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2022 Tour: E-bike Adventures on the Erie Canal Trail

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2022 Tour: E-bike Adventures on the Erie Canal Trail

Old 06-24-22, 02:53 PM
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2022 Tour: E-bike Adventures on the Erie Canal Trail

Some here on the E-bike section may remember me from the Clydes & Athenas group, where I was active for many years. Starting in 2010, I posted about a summer bike tour annually:and then nothing.

Leaving aside uncomfortable medical details, what happened was I got sick; and as part of getting sick, my knees don’t handle some kinds of work any more. Walking is fine, but climbing stairs is rough. It took me a while to find that e-bikes worked for me (especially with a cadence sensor rather than a torque sensor), and then longer yet to trust myself with distance. But this year I had an urge for one of my old-style tours, and set out to see what I could manage.

Upshot being, I just got back from the Erie Canal Trail. I started in Buffalo NY and headed eastward. This is the first of a series of posts about the trip, but if this is the only one you read, here’s the TL;DR: Be sure that your ebike will carry you and your gear 60 miles in a day before attempting the Erie Canal Trail. Otherwise, you will have problems finding places to stay and recharge overnight.
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Old 06-24-22, 03:33 PM
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Day 0: About the bike

Somewhere between North America and Asia, there’s a container ship that’s carrying the bike I had wanted to use on this ride: designed as an ebike, front suspension, plenty of battery power, lots of cargo capacity. When I put in the order in the depths of winter, I was told I could expect the bike in the spring.

Well, it’s summer, and no new bike (yet). I got the news about two months ago that the new bike wouldn’t be here in time, but by that point I had been plotting about the trip for so long, I decided that I would do the ride I could with the bike I have.


The bike is a Bafang mid-drive kit-conversion on a Breezer 8-speed, step-through frame. I got it in 2017, used from a local ebike shop, where it had been a rental.

The pedals I had bought for the new bike (Crank brothers double shots – cleats on one side, platforms on the other) got installed, as did a new Ortlieb handlebar bag. (The one I started touring with 12 years ago was showing its age.) The rear wheel wobbled a bit – a look at the cone bearing showed that one of the ball bearings had, um, disintegrated. Cleaned that out, put in new bearings and a new axle. Derailleur looked OK. Other regular maintenance got attended to.

Last year I rode this bike 65+ miles in one day on a fairly hilly tour of nearby covered bridges with one battery in use and a backup in my pannier. The decision to use an ebike on tour means that I’d be headed for hotels every night, rather than camping (although I did manage to book myself into a cabin with electricity at a NY State Park for my designated rest day!); the decision to carry a battery in my pannier shaped almost every other decision.

The batteries are heavy and bulky. So I wouldn’t have too much room in the bags; but I’d need to bring along two battery chargers and a small power strip. I’d need to have the 2nd battery accessible, because I knew I’d be switching at mid-day every day; but I couldn’t have it packed at the top of the bag, because that would make things too tippy. To balance the weight, I put other heavy stuff – my repair kit, with wrenches and vice-grips (no quick-release wheels on this beast!) at the bottom of the other side. I made sure I did not weigh how much the whole thing was by the time I was done. Why scare myself with a number I couldn’t change?

As for how to get it to Buffalo, then home again? I looked at Amtrak, and it is possible to bring a bike along from Philadelphia (closest Amtrak to my house) to Buffalo, then back from Albany. But Amtrak sets a limit on bike weight and tire width that my new bike won’t meet (50 lbs, 2” tires). Instead, back when I was planning the not-yet-here bike, I made arrangements to rent a minivan with seats that fold down from Philly to Buffalo, and then to rent an SUV back from Albany. The other advantage of the car rental version is that the train that allows bikes was scheduled to pull into Buffalo near midnight. Getting everything together and riding to the first hotel after midnight didn’t really appeal, especially as a woman travelling alone.
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Old 06-25-22, 10:20 AM
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WOW, Jeneralist: Sounds so interesting and is inspiring. Congratulations on your recovery and return! Thanks for noting the Amtrak limits as I'm just over on both measures. And YES: always be cautious, and choices that are enabling are the best ones!
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Old 06-25-22, 12:18 PM
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Day 1: Buffalo to Medina, 54.2 miles

The first day was clear, cool, and – unfortunately for me – windy! Once I returned the rented car and got an Uber back to the hostel where I was staying, I got my gear loaded onto the bike as quickly as I could. I wanted the adventure to start!


