Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Genesee Quoi

To avoid surprising pedestrians or other cyclists when I pass them from behind, I have taken the habit of saying, "On your left, long load." After overtaking them I would hear something to the effect of "Whoa", then a laugh as they realize I was telling the truth. To the quizzical look I get from the oncoming traffic I say, "It's a towpath, after all"

I wake up to another nice morning, early this time, with heavy dew clinging to the tent and all the stuff I had left outside. I search out a place to have breakfast within walking distance, but Albion is one of the sadder cases when it comes to the fate of canal towns after the commercial demise of the waterway. It has beautiful buildings from the mid 1800s — one of them even included a third floor "opera house", an investment to what must have been unbridled optimism back then. Yet now the main street storefronts are mostly dark and empty, a dingy collection of used appliances decorates a window more ornate than its contents. The coffee shop is only open from 10 am to 3 pm — that's about the time I don't need coffee anymore.

So I do what everybody in town does and towed my rig up ten blocks past the stone church and old homes, to the busy highway lined with big box stores and fast food joints, some of which are open 24 hours. It's bland, "anywhere North America". It's obvious that the old saying, "Location, location, location" has been replaced by "Parking, parking, parking". I remember overhearing one guy in Lockport lamenting that there used to be a tavern or convenience store in every corner in town, now they're all gone because of the Walmarts. What makes people vote with their wallets and not their hearts, anyway?

I see a Tim Horton's and said what the heck, breakfast with the familiar taste of home. I'm good to go after a "large double-double" (except I didn't say that just in case they look at me funny) and a breakfast sandwich.So far, I had been paddling in the mornings so I decide to switch it up today until I get past the urban sprawl of Rochester.

Brockport is the on the happy side of fate, its main street lined with mom-and-pop stores. I grab a panini for lunch at a funky coffee shop and take it back by the water. The guys at the Welcome Center are very friendly and I have a lengthy chat with them, first about the history of the town, then about the parallel American and Canadian canal systems. I become self-conscious of my rounded Canadian accent, pronouncing locks as 'lohks' compared to 'lahks'

Nearby Spencerport was also quaint and vibrant, and I stop for an exquisite frozen custard cone to beat the heat. At the lift bridge mooring area, I meet Janet, Don, Pam and Bob who were travelling along the canal on a rented houseboat. They invite me to sit with them in the picnic shelter, and had a nice long chat.

I'm glad as I cycle through the outskirts of Rochester. The canal here is a deep trench, and would have meant paddling a good while to find a place to put in and take out. Where the canal meets the Genesee river is picturesque, forming a perfect 'X' with almost symmetrical bridges on each leg. I get lost in the maze of crossings, but found the right combination after asking around.

At the nice town of Fairport I decide it's time to get in some paddling quota. I come across a canoe and kayak rental which had a perfect launching spot. I would have chatted more with the guys there, but after doing the conversion the sun was starting to get low on the horizon. Too much talking with people today, now get paddling!

I reach swampy Macedon at dusk, mosquitoes swarming as I get out of the boat. I am disappointed there are no showers in the lock station's camping area, as I am a sticky and stinky mess, a melange of sweat and sunblock. The fire station is just across from the lock so I go over to plead to use their shower. As luck would have it, I had passed the fire department's boat earlier and waved to them, so when I walked in the chief recognized me."Sure," he says after I asked " 'cause we're that kinda guys." 

I feel human again after the hot shower, but super famished. The only thing in the village is a gas station convenience store. I practically inhale two packaged sandwiches, a 24 oz can of beer and a Twix bar. I crawl into the tent, and suddenly the simple joy of being clean and full is beyond description.

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