African Connection links are now in the sidebar to the right, just below the My Travel section.

Click here to see a La Crosse Tribune article about the mission in Uganda.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Scene of the Crime Crash

Remember this...

When I was wearing these...

On that day when this happened...

Well, I certainly do. It isn’t an anniversary or anything like that, but last week provided an interesting (trust me, this is interesting) addition to my collection of mementos from that day in September of 2008. Now, you are probably thinking, "Isn’t having a still-broken collarbone enough of a reminder?" No. One thing missing is a record of the crash site. The "where" needed to complete the sequence Who? What? When? Where? How? and Why?

Of course, the crash occurred in Switzerland, but I never could pinpoint the exact site on the map. Until now. We were not lost, of course, but now I'm not so sure we were where we thought we were either. Not that this is a problem. It's just a situation you learn to deal with.

Anyway, I digress. Watching reports from this year's Tour of Switzerland had me looking at maps to follow the race riders' route, routing that included a good deal of road I had ridden myself. In the process I somehow managed to find the intersection where I went down. And, thanks to the mapping technology available on the internet, you too can visit this place.

Here it is, courtesy of Google Maps, from high enough to see the last bit of that last day on the tour:

And, a little closer:

You have been waiting patiently for this moment, I know. It is nice to finally fill in that last blank that has left you in the dark these many months. No need to thank me; it's just another service I'm happy to be able to provide.

P.S. To find this yourself, Google "fluehlen switzerland" then select maps from the "Web Images Videos Maps News Shopping" list across the top of the screen.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Fair Winds and Following Seas

It dawned a fair day in Pittsford, New York and we were still the only vessel at rest in the port. With only a bit over an hour on the canal ahead of us, we spent some time in town. After exhausting research, I discovered that, in addition to Starbuck's, there was a Dunkin' Donuts nearby. OK, so I saw someone walking along the canal with a Dunkin' Donuts cup and inquired as to where I might get one myself. The point is, I knew where to go. With the coffee and requisite old fashioned donut in hand, I figured I was pretty well set for the day.

After a short stroll around town and a stop at the library, we headed back to the Onandaga. We met a man working in the park who told us that the town had considered adding more shore power/water stations but that boat traffic didn't warrant it. Hmmm… I thought the lack of traffic had to do with it being before Memorial Day, but maybe canal cruising isn't that popular. That's too bad, as it is a most pleasant way to vacation.

About an hour an a half on the water and we were back in Fairport. After passing under the bridge, we looked to dock on the south wall. There were actually a number of boats already tied up, so I headed for a large open space at the east end of the wall only to find it was reserved for the large tour boat that was out on the canal at the moment. So, using my now considerable canal-piloting skills, I executed a U-turn and put the boat into a smaller space; an exercise in parallel parking successfully completed.

Fairport appears to be the largest of the towns we have visited with just a little more leaning to the touristy side. But not much. It took a while to find the boaters facilities, but it was worth the search. Again there were large, private and clean restroom/shower rooms, this making our lack of hot water on the Onandaga pretty much a none-issue. Lunch was in an outdoor, covered area of a recently-opened Mediterranean restaurant right on the canal. For desert, we made a selection from the cooler at Likety Splits Ice Cream Parlor right next door.

We walked around the area of town near the canal, visited a Family Dollar Store and checked out a gift shop before checking in at… the public library. There were still some cold Coronas on the boat, so we relaxed in the bow seating area and enjoyed the view in the early afternoon. As we watched, the rather large tour boat came in, it clearly requiring all of the lift that the lift bridge had to offer.

It was a tossup for dinner - the Blue Cactus Mexican restaurant or Mulconry's Irish pub. And, in consideration of the fact that there are some good Mexican restaurants here in La Crosse, the pub it was. The Shepherd's pie got my attention and, since it was a warm evening, a pint of cold, crisp cider with it seemed the right thing to do. A fair end to a fair day in Fairport.

I discovered that I hadn't taken too many pictures in Fairport. So, I've included some from Pittsford in today's gallery.

