‘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.

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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!

The heat is on

Mohawk River in Utica
Looking down on the Mohawk River in Utica, N.Y.

 

Friday was a different day.

Due to the distance we had to go, our location in Rome that was nowhere near the trail and the fact we were already tired and looking at unpleasant walking weather … we called a cab to take us to the trailhead, cutting off some three miles of city walking, much of which we had already seen. It was 10 bucks well spent.

En route, we had an interesting visit with our Elite Taxi driver, Jennifer.

Like most upstate New Yorkers, she wants people elsewhere in the country to understand that residents here and life here is nothing like New York City, which is only a 5-hour drive away. In fact, she said she had only been there once … well, twice back-to-back.

She said she was actually making her first visit to the Big Apple on Sept. 11, 2001, when the terrorists attacks took place. Fortunately for her, she was driving. Though it took her several hours to work her way out, she eventually got home.

However, as an emergency medical technician with the local department, she simply gathered her gear and returned with others from her area to help search for survivors and victims of the bombings.

The 9/11 tragedy affected our entire nation, but this was not the first time I have had the opportunity to understand that people who live so much closer to New York City had a more intimate and rawer relationship with the event than those of us hundreds of miles away.

Jennifer dropped us at the trailhead and we headed out before 8 a.m. We’re starting much earlier now that the weather has warmed up. Even so, the humidity had us sweating in no time.

Regardless, we felt good. The day off Thursday had our feet feeling light and pains were minimal. There also weren’t many distractions and we set a good pace.

There was one stop though. A lone bicyclist was approaching us. Our practice when meeting others on the trail is for Leah to slip in behind me to give everyone room. As the guy neared us, I spotted a snake lounging across our side of the trail and I stopped short, reaching back to take Leah’s hiking pole in order to prod it to move on.

Meanwhile, the cyclist rolled to a stop and commented on how he has to be on the lookout to avoid hitting snakes and other critters. I decided the snake was dead when it didn’t respond to the pole and the three of us talked for a few minutes.

We mainly learned two things from the cyclist. He had worked with some airline in the past and he hadn’t driven a car in 11 years.

One other thing … he visited Texas once while driving cross-country to California. He drove through the Lubbock area. His remembrances were that you could see forever and that residents got around in airplanes instead of pickups. We didn’t bother trying to make him understand what a small sampling of Texas that was.

Anyway, once he rode off, I resumed to move the snake just so its body wouldn’t startle anyone else and, lo and behold, it was alive … just very, very still.

After six miles following the old canal, we emerged in Oriskany. Across the street was the Oriskany Diner where we had kind of planned a lunch and rest room break, but our early start and quick pace got us there too early. Hey, there’s no bad time for breakfast, so we reloaded. I had biscuits and gravy.

Soon, after a half-mile roadside walk north, we were hoofing along the trail again but we were back alongside the active canal. However, our feet were no longer light nor our pace as lively.

The temperature was rising through the 80s and the humidity had not slipped enough. Undoubtedly, our second breakfast wasn’t helping any, either. We only had eight miles to go when we left the diner, but they dragged by.

To compensate for the conditions, we drank more water than we had been.

Now, staying hydrated has been a tricky thing for us. We know we need to be drinking, but there are many times finding a place to pee is downright challenging. So, we tend to just sip water as we go to balance out what we’re sweating and try to keep from building up too much in our bladders.

The struggle is real, my friends.

Also, water is heavy, so we’ve both been not quite filling our bottles because we had not been needing it all. Less weight to carry, don’t you know.

Friday, though, we were downing water faster than usual. We both continued to try and spread out our supplies but knew we were cutting it close. We were less than two miles from our destination, crossing a railroad track, when we spotted a bottle of water on the ground.

Hamming it up with found water
Hamming it up with found water.

I suspect the tracks jostled it loose from some biker and we both hoped he or she was carrying more. The bottle cap was sealed but the contents were hot. No surprise because our water bottles were pretty warm by this point.

 

We were tickled to have it, as Leah’s hammed up photo illustrates our physical state at the time. As it happened, we did not use the found bottle, but simply having it as a reserve made it less challenging mentally.

We made it to our air-conditioned room, shower and fresh water not a minute too soon. Instead of walking an additional mile or so for dinner, we had pizza delivered to the motel.

