19 Miles on the Erie Canal


Well well, here we are, the last ‘activity’ based post about our five week trip. It’s a sad moment.

Our last weekend on the trip was spent doing two main things, moving campsites, and hanging out on the Erie Canal. We were originally scheduled to leave our current campground on Friday, however since the kids were enjoying it so much we decided to extend our stay right up to the point we had planned to head home. This was fine with the campground of course, however, we had to move to a different spot since our spot had already been reserved past the point of our original departure date.

Moving the RV is a somewhat consuming process. Every thing on the inside needs to be secured, dining chairs bungeed, hanging plants pulled down and secured, etc. The outside setup has to be torn down, so that means the camp mat, the four anti-gravity chairs, a small side table, the grill, and on and on. Once all that stuff is done the bikes typically need loaded into the camper and secured (though thankfully we were able to skip this step for the site relocation as we just rode the bikes to the new spot). Then if that all wasn’t enough, it’s time for the utilities; draining the holding tanks, disconnecting the sewer line, and then pulling the water and electrical hookups. Finally is the process of hitching the truck up, which has got quicker given the practice we’ve had on this trip. All this to say that since we knew we were moving sites on Saturday we didn’t plan anything else other then a short grocery run.

Sunday was another early start for us, given our location in NY we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out the Erie Canal. Though it was about an hour and a half of driving from our current spot the ride would take us onto new roads which meant new sights. We connected with the canal near Palmyra NY. A quaint town that was getting ready for it’s famous pirate weekend! Despite some digging we haven’t found that much information to really understand why this town along the Erie canal spends a weekend every year dressing up like pirates but hey, it sounds like good fun! One interesting thing we did find is that Palmyra is actually the birthplace of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. The movements founder, Joseph Smith, lived on a farm in the area and in 1830 the Book of Mormon was initially published right there in Palmyra.

The Erie canal first opened in 1825 as a means of transporting goods further into the expanding United States territory. It is not a single channel, in fact at parts, the canal is almost a dot to dot line, connecting numerous small lakes and other water ways. This allowed for less digging since some existing water ways were able to be incorporated into the canal system. The canal system has seen two main enlargement projects to better accommodate larger vessels, the most recent in 1918. In it’s current form the canal system stretches for over 500 miles and through a series of 36 locks sees an elevation change of 571 feet.

Located along the canal for almost the entire length is a tow path trail, originally used by animal teams led by boys which were used to pull barges along the trail. Today this path is used for hiking and biking and extends from Albany to Buffalo.

We started out near Lock 29 on our bikes heading west. The trail is mostly crushed gravel and is very level with the exception of the occasional ramp up for road crossings so it make for easy riding. Part way into our ride we came up to Lock 30. We spent a good deal of time looking at the lock and explaining how it operated to the kids. The gear system for the doors was exposed and we had the opportunity to see how through different sized gears it translated the speed of the electric motor into slower, but stronger force to open the lock doors. That lesson was then directly applied to the way the gears work on our bikes so that the kids have a better understanding of what they are doing as they change gears.

Just as we were about to leave the lock we heard over a speaker a radio call from a boat heading up the canal requesting passage through the lock. As you can imagine, we had to take advantage of that. Though I completely blanked out on taking pictures, we were all able to watch as a private motor boat came into the lock and was raised up 16 feet to continue west along the canal.

After that spectacle we continued on with our ride. We put in a some what shorter then normal ride of only 12 miles. This day, however, was meant as a double header, there was kayaking yet to do!

After the ride we grabbed a quick lunch and stopped at a ‘cute’ antique shop to browse. Done with that, we headed just east of Palmyra to a boat launch in a lake section of the canal. We setup the kayaks and got in the water just as the wake from a motor boat hit the shore causing a surprising large amount of waves. We paddled eastward along the canal through the town of Newark until we hit Lock 28 at which point we turned around. Though the kayaking turned out to be a bit uneventful from a technical standpoint, the thrill of being on the historical waterway was a source of great enjoyment. We covered about 6 miles on the water, thus our 19 mile day on the Erie Canal.

We all had a blast, though were understandably worn out by the end of the day. I suspect an additional weight on all of us at the time was knowing that this was it, the last real adventure of the trip.

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