see it, but we sure hear the I-90 traffic! The good news is that the trail is very well screened from roads and the trees and bushes have all leafed out fully.
Also, the trail passes nearer to facilities in towns. Benches have been more frequent and the locks (which usually have a least a park or portable toilet) are closer together on this eastern section of the trail.
June 4, 2016
Leah: Today being Saturday, there were lots of folks out on the trail and canal. The weather was a little drier and cooler, too, so it was a very pleasant walk.
Along a road next to the trail near the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs, an Amish family had set up a table selling homemade goodies. Most definitely, Steve and I had to buy some homemade cookies!
The dad in the family was also a teacher and they had two boys helping out while mom sewed. She shared that they used to live in Ohio but liked it better in New York because it was less humid. They had the most patient horse in the world. And yes, the molasses cookies were melt-in-your-mouth good.
We finally got to the place on the canal I’ve been dying to see: the Schoharie Crossing. It is the last place you can see a good example of the aqueducts that carried the Erie Canal across streams.
It is also the only place you can find all three iterations of the canal in a relatively close area. Note to hikers and bicyclists: traveling down the trail from Fultonville, you turn the first time you see the sign Schoharie Crossing Historic Site visitor center, if you want to see the visitor center (which has a bathroom, tiny free museum, gift shop and sites of Fort Hunter), turn where it says to. There are no distance indicators, but it isn’t a far walk.
After you visit the area, get back on the trail and go about three miles until you get to the second sign directing you to Yankee Hill park and historic site. You will see it and the barge canal from the trail. This is a neat place because you can see the current barge canal and the old canal locks side by side.
There is also a replica of an old canal store (has bathroom) and picnic tables. If you go to the Schoharie website, it shows a map that says you can take the old towpath trail to the Yankee Hill park, however, there is nothing on the ground to help you find directions or distance to match the online map.
All that being said, it’s worth the time to stop and see this spread out historic site. It meant so much to me after seeing the whole canal to see it all come together.
The aqueduct, even in ruins, is so amazing. Imagine building a bridge to carry water carrying boats, cargo, passengers and mules, all over a river!
Additionally, in 2011, there was a terrible flood that destroyed part of the historic area, but because of the flood they discovered the site of old Fort Hunter, commissioned by Queen Anne in the 1700s.
And on a completely different note, look up Amsterdam Castle, N.Y. We all need one of these.
June 6, 2016
Steve: When they surveyed the original course for the Erie Canal almost 200 years ago, you know they picked the easiest route. So, it’s no surprise as time went on that other roads, including railroads, took advantage and built nearby.
For example, I have no idea how many times our path has used State Highway 5, or crossed it. We’ve also walked under and over Interstate 90 a number of times. In addition, we’ve seen many trains fly by on nearby tracks. At times, our trail has been hidden behind trees, but we could hear an approaching train as if it was coming down our path.
We’ve also seen numerous Amtrak trains and have waved to unseen passengers. In Texas, sightings of passenger trains are limited.
All of that is to explain how the idea for Sunday’s leg of our trip was planted in our brain.
Sunday was a 17-mile trek from Amsterdam to Schenectady, one we were dreading just a little because the 14-mile days we’ve had recently had really sapped us. And then the weather forecast came.
Midweek last week, they were already predicting a heavy rain on Sunday. We’ve learned to not put too much early emphasis on the forecasts, but this one held firm. So, I got the bright idea of checking the Amtrak routes. Sure enough, there were trains that stopped in Amsterdam en route to Schenectady.
Not as many trains ran on Sunday and, apparently, a rail construction project led them to temporarily suspend one run, so our earliest train was scheduled for 5:10 p.m. That gave us leeway on when to make a three-mile walk from our Super 8 to the depot and we were able to do that mid-morning between waves of storms; we only got rained on the last half-mile or so.
Of course, that left us more than five hours to wait in a small, unmanned depot. But, hey, there were chairs, a water fountain and a rest room. There were even electrical outlets so we could keep our phones charged.
The wisdom of our plan was confirmed while we waited. After a steady rain of two or three hours, it turned into a downpour, which we watched from inside. The train was delayed but only by an hour. We clambered aboard along with three other people.
Twenty minutes later … 20 minutes! … the train pulled into the station in Schenectady and we walked through a light rain three blocks to our hotel. We declared it a winning decision and it only cost $15 each.