Red, white and blue in Pittsford

Microbrewery creamery

Pretty in Pittsford

Shore power. But only one!

Canalside art
One of several tree stump sculptures we saw along the canal. This one was the most intricate we had encountered.

Meeting another boat
This is a rare photo as we only met about three other boats while underway during the entire cruise.

Blue over blue

Just enough room...
I found it a little odd that this Erie canal cruise boat was named Colonial Belle.

Another hair salon
The people in mid-state New York pay an inordinate amount of attention to their hair and nails, judging from the number of salons we saw everywhere. Seriously, sometimes every third storefront was a salon, though not all as cleverly named as this one in Fairport.

I've got a mule and her name is Sal

Refreshment, Irish style

"Tight" quarters in Fairport

Monday, June 14, 2010

Go West!

No, it wasn't Horace Greeley, but John Soules (now that's "erie") who encouraged all of us youngsters to head west. And, after touching the easternmost point of the cruise yesterday afternoon, today would bring us all the way to the western extreme. Our longest day "under the sail" such as it was.

Except for being longer, it wasn't so much different than the last day and a half on the canal. More great weather, more serenity, more waters disturbed only by our passing. Ahhh…..

Our first stop was Palmyra, another pleasant town with a great marina. We pulled out of the canal into a little cove with a low wall for easy docking. There was shore power (which we plugged into for no really good reason) and water (which we didn’t need). It was early - that is, before 11 a.m. - so nothing was open. Nonetheless, we had an enjoyable stroll around town before returning to the little cafĂ© above the marina. We sampled the blueberry lemonade which hit the spot as it was already quite warm. Being in no hurry, we sat in the cool dining area for a while then headed back to the boat to continue our westward journey.

Boating note: I got to toot the horn as we pulled into the canal. This is something you are supposed to do, even though there wasn't another boat to be seen. But hey, any excuse to blow your own horn!

We went through 4 locks and cruised by the marina at Macedon where we started the adventure. It wasn't long before we were in the "wides," a fairly large expanse of water in canal terms. The canal itself hung up close to the north bank and was identified by the red markers on the right (we were returning) and the green on the left.

Just a bit later we got into the area around Bushnell's Basin. There was a nice looking inn and restaurant at a big bend in the canal, but the most interesting thing in this stretch were the guard gates. Pretty much guillotines over the canal. Big gates that could be lowered into the water, something that would obviously make passage just a bit more of a challenge. I pictured hoards of wild-eyed terrorists in zodiacs, their intention to wreak mayhem on the canal towns of Fairport or Pittsford foiled by these inanimate guards. It was a bit of a letdown to discover that their purpose was more along the lines of flood control. Oh well, I guess that's plenty exciting if you live next to the canal.

I had to call the bridge tender in Fairport so he could raise the lift bridge for us to go under. It was like so many things on the cruise - interesting in a serene way. The bridge, which sloped across the canal, went up slowly with only an occasional soft creak. When it was ready, the signal light turned green and we went under.

My impression of the Fairport lift bridge

About an hour later we pulled into our destination: Pittsford. According to the Canal Guide, we would find shore power and water at the south wall in the canal park. I pulled up to the east end of the wall, but did not see the familiar power/water service points. Moving slowly up the wall, we finally reached the far west end and there found a single station with two power outlets, one of which did not work. We were the only boat there at the time. And for the rest of the day. And overnight. But I wondered, what if a lot of boats came in looking for power. It would be crowded at our end of the wall, that's what. But, as noted, we were the only boat so we might never know…

I went off on a solo exploration walk and found that Pittsford has a Starbuck's near the park and just a block away, a Ben and Jerry's. This was looking good. Crossing the bridge, I found Towpath Bike, but was disappointed to find that they didn’t have a signature jersey. The last stop was the highly touted Aladdin's restaurant, situated right on the canal. It looked like the place for dinner and offered a pretty good selection of vegetarian dishes. We did end up there for dinner and enjoyed it thoroughly.

