Friday, July 01, 2011

The Rest of the Way Up

June 21 – 25, 2011

Brewery beauty
Brewery beauty

After we left the dock at Herkimer we traveled another 18 miles to reach Lock 20 where we planned to spend 2 nights even though by most cruiser's standards it is in the middle of nowhere. We tied up on the south and west side of the lock. Lock 20 lifted us 16' higher to put us 420' above the Hudson River, the Erie Canal's highest level. Then, when you lock through Lock 21, you begin going down again until you reach either Lake Ontario or Lake Erie.

Our plan was to tour the Matt Brewing Company in Utica, NY, where Saranac products are brewed. When we were here on our 2009 trip, the brewery tours weren't given on a day when we were in the area. Plus, we had transportation “issues” since the brewery is about 5 miles away. We didn't have our bicycles then, and a 5 mile walk for that event was considered too long. As it would be this time, it rained all day when we wanted to go for the tour, so we ended up staying an extra day. Not that we had any place we had to be anyway, and it was worth it!

Guard snake
Guard snake

Wanting to avoid as much highway traffic as possible, we decided to take the Canalway Trail as far as we could and then branch off to a back country road that looked like it ran into the city part of Utica. This garter snake was out on the road, and fortunately we spotted it before we ran over it with our bikes.

The country road was more country than what we had thought. The road had originally been accessed by a bridge over a creek, and the bridge was now closed to vehicular traffic. So, the road had been let go, with lots of holes and weeds growing close to the paved area. What few buildings had once stood had either been burned up or were left to deteriorate. We wondered where we were really going to end up.

Railroad lookout
Railroad lookout

We arrived on the outskirts of downtown Utica, and we could spot the top of the brewing company in the distance since it sits up on a rise and the building is tall with a big, old fashioned beer slogan on the top. We had to ride over some railroad tracks that had some severe curves to them. I think this railroad “tower” must have been used to spot the train and control ground traffic at one time.

The tour is about to begin
The tour is about to begin

The brewery is located in an Irish/Italian neighborhood and most all the buildings on the same street are occupied by a pub or a restaurant with catchy names of one sort or another. You can see from the front of the building it sure doesn't look like a beer brewery. The Matt Brewing Company is an American, family owned regional brewery, about 120 years old.

Your tour cost $5, but you receive two tokens that can be used at the end of the tour for when you visit the brewery “pub”. You can exchange the tokens for several flavors of beer or soft drinks brewed at the facility.

The tour doesn't start out like a typical brewery tour. You first enter into what looks like a hotel lobby area from the Victorian era. There are some magnificent antique pieces of furniture. The beautiful stained glass window in the opening photo is here. Display cases hold bottles and paraphernalia from the company's start. The tour guide gives an explanation about many of the items and about the founding fathers and their business and brewing philosophies.

The second part of the tour takes place in what would have been one of the “secret” drinking parlors during the days of Prohibition. The company survived Prohibition by producing soft drinks. Their Utica Club brand of beer was the first beer officially sold in the U.S. after Prohibition ended.

Safety first
Safety first

The third part of the tour is what you would expect: going through the factory from where the grains are mashed and brewed all the way to the end where the brews are put in boxes to be shipped out.

Brewing kettles
Brewing kettles

Everything was very neat, clean, and orderly. The tour guide gave explanations about each of the brewing phases. The coppery vats set amongst the grand windows were real eye-catchers for a factory operation. The room was hot and had a wonderful smell.

Aging vats
Aging vats

When you go through the grain storage and brew aging areas you step into a refrigerator atmosphere. Hoses snake along the floor, lots of water is seeping out from valves and fittings, so you have to watch where you step. Here, I've made it to the end without falling over anything.
Packing it in
Packing it in

The bottling, labeling, and packaging area is located in one gigantic room, and you walk along an enclosed overhead platform where you can watch any one of the operations at your own pace. There is the most action occurring here. Bottles are rolled off a beltway so quickly for filling you can't see individual bottles. Filling takes place with spillage and froth hitting the floor. Broken and damaged bottles are sorted out manually and by machine. Alarms go off if the assembly line isn't moving at the proper pace. I watched a bottle headed toward the packing line blow its top portion off and it shot up to my knee level!