Douglas, my plush traveling companion, at the check-in at Hostel Buffalo-Niagara

If you’re going to be a completest, you’re going to need to go thru what is currently a depressed section of Buffalo. In Philly, road kill is raccoons, groundhogs, or squirrels; I saw a dead rat in the road between the hostel and the beginning of the trail. The trail starts on sidewalks, winding through parks; then it switches to a protected bike lane along a busy street. I was moving cautiously as the pathway jinked along gravel in a few places, feeling the (over)loaded back end of the step-thru bike woggle. Riding into a 20 mph headwind, I made my way through the city to my first sight of the Niagara River.


The Niagara River, with a lighthouse just visible on the Canadian side

The route passed under the Peace Bridge, giving me a view of Canada in the distance.


The Peace Bridge, as seen from the American side.



Douglas and I stopped to admire the view.

Riding north and then east, following the trail, the path went from city bike lanes to suburban parkland. And I do mean park: there were ballfields, and gazebos with bathrooms and water fountains, and hiking trails as I went along. Somewhere between Tonawanda and Lockport, a parade crossed the route! Seems that the local fire company ordinarily had a summer parade, but it had been pre-empted the past two years because of COVID. This year, they made up for lost time with a bigger, splashier, happier parade than their usual.


Bagpipers at the Fireman's Parade. Their music, heard before I could see them, was my first hint that there was a parade up ahead.



Long-serving volunteer gets pride of place in the parade.


But I had a case of the first day jitters: I had made hostel reservations in Medina, my goal for the day was to get to Medina, and I kept a dogged focus on making the miles. Sure, it would have been lovely to spend more than a few minutes at a local celebration; yeah, I could have had a fine lunch at one of the canal-side restaurants; yep, there were opportunities to leisurely dawdle my way eastward. Instead, I pedaled onward, with one eye on my odometer and the other on my battery indicator.

This was not the most enjoyable way to start a trip, and it was my own darn fault.

The bike felt sluggish and I felt grumpy. I was preoccupied with mental math: the newer battery cut out a little after 32 miles. What should have been a fine day’s riding felt like a slog. I spent the ride east of Lockport wondering how I could bail out on what, at that point, seemed like an ill-conceived scheme. So when I saw a deer in the middle of the trail, I didn’t smile. A canal-side pair of vultures felt like an omen. And every few miles there would be another collection of geese I’d need to negotiate with to make my way onward.

When I got to Medina, it look me a while to get squared away at the hostel. Seems the folks who run the place had texted me the code to get into the building during the day, but I never got the text. I needed to go back through old emails on my phone to get the phone number to call to leave a message; shortly after that, I got a phone call back letting me know how to get in.

I was the only person in the hostel that night, and given my mood when I got off the bike, it may have been just as well. But dinner and a glass of local wine at an Irish pub in town did wonders for my mood, and a good night’s rest worked further magic. By the time I got to sleep, the ride seemed more like an adventure and less like a horrid mistake.
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Old 06-25-22, 03:20 PM
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jeneralist

Looking forward to more of your adventure. You are to be admired.
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Old 06-26-22, 08:36 PM
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Day 2: Medina to Greece (just west of Rochester), 44.0 miles

Got up around 8 am and puttered, with the hostel all to myself. I was told I could stash the bike indoors overnight, and was glad for the extra security. Now I had the chance to lube the chain and to check the tires – and what do you know, the day before I had been riding with my rear tire about 12 lbs under-inflated. Much of the grump and the shimmy was explained!

After a breakfast of a granola bar and the hostel’s coffee, I set out towards Fairport. Towns along that part of the canal come every 5 miles or so: Medina, Knowlesville, Eagle Harbor, Albion, Huberton, Holley, Brockport, Spencerport, Rochester. That last is a city of about three-quarters of a million people, in the midst of hamlets. (Spencerport, for example, has a population of about 3700.) Rochester is big enough that it goes on for several miles by itself along the trail. Then come Pittsford and Fairport. I planned to stop there because it was about 60 miles from Medina, and 60 miles from Seneca Falls, where I had booked a cabin at Cayuga State Park for 2 nights. Seneca Falls wasn’t on the trail proper – it was about 8 miles to the south – but the route there was given semi-official status from “Parks and Trails New York”, who put out the “Cycling the Erie Canal Guidebook” I was using. Between being the town where “It’s a Wonderful Life” was filmed, and the site of the July 1848 Women’s Rights convention, it’s a destination in its own right.

