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On Sunday afternoon I drove to Niagara Falls.  I had heard reports that the winter is a splendid time to view the ice formations caused by the cascading water and freezing mist rising from the turbulence.  I wanted to see a phenomenon called the Ice Bridge, created by ice and slush flowing over the American Falls and jamming against the Canadian side, sometimes reaching 50 feet thick and spanning the entire Niagara gorge.  The famous Ice Bridge, hanging ice formations, rising crystal formations, and throw in some history of the place… I needed no more motivation to go.

Even though it had warmed to above freezing and there was a forecast of rain, I rationalized that the warm weather hadn’t affected the ice yet.  I prepared myself with a warm parka, an umbrella, and drove north on I190.  I always get mixed up a little on the roads near the Falls but I only had to circle around once before I found a parking spot only one block from the American Falls.  The nice thing about this time of year is that most of the things you do at the Falls are free.  The only drawback is that most things are closed.  It started to rain as I walked to the visitor’s center.

Inside the visitor’s center I studied the map of the trails down to the Falls and along the upper riverbank.  It seemed like a good idea to hike from the Falls up the river across a pedestrian bridge and around Goat Island to the edge of the Canadian Falls.  I would be able to visit both Falls and get in a good exercise hike to boot.  Outside, the rain now fell harder making the ice packed walkways treacherous.

There were a few tourists about.  Mostly, they were from other countries, speaking a language I sometimes recognized, and sometimes didn’t.  I guess that if you are on a vacation or are visiting Niagara Falls for the weekend, you have to use the time to see what you can no matter what the weather.  I noticed that most of them walked down to the Falls, snapped numerous pictures of themselves with the Falls in the background, and then hurried back to their cars.

A metal-pipe railing dotted with big silver binoculars lined the walkway at the edge of the Falls.  Below, I could see the Ice Bridge craggy and thick stretching across the gorge.  There were formations of ice like you would see in a cave full of stalactites and stalagmites.  Some icicles hung from the Falls and others grew out of the wall where water trickled from holes.  It was quite impressive and I would imagine a lot more colorful if the sun was shining.  The sun casts rainbows of color through the mist, but I was not to see that today.

Early history of the area tells of several times when the Falls completely froze over, and one time in 1848 when an ice jam above the American Falls stopped the flow for over a day.  One explorer investigated the cave behind the Falls and exclaimed the sight more than arctic but lunar.  Up until 1911 tourists and spectators were allowed to cross the Ice Bridge, even play upon the mounds of ice, but when the ice suddenly gave way and took three people downstream to their deaths, the authorities stopped the practice.

I’m drawn to the plaques beside paths.  I figure if someone goes to the trouble to make them and erect them, I should be courteous enough to read them.  And I have to admit that I find most of them interesting.  I could see a sign down the path a way, under the superstructure of the Rainbow Bridge, begging me to walk down and read it.  It’s not my attempt to bore you with history of the area, but it was amazing to me that this bridge has been rebuilt four times!  Once, when it was a suspension bridge in the early 1800, a strong storm from the southwest tore it down, then, the next one was torn off of its foundation by an ice jam, and a couple of times it was rebuilt just to make it bigger.

AS I walked to Goat Island I was thinking about how this place must have looked to the Native Americans – I usually call them Indians, but for some reason I felt like being more politically correct.  Bridges, towers, factories, roads and buildings of ever kind spoil so much of the beauty of this place.  You can’t look anywhere without seeing something manmade.  Before the Niagara Parks Department – the first State Park in the country – took over the Falls and surrounding area it was even worse.  Buildings and factories lined every inch of the gorge and riverbank.  Now the Parks Department has turned a lot of it back to nature.

The rest of my walk was mostly uneventful.  I had the island almost to myself.  By the time I reached the Horseshoe Falls it was raining harder, and even with an umbrella my pants were getting wet.  The Horseshoe Falls, or Canadian Falls, is more impressive than the American Falls with 90% of the water going over them.  We used to go to Canada for the best view, but the border is too much of a hassle to go across now. I continued on around Goat Island, passed Three Sister Islands, and followed the path to a viewpoint of Grand Island and the portage point where oxcarts carried goods overland around the Falls to Lake Ontario in the 1700’s.

It seems I learn a little more history every time I visit someplace.  I guess you could read all this and see pictures on the Internet, but there is nothing like looking down over the edge of the American Falls and imagining people crossing on the ice.  Aren’t you glad you came for a walk in the rain with me?

