Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Erie Canal and Rochester

Upon our return from Canada we descended once again into New York, this time to meet the Erie Canal. The 363 mile channel connects Lake Erie with the Hudson River and in its hay day saw untold amounts of freight. Now, with trucking dominating transport of goods, the waterway is a serene, scenic treat for recreational boaters and bicyclists alike. In Knownsville we had the pleasure of meeting Mike, a lift-bridge operator who was kind enough to give us a lesson in the workings of his outpost - only later did we find out that he had cycled cross country, neat guy. The following day we were fortunate enough to meet up with two Canadians, Keith and Jeff, who were cycling around lake Ontario. These two fellows were the first folks we had met traveling the same direction, so we were thrilled to have the company and enjoyed it clear up to Rochester where we headed our separate ways. Turned out that Jeff, who works in the automotive performance industry, had instructed Jeff Gordon when he was a young racer coming up through the ranks.

Once in Rochester we began exploring the downtown. Our first stop was Nick Tahou Hots, home of the world famous garbage plate, a concoction formulated from macaroni salad, cheeseburger, fried taters, and onions, topped with hot sauce and mustard. Garbage never tasted so good! With full bellies, we coasted the sidewalks of downtown only to find an abundance of vacated buildings all boarded up with murals covering the outsides. We would later find out that Rochester, much like Cleveland and Buffalo, was once a boom town that now suffers from population decline as a result of dying industry. The result is a city shell with excess infrastructure and too few tax payers to support it. But alas, I suppose I am getting ahead of myself - allow me to explain how we came by this knowledge…

As we walked our bikes down a quaint street off the main drag we passed a coffee shop. A young man sitting with a woman gestured to us as we walked by, “and that’s what touring bikes look like.” We struck up conversation with the two, named Garrett and Jan respectively, who were planning a cross country bicycle trip focused on sustainable, organic farming. Too cool! (and coincidental!?) We eagerly lent some knowledge from our experiences as Garrett proceeded to get us some drinks. As we quickly ran out of wisdom to share, Garrett invited us to come stay at his place on the University of Rochester campus. We were in no position to refuse such hospitality. We were delighted to have such a willing host and soon discovered that the young fellow is going to school to be a musician and is currently enrolled in a summer urban studies course.

Luckily, we had some time before nightfall and Garrett offered to show us around the city - what a treat! He first showed us through the U of R campus, and from there to Mt. Hope, the most beautiful cemetery I have ever seen. We caught a magnificent sunset before heading back to the downtown area to explore an area with an inspirational story behind it, the South Wedge. The wedge, like many other areas of Rochester, was once a dilapidated section of the city. However, in a dazzling example of urban renewal, the locals showed faith in the strip and began breathing life into the street by opening beautiful, new businesses. There was some doubt that the area would succeed but because locals had vested interest and resulting ownership, the street became a viable spot for commerce (as opposed to the city constructing a new fa├žade, which people would likely have not respected in the same way). From there, we headed to the ritzy east end of town to oogle some incredible homes and architecture. It was there that we sampled our first bite of custard - the fact that we don’t have it on the west coast is a crying shame, the stuff was heaven in a cone. We finished off the night by climbing to the top of the library for one last view of the city after dark (pictured). We were exceedingly grateful to experience Garrett’s company; he was the best tour guide and ambassador that a city could have. Had we not met him, we would have walked away with a much different (and negative) picture of Rochester.

The following day our good fortune continued. A delightful Navy veteran, Chip, rode with us out of Rochester and bought us coffee and a snack at Starbucks. That evening, Clancy happened to pause to take a picture of a crazy Neon monster truck (right), and we began conversing with a couple named Bob and Dawn whose yard the creation was perched in. It started raining and they invited us in. Before you know it they were asking if we had ever had New York pizza and/or hot wings. People with hearts of gold I tell you. We ended up talking cars all night (Bob was somewhat of a master fabricator who had also built a trike with a 350 motor) and crashing on their couches. I can’t help but wonder, will our luck ever run out? I believe someone is looking out for us…

1 comment:

  1. Again with the FOOD! seriously you have had wonderful devine appointments with people! I KNOW someone is looking out for you.. Love Marsha

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