Erie Canal Ride 2019

Each year I find new ways to enjoy the annual Cycle the Erie Canal event provided by Parks and Trails New York. This was my seventh year on the ride with PTNY. In past years I have enjoyed the history, sights, and towns on the route. This year my emphasis was personal performance. I wanted to decrease my elapsed time each day on the route and improve my average moving speed for the week.

This was the fourth year that my son, Eric, joined me for the ride. We have a lot of fun together and we have several ride traditions that we try to maintain. He rides much faster than I do, but we have a lot of time in camp in the morning, afternoon, and evening.

As usual, we arrived in Buffalo on Friday, 5 July, before the Saturday registration. We planned to park our car in Albany on Friday and drive a one-way rental to Buffalo. The approach supported by PTNY is to park in Albany and take the PTNY shuttle to Buffalo on Saturday morning. There is nothing wrong with that approach, but it led to an interesting series of events for us.

The parking situation in Albany changed and PTNY didn’t anticipate Friday arrivals. The PTNY email gave an address for parking and directions to follow signs to the “Dutch Quad”. When we arrived at the address we could not find the Dutch Quad and nobody knew where it was. Eric happened to find a phone number as he searched the Internet for answers. The number was for the campus parking office that luckily was open on the day after the holiday.

The woman in the office gave us a new address that was at least three miles farther out from downtown Albany. The new address was a general address for what happens to be a large SUNY Albany campus. Once we arrived we called again to get directions to the parking office..

Once we found the parking office we explained to the woman at the desk that we were told that there would be a $35 fee to park for the week. She didn’t have any knowledge of that arrangement, but shared that parking enforcement and tickets were suspended for the week. The only fee that she could collect was a $5 for the current day. We left the car parked on the Dutch Quad parking lot with our one-day sticker, thinking that when we returned the car might be impounded.

In Buffalo on Saturday we arrived at the camp ground at Nichols School and I returned the rental, hopping an Uber back to the camp ground. We set up our tents just before the skies opened up and poured rain until mid afternoon. In previous years Eric and I have taken the Buffalo tour to pass the time and enjoy the sights of Buffalo. Each year the tour has taken a slightly different route, always ending up at the water front to relax and eat. This year the tour departed on time at 10 AM in driving rain. There were about a dozen riders who didn’t mind getting soaked, but we reasoned that if we got that wet, we would not be able to dry our clothes until we arrived in Rome. We sheltered under the large dining tent that was set up at the site.

Under the tent we met Volunteer John. John talked about his folding bike, purchased for $200, that he would ride as a bike SAG person. Conversation turned to food and he vowed that he would try roast beef on weck while in Buffalo. According to him, roast beef on weck is as Buffalo as wings.

Roast beef on weck lunch in Buffalo
Roast Beef on Weck

The skies cleared slightly and John went to a meeting. Eric found a deli a few blocks away. We decided to try it since it had good reviews and we were hungry. To our delight the menu included roast beef on weck and we both ordered the same. The first bite revealed the unpleasant fact that it was extremely salty. The weck was like a hamburger bun, but a little more firm, and caked on the top with rye seed and salt. Neither of us will endorse roast beef on weck.

On Sunday we rode to Albion for the first leg of the route. On the way through Medina Eric and I stopped at one of our favorite diners, The Country Club Diner on Main Street. It has always been one of our favorite stops and we had a breakfast meal at about noon. After eating we rode the last four or five miles to the fairground in Albion, home of the world’s largest apple pie, where we would camp with the group.

Annual restaurant stop in Medina, NY
Country Club Family Restaurant in Medina NY

On Monday we rode to Fairport with a mandatory stop in Pittsford at Artisan Gelato. On Tuesday the route took us through Clyde before turning south toward Seneca Falls. This was the first day with significant miles on the roads. I dreaded the first hill out of Lyons until I got there and zoomed up at a good speed. Eric and I remember riding up this and other hills, passing other riders struggling to pedal up. There were only a few other riders around as I made my way up and down the hills to Seneca Falls. My guess is that since I was riding a little more aggressively, I was near the front of the group and traveling among better riders.

After turning south I stopped at a lemonade stand run by two young Amish women. As one poured my lemonade the other held up a small black notebook and asked if I knew anybody who might have lost it. I said, “No” and asked “So, somebody left this earlier today?” She replied, “No, last year. The woman who left it mentioned that she was on the ride before and that she was taking notes so that she could talk about things that happened.” I volunteered to take the notebook and to try to find the owner at camp.

The first official ride person that I saw in Seneca Falls was Suzanne, a car SAG volunteer. I told her the story about the notebook and she took my name. She said that I could talk about this at the meeting on the final evening of the ride. I wasn’t sure what this meant and found out days later.

Rider luggage in Seneca Falls, NY
Rider luggage in Seneca Falls, NY

At dinner time we hopped the shuttle to downtown Seneca Falls with our friend of past rides, Cape Cod Mike. Our destination was Parker’s, a favorite among Erie riders. There we met Marty, a semi-retired child psychiatrist in his eighties, and his companion, John, a retired trauma neurology surgeon, also in his eighties. There was entertaining conversation, especially since Marty had a number of colorful athletic accomplishments from his early years, including playing Italian professional baseball.

Sadly, the following day after arriving in Syracuse we learned that Marty and John dropped out, finding the ride too demanding. I couldn’t help but think that an electric assist bicycle is perfect for people like them who want to remain active and experience a ride like this. That’s my plan, although at present I am very able and don’t feel the need for an assist.