I’m writing this Saturday morning and we have another rest day. Due to the way the schedule came together – building it from multiple spots instead of along a single timeline, we were/are off Thursday, Saturday and Monday. When we start walking Tuesday morning, it will be on the last eight days of our trek.

On one hand, it’s difficult to believe we’re already on Day 25. But then, I looked through some earlier photos for something and it seemed like the things there happened three months ago.

Oh, an update on our kayaking friend from earlier. I’ve been following her on her Instagram and last night she pitched her tent about six miles further up the canal. This is the first time we’ve been close since we met her because she had to stay on the water and our trail led us away from it the past few days. With us taking off today and Monday, I’d say it’s unlikely we’ll meet up again unless she does the same.

Take a break

Fort Stanwix with Tom, Leah and Dave
Tom, left, and Dave added a lot of color to our visit at Fort Stanwix.

The headline for today is that we’re taking a day off.

 

We initially walked 10 days, took a day off for sightseeing with friends, then walked 11 days. To top it off, the last three days were fairly long, ending with a 16-mile walk that was mostly along a shoulder of a busy highway. The result, we were worn pretty thin by the time we reached our Hampton Inn stop in Rome, N.Y., Wednesday afternoon.

Today, we awoke from a good night’s sleep, enjoyed a breakfast (with coffee, which we don’t drink on hiking days) and then rested. Shortly after noon, we walked maybe two blocks to a restaurant for a nice lunch. And now we’re resting again.

We also made a big decision about Friday’s walk. We’re calling a taxi in the morning to take us to the head of a trail along the Mohawk River instead of walking about three miles through town. That still leaves a 14-mile walk but a much more pleasant one.

The good news is, while we felt Wednesday night like we might not be able to go on, a night’s sleep seemed to assure us we could still do it. The human body is an amazing machine.

Two more images on the photo page.

Leah’s notes

I was sure I would have nothing to write after Wednesday’s leg because all we did was walk 16 miles down a highway shoulder.

But, on the way to our hotel, we passed by Fort Stanwix National Monument. I had seen it on the map but had no idea of its historical significance. We have been learning the history of the Erie Canal on our hike, but Fort Stanwix is all about the Revolutionary War and the French and Indian War.

The city of Rome, on the Mohawk River, was at a pivotal point, literally known as the carrying place for trade and transportation between the Great Lakes and what would be the United States. The battles in and around this area were bloody and complicated involving colonists, loyalists, and six nations of native Americans.

We just tasted the history of this area at the national monument with the help of Tom and Dave (pictured) and the ranger at the desk, a retired Air Force veteran from Tyler, Texas, whose name I didn’t get.

Thank you all for giving us new insights into our country and our ancestors.

Magical place

walk this trail
How could you *not* walk this trail? (That’s the old Erie Canal to the right.)

I know when I have a good thing going.

 

Leah’s notes

We started our day after a great night’s sleep at the Bird Brook B&B. If you ever visit the land of Oz (Chittenango, N.Y.), I heartily recommend this place.

It is a short (honest, I mean it) walk to the downtown area and the La Cocina has real Mexican food. It’s neat to look at all the old houses and they are all old because of the Canal Boom years. The Bird Brook was built about 1830 but it is all updated. In our room, there were plenty of plugs for our electronics, a ceiling fan, a private bath and a private exterior entry.

Our hostess, Terry, did the decorating and used solid, warm colors on the walls instead of wallpaper and added just enough decorations in the room so it doesn’t take up the guest’s space.

We walked about five miles on the canal trail that is part of the state park. It has benches at reasonable intervals and signs giving the history of the canal. It’s like walking through a really, really, really long museum.

Today I learned some items to share. I had been worrying about all those people going up and down the canal on their boats and where did they stop to go to the bathroom. Well, one of the signs answered with what I had suspected – everything went overboard.

At least they were smart enough not to drink the water. They filled barrels with fresh water when they stopped at the villages. In the winter in the areas where the canal was not drained, they made ice. And I’m thinking – no! But, the sign said the canal ice was specially labeled so it wouldn’t be consumed. Whew!

