Saturday, July 31, 2010

Syracuse to Rome, 50 miles

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Outside of Syracuse I pick up the Erie Canal towpath once again. The weather was cool in the morning and I can tell I am further north. The forests are filled with aspen and birch trees with white pines intermingling. Just outside of town I came up on 2 horses hitched to a small wagon pulling a flat boat down the canal. The trail I came down prior to this was very narrow and seeing this site made me think I had just missed a Shawnee raiding party on the path.

As I move towards Rome, little did I know that I was heading into the Mohawk Valley and the Oneida Carrying Place. Across the street from my stay is a National monument, Fort Stanwix. This area had tactical importance in the French and Indian War and the Revolution. What amounted to a four way battle for the same realestate and access to the west, ended up dividing the 6 Nations Iroquois and broke their centuries old confederation and peace. Forced to choose alliances, the Oneida sided with the Colonialists and the Mohawk and Seneca sided with the British. To the north, the Huron, who were enemies of the Iroquios, were aligned with the French. Once the British drove the French out of North America, the seeds of the Revolution were set. After the defeat of the British, the treaty with the 6 Nations and the Americans cast the first concept of native sovereignty and established the reservation system. The land deal opened up the canal lands but sowed the seeds of further problems the US would have in dealing with Native Americans. Not that he didn't have enough to do in dealing with a national internal crisis, but Lincoln was also forced to deal with uprisings on the high plains and the Lakota Sioux.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Palmyra to Syracuse, 75 miles

Leaving Palyra this morning it was 63 degrees. Perfect weather for cycling. The small town has a skyline with 3 historic church steeples in a 3 block area. Not far from the Erie Canal, the towpath starts just north of the downtown area. The canal system is over 500 miles long in upstate New York and because it brought commerce back and forth from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic, New York became known as the "Empire State". Leading the population of the country in the 19th century, it also had the largest city in the country,-New York. Over 25% of Lincoln's inaugural train ride was spent in New York and he had garnered key support from this state.

I can tell I am in the east as the old farm house architecture sometimes varies from Victorian to Italianate to Federalist in style. The buildings are older and each small town I pass through also have signposts with 18th century commemorations. I also occasionally run into historic houses that list them as key stops on the Underground Railroad. I must admit, I am jealous of the New York bikeways. If I am not on a 'towpath', I usually ride on a road that has a 'horse and buggy' lane as a shoulder. (even in a crowded areas)

Entering Syracuse was very easy on bicycle and the approach did not have the miles of suburban exchanges that usually plague midsize cities. The countryside comes very close to town and I kept checking my map to make sure I was going in the right direction. Nature seems close by when I moved into Syracuse and here Lincoln met a crowd of 10,000 people to greet him though snowstorms awaited him. Nothing to stop the people here. Lincoln's remarks at the time were openly directed at not wanting to ascend a constructed platform. Fearing all of this formality would require an hour or so speech(a common practice of the day), Lincoln declines the invitation. Instead, he is brief and focuses his words on the destiny of our country. Meanwhile, his wife is concerned that he needs to sharpen up his clothing style to get ready for a New York City visit. My stay at Armory Square in Syracuse also suggests smartening up my attire and I decide to switch out my bike jersey for a button down sleeve shirt for dinner. Syracuse taken neatly.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lockport to Rochester to Palmyra, 97 miles

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Leaving the Buffalo area and seeing the waterway that narrows to flow into Lake Erie reminded me of the turbulent Saint Lawrence Seaway. Canada is on the other side and Niagara Falls is not far from here. The Erie Canal, like the song says, goes from Albany to Buffalo. I am going from Buffalo to Albany though and I only know 'every inch of the way' to about Rochester at this point. The canal, believe it or not was thought up in 1808 and built by 1825 to connect the Hudson River with Buffalo and the Great Lakes. The result was a population expansion into the west. Instead of hauling materials overland, flatboats could now be pulled down the canal. This had a net result of increasing the capacity of transporting goods by 95%,- says the information plaques alongside the canal. I spent most of the day riding along the towpath that runs adjacent to the waterway. Looking at historic photos along the way, I still can't believe that early 19th century technology was able to dig this thing and displace all that water. Quite a Civil Engineering feat! I entered the path by the locks at Lockport and by the descending water. Originally this canal was only 4 feet deep and 40 foot across but over the years many expansions have been made to the system. On the sides of the canal are farms with fields of corn and it reminds me of the midwest countryside but with fishing boats and houseboats floating by. A bit of a surreal scene to a midwesterner. The calm water and the mirror reflections reming me of Eugene Atget's photos of the 'Ancien regime' outside Paris in the 1900's. It is very otherworldly, still, and visually symmetrical in the early morning hours.

