Diabetes Awareness Campaign: Trekking Along the Erie Canal.
North Tonawanda
Little Falls
St. Johnsville
Wednesday, October 24
The weather was brisk with white puffy clouds and a lot of sun and the temperature hovering on the cool side. But I knew that I would heat up soon enough on the trail. So, I put on my New Balance t-shirt but stuffed a long sleeve shirt near the top of my backpack, just incase!
Anxious to get going, I threw the pack over my shoulder and headed off to the motel office to leave the key at the front desk. Since there were no good breakfast places (Denny’s was across the street.) between the motel and the trail, I decided to partake of the complimentary continental breakfast in the motel’s snack room.
Many motels offer such a breakfast. The coffee is generally very good (as long as they offer ½ & ½ or cream) and the tea—well, how can you spoil tea? But, every thing else such as orange juice, doughnuts, bagels, and breakfast pastry I shouldn’t eat because it would require a huge dose of insulin. Even the offered fruit (if offered) is high in sugar: oranges, apples, and bananas.
Such a breakfast would not only require a large amount of insulin, a couple of hours later I would be so tired that I would need a nap. I’m not wild about napping on the trailside. With my looks, someone might mistaken me for a bum and call the cops. Or worse, a Good Samaritan might call the EMTs.
So, I opted for the least harmful menu I could think of—two slices of whole wheat toast and peanut butter. (Please, don’t write to me about gluten and peanuts, I know they are harmful for many—but not me, a diabetic!) I would have to wait for my protein intake later in the day.
While sitting there savoring the oily flavor of the individually packaged cubes of peanut butter, the concierge (is that word applicable for a motel?) came into the room holding aloft a key. “Was anyone here in room 16?” I was busted. But for what? I didn’t steal the towels and didn’t make any local calls. Meekly, I raised my hand while others glared at me suspiciously. “You left your jacket in the room and you can pick it up at the front desk.”
Canal at Herkimer.
Canal at Herkimer
Boy was I lucky that someone was looking out for me again. No sooner had I crossed back over the canal and started on the trail when the clouds became thicker and the temperature dropped considerably and I needed the jacket.
After awhile on the trail I spotted a man running toward me in shorts and a track shirt. From his build and uniform, he looked like a former long distance runner. But he was doing something I have never seen a track man do. He would twist and then swoop his arms down to the ground—first on one side then the other.
It was the same sort of exercise we used to do in rugby to increase our flexibility and agility. (Both of which I lost a long time ago!) Then I realized that he wasn’t doing special exercises. He was picking up old plastic bottles discarded by thoughtless people. As he went by I saw that he was a grey-beard like me. I envied his condition and flexibility—must have been all his long distance running.
About 10 minutes later he passed me going the other direction. As he went by he called out “where’re you headed?” I yelled back “Albany” and he gave me the high sign. Another10 minutes went by and he appeared, coming toward me again. This time he stopped close to me and after he took a couple of deep breaths, asked me from whence I came.
I proceeded to explain that I had started in Tonawanda and told him of my quest. He eyed my card with interest and told me that he had an in-law that he was worried about becoming diabetic—overweight, inactive, with a family history of the disease. His concern was justified and I told him so. Also, I suggested that if the woman wanted to contact me through my web site. I would be willing to give her a call and share some of the struggles I have had with weight. When I was in my thirties, my weight yo-yoed up and down, which I realize now is a symptom of what is termed the Metabolic X syndrome, a precursor to diabetes. He looked again at the card and nodded. The he dashed off with a wave.
About three miles later the towpath ended at a green, riverside park. This was the site of Fort Herkimer built, in 1740 and enlarged in 1756, to protect the settlers of the surround area, called German Flats.
Fort Herkimer Church.
Fort Herkimer Church
The fort consisted of a stone palisade extended from the two-story first home of Johan Jost Herkimer (grandfather of Nicholas). In the center of the fort was a stone church. Atop the roof was a parapet which served as a lookout and sniper nest in case of attack. The fort was demolished leaving only the church.
After Fort Herkimer I headed east on Route 5S. It was a pleasant walk because the traffic was light. (Trucks and through traffic were on either on the wider Route 5 north side of the river or Interstate.
