Embracing a child's pace: multi-day bike trip on the Erie Canal

A couple of years ago, I took my 7 year old daughter for a multi-day bike trip along the Erie Canal in upstate New York. I’ve done some long-distance riding, but this trip turned into a surprising ‘short distance’ tour. It’s a great example of how riding at a child’s pace and having a flexible itinerary can be more fun than a carefully planned itinerary. We planned on riding from Rochester to Lockport over several days, and camping at the locks on the canal. Since this was our first multi-day trip together, I had promised that we’d ride as far as she wanted to go each day, and I’d booked a hotel with a swimming pool as a treat when we reached our destination. We never got to that hotel, but we had a great time travelling less than 20 miles in three days.

Our first day was a leisurely cruise along the canal and camping at one of my favorite spots, the Erie Canal lock at Holley, NY. Holley has the perfect spot for bicycle touring with kids -- the canal lock allows free camping, had hot showers, a waterfall, a playground, and a coffee shop and grocery store within walking distance. It’s a short ride into Brockport, which has a classic art-deco movie theater and an amazing Greek restaurant called Mythos on Main Street. You can camp in Holley, ride into Brockport for an afternoon matinee (a great summer treat), and enjoy spanakopita for lunch. Don’t miss the giant chocolate cake at Mythos for dessert, which my daughter still dreams about.

On day two, we headed west along the canal, planning to go halfway to Lockport. The day started with the lock operator allowing us into his control tower to watch as boats moved through. We stopped for a mid-day break at the Mud Creek Aqueduct, just west of the Village of Palmyra and got off our bikes to see an engineering marvel. Since the trail is made from limestone dust in that section, my daughter started playing with the dust and I let her enjoy some free time. After about an hour, she said ‘look at what I made’ and showed me a model of the aqueduct made from sticks and stone dust along the side of the trail. This was one of those moments where I realized the value of travelling at a child’s pace -- and the joy of going on a bike trip with kids.

That afternoon, we started to see a deteriorating weather pattern. I had checked the morning forecast and had my Cycling the Erie Canal guidebook from Parks & Trails New York in my saddlebag. By around 3pm, after only biking about 5 more miles, it started raining, with big thunderstorms on the horizon. We stopped at an ice cream shop along the canal, and called the nearest B&B in my guidebook –- the Medina Stone Farm. This wasn’t our plan but it turned out to be a great decision -- and the highlight of our short trip. The farm had animals for my daughter to meet, a beautifully restored Victorian farmhouse, and shelter from an epic deluge that night. It rained so hard that the canal flooded, and the thunder and lightning was so intense that at one point my daughter jumped straight up out of bed.

Instead of being soaked on our tent that night, we woke up to an unforgettable breakfast made from food grown on the Medina Stone Farm. Fresh blueberry French toast, eggs from their chickens, milk from their cows…all served family style by the innkeepers. By midmorning the storms were over, but we knew that we were running out of time for our planned journey. I called ahead and cancelled our hotel and we turned around and took a leisurely ride back towards where we’d started in Holley. It was a wonderful return trip –- with the afternoon sun on our backs, and visions of a huge slice of chocolate cake ahead of us.

Get more information about bike overnights.

10 responses so far ↓

Reyna - Apr 19, 2011 at 2:09 PM

What type of bike was she on? Did she have to ride the whole way or was she allowed to pedal at leisure?

Loved the story!

Reyna

John S - Apr 19, 2011 at 2:51 PM

Great write up and excellent photos to accompany your story.

Chris - Apr 19, 2011 at 3:28 PM

She's lucky to have a father like you. Thank you for the post.

Jason Ford - Apr 19, 2011 at 4:06 PM

This is great. I don't even have a kid, but this inspired me. It's not about how many miles you go, or how fast you ride. It's about enjoying yourself and seeing the country, whether it's 2,000 or 20 miles of it.

John Hartman - Apr 19, 2011 at 6:49 PM

Sounds like a great trip, and one I hope to take with my daughters, possibly this year, as I'd love to start doing overnights with them. I did not know we could camp overnight for free at the locks.

But I think maybe you had too good a time, or maybe too much chocolate cake, because Palmyra is about 30 miles east of Holley. Maybe it was Albion instead? It is about halfway between Holley and Medina.

Dave Terry - Apr 19, 2011 at 8:05 PM

Thanks for the story - it was an inspiration and a reminder to live in the moment. I'm thinking of doing the Erie this summer w/ my 11 year old - he's a strong kid, but you've reminded me to let him be a kid and not expect that he should ride like I do. I thank you sincerely for reminding me of the value of letting children be children.

Ginny S - Apr 20, 2011 at 11:46 AM

Jeff, you are such an inspiration to so many of us! Thanks for the post and for giving your daughter a wonderful adventure!

GARY D - Dec 30, 2011 at 2:10 PM

I REALLY ENJOYED YOUR STORY. MY WIFE AND I RODE OUR BIKES FROM BUFFALO TO ALBANY N.Y.TWO YEARS AGO AND NOW AFTER READING THIS I WILL DO THE SAME OR SIMILAR TRIP WITH OUR TWO GRANDSONS. THANK-YOU FOR REMINDING US TO STOP AND SMELL THE FLOWERS.

solshine123 - Mar 16, 2012 at 6:35 PM

What a wonderful expression of acceptance and generosity. She's a fortunate little girl, to have you as her Mom.

lois, payson,az - Sep 25, 2012 at 7:47 PM

The prevailing wind is west to east. Several years ago we went east to west as you did. We started in brockport and rode to lockport ,in one day, 25 MPH headwind, temp 97 degrees. I'll never forget that ride.

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