Lincoln's inaugural train passed from Buffalo to Albany in a day and it made brief stops in Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, and Schenectady, as well as Clyde, a small port town on the Erie Canal. Many of these stops were again very quick in order to service the locomotive and again Lincoln would say a few words at each location. Reading his comments I can't tell if he was a product of Victorian times or just a bit of a Mark Twain humorist. When caught on the spur of the moment at a short stop, rather than saying 'no comment' as today's politicians might say,- he gives brief soliloquys about not having anything to say. At Rochester 8000 people showed up to see the President elect and his family. However, he can also be humble in his comments telling the crowds that they did not come to see him but a "representative of the American people". Lincoln lived at a time when language mattered and reading his comments I can see his talents and mastery as the consument politician. He knew how essential this was for developing intellect and personal clarity and I also sense he knew that his role as an individual was not to just isolate himself but to reach out,- not too unlike the song says, "you'll always know your neighbor and you'll always know your pal..... navigating on the Erie Canal".

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dunkirk to Buffalo to Lockport, 87 miles

As I type my letters, I can't help but feel as though I am afforded a view across 2 centuries. First, I can send this letter in via my iphone, but hitting keys one at a time is a bit nervre raking and reminds me of a telagraph. Second, I have noticed that because of our modern technology, mainly cell phones and internet access, I don't usually see dimensional space. I can call my friends in Ireland at any time and distances seem irrelevant. Well on a bicycle, that is not true. Time and distance are related. I know firsthand. I am afforded views in my immediate vacinity and maybe a short distance away, but I must plan my movement and gauge it accordingly. I plan not only what I want to do, but how long it will take me to get there.

Moving out of Dunkirk was relatively easy this morning and traveling along the route with a wide shoulder was very nice indeed. Moving up through Orchard Park, I came upon an old depot and steam locomotive. The depot was actually turned into a model train shop and I stopped in to talk to the owner. He told me the lines right outside his door run into Buffalo. In 1860, the route would have ended at the Exchange Street Depot but today I believe it is a Amtrak stop. The massive locomotive sits dormant next to the small house and strangely enough, was built in Russia during the early days of the Soviet revolution. The Pennsylvania Railroad bought a surplus of these and this one remains. I was ironically reminded of Lincoln's comment about despotism and czarist Russia. It was rather strange as I first thought this train was what Lincoln might have had to pull his inaugural train only to find out it was made in Russia.

I did happen to also see the site in downtown Buffalo of the First Unitarian Church where Lincoln visited as a guest of Millard Fillmore before he left for Washington. This historic location sits in the middle of a busy intersection and oddly enough seems to fit in. Getting around the city was not too difficult via bicycle but leaving the urban center heading north is rather busy. Like all good size cities, the transition areas to the countryside are becoming our new 'urban/sub urban' cities. I can see from my travels, a clash of two cultures trying to work out their boundaries-Nature preserves and bike lanes and wider carlanes and more entrance ramps. Sort of like two centuries striving to inhabit the same space simultaneously.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

North Springfield, PA to Dunkirk, NY, 70 miles

Entering New York today, I was accompanied by endless rows of grape orchards on both sides of the road. Lake Erie must provide a good climate for this as I see wineries throughout the area. The 'circle tour' bikelane continues and it is a great view and ride. I passed by the Erie County Court House on my way east and stopped just outside the nearby town of Westfield for breakfast. Here I met a proud resident. He informed me that in town there was a statue depicting Lincoln and a liitle girl. The statue is of Grace Bedell and Lincoln meeting. She was only 11 years old when she sent a letter a few weeks before Lincoln was elected suggesting he would look better if he grew a beard. Responding with a 'we shalll see' attitude,- within the month he had a full beard. Later, he met Grace and had his iconic look,- just in time for the innauguration in Washington.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cleveland to North Springfield, Pennsylvania, 108 miles

