Cycling the Erie Canal Path From Albany to Buffalo ( Part 1)

July 26, 2018

This was my third adventure cycling along the Erie Canal; the first, however, in which I managed to cycle its entire length. My first go, from Syracuse to Albany, some nine years ago, was a thing of farce. Clueless, I managed somehow to do just about everything wrong – I got lost, I got caught in storms, I miscalculated everything — and consequently spent hours riding through darkness in desperate attempts to get to the flee bag motels I had booked myself into. I arrived at them, at length, exhausted, filthy, famished, and (for a bonus) sometimes soaking wet.

An observation: you know you are too hungry when Denny’s looks heavenly.

A tip: Cycling 90 miles a day through unknown terrain while stopping to take in any and all sights is neither reasonable nor wise, that much the more when you do not have a cell phone.

You learn.

My next two attempts were better, much better, but still, there were bumps on the road and time constraints kept me from completing the entire trail.

So…in the wake of a life-threatening incident, I was determined this time around to do what I had not done in my truncated previous adventures on the Trail: to cycle it in its entirety from Albany to Buffalo.

And so I did.

The Canal itself, even as it is now but history, remains, economically, technologically, and socially on several levels, a thing of wonder. Consider this: to accommodate the 568-foot change in elevation from Lake Erie in Buffalo to the Hudson River Valley, 18 aqueducts, and 83 locks had to be built across 363 miles. It was an immense public and very physical and much-derided undertaking of the kind, hostage to the savagery of Neoliberalism as we are, we no longer even seem capable of contemplating, never mind enacting and funding. Follow the Canal and you will follow the history of New York and to a significant degree the history of the non-violent aspect of the westward expansion of America. Completed in 1825, the Canal created prosperity and wealth all along its way: and not merely prosperity and wealth but prosperity and wealth that (unlike the internet) were widely, if not exactly fairly, divided. The Canal provided work – albeit, backbreaking work – to thousands and thousands of newly arrived immigrants, among them the Famine Irish, who were allowed a toehold in a country in which many wanted nothing to do with them. The Canal transformed towns into cities and created towns the length of its way. Some of these towns, such as Medina, grew so prosperous that they had their own opera house. Some of the cities, principally Rochester and Seneca Falls, established themselves as centers of the most progressive politics of the times, where figures as huge as Frederick Douglas, Elizabeth Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony lived and died. Harriet Tubman lived in nearby Auburn.

No such prosperity is evident now. On the contrary. what the Canal gave, the railroad and then the highway took away. What remains now in many of these places are the ghosts of prosperity in architecture, beautiful architecture, and public spaces amidst a sense of resignation and hopelessness. Such ghosts are haunting. It seemed sometimes that everyone I saw, no matter what age, chained smoked and was covered in tattoos. Politically, this is largely Trump land.

Logistically, this time around I was much better prepared.

My lodging was divided into motels and the hospitality of fellow cyclists from the excellent Warm Showers, the latter of whom could not have been kinder or more generous and whose kindness and generosity I hope to return in kind. Finally, when I, at last, reached Buffalo, I was welcomed with open arms by the parents of an old friend, lifelong Buffalonians who provided the perfect ending to my little journey.

Here and there (as in Mike’s Diner in Schenectady and the Iron Kettle in Rome) I feasted in greasy spoons, that much the more poignant since such former New York City institutions have gone the way of the pterodactyl, replaced by Duane Reade and the like.

All in all, I took in a spectrum of sights and sensations, some majestic ( the Capital Building in Albany ) some personal ( visiting graves at the Shrine of North American Martyrs in Auriesville ) some goofy ( the Yellow Brick Road of Chittenango, birthplace of L. Frank Baum, author of the Wizard of Oz ) some awesome, (The Five Flights in Lockport ) and a great deal in between.

I set out early in the morning when there was still dew and, save the voices of nature (such as occasional bullfrogs who in the morning stillness sound like barking dogs ) and the sound of my rolling wheels, a sacred silence: a sacred silence allowing and inviting a kind of moving meditation, reflection, prayer.

And these things did I do. And, here and there, a fleeting reminder or a glimpse of the Always Something More.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/eo7d8iaef90x3w4/bull%20frogs_4.mp4?dl=0

Enjoy the pics.

A ghost of old Albany.

Uncle Dan’s childhood home.

“Uncle Sam” in Troy

Big dog in Albany.

Lombardi’s of Albany

The King’s Highway

Schenectady

Sunday morning in Schenectady.

Nott Memorial at Union College

A friend.

A friend.

Afternoon

A school in Canajoharie

Abandoned church in Fort Plain.

Trumpland

Union Station, Utica

Bagg’s Tavern, Utica

The Stanley Theater, Utica

Elvis in Utica

In Rome, NY.

Bullfrogs

Downtown Oneida

In Canastota

Bambi

Yellow Brick Road in Chittenango, birthplace of L. Frank Baum who wrote The Wizard of Oz

“Follow the Yellow Brick Road.”

A fellow traveler

I’m not usually a supporter of the AOH but I am here.

Greasy spoon in Syracuse.

Downtown Syracuse, 7:00 am.

A church in Syracuse.

Halfway there.

2 Responses to “Cycling the Erie Canal Path From Albany to Buffalo ( Part 1)”

  1. Pogue Says:

    Fascinating photos. Great captions. Really cool to look at. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Sean Ahern Says:

    Lovely. Thanks.


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