Don's Bike Across America
Astoria, Oregon to Portsmouth, New Hampshire
June 19 to August 7, 2006

Don’s Blog: August 4: Airy Canal

e-mail E-mail this page
print Printer-friendly page

Here we are in Troy, New York, on the eastern side of New York State, poised to move into the final two states of the tour and (hopefully) the grand finale at the Atlantic Ocean on Monday. Before we reach the Promised Land however, we will have to deal with one of the hilliest days of the entire trek─and that includes the two days we scaled the Rocky Mountains.

Backtracking a bit, on Thursday we cycled from Liverpool to Little Falls, New York, a relatively easy 80 miles. It was made even easier by a very welcome cloud cover that helped keep the temperature and the humidity in check for almost all of the distance. We were in close proximity of the Eire Canal for much of the 80 miles (more on that below). Little Falls is another old manufacturing town that was quaint in a way, but still depressing, having fallen on hard times in recent years from all appearances. I stuck pretty close to the hotel for most of the evening.

Today, Friday, we cycled 83 miles from Little Falls into Troy, on the outskirts of the capitol city of Albany, which we will pass through tomorrow en route to Vermont. Troy is similar to Little Falls, although much bigger. We were staying at the Best Western near RPI, a renowned engineering college.

Once again we got a break from the weather, as early rain let up by the time we started, but the skies remained cloudy for at least half of the ride. After the sweltering heat and humidity earlier in the week, it seemed downright mild in comparison, although by the time we reached the hotel the temperature had climbed into the upper 80s.

Everyone is hoping to simply complete the distance of each day’s ride and reach Portsmouth on Monday in one piece. Even after more than 3,000 miles of cycling from Oregon, that is no certainty. We got first-hand evidence of that on each of the past two days. On Thursday, Kent Hill, a rider from Virginia, fell from his bike upon hitting a pothole and broke his collarbone. Sadly, the injury ended his hopes of finishing the ride. Even more heartbreaking, the same thing happened to Kent in last year’s ride. Everyone felt for him when he retuned from the hospital during the dinner hour, his arm in a sling and his face clearly showing the pain he was feeling. We wish the best for Kent and hope he can complete the ride next year. Today, another rider was sidelined by an onset of intestinal distress and was unable to do the distance. Such is the tenuous nature of completing the entire ride. When I next post an installment of this blog, we will have moved ever closer to the Atlantic Ocean in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

The Erie Canal

According to Wikipedia, the Erie Canal runs from the Hudson River to Lake Erie, connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean. Although the canal was first proposed in 1699, it was not until 1798 that the Niagara Canal Company was incorporated and commenced preparations for building. The first section of canal was completed in 1819, and the entire canal was opened on October 26, 1825. It was 363 miles long, 40 feet wide, and 4 feet deep. There were 83 locks along the canal, each 90 feet by 15 feet. Maximum canal-boat displacement was 75 tons. The Erie Canal was the first transportation route faster than carts pulled by draft animals between the Eastern Seaboard of the United States and the western interior, and cut transport costs into what was then wilderness by about 95%. The Canal resulted in a massive population surge in western New York, and opened regions further west to increased settlement. The Erie Canal was also called "Clintons Ditch" before it was finished being built.

The Erie Canal made boom towns out of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Rome, Utica and Schenectady and made an immense contribution to the wealth and importance of New York City and New York state. But its impact went much further—it increased trade throughout the nation by opening eastern markets to Midwest farm products and encouraged western immigration. New ethnic Irish communities formed in some towns along its route after completion, as Irish immigrants were a large portion of labor force involved in its construction. It also helped bind the still-new nation closer to Britain and Europe. British repeal of the Corn Law resulted in a huge increase in trade in Midwestern wheat to Britain. Trade between the US and Canada also increased as a result of the corn law and a reciprocity (free-trade) agreement signed in 1854; much of this trade flowed along the Erie.

Its success also prompted imitation: a rash of canal building followed. Also, the many technical hurdles that had to be overcome made heroes of those whose innovations made the canal possible; this would lead to an increased esteem for practical education.

Many wrote about the canal, including Herman Melville, Frances Trollope, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, and the Marquis de Lafayette, and many tales and songs were written about life on the canal. The popular song Low Bridge by Thomas S. Allen was written in 1905 to memorialize the canal's early heyday, when barges were pulled by mules rather than engines. Chicago, among other Great Lakes cities, recognized the commercial importance of the canal to their economies, and two West Loop streets are named Canal and Clinton (for canal proponent DeWitt Clinton).

The creation of a unified, statewide Erie Canal historic trail system or greenway to attract tourism has been an elusive goal since the concept was first proposed in the 1990s. However, many communities along the Old Erie Canal have made significant progress in establishing new parks, improving the quality of existing towpaths, and raising funding for restoration of old canal structures such as locks and aqueducts. Biking, hiking, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, canoeing and fishing are among the recreational activities being promoted.