Part I: New York Waterways
The last glacial period in upstate New York left behind a lush landscape of rivers, lakes, gorges, waterfalls, and fertile land. Navigable waterways instrumental to exploration of the area by pre-colonial Europeans took on strategic importance as France and England laid claim to the territory. Forts were built and armies clashed, including those of a new nation seeking independence. When lasting peace emerged in the 19th century, New York's waterways became superhighways of commerce, connecting the east and west of a rapidly expanding America.
Monday Afternoon: Niagara Falls
The Great Lakes Seaway Trail, the first leg of our 1,100-mile tour of upstate New York's waterways, is a series of marked roads that connect Erie, Pennsylvania to Massena, New York, along the shores of Lake Erie, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River. RoadRUNNER was invited here to sample the riding pleasures of the Seaway Trail by Teresa Mitchell, Executive Director of the Seaway Trail, Inc.
With Bruce Read on his Honda Interceptor and me on my Honda ST 1300, our weeklong journey begins at Niagara Falls on the Seaway Trail late one Monday afternoon in August. Motoring through the threadbare town of Niagara Falls and by the high-glitz hotels and tourist amusements surrounding the falls, I'm struck by the contrast between these uninspiring human creations and the wonder of nature that is Niagara Falls.
Strolling onto Goat Island in Niagara Falls State Park for a closer look at the falls, we encounter a couple from California touring on their vintage British motorcycle. We learn that members of their California-based vintage motorcycle club had their bikes shipped to Boston for an east coast tour that allows each participant to chart a customized route.
At an overlook in the middle of Niagara Falls, we see that there are actually three separate falls, two on the U.S. side of the international border, American and Bridal Falls, and one on the Canadian side, Horseshoe Falls. Each second approximately 750,000 gallons of water roar over the edge and crash on the rocks 170 feet below, creating a billowing cloud of mist visible from miles away.
With the sun now low in the west, we re-mount and head north on the Robert Moses Parkway. For a brief period, there's an expansive view of the Niagara River Gorge, but the aging parkway soon heads inland. Too late, I realize that we're off the Seaway Trail and should have followed New York State Route (SR) 18F, tracking the eastern banks of the Niagara River.
Near the shores of Lake Ontario, we find our lodgings at the Lakeview Motel & Cottage. Chris Nowacki, originally from Ontario, Canada, is the manager and co-owner, along with her Harley-riding husband, Wally Nowacki. After greeting us, Chris recounts that Wally, a contractor by trade, bought the former abandoned, flea-bag motel at auction for a song, rehabilitated and expanded it, and then tapped her to be the manager. The metal plates in the gravel parking lot, obviously intended for motorcycle kickstands, confirm that we've stopped at the right place.
Tuesday: Ft. Niagara and Sodus Point
With no time to spare for breakfast, we arrive at Old Fort Niagara, on the shore of Lake Ontario, for our 9:00 a.m. guided tour by Ray Wigle, the Director of Operations. Walking us through the manicured grounds and painstakingly restored buildings, Ray reviews the fort's 300-year history of controlling access to the Niagara River and, in turn, the Great Lakes. Originally built by the French, it fell under British control in 1759. The fort was ceded to the U.S. in 1796, recaptured by British forces during the War of 1812, and it finally came under permanent U.S. control in 1813. In later years, the fort served as a peaceful border post until the last Army troops were withdrawn in 1963.
With stomachs growling, we backtrack a mile to Youngstown and enjoy a hearty, breakfast at the Youngstown Village Diner. It's almost 11:00 a.m. when we finally head east on the Seaway Trail. With frequent views of Lake Ontario, we ride a mostly straight road on a flat landscape, passing one state park after another on our left and farmland on the right. Having been warned that the next gas station is some 50 miles away, we're fully tanked and ready for a relaxing cruise along this remote section of the Seaway Trail. Temperatures are in the low 70s, the sky is a cloudless blue, and the road is all but deserted.