With a penchant for history-rich cycling adventures and a desire to visit another part of the wonderful Empire State Trail system, my husband and I opted to ride the Erie Canal Trail route in May, avoiding the busy season. We left our vehicle in Albany, NY, and made an easy Amtrak transfer to Buffalo with bikes and camping gear in tow for our big trip.
Spring was in full bloom on the Erie Canal Trail in every sense: wild honeysuckle, knee-high buttercups, pink and white trillium trailside, acres as far as the eye could see of apple trees in white splendor, even heady lilacs from properties edging the path. We encountered young families of Canadian geese and rode single file to keep the ganders with chirping, fuzzy young, from any dangers while protective adults honked at us alarmingly with open mouths. I initially feared for my ankles but eventually laughed—the geese provided welcomed entertainment on our route.
Over the next seven days, we pedaled on predominantly smooth, stone dust surfaces, alternating with paved sections, and followed former rail lines and towpaths, and a handful of diversions on roads. We had allotted more days to finish but averaged 50-mile days to avoid a forecasted, unchanging, rainy day. At the end of it, we were lucky to have not encountered any rain at all. Impressively, there is no shortage of Erie Canal and/or Empire State Trail signage to guide you on the 350-mile route—it would be hard to get lost.
As we learned from historical signs, the Erie Canal’s initial purpose was to move grain from central New York to the Port of New York. An engineering marvel when it was first constructed, some called this great canal the Eighth Wonder of the World. The fascinating part—at least for history buffs like me—the canal was so successful that the waterway had to be enlarged or rebuilt wider with some sections abandoned, as boat traffic increased.
From the bike seat, we pedaled along three diverse segments: from stone dust track along the narrow section with herons and turtles in the algae-covered swamps, to dry or wet 60-foot wider segments, to the 120-foot wide, present-day navigable canal with locks, picnic tables, camping spots, and water spigots to delight in, as well as tie-ups for boaters.
With temperatures ranging from 35-75F, versatile clothing was key to keeping warm with limited pannier space. My two favorite Terry items—I wore them daily—were the Hybrid Jacket and Thermal Full Zip Long Sleeve Jersey. Both were lightweight to carry, rolled up small, could easily be packed, and provided a great warmth-to-weight ratio.
This was my first long-distance journey in ten years. My new touring bike handled the miles with aplomb but could use a different saddle. Luckily, I know just where to find one! Overall I learned some history and got to tour again with my favorite partner. I’m excited for a similar journey in July. This time I aim to ride fewer miles per day and eat more ice cream!