By now most of the leaves had fallen, a stark reminder of the cold weather ahead. Along with the piles of leaves that kids were diving into were other signs of change—the huge presence of ghosts and goblins.
Ghouls and goblins.
Ghouls and goblins
When I was a kid we used to carve real pumpkins and place them on the front step. Perhaps we would put a silhouette of a black cat in the window. And our decorations were seldom up for more then a few days. When did Halloween become a major holiday?
The grade on the road was steadily up. For most of the trip, I have been walking on level ground. Even though I had been on the trail for three weeks, my legs started to ache. Now I was using a different set of muscles. This was a problem that I seldom experienced in Spain. From the get-go on those trips, I was on paths that went up and down the hills. So, it was with some relief that I turned off of Route 5S onto Route 167 which headed down the valley towards Little Falls.
It took me a moment to realize that the man was the same I had talked to earlier on the trail—what a difference clothes make! He told me that he was taking his wife and mother to lunch in Little Falls and wanted to know if I wanted a lift. I was sorely tempted (pun intended) but I declined. He told me they would be waiting if I wanted join them when I got to town. I told him that I would like that but not to wait too long for me.
Little Falls.
Little Falls
Little Falls was a very important place in respect to the Erie Canal. Its name is in contrast to the Great Falls at Cohoes where the Mohawk drops 70 feet down over a sheer wall. Although not as dramatic, the series of small cascades here is quite formidable. The river drops a total of 45 feet in a span of about a mile. The spot was settled by Europeans in 1723 where trade and providing portage services became the principal industries. In 1792 a series of five locks were built here to allow Durham boats and canoes to circumvent the falls.
The Western Inland Lock Navigation Company was established very early by the New York legislature to try to improve navigation on the Mohawk River by building locks at the various portage points. Unlike the locks of the Erie Canal 25 years later, these locks were made of wood. Thus, though they functioned, adequately, they were subject to rotting and leaking. These facts, plus the difficulty of constructing structures on a flowing river, helped influence the later canal builders in their plans for a totally separate canal.
As I walked down the gorge its sides were so deep that much of the valley was in shade. A narrow row of houses were nestled with their back yards bordered by a steep cliff.
The main city was on the north side of the river and as I walked over the bridge which spanned the canal and river, I looked down on the canal. I had a sense of deja vu all over again!
Then I realized this was the locale of a famous painting of a passenger packet being towed through a deep gulch. Several times through-out the trip I had come across prints or variations of that image.
Canals at Little Falls.
Canal at Little Falls
On banks of the river is a series of warehouses. They hearken back to when Little Falls was a bustling station of the Erie Canal. With the loss of the primacy of canal transportation in the 50’s, Little Falls population began to decline to about half of what it was at its zenith.
Canalside Place.
Canalside Place
Today the community is courting the tourist. The warehouses have been turned into small retail shops, artist galleries, and condos. Canalside Place has sprung up with restaurants, bistros and a B&B. The approach to Canalside was down a long ramp from the bridge. I went into the Ann Street Deli, the small restaurant that the runner had suggested. He was still there, sitting there with his wife and mother. They invited me to join them—I gladly accepted.y
They were an interesting couple. The wife, Winona, had her own business making jewelry from local gems. From her I learned more about the Herkimer Diamonds and even suggested places where they could be found. I took her card and made a mental note to tell Jerie.
Husband Jim was retired from Remington where he had worked for thirty years making shotguns in all its phases from boring the barrels to carving the stocks, and assembly.
He was interested in my story since he himself was interested the history of the canal. He related a lot of tidbits about its past. For example, he mentioned that there was a scandal about the black powder some contractors sold to the project. The explosives had been adulterated resulting in botched detonations.
Also there were kickbacks and bribes. I was shocked, shocked, to learn there was government corruption! The more things change—the more they stay the same!
After a pleasant meal I had to leave to find my room for the night. As we shook hands I asked him what was his last name. He said “Gage.” How appropriate for a gunsmith. Twenty or Twelve? I asked. He said “neither—I’m 10 gage!”
Jim and Winona Gage.
Jim and Winona Gage
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