After dinner we went to Ben and Jerry's for desert then to the very nice public library where we found a free book table that allowed us to replenish our supply of mindless vacation reading material. After returning to the Onandaga we sat looking out over the canal for a while, enjoying the youthful energy displayed by the local rowing clubs as they practiced in the still waters of the canal.

We had come west and it was good.

Pictures from our third day on the canal:

Cruising westward out of Newark

On the way to Palmyra

Tied up in Palmyra

Church Street in Palmyra
Literally a church on every corner.

Railway station in a canal town

Caribbean or NY state?

Cafe near the marina

Returning to the Onandaga

Guard gate near Bushnell's Basin

What the Fairport bridge REALLY looks like

Our escort flotilla

Aladdin's in Pittsford

Tied up for the night in Pittsford

Cruising the hard way

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

No, Not THAT One!

Morning on the Erie Canal. The water is undisturbed - no wind, no boats, no visible current. We know the water is murky with a latte hue. But in the still of the morning it was like a mirror, reflecting green and blue, its calmness allowing it to take on an identity borrowed from earth and sky.

And all of this in Newark. With apologies to the good people of New Jersey, but Newark I do not associate with the type of pastoral scene laid out before me. But, of course, it is not THAT Newark. Rather a small town in New York state with very accommodating facilities for us seafaring types.

Up early, I lit the burner on the propane stove and got started making coffee in the rather large percolator sitting over the flame. It's been a while since I perked coffee and even longer (as in maybe never) with a simple pot over a direct flame. It struck me that the cruise reminded me of a combination of a bicycle tour and a mission trip. Newark is a pleasant town that is much different than I expected, which was a tourist focused collection of shops and restaurants and coffee houses lined up along a bustling waterfront. Instead, it is a quiet place with a pleasant residential area just a few blocks off of the canal. We visited the public library which housed a fairly interesting clock museum. The curator was especially proud of the organ clock he had restored. The clock part wasn't too hard, he said, but it was real challenge getting the little pipe organ playing. He treated us to a short performance. This is like a lot of the towns we end up in at the end of a day of riding on a tour.

The mission trip part? That would be the cold shower. After working for every bit of two minutes, we lost hot water in the shower. Oh well, this wasn't going to throw cold water on the trip.

After the morning walkabout, we returned to the boat, brought in the lines and headed east. Just out of the Port of Newark, we entered lock 28B and were soon dropped about 16 feet and sent on our way. We were cruising in another tree-lined section of the canal and were the only boat in sight. A bit after noon, I brought the Onandaga to a stop in the middle of the canal and we ate lunch listening to the quiet, interrupted only occasionally by a car going by on Highway 31. I didn't have to do a thing; the boat just sat still on the water, the current so gentle that we didn’t move ten feet.

A bit later we went through locks 28A and 27 in rapid succession, the latter being in the town of Lyons. This is where we planned to spend the night, as the canal guide informed us that shore power hookups were available. But first, we would go through to Clyde and see what this small town had to offer. When I radioed the lockmaster at Lyons, he asked about our plans. When I told him we would be coming back to spend the night tied up at the town wall, he said I should know that the shore power was not available due to renovation of the facilities. Hmmm... Did I mention that having the air-conditioner running at night was a good thing?

So, we decided we would just come through Lyons and go back to Newark for the night. We sailed on a bit then decided to turn around and dock at Lyons for a visit instead of taking the time to go all the way to Clyde. We tied up at the south wall just below the lock and I decided that, since the lockmaster seemed interested in our plans, I'd call him and let him know we would be in Lyons for a couple of hours then intended to lock through westbound for our return to Newark. That's when he informed me that I needed to watch the time, as the last locking was at 5 p.m. NOT what we heard when we left Macedon!

A quick check of the time and I knew we wouldn't be able to spend more than about 1/2 an hour in Lyons. So, we walked up a grassy rise to a McDonald's, got ourselves some chocolate milkshakes, sat on the grass while we enjoyed them, then set out for Newark. We went through lock 28B in Newark at about 4:30 and nudged up against the dock a few minutes later. This time, a very helpful gentleman was working at the visitor center. He took the lines and connected the shore power. He also said we could get a key for the restrooms and shower facilities at the dock. "Just sign the log book and put the keys in the drop box before you leave," he told us. Hot showers. This was going to be OK.

