Wednesday 17th to Friday 19th August – Stages 83 to 85.
Wednesday 17th August – Niagara Falls to Brockport (Stage 83).
After yesterday’s amazing morning at Niagara Falls, we were back on the road, cycling again by 9am this morning. We took the Military Road north, stopping briefly at Reservoir State Park. Although we were more than 5 miles from Niagara Falls, the mist was still very much visible in the background. The State Park is a favourite with locals because of its many uses – tennis, roller hockey & basketball courts, softball diamonds combine with kite flying, model aircraft clubs, football & golf. The reservoir also has excellent fishing if that’s your thing.
We took a right turn as we reached Upper Mountain Road & headed East towards the Tuscarora Indian Nation on gently rolling terrain. The route took us past a historical marker which identified the home of Martha & Thomas Root. They were abolitionists who helped many slaves escape to freedom, via the Underground Railroad.
The term “Underground Railroad” was first used in 1831 & was used to describe an escape network of secret routes & safe houses used by enslaved African Americans. The escape routes were likened to railroads & people used the same terminology – for example a conductor was someone who served as a guide to an escapee, while a station was a hiding place (most likely in a private house, church or school).
Many escapees journeyed all the way to Canada, as the USA’s own Fugitive Slave Laws meant fugitives needed to leave the USA to be safe. Canada had no slavery & didn’t allow slave catchers onto their land.
Lockport to Niagara remains one of the most difficult stretches of road I’ve ever ridden. We cycled into a headwind for about 20 miles in 2007 & I remember being in the easiest gear I had available & we struggled to maintain 8 miles per hour – it makes me shudder just thinking about it!! It remains my gauge for how strong a headwind really is & to this day I’ve not ridden in more challenging conditions. Funnily enough, Sean had similar memories!!
We arrived at Lockport after 24 miles & found Carson’s Deli & Bakery where we topped up our calories & water levels. I had mapped a route which would follow the small roads if necessary, but we agreed we would try the Erie Canal Trail first, as a few people had said it was better than the road option.
The Erie Canal is no longer used to transport freight, but it remains open for recreational boating, as well as cruises up & down the canal. We joined the Empire State Trail (which runs alongside the canal) in Lockport & stayed on it all the way to tonight’s stop at Brockport!
The trail is mostly crushed limestone with occasional stretches of gravel & tarmac. When we attempted to ride this surface back in 2007 (in the opposite direction), we decided it was too difficult for us. Fast forward to 2022 & we cycled on it for about 40 miles today, with more planned tomorrow!!
While we were on the trail we saw the canal being used by a large barge which was taking people on a cruise, a small boat with just a couple of people on board, a paddleboarder & a gaggle of geese who were practicing their synchronised swimming.
As we reached the outskirts of each town, they had defences in place (should they be needed), to ensure the town was protected from flooding. There were also different bridge designs & colours – the drawbridges in town were just above the river, but could be moved to enable boats to pass & each one had the town’s name on a sign. Pedestrian bridges were the same colour as the drawbridges, but you had to climb the steps to get over them. Roads outside of town were higher again & painted either grey or green, depending on the classification of the road.
We reached the northernmost point of the Erie Canal, which was good news, as the light wind was blowing from the North. We had the trail to ourselves by now & stopped to admire the view & take a couple of photos. The crops also switched from fields of maize & soya being harvested by big combine harvesters to orchards of apples
We stopped at The Coffee Joint in Albion, where the cake of choice today was an apple turnover & the drink was a salted caramel latte – the perfect pick-me-up for the final 20 miles into Brockport!
There were signs along the length of the trail, giving information on the canal & I’ve included one, so you can see the attention to detail that goes into them.
We left the trail on the edge of Brockport & made our way to our motel for the evening & once we’d checked in, it was time to do the laundry (again!). Laundry is a task to be endured, so it always feels like we’ve worked extra hard for our celebratory beer & today was no exception! We cycled down to The Custom House, where we enjoyed a couple of The Kind IPA’s each & had a delicious vegetable pasta.
Stage Stats – 69 miles, 469 feet of climbing (pan flat!). A glorious day exploring the Erie Canal Trail!
Thursday 18th August – Brockport to Wolcott (Stage 84).
We were on the road by 9am & back on the Erie Canal Trail by 9.10! You may be able to make out the Brockport sign below the 3 flags (New York State flag, United States flag & New York State Canal Corporation flag) that are on all the town bridges.
We headed East all morning (which made taking photos a challenge, looking into the sun) & remained on crushed limestone as we made our way towards Spencerport initially. When we cycled from Albany to Niagara Falls in 2007, we cycled on the road in the 3rd photo, but were heading in the opposite direction – the world sometimes feels very small!
Construction of the 363 mile long Erie Canal commenced in 1817 & was completed in 1825. It was 40 feet wide by 4 feet deep & each of its 83 locks were 90 feet in length. The canal cost $7,143,789 at the time & it took 10 years to make a return on that investment. The journey from Albany to Buffalo by stagecoach took 2 weeks, whereas the same journey took 5 days on the Erie Canal. It was also the first navigable water way to connect the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.
Today, the canal is 120 to 200 feet wide by 12 to 23 feet deep & it has 57 locks, each of which are 310 feet long. As we made our way past Adams Basin & Spencerport the variations in width were obvious to the naked eye. The bridges were always located at narrow crossing points.
We saw a couple of boats out this morning & the geese were again perfecting their synchronised swimming – they left their offspring in the shallows while the adults were on manoeuvres!
