Lunch is on our own in a small town. I realize how important this event must be to the businesses in the many small towns along the trail. Towns that grew and thrived, first during construction of the canal, and then when it was the primary mode of transporting goods, are now either struggling or don’t exist at all. Most of the eateries are packed when I arrive. I hear there is another place further down a side street. Along the way I find two women around my age also looking for a place to eat. We talk briefly and determine one of them lives only a few miles from me. The other is her friend from another state who joined her for this trip. Must be nice. We continue searching together and find a small place to get a sandwich. The two are very talkative but easily include me in their conversation. I surprise myself by joining the chatter without hesitation. After a nice break we ride together a short distance, then they pull ahead and we wave goodbye. I am content to be alone again.
My tent mate catches up to me and we ride together for a bit before stopping to explore the town of Lockport-the home of the original ‘flight of five’ locks, constructed before steel and electric motors were available. The locks were constructed of wooden gates, each only capable of holding a 12 foot depth of water. Five consecutive locks were required to scale the 60 foot gain in elevation presented by the Niagara escarpment-the same mass of stone over which Niagara Falls flows between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. A double lock–the only one on the present canal-now takes the place of the flight of five.
We join a free hour long cruise through the two locks and listen to the history of just this one location. The magnitude of the history that will be revealed as we travel along this man made wonder begins to dawn. Initially scorned as a waste of money and labeled ‘Clinton’s ditch’, the canal invented its way across NY State, creating new methods and machinery to meet new needs. The canal opened the east to the west and began the industrialization of the miles it passed through, ultimately turning NY City into the busiest port in America
Now more than halfway through the first day’s trip, confidence in my ability to keep up the pace and stay upright in my seat is building, slowly. My tent mate and I take a welcomed break at an afternoon rest stop. I lie down briefly on a grassy slope in the sun and feel the muscles in my shoulders and neck release. I grab a snack and water and notice all the smiling faces–bikers and rest stop volunteers alike. My fears quiet and I feel a small sense of well being.
We head back to the trail together and I make an awkward turn to avoid another biker – and down I go. The fear I’ve carried since I began training months ago becomes reality. I jump up as fast as I can as others race towards me to see if I am all right. I insist I am fine, my face hot with embarrassment – until I see the blood gushing down my arm. Someone finds a first aid kit and washes off the dirt and gravel, then applies antiseptic cream and a gauze bandage from my elbow to my wrist. I make light of it all and chuckle as I quip: “Well that’s over, I’ve been afraid of falling all day and now I don’t have to worry about it anymore!” And I sort of believe myself!
We continue on to Medina—famous for its sandstone, which forms the base of both the Brooklyn Bridge and Buckingham Palace. Who knew? Then tent city welcomes us into the athletic field at Clifford H. Wise School. The day’s miles are behind me with no need for the Sag Wagon, and I am not even the last person to arrive-imagine that. There is an indoor pool. I hesitate to use it. I can’t really swim and visions from my high school locker room days are not inviting-but the thought of cool water on my overheated body is, so in I go. After a shower, I visit the medic to have my arm looked at. He says I will need the bandage changed daily. Guilt wells up as I realize I should not have gone into the pool with an open wound.
Dinner is a step above school cafeteria fare-a green salad and several forms of pasta with something sweet for desert. I sit with the women I met at lunch and a few others and listen to the tales of the day-adding my own in response to questions about the gauze covering half my arm. I am off to bed early, tired, almost in one piece, and wondering if I can really do this again tomorrow.