Bob and Nina tried this trip previously and ran into The Big Summer Storm, which literally made the roads - let alone the trail - impassable. They used the successful parts of their experience to schedule the daily rides and to reserve motel rooms and B&Bs along the way. Plus they had found a couple of exceptional restaurants which turned out to be as good as advertised.
Mirta and I arrived a day earlier, so that we could reconnoiter the Westside neighborhood where she grew up and where we lived when we were first married. Her family's old apartment was torn down, but the concrete steps that her father and I built on the neighbor's house were still there.
The trail starts in the northwest corner of Buffalo, where Lake Erie starts to run into the Niagara River.
This area was the hub of water traffic from the Great Lakes drainage to the Northeastern states for many years with grain elevators, docks, cranes, warehouses. Initially, freight was transferred from lake-going ships to barges for the canal trip (opened 1825); but, when the railroads arrived, the canal was nearly abandoned. The port itself was busy into the 1960s, because lake transport was still the cheapest means to move commodities. The canal, too, had some resurgence with the advent of powered barges (originally, canal barges were towed by men, horses, mules). Now there are a couple of grain elevators left for 'show', but the area has been turned into The Waterfront, complete with yacht club - somewhat emblematic of the change from a manufacturing nation to a tourist destination and playground.
The first leg of the tour is along the Niagara River - so why not visit the Falls? I prefer the U.S. side, because it is an official park. Probably one of the few times that this can be said, but the Canadian side is 100% commercial with casinos, tower restaurants, t-shirt shops, etc. wall-to-wall; while the U.S. side is nearly natural (one small restaurant/gift shop concession), has several perspectives, and is intimate with the power and the beauty of the Falls. Even the bordering village is older, more sedate, and less conspicuous.
The canal starts in a suburb north of Buffalo named Tonawanda (many aboriginal names for places in New York state - and, perhaps oddly, many names from Greek and Roman history, such as Rome, Troy, Utica, Attica, Syracuse, Ithaca). The canal was overhauled twice, and parts of the renovations utilized the original canal. This is the case at the western end, which has relatively modern locks, a fairly deep channel, and reenforced banks. The next pictures are from Lockport, which has been an important part of the canal since inception.
Parts of the bike trail use the actual towpath from the original canal - maintained for hikers and bikers. Other parts are abandoned, and the bike path takes parallel state and county roads. New York state marks these trails very well, and this particular one is popular enough to organize tour groups. So the tour organizers have spray-painted symbols on the roads and trail/road junctions that show the pathway.
More surprising to me - the bike 'lanes' on the state roads were generous. Here in Washington, they are about bike width. Moreover, there were traffic warning signs on bridge approaches, where the lanes shrunk, to "Share the Road" with bicycles. Had to share this picture, apropos of nothing, but note the bike lane width.
The trail itself is fine, tamped gravel for most of its length, and the elevation gains are slight. On the other hand early October in New York is a crap-shoot, for sure. However, the temperatures were cool enough to minimize perspiration, but not genuinely cold. We did hit a headwind on a couple of occasions, plus a couple of sprinkles; but, considering the weather that we could see in the distance, we were luckier than we deserved. (Actually, on the last day, coming into Albany, we did about 15 miles in moderate rain, plus a headwind. But, when you're headed to the barn, you just don't mind that much. We looked a little out-of-place, wheeling into the Crowne Plaza Hotel, but you get that stare in this part of New York no matter what you look like.)
There is no good way to bike through the Syracuse area, so we day-tripped around the Seneca and Cayuga Lakes' area via van, then moved on to the east-side of Syracuse for the next day's ride. Upstate New York is dairy country, but wineries and vineyards are almost one-after-the-other around the Finger Lakes. The grapes are often Concord, Catawba, Muscat, or Niagara; and the better wines are sweet. (Most of the dryer wines that we tasted were somewhere between bearable and disgusting; but, if you don't like maple syrup, you probably won't like the 'good' wines here.)