Lots of families lived on the canal full time because of their business. Canal family children might only go to school from December to March while the canal couldn’t be traveled.

We got off the trail at Canastota and discovered it was there the Watson dump wagon was invented. This sped up canal work and railroad work tremendously because a man could pull a lever and dump the contents out of the bottom rather than having to scrape it out the back.

Tonight, we are staying in Oneida – home of the Oneida Nation, Oneida silverware, and the Oneida Community (a utopian commune started in 1848).

Man behind the curtain?

business sign
The Medicine Shoppe had a neat Oz sign.

 

Right up front … I know Leah has the big story today. Excuse me, she has the big stories today. Go ahead, take it.

Leah’s notes

Wow, do I have a story to tell today!

Before we started this trip, we planned for a lot of things – rain, dogs, muggers, sunburn, blisters – but I never thought anyone would steal a kiss.

We had walked a couple of hours into our trip today and waited at a crosswalk with two joggers, men about our age. One of them queried, “How long until you get to Albany?” And he laughed until I said we’re about halfway there. He said, “Oh, you really are walking all the way!!?”

They wished us luck and were on their way. (We were impressed they were running; we don’t do that anymore.) About 20 minutes later, they had obviously run their route and were now headed toward us. They asked, “Do you mind if we ask how old you are?”

Steve answered that the trip was my 60th birthday present and one of the men said, “Oh, my!” and congratulated me. Then, he reached out and gave me a little hug and a big kiss on my cheek! I gave him one of our cards — so if you’re reading this, thank you for the birthday kiss! You made my day. (My birthday is in December, but I’m not walking this trail in the snow!)

Follow...
“Follow the yellow brick road…”

But wait, there’s more! We had a long, hot (New York hot, not Texas hot) walk today.

 

Although we are walking the official Erie Canal Trailway, we often have to get off to find our lodging. Thank goodness, or we might never have landed in Oz!

Chittenango is the birthplace of L. Frank Baum, author of “The Wizard of Oz” books. They do it up right here. Businesses are named with words from the story – Emerald City, Yellow Brick Road, etc. The city sidewalk includes a yellow brick road.

We stopped at The Medicine Shoppe as we entered town because it proclaimed “welcome Oz fans” and was full of gifts and souvenirs about Oz. Then we stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts for a coolotta and they had pictures from the movie and of Munchkins actors who used to come to Chittenango to visit for the big Oz-Stravaganza. It’s right around the corner, June 3-5. We’ll miss it. But the poppies are blooming and the posters are up.

And last for today, some traveler’s notes. From Dewitt, there is a long section of state park, about 36 miles. Bicycles can do the whole thing but you can’t really walk that far so you will have to get off to find places to stay. There were benches occasionally on the trail and on the section we walked there was at least a portable toilet (one mile in from the start of the trail), but you must cross a bridge to the little park on the other side to get to it.

Going into a town, though, can be a wonderful change of scenery, not to mention food and fun. Walking along the highway is not fun, but sometimes you just have to.

The Emerald City
Of course there’s an Emerald City.

 

Find three more pictures on the photos page.

Keep it clean-ish

canal stagesToday was the last day of city walking for a while, a short hike to the eastern edge of Syracuse.

We started with a bit of a treat. Since we didn’t have to go far today, we spent the morning visiting for services at Park Central Presbyterian Church, which was only a few blocks from our motel.

Other than that, the day was kind of boring, though walking through the city does give us different things to talk about. After we got into our room, I realized I had taken no photos today. So, I found this one from Day 8 that talks about the phases of the canal.

Otherwise, I thought I’d take this opportunity to address something a few have asked about in one way or another … how we handled clothing.

Since we’re carrying everything, minimalism rules.

Basically, we each have one extra set of everything but an additional extra pair of socks. Usually, I wear the same clothes while walking. Once we reach our destination for the night, I’ll shower and wear my “nice” clothes and hang up my walking clothes to air out. Of course, the nice clothes are also backups in case I need them.

OK, so now you’re wondering about washing them.

Just about everything is made of fabric that dries easily and we’ll regularly wash out items in the bathroom sink. Then they’ll hang wherever, hopefully where the fan can blow across them. As a final resort, the hair dryer almost every room has can be used to put on the last drying touches.

