Northern Tier 2010

August 29, 2010

The Falls and Clinton’s Ditch

Filed under: New York, Ontario, Section 10 — Henry Scott @ 8:00 pm

I bumbled around Buffalo for a few extra miles this morning, despite good directions from my Warm Showers’ host, but it was interesting to see more of the city, and eventually I made my way to the Peace Bridge and crossed into Canada.

The customs agent was amazingly adept at leading our seemingly casual conversation to key points I’m sure she must address: “…so you’re traveling all alone — wow! And, do you carry anything to defend yourself, such as mace or, heaven forbid, a firearm? Do you carry much food to keep you going, such as fruits?”

A late-August Sunday morning turned out to be an excellent time to follow the western branch of the Niagara River river into Ontario, Canada: traffic was very light, and it was a perfect day for cycling. There is no development along the river, but rather all of the homes, which were gorgeous mansions, were not only on the other side of the road, but they were on the other side of a bicycle and pedestrian path, leaving beautiful views unspoiled for public appreciation.

The walkways became a bit congested with tourists near the falls, but not to the point of making it hard to take in the awesome volume of water plummeting violently, yet beautifully, into the mist below.

After viewing the falls and cityscape of Ontario’s Niagara Falls (a sister city to New York’s Niagara Falls), I continued downstream for another ten miles or so before taking the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge back to New York. I had been warned, repeatedly, to be cautious because since 2006 cyclists are “forced” to travel with motor vehicles over the bridge, but I couldn’t identify anything to cause concern. Then again, by the time I crossed it was early afternoon, and traffic was backed up, literally, from one of the bridge to the other due to customs delays. Following instructions from a bridge agent I went right down the middle, for once making much better time than my four-wheeled counterparts.

After fifteen miles along fairly rural New York roads I reached Lockport, stopped for lunch, and began biking on a ninety-mile section of the Erie Canal Canalway Trail. For today I covered about half of it and reached Holley. The path is essentially flat, made of crushed limestone, and a welcome change of pace from road riding.

There’s a town every five to ten miles, each associated with a low bridge that can be raised, vertically from both ends so it remains parallel to the water, to accommodate boats. The historical plaques along the way are fascinating and tell not only the story of how DeWitt Clinton pushed for the canal’s construction in the early 1800’s, but also a bit about each town and how it was impacted by, or contributed to, trade made possible by the canal.

I stopped for ice cream in Albion and had to ask for directions. I ended up speaking with my “guide” for several minutes, and it turns out he grew up in one of the canal towns and has strong memories of active sandstone quarrying nearby, with a steady stream of barges carrying the rock upstream to supply materials during a period of heavy construction.

The sandstone quarries are interesting to me because I’ve been reading about the 550 million year old inland sea in which the sediments were deposited leading to the abundant shale, sandstone and limestone which make up the western portion of New York. These relatively weak rocks were no match for several episodes of glaciation and, accordingly, this part of New York is fairly flat. To the east, however, there are more igneous and metamorphic rocks, and their more resistant nature has preserved more topography.

Upon reaching Holley, I crossed over the bridge and was immediately greeted by Erik, the bridge operator. A boat was approaching so he was in a rush, but he asked if I was looking for a place to camp (I said yes), and he handed me a sticky note with four digits on it, told me it was a pass code for the showers, quickly described what was in town, and offered to help in any way he could. I expected nothing other than a place to pitch a tent, so such hospitality was much appreciated.

Although today was hot, there’s little humidity, and my tent is set up in a great spot by the canal. I feel a very good night’s sleep coming on.


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