Jeff Arpin and I continue exploring the western environs of New York and Pennsylvania by following the water. Preparing to depart Cataract City (aka Niagara Falls, NY), the fall weather is invigorating. Sunshine reflecting off the Niagara River presents a dazzling array of sparkling jewels. Road construction, however, causes us to soon forsake the Seaway Trail for a less scenic route north.
A Canal Runs Through It
Strong, gusty winds coming off Niagara River and Lake Ontario feel much colder than the 70 degrees registering on my bike’s instrument panel. However, after more than four days on the road, we’ve finally arrived at the northernmost point of our tour: Old Fort Niagara. This historic fortification is at the strategic junction of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. It was originally established by the French in 1726, but Britain wrested control of it in 1759 during the French and Indian War. The U.S. finally achieved lasting control of these formidable ramparts in 1815.
Although the fort’s architecture is clearly French, reenactors are dressed in British military regalia. Muskets are periodically discharged for acoustic effect. After strolling through and around elaborately designed fortifications, we arrive on the shore of Lake Ontario. Far off in the distance is a flickering, ghost-like image of Toronto’s skyscrapers. Seeing a modern city’s skyline across the lake quickly transports us back to present day.
We remount our bikes and roll east to a historic town on New York’s celebrated Erie Canal. It was this 19th century hand-excavated waterway that connected New York City commerce to the Great Lakes and other points west. The engineering challenge facing canal builders in Lockport, NY, was how to raise and lower barge traffic over the Niagara Escarpment. The original Flight of Five Locks created a watery stairway for canal boats to negotiate this geological impediment.
We lower our kickstands in the Lockport Locks District and amble along the walkway overlooking the modern pair of super locks that replaced the original five. It’s a pleasant blue-sky Saturday and the sidewalk is swarming with food vendors, musicians, shops, and lots of other folks enjoying this spectacular autumn day. We enjoy homemade sandwiches from one of the vendors in the brilliant sunshine before we’re off in search of more adventure.
To avoid the strip malls and stop-and-go traffic of suburban Buffalo, we swing east and shortly after turn south. Once on SR 242, we’re suddenly out of the flat landscape that dominates near the Great Lakes. We follow writhing asphalt roads through narrow valleys, along meandering streams. This idyllic aesthetic is further enhanced by steep, heavily forested Allegheny Mountain ridges. It’s getting late in the day and shadows are already creeping into the mountain hollows.
We reach our overnight destination in Ellicottville, NY, and find a quintessential American small town that’s also a ski village in the winter. It occurs to me that water in its frozen form has powered the economy and gentrification of this village. As our good luck would have it, today is the start of the town’s 2019 Rock N’ Roll Weekend. Vintage and muscle car eye candy is strewn along Washington St and classic rock music blasts from a side street.