Tonight, though, we’re staying at a Holiday Inn Express that has a guest laundry. Right now, Leah’s down there washing just about every piece of clothing we have while I take care of our boring post. This is the third time we’ve been able to machine wash everything.

And with that, Day 19 is in the books. Monday will be 11.5 miles along the old canal until we reach Chittenango.

Not all perfect

IMG_1186Saturday’s walk was, by most standards, just disappointing, but first, the photo.

A few blocks from our motel, we came across a barbecue cook-off in Clinton Square, as Leah talks about below. After scarfing down a pulled pork sandwich, I snapped a pic of the Jerry Rescue monument and read its history. It’s yet another example of the people’s rights fervor that was found in this area, but the story is more than I can convey here, so follow this link to read about it.

One thing that we’ve thought to be pretty much a surety in upstate New York has been the presence of sidewalks within towns. Therefore, we felt pretty good about Saturday’s hike even though almost the entire 11.5 miles was along city streets.

The disappointment was in just how wrong we were.

Not only were there so few sidewalks, but there were many passages that were unnerving. More than once, we went out of our way to cut through parking lots just for a breather.

At one point, we moved away from the road to sit on a low wall at a church driveway. While there, a man in a motorized chair passed down the drive and headed onto the side of the road, literally teetering while clinging to the drop-off, something he obviously did with familiarity.

So, if you’re considering walking this way, re-evaluate taking Genesee Parkway from Camillus into Syracuse. There may not be a better option, but at least be mentally prepared.

Leah’s notes

Today was 10 miles of suburbs (Walmart, Michaels, Lowes, Target, and more … and I had no room in my backpack!) and 1.5 miles of old downtown.

The old buildings in downtown Syracuse are early 1800s and big; many are drastically repurposed and some restored.

A nice surprise downtown was the big BBQ cook off. The city closed some roads and the old Clinton’s Square was full of BBQ cookers, eaters and live music. We had pulled pork sandwiches from a food truck that was from the Limp Lizard Bar and Grill (limplizardbbq.com).

Well, New Yorkers can make good BBQ. They also put it on good bread.

In the winter, Clinton’s Square becomes an ice rink. And by the way, the square is a filled in portion of the old Erie Canal, so as the sign at the square said “ice skaters can once again glide across the ice as they did in the early 1900s.”

I don’t think we’ll come back up here for that.

The neatest people

The Jordan CannonballYou can meet the neatest people while walking around with a pack on your back.

As I said earlier, folks quite often ask us what we’re doing and chat for a few seconds. (A follow-up question, after we’ve said a few words, is, “You’re not from around here, are you?”) Sometimes, it’s more than a few seconds, cases of which I’ve mentioned before and will add two more examples today.

As a side note, we are now halfway complete with our walk.

We left Weedsport Friday morning on a 14-mile walk to Camillus, on the western edge of Syracuse, and had been going maybe 30 minutes when we paused to allow a couple of bicyclers to pass. Instead, they stopped and visited. It didn’t seem to be all that long, but Leah checked her watch and said it was almost half an hour.

Marie and Craig live in Camillus and sometimes make the ride to Weedsport, get a doughnut and coffee, then ride back home, so they were on their way home at this point.

We chatted about all kinds of things, including the fact Craig has cycled the canal trail before, doing a section at a time until he covered it all. He said his son is planning to do it this summer but a little more aggressively. He wants to cover some 90 miles a day and wrap it up in four days.

They rode on and we returned to walking, still confident we had plenty of time to get to our motel before 5 o’clock. Next up was the village of Jordan, where we planned to slide off the trail by one block and stop at the Tops Market where Leah could make a potty stop and pick up a deli sandwich for us.

Before getting there, a car pulled into a driveway and stopped, blocking the sidewalk. “You look like you’re headed somewhere,” he said. We answered and then he got to his purpose.

“Would you like to see our museum?”

Knowing we had already lost time, including the fact we started 30 minutes later than we intended, we tried to decline, telling him we still had a long way to go.

“Sounds like you need a break, then,” he countered.

We looked at each other and shrugged. Sure, we’d love to see your museum.

It was practically next door. After parking, he walked us to the front door and told us to wait while he went in through the back because that was the only key he had.

