Check

Finished
Thirty-five days into our trip found us where the Erie Canal flows into the Hudson River.

Tuesday afternoon, once we completed our end-to-end walk of the Erie Canal, I again wished Leah a happy birthday.

 

It’s something I had done every day for the past five weeks. Sometimes it came when we were struggling with some aspect of our trek. Sometimes when things were going giddily well.

By Jennifer Embt
This is how it began on May 4 as we started next to the Niagara River. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Embt.

“Happy birthday.”

 

“Thank you.”

More than two years ago, when Leah gave me permission to do something big for my 60th birthday, I chose a trip to South Africa and we managed to throw in a transatlantic cruise on the return trip.

With such a precedent, she was surely authorized to come up with something wild and crazy for her 60th. She decided on a long hike.

Initially, she was looking at the Lone Star Hiking Trail, some 100 miles long in the Sam Houston National Forest. The thought was we would park our RV in the area and use both vehicles each day to get to and from trailheads. It would happen late this year, shortly before her birthday.

Then, last summer, we fell in love with the story of the Erie Canal, learned there was a trail pretty much following the canal and started making plans.

Along the way, as we met many people – from innkeepers to restaurant workers to people we passed on the trail – she told them, this is my 60th birthday present. Yeah, it sometimes brought strange looks.

Now it’s done. Early on, we had good reasons to suspect we might not be able to complete the walk. At the end, it’s strange to think we won’t be walking 10-12 miles today or tomorrow.

We hope you’ve enjoyed traveling with us. We’ve tossed out bits of advice for those who might be considering such a trip. Soon, I plan to add a page more directly addressing these topics. If you want to pick our brains about anything related to our trip, leave a comment here.

More images on the photos page.

Leah’s notes

Tuesday’s journey started by the hotel near the airport. The trailhead is actually a short distance from there. So the trail was in a green belt area that used to be the Erie Canal.

Now, the canal runs through the Mohawk River then goes north to bypass the Cohoes Falls. The falls are amazing. You should put them on your list of things to see in New York. In fact, even if you don’t want to walk the Erie Canal, most of the places we’ve seen can be visited by car.

We picnicked at the falls overlook and then strolled through the village of Cohoes. Neat historical buildings and markers. Even one place where you could (supposedly) look through a pipe to see where the old Erie Canal lock was under the street. It wasn’t working right, but cool idea.

Across the street was an old mill. Huge old mill for cotton and textiles. It had been converted into “the Lofts at Harmony Mills.” Very classy and expensive.

Not much further, across a bridge, we made it to Waterford, the oldest incorporated (1794) village in New York State. This is where the Champlain canal and Erie barge canal empty into the Hudson River. Wow!!

Along the harbor, there was a brick map of the Erie Canal. We literally walked down memory lane as we remembered all the towns we’d been through as we walked over them on the map.

Then there it was – the Hudson River. We did it, walking from the Niagara to the Hudson.

But where were the marching bands and cheering crowds??

Something old …

IMG_1398Leah’s notes

Today, we chose a path through the city and suburbs rather than the bike path in the green belt area.

We have very little city experience, but riding the train into Schenectady Sunday made us realize there were some really cool things about a city and maybe we need to work on our city smarts.

So we started smack dab in the middle of old Schenectady (note the photo above of the city hall … and that’s the back!). So many of the old houses all over New York have been fixed up for all sorts of uses: cafés, law offices, duplexes, rooming houses, shops, B&Bs.

house to cafe
This old house has been converted to a café.

That’s not just in Schenectady but all over the areas we’ve walked.

 

If you want a big ol’ three-story, seven-bedroom house, I can tell you where to find a few. They really have been perfect for B&Bs because the owners can use the front rooms for guests and the old servants’ quarters for their private area. Some of the folks get really creative with the spaces.

Well, back to our city walk. It was all sidewalk through Schenectady and it’s suburbs but the area changed – from old downtown, worn-out edge of town, historic area, 1920-1940s suburb houses, spread out estates and then to where we are, all new stuff.

We watched the buses run back and forth and realized if we decided to take trains on our next trip, we could ride the city buses where we wanted to visit.

Tuesday, by the way, is the last day of our walk.

