Medina Journal-Register — The first leg of the Cycling the Erie Canal bike tour brought more than 500 riders through canal communities in Erie and Niagara County before reaching a “tent city” that grew outside of Wise Middle School.
The annual bike tour brings a caravan of cyclists from Buffalo to Albany over eight-days of riding and stops for nourishment and educational recreation. Sunday’s 47-mile leg began in the Queen City but included stops for riders to grab a bite to eat and learn about local history.
The first day’s travel brought riders to the Amherst Museum, on a tour of the canal in Lockport and a trip to the Medina Railroad Museum in addition to the peaceful towpath trail.
“It’s a thrill to meet people from across the country who wanted to see the Erie Canal,” Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Executive Director Beth Sciumeca said. “The focus is to see historical sites and towns.”
The chance to see the canal brought in many riders from outside of the region. More than half the riders who reached Medina hailed from outside of New York. New York State Canal Corporation Director Brian Stratton, who joined riders for the first leg, said the pack had representatives from 35 states and a half-dozen countries.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Stratton said. “People come from around the world because of the legend of the Erie Canal.”
At the encampment surrounding the school, many riders said they were impressed by the communities and sights they saw on their first day’s ride.
Barbara Kunzi said she had only been west of Utica while driving on the Thruway, but was taken by the agricultural and historic vistas.
“I’ve never been here before,” Kunzi said while making her way between the tents of people she met on the tour. “It’s amazing and beautiful. I love the agricultural and historic areas.”
Kunzi came down from the area near Lake Champlain to try her hand — and legs — at a cycling tour.
“I was looking to take a bike trip and the suggestion was Switzerland,” she said. “Up a mountain, down a mountain, up the next mountain ... I needed something flat and not so far.”
For others, the trip promised a chance to see an area they had heard about but never fully seen.
“We were looking for something different,” Rik Aikman, who made camp with friends and fellow Canadian cyclists Guy Hurteau and Murray Gordon. “It’s nice that there’s so much that gets you into the towns and museums.”
The trio had previously done bike rides from Niagara Falls to the Quebec-Ontario provincial border and another in Ohio. They looked forward to seeing the railroad museum and visiting O’Brien’s Tavern.
“It’s neat to see this area on a bicycle,” Gordon said. “We’ve known of Medina and the other towns but never been here.”
In Lockport, riders had lunch at the Lockport Locks and Canal Cruises, with hundreds of cyclists taking a tour on Lockview IV and Lockview V.
“It’s nice to have them come here each year,” Lockport Locks and Canal Cruises owner Sharon Murphy said. “We get to show off our place and our community on the tours.”
Once they reached Medina, cyclists began to built their accommodations for the night, grabbing tents and bags that were loaded into several vans this morning and information, food and medical attention from local volunteers.
Duncan Hay, who works for the Erie Canaway National Heritage Cooridor and the National Parks Service, said his mind goes right to the pool at Wise when he pulls in.
“It’s a welcome first step,” Hay said. “I get my gear and tent set up and head in.”
Wise hosted dinner and a talk on canal history from New York State Canal Society President Tom Grasso in addition to the refreshing swim.
As much as they enjoyed their lodgings, the cyclists won’t stay long at their temporary home. Riders will eat breakfast at the school and depart along the towpath this morning, making their way to Albion and stops in Holley, Brockport and Rochester before camping in Pittsford at the end of the 53-mile leg.
The tour ends Sunday in Albany.Contact reporter Jim Krencik at 798-1400, ext. 6327.