Why Kayak the Erie Canal?

The idea to kayak, or at least make my way across New York state via some non-motorized method actually started when I moved away.

In the spring of the year two-thousand I took a job with Intel in Massachusetts. Back then my now, wife and I were only dating. Sometime within the next few month I proposed and we began planning the details of our wedding, which would still take place back in Western New York. From the end of summer, through fall, winter and the next spring we must have made the six hour drive hundreds of times. Getting to travel and see other parts of New York was fun, the seasons added some changes between trips but eventually the 65mph behind the wheel journey became a little boring.

Seeing the little towns along the way and view of the Mohawk River sections of the Erie Canal made me think about a slower pace of life. Exploring the quaint little villages and taking in their history. Back then I don't think I had even given kayaking a try, although the idea for a non-motorized trip was forming in my head.

Over the year there were times when I would dwell on it, researching and pulling data, trying to map out all the details. After transferring my job with Intel from Massachusetts to Oregon in 2003, I finally took to the water with borrowed and rented boats. I had plenty of new waterways to explore out here, but the idea of paddling the canal, now some 3000 miles away stayed with me. In summer of 2006 Sea Kayaker Magazine ran an article from NYS outdoor recreation author Sue Freeman. I was less than a year from my first sabbatical (eight weeks of extra vacation earned every seven years), although a two year old and soon to be 2nd child on the way the next year left little room for big adventure.

In the time between the first sabbatical and second, the number of adventures I sought out had increased, many with the kids joining me, snowshoeing, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, camping. I'm proud of the little adventurers they are becoming.

My job changed a few years ago, working twelve hour shifts though the night. I have little human interaction and my mind wanders more and more each passing day. Checking the weather, seeing what friends are up to and planning the next outing. As the fourteen year mark with Intel approached and a chance to escape to the outdoors for a lengthy period of time it was clear what my plan should be.

I Did It!

Written by Kayaker Chip on . Posted in The Erie Canal 3 Comments

Chip MacAlpine, Erie Canal, Kayaking, Sally Supernova, Wilderness Systems

I did it! Three hundred and sixty three miles of kayaking across New York State on the Erie Canal.

After nearly three weeks kayaking, I took my last paddle strokes under warm afternoon light as I passed through the five locks of the Waterford section just outside Albany, having the mile and a half stretch all to myself. With previous locks I would call when I was about a quarter mile away, after hearing each operator answer I would respond with “Hello, Lock#, this is Kayaker Chip! I am eastbound and looking to pass through.” Not that I remember them all, but I always was given a name, something to start a conversation with when I made the approach to the gates. more...

Types of Fun

Written by Kayaker Chip on . Posted in The Erie Canal

Chip MacAlpine, Erie Canal, Kayaking, Sunset

Lots of things pertaining to outdoor adventures get ratings. Systems and classes are used to determine the size, technical difficulty and rank activities. Rivers get rated from Class 1, easy going riffles to Class VI, there is a good chance you will die! Mountaineering, ice climbing and rock climbing all use different grading systems. Skiing runs use symbols from green circles to black diamonds. Even “fun” has a rating system. It isn’t restricted to adventure, but since it is possibly the only time you will hear of this rating system, we will stick with that. There are three levels. Type I is general all around fun, it’s fun plan, fun while it is happening and fun to reminisce about later over a beer. more...

Crossing Oneida Lake

Written by Kayaker Chip on . Posted in The Erie Canal

Chip MacAlpine, Erie Canal, Kayaking, Camping, Oneida Lake

Today was the opposite of yesterday. The morning started off idyllic, it continued through most of the day and then the wind and waves picked back up in the later afternoon as I was trying to make it to Verona Beach State Park and setup camp.

When the lake is calm, it is a glass surface as far as the eye can see. Maybe there are slow, spaced undulations, probably the leftovers from boat wake at the far side of the lake. In either case it’s extremely peaceful and the wide open space is a very different setting then the narrower canal or natural rivers that are part of it. more...

