I gazed at the sea of pup tents and took a deep breath. One of these babies would be our home base for the next eight days. When we signed up for the Erie Canal bike ride from Buffalo to Albany, I knew it would not be a small group of a dozen people, but it wasn’t until the day before that I learned it would be an experience we would share with 650 of our newest buddies. Plus the 100 volunteers who would also be camping and riding with us.
A ride of epic proportions by any stretch this 400 mile journey would prove to be an Experience to remember. We checked into Tent City, and brought our bags to #47. Remarkably, my husband and I had never shared quarters as tight as these, missing the larger tent rentals by hours. Cozy Campers, a very organized and friendly group, set up and broke down our tent everyday, set out our camp chairs and laid out fresh towels. Excellent! The down side is that these rows of tent are baking nicely in the sun when you arrive at 2 or 3 pm, so the last place you want to crash for a few minutes when you’re hot and sweaty.
The folks who brought their own gear had to set up and break down every day, but that also came with the option to snag some shade, or a spot that was more than five feet from their nearest neighbors.
It was the 25th anniversary of this extremely well organized ride, and it became clear very quickly how this level of organization makes a 400 mile, 8 day and night tick. They provided all the breakfasts, and all the dinners except two plus 2 rest stops each day stocked with a variety of chips, granola bars, cookies, M&Ms, pickles (and pickle juice), Gatorade, and PB & J sandwiches at the second stop. There were always enough Porta Potties, charging stations, and showers to be had. Directions were astoundingly flawless in terms of written cue notes, and pink road markings. In 8 days and 400 miles, I never wondered if I had missed a turn for more than a few seconds before one showed up.
In terms of interesting numbers, the median age was 63, the oldest rider was 82, and the youngest was 8. Whaaat?! Yup, those two riders representing the extremes both rode an average of 50 miles a day for 8 days. Wow.
Cyclists are a friendly crew, and people were affable, easy to engage in conversation and not pushy in the food line, except maybe for coffee. Good thing I was always searching out the decaf. We had overlooked the coffee service that Comfy Campers offered as an option but this proved to be a non-issue since breakfast started at 6 am each day. Even I don’t need a beverage before then. We needed to have our gear packed up and loaded onto our truck (#1) which toted it to the next stop by 7:30 am, so we generally loaded our stuff, headed to the food tent, and were on the road before then. Luck was with us weather wise, and although it was hot, we did not suffer with the deluges that much of the northeast endured. Thunderstorms a few nights, and rain for the first hour of the last day.
Riding along the canal meant a largely flat, delightful ride along a sometimes wide river, sometimes overgrown and defunct waterway, often times packed gravel path, and occasionally paved road. Beautiful views of the water next to trees or farmland or small towns were a revolving treat. The historic and tiny towns welcomed the onslaught of 700+ riders, sometimes with a bake sale or popcorn, water bottles, or trinkets for free, sometimes selling tee shirts, and one volunteer fire station had a very affordable barbecue of burgers (veg and otherwise) and dogs.
We became very flexible in our eating habits. Cupcakes at 9 am? Of course!! Hot dogs at 10? Bring it! Beer garden at 11? Why not? They warned us that we should not expect to lose weight despite the copious pedaling. There were ice cream stops, home baked desserts, and we were all doing our bit to support the towns through which we descended. There was live music at least 3 of the nights, and free pizza once or twice and several lectures about the history of the canal. I missed many of these, but did learn that the 15 miles on the Erie Canal from the song was in reference to the length working that the donkeys were willing to walk in a day. Horses will please until they literally drop. Donkeys have a built in limit and 15 miles a day is theirs. Good for them!
I loved the week, once I adjusted to having my private space shared with a few hundred others. Would I do it again, as so many of these people do? Probably not soon, because I’m itchy to explore other places, but I couldn’t say more about the way this ride unfolded. And I have the jersey to back up my bragging rights. One for the books. Thank you Park and Trails New York. You rock!