Find My Way Home: Bikepacking Rochester to NYC on the Erie Canal Trail


In this three part series, Daniel Arena commits to a grueling bikepacking trip from NYC to visit his family in Rochester. In Part 1, Daniel highlights his bike rig and packing plan. In Part 2, he traverses the Catskills and makes it back to his family.

It was good to be home and spend time with my family. I was so sore from the five days on the bike, I decided to re-route my return trip. Instead of 90 mile days through the Finger Lakes, I opted for 60 mile days extending my trip to 7 days to ride back. I also created a list of train stations along the way as a back-up plan in case I needed to bail.


ROCHESTER TO NYC PLAN
Night 1 – Cayuga Lake State Park – Seneca Falls, NY
Night 2 – Erie Canal Lock 21 – Rome, NY
Night 3 – Erie Canal Lock 15 – Fort Plain NY
Night 4 – Waterford Canal Welcome Center – Troy, NY (Albany)
Night 5 – Ferncliff Forest – Rhinebeck, NY
Night 6 – Harriman State Park – Stony Point, NY

Day 6

Webster to Cayuga Lake State Park (Seneca Falls, NY)

55.8 Miles – 675 FT Elevation (Map)

It’s always hard to say goodbye. Even though my mom wanted me to stay an extra day, I knew I had to get back to the city. For the route back to Brooklyn, I would stick to the Empire State Trail going East all the way to Albany before heading South. This time, I had a full seven days to do the trip and so today would be much easier with only 55 miles and 675 feet of elevation. I had been excited to explore some of the Finger Lakes so I decided to stay one night at the beautiful Cayuga Lake State Park. That made the first day back relatively short and uneventful as I rode through the rolling hills of upstate New York.

At 3pm I arrived at camp. This was the first time since Day 1, I had made it to camp before sunset. I took advantage of the extra time to cook over the fire and relax with a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Day 7

Cayuga Lake State Park to Lock 21 – Rome, NY

80 Miles – 1075 FT Elevation (Map)

I woke up early and with energy. I had the wind at my back. I was heading east! I was biking along Cayuga Lake as the sun was rising and it was beautiful. Just 10 miles from the campground, I reconnected with the Empire State Trail. The weather was beautiful and the trail was fantastic and fast! In the week that had passed, summer and humidity had been replaced by crisper air and even a few colorful leaves.

I was in my happy place: fresh air, in the woods, and on a fantastic trail. I kept pushing east. I kept thinking about my family. And how much I missed them. I kept thinking about my future. Riding alone is different. You are alone with your thoughts. You keep thinking about the next steps in life.

I continued riding until I reached the town of Camillus where I stopped to visit the small but interesting Erie Canal Museum.

As I approached Syracuse, I followed the Empire State Trail until it just… ended. There was no alternate route or warning sign. This forced me to back track and ride through a hilly part of the city instead.

I kept trucking. The sun started to get lower. It was only about 5pm and I only had a few miles left. When I reached Lock 21, I realized the temperature had dropped significantly and it’d be a cold night. The lock master showed me around and then left for the night. No one else was around. For the first time in a long time I felt alone. I felt like I had no one near me for miles. It was a harsh yet wonderful feeling that I wanted to savor before being back in the city.

Day 8

Lock 21 to Lock 15 Fort Plain, NY

65 Miles – 800 FT Elevation (Map)

I woke up at the empty canal lock at 5:00 am. My entire body was hurting, especially my knees. I realized I needed a break and decided to book a hotel in Albany. Luckily, the ride today was mostly flat and away from cars, which gave me time to listen to podcasts and dream of future bikepacking adventures.

At Utica, the trail ended and so I moved back onto the road. At first I was going faster on the pavement but a head wind popped up and started slowing me down. Nevertheless, the Mohawk River and the towns along the trail were beautiful. I stayed at the same lock in Fort Plains I had on the way out and enjoyed getting there while it was still daylight this time!

Beer Next to a Canal

Day 9

Lock 15 to Albany

74.9 Miles – 1450 FT Elevation (Map)

I wake up to a fog so dense I can’t see my bike right out in front of my tent. As I packed up, the fog cleared out and I was biking under blue skies along the Erie Canal Trail to the River of Jubilee Church. The small white church is right next to the trail a mile or two east of a town called Canajoharie. The church offers bathrooms, water, snacks and supplies for cyclists. They will even let you stay for the night if needed.

As I biked east through the towns of Fultonville, Fort Hunter, and Amsterdam my knee keept hurting more and more. I slowed down as I passed through the beautiful, historic city of Schenectady. As I got increasingly closer to Albany, the terrain got hillier and the trails more crowded. I finally made it to Downtown Albany where I rejoiced in staying in a hotel so I could ice my knee and back.


Day 10

Albany to Rhinebeck Poughkeepsie

73.6 Miles – 2350 FT Elevation (Map)

I woke up feeling fantastic – it’s amazing what a good night of sleep can do for you! I definitely felt like I made the right call staying at the hotel. Since the Empire State Trail isn’t yet done, most of the ride today would be on state roads and not protected bikeways.

From the capital, I biked down US 9, which is a designated bike route, until Schodack Landing where the shoulder basically disappeared. I couldn’t believe it was a bike route – it felt unsafe riding as people were speeding and not giving me any space. I crossed the Hudson over the Dunn Memorial Bridge and continued to head South to Rhinebeck. The hills started to challenge me outside of Hudson, NY but I kept pushing – too hard, I think. My back and knees started to hurt again. Fun Fact: you can actually see across the river to the Catskills from Hudson, NY. Those were the mountains that I biked over a week ago, in the rain.

I had planned to stay at Ferncliff Forest but I had an issue picking up my permit so I decided just to head back to the city from the Poughkeepsie train station.

The miles ticked down and I arrived in Poughkeepsie. I was going to sleep in my own bed for the first time in 2 and half weeks! I got my ticket to Grand Central. After I showed the conductor my bike pass, I immediately fell asleep on a half empty train. Just under 2 hours later, I arrived back in New York City.

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Daniel Arena
Daniel Arena
Hometown: Rochester, NY Currently: Brooklyn, NY Daniel Arena is a freelance video editor, filmmaker and photographer. He's worked on major shows like Wild ‘N Out, MTV VMAs and VICE on HBO. When he's not in the edit room, he's usually out of the city and exploring the woods by bike.

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