I don't really know much about the other Newark. But THIS ONE, I like!

Here are few pictures from day 2 of the cruise:

Morning coffee

Organ clock in the Newark museum

Leaving Newark

Where are we?
We learned navigation on the canal pretty quickly. Let's face it, it would take a lot of talent to get lost here. Among other things, like it's a canal without any side streets to wander down, there are these channel markers. Green on one side, red on the other, each with a number. We were told to remember "red right return." This meaning: red markers on your right side when you are returning (i.e. going upstream or west). The canal guide we had showed the markers on the maps, so we always knew just where we were.

First mate has the helm

Turnaround point east of Lyons

Brief stop at Lyons

Preparing the lock for us to enter

Visitor center at Newark
This two-story building had a chamber of commerce office and visitor center above and facilities for boaters at dock level. You could sign out for a key at the office, but if there was no one in the office, you could call the police officer on duty and he would bring you a key. Really. I am not making this up. Anyway, the key got you into a large room with restroom and shower facilities and a washer and dryer for you to use at no charge. A very hospitable place.

Trompe l'oeil at the bridge near our mooring site

Thursday, June 3, 2010

It's Official!

"Well, well. Jack Sparrow is it?" The question is directed to the pirate we all aspire to be... we all do, right? Well, in any event, the proper response is, of course, "CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow, if you please." A certain devotion to the movie and its lead character eventually gave rise to pirate-themed mission trips, as oxymoronic as that may be. My name being Jack and the destination being the Dominican Republic sort of made that inevitable. Oh, how I relished that first time when I could stand there in the airport in Santiago and say to the crew, "Welcome to the Caribbean, luv!"

Pirate's quarters in the Dominican Republic

"Where's the Erie Canal link?" I can hear you ask. Desperately. Well after years of being accepted as "Captain Jack" by my very tolerant team mates (these were MISSION trips, so I suppose they didn’t have much choice), it finally became official at 2:00 p.m. on board the Erie Canal packet boat Onondaga. Captain Jack. Snicker all you want, but I have photographic proof:

Call me Jack, Captain Jack...

Our canal cruise started with a shakedown run out of the Mid Lakes Navigation marina in Macedon, NY. Steve was on board to watch as I navigated the boat out of the marina and towards the lock less than a mile to the east. And to jump to the tiller in case I did something "incredibly stupid." First, he had me do a U-turn in the canal then we sailed (dieseled I guess is more accurate though not nearly so romantic) up to the lock. I called the lockmaster who informed me he'd soon have everything ready for me and I could come in when I saw the green light. I maneuvered in and up to the wall where Shirley could grab hold of one of the lines. We were lowered about 40 feet, motored out of the lock and let Steve off to make his way back to the marina. We were now working without a net. With Captain Jack at the tiller, The Great Erie Canal Tour of 2010 was underway.

The scenery took your breath away, not with a sudden gasp, but a gentle sigh. Serenity on the quiet waters framed with blue skies and a soft lining of trees leaning out over the banks, dipping their branches down to the surface of the canal. Blue herons and black and white kingfishers provided moving highlights. It was nice. Just. Plain. Nice.

The Onondaga is capable of a top speed of maybe 10 mph. Keeping the engine at the recommended maximum of 2300 rpm pushed it along at about 7.5 mph. A comfortable speed that provided a cooling breeze, something we appreciated each day. Cruising for about another hour, we locked through a second time and soon pulled into the port of Newark, NY. While I gained confidence in maneuvering the boat, Shirley became the expert with the lines (there are no ropes on a boat, Steve told us), both in the locks and at the town walls where we tied up for the evenings.

Here are some pictures from our first day on the canal:

The Onondaga

Sleeping quarters

Galley (aka kitchen)

Under way

In our first lock


Going down

Hold on...

Ready to leave

It's tough being captain




Our first port

Tied up on the north wall in Newark

Serenity on the Erie Canal