Below is a guest post from Scott “Atlas” Benjamin — the first thru-hiker (that we know of) to complete the entire Erie Canalway Trail and become an ECT End-to-Ender. Scott is a disabled veteran who returned to the U.S. with both physical and emotional injuries. Scott has hiked more than 3,000 miles along the Appalachian Trail. He credits long-distance hiking on the Appalachian Trail and other trails with restoring his faith in mankind, showing him the best of humanity and helping him to recover. Growing up in Buffalo and living in Medina inspired him to make the ECT his next long-distance journey.
A journey rich with history
Thru-hiking the Erie Canalway Trail was a wonderful experience. Meeting the great people of New York and seeing the wonders of engineering first hand that made the Canal possible is made all the richer when the journey is done with a backpack and hiking stick. Long distance hiking has become an increasingly popular sport. With the publication of several hiking books about the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, hiking has become an activity that brings many people together.
The Erie Canalway Trail has great potential to become a long distance trail that attracts people as an entry level hike. At just under 400 miles the Canalway Trail is long enough to peak interest and short enough to allow for people with limited time and financial concerns. It is much more approachable than the 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail. The fact that the Canalway Trail is relatively flat should also assist in helping people with physical limitations or no desire to kill themselves with the steep gradation of mountain trails. The Erie Canal has shaped the landscape of New York and established towns roughly a days walk for a mule apart, fortunately most hikers walk about the same pace as a mule, and smell about as good too. This provides hikers with equal parts natural beauty and access to the support found in the canal communities.
With the modern adaptation of cycling and pleasure boating along the canal, many cities have developed a little gem of kindness along the waterfront that allows for bikers and boaters to rest for the night and provide much needed services, such as restrooms, showers, laundry and much needed clean water. With minor improvements along the trail, such as consistent water sources and trail markers, hikers will be able to easily navigate the distance from Buffalo to Albany.
A perfect marriage of trail and history
Hiking the Erie Canalway Trail brought me to a greater appreciation for our nations history and the impact the Canal had on the various social, religious and engineering marvels that shaped the course of humanity. The love of history and hiking come together in a perfect marriage, albeit a thirsty and dirty marriage, along the Canal. Many people across the world have come to the Canal to bike the Trail or sail its waters. Hikers looking for a way to get into the sport that have insufficient time or desire to hike for five months, can be steered to the Canalway Trail as a way to gain a better perspective of themselves, the sport and our nation.
Read more about Scott’s incredible ECT journey on his trail journey, here.