Diabetes Awareness Campaign: Trekking Along the Erie Canal.
North Tonawanda
Little Falls
St. Johnsville
Friday, October 19
Our plan was for Jerie to leave Massachusetts in the morning and meet me in Rome that night. Jerie had several places she wanted to visit in Oneida which were just a couple of miles southeast of Canastota. So it made sense to spend the night in the motel I had been in. It would allow me to leave my pack behind. And besides, it would enable me the chance to take her to Casa Mia for a nice meal and a chance to meet my new best friend Tony.
The weather was threatening rain but I was antsy to get back to walking after the two day delay in Canastota. The fact that there was no direct sun was actually good for me. The cool temperature enabled me to keep a good pace.
Fall colors.
The foliage was quite variable. Some trees were still green, others golden. While others had their leaves knocked off by the rains of the past couple of days. I saw ahead of me a beautiful maple that was scarlet red. This made me homesick for New England where the foliage was really dramatic.
It was about noon time when I reached the hamlet of Durhamville, basically just a cross road. I spotted a joint with a sign Jacks or Better and a neon Coors sign in the window.
Since it would be at least another hour to the next crossing, and since some of the cross roads I’ve passed through don’t have any eateries, I decided to chow down. So, I went inside and bellied up to the bar. The bartender looked at me askance. When I asked if the kitchen was open yet, he said that there was no kitchen. Any sandwiches? No! Anything? Pickled pigs feet, pickled eggs, and beef jerky. Yummy!
When I asked if there was any food place around he just pointed up the street. I thanked him and he just grunted. A block up the street, in the direction indicated by my pal, was another joint called Friend’s Bar. These establishments reminded of the rural bars we used to frequent during college days in Ohio. They always seem to be in a house.
Juke joint.
A juke joint
When I entered, my spirits fell. It was a similar joint. And there was no bartender. Suddenly a woman popped her head through the door and told me she would be right out. She appeared with a plate of meat loaf and mashed potatoes. As she sat down and started to eat, she asked me if I wanted a menu. Thank god!
It was a biker bar, full of pictures of Harley’s and such. Now, I like motorcycles and in my youth did my wandering on my Honda 350. Okay, it wasn’t like John’s Harley or our buddy Phil’s BMW with side car, but it was a steady machine and it took me from Boston to Montreal to Buffalo to home. I enjoyed riding in the open and stayed on state and county roads. That way I got a good sense of the lay of the land. On a bike you get to smell the country. Mown hay, barn yards, and factory smoke stacks imbues one with a visceral understanding of the country. It’s kind of like walking. I prefer walking if I have the time because it adds another dimension—people.
Take for example the bartender. She was a thirty something single mom whose daughter is in high school and whose son was about to enter medical school. She told me that her mother died from diabetes. Since mom had been a type II diabetic the bartender and her kids had a chance of inheriting the tendency. I told her that she was approaching the age where she should get a glucose tolerance test with her annual checkup. She was aware of that and already had been checked. She had seen her mother suffer. I told her that watching my mom suffer was my motive for aggressively treating the disease and my trekking for diabetes awareness. I gave her my web site card and handed her my credit card. She took the former and handed back the latter. “Lunch is on me—and mom!”
For a couple of miles after Durhamville the trail went not on the tow path, but along a path on the opposite (south) side of the canal. Such a trail was called the heel path and occurred when there was a lot of pedestrian foot or animal traffic.
This path led to a fortuitous find, a culvert. As soon as I saw it I recognized it. This particular culvert appears in a lot of canal literature. With its graceful arch and concave wall it makes a very photogenic scene.
A work of art? No, but rather for me it is a classic example of form and function. As every good school kid knows that the Roman Arch is a very strong support. Our physics teacher explained that the curved surface redirects the downward stress forces. Similarly, the concave curved wall can stand the sideways stress of the embankment. The masons who built these culverts were true craftsmen.
Another fantastic site was a huge maple tree on someone’s side lawn. It was the biggest one I have ever seen, at least 12 stories high. It must have been 300 years old.
A tall one.
