The 21st annual Cycle the Erie Canal bike tour rolled out of Rome early this morning, en route to Canajoharie some 60 miles east.
The eight-day bicycle tour spans nearly 300 miles from Buffalo to Albany, along the canal’s towpaths and trails.
The tour and its more than 650 cyclists trickled into the city throughout Thursday afternoon, arriving from Rome-New London Road and riding along Erie Boulevard then West Liberty Street to reach Fort Stanwix, where they set up camp for the night.
The weather had been cooperative since the tour began last Sunday, riders said, though more than two inches of rain fell last night and into the early morning after they had settled into their tents.
The group was served breakfast at the YMCA Friday morning, before heading south to pick up the canal trail near Martin Street.
While in Rome, cyclists were given a warm welcome — at check-in tent on the fort lawn, event organizers and Chamber of Commerce representatives gave the tourists information on area restaurants and entertainment. In Gansevoort Park, a beer garden and food trucks were on site to refresh the riders, who had ridden from Syracuse.
Many cyclists told the Sentinel this year’s ride was their first.
“It’s my first time,” said Curt Watson of Colorado, who was reading the kiosks along the trail at Fort Stanwix. “I’ve done a lot (of bike tours) by myself, from Pittsburgh to D.C. and that kind of thing, but this is the first time I’ve done an organized trip.”
“I had a little apprehension about how it would work, but it’s so organized, and it’s a good bunch of people, so I’m having a good time,” he added.
“It’s been going really good,” Watson continued. “We had great weather and been through several small towns, canal town, and everyone’s been so warm and comes out and has lemonade and welcomes us, it’s been a really great trip.”
While in Rome, Watson said he planned on “checking out all the history, and Fort Stanwix,” before “getting some dinner at night, then some rest.”
“We’ve got a long ride tomorrow, 63 miles,” he noted.
Eian Austrie of Huntington said it was also his first time on the tour.
“I’ve done some back home, just riding, but not every day like this,” he said, adding he’s considering signing up for next year’s event.
“We just set up camp right now, so we’re going to go into town to grab a bit to eat and see what they (the city) have to offer,” he said.
After pitching tents and hanging out their gear to dry, most riders took the opportunity to relax and refresh following a nearly 50 mile ride in temperatures reaching the mid 80s. A mobile shower truck was parked on the fort lawn, and in one tent, cyclists could receive a back massage.
“We rode 49 miles today,” said Paul Voytovich of Orchard Park. “We came in from Syracuse, from one of the city parks there, the one next to the zoo.”
“So far it’s good,” he said of the tour. “It’s my first ride, and it’s been interesting. It’s been challenging, but it’s fun. The people are great, it’s really a good time.”
Arriving in Rome, cyclists were more than halfway through with their journey.
“Three more days,” said Mary Fromm of California. “It’s my first time on a long ride like this. I’m getting tired, but I’m making it.”
“I probably won’t do this ride again, but I’d do a different ride, maybe not as long, maybe a four day ride,” she laughed.
The tour concludes on Sunday, when cyclists arrive in Albany.