 
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We have had a long stretch of good weather here in the Northeast but that all came to an end this last week.  A storm of great magnitude and devastation came barreling across the country, leaving in its path many power outages, stranded travelers and tragically, several fatalities attributed to the weather.  On Wednesday, the storm reached Western New York with falling temperatures, rain and wind throughout the day.  By Thursday snow bands off of lake Erie set up in Buffalo and made for treacherous driving.  It was strange how one area would get several inches of snow an hour, and only a few miles away the sun would be shining.  Just about the time I was about to depart for my delivery route, the Snow Belt shifted directly into the area where I would be heading.

Several vans were having trouble with the parking lot at our warehouse.  Snow had drifted over the building to pile a foot deep by the overhead doors, causing havoc just getting in and out of the building.  Because of the temperature – only slightly below freezing – the consistency of the snow was very mealy and slippery.  Surprisingly, many drivers had either neglected to get snow tires or thought they would not need them at all this year.  I was glad that I had very aggressive snow tires and I had little trouble digging through the parking lot and out onto the street.  As long as I went slowly, I negotiated the highway without incident and pulled onto the New York State Thruway to head for the south towns.

I entered a different world once I reached Hamburg, NY.  Snow was falling at a rate of several inches per hour and high winds caused very limited visibility.  At times I could hardly tell where the road was.  It was a catch-22: I couldn’t see where I was but I couldn’t go to slow for fear of getting stuck.  There were no snowplows on the road at all.  I think they had all given up and decided to wait until the blizzard subsided a little.  Most of the parking lots weren’t plowed and it was an adventure at each one.  I usually ended up guessing where the driveway was.  Just to load and wheel my dolly into the store – fighting the wind and deep snow – was time consuming and exhausting.  Once inside, the stores were mostly deserted with only a few fool-hearty customers that had braved the weather.

I reached Silver Creek several hours behind schedule.  The Rite-Aide store was without power and they led me back to the pharmacy by flashlight.  Everyone questioned me about conditions in other areas I had come through and where I had last noticed electricity.  I told them of several trees broken or uprooted along the road, surely taking down power lines with them.

The scariest thing happened in North Collins.  Three sets to railroad tracks cross the highway just east of town, cantered at an angle that offers little view of approaching trains.  There are lights and guardrails at the crossing but I usually like to take a look down the track anyway.  I never have trusted the warning signals 100%.  Just as I pulled on to the first set of tracks, out of the corner of my eye I saw the lights start to flash.  I now had a glimpse down the track and I could make out the light of a train flying towards me.  The snow on the tracks was deep and my van slowly dug and chewed its way to the other side.  The crossing arms came down just missing the back of my van as I cleared the last set of tracks.  Moments later the train filled my rearview mirrors.

By the time I reached Fredonia, I was out of the snow band and the grass still peeked through the dusting of snow on the ground.  The wind was raw and howling from the south, rocking high-profile vehicles like mine, gearing up for a calamity of events that would unfold during the night and into the next day.  Later in the day, the snow would shift into the area between Fredonia and the Pennsylvania State Line, stranding motorists on the NYS Thruway for hours.  Several miles of thruway became a twenty-mile parking lot as visibility dropped to zero and accidents clogged the road.  Hundreds of people spent the night and most of the next day trapped in their cars as authorities closed the highway.   I can only imagine what it would be like to spend 16 hours snowbound in a vehicle.  Many motorists ran out of gas trying to run their heaters and stay warm. Some had nothing to eat or drink.  With a small twist of fate, it could have been me.

The trip back to Buffalo was fairly uneventful.  I hit some areas of high winds (clocked at 70 mph in some areas) and ran into a few bands of snow, but by then the plows had salted most of the major roads and cleared some secondary ones.  I would drive through whiteout conditions on Friday but nothing as bad as the day before.  When I reached Fredonia, the Wal-Mart I deliver to had 50 semi-trucks in their parking lot and hundreds more were waiting along the road for the thruway to open.  Out on the thruway, State Troupers were going from car to car checking for medical emergencies and people in need.  Not until late in the afternoon would snowplows and towtrucks free the line of motorists.

Will someone please tell me why I took this South-Town route?

 
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Last weekend my Son and Daughter-in-law stopped by to enjoy with me an afternoon meal at Applebee’s restaurant.  I had recently received a gift card from one of the stores I would no longer be delivering to and I had asked Dave and Lisa if they would share the gift card with me.  We enjoyed a good meal with plenty to eat, but the appetizer platter Dave ordered left us too full to finish most of our main meal.

