Monday, July 27, 2009

Erie Canal Ride, Day 7 & 8.

Canajoharie to Albany (with an unremarkable stop in Scotia). There were two notable events in the last two days which if we ever had to do it again, we would do like Mark and ride it all in one day. The riding was good. The canalpath here is mostly paved and while the Enemy's tires make a distinct whine on pavement, still the going was better than through stonedust.

Notable event 1: Almost daily S. and I would notice a local tv station news crew onsite shooting footage of the ride. Usually they chose some cute little family to interview, or the piece would be on how far away the riders came from, or the bikes, etc. On the last day, as we were brushing our teeth at the communal, outdoor 8 sink washstand a man from channel 8 sets up his camera next to us and begins filming. As my kids will tell you I'm not one for PDoTB (Public Displays of Tooth Brushing) so when he did ask if he could film us I asked if he could wait until I was putting in my contacts. He asked some of the others how they felt about "roughing it on the road" and if he could also film them at their morning routine. One woman replied that "she was almost done here but he "was welcome to follow her to the port - a - potty. "

Notable event 2: We arrived at the last Tent City early in the afternoon. Having perfected the baggage and beer retrieval and tent site location and set up routine we were soon sitting in our chairs watching other riders straggle in and repeat the process. A process that had also become fairly routine and efficient for everyone else. But today a new group had joined the tour. Over the next 45 minutes we watched as first 2, then 5, then 8 people attempted to set up this new tent. Even with reading the directions it took 4 attempts and 35 minutes. Admittedly it was a big tent, at least for 4 people, and one that was even equipped with a screened off 'porch'. For its large size and grey color I nicknamed it The Pachyderm. After the excitement died down I wandered over to take a look, especially at the brand. EMS. According to their website the EMS Pallas is a 6 person tent, and according to the reviews - 45 minutes may be speed record. But, in all honesty, every reviewer did like the tent and but none reviewed its entertainment value to which I give 4 stars.

As for the ride itself, to a first time bike tourist, and one that doesn't ride too often, or a family that wants to ride together, I'd recommend it. To people who want to put some miles under their legs, see new places, and eat good food, I say keep looking. Because this trip taught me that that is what I want from a tour. Something where someone has done the legwork, so I can work my legs - and keep the adventures coming.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Erie Canal Ride, Day 6, Quiz 6

Rome to Canajoharie - 63 miles.

The days are starting to run together and my memory of them is starting to blur. Riding for hundreds of miles alongside a canal will do that to a person.

I do remember the Herkimer Homestead - pictured here. And I also think that I'll never forgot some of the people. While we didn't get to know all 500, there were some that we ran into almost every day, some that we even spent a good bit of time with.

Mark- a serious biker, pulled into the Albany parking lot right behind us, and came from a town in Rhode Island. While other rides tired out as the days went by, Mark picked up steam eventually riding the last two days (73 miles) on the 7 day and going home early.
Sue- a member of the asphalt burning peleton, and contributor of the following photo.
Fresno - the guy from California that would have looked just as comfortable on a surfboard as on a bike.
Fixie Guy-one of the younger tour participants. His name derives from his bike. We almost always ran into him at the coffee shops.
Sergeant Paul-the man in charge of Truck #2 and defacto, the volunteer squad
John - the bike mechanic, always cool, always under pressure.
Front Panier Guy - older gentleman on an old ten-speed that only had front panniers. We'd pass by him mid-morning every day. Once, on a downhill he blew by us so fast I didn't even recognize him - til we passed again on the uphill

And there were groups of riders:
The volunteer squad - responsible for marking the daily routes (generally in a very thorough way but sometimes to extremes), helping out along the trail, loading and unloading baggage and keeping the Tent Cities in order.
The Do-Rag Boys - an older group of men, predominately bald, who tended to discuss New York Sports and politics.
The Canal Volunteers - not official part of the ride, these were the enthusiastic staffers of the several historic museums and parks along the route. I work in a volunteer-centric museum but I've never seen such a diverse but wholeheartedly dedicated and knowledgeable group.
The German Family - (really self explanatory)

Erie Canal Ride, Day 5, Quiz 5

For the full answer to yesterday's quiz check out Tipperary Hill and hope the colorblind never go there.

Syracuse to Rome. While it sounds like we're riding through Italy, we are still plugging along the bikeways and roads of upstate New York. Of course the town names do beg the question of why all the towns were named after Greek and Roman cities but that is something to continually ponder while also contemplating how to pronounce other names like Canajoharie or Onondaga. We stopped at the Canastota Canal Town Museum and the Erie Canal Village where we rode a canal boat towed by two horses. It was hard to believe that those two horses alone could pull boat, and we tried to get the captain to confess the presence of a hidden electric motor, but apparently, two horses can pull a big canal boat.