By museum standards, this place was poorly designed, but it had interesting items from Jordan’s past. Our captor / tour guide John took us straight to what he deemed the featured attraction, which is pictured above.

The story goes that when President Lincoln’s funeral train passed through the town on April 24, 1865, members of the 3rd New York Artillery fired a commemorative cannon shot.

Doubtlessly, there was nothing special about that … except that someone goofed and actually discharged a six-pound cannonball.

“If there hadn’t been an elm tree in the way,” John said, “President Lincoln would have been shot a second time.”

The ball embedded in the tree and remained there until the tree was cut down 70 years later.

Now, you don’t hear that story without letting a random guy kidnap you off the sidewalks of Jordan, N.Y.

So, after leaving the museum and grabbing a sandwich, we started back on the trail. We were into the afternoon and had covered only five miles. At that time, my phone signaled that I had a message.

Submitted through this site, it said, “This is Marie from the trail near Weedsport. Call me for a ride to the hotel in Camillus. It’s a long walk uphill and I’m close by!”

Wow! What a timely and wonderfully warm offer. We decided on the spot we would take advantage of it and gave her a call.

We still had five miles to go on the trail, but that breezed by knowing we would not have to walk four more miles alongside a busy country road.

Thanks, Marie and Craig. Thanks, John. It’s people like you who really put the pizazz into our little adventure.

Leah’s notes

Today dispelled some of the melancholy of the disappearing of the old Erie Canal.

We discovered many towns are repurposing the canal as well as the old buildings! They have used the sides of the old canal as retaining walls for new buildings, turned old buildings into museums, restaurants and warehouses.

They have cleaned up and mowed the bottoms of the canal to turn them into parks, play spaces and gardens. Of course, best of all, it dawned on me, is the monumental task of rebuilding and maintaining the towpath trail for recreation. Steve has some pics on the photo page.

Also, according to bed and breakfast owners and some locals, more and more people are walking and biking the trail.

Perhaps the economic boom of the Erie Canal from the 1800s, will return in the 2000s in the form of tourism. So, the old canal will live again!

No telling what else we will find on down the trail!

Easy walking

Old canalThursday’s walk wasn’t too spectacular, but it was free of problems … that’s good every now and then.

Leah had a tough time Wednesday, like sore feet and general discomfort. Last Friday and Sunday (two consecutive walking days since we took off Saturday), I had considerable issues with my left knee, but I’ve had no problems since then.

So, Thursday, we walked mostly through the countryside, past one farm after another.

There was yet another hailed greeting. We were passing what was apparently a Mennonite family (of which, along with Amish, are fairly common around here) with the mom and children, or maybe two moms and children, working in the garden. One girl, about 13 years old, was pushing a hand-driven plow. The others were doing an assortment of things.

Mom yelled out, “How far are you going?” That’s probably the most common way for people to ask about what we’re doing. (There was a guy as we passed through Port Byron who asked, “Are you walking?” as we were putting on our packs after a break. I resisted the urge to say, “No, we’re flying; don’t you recognize our jetpacks?”)

Anyway, Leah exchanged pleasantries with the mom and we went on.

The photo at top was taken as we left Port Byron. It is the beginning of a remaining segment of the original canal, which Leah talks about below. There are a couple of extra pics on the photo page here.

Leah’s notes

We learned something Thursday: walking long distances is ever so much pleasant when you can take a nice long break to see something interesting or have a slow lunch.

We had the most pleasant meal at the Port Byron Diner. Best BLT I ever had.

To me today, the walk was sort of sad. We walked along the old canal from Port Byron to Weedsport. Most of the way, the canal was nothing more than a creek running through a sea of cattails.

It was the original canal dug by hand, only 4 feet deep. Now those hearty individuals have been replaced by beavers working hard to construct a new landscape.

After the first digging of the canal, it underwent two upgrades and now it is part of the New York barge canal system. But as we walked past the old canal, I thought about all the artifacts from by gone days on the bottom of that big ditch, and all the people who traversed the state via canal.

Some cities have dwindled to tiny villages since the boom period of the canal ended. Railroads and highways caused businesses to reroute.

Our canal trail way has hundreds of signs relating stories about the building of the canal and the people who lived and died during those amazing years.