Before I even made it to the first townlet after Medina, I came across some parts of the canal that made my I-was-an-engineer-once draw drop. Check out this picture:


Trees under the canal

On the far right is the canal itself. To the left of that is the path; then a guardrail; then a drop of several dozen feet, enough for trees to grow up to be just about level with the canal. A few hundred yards after that, the canal passes OVER a separate river, so that I could stand with my back to the canal and look DOWN at a waterfall. (Seems that the stream below had too strong a current to be accommodated in the canal, so the engineers of two hundred years ago built an aqueduct (?) to hold the canal and loft it over the stream.)


A waterfall, under the canal

Similarly, about a half mile after that the canal ran over a road. When I took this pic, my back was to the canal; the bike is on the trail; and you can look through the fencing and down to see a pickup truck pass underneath the canal.


Look for the pickup truck between the water bottle and the saddle.

About 12 miles downstream from Medina was Albion, where I got off the trail to get to a convenience store to grab lunch. Then back to the trail, where there were about 10 or 12 docking-places along the waterfront at a municipal park. Each boat tie-off post had an electrical outlet. I hoped for the chance to charge my bike a bit while I sat and had my lunch in the shade of a stream-side gazebo, but the outlets were something I had never seen before:



That’s a 30 amp, 125 volt twist-lock connector. The plug twists into position, so that even if the boat moves some and joggles the power cord, things will stay connected. If you’re planning to make this trip and try to charge along the way, a pigtail that plugs into this on one end and has a “normal” home outlet on the other might be a good investment.

After lunch, I got back on the bike. It was a wonderful sunny day, warm but not too hot, and I was enjoying the scenery and the ride. I got into Holley about 20 miles from the day’s start, and my battery (I had started the day with the older of my two batteries, to see how far I could get with it) was down to one bar of charge. This time, I was able to find a household power outlet dockside, so I charged up while I nibbled a granola bar and watched the canal boats go by.






Each of these port towns has at least one drawbridge. I never saw one that opened in the middle; these all lifted evenly on both ends.

When the bridge is up, the staircase is level with the decking; when it's down, the decking is at street level.


Feeling joy in the day, and having been able to put some extra juice in the battery after I done 54 miles the day before, I pulled out my phone and booked a hotel in Fairport for the night.

The rhythm of stopping at every 2nd or 3rd town continued. Brockport and Adams Basin went by, then I stopped at Spencerport. Another break, another snack. Leaving Spencerport at about 4 pm, I had 20 miles to go to Fairport.

And then, three more miles east, I started to hear a strange sound from the rear of the bike. It wasn’t timed with my pedal stroke, so it wasn’t a pedal hitting the kickstand, but it had a metal-on-metal clunk character to it. It happened more when I was pedaling than when I was coasting. I could go 20 or 30 seconds without it, but then it would come back – and the farther I went, the more often I heard it, and the louder it got. It started to sound like a heavy metal woodpecker back there.

(Insert expletive of your choice here.)

I was looking for a good place to pull over and get a closer view of the problem when the trail left the towpath and headed towards pavement. So on a paved section of trail, I pulled over, took the panniers off, and started investigating. The rear wheel was firmly in the drop-outs, no problem there, but the wheel itself wobbled back and forth when I tugged on it. The front wheel didn’t move side-to-side, but the rear wheel did.



I dug down to the bottom of my saddlebag to get to my tools. (Wrenches are heavy, so I put them at the bottom.) I had everything I needed to get the wheel off, but I didn’t have the extra thin wrench to get to the bearing cone. So: the bike was not going to make it the remaining 17 miles to Fairport. It’s a Sunday night, I’m hundreds of miles from home, what now?