Let me add one thing.
We gave the decision considerable consideration. After all, this is called “Walk the Erie Canal.”
However, we’ve stated all along that (1) we would not do anything stupid; (2) this is not a competition; and (3) we have nothing to prove.
It’s all about the experience and taking the train gave us a different opportunity. In fact, due to a prolonged visit in the depot with a rabid railroad fan, we thought we might want to plan a rail trip someday.
Something different …
June 6, 2016
Leah: Today, we chose a path through the city and suburbs rather than the bike path in the green belt area.
We have very little city experience, but riding the train into Schenectady Sunday made us realize there were some really cool things about a city and maybe we need to work on our city smarts.
We started smack dab in the middle of old Schenectady. So many of the old houses all over New York have been fixed up for all sorts of uses: cafés, law offices, duplexes, rooming houses, shops, B&Bs.
That’s not just in Schenectady but all over the areas we’ve walked.
If you want a big ol’ three-story, seven-bedroom house, I can tell you where to find a few. They really have been perfect for B&Bs because the owners can use the front rooms for guests and the old servants’ quarters for their private area. Some of the folks get really creative with the spaces.
Back to our city walk. It was all sidewalk through Schenectady and its suburbs but the area changed – from old downtown, worn-out edge of town, historic area, 1920-1940s suburb houses, spread out estates and then to where we are, all new stuff.
We watched the buses run back and forth and realized if we decided to take trains on our next trip, we could ride the city buses where we wanted to visit.
Tuesday, by the way, is the last day of our walk.
June 8, 2016
Steve: Tuesday afternoon, once we completed our end-to-end walk of the Erie Canal, I again wished Leah a happy birthday.
It’s something I had done every day for the past five weeks. Sometimes it came when we were struggling with some aspect of our trek. Sometimes when things were going giddily well.
More than two years ago, when Leah gave me permission to do something big for my 60th birthday, I chose a trip to South Africa and we managed to throw in a transatlantic cruise on the return.
With such a precedent, she was surely authorized to come up with something wild and crazy for her 60th. She decided on a long hike.
Initially, she was looking at the Lone Star Hiking Trail, some 100 miles long in the Sam Houston National Forest. The thought was we would park our RV in the area and use both vehicles each day to get to and from trailheads. It would happen late this year, when it’s cooler in Texas, and shortly before her birthday.
Then, last summer, we fell in love with the story of the Erie Canal, learned there was a trail pretty much following the canal and started making plans.
Along the way, as we met many people – from innkeepers to restaurant workers to folks we passed on the trail – she told them, this is my 60th birthday present. Yeah, it sometimes brought strange looks.
Now it’s done. Early on, we had good reasons to suspect we might not be able to complete the walk. At the end, it’s strange to think we won’t be walking 10-12 miles today or tomorrow.
We hope you’ve enjoyed traveling with us. We’ve tossed out bits of advice for those who might be considering such an adventure. If you want to pick our brains about anything related to our trip, leave a comment here.
Leah: Tuesday’s journey started by the hotel near the airport. The trailhead is actually a short distance from there, so the trail was in a green belt area that used to be the Erie Canal.
Now, the canal runs through the Mohawk River then goes north to bypass the Cohoes Falls. The falls are amazing. You should put them on your list of things to see in New York. In fact, even if you don’t want to walk the Erie Canal, most of the places we’ve seen can be visited by car.
We picnicked at the falls overlook and then strolled through the village of Cohoes. Neat historical buildings and markers. Even one place where you could (supposedly) look through a pipe to see where the old Erie Canal lock was under the street. It wasn’t working right, but cool idea.
Across the street was an old mill. Huge old mill for cotton and textiles. It had been converted into “the Lofts at Harmony Mills.” Very classy and expensive.
Not much further, across a bridge, we made it to Waterford, the oldest incorporated (1794) village in New York State. This is where the Champlain canal and Erie barge canal empty into the Hudson River. Wow!!
Along the harbor, there was a brick map of the Erie Canal. We literally walked down memory lane as we remembered all the towns we’d been through as we visited them on the map.
Then there it was – the Hudson River. We did it, walking from the Niagara to the Hudson.
But where were the marching bands and cheering crowds?