Plan B

Aboard Amtrak
Aboard the train … out of the rain.

When they surveyed the original course for the Erie Canal almost 200 years ago, you know they picked the easiest route. So, it’s no surprise as time went on that other roads, including railroads, took advantage and built nearby.

 

For example, I have no idea how many times our path has used State Highway 5, or crossed it. We’ve also walked under and over Interstate 90 a number of times. In addition, we’ve seen many trains fly by on nearby tracks. At times, our trail has been hidden behind trees, but we could hear an approaching train as if it was coming down our path.

We’ve also seen numerous Amtrak trains and have waved to unseen passengers inside. In Texas, there are basically two Amtrak routes. The Sunset Limited travels east-and-west between New Orleans and Los Angeles. The Texas Eagle runs north-and-south between Chicago and San Antonio. Sightings of the passenger train are limited.

All of that is to explain how the idea for Sunday’s leg of our trip was planted in our brain.

Sunday was a 17-mile trek from Amsterdam to Schenectady, one we were dreading just a little because the 14-mile days we’ve had recently had really sapped us. And then the weather forecast came.

Midweek last week, they were already predicting a heavy rain on Sunday. We’ve learned to not put too much early emphasis on the forecasts, but this one held firm. So, I got the bright idea of checking the Amtrak routes. Sure enough, there were trains that stopped in Amsterdam en route to Schenectady.

Not as many trains ran on Sunday and, apparently, a rail construction project led them to temporarily suspend one run, so our earliest train was scheduled for 5:10 p.m. That gave us leeway on when to make a three-mile walk from our Super 8 to the depot and we were able to do that mid-morning between waves of storms; we only got rained on the last half-mile or so.

Of course, that left us more than five hours to wait in a small, unmanned depot. But, hey, there were chairs, a water fountain and a rest room. There were even electrical outlets so we could keep our phones charged.

The wisdom of our plan was confirmed while we waited. After a steady rain of two or three hours, it turned into a downpour, which we watched from inside. The train was delayed but only by an hour. We clambered aboard along with three other people.

Twenty minutes later … 20 minutes! … the train pulled into the station in Schenectady and we walked through a light rain three blocks to our hotel. We declared it a winning decision and it only cost $15 each.

Let me add one thing.

We gave the decision considerable consideration. After all, this is called “Walk the Erie Canal.”

However, we’ve stated all along that (1) we would not do anything stupid; (2) this is not a competition; and (3) we have nothing to prove.

It’s all about the experience and taking the train gave us a different opportunity. In fact, due to a prolonged visit in the depot with a rabid railroad fan, we thought we might want to plan a rail trip someday.

Why not?

Bridging history

Schoharie CrossingLeah’s notes

Today being Saturday, there were lots of folks out on the trail and canal. The weather was a little drier and cooler, too, so it was a very pleasant walk.

Along a road next to the trail near the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs, an Amish family had set up a table selling homemade goodies. Most definitely, Steve and I had to buy some homemade cookies!

The dad in the family was also a teacher and they had two boys helping out while mom sewed. She shared that they used to live in Ohio but liked it better in New York because it was less humid. They had the most patient horse in the world. And yes, the molasses cookies were melt-in-your-mouth good.

We finally got to the place on the canal I’ve been dying to see: the Schoharie Crossing. It is the last place you can see a good example of the aqueducts that carried the Erie Canal across streams.

It is also the only place you can find all three iterations of the canal in a relatively close area. Note to hikers and bicyclists: traveling down the trail from Fultonville, you turn the first time you see the sign Schoharie Crossing Historic Site visitor center, if you want to see the visitor center (which has a bathroom, tiny free museum, gift shop and sites of Fort Hunter), turn where it says to. There are no distance indicators but it isn’t a far walk.

After you visit the area, get back on the trail and go about three miles until you get to the second sign directing you to Yankee Hill park and historic site. You will see it and the barge canal from the trail. This is a neat place because you can see the current barge canal and the old canal locks side by side.

There is also a replica of an old canal store (has bathroom) and picnic tables. If you go to the Schoharie website, it shows a map that says you can take the old towpath trail to the Yankee Hill park, however, there is nothing on the ground to help you find directions or distance to match the online map.