The tour ends when you go to the authentically decorated pub, where your tour guide will draw you a draft or pour you the bottle of beer or soda of your choice in 12 ounce glasses. There are many to choose from, so we all tried to get something different to sample several flavors. We could not remember the last time we had any beer to drink before dinner time. We couldn't finish our second glasses, especially since we hadn't had any lunch and we knew we needed to get back on our bicycles again.

Get your souvenir
Get your souvenir

The brewery operates its own gift shop where you can purchase all kinds of memorabilia featuring your favorite designs, colors, or flavors: clothing, unique steins, packaged beers, and other trinkets of varying sorts.

We stopped at a pub/cafe called Nail Creek to have a very late lunch/early dinner. The beer selection varied daily, offering some exotic brews with funky names. The gourmet sandwiches were so large, we didn't even need to think about if we would have any dinner later on. Our pleasant server talked to us about how the businesses were doing in the neighborhood (pretty good, thanks to the brewery) and about Utica in general. This cute, gay, patriotic, peace activist was on the bar next to us.

All purpose protester
All purpose protester

When we finally hopped on our bikes to head back, one look at the darkening sky told us we were doomed. About ¾ of the way back to FLUKE, the skies opened up; we were soaked when we climbed aboard. It is so difficult to get things dry when the sun isn't out very long and it is cool. If we're running the generator, I can put clothes in the dryer, but we wouldn't start it up just for that.

After we got back, the lockmaster came by to tell us that some sort of “spill” had occurred in Rome, about 10 miles west, and the canal was being closed until further notice. We told him we weren't planning on leaving then anyway. Several boats had to end up tying up to the wall until they received notice later in the evening that boating traffic could proceed.

When we arrived in Rome we could see a spill boom in the water adjacent to a tributary creek, but there wasn't any clean-up activity going on or any sign at all as to what the spill may have been. We were glad, since we didn't want to have to worry about some type of nasty chemical getting on the hull and eating up our wax.

Our surprise came when we saw that there had been some work done to the dock we had tied up to in 2009. The platform had been modified to where only small, day boats could safely tie up to it. So, that meant we had to tie up to the old barge wall if we wanted to stay there.

Watch your step
Watch your step

The wall is every bit as nasty as it looks. However, there is plenty of water alongside, and the structure is sturdy. You have to be creative in how you tie up your boat and get off and back on. It is slippery, so you really have to be careful. In our case, from the photo, we stepped from the boat onto that wide, fender timber. From there we stepped onto the piling with the towel tied to its top. Eddie thought the top of the piling was too slippery, so the towel helped with the footing. The line running from the upper deck to the bollard (Wayne is holding onto it) helped give stability and let us pull ourselves onto the concrete wall. I thought the worst step was going back from the wall to the top of the piling.

It rained most of the day we were in Rome. When there was a storm break in the late afternoon we walked to the Italian neighborhood we had visited before to get some things at an Italian market. They sell homemade dried pasta, of varying flavors, and this time we bought the lemon pepper fettuccine that I served with a shrimp and white sauce. It was so yummy, I'm drooling thinking about it as I write this.

Not a mail truck
Not a mail truck

We have to walk by the Rome Public Works maintenance area, and I laughed when I saw their mailbox.

There is also the best Ace Hardware store that we have ever seen within walking distance. They have an abundance of helpful employees, a well-organized store, and a garden department that could be a stand-alone nursery. We just needed an odd fluorescent light bulb for the washer/dryer closet and they had it.

