By Bill Wolcott
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
LOCKPORT — Lockport’s Bill Barrows, who paddled from Tonawanda to Albany in 1993, had some advice for adventurers Richard Harpham and Glenn Charles for the first leg of their 500-mile journey down the Erie Canal on Tuesday.
“They should not stop at the Ship N Shore and have a couple of beers while the people are waiting for them. I suspect that’s where they are,” said Barrows while waiting at the Lockport Locks and Erie Canal Cruises.
It was not clear why the kayakers were delayed more than a hour, but Harpham and Charles were in good spirits as they shared stories with the small audience while drinking from bottles of beer.
The trip from Buffalo’s Erie Canal Harbor to the Statue of Liberty will be tame for the men who have had adventures from Africa to Alaska and who dressed as “Captain America” and “Superman” in the Barcelona Marathon. Their theme is, “Do it and worry about details after.”
The Erie Canal, which drops in elevation about 500 feet from Buffalo to New York City, offers a meaningful, steady downstream that pushes paddlers towards Albany.
“Clearly we’ve done things that are seen with a different lens,” said Harpham, a native of Great Britian. “I had a humpback whale roll under the back of my boat, swam in the Yukon River with a bear right next to me — a wolf on the bank.
“But for me, this is like Indiana Jones, to be able to do living history and look at stuff and go ‘Wow.’ Imagine those pioneers who pulled the barge along the with their ponies (mules). They were here in the freezing cold and they were digging in the mud. Wow! The amazing people we get to meet. What a privilege.”
Harphan, a former successful director of a utility company until falling through a trap door, now makes a living as a consultant, author, and inspirational speaker. He was wearing sandals from his visit to the “Wind of the Caves.”
“America is different,” he said. “You still have this vision, called the American dream, while we don’t have that buoyancy in the British cultures. The British culture in generally reseved. You have this buoyancy that allows you to bounce back... You meet people, who say, “We can do that.”
Barrows paddled in a competition racing canoe with Jack Meeks of Newfane in the Finlandia Clean Water Challenge, which was sponsored by the Finlandia Vodka Co. 19 years ago.
“It was a potpourrie of people, a bunch of guys like myself,” Barrows said. “It started at Niawanda Park and ended up in Albany.”
The winner was an Olympic Silver Medalist. Barrows and Meeks placed second in the C-2 Division.
“It was a great experience,” Barrows said. “I won a kayak and paddle. It got me into kayaking.”
And while Barrows and Meeks portaged around the locks in 1993, Harpham and Charles were scheduled to take the lock trip this morning.
I LOVE NEW YORK and the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. (NTCC) lured Harpham and Charles to the Erie Canal. The pair will pick up “Spares” along the way and will chronicle the trip on their “Spare Seat Blog” at thespareseat.com.
Bryan Stratton, the director of the Canal Corp. said, “We’re thrilled to support this great exposition and expedition. The canal is very important to New York state. They generate over $380 million a year in tourism-related business, as Capt. (Mike) Murphy’s establishment is a testimony to.”
The Spare Seat Kayak tour will be in Medina at 1:30 p.m. and Holley at 6:30 p.m. today.