One thing I have with me that is working is my smart phone. From the side of the path, I search for bike shops nearby, then check that I found one that will be open in the morning. Some good luck: there’s a bike shop under two miles away. There’s also a hotel about a mile and a half away – and it’s still close to the bike shop! I put the bike back together, best as I can, and slowly and carefully made for the hotel.
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Old 06-27-22, 01:51 PM
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Day 3: Monday morning at the bike shop

According to Google, the shop opened at 10 am; I got there at 10:05. The lead mechanic – and, I found out later, owner – already had a bike he was working on, but the phrase “I was on the canal trail from Buffalo when…” was enough to get my bike on the workstand within moments. I told him what had happened the night before. He shook the rear wheel side to side, quickly got it off the bike, and started taking it apart.



He was moving so fast!


A few moments later, I had the news. The bearing race was pitted, and the axle was bent. Now, the bearing race I had known about – I put in new ball bearings before the trip. But a bent axle? “Easier and cheaper to just replace the whole wheel,” he told me.

I browsed around the shop while he set to work. The repair section had knowledgeable, courteous staff. About 10 minutes after I got there, another rider came in, this time with a recumbent in the bed of a pickup truck. The owner told him that his bike would be after mine – in about 15 minutes, and would you like help getting the bike down from there? The bikes for sale were from at least half a dozen different manufacturers. I mentioned to the woman at the sales counter that in Philly, it was rare to find a bike shop that wasn’t directly owned by a manufacturer these days. “They try that around here, too. But this is OUR bike shop, mine and my husband’s. We sell Treks, but we don’t belong to Trek.” So, gentle readers, if you’re ever in need of a bike or bike repair and you’re on the west side of Rochester NY, I heartily recommend The Bike Zone on W. Ridge Road. I could have done a lot worse.

Once the repairs were done and I had a new wheel on the bike, I had a decision to make: should I continue to try for Albany?
  • I was on the west side of Rochester. Fairport was 20 miles away, give or take. My intended stopping point for Monday, Seneca Falls, was 70 miles away. There was no way that bike with those batteries would get me 70 miles in one day. Even if I could charge on the way, the batteries charge at 2 amps max. They do not play well with fast chargers.
  • Beyond Fairport was – not much. Palmyra was 35 miles away from the bike shop, give or take; Newark was 42 miles, and Lyons was 47. I wasn’t finding much in the way of hotels at any of those towns. (As I’m writing this from the comfort of my home, I’m finding one hotel in Newark that would have been within reach of the bike shop, from which I could have ridden to Syracuse in a day.)
  • My biggest concern, though, was that something had happened that made the axle bend. If the underlying problem was that the bike just didn’t like having that much weight on the rear, did I really want to set out again? Next time, the trouble might hit when I was far from a bike shop, and even farther from a city where I could rent a car to get myself and my bike home. My “bail-out” towns were Rochester, Syracuse, and maybe Utica. I had run into trouble 2 miles from Rochester – maybe I shouldn’t risk another ramble.
  • The deciding factor may have been something that the mechanic/owner mentioned while we were chatting as he was working on the bike: Rochester was hosting a jazz festival that week. There would be free outdoor performances every night.
By the time my bike was ready to ride, I had come to my decision: I’d get a hotel in Rochester for a few days. During the daytime, I’d explore around the city, and at night, I’d go to concerts. Not the trip I had planned, but not a bad fall-back.
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Old 06-27-22, 07:14 PM
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Sounds like you made the best of a bad situation. Well done! I'm in Palmyra tonight, heading west in the morning after 8 days riding here from NYC. Two of us (out of 4) are on pedal assist Specialized SL ebikes, and are running 60+ miles daily with between a quarter and a half tank left. These bikes are just under and just over 30 lbs, which I highly recommend for longer tours. We're hoping to make Minneapolis in another 4 weeks, then finish the trip to Seattle next summer.
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Old 06-28-22, 07:21 AM
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If life ever slows down enough, I hope to do such cycling trips with my wife.
Bent axles is rare, with solid, bolt-on axles on your bike it is even more difficult to determine what caused the bent axle.
Do you remember riding over something that caused sharp impact?
Or maybe the worn bearing race that caused extra stress to the axle?
I'm curious to see the aftermath of parts that was removed from the rear wheel.
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Old 06-28-22, 10:59 AM
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Sorry to hear that you're "holed up" since I enjoyed the pictorial journey, but glad you are having fun. Maybe a few pictures of the festival would be interesting.
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Old 06-30-22, 06:18 PM
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Day 3 afternoon: Riding around Rochester, 27 miles

Leaving the bike shop, I had a plan, a hotel reservation, and an intense desire to pick up where I left off. My first move was to head back to the spot on the canal trail where I realized I had problems, just to prove to myself I had a working bike.