Unfortunately the canal boat did not go all the way to our tent city destination. It was a pretty hot day and it being the 5th day of riding we were feeling a bit ummm slow. And that's were we come to today's quiz question.

How do you get from one place to another on a bicycle in the fastest time but expend the least amount of energy? (hint - there were three of us, much like the top GC contenders in the tour).

Speaking of the tour. It was at this point in the ride that S. began discouraging anyone from mentioning The Tour de France to me. [begin rant] Last year on our ride I tried desperately to get Tour results but no one knew them, heck no one even knew The Tour was on and in the end had to actually call home. This year people talked about The Tour and even posted the top GC on the bulletin board every night. Why? Because of Lance. No Lance, no one cares about the The Tour - so are they really fans or just fair american fans. I even suspect that as it became clear that Lance was not moving up into first people became even less interested and for that matter....I will stop now.

We spent the night at Fort Stanwick. Great museum, great fort. I'd just finished reading The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution which focuses on Iroquois Six Nations of New York and Upper Canada during the era of the American Revolution, and it was good to see Oneida Carrying Place in person and get a sense of the area before the Canal. It was however, a hard place to find a level camping spot.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Erie Canal Ride, Day 4, Quiz 4

Seneca Falls to Syracuse: 40 miles - and all day to ride it. As the quiz has been so popular I'll start with it. There is a street light in Syracuse that is a bit different. If I was a good photographer the picture would easily clue you in, but since I'm not, I'll also tell you that it has to do with immigration. Today's prize is used "Erie Canal Bike Ride" water bottle. (And No Maribeth, you may not have my "I love Mormons" t-shirt.)

But back to our story. We left Seneca Falls well rested and determined to relax and smell the roses along the way. What with only 40 miles, bright sun and summer temperatures it was guaranteed to be an easy day. And indeed, things continued fair as while riding into Weedsport we noticed (actually it was hard to miss being painted on the side of a bridge abutment) a sign for Burritt's Cafe. The place had great people, a great bakery and great coffee. Coincidentally, they also had roses!

S. stopped to smell them, but the caffeine kicked in soon and we were off. Next stop Sims store. While most of the riders strolled through the recreated canal-era store, S. and I oogled the adorable Buoy Boat. Okay, S. didn't think it was adorable he was impressed by the engine. A Lathrop single stroke blah, blah, blah. I just thought the boat was one of the cutest I'd ever seen.

As we rode into Syracuse on 4 and 5 lane roads without bike lanes, or shoulders I mentally switched into my usual rant about bike safely rules and how few bikers know them, especially as it became more and more apparent that this group was woefully uninformed. The final mile-long ride up the hill our tent city cooled me down a bit, as did the evening wandering around the Syracuse Zoo.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Erie Canal Ride, Day 3, Quiz 3

Pittsford to Seneca Falls, (cue sheet pictured left) a lovely 62 mile ride beside the canal and through rolling farmland. As fascinating as it is to ride along "Clinton's Ditch" for days, it was good to see some other sites including Palmyra, NY. Birthplace of Joseph Smith the place where the Mormon religion began.

Palmyra is an immaculate little town of brick buildings, wide streets, parks and strangely enough 2 very nice coffee shops. The townsfolk treated us to a rest stop, an opportunity to pick up a free "I love Mormons" t-shirt and "Palmyra, the place the matters" pins. It was very inspiring. S. and I have often contemplating starting our own religion and this seemed really to be the place for a little dogmatic inspiration.

For today's quiz what am I doing in the accompanying pictures?

After that we cruised into Seneca Falls and camped at the same school we camped at last year. Dinner was on our own and after some confusion about the viability of local restaurants, we dined at Red's. Great burgers and an apricot wheat ale.

The tour hosted a gathering in the park where I heard one of the most unusual canal stories. Apparently, some 19th century entrepreneur with an interest in natural history has preserved a whale, loaded in on a canal barge and toured New York with it.

PS Today's quiz winner will receive one of those remarkable Palmyra pins so get your answers in early.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Erie Canal Ride, Day 2, Quiz 2

Today we rolled along the canal from Medina to Pittsford. The weather was perfect. We passed lots of beautiful New York farmland starting with our Tent City. Medina, in fact, is so proud of their main agricultural crop that they have erected a sculpture of it in the canal-side park. For today's quiz - what type of fruit is it?

Today we also were lucky enough to visit the lovely town of Spencerport. Lovely in its restaurants and coffee shop! There is nothing so wonderful as really good coffee in the middle of a long bike ride. Sure Gatorade has it's benefits but when it really gets down to needing a boost, a good latte not only gets you speeding down the road, but also tastes great.