All that being said, it’s worth the time to stop and see this spread out historic site. It meant so much to me after seeing the whole canal to see it all come together.

The aqueduct, even in ruins, is so amazing. Imagine building a bridge to carry water carrying boats, cargo, passengers and mules, all over a river!

Additionally, in 2011, there was a terrible flood that destroyed part of the historic area, but because of the flood they discovered the site of old Fort Hunter, commissioned by Queen Anne in the 1700s.

And on a completely different note, look up Amsterdam Castle, N.Y. We all need one of these.

 

A walk to ourselves

IMG_1366Leah’s notes

Spent a restful night at the Pineapple House B&B in Canajoharie with our hosts Bill and Janine. They’re retired school teachers, so we had lots to talk about. They are bicyclers and like to travel and are fun to talk to – and it doesn’t hurt that gourmet cooking is one of their hobbies.

The Pineapple House was the last B&B of our trip; we’re getting close to the end.

Friday’s walk was about 12 miles and very unusual in that we saw no other hikers or bicyclers the entire 12 miles. We were, however, passed by two horse-drawn buggies full of Amish teenagers. We all waved at each other as they sped by, obviously on an important errand.

Amazingly, although the trail was sandwiched between an interstate and a state highway, it was still a great hike. Tiny waterfalls dripped through black rocks covered in moss creating green stalactites. Cottonwood fluff filled the air so it looked like snow; purple phlox lined the trail and trees formed a canopy of shade.

However, traffic from the roads definitely drowned out the frogs and birds and us. We surprised several bunnies.

I realized I hadn’t mentioned facilities in a while. Since we left Syracuse, the trail has veered away from the barge canal and the Mohawk River and I was wondering where the towpath trail was. Then I went “duh” because by the time the canal was all enlarged and moved for the third time, boats had motors and mules weren’t needed.

The trail has lately followed I-90. The canal is out there nearby also, we just don’t see it, but we sure hear the I-90 traffic! The good news is that the trail is very well screened from roads and the trees and bushes have all leafed out fully.

Also the trail passes nearer to facilities in towns. Benches have been more frequent and the locks (which usually have a least a park or portable toilet) are closer together on this eastern section of the trail.

Good times

IMG_1362Following two exciting days, things slowed down Thursday, beginning with an uneventful 11-mile walk to Canajoharie.

Well, one might consider eventful that we stopped in Fort Plain for a couple of yummy fruit smoothies.

And I did capture the image above. Texas might have a lot of problems, but snowmobiling while intoxicated isn’t one of them.

We reached the Pineapple House Bed & Breakfast and found two friends with whom we were instantly able to be at home.

Janine and Bill Nelson are retired educators and we seemed to share a lot of interests, primary of which might have been telling stories.

This was the 11th and last B&B for our trip and my favorite. However, as much as we enjoyed visiting, it’s nothing to write about. You’ll have to take my word for it that we had a great time.

Too much of a good thing?

CoolAfter the packed day we had Tuesday, it seemed Wednesday would be a little more­­­­ normal.

The trail leaving Little Falls treated us to a deep, cool cover like that pictured above. After about three miles, we looked around the home of Gen. Nicholas Herkimer, who I mentioned in Monday’s write-up.

San Diego boundBack on the trail, we saw someone approaching with a stroller. It wasn’t until he almost reached us we realized the stroller contained not a baby but bags and supplies, this in addition to the backpack he was wearing.

Meet Tom, pictured here with Leah. He started his walk three days before we did, but he still has quite a while to go. He began at Plymouth Rock. His destination is San Diego.

Why walk across the country? He said he needed to lose some weight (which he added he’s lost about 20 pounds already) and, basically, it seemed like the thing to do.

Best of luck, Tom, and let us know when you get there.

That serves as an appropriate segue to give a final report on Desiree, the kayaker we met a while back. She’s returned home now after tearing a hole in her kayak. However, she put in 220 miles and said she had a great trip.

ThodarAs I said, Wednesday was a fairly normal day … until we checked in to our bed and breakfast at INn by the Mill in Saint Johnsville. That’s where we got to know Ron Hezel and Thodar, pictured here (and I apologize for the poor quality; my flash got temperamental).

