We started today on the trail we finished on last night. Although nominally still the Erie Canal path, it had ceased to follow the canal and was obviously on the course of an old railway line, but it was at least tarmacked. We were just north of Albany, the state capital, and although it was just after eight on a Sunday morning, the trail was alive with cyclists and runners; it was good to see it so well-used.
Today was a short day, because of the scarcity of hotels along our route so we had more time to spend in places we would normally have rushed through. There were few towns along the way, but the most substantial until Bennington was Cohoes (‘Quehose’). We were the only ones who chose to tarry here, first of all riding down its main street to admire various old buildings. Cohoes is evidently undergoing a make-over, an initiative from the mayor, and all the streets looked clean, sparkly and litter–free, a sight you will be familiar with unless you live in Britain. This building was undergoing a face-lift:
The Visitors’ Centre was shut on a Sunday but we were advised by a local – one who actually knew what his town had to offer for a change – to head north to Cohoes Falls. So we did.
Cohoes used to be known as Spindle City because of its textiles industry, processing cotton from the Deep South in its many mills, all now of course closed. We passed several of them on our way up and found that, rather than being allowed to deteriorate, they had been renovated and transformed into smart, trendy Loft Apartments:
If only someone would do a similar service for the East Mill in Belper…
We have come to treat the word ‘falls’ with suspicion as it can mean anything from a Niagara cataract to some creek bubbling over a few stones, but Cohoes’ Falls definitely fell into the former category. We were completely unprepared for the spectacular sight that greeted us as we followed a single arrow indicating the whereabouts of the waterfall:
This is 300 metres wide and 55 metres high (Horseshoe Falls, Niagara, is 820 metres wide but only 51 metres high). We were fortunate indeed because we were told that at this time of year, the falls are normally not much more than a trickle and you can walk along the river bed to see them. However there has been much rain in North-East US – and a tornado in Massachusetts – in recent weeks (so we have been doubly lucky because we have missed it), so the waters of the Mohawk river are swollen and the result breath-taking.
A panel told us that blueback herring leave their normal salt-water habitat to swim up the canal before spawning in the Mohawk and returning to the ocean via the Falls (or more sensibly, the fish passage). I thought it was only lemmings that threw themselves off cliffs.
Another panel in Cohoes told the story of Robert Craner, a local man captured by the Viet-Cong in 1967 and kept in solitary confinement (in a cell next to the senator John McCain with whom he communicated by tapping on the wall). He was subject to beatings and interrogation until released in 1973. He said that the moon landings took place in 1969, but he did not learn about them until four years later. He died of a heart attack in 1980.
We rode out of Cohoes and almost immediately the terrain changed. For weeks now, we have travelled along flat or slightly undulating hills, but we are entering New England and the inclines steepened, but, by way of compensation, we passed through tree-lined valleys and across the top of Tomhannock Reservoir:
Some time during the day, we left New York State and entered Vermont, but the precise moment was confused by a shop in Hoosick, New York, claiming to be in Vermont. The shop in question was the Big Moose Deli and Country Store which pulled out every stop to attract custom:
One way it did this was by luring gullible passers-by into taking photographs next to ludicrous subjects, not that we would ever fall for such a ploy:
Here’s me next to Bruce and Clark (darn it, I’ve just given away their secret identity) – spot the super-hero:
Only half a mile on was a drive-through (never a drive-thru) coffee shop serving frozen coffee and apple cider doughnuts. Irresistible on a hot day where the temperatures hit 31 degrees C (forecast to go even higher tomorrow):
Finally we arrived in Bennington where we called in at the local Arts Centre, well worth the stop. It was showing an exhibition of around 100 cartoons from the New Yorker magazine. Everyone loves a good cartoon although what makes a funny one varies depending on one’s sense of humour, but I think that the talent of combining wit and the ability to illustrate the joke is a under-rated skill. It’s almost certainly a breach of copyright but here’s one by Erica Flake – the caption reads, ‘You’re right – they are more comfortable than briefs’.
You have to think a moment to appreciate this by Sam Gross:
There was an exhibition by Eric Sloane who paints New England landscapes:
as well as by a carver of animals and birds from wood, and by artists showing Native American life. A GV rating of Five (partly because I was let in half-price as a senior over 62).
We finally visited the 300 foot high Bennington memorial commemorating the 1777 Battle of Bennington when 2,300 American revolutionaries defeated 1,400 British troops – it wasn’t fair, we were outnumbered! In actual fact, the battle took place 10 miles away in New York, but the Battle of Walloomsac doesn’t scan as well.
The 2,400 feet (800 metres) of climb we did today will increase by a factor of 1.5 tomorrow before the crescendo of the penultimate day which will combine a ride of 71 miles with a similar amount of ascent. Having brought us to our knees, the tour will decline with a leisurely decent into Boston. Only three days to go.