Swift Campout 2017 Report: Rochester to Holley Canal Park

A group of twenty intrepid bike campers rode twenty six miles out and back on the historic Erie Canalway Trail, from our hometown of Rochester, NY to the village of Holley, NY. For several, including my wife, it was their first dip into the waters of bicycle camping. Our diverse group congregated at Genesee Valley Park to meet up and make final preparations.

Meeting up at Genesee Valley Park on a sunny Saturday morning.

With the group fully assembled and bicycles loaded, we headed westbound on the Canal Trail. Luck was on our side as we enjoyed clear skies and mild weather for the majority of the day. We slowly meandered together past the outlying industrial blights of urban life towards the green countryside, forging new friendships as we pushed the pedals. A brief break for snacks and stretches was called as we crossed into the town of Greece; a sunny field with a well-placed picnic table served as a gathering point.

Creating shared memories on our bicycles on a beautiful morning.
Consume snacks, re-apply sunscreen. (35mm photographs by Alyssa M DeWitt)

Cruising onward, we passed forth into tunnels of green vegetation and open, wild-looking lands, many not yet developed by man. We had passed into the countryside west of the city, and it felt good to be leaving the busy life behind, even just for a night. The group had began quite the collection of friendly waves and smiles from passing cyclists, hikers, and boaters — the positive energy of the beautiful day seemed to be lost on no one.

The village of Spencerport was to be our next stop on our journey — an opportunity to pick up last-minute supplies for some, and for others, an opportunity to enjoy some ice cream. A thank-you to the kind folks from the Spencerport Depot & Canal Museum, who allowed us to use their facilities before heading back to the trail.

Stopping in Spencerport, and then rolling out.

Another expanse of the Canal Trail through the countryside west of Rochester brought us towards Brockport, NY, and Stoneyard Brewing — our last stop before reaching camp. Nary a flat tire nor minor mechanical impinged upon our mission, and aside from a slight headwind, the weather continued to cooperate nicely.

Locking up at Stoneyard in Brockport, NY. Embrace the bike pile.

The sweaty lot of us took over a large piece of the patio, and we rewarded our forward progress thus far with cold beer. Some patrons may have been put off by twenty sweaty bicycle campers, but that was a risk we were more than willing to take. Crowlers were acquired to later accompany the evening’s meal, and we took off on the final stretch towards Holley.

Beer station! (35mm photograph by Alyssa M DeWitt)
Getting comfortable.

With many of us starting to feel the day’s miles, we finally pulled in to Holley, NY, and crossed the bridge to the aptly-named Holley Canal Park. Since there is a dearth of good information on this spot for bike tourists, here’s a list of some of the great things about this spot:

  1. Free, legal camping for Canal Trail tourists
  2. Private code-access showers & bathrooms for said tourists (ask the bridge attendant for the code)
  3. Tent sites right along the Erie Canal with grills, picnic tables, and established fire rings
  4. Hiking trails and a beautiful waterfall
  5. Walking distance to a diner, pizzeria, and a convenience store
  6. A short ride from a swimming hole further down the Canal Trail

Once we arrived, we began quickly setting up camp as dark clouds loomed overhead, whispering rumors of a coming thunderstorm. Some of the braver among us disregarded these rumors and took off for the swimming hole, intending to get soaked anyway. The rest of us hunkered in our tents and hammocks, relaxing and enjoying a snack. In our tent, as the rain gently rolled off the rainfly, I introduced my dear wife to my favored bike camping tradition of enjoying a snack of cheese, crackers, and cold beer as the first order of business upon setting up camp. After the storm passed, a double rainbow greeted us as we emerged from our various shelters.

Nature rewarded us kindly for waiting out the thunderstorm.

With the sun peeking through the breaking clouds, we took the opportunity to walk through the park and into town to grab some candy from the local convenience store. Steam rose from the ground as the emerging sun dried out the earth from the recent downpour.

After grabbing our snacks from the store, we took a detour to check out the waterfall located in the park. We found a cute puppy to give kisses to. It was really turning out to be one of the best days.

Taking a stroll around Holley.

We arrived back at the campsite to start dinner; the rest of our group slowly followed suit. For us, the classic “Backpacking Pad Thai” with a scrambled egg to add protein, topped with some spring onions from our garden back home. A perfectly filling meal to help replenish our expended energy from the day’s ride. Others enjoyed dinners ranging from dal, vegetarian burritos, various curries, pasta, to a slice of hot pizza from the local pizza joint. We were a group of happy campers.

Various meals materializing before our eyes. (35mm photograph by Alyssa M DeWitt)

With full stomachs, firewood was slowly gathered and Alex took upon himself the arduous task of breaking down the wood and preparing the fire. As the sun began to set, the fire was lit, and the group began to convene around the warm glow. Our group had grown in number since we arrived, with a couple from Rochester having joined us at the campsite after hearing about the trip through Facebook, and Théo, a truly inspirational French gentleman who is taking on the incredible journey of cycling around the world. After connecting with a member of our group via WarmShowers, he joined us at the camp for the evening on his way to New York City. So we sat, a group of now twenty three, all having ridden our unique bicycles nearly thirty miles to share this experience together. S’mores, stories and libations were shared as the fire roared. Fireflies flickered off in the distance, and the silhouette of a bat streaked overhead in the dark blue evening sky. This is what we came here for.

Scenes from a beautiful evening.

We enjoyed a comfortable night’s rest in the cool night air, the storm having brought the temperatures down. Alyssa’s new sleeping pad proved to be a worthy addition to our collection of gear, as she slumbered away in her cozy, comfortable cocoon. We slept undisturbed until the warm rays of the morning light began to shine on our tiny nylon vacation home, and the faint sounds of others awakening to the clear sunrise and starting various morning routines stirred us to follow suit.

Morning light. (35mm photograph by Alyssa M DeWitt)

We joined the group along the bank of the canal and fired up the stove for our morning coffee. We sipped from our camp mugs and watched the sun rise further, stirring the final sleeping campers from their respective slumbers.

Morning coffee rituals.

A hot breakfast of scrambled eggs with cheese wrapped in tortillas gave us the energy we’d need for the journey home. Others enjoyed sweet potato pancakes, leftover curry, oatmeal, and other assorted breakfast treats. The weather was clear and becoