Diabetes Awareness Campaign: Trekking Along the Erie Canal.
North Tonawanda
Little Falls
St. Johnsville
Tuesday, October 2
Pendleton to Lockport
When I looked out the motel window in the morning my spirits fell. It was raining! Although I have hiked many a mile through the rain, it requires being in good shape and in good cheer. This morning I was neither.
So we decided to go and visit the Amherst Museum. It’s located right at the corner where I had stopped the day before. If the rain was over when we came out, I could resume from there.
The rain had diminished but not stopped. Also, there was no trail from Pendleton to Lockport, I would have to walk along the edge of busy roads. So I accepted a ride for the two miles to Lockport where I would reconnect with the canal. By the time we got there it was lunch time so we went to Friendly’s to grab a bite and plan the rest of the day. We got into a heated discussion as to my ability to go as far as I had planned. Jerie said I was self delusional and should scale back my plans. I insisted that I was in as good shape as my last trip (I lied) and that I would be okay. We reached a compromise. She would take my back pack with her and find a motel in Medina where she would register me for a room and leave my pack before heading back home to Newburyport and her work. It sounded like a plan.
Locport past.
Lockport past
Before we parted, we went to the small Lockport museum. It was a stroke of good fortune because there I found an excellent bike guide. It was laid out in discreet phases of 12 miles. And it was in map form, depicting significant highways and important local roads. The data is enough to enable the reader to deduce his location and estimate the rate of progress. This is vital when you’re tired and trying to figure if you should continue on around the bend or hang it up for the day. And equally important there was an index which provided information for each stage of the trail in regard to lodging and points of interest.
Lockport present.
Lockport present
We walked from the top of the lock down to the lower level where the tow path would lead to Rochester. On the way down we examined the large hewn blocks which line the abutment. You could see the fossil remains of corals and small sea shells. This excited Jerie who is an amateur geologist and fossil enthusiast. We would like to have spent some there, but I had a long walk and Jerie had a long drive before sundown.
Jerie wished me luck and we parted ways. In about an hour or so she called and told me that she had found a good motel. Also, she had a phone number for a cab company which could collect me if I pooped out too soon. I assured her that I was all right but that it was good to know that we had a plan B. One thing that I have learned from my three long distance walks through Spain was to take it as it goes. If I couldn’t make the day’s goal, there was always mañana. The few times that I got into difficulties, was when I pushed myself too hard. So I learned that when I get too tired, I call it a day and look for a place to stay.
Ay, there’s the rub! In Spain there’s always a place to stay for the night. Almost every town has a pensión or fonda where a tired traveler could find a bed and a bath for little money. In fact in many areas there are hostels especially for hikers and bikers. But here the motels are miles away near the highways and the Interstate. And they are expensive!
Tow path.
Fortune shone on me, literally. The sun came out and the temperature arose to a comfortable level and my walking was quite pleasant. The tow path which ran along the edge had been resurfaced as a bike path. This was quite different from the old gravel path upon which the horse and mule teams trudged pulling the passenger packets and cargo barges. Walking the canal during the old days must have been very unpleasant due to the mounds of excrement, horse flies and mosquitoes.
Power boat.
Unlike the time of the Erie Canal, the marginal lands had been cleared and mown. At various points picnic tables were strategically placed. It was obvious that a great deal of effort and expenditure had been made to make the Barge Canal a source of recreation. The occasional passage a fancy power boat proved the point.
As I examined the map in anticipation of my trip, I was amused by the names of the towns on the way, many of which had the suffix “port.” Lockport, Orangeport, Gasport, Brockport Spencerport, Fairport, etc. I come from a place in Massachusetts called Newburyport. It is a real port with a harbor, piers, and access to the sea. The ports in upstate New York are a town on the edge of the canal with a few stone warehouses.
Usually there is a bridge over the canal which became a source of consternation for the barge crews. “Low bridge, everybody down” was a common cry that presaged danger.
When the Erie Canal was first built, towns were few and far between. As populations increased and more towns popped, up the problem of “low bridge” towns became severe. Better bridges had to be built to arch the canal and permit both barge traffic and land traffic. There were several bridge designs which were employed. On of the more popular versions was the vertical lift bridge. This iron bridge was built with a counter weight system which allowed the span to be lifted vertically up from the road service. Most of these bridges were built with a stair structure which permitted pedestrians to cross over when it was in the up position.
Schematic of vertical lift bridge.
Schematic of vertical lift bridge
It was about 3:00 p.m. when I got to Gasport. The distance I had walked was only 10 miles and there were 7 more to Medina. My legs were tired and sciatic pain was causing my back to stiffen. Just east of the bridge was a small picnic table beside the canal. So I stopped and rested for about 15 minutes. I was hot and sweaty so I took out a ½ liter bottle form my pack and downed it in a couple of swallows. I didn’t realize just how thirsty I really was so I downed another; and, then another! Before moving on I tested my blood—it was a little low. It was time to find a bite to eat.
As I arose to head back to the bridge I heard the familiar sound of a fog horn. After a couple of toots I noticed a good sized motor boat coming into view. Just before the boat reached the bridge, the structure lifted straight up to a height of about 15 feet. The boat glided smoothly under with plenty of clearance. The skipper waved to me as he passed.
Gasport Bridge.
Gasport Lift Bridge
I went up to the bridge and talked to the bridge tender. He told me that only in large towns like Spencerport, and Fairport is there is a necessity for an advanced request for a lift. Most bridges respond to a horn.
When I asked him for a place to get a bite to eat, he pointed to a bar across the canal. As I started over the bridge, he called out to me that I should order a “beer and a beck” since they have the best in New York. As I bellied up to the bar, I asked them “what in heck is a beer and a beck.” They laughed and told me that it was a “beer and a weck.” Weck is a type of German style bread (similar to a rye) which is used as the foundation of a roast beef sandwich. Together with an ice cold beer, it was very good, especially after an afternoon of walking. I was tempted to have a second beer, but I knew I wouldn’t be able keep on walking.
When I tried to get up and go my legs revolted on me and threatened to go on strike. I knew that I was finished for the day. So, I sat back down, ordered a beer, and called a cab on my cell phone.
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