Syracuse To Utica: 64 Miles On The Erie Canal

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Before I begin, I want to thank Citizen Bike for making a tremendous product and allowing me a portable vehicle for my travels. The bike performed perfectly, and I could not be happier with the product.

Thank you to Jake DiBari, who scrambled to find me a bike lock for me when I arrived in Rome. The one thing I forgot to bring was one of the most important, and Jake made sure I had a lock for when I arrived in Utica.

Thank you to Copper City Brewing, Motus, Ocean Blue and The Tailor & The Cook for their hospitality and kindness. I had a great time in some of my favorite New York establishments!

And thank you to our new members, you helped make this trip happen! Want to become a member and support our message? Click here!

After weaving through the nearly empty streets of downtown Syracuse in the morning hours, I tackled the hills of Genesee Street traveling East, eventually finding my way to a trailhead off the main drag. When I entered the path, it was like walking into the gate of some inviting forest garden, with a newly thickened canopy of spring leaves speckling the bright sun on the still body of water below. It was as if I had entered another world. It was here I would begin my journey that would total 64 miles… on a folding bike with 16″ tires. Yes, that’s the one behind me.

I wanted to showcase New York’s wonderful trail system this summer by taking a number of day-long rides between cities. I also decided that at least one of those rides should include my Citizen Tokyo folding bike, which I think is pretty amazing.

After hours of analyzing Google Maps, I decided my first two-wheeled adventure should be from Syracuse to Utica, two cities I love, connected by 64 miles of almost exclusive trail riding. I was very confident in my ability to tackle a long trip like this on a mountain bike that might handle what I knew was going to be some slightly rougher path terrain, so as an added challenge to myself, I made up my mind I was going to ride my folding bike. The folder also fit into my plan to take Amtrak from Rochester to Syracuse in the morning, and then take Amtrak home from Utica the same night. With my Citizen, I could take the bike on the train, no problem.

So that was the plan… leave Rochester at 5:40am on Amtrak, arrive in Syracuse at 7am, travel 64 miles, clean up and change into decent clothing in Utica’s Union Station bathroom and then go out for a nice dinner/cocktails at Utica’s finest restaurants… then get back on the train at 8:45pm and head back to Rochester.  Piece of cake, if it wasn’t being done on a bike that can fit in the backseat of a Smart Car and still leave room for a passenger.

The Trip

I unfolded my bike just outside of the Syracuse train/bus station, threw my backpack on and headed down the road around the massive Destiny USA mall, finally arriving at the entrance to the Onondaga Creekwalk trail.  For those unfamiliar with this trail, it’s one of my favorites… several miles of beautifully inviting connectivity, linking a shopping center and public transportation with downtown offices, neighborhoods, and eventually, Syracuse’s Armory Square.

After the trail terminated, I darted around the quiet Saturday morning streets of The Salt City, impressed with some nice bike lanes on many of the major streets… even a cycle track!

Eventually, I began to ride East for several miles on Genesee Street on my way out of the city and toward the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park, a 36-mile segment of old Erie Canal infrastructure that was active from 1825 to 1917.  My entire trip was all part of the Empire State Trail, which will eventually allow bike riders to cross New York along one seamless pathway.

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From DeWitt to Rome, the path along this stretch would make for some beautiful views of nature, encounters with wildlife and a generally lovely ride through the gorgeous New York countryside.

Paved trail eventually gave way to crushed stone, but the surface was still very easy to traverse.  The waterway itself wasn’t just beautiful, it was teaming with action… fish were “jumping” everywhere, rippling the otherwise quiet water with regularity.  Families of geese, blue herons, foxes, groundhogs, deer… it was beautiful.  Nature was all around, I was just a passerby.

After 25 miles or so, the trail opened up to the cozy town of Canistota, where I decided it was prudent to grab some breakfast.

I pulled off the trail and walked my bike down the sidewalk to The Toast, an adorable little cafe. But the approachable, old world feel of this simple establishment gave way to an incredible breakfast experience!

After consuming some delicious and much-needed calories for my journey, I climbed back onto my little orange machine and headed down the trail once again.

Between Canistota and Rome, the trail deteriorated in some spots. While still very rideable, my little folding bike struggled against a trail that became rough and at times unkempt. That being said, I traveled about 10 miles without even seeing a car, to say nothing about a person… so I was truly surprised this trail was as approachable as it was!

Eventually, I came across Lock 21 on the Erie Canal, a familiar sign to me that I was close to my next stop in Rome.

By this time, my backside was beginning to beg for a rest. Riding a tiny, unforgiving folding bike over moderately rough terrain does that to even the experienced rider such as myself!

But eventually I rambled into Rome and headed for Copper City Brewing.

Once at the brewery, I refilled with water, downed a couple beers, and connected with some of my favorite Central New York people! Jake DiBari, who showed up with his amazing wife and children even brought me a bike lock to borrow, the one thing I had forgotten to pack! That’s the power of Rome, New York… everyone looks out for one another like family.

Everyone at Copper City Brewing took amazing care of me during my hour and a half stop. I even got a tour of their expansion!  But with 48 miles down, I still had 16 to go before reaching my destination.

With some rested legs and some wonderful craft brews in my rear view mirror, I tackled the home stretch to Utica.

When I arrived, I tied my little beast up to a bike rack outside of the train station and cleaned up for a few hours of downtown enjoyment.

The Food & Drink

Motus was my first stop, and per usual, it did not disappoint. An incredible steak diner and amazing service… I felt like a king.

And after a transcendent meal, I hopped over to Ocean Blue for a rooftop cocktail experience that is simply unmatched.

Finally my evening ended with one last cocktail at The Tailor & The Cook, one of New York’s most prestigious farm-to-table eateries.

Joe, perhaps Utica’s most iconic drink creators, always takes good care of me at the bar.  As always, The T & C did not disappoint.  I left happy and ready to head home.

Maybe this isn’t a post about “complete streets” or good urban form. That being said, I wanted to show yet another possible way to transcend the car and traverse our great state by other means. I don’t expect that too many people are going to do what I did, but maybe I can inspire a few people to think differently about how they move about their locales. Perhaps a few of you who think a bike takes up too much space will consider a Citizen Tokyo. Maybe you’ll go out and find a trail that connects two places you love, like I do all the time. Or, hop on a train and check out something new.

This trip was wonderful, but it wasn’t remarkable. Once you do something like this once, you realize it IS possible to get out of our cars and see the world another way. That’s something I try very hard to convey every single day by example.

I’m not against the car, I am FOR a world where we don’t have to exclusively rely on them as the most inefficient and environmentally destructive mode of transit… one that is decidedly destructive to our urban form and our sense of community. One of my goals every time I do something like this is show how we can get to work, meetings, events and even fun without making the automatic decision to climb into our cars.

But beyond that, this was about a great trip across a beautiful part of the state to see some good friends, and enjoy some of the best establishments we have. There is so much to be thankful for here in Upstate New York, so let’s get out there and find it!