It was almost cold leaving Cleveland this morning! It is a surprisingly easy city to bicycle into and to find my way around. The bridges over the river are pedestrian accessible and the downtown area was easy to ride through. Moving east by Lake Erie I encountered a great bike lane care of the Ohio 'circle the lake' tour. In Astabula, I discovered the Hubbard House, a stop on the route of the Underground Railroad. Built in the 1840's by William and Catharine Hubbard, it was known as 'Mother Hubbard's Cupboard". Once slaves crossed the Ohio River, they moved north to Ashtabula where they made their way to this house. They were then taken to the Hubbard Company warehouse on the Ashtabula River and then ferried to Canada and freedom. It is amazing to look out over the lake at this point as the view is from a high bluff. It is equally amazing to imagine that these events even occurred. Lincoln must have had some sense of this as his train passed through the area on it's way to Buffalo. Ashtabula still has some unassuming 19th century houses and brick streets that suggests this time was not too long ago. Making my way across the state line into Pennsylvania the countryside is very beautiful and nothing like the plains of Illinois. Being this far from the contempletive spaces of the Illinois 8th Judicial Circuit (where Lincoln intended to retire), I wonder if the distance created a longing and in turn a melancholy for him. This is an old part of the country. The sign that welcomed me to Pennsylvania said that William Penn established this as a colony in 1681. That is a timeline and history difficult to imagine for a person from the Midwest.

Ohio hospitality

Thanks to the Farrell family of Cincinnati for their generosity! Also thank you to Melinda Rosenberg for her support too. She also helped to find a good bike route east of Columbus. Also thank you to Kraig and Nora Sternquist in Cleveland and Mark and Pat Cleveland for their support too! It is greatly appreciated!

Also, thanks to Dave Bakke of the Journal Register from Springfield, Illinois for a great article and shout out for this project. (I put a link to the right under honest Abe.)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Wooster to Cleveland, Ohio, 68 miles

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Entering Cleveland was very easy on bicycle coming up from the south. On the outer reaches of the city, a metropolitan park system begins with some 50 miles of paved trails. We could ride these trails all the way into the city. The landscape is a canopy of tall trees punctuated by wetlands and marshes. It almost has a wilderness feel within the city limits! We are descending towards the lake so the ground is nicely leveling out.

When Lincoln came through Cleveland, he seemed to address the crowd with a more serious and pressing tone. Reading his speech, I am impressed with his strategy of bringing me the listener along to follow his reasoning to it's logical conclusion. Feeling self interest was not a complete structure to build a civil society, he addresses the 19th century 'political noise machine' by stating, "If all do not join now to save the good old ship of the Union this voyage, nobody will have a chance to pilot her to another voyage."

Friday, July 23, 2010

New Philadelphia to Wooster, Ohio, 60 miles

Cycling early morning when leaving New Philadelphia put me behind an Amish horse and buggy. The pace registered about 8mph down the street. I can't believe this was how we traveled only a hundred years ago. The semi trucks carrying logs and produce were forced to move just as slow as the horse until an opening in traffic occurred. The slower pace was the point of my journey as well,- it situated me in a relationship to the landscape that forces me to take time. While cycling through the countryside, my focus is more in the present tense,- and the process of travel and seeing. Perhaps this is a luxury in the modern world but I think I might begin to understand why the Amish are so persistant in clinging to their 'plain' ways. Not simple ways, however, because we saw some very large scale farms and perfectly constructed white houses albeit without power lines running to the dwellings. Though this is an old order community, it speaks of some of the attributes common and neccessary for survival in 19th century America. Getting off the bigger country roads forced us into more of the Amish farm country. It is amazing to see the amount of work that can get done with this horse based economy. It was very enlightening to see this in the present tense as I usually thought of these 'historic' modalities as primitive, simplistic and naive. Far from it. The eloquence and profundity of Lincoln's ideas and prose came from this sort of environment. Seeing the Amish first hand made me consider the physical landscape with different eyes. Following Lincoln's innaugural train route via bicycle has it's own limitations as well. The urge to just get in car and drive somewhere seems almost reflexive. The modern world with all of it's choices and options has simply prevented us from traveling to Pittsburgh via bicycle,- as the route over the Ohio River is just not passible by bicycles or horse drawn vehicles.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Frazeysburg to New Philadelphia, Ohio, 67 miles