Somewhere along the route today we also met up with Sue who became in integral cog in an amazingly fine-tuned peleton. (But more on that later) In the meantime we toured Rochester by bike, saw the aqueduct, the Great Falls and almost died in traffic.
Yes - even life on the Erie Canal has its dangers.

Early afternoon had us rolling into Pittsford. An other lovely canal town. Sadly however, the first town to block off a section of the canalside trail for pedestrians.

Erie Canal Ride, Day 1, Quiz 1

In 1825 the Erie Canal made it easy for goods to travel from the coast to western America. In 1998 the New York Parks and Trail Commission started an annual bike ride along that canal making it easy for the average biker to pedal those same 400 miles. In 2009 S and I went along for that bike ride.

Logistically it was run much like the Bon Ton Roulet that we rode last year. Scenically and historically it was much different than last year. Also different was the amount of conditioning, and biking knowledge required. The Erie Canal Ride is a great ride for people new to biking and bike touring. It being all flat and 75% on a designated bike path.

Day 1, Buffalo to Medina was no exception. It was flat, mostly on a bike path (most of that being paved), scenic and historic winding along Lake Erie and the canal through lovely parks and towns. And that brings us to the first of 8 or so quizzes related to this historic ride.

What type of bridge is this?
It spans the canal close to it's beginning and near the town of Tonawanda, NY, but before the town of Lockport and about 20 miles into our 50 mile ride for the day.
There is another bridge like it in Mystic, CT . (with a sign claiming it as the last, or the oldest, or biggest one of its kind)
It is not original to the canal, which was first constructed in 1825, in fact the reason for its existence did not even exist at the time.

Winners will receive a size large, bright green, "Cycling the Erie Canal" T-Shirt. Entries due by midnight.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Songs of the Erie Canal

A friend (thanks Kathy!) has brought to my attention the fact that there are many versions of the "Erie Canal" song, many performed by popular artists. Pete Seeger seems to be the King, but apparently the Boss has also recorded it - in the "Seeger Sessions".

Also, thankfully, there is more to the lyrics than the verse I knew. The traditional name for the song, "Low Bridge" comes from the chorus:

Low bridge, everybody down
Low bridge for we're coming to a town
And you'll always know your neighbor
And you'll always know your pal
If you've ever navigated on the Erie Canal

So while I had been dreading having that one verse run through my head for the next 8 days, there are really eight and a chorus.

But there is even more good news. There are other songs about the Erie Canal. My favorite is:

E-RI-E Canal



We were forty miles from Albany (and)
Forget it I never shall.
What a terrible storm we had one night
On the E-ri-e Canal.

O the E-ri-e was a-rising
And the gin was a-getting low.
And I scarcely think we'll get a drink
Till we get to Buff-a-lo-o-o
Till we get to Buffalo.

We were loaded down with barley
We were chock-full up on rye.
The captain he looked down at me
With his gol-durned wicked eye.


Two days out from Syracuse
The vessel struck a shoal;
We like to all be foundered
On a chunk o' Lackawanna coal.


We hollered to the captain
On the towpath, treadin' dirt
He jumped on board and stopped the leak
With his old red flannel shirt.


The cook she was a grand old gal
Stood six foot in her socks.
Had a foot just like an elephant
And her breath would open locks.


The wind begins to whistle
The waves begin to roll
We had to reef our royals
On that ragin' canal.


The cook came to our rescue
She had a ragged dress;
We h'isted her upon the pole
As a signal of distress.


When we got to Syracuse
Off-mule, he was dead;
The nigh mule got blind staggers
We cracked him on the head.


The cook is in the Police Gazette
The captain went to jail;
And I'm the only son-of-a-gub
That's left to tell the tale.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Great (Unanswerable?) Question

While some may ponder the meaning of existence, or the possibility of an afterlife I find myself wondering if I'll ever know if a megalomaniac can take on a supporting role. We know it couldn't happen for Ahab, but the question still hangs for Lance. Of course today's team time trial and his move into second place makes his chance of even considering the role of domestic more and more remote.

Tour de Erie / Tour de France /

Next week I'll be bike riding along the Erie Canal from Buffalo to Albany on a trip I've been looking forward to since last years Bon Ton Roulet. Like last year I will also be choosing to ride instead of virtually living my cycling dream of riding the Tour de France but thanks to the wonders of the interweb...this year that virtual dream is even more, umm, virtual. Through the wonders of I am riding the Tour de France. We won't mention how they extrapolated the time for my ride yesterday to determine it would have taken me over 9 hours to complete yesterday's stage, or how they have me ranked 3396 out of 4907 riders. Nah! I'll just mention that it is fun to log my daily ride, and that while I'm pedaling along the canal my domestic will be recording the rides.

Today's ride is only 23.97 miles...but now the bigger question. Today is the Team Time Trial. Who will be my team?..and with the return to the old rules of using the real time...can we move up in the classification?