Fort Stanwix is right across the street from the Ace Hardware store. That's where Wayne and Eddie got certified for firing cannons when we visited there during our 2009 expedition. Since we've reviewed the procedure several times since then, we decided not to go back to the fort to get recertified.

Davy Crockett would be proud
Davy Crockett would be proud

When we arrived back at the canal wall, this little canoe was tied up. Its owner showed up within a few minutes, a guy in his 20s. We asked him about his travels: his plan was to paddle from Buffalo, NY to New York City. He made the canoe himself, not from a kit, but by reading how to build it. He couldn't carry many supplies because of weight and lack of room, so he didn't even have a tent to sleep in. He said he just slept in the canoe. The canoe weighs 80# wet, and he said while he could lift it, because of all his stuff in it, he couldn't portage around the locks; he had to lock through each one just like we do! Look on a map to see how far he had made it! He didn't have much troubles in the canal systems, but had to turn back and delay a couple of days when trying to cross Oneida Lake. I tried to envision how it was going to be for him paddling down the Hudson River; what a task that would be, especially as he got further south and had to deal with the tidal currents and traffic wakes. Talking to people like that makes me feel like such a softie for how lucky we are to have the comforts aboard FLUKE.

Cruising neighbor
Cruising neighbor

In contrast, the following day, we got back from our early morning walk to see we had just gotten a new neighbor. This river cruiser had pulled in to offload passengers who wanted to take a land tour by bus during the day while the cruise boat kept going eastward. It appeared that most of the people getting on the bus were women, probably getting away from their husbands for the day. See all those men in the bow of the ship? I went over to talk to them. They said they were traveling from Chicago to New York City. When we were in Rome in 2009, the Grande Mariner passed us then too, but didn't stop at the terminal wall to drop off any passengers.

We were just lagging along the canal at this point since the weather has been so bad and higher winds were in the forecast, meaning we were in no hurry to get out onto Lake Ontario. We would only travel 8 miles from Rome to get to Lock 21 and stay on the east side of the lock before we would begin the downward cruise on the Erie Canal.

Lucky and Sid
Lucky and Sid

This was the first time in 3 passes on the entire canal that we had ever seen any trail riders. We yelled that out to these two women as we passed them while we were underway. After we had been tied up at Lock 21 for an hour, the two women showed up on their return trip and stopped to talk to us. We are real horse fans and told the women how beautiful their horses were. Both of the horses (as well as several others they each had on their farms) were rescued race horses. They said that the race horses made great trail riding horses because nothing ever bothered them; they were used to people and machine noises and being handled in all kinds of weather.

The women had been also riding earlier in the day on the original Erie Canal towpath, now part of the Canalway Trail system, and officially called the Old Erie Canal State Park. The state declared the old abandoned canal and tow paths a state park so that it would be protected from development and people could still see it. We decided to take a 5 mile bike ride along the path, which goes through rural sections of the county, with several flooded areas alongside the path. This time, most of the path was made of a finely crushed stone. It wasn't too bad to ride on except in places where there had been horse traffic, which made the path pretty bumpy from the hoof prints and piles of poop.

Chainsaw art
Chainsaw art

One of the rural homes we passed had several pieces of chainsaw “art” scattered around the property. This wolf family piece was the biggest, about 10' high.

Wayne craft
Wayne craft

With all the rain and overcast skies, we Floridians have been wearing sweaters. The guys asked me to make some chili to try to warm up the evening. Wayne made this cheese and walnut bread to go with it.

Canal-eyed susans
Canal-eyed susans

Lock 21 is the quietest lock on the canal since there are no highways, railroad tracks, local through roads or bridges in the area. After dark, there were a gazillion lightning bugs, some flying higher up in the air than FLUKE. I smiled and thanked Mother Nature for a great day and another pretty bouquet as a chorus of frogs and crickets lulled me to a peaceful sleep.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:42 PM

    Delightful!

    Thanks,

    Jerry

    ReplyDelete