Ron is quick to tell you he’s 81 years old and he promptly termed us babies. He has had a very interesting life, if you believe it all. I say that because he clearly indicated he had no taste for facts that get in the way of a good story … and he has a ton of good stories.

Just a few tidbits: His parents broke up when he was young, his mother was an alcoholic and a prostitute, he spent time living in a brothel at an age where he didn’t fully understand everything, his mom was always dragging him off to a new relationship, he eventually moved back with his dad, his mother was later murdered, a teacher spotted a spark in Ron and managed to get him enrolled in the High School for Performing Arts, he built the remote-controlled robot Thodar his senior year in high school, that earned him a bit of fame at the time, he taught school more than 30 years and … well, do you really need more?

That’s just a list. Every one of those items had one or more stories attached and there really were more, including some related to the historic buildings that made up the inn.

The problem for us was we were quite tired after walking 12.5 miles that day. We tried more than once to signal that we really needed to hydrate, shower and relax, but he either missed or ignored those signs.

But we actually had another problem. We really enjoyed his stories. We needed to leave but felt an urge to stay. I had at least two other topics I wanted to have him address but couldn’t get my requests in. One was to explain why they capitalize the first N in INn. The bigger one was to hear the story about the building’s role in the Underground Railroad.

So, should you book a stay at Ron and Judith’s place (she, by the way, made some wonderful treats), make sure you’re there for more than one night.

Packed day

Swamp iris
Swamp iris beautifying a bog.

Pardon us for being slow posting. Tuesday was a packed day, as Leah explains in her notes. Then, Wednesday was totally sucked up by a character I’ll tell you about in the next post, which may follow shortly or at least by tomorrow morning.

 

Emily and Ed
Emily and Ed

As for Tuesday, I need to mention some more interesting folks with whom we crossed paths.

 

On our way to breakfast, we met and chatted with a father-daughter bicycling tandem. Emily had just graduated college and joined her dad, Ed, who was biking the canalway because, “I’ve always wanted to.”

They’re from Ohio and had left their vehicle in long-term parking at the Buffalo airport. When they’re through, they’ll take the Amtrak back west and pick up their vehicle to drive home. I failed to get a photo of them, but Ed sent me one after they completed their trip.

Canadian cyclists
After a quick visit, these Canadian cyclists pedal off, leaving us to continue trudging down the road.

A few hours later, we met another couple of bikers, who are pictured here. Of course, I didn’t get their names. Maybe they’ll read this and let us know.

At least one of the second pair, if not both, is from Ottawa, Canada, and they’re biking a big loop to take in part of both countries. I gathered they’re primarily camping along the way.

I’m closing out with a guy in Little Falls, our Tuesday destination. The Travelodge where we stayed also had a restaurant and, next door was a two-screen movie theater. For some reason, I presume because we’re so charming, the lady at the hotel desk comped us a pair of tickets to a movie when we asked for more information.

The young man who accepted our tickets and then sold us a bag of popcorn, then ran up into the projector room to turn up the lights or start the preliminary videos or whatever. We were the only people in there for a few minutes but were soon joined by another couple.

After “X-Men: Apocalypse,” the credits began to roll and we were discussing whether there would be a teaser at the end, as the Marvel movies usually do, when our young ticket taker / refreshment specialist / projectionist barged into the darkened theater and took a position in front of his four customers.

He started yelling something and then said he would turn down the volume and ran out, coming back in just a second.

He went on to say there were nine minutes of credits to roll before getting to the final film clip and asked if we’d like to just skip to the end.

Of course, we said we would, he was gone in a flash and fast-forwarded to the final scene.

And that’s something I’ve never had happen in a movie theater before.

Leah’s notes

Tuesday. we were just like regular tourists.

We had a beautiful walk from Herkimer to Little Falls. It was like walking through a park even though most of the time we were actually on a small highway. Now, all the trees and bushes are leafed out and wildflowers are even wilder. Cottonwood fluff fills the air.

I saw something so incredible today – yellow swamp iris blooming all through the bogs beside the roads. I had noticed their leaves when we first started our walk four weeks ago and I so hoped I would get to see them bloom, and I have! In the dark boggy areas, it is so amazing to see this carpet of yellow.

