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.