A tall one
That means it was here when the canal was dug. Neighboring trees in the way of the canal had to be felled. Now cutting down a tree is fairly easy task. Removing its roots is another matter. The canal builders did not have the time to put saltpeter on the stumps and let them rot. They had to pull out the stumps. Smaller stumps could be pulled by animal teams. Others needed more strength. Huge windlasses equipped with block and tackle were set up to wrench the roots from the earth. If that failed there was the riskier approach of blasting with black powder
Other sites were more of the amusing kind. I passed a section of a tree trunk which had been placed along the side of the road. Sticking out of the block was a red chain saw. Half of the blade was within the block. I couldn’t tell if it was stuck or just inserted into the scarf.
Was it for sale or for trash? I was tempted to go up and give it a tug. I fancied myself a young King Arthur with a Black and Decker Excalibur.
Chicken crossing.
Why did the chicken cross the road?
Then I came to a “Chicken Crossing” sign. As I stopped to take a snapshot, a barking dog dashed across the lawn. When he reached the border of his yard, he stopped short, planted his paws, and challenged me. Behind him a couple of men appeared and called him back. They were friendly and told me the dog was all bark and no bite. When I saw the barn door sign I understood the reason for the cautionary plaque. It was a poultry farm.
Now, I’m from Massachusetts where we have brown eggs. Jerie’s a native of Nebraska where the eggs are white. We have regular “discussions” as to which are better. As I tell her, brown eggs are local eggs. Local eggs are fresh eggs. Ergo, brown eggs are better! I called out to the guys to ask them—“white or brown?” They answered brown.
As I reached the cross roads of State Bridge, rain started coming down. As it got heavier and heavier, I looked about for a place of refuge. Across the bridge on the corner was a bar and I made a dash for the door. It was closed. Not only was it closed, it was out of business. As I stood there with my back pressed hard against the door, I was protected by the door frame. Boy, was I glad that I had had lunch earlier.
After about twenty minutes the rain stopped so I reentered the park and started back along the towpath. Three miles further the rain picked up again. This time it was a deluge. As I looked for a place of refuge I saw ahead of me a park with picnic tables and a baseball field. There was also a pavilion. When I ducked under cover, I was soaked. I pulled out my radio and head phones and searched the dial. I found a talk show.
After about an hour the rain stopped. I decided to pick up my pace to cover the path to Rome before the sun set. But when the sun did set, I had only gotten to a place called Stacy Basin. I was still an hour from Rome. Because of the rain, it got dark really fast. I left the towpath and walked along Route 46. A prayer was on my lips that the traffic could see me. Suddenly a SUV barely missed me. The vehicle pulled off to the side up ahead of me, did a three point turn, came back toward me. Oh, oh. Were they mad at me? They passed me in the other direction. Another three point turn and then they pulled up beside me. A door opened and the woman driver offered me a ride.
Gratefully, I jumped into the back seat. There were four people in the car. I was introduced to the whole family. Ma was at the wheel and Pa in the back seat beside me. To the left of Pa was Sonny Boy, and Cousin Eddie was in the front seat. Pa and Ma were friendly sorts but Cousin Eddie gave me the creeps. He didn’t speak. He just sat there staring at me with his head cocked to the side. I’ve seen too many Cohen Brothers movies not to be nervous.
When we got to the intersection of the Routes 46 and 69, the car stopped at the lights. Straight ahead was Wal-Mart. To my right was a strip of fast food joints. They were going to Wal-Mart and offered to take me to Rome after they were finished shopping. “No thanks,” I said and bolted from the car. I decided to go into one of the fast food joints before the SUV came back. I chose a Subway Shop. When I sat in the booth and called Jerie, she told me that she was still an hour way. After I signed off, I saw the counter girl looking at me suspiciously. Being soaked, I must have looked a fright. I figured that I better order a sandwich.
Jerie’s estimate was on the money. After I had the sandwich, I read one of those real estate magazines that are left everywhere. After awhile it was obvious that I was through eating and through reading. Not liking the stares, I went outside. The rain had stopped so I sat on a curb and listened to my radio. When Jerie got there she wanted to go in and get something to eat. I promised her a better meal at Tony’s Casa Mia.
It was late when we got to Canastota and they were about to close the kitchen. But when Tony found out it was me, he went back in to make us shrimp scampi. That’s what I call service. Afterwards he sat down and chatted with us for about half an hour regaling us with stories of the fight game. They were fascinating.
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