You may know that these lakes were scraped out by the glaciers of the last Ice Age. The retreating ice was, of course, headed North, so the lakes are more-or-less oriented North-South. The local geology is mostly shale, which seems to break and crush readily, so it's easy to see the necessary condition for the gouging. These pictures are from a creek that empties into Seneca Lake and that has moved upstream - 'they' say - over a kilometer from its original position at the end of the local Ice Age. (Notice, too, the foliage. We saw a fair amount of color in most locations, but these are my better pictures.)
Back to the dairying - for reasons of topography and politics, the local farms are very reminiscent of the French operations that I saw last Spring - at least as I understood them. Reasonably sized fields; herds outdoors; crop rotation featuring clover or legumes; occasional mild manure smell (ever been near a 'feedlot'?); birds; large woodlots; orchards; agricultural implements on a human scale (as opposed to an industrial scale) - all in all, very attractive - except for the McCain signs.
Mid-state NY is somewhat more 'hilly', but the canal starts to meld with the Mohawk River, which is meandering toward the Hudson River. Little Falls is really just a few cascades on the river, but, of course, that necessitated a lock, which turned out to be the deepest one of the whole project - about 13 meters. The town was inundated in The Big Storm of two years ago, and we stayed in a B&B next to the river with a 'French' restaurant (very good, but not of Lyons quality, no doubt). There was not a plumb wall or level floor in the whole building. If I had dropped a bowling ball on one side of the room, I think that it would have crashed through the wall on the other side from gravitationally-derived momentum.
After Little Falls, we had our one Tour de France experience. In Canajoharie the painted signs took us up a LONG, steep hill which finally dumped us into a high school parking lot. We figured that some local high-schoolers had pranked us, but it turned out to be much more pedestrian. The tour(s) have become large enough that they have to use places like high school gymnasiums or athletic fields as campgrounds.
From Schenectady to Albany, the trail is mostly asphalt or city streets. (Bob thinks that we passed Mario Cuomo jogging on the trail with his bodyguard. I was intently watching the 'bodyguard' who seemed to be purposefully hogging the trail. Only time that I had noticed any such behavior on the entire trip - but, as Bob mentioned to me, in the urban sections, people rarely made eye contact, let alone a salutation; in the rural sections, people were almost invariably sociable.)
OK - the bike trip story is finished; but, if you haven't seen Nelson Rockefeller's imperial capitol, here you go. I'm not sure that you can capture the scale of Nelson's Edifice Complex without being there. Suffice it to say that Salem OR, Olympia WA, Springfield IL, etc. do not compete with Albany. I guess that they don't call New York the Empire State for no reason.
Quick notes on Cooperstown: dependent on tourism, but very well done. Several good restaurants. First couple that we meet at the B&B are from Marysville, WA and know the son of some good friends from Stevenson. Baseball Hall of Fame - pretty cool. Bob says that of all the sports HofFs in the U.S., this is the best by far. Highlight is George Carlin comparing baseball with football: "In football a field general marches the team down the field [military metaphors, etc.].... In baseball you want to be safe at home." Fenimore Museum - beautiful location on Lake Otsego; sensational raspberry cheesecake - not too sweet; good Native American artifacts exhibits, plus 19th century U.S. paintings.
Fort Ticonderoga - Strategic control site at south end of Lake Champlain which reaches almost to the St. Lawrence Seaway, short portage to Lake George, which is the headwater of the Hudson River. Colonists under Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold snuck out on the 'peninsula' at night and captured British garrison "without firing a shot". They kept the fort for almost 2 years, but, more importantly, took the cannons to Boston, where Washington used them to drive the British forces out. Another beautiful location near the northern end of the Adirondacks - lots of Autumn color, but I didn't capture it in pictures. (Met two cyclists from Tacoma, WA at the ferry dock - WA folks must not know that there's a financial problem going on - probably too remote.)
That's about it. Went back to Buffalo for 'beef on weck' and old-friend Rosalia's (twin sister is Rosaria) cream puffs. Visited Chicago for three days on the return for what Mirta called the "Museum Death March". (Picture is from the 95th floor of the Hancock Building there.)