A good bike shop makes a huge difference!

Then, as long as I was doubling back anyway, I continued west to Spencerport, to a canal-side restaurant I had bypassed the day before. Something about knowing I was back on the move – even if I was doing a hub-and-spoke style ride – made sitting waterside and watching other cyclists come and go that much more pleasant.



From the south bank, looking north


Eventually, I got back under way eastward, eager for sections of the trail I hadn’t seen before. The spot where crushed stone gave way to pavement – where I pulled over the night before to see if I could do repairs on my own – marks the spot where the trail shifts from “beautiful waterside tourist attraction trail” to “urban bicycling infrastructure.” The trail stayed on blacktop for a while, and moved out of sight of the canal itself. Road crossings became much more common, including one where I almost wound up getting hit by a car: at a busy intersection, the light changed, I had a “walk” signal, but a car rushing up was determined to make a right on red. After all, there wasn’t any traffic – at least, not coming from the driver’s left, where car traffic would be.

With shade now on both sides of the path, I could see white seed-fluff filling the air. I couldn’t tell if they were dandelions or milkweed or what, but there was enough that when it settled, it coated the blacktop. That’s not sun-glare in the photo – that’s seeds with attached fluff. No wonder my sweetie said I sounded congested when I called home.



White plant fluff covered the path



Close-up of some of the fluff. Any botanists in the house?

The directions for getting to downtown Rochester were simple to understand: east on the Erie Canal trail until it meets the Genesee River trail, then turn north. After a few miles, I got to the a spot where the canal met the river, and this time the 19th century engineers didn’t try to keep the two from touching.


Erie canal meets Genesee River

The Genesee River trail winds through parkland in the southern part of Rochester, diverts onto streets in center city, then back through parkland closer to Lake Ontario. I wanted to see more of it later in the trip – but for now, having seen the Rochester skyline, I was eager to get checked in to my hotel, get cleaned up, and get ready for a night of jazz. I coasted downhill into the hotel driveway, my first battery out of juice, just as the trip odometer clicked over to 27 miles.



The fabled city of Rochester, as seen from the Genesee.

I was concerned that I might have a problem bringing my bike into a hotel room – I was prepared to defend my bike as a “luggage cart” if I needed to – but the folks at the desk didn’t blink. Over the next few days, I saw other cyclists and their bikes come through the lobby. I had time to get a nap and a change of clothes before heading out to hear the Bill Tiberio Band, and later, Spyro Gyra.



Free jazz with the Bill Tiberio Band!
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Old 07-01-22, 05:42 AM
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I remember watching Spyro Gyra Jaco Pastorius & Frank Zappa jamming.
They were musical geniuses.
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Old 07-01-22, 06:31 AM
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Spyro Gyra has been a fixture at such events in Rochester for nearly 50 years.
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Old 07-01-22, 08:33 AM
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I live on Long Island, NY, so this trip is in my future. I'm so stoked reading about your adventure!
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Old 07-02-22, 12:34 PM
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Originally Posted by cat0020 View Post
If life ever slows down enough, I hope to do such cycling trips with my wife.
Bent axles is rare, with solid, bolt-on axles on your bike it is even more difficult to determine what caused the bent axle.
Do you remember riding over something that caused sharp impact?
Or maybe the worn bearing race that caused extra stress to the axle?
I'm curious to see the aftermath of parts that was removed from the rear wheel.
No, I don't remember any particular impact. There were places where the blacktop had buckled, giving an uneven ride to the trail. Nothing worse than my usual Philly commute, but I was carrying a lot more cargo than usual.
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Old 07-02-22, 12:50 PM
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Day 4: East to Fairport and back, 39.9 miles

The day began with an unpleasant milestone. The first time I didn’t get carded buying wine was bad enough; but on Tuesday, June 21st, 2022, I got my first senior discount, unasked. Ouch.


Some things I won't forget.

Well, one antidote to feeling sorry for myself is to get moving, and I wanted to get back to the canal and see what was to the east of Rochester. Coming out of the city, I went on the eastern bank of the Genesee, through the campus of the University of Rochester. The setting there was more of a haven for wildlife: I think I saw a great blue heron on the riverbank (even if my blurry picture makes it look something like Nessie).




