Monday, August 16, 2010

"Low Bridge!" But I'm Not Down

I wake up to a brilliant morning, blue skies and sunshine but I'm slow. I had a good sleep, it was one of those times where you wake up early in the morning and then have a second sleep after which seems better than the first. I'm glad i'm indoors as last night there were flashes of lightning and bouts of rain as I tucked in.

On advice from a local I back track using the busy main road, stopping by the Denny's along the way for breakfast. I must have given them quite a show, crossing the four-lane road and then taking up a full parking spot. A few of the patrons coming out of the restaurant inspected my stuff and asked questions. An old man, somewhat concerned with my oddity said "I hope people are good to you" and I assured him, "Yes, sometimes more than I deserve." It is funny though, how people approach a sense of adventure; some appreciate it even if it is not theirs; others don't and consider those that do foolish.

Well, the advice I got regarding a good place to put in ended up being foolish, a 10 kilometre detour along the busy highway for nothing. There was actually a boat ramp in town, just a few hundred metres from the bridges and locks I wanted to paddle! One bridge is unnecessarily wide that it actually supports what could  be an interesting town plaza but is unfortunately used for parking.

(the grating sound in the video is my lifejacket rubbing against the chest-mounted camera)

A tour boat comes out of the lock not long after I get to the gate. I paddle in and the lock master tells me I have to wait for the tour boat to turn around and come back in about 20 minutes, as it is a set of two locks which take time to operate. In the meantime he hands me copious amounts of information with the phone numbers of all the locks and lift gates. He wonders if I am able to slip through the low bridges with my bike sticking up.

I roast in the lock chamber reading and the tour boat returns full of curious people and I'm in the firing line of questions echoing across the emptying lock chambers. I try to answer them all, and after I mention it's probably going to take me ten days to get to Albany one woman asks, "Doesn't it get lonely?" "No," I say, flashing her my best smile, "I meet a lot of nice people like you." I think I made her blush. The tour boat motors out of the second lock and I find my own pace. I see them again 20 minutes as they turn back towards town, everyone waving and wishing me well.

Nice strong tail breeze as I paddle along the canal. It is built like a railroad, where the high parts are trenched and the low parts are built up. From the canal, sometimes all I see are the tops of trees and houses that are lower than the water or even the bottom of the canal. Cyclists riding the towpath wave and occasionally chat a bit which is fun. I am liking this departure from my regular cycling trips, as it resets the often unfair expectations I have of myself, like the feeling of under-achievement if I do less than 100 kms/60 miles a day. It's a relief that on this trip I can escape terms like "doing a century" that seem to pepper cycle speak.

Paddler's view of a cyclist on the tow path. Hi, Paul!

I looks like I can fit though the unraised low bridges with ease, albeit sometimes ducking my head slightly just in case. Even raised the bridges are still relatively low, and in the old days people on deck had to bend down, as the captain shouted "Low Bridge!" It is fun reliving that in my own way, so I call out the same words as I sneak under just for fun.

Into Middleport, paddling gets a little tiring and I want to try cycling on the stone dust towpath. I take out along the rocky canal bank slippery with algae. Cool, this is how the canal looks from up here, looking at the road beside being much lower. It reminds me of the dikes in Holland that hold back the sea. Most of the towpath is well maintained, and really neat to see the dam-like structure that holds up the canal as it goes through Medina.

sooner or later there had to be a shadow photo :)

I get into Albion and I find out there is no camping there. After speaking to the bridge keeper, I found out having a boat opens a magic door unknown to most cyclists. He lets me camp by the moored boats, and gives me the pass code for the toilet and shower. While the towpaths are set up by the parks department (no money), the canal system is run as a subsidiary of the NY Thruway (mega money) which ensures its survival.

Another great day, one of those summer days that seems to stretch on.


  1. Hi Glenn! This is Paul. I chatted with you just outside Gasport. I was on my bike and you were asking if Middleport had a boat ramp. I hope you had the wind at your back the rest of the day.

    Your blog-site is terrific! I will keep track of your trip through your blog postings. Have a great time and good luck!

  2. Hi Paul, thanks for the encouraging words. I had meant to upload your photo earlier but the wifi at albion was really weak. I just took out among some rocks where the towpath was low, not knowing it was not that far to a proper boat ramp!