As we reached North Gates the woodland closed in on the cycle path & we were plunged into shadow. This was where we had to temporarily leave the trail for a couple of miles. This surprised both of us, but I managed to navigate us back to the canal & trail a few miles further on – this enabled us to avoid Rochester (a city with a population of 200,000 plus) & its busy roads .
The trail was now tarmac, which was smoother & as a consequence, faster. At times we headed into parkland, but the canal was never far away & at one point we saw a large barge with its dredging bucket on the front. We headed off in different directions, but bumped into each other again further along the canal (see the 4th photo) – we crossed the canal on the small, white arched bridge behind the boat, where it met the Genesee River.
We continued through quiet parkland & then popped back out onto the bank of the Erie Canal, with the main freeway on the opposite bank. The trail was almost deserted at this point, as we made our way towards Brighton & Lock 33, which is still in use.
There was a heron fishing for a late breakfast / early lunch on the edge of the canal – this was the last of the wildlife we saw on the canal, but we had more surprises waiting for us around the corner & under the bridge. A passenger carrying paddle steamer passed us, travelling in the opposite direction & a few miles after that treat it was time for cappuccino & a coconut scone!
Soon after coffee we joined the road network again & there wasn’t much new scenery to see in the final 40 miles of the ride. We had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon riding on quiet roads, it’s just that they were all the same as each other! We had a few minutes of respite when we passed between orchards of apples.
We had our first look at Lake Ontario about 5 miles before the end of the ride & it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Sodus Bay was covered in a combination of water plants & green algae! The final run into Wolcott included a few short, sharp climbs & they were always visible from some way away.
Wolcott is a small community & it had some neat graffiti welcoming us to town. We dropped off our kit, checked into our camping cabin & then headed back into town to get dinner – tonight we had take out pizza that we ate in the shop!!! We then cycled back to Orchard Creek & had a relaxing evening before beginning tomorrow’s next adventure.
Stage Stats – 78 miles, 1,581 feet of climbing. A morning spent discovering the Empire State Trail in all its guises & an afternoon following a long road!
Friday 19th August – Wolcott to Pulaski (Stage 85).
As we left Wolcott, we joined a small & quiet two-lane road that took us through woodland, then through a variety of different crops, from orchards, to maize & soya plants – it was like being back in Wisconsin or Indiana again!
As we reached Fairhaven I got the view of Lake Ontario I had been expecting yesterday! Calm, clear blue water in a picture postcard marina – we were lucky to see it with a clear blue sky, which added to the view.
Lake Ontario is surrounded by one US State (New York) & one Canadian Province (Ontario) & the border between the two countries passes through the middle of the lake. It’s the only Great Lake not to border the US State of Michigan.
At 193 miles long by 53 miles wide, it’s the smallest of the 5 Great Lakes when measured by surface area at 7,340 square miles (but still the 13th largest in the world) – for comparison, Lake Superior is the largest at 31,700 square miles! Lake Ontario is 243 feet above sea level & has a maximum depth of 802 feet, so the bottom of the lake is more than 550 feet below sea level!!
Lake Ontario is the final lake before the Great Lakes Chain empties into the Atlantic Ocean via the St Lawrence River. The river is 310 miles in length & passes through the Canadian cities of Montreal & Quebec City before releasing its water into the Atlantic.
The St Lawrence Seaway enables oceangoing vessels to travel from the Atlantic Ocean all the way across the 5 Great Lakes to Duluth, Minnesota, 1,500 miles west of the Atlantic.
The Great Lakes hold 21% of the worlds surface freshwater by volume (1 pint in every 5) & 84% of the surface freshwater in the USA!
We left Fair Haven behind as we continued on our way east. We remained on empty back roads, passing through the town of Hannibal on the way – there was no sign of the man himself, nor of his adversaries Will & Clarice. We remained hopeful he hadn’t captured a census taker & eaten them with fava beans, then washed them down with a nice chianti!!
As we reached the town of Fulton, we entered a National Heritage Corridor for the Erie Canalway. Our route took us over the canal itself, where I spotted some herons looking for an early lunch. Just beyond the drainage basin we passed over the lock that enables boats to navigate past the shallows of the Oswego River.
We had one final & unexpected treat before reaching Kathy’s Cakes & Big Dipper Ice Creams for our coffee stop in Volney. Neatahwanta translates from Iroquois as “The little lake by the big lake” & is a favoured hunting ground for osprey, although they were elsewhere today. The “imperfection” in the bottom left of the first photo is a toxic blue-green algae that can cause liver damage in humans & kill pets, although many fish thrive in the lake.
After coffee we returned to familiar scenery, as we again entered farming country. The quiet roads continued along Route 6, taking us past small ponds & onwards towards New Haven, where we joined a busier tourist route.
As we reached the village of Port Ontario we stopped to take our last look at Lake Ontario & say goodbye to the Great Lakes for the final time on this adventure. We were only a couple of miles from Pulaski, where we’re staying for the next couple of nights – someone had even painted a big Welcome to Pulaski sign to make us feel at home!!!
Somehow today was yet another laundry day, so we checked into our Super 8 motel, then found the nearest laundromat & got the washing out of the way, so we could relax. Once that was done, we went to Stefano’s for dinner & toasted another 3 days of glorious adventure riding!
Stage Stats – 56 miles, 2,831 feet of climbing. A couple of brief glimpses of Lake Ontario as we head into our next rest day.