In camp in Syracuse, NY
Mike, Eric, and Me in Syracuse

Leaving Syracuse always tests your abilities as a cyclist. The route to rejoin the trail features several relatively steep hills. Since I have experience this before on other trips, I rode conservatively on the first few hills, being passed by at least two overly enthusiastic riders. It delighted me to pass them riding up some of the later hills.

We arrived at Fort Stanwix in Rome in early afternoon. As usual, Eric arrived about an hour before me and I could always count on him to carry my bags to our camp site. We both used the coin laundry near the park to refresh our riding clothes. Eric bought a pizza and we decided to save half of it for breakfast the next morning.

At about 5 PM Eric, Mike, and I strolled to the Savoy for dinner. We were all stoked to try chicken “riggies”, a Rome specialty. All three of us enjoyed a plate of chicken riggies and each of us took a box of riggies left overs back to camp.

Dinner in Rome, NY
Chicken Riggies in Rome NY

Breakfast in Rome is usually served in a YMCA that is not far from camp. We looked forward to our alternative before we left the camp site. Eric and I had a slice of pizza and our left over chicken riggies before leaving camp. The pizza was a little dry, but the riggies were excellent! We were well fueled to hit the trail to Canajoharie.

Once in Canajoharie everybody must face the ascent to the high school that is at the highest point in town. The hill up to the school has grades of over 6% for a distance of half a mile. I chose a “sneak” path that stretches the distance by about a quarter mile,. moderating the grade somewhat.

At the school a local group was offering ice cream sundaes and root beer floats. I enjoyed a root beer float while cooling off before my shower. Eric and I sat under the pop-up tent near the welcome tent until it was time to hop the shuttle to the Arkell Museum for dinner. The barbecue chicken dinner at the museum by Brooks BBQ was excellent.

It was under the pop-up in Canajoharie that I learned that I was an act in the talent show that is always a part of the final evening activities. I laughed because I didn’t have an act: I had a lost black notebook and I promised to try to find the owner. The show announcement poster called my act “Lost and Found”. Suzanne, the person that I told about the black book in Seneca Falls, happens to be one of the principle organizers of the talent show.

On Saturday morning we had breakfast at the high school. This was probably one of the better breakfasts. What I like best was the server by the bacon with the tongs who asked, “Load up?” Of course! He grabbed about eight slices of freshly cooked bacon and dropped them on my plate. We watered at the water horse and departed for our last camp in Niskayuna. The trail from Canajoharie to Niskayuna has been improved a lot during recent years. Still, there is some significant maintenance that needs to be done. We encountered rough pavement and about five miles of rough horse hoof prints on part of the stone dust trail.

The high point of this Saturday ride is the cookout at the Pattersonville Volunteer Fire Department. Eric passed the site so early that they were not yet set up. I arrived in mid-morning when they were just getting started. I enjoyed a hot dog and a drink before topping off my water bottles and getting back to the route.

Lock 8 on the route to Niskayuna NY
Lock 8 Near Schenectady NY

Eric and I both arrived at our camp, the Jewish Community Center in Niskayuna, very early in the day. As usual Eric arrived an hour before me averaging about 15 miles per hour! The family that runs the food concession at the JCC set up a table and sold pulled pork, pulled pork cole slaw and corn chip salad, and chicken wings. Eric and I ate our fill. We enjoyed their food so much that we ate little of the catered dinner that evening.

After dinner there were a few announcements and credits to staff and volunteers. When those were completed the talent show started. I was finally called to “perform” late in the show amd I began by telling the story of the lemonade stand. I read one of the notes in the book about someone forgetting to put film in a camera and shooting filmless frames for a day. The notebook also had a story about the author making a bad turn and ending up in a bank drive-through teller lane. The writer went on to say that the lane had a notice that the maximum vehicle height was 10′-5″ and the windshield of the truck she was driving warned it’s height was 10′-6″. I realized that the author must have been a ride volunteer driving one of the rest stop box trucks. They have a height of 10′-6″. She wrote, “I wonder of Al bought damage insurance.” Al is the ride director. One of the show principles rose and said, “That’s mine!” She snatched the notebook from my hand and I quickly got the hook.

Later, Eric, Mike, and I discussed our plan for Sunday, the final day of the trip. All of the end-of-ride arrangements in Albany were new. The parking situation and the end point were unknowns. It seemed there was the possibility of a lot of congestion and confusion. We talked about alternatives. Mike had the idea of riding his bicycle to the parking area, 13 miles away, instead of the finish point, 26 miles away. We retired to our tents after discussing alternatives.

In the morning Eric and I decided I would hop an Uber to the parking lot and he would wait for me at the JCC. We found Mike and he joined me for the ride to the parking lot. He figured that the bicycle ride to the parking lot might be risky since it was a route that was new and unknown.

We arrived at the Dutch Quad and my car was still there. I managed to park for the week for $5 and not get impounded. It was a short ride back to the JCC where we packed and headed home, saying goodbye to Mike until next year.

My average elapsed time on the route this year was five hours each day and my average moving speed was 12.3 miles per hour for the entire ride. Total miles this year on the ride was 357. My mileage usually exceeds 400 because of the Buffalo tour and the ride into Albany on the final day. The mileage on my Surly Long Haul trucker advanced to 16,190 miles and still going strong.

I look forward to doing it all again next year.

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