Erie Canal Bicycle Tour Day One

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Breakfast on the first day wasn’t ideal. The hotel had only limited choices for protein. I had two boiled eggs, a bowl of cereal, a banana, and a cup of coffee. Coffee is something that I need. If I don’t get it, I will have a headache. I’ve given up nearly all of my vices; I will not give up coffee.

The rental agency was near and I arrived there before 9 AM. Loading up the bike was something that I had planned, but not executed. The panniers were heavy and the bike would not stay upright on the stand. This was the first issue that I would learn to live with. Not only did the stand not work, but the rig felt unwieldy when riding it at first because of the high center of gravity.

I set off to the Buffalo waterfront. The waterfront was easy to find. The start of the Erie Canalway Trail was a different matter. I first headed south along the Niagara and found myself in a heavily industrialized part of town. I couldn’t even get close to the water. Turning north, I finally found the Commercial Slip, the original opening of the Erie Canal into the Niagara when this section was built in 1825. Here is the start of the trail that I would ride for over 400 miles, give or take. My plan had me taking at least one major excursion from the trail to camp on Lake Cayuga.

Here in the park at the start of the trail a World War II submarine with the unfortunate name USS Croaker was tied up at its final berth. There were two other vintage warships there and a sailboat used to provide rides to the public. The park extending along the shoreline was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, famous for their design of Central Park in New York City.

The park along the water ended abruptly and I ended up navigating city streets through some run-down neighborhoods to stay on the trail. The trail was poorly marked as far as “official” canal trail markings. There were “tadpole” markings on the pavement that I followed during most of the trip. The tadpole tails pointed in the direction of the trail. The tadpoles were painted on the pavement for the annual Erie Canalway tour sponsored by Parks & Trails New York with over 500 cyclists.

One of the first informative sites that the tadpoles led me to was the Fenian memorial. In 1866, the Fenian Brotherhood, Irish Nationalists, attacked Canada from Buffalo. They had an ambitious plan to take Canada and use it to barter for a free Ireland. So says a memorial in Tow Path Park.

If you look carefully you can find remnants of the old Erie Canal in Buffalo. At one location  I found a short canal segment that had water in it and was lined on one side with dilapidated buildings of unknown vintage. The water was sadly full of garbage and algae. In other location there are depressions in the land remaining as the only evidence of a once busy canal.

I was riding the trail and saw a sign that said something like, “Historic Marker – 200 feet ahead”. I didn’t judge the distance very well. The next sign said, “You missed the historic marker”. I turned around and walked the bike through a gap in the tree line. Between the rows of trees there was a sign marking the place where the canal had been. This was also one of those places where a depression in the ground existed where the canal once was.

Along the Niagara after riding north for a time I swung eastward through the Tonawandas and began following the current Erie Canal. The Canalway follows the current active canal in the western part of the trail. Further toward the east the trail follows the old Erie Canal or the “widened” Erie Canal. During this part of the ride there are many historic landmarks, including remnants of Clinton’s Ditch, a precursor to the Erie.

The Erie Canal is the Tonawanda Creek at the point where it empties into the Niagara. The confluence of Tonawanda Creek and the Ellicott Creek forms the Tonawandas Gateway Harbor. This is a pretty little harbor with reminders of the past glories of the Tonawandas as a giant in the lumber industry. From the harbor toward the east the Erie is lined with small communities, hamlets, and individual hideaways. There are large estates sprawling along the edge of the Erie. There are also minimalist and well-maintained docks with covered decks decorated with flowers and furnished with Adirondack chairs.

I started my daily routine of finding an ice cream shop in mid-afternoon. On a sugar high I continued up the canal where I got my first look at a canal lift bridge. They are all pretty much the same design. They are all staffed and a boat skipper gets the keeper’s attention with three horn blasts. The mechanism lifts the bridge up about twenty feet to allow the boat to pass. I also saw a large storm lock, which is lowered into the canal to prevent damage to the lift locks from debris during storms.

It was getting late and I turned north just after Lockport toward the Niagara County Camping Resort. This meant leaving the canal trail and riding on-road. The campground was farther off the trail than the maps indicated. In a panic, I consulted my GPS. I poked in the address of the camp ground and found that I was getting close. Another mile up the road, a left turn, a few hundred feet, and I would arrive at my first camp site.

I needed this first encampment to work out well and it did. I assembled the tent in a practice run at home, so it went together well. I unrolled my air mattress inside the tent and inflated it. About thirty big puffs inflated it enough to be comfortable. For the night I kept my panniers under the rainfly vestibule on one side of my tent and the more valuable items came into the tent with me. My entrance was the rainfly on the opposite side.

After setting everything up in camp I had a needed shower. I was wearing a synthetic shirt and thought it would be a good idea to rinse it in the shower and let it dry overnight. I rinsed my socks while I was at it. When I finished my shower and rinsing, I hung the wet clothes and towel on anything available in camp. My bike became a drying rack.

My first day had gone as planned and I slept well.

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