Just A Little More Wind

Written by Kayaker Chip on . Posted in The Erie Canal 5 Comments

Chip MacAlpine, Erie Canal, Kayaking, Sally Supernova, Wilderness Systems, Oneida Lake

Yesterday evening I made it to Lock 23, it was the first of a three “uphill” locks on my eastward journey. It was quite a different experience. I had seen lock operators fill a chamber while standing topside, valves wide open, and it was a slightly scary prospect. Luckily when there is a vessel in the chamber they take it a little slower. Still, there was much more push and pull on Sally. I shot some video but since the GoPro app still isn’t working properly I can’t share.

I stayed overnight at the lock. It was out of the way from any populated place and had a great park like setting, trees, picnic tables and grills. more...

A Slice of Pizza

Written by Kayaker Chip on . Posted in The Erie Canal 3 Comments

Chip MacAlpine, Erie Canal, Kayaking, Camping, Lock

The previous night I camped at Lock 28B. It was a bit of a challenge getting Sally to come with me. Most of the locks have a small floating workman dock, somewhere. It could be before the lock chamber, after it, or up above the concrete wall and out of reach from the water. Before I started this trip I was asked if portaging around the locks would be an option, I think most people assume that they won’t operate for a lonely kayaker.  I want to pass through each of them, but for whatever reason, timing, safety, etc. I wondered too. more...

Tugboats and Tummy Troubles

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Chip MacAlpine, Erie Canal, Kayaking, Tug Urger, Sally Supernova, Wilderness Systems

The tugboat in this shot is the “Dewitt Clinton”, I passed it near the Adam’s Basin Liftbridge. Clinton was Governor and Senator for the state of NY as well as Mayor of NYC. He ran for president in 1812 against James Madison but narrowly lost. He was also responsible for making the Erie Canal project happen nearly 189 years ago.

I made it to that brewpub yesterday. The building was situated adjacent to a lift bridge, the dock suitable for kayaks was a few hundred yards away. Just like the one in Holley it was used by geese and ducks and quite a mess. more...

Holley Canal Park

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Chip MacAlpine, Erie Canal, Kayaking, Sally Supernova, Wilderness Systems

It’s cool out and there is a slight wind but overall the skies above are sunny and clear. I didn’t have any trouble getting Sally and myself down the rocks and back into the water outside the RV park this morning. A quick four miles so far this morning and I’ve made it to the little town of Holley. There is another lift-bridge to pass under here. The feel and appearance of this town fits with the experience I was imagining much of the canal to be. A slower pace of life. Just a quaint little place. There are docks for the motorized variety of boats, but there is also a lower dock for canoe and kayak travelers. more...

A Morning Laugh

Written by Kayaker Chip on . Posted in The Erie Canal 3 Comments

The other morning as I’m leaving Red Rock Ponds RV Campground, my seventeen foot, orange, sea kayak in tow as I make the quarter mile walk over dry land back to the canal. I’m wearing my paddling jacket, spray skirt and PFD, a strange sight to anyone really. I came upon an grey-bearded black man out for a morning walk with his two little dogs. With a his head slightly tipped and puzzled look as I neared him, he asked “where I was going?” I said back to the canal. He glanced to the side, “to the ponds?” Nope, down the road and back to the Erie Canal. more...

An Extra Day in Camp

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Chip MacAlpine, Erie Canal, Camping, Marmot, Sea-to-Summit, NEMO Equipment

I decided to stay at the campground for a second night. I spent the extra day around camp emptying out the kayak completely as two of my hatches did take on a slight bit of water when I rolled and fell in the other day. All my gear was dry bagged so it wasn’t too big a deal. Things are neat and tidy again. I also used the time to setup the GoalZero solar panel and recharge batteries until the afternoon when clouds rolled in. I laid out all my food and planned out meals for tomorrow, separating it from the full cache. more...

Liquid Sunshine

Written by Kayaker Chip on . Posted in The Erie Canal

Chip MacAlpine, Erie Canal, Kayaking, Sally Supernova, Wilderness Systems

This image doesn’t do justice to how hard it was raining for the first eight miles of paddling this morning. There was also a pretty thick fog and the wind kept shifting, headwind, tailwind, broadside. It just couldn’t make up its mind. Good thing I am used to the liquid sunshine from paddling around Oregon. With my paddling jacket on it really wasn’t too bad and just as the forecast predicted it cleared up around 4pm, so I wouldn’t have to setup camp and make dinner in the rain.

The couple of locations I had looked up this morning for camping tonight didn’t work out. more...