This is a shameless attempt to save the the most advanced civilization in
history from imminent self destruction by eliminating carbon emission,
dependence on foreign sources of fuel,obesity, hypertension and diabetes.
Cycling accomplishes all those things at once and helps us develop a better
understanding of ourselves, each other and our relationship to the cosmos.

Oh, horse puckey!
I like to ride bikes, have been doing it all my life.
The rest of that crap is just a fringe benefit,
and the blogosphere gives me a chance to share my interior
monologue with virtual rather than imaginary friends.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A glorious week on the Erie Canal Trail

   I was rolling along all week making daily blog posts on my phone when the Blogger app quit working!   What have we left to believe in?  Twenty years ago the service started with a weird made up name that sounded like it came from a bunch of college stoners with a laptop.  Now Google is a noun, a verb and one of the most pervasive services in history.  I was depending on them, and they left me lost in the woods.  Well I survived and I'm sure my small but painfully neurotic following will as well.
The road for this trip begins in Buffalo and ends in Albany both of which are convenient Amtrak stops.   Amtrak had sold all the reserved bike spots from Chicago going east, so I drove to Buffalo and was given a long term parking pass at the Buffalo Amtrak station.
I was running a bit late on the drive and left the station just at rush hour.   Getting through rush hour traffic and out to the trail head was a bit time consuming and trying.  I bailed to the sidewalks on a number of occasions.  When I got to the trail  I was pleasantly relieved.  It is a beautifully paved MUP with wide, well manicured aprons of grass which made it perfect for a first night wild camp.
Leaving the next morning I enjoyed talking with several trail users who had never seen somebody camp on their suburban trail.  They were all  good company and interested in the trip as I broke camp early and headed down the road where I found a sign of things to come.
I pedaled through well developed parks and staging areas
 some with shelters and barbeques
randomly developed stopping points to rest
where I encountered other cyclists some of which make
the entire trip each year and return.
The small towns have built up substantial tourism along the waterway.
The area west of Syracuse is the flat area of the canal and draw bridges are common where the towns have developed camping areas along the way.
At Holley, the stream which runs beneath the canal structure produces this beautiful water fall in a wooded area
 where the city has developed a campground 
for cyclists which even provides free shower facilities.

near the top of the falls.
At Syacuse the trail diverts to the streets and winds through the central business district which has some developed shopping and business areas.  I rode through on Sunday and it was quite pleasant and very well marked, but I would've detoured around the town on a weekday.  I met one woman who had a friend transport her from one end of town to the other, just to avoid the weekday mess.

East of Syracuse the trail leads to an older an currently unused portion of the canal.  The original canal was built in this area and is called "Clinton's Ditch."  Fourty feet wide and 4 feet deep the canal produced a waterway in western NY without current which was used to carry produce and goods throughout the region.
The still waters provide a mirror to reflect the landscape.
Small towns and villages take advantage of the canal to develop  museums and preserve some of the boats originally pulled by mules on the towpath .  Places like Marcy have developed extensive parks for campers like the one where I met 
Albert who is using the month to make a leg in his continuing effort to cross the country.  This year he expects to make it to Kansas City where he will pick up the journey next year.
At times the trail is diverted from the canal in places like Utica where they have not taken advantage of it to develop tourism and the trail takes to the secondary highway.  Utica is an example of urban sprawl principles applied to small towns.  It sucks, but it's there.
The trailway itself is splendid.  It's gravel in spots, generally paved in the cities towns and villages but well-maintained packed limestone for most of the mileage,
and the visuals of the countryside just keep impressing.
I was never far from services or restaurants, and where the path diverts to the highway the route is very well marked on roads designated as bike routes.  There were continuous 8-10 foot paved shoulders to ride on and courteous and respectful drivers.
Many of the developed parks and roadside stops have shelters and gazebos with electricity where I was able to recharge my phone and battery pack while camping, resting or having lunch.
There are pieces of canal history all along the way,
unused locks and bridges preserved,
as well as interpretive signs about the life on the canal.
Did I mention scenery?
Opportunities for free, safe camping spots seemed to be everywhere.
Small towns and villages have developed shopping and housing projects along the canal.  In the coffee shops and bars I was meeting people who had stories to tell about their connection to the trail, how it dominated their family history and the area for over 150 years.
19th and early 20th century architecture is strewn across the countryside
like this sandstone church in Albion with a spire made of cut blocks of stone.

and the historic Amsterdam Castle.
Some of the highway portions did provide  a chance to do some climbing but the punishment had it's rewards with views over the Mohawk valley.
and, after regaining the trail,
sharing a local sense of humor.
The small towns and villages provide a variety of picturesqe backdrops
the locals were glad to share their birthday parties with cycling travelers and the whole damn thing was bit too idyllic and trouble free to leave.

Schenectady was nearing the end of my trip.  Like so many other small cities,  Schenectady has re-invented its downtown area with boutique shops, businesses and loft apartments.  There are bike lanes and cycling accommodations being developed throughout the downtown area.  
      I needed to get to Albany to catch a train in the evening, so I let another cyclist lead me to the direct route.  State route 5 makes a bee line over the 10 miles between the cities and was not comfortable at all.   It's a great example of inter urban sprawl;  a dismal stream of constant traffic, gas stations, pawn shops and fast food joints.   

Albany has it's charm.  There is some beautiful and historic architecture like the State Capitol and the SUNY campus.
The train trip back was completely uneventful, Amtrak took care of my bike for me and I caught a nice nap on the way back to the car.  This was the easiest week long bike trip I've ever taken.  I forgot to mention there was no weather.  Really, there was sunshine and 75 F during the day 55 F at night.  I had no problem with free supervised parking in Buffalo, campgrounds were all free and the people along the way were all very friendly and accommodating.  The canal path was some of the easiest pedaling I've ever known on tour, the wind was behind me all the way and, honestly, the drive home was more exhausting than 360 miles of cycling.


  1. Wow! I'm glad you had perfect weather. Thanks for your write-up and recommendation to pedal the Erie Canal trail. My husband is interested in this journey while I was skeptical, knowing that some miles were detours onto busy roads. However, if there's history involved...well, I might change my mind.

  2. We did this ride a couple of years ago in autumn. We found that NY State Bike Route 7 was a great alternative to the towpath for the places where it disappeared or when we wanted to go fast. We parked our car at the Albany airport and rented a car for the drive to Buffalo. It all worked out really well and I would happily do it again.

  3. Great write up. We met a while back on the Riv rally GAP ride. Had I known you were riding through I’d have cooked you dinner!
    Best wishes,
    John P.

  4. Great description and photos! I am hoping to cycle the Erie later this summer with my son. Were there any online resources you found helpful in planning your trip? Thanks!

    1. No, no online sources. I've met a few people who have ridden it and raved about the experience. They weren't wrong.


  5. Enjoyed your write up and pictures. What is the total distance involved in doing this? How many miles a day?

    1. I don't keep exact mileage on trips, but it's about 360.