Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Come Hill or High Water

I get the bad news early in the morning. Bernie says things are worse than everyone thought and the canal will remain closed, possibly into the weekend. I am peeved as I am missing out on one of the most scenic parts of the waterway. Somehow I am determined to do a bit of paddling today no matter what.

I have a quick breakfast at a gas station store and then head off to the trail to Lock 15 to get the straight goods. I get there and I witness first hand why the canal had been closed. Entire trees were lodged into the lift gate dams and workers were busy removing them. I don't even try to look for the lock master, knowing he's probably busy with this job.

I continue on the path past the next lock, since I was told Canajoharie had really high walls and it is vey difficult to put in there. In the town itself, I pass the weird traffic light in the middle of the intersection and checked with tourist information if there was a good place to put in. There is a proper boat ramp, but it is ankle deep in muddy silt from the flood. I chat with some engineers doing some inspection on a new bridge who were intrigued with the convertible rig. I get everything packed int the boat, but end up smearing mud on everything.

This part of the Mohawk River valley between Canajoharie and Amsterdam cuts a notch through the foothills of the Adirondack mountains. Without this natural gap, building the Erie canal would not have been possible. With the glacier-gouged Hudson Valley (actually a fjord) already slicing through the Catskills, this route formed the easiest way though the Appalachians and into the vast American interior. The tightest part of the Mohawk valley is defined by two protrusions aptly named Little Nose and Big Nose. Everything is crammed between the Noses: The Mohawk River/Erie Canal, the NY Central railway, the Interstate/Thruway, two state highways and the bike path (an old railway bed). Despite that, from the water the valley still looks relatively lush, and with a stretch of the imagination could still pass for one of the scenes from the Hudson River School of painters.

Downstream view of the Noses, looks nice except for the billboard
up on a hill advertising a hotel right smack in the centre.
Stick it in your 'ear, Holiday Inn

Upstream view, Big Nose on the right

I can't find the creek that a local told me was the best place to turn and take out, and I start drifting towards Lock 13, which alarmingly had most of the lift gates in its dam open without much room to manoeuver before risking being swept into the fast current. I nervously stick close to shore and thankfully there is a rocky slope on which to take out just before the lock walls.

Lock 13 was a mess, it had caked mud all over it. From the looks of it, the river had flowed right over its lock gates. There was a houseboat moored inside the lock, and the family was just getting back from being evacuated. I chat with them for a bit, and then find a weary old lock master who was due to retire in two days. I pull out the kayak and I borrow a hose to wash off some of the mud on the boat, the bike and me.

Happy I was able to paddle through the Noses, I set off for the bike path which had some good long sections of pavement. It was getting dark by the time I approached Amsterdam, made worse by the cloudy skies. The bridge crossing into town seems too busy to take my rig on in the dim light, so I ask a local how to find the sidewalk entrance. The switchback turn on the other side is a big problem, and I have to unhitch the kayak and dismantle the yoke just to get through.

Amsterdam NY is one of those faded canal towns. From the looks of its old buildings it was once a bustling place. A huge portion of its population is now of Puerto Rican descent, and I've heard it referred to as "Amsterico". I stop a guy to ask if there was a motel or hotel near by and the gives me instructions how to get to one in a cool distinctive latino accent.

Awesome, they let me park the rig under the entrance portico. I shower off the rest of the mud remaining on me and get some Indian food for dinner, at a restaurant coincidentally called Monsoon.

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