So we have this lovely eight-mile walk and we get to this cool Travelodge, and what do we do? Dump our backpacks and go on a hike! Really. We strolled past cute little tourist shops, then walked across a bridge into a park area where you could see evidence of 200-year-old buildings and bridges that once lined the Mohawk River and canal area.

We headed toward Lock 17 on Moss Island in the river. It is one of the tallest locks in the world – 40.5 feet of lift! We got to see yachts go through.

We also saw rock climbers. The rock on the island is ancient – some of the hardest rock there is – so people are allowed to rock climb all over and hike all over. Let’s just say it’s not a delicate ecosystem.

No climbing for us but we walked all over. Next we strolled back to downtown and got to walk through the Main Street tunnel under all the railroad tracks – smart folks here – you walk from one set of shops to another.

Next, we had dinner in the hotel restaurant – excellent food, but our server, Kevin, was what made dinner so fun. He was from Little Falls so he could tell us all about the area, but mostly he’s just a really great guy. And then there was the movie Steve wrote about above.

And did I mention we walked 8 miles?

More photos on the photo page.

‘No more wars’

Gen. Nicholas Herkimer
Gen. Nicholas Herkimer

 

Memorial Day was the final rest day on our walk and we used it to take in observances of the holiday in Herkimer, N.Y.

 

Monuments we’ve seen during our Erie Canal walk remind us that this is an older section of the country than what we see in Texas. We’ve seen local memorials listing natives who died in wars dating all the way back to the American Revolution.

In fact, the most notable member of the Herkimer family after whom the village, town and county were named was Gen. Nicholas Herkimer, who died from battle wounds in 1777 after taking part in the nearby Battle of Oriskany during the Revolutionary War.

That item was not mentioned during today’s ceremony in a small tree-shaded park. We guessed it’s because locals all know the story. Regardless, conversation was limited to wars that were remembered by some of the audience.

Anne-Marie Hansel
Anne-Marie Hansel

The highlight was a few words offered by Anne-Marie Hansel, age 96, who served as a WAVE during World War II.

 

The first of what she said I didn’t pick up on, but she spoke loudly and clearly with her parting remarks: “No more wars. We’ve got to stop this. Use your brains.”

Bless her, she’s right.

That does not reduce by an iota the respect and honor we hold for those in military service, particularly those who made the greatest sacrifice. But it’s a bold message for those who make the decisions to fight unnecessary wars: “No more wars. We’ve got to stop this. Use your brains.”

Parade photos on the photo page.

Impressive

IMG_1255
The yellow railings in front of Leah guard the pathway across the top of Lock 19.

Just when you start feeling cocky …

 

For the most part, we’ve been clicking along on our end-to-end walk of the Erie Canalway Trail. We’ve covered more than 260 miles plus unknown off-course mileage and we’re feeling pretty good about it.

Today’s was 14.5 miles of highway walking – our least favorite kind – but we started early to avoid as much heat as possible and to try and beat afternoon rain storms.

As we were chugging along Highway 5, we saw two cyclists coming our way. Each woman was pulling a trailer behind her bike and it was obvious they also were on a trip.

They were on their way to Niagara Falls, not far from where we started almost four weeks ago, and I asked where they started.

“Key West.”

Key West!

Our visit had to be brief because we were all racing the storm and they pedaled off with many questions swimming around in my head.

Leah’s notes

As we have walked, the trail has changed from time to time – on a road, on the barge canal, in a forest, along the old canal, along farmland, through a city, over bridges, under bridges.

We have been following a long stretch of trailway along the old canal ditch – sometimes containing little or no water. Friday, just after we passed through Oriskany, we began following the barge canal again and that means we were back to seeing working canal locks.

We came upon a small state park with lovely shady picnic tables and portable toilets. However, the park was on the opposite side of the canal! So, we had to cross over the top of the canal lock. It was like crossing the walkway over the gates of a castle, only there was a moat on both sides.

The walkway was a metal grate just wide enough for a person to walk. But I was highly motivated to get to the other side. I think I understand chickens crossing the road a little better now.

Oh, and we had to come back across to get back on the trail. And a short while later down the trail, the trail actually took us over the top of a lock, but I was braver this time!