Afterwards, we sat around the living room talking, and I mentioned to Dave that it would be nice if I could stream some shows from my computer to the TV.  I couldn’t justify spending $80/mo. to hook up cable when there is almost nothing on that I want to watch.  With more and more free programs and movies available online, I was wondering if he knew of a way I could hook the computer to the television.   We checked the connections and discovered that because of the television age and my base model laptop, no cable would connect them.  Dave picked up his iPhone and after a couple of minutes of research told me he had an idea.

First, he installed PlayOn on my computer, a media app that is used to transmit shows from various venders over wireless connections to gaming consoles.  Next, he configured the kids Wii to find the wireless signal and connect to the Internet.  After a few minutes of experimenting with different settings he had it all up and working.  Apparently, the signal comes from the wireless router (not even in my house) to my computer, then back to the router, then back to the Wii, then to the TV!  It all boggles my mind.

 
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I recently accepted a new delivery route at work and several of the workers I have seen every day over the last two years showered me with cards, cakes and gifts on my last day to their store.  It was really a touching gesture on their part and I was very moved by their thoughtfulness.  I thought about all the friends I had made during that time  – I knew over 50 of them by name – and it was sad to realize that our paths probably wouldn’t pass again for a long time.  One thing I know from my job as a delivery driver is that out of casual greetings and little pieces of information passed on every day, you get to know people quite well.  As we shared hugs and said good byes, we promised to keep in touch.  I hope someday that I will sub for the driver doing the route now and get to say “Hello friends,” again.

 
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With cold weather fast approaching and the days getting shorter, I felt the need to try for one more exercise hike before I gave into winter hibernation.  I pondered several areas that have good hiking trails: Allegany State Park, The Fingerlakes Trail, Letchworth Park, all of which offer beautiful scenery and miles of groomed trails.  It seemed logical to pick someplace I wouldn’t have to drive far to get to, and it would be nice to have a loop trail to avoid retracing my steps back to the truck.   After searching through my maps for places that met this criterion, I happened upon an idea.

Letchworth Park has a trail that follows the gorge for more than 20 miles, meandering back and forth along the eastern rim, through mature woods, ravines, waterfalls and majestic overlooks.  I noticed that there was a road intersecting several access points along the trail and I decided I would leave my truck at one of these parking areas, ride my bike a few miles down the road to another access point and hike back through the woods.  What could be better exercise than hiking and cycling?

It’s hard to believe that the middle of November in New York can still be warm and sunny.  Here I was riding my bicycle down the highway towards the Mt. Morris dam on a glorious Saturday morning.  The temperature was in the 60’s – way out of normal for this time of year – and sunshine forecast for the whole weekend.  I couldn’t remember whether I was supposed to ride with traffic or facing traffic, so I would weave back and forth across the road depending on which way I felt less paranoid.  Traffic was light, thank goodness, and I was soon entering the visitor center road near the start of the Letchworth trail.  I hid the bike behind some bushes and picked up my backpack and hiking poles.  For day hikes I still carry some warm clothes, rain jacket, headlamp and first-aid kit, along with snacks and water.  Even though there is cell phone service along the entire trail, I like to be prepared.

It was good to be off the highway and back in the wood.    Most of the trail was dry – below normal rainfall for the last few weeks – and I thought once of hiking in sneakers but opted for my hiking boots.  The path was mostly level except where it went through ravines.  Sometimes the ravine was so deep and steep that the trail had to detoured a long way around.  There were areas of huge Red Oak trees, some still hanging on to their brightly colored leaves, refusing to let go until snow comes and pulls them to the ground.  At times the trail would take me to the edge to the gorge for a panoramic view of the fertile valley along the Genesee river.

I only met three people on the hike.  Two were on mountain bikes and they passed me in a flash.  I have mixed feelings about allowing bikes on hiking trails.  I guess I want some places you can only get to by walking and it made me feel good when I came to a place where I knew they would have to get off and push.  I came upon one giant tree that had fallen across the path and I knew they must have really struggled maneuvering through the limbs.

When I parked my truck, I set a waypoint in my GPS so I would know exactly where to come out of the woods.  As I hiked back, it seemed like I had gone too far and I almost didn’t trust what my GPS was telling me.  Biking along the road was so easy that I couldn’t relate it to the distance of walking back.  With all the winding of the trail through the woods, I probably walked twice as far as I rode.  But it worked out good and combined for a great day of exercise.  I’m thinking now that the possibilities could be endless with a small moped or scooter instead of a bike.

 

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