Once again, the pathway just south of the spot where the Genesee and the Erie canal came together felt more industrial and less park-like. It was paved in well-maintained asphalt or concrete, but didn’t have much in the way of scenery. One bit of the commercial world did make me smile, though: REI, the sporting goods store, was right next to the trail. There was even a ramp from the trail to the parking lot.




Parkland started again shortly east of the REI, with manicured grass on one side and the canal on the other. I started to see people walking, jogging, and canoeing. There were spots where the grass was trimmed farther from the pathway to create places to sit, or to welcome passers-by. I’m not sure who put up these welcoming words, but I was glad to see them and sorry that I didn’t have a trinket or painted stone to leave behind.




The text reads: #kindnessrockproject One message at just the right moment can change someone's entire outlook, day or life. Take a rock or leave a rock. They are here for all to enjoy. Then the Kindness Rock Project will thrive and continue to grow.

In between the little towns, houses were built along the south bank, with their own docks for canoes, kayaks, or larger boats. In the towns, where streets crossed the canal, there were parking lots so others could bring their bikes and boats to come out and play.







Given the mast laid across the top, I have to think this boat was headed towards Lake Ontario.


Fairport – where I had hoped to stop for the night on the 2nd day of my trip – also had stream-side parks and restaurants. I stopped under a gazebo in the park and looked at my maps to see if I could get off the canal trail for a while and on to roads to head back towards Rochester. I didn’t want to exactly retrace my steps, and I was getting a bit tired of the “green tunnel” effect along the path. Taking neighborhood roads was easy enough to find my way towards NY Bike Rt 5 – which ran along car Rt 31 – but once I got on a four lane road in 92 degree heat with bright sun baking the blacktop, I scooted back to the trail as quickly as I could. The farthest east this adventure took me was 2 miles east of Fairport: nowhere near Albany, but enough.

Back to Pittsford, then, for lunch. I tried to eat at a “farm to table” restaurant that had a “please come inside to be seated” sign by its outdoor tables, a “please wait to be seated” sign indoors, and – so far as I saw – no staff. After what felt like 5 minutes of waiting, I left. Across the street was a Greek restaurant with tables under patio umbrellas, a way to keep my bike in sight while eating, and actual waitstaff. I had a great meal with fine conversation: at the next table was a couple who asked questions about my bike. When I told them that I had switched from a pedal-only to an ebike, one said “you should get a motorcycle!” We traded stories of riding through the twisties in North Carolina, he on his Harley and me (back in the day) on a BMW.

Dessert was chocolate baklava ice cream. I couldn’t finish it all, but it was wonderful.

On the way back to Rochester, I stopped at that trailside REI. When I didn’t find a place I felt secure chaining the bike, I just brought it inside with me. No one blinked – I must not have been the first.

By the time I got back to the hotel, it was around four in the afternoon. The 39.9 miles I had done in the heat, followed by too much good food, made it feel like naptime. Still, I was able to get myself moving again in time for another evening at the jazz festival. This time, I didn’t listen to the headliners at the biggest outdoor stage. Instead I had an evening of big band music, first with the New Horizons band and then, after their set ended and I got dinner at a food cart, the Rochester Metro Jazz Orchestra. Some of the crowd started swing dancing, and a lovely time was had by all.



The New Horizons band plays a Glen Miller tune.

Spontaneous swing dancing during the RMJO set
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Old 07-02-22, 12:53 PM
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A comment on trail etiquette

The canal trail was posted with signs, every so often, reminding cyclists to yield to pedestrians. But it’s also important to remember the general rule that faster and more maneuverable trail users should yield to slower ones:




About 4 seconds after this picture was taken, I heard bike bells ringing from behind me, coming up fast. Ding ding! Ding ding! as voices yelled “Passing!” and “On your left – right – passing!” Two lycra-clad cyclists on carbon-frame drop-bar bikes came whipping around on my left, and then threaded between the two recumbent bikes, around the truck, and on towards the horizon.

