Life in the Slow Lane: Navigating the Erie Canal

September 2009 News WILLIAM NEUMAN

With a hand on the sturdy brass tiller I sighted ahead and steered our boat, the Seneca, down the center of the placid green ribbon that is the modern Erie Canal. Bikers went faster than we did as they zipped along the towpath, now a
biking and walking trail. Even Rollerbladers and joggers passed us going in the same direction.

At top speed, motor thrumming, we plowed along at a very relaxed five miles an hour.

Just a day earlier I'd been racing along the New York State Thruway at 70 m.p.h., anxious not to be late to pick up the canal boat.

But I found that life on the canal was plenty fast for me.

That meant chugging down the middle of the 150-foot wide, 12-foot-deep ditch that in its heyday transformed New York and the nation, ushering in an age of industrial and economic power. It meant maneuvering through locks and under bridges, as boats had done on the canal for nearly 200 years. That meant getting a backyard view of upstate New York, slipping past lawns and docks, past oversize summer homes and modest trailers at water's edge. It meant gliding by farms, woods and marshes, watching herons wade in the shallows. And it meant exploring the small towns that line the canal, searching for traces of its past.

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