It Ain’t Rocket Science. Then Again…

I spent part of the Independence Day weekend in Albany NY.  I was visiting my mother who keeps the house at about her age in Fherenheit. She seems to like it just fine but it’s a tad warm for me.  I just happened to bring along Little Nellie in case we were found to be in the good graces of the weather gods. Basically, almost anything would be more comfortable than the inside of my mom’s place.  And as it turned out, the weather gods were in a very good mood.

After reading the local newspaper and confirming that Albany is about as dead as I remember it, I headed out on Little Nellie to go visit my father, who lies in peace in a cemetery in Menands, just north of Albany along the Hudson River.  I had intended to take the Hudson River bike path but the city was dead at 8 a.m. so I kept to the streets.  I passed through Washington Park on the way toward the river.  When I was a kid, I think I set foot in this park a half dozen times. Now that I am older I appreciate the fact that this park is just about the prettiest spot in the city.  On three sides it is faced by gorgeous old buildings, probably built 90 or so years ago.  The park has flower gardens galore but I was only passing through.

I made my way to Lark Street which, in Albany, passes for bohemian.  I followed Lark north and the cityscape became decidedly less upscale in a hurry.  It must be a hard life in this section of town because people need to be reminded to smile. I followed the sign’s instruction and rode on.  At Pearl Street I picked up NY Route 32 which seems to go north and south withing shouting distance of the river.

From my younger years, I remember a couple of notable signs in this area. One was a huge Schaefer Beer sign on the side of the local brewery,  I seem to recall someone claiming it was the fifth biggest sign in the world.  Why anyone would keep track of such a thing, I’ll never know. Are there people who go around the world measuring signs?  Well, I didn’t find the Schaefer sign but I did come across a couple more winners.  Did you ever have a car problem that nobody could fix?  You probably wondered to yourself, why can’t they fix this thing.  It’s a car repair; that ain’t rocket science. Sadly, in Albany, it appears to be just that.  Of course, they imported some Bavarians to pull it off.

When I was little I remember seeing a dog on the top of a building near here. I thought this one was long gone, but Little Nellie found old Nipper still perched high above the North Albany streets.  He looks none the worse for wear. 

TeThe neighborhood of North Albany was made famous by the depressing Albany Trilogy of William Kennedy.  The third book in the series, Ironweed, earned Kennedy the Pulitzer Price for fiction. It was made into a movie with Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep.  Some of the streets nearby were spruce up (or down) for the film.  Kennedy himself grew up in North Albany.  I stumbled upon his boyhood home. I’ll bet it was filled with all sorts of ne’erdowells and rapscallions.  Nowadays, some punk with a bike lives here.

One main reason for me staying on Route 32 is that I know this is the road that the cemetery is on.  I can never remember how far north the cemetery is though.  So I rolled north, pleasantly surprised by the absence of traffic.  Soon I came to the cemetery entrance road and after another ten bumpy minutes, I came upon my father’s gravesite.  Somebody got the wise idea to plant a pin oak next to his grave.  The front yard of our house in Albany had several pin oaks and they were always a favorite of my father.  This particular tree seems to have come under the persuasion of my father’s green thumb.  It seems perfectly shaped and shades his grave nicely.


After tipping my helmet to my old man, I rode off north. I crossed the Mohawk Rover where it meets the Hudson at the town of Waterford.  Here I began to pick up signs for the Champlain Canal system, built to connect the Hudson with Lake Champlain.  Lo and behold the old canal still exists in parts.  I followed the towpath whenever I could. I thought it was odd that no one else seemed to be enjoying this beautiful stretch of green.  All mine.

Knowing that the Erie Canal currently in use was built long after the original canal, I thought that a more modern version of this canal must be around here somewhere. And it was. I found it in the Village of Waterford, not be confused with the apparently larger Town of Waterford.  Here is a towboat in one section of the canal.

A short while later I stumbled upon a canalside festival of sorts. A splendid packet boat similar to those I saw on the Erie Canal during my ride across New York State was sitting in wait of riders. Further along I saw some incredibly cute baby steam boats. These can be rented for short excursions on the nearby canal and river. The best part is each boat has a steam whistle that goes “TOOT, TOOT.”

After checking out the festival I stumbled on the old canal again. I followed the towpath for about a mile when the canal suddenly stopped and the path continued up a barren hill. This looked like a landfill.  I couldn’t believe that this beautiful little historic canal was less important that garbage.  The path ended at a chain link fence so I back tracked and hit the road again. At points the road runs along the river bank.  The views were just gorgeous.At one point I meandered onto an island in the river and rode in a circle popping out a mile south. On a day like this, who cares. 

Not surprisingly I came upon signs for another lock in the new canal. Of course, I checked it out.  This one was actually taking a boat in to the lock so I watched the proceedings.  A heron perched on a railing along the canal’s edge was more interested in fish than boats..

It was time to make tracks.  All this canal touristing was eating up my day.  So I started rolling hard for the City (no town or village here) of Mechanicville.   This is where my father grew up. I decided to tour some old haunts.  First stop was my grandmother’s house. I remember this as a dark place inside and out.  My brother tells me that it is now owned by one of my cousins. He’s really doing a nice job keeping it up. I especially like the old stone chimney.

I rode up a steep hill to the cemetery to check out the family gravesite. Here lie my paternal grandparents and several aunts and uncles. One of them is my uncle John after whom I am named. He died at the age of five long before I was born. Nothing gives you the chills like seeing your name on a gravestone. I wonder what kind of an uncle he would have made. Would he have survived the war? If he had lived, I wonder if my parents would have named me something else. 

I decided to head back home so I turned west and south and started climbing. I eventually made my way back to the Mohawk, this time a couple of miles up river. Here the river is broad and makes for nice pleasure boat riding. I took a wrong turn and ended up on the lower side of a dam.  Here Little Nellie posed for a picture.

After a brief visit with a sibling I was back at my mother’s house.  All in all, 69 miles of blue skies, low humidity and some pretty interesting discoveries.  I am glad Little Nellie came along on this trip home.