Two observations: 1) if your bike doesn’t have working brakes, get them repaired before riding; and 2) the public parks on the canal trail are not, IMO, places to try to get your best Strava time.
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Old 07-03-22, 11:25 AM
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Not a botanist but my guess on the fuzzy white stuff is what comes out of cottonwood trees and blows around all over the place this time of year.
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Old 07-10-22, 01:59 PM
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Day 5: Lake Ontario and thunderstorms, 23.7 miles

On my last full day in Rochester, the forecast called for afternoon thunderstorms and my work schedule called for a Zoom call at 1 pm. Yes, I was on vacation, but I hadn’t been able to find a substitute for leading an on-line review session for a class I was teaching. A short ride was in the cards for the day – and I was about nine miles from Lake Ontario. A few years ago, I had gotten my tires wet in the Atlantic Ocean (in Maine) and the Pacific (in Washington – not on the same trip!). Those took care of the eastern and western watery borders of the lower 48. A trip to an actual Great Lake, not merely a canal, was clearly the next step.

According to the map of the Genesee Riverway Trail I found online, and several RidesWithGPS routes, it should have been easy to follow: cross from the west bank of the river to the east bank at Upper Falls Blvd, cross back on a no-cars-allowed bridge, then ride through city parks along the river to the lake. That’s what should have happened. Allow me to make a heartfelt request to city planners, parks departments, and traffic groups across the country: if you have a bike path that is a tourist destination in and of itself (like the Erie Canal Trail/Genesee River Trail combo in New York State, or the Route Verte in Québec), and you need to shut down part of that path for some reason, please put up a detour sign! The no-cars-allowed bridge was closed with a gate that blocked off everything but the intent-looking construction crew behind it. So I managed to get a good view of the High Falls from the first bridge; but I was too worried about my route and about car traffic when I crossed back to admire any scenery.


The Upper Falls in Rochester

By the time reached the north side of Rochester and found myself downstream of two waterfalls, the pathway was sometimes on the road, and sometimes in parkland. I rode past a cemetery, back into another park, and tried to follow the signage. Without enough trees to block by GPS signal, navigation was a bit dodgy. What was clear that I had reached a major shipping channel. No more kayaks or canal boats – or at least, any small vessels on the water would need to think about large ships, the same way that I would need to worry about 18 wheelers if I decided to ride along an interstate instead of a bike path. The ships were BIG.




The working pier was BIG. The water stretched to the horizon.



The nineteenth-century lighthouse was decorative and historical, no longer a vital piece of maritime infrastructure.



Like lighthouses, but not a hermit? You can rent an apartment in this one!

Still, there was enough support for pleasure craft that I was able to find a small boat launch that I could ride down, wetting my tire in Lake Ontario.



A marina for smaller vessels



Atlantic, Pacific, and now Great Lakes! Next stop -- Gulf of Mexico?



Celebrating under a lakeside gazebo. Douglas and I left when we realized that the biting flies had gotten there first.


The ride back to the hotel had fewer unexpected twists and turns. I was able to stay closer to the Genesee, which meant that instead of riding back along busy Lake Avenue I followed the trail onto a boardwalk built across a marsh full of cattails. I stopped to just look at the view and seal it into my memory. Now, writing this, I’m sorry that I didn’t grab a picture.

Knowing that the trail bridge was closed, I almost retraced my steps to cross the river. Some retained spirit of adventure, though, had me ride as close to the blockage as I could get. I rode past the street bridge, continued south along the trail, looked to my left – and grabbed my brakes, hard. What in the world?



What the??

Public art? Stonehenge on a budget?



No, the sarsens at Stonehenge are weathered, but mostly undecorated. These four cement pillars are covered in faces and hands.



Not just any faces and hands -- faces and hands of children in the community when this was made.

And in the center sits a piece of polished black granite, engraved with the words “SEAT OF FORGETTING AND REMEMBERING”.




No, in case you’re wondering, I did not walk between the uprights, enter the space, and sit on the center stone. The hairs on the back of my neck were up, my weirdness detector was somewhere between “uncanny” and “eldritch”, and – would you look at the time, I need to get back to the hotel for that Zoom class!



The sky opened later in the afternoon, but music got back on track around 6 pm. My highlight of the evening was a performer I had never heard before, Sy Smith. When her time on stage wrapped up, so did my time at the Jazz Festival: I bought two CDs and headed back to the hotel. (
) It had been a wonderful visit, but the next morning I'd be loading my bike into a rented pickup and driving back to Philly.

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