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Biking the Erie Canal, part 2

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After a good night’s sleep and breakfast we left Newark only to have another flat. The old tube my son had in his pack suffered from age and storage. Fortunately, experience and the right tools made it a quick job and we were back on the bikes. The lock at Lyons caught my eye. This was not just a lock but a dry dock where the canal corps work on their large boats and barges. I like the simple solutions to large problems. The trail headed onto road for a bit. Clyde had a nice park with facilities for boaters and bikers. While we were filling bottles, we had a chance to talk with a woman who was enjoying her sixth season of boat travel on the canals and waterways of the U.S. and Canada. She spoke highly of the New York canal system, people and sights. We received a recommendation for local biscuits and gravy that were nearly as good as at their South Carolina home. The trail went on road again for a bit and the rolling hills and open vistas were a welcome change of pace. The reality of small-town restaurants being closed on Monday made for limited food choices. (Tip: Bring snacks.)

This was also the day that my lack of long rides and conditioning started to show. It was getting uncomfortable to sit on a bike seat. We arrived in Camillus Erie Canal Park tired and dry. A phone call to a friend resulted in a couple bottles of water and a chance to catch up. While we waited, I was impressed with this volunteer-run park with its hands-on and educational exhibits. We will have to get back on a day they are open. Wheeling loaded and dusty bicycles onto the elevator and down the hall of a new Hilton was a unique feeling.

Approaching Syracuse, I was concerned about navigating the city streets but a series of walkways, bridges and bike lanes made it very easy. Fresh cherries at the farmers market were a great snack. We made good time out of the city and may have even felt a bit of a tail wind. (Hills and wind that you never notice in a car are magnified on a bicycle.) Green Lakes State Park is a quick trail off the path and entrance is free on a bicycle. The rare, meromictic lakes are beautiful and interesting. The park is well worth seeing. With the offer of being met by our wives with food and beer, we pushed on with another 70-plus-mile day. It was worth it. We camped at the lock in Marcy. It was a nice campsite but my hammock/sleep pad combo were too slippery together and made for a bad night’s sleep.

Toward the end of another long day pedaling

The cumulative effects of long days riding and poor nights of sleep made this my hardest day of the trip. It was good to be back in an area that I know and to see areas I had only driven by from the bike path. The section from Frankfort to Little Falls is newly paved and perhaps the nicest section along the trail. I may be biased as an eastern local, but the canal/river here is much more attractive and scenic than in the western sections.

The lock at Jacksonburg is on one of the newly-paved sections. Photo by Courtney Llewellyn

After 55 miles, I was home and ready to sleep in my own bed. Christopher was joined by his brother and my two granddaughters, who rode with him for 10 miles to his home. The next day we would finish.

Lunchtime at Lock 15 in Fort Plain. Dan and Christopher would get to sleep in their own beds this night.

I was up and well rested for the final push to the end. I began with a quick and easy 10-mile jaunt to Christopher’s for coffee and we were on our way. The trail has seen some improvements since I rode it a few years ago. The confusing on-road sections were gone and the paving was done. The hill in Rexford defeated me and I walked. I did ride the second one with much wheezing and complaining. It was then that I discovered that my third water bottle had worn a hole from rubbing and was empty. The final miles looked deceptively flat or even downhill but we just did not roll. A post-ride analysis shows that it was just slightly uphill for miles. This did set us up for a fast descent into Waterford and our welcoming fans.

The end of the journey!

We were done – with 370 miles, 3,000-plus feet of elevation, 150,000-plus rotations of the pedals and four flat tires.

I am looking forward to my 360 End-to-Ender Canalway Challenge sticker and swag!

The welcoming committee was on site, ready to greet the riders.

Lessons learned:

• Hydrate – A bottle of water every hour is a good ballpark. Fill bottles when you can.

• Electrolytes – A sports drink made a difference with afternoon loss of energy.

• Eat – We were burning 4,000 – 5,000 calories a day.

• Test all of your gear in real use.

• Slow down. See the sights, read the signs, meet the people.

That said … Next tour?

by Dan Wren

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