Leaving Frazeysburg we encountered the rolling hills of eastern Ohio. On a bicycle, they seemed more than hills, they actually are a foreshadowing of the Appalachian Mountains that officially begin not too far from here in West Virginia. When settlers moving westward passed through this area, they dumped all of their furniture and heavy belongings upon hearing that the Rockies were twice as high! I can understand the sentiment as we seem to climb up and then descend all the way down into a valley. There is no plateau that flattens out the landscape. It seems like an old part of the state but I sense a new economy pushing out the old as horse stables and wineries seem to be creeping in. Rural poverty is apparent in the backcountry.

Lincoln passed through Frazeysburg on his way to Washington in addition to Dresden, Coshocton, Newcomerstown, and Urichsville. I can understand his exhaustion of having moved through scores of small towns, especially when all he could muster at Cadiz Junction after eating was, I am "too full for utterance".

Our route also took us past Conesville and the coal burning power plant. This huge monumental facility continously shovels coal into the furnaces to generate electricity in our never ending need for power. The railroad line sits right next to the plant and I am reminded of the old steam locomotives, though on a much smaller scale,- endlessly having to do the same thing. Because these engines constantly needed to be serviced with fuel and water, it would force the innaugural train to make frequent stops,- this in turn would result in frequent comments by Lincoln that at times ammounted to no more than the modern day equivalent of 'tweets'. The journey from here took him to Pittsburgh where he reassured a crowd of people at the Monongahela House nervous of civil war, that "there is no crisis but an artificial one". Ironically, Lincoln's train ride was previouisly delayed outside of Pittsburgh for several hours in a small town called Freedom, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Columbus to Newark and Frazeysburg, Ohio, 70miles

This morning we moved east out of Columbus through Worthington and passed over the Hoover Dam. Leaving on the north side of the city, we cycled through horse country and the picturesque and immaculate city of New Albany. A bike path begins near here and once again runs alongside the rail lines, only this time there are working lines next to the trail. A stop in Granville and Denison University proved to be a perfect place for lunch in the historic downtown. The path continues all the way through Newark and affords a view of a town hard hit by the economy. Shells of abandoned factories inhabit spaces along the train line and we are separated by wire fences on both sides. The route of the bicycle path reveals all sides of boom and bust in history,- past and present.

Lincoln stopped in Newark among several places on February 14, 1861 and due to his fast paced schedule, was forced to greet wellwishers at the spur of the moment. At this stop he was brief and almost Mark Twain like when he commented about having nothing to say and said, "I understand that arrangements wTere made for something of a speech from me here, when the train moved down, but it has gone so far that it has deprived me of addressing the many fair ladies assembled, while it has deprived them of observing my very interesting countenance. It is impossible for me to make you a speech: there is not time, so I bid you farewell."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cedarville to Columbus, OH, 70 miles

Moving north from Cedarville to London, our route was a paved path paralleling an existing train line moving towards Columbus. To the side, old decaying electic poles stand as relics to a bygone era. The old depot in South Charleston still exists and right next to it sits an early 19th century log cabin. The scale of dwellings seem oddly proportioned compared to today's standards. The second floor on houses built in the early 1800's seem to be only one and a half stories high. (At tight fit for anyone over 6' tall.)

We followed the route Lincoln's train took through West Jefferson and on to Columbus. The approach, like many midsize cities today can be a bit busy as the landscape transitions from rural to suburban to urban. Once inside Columbus, the city was very friendly to cyclists with paved paths run all along the Olentangy River. We visited the Ohio Statehouse in downtown Columbus where Lincoln stopped on his way to Washington. Lincoln visited Ohio 3 times and it was in Columbus where he layed out anti slavery plans. Today, a marker exists inside the building atrium at the exact location where Lincoln stood when he spoke. Ohio was key in getting Lincoln elected and on his inaugural train ride, he stopped in Columbus for the last time and addressed a joint session of the Ohio legislature. It seemed a bit bittersweet knowing that Lincoln would be inaugurated a month later in March and in April the reaction to his election would be succession and dissolution of the Union with southern states. The idea of united 'states' was not a forgone conclusion and his tenure in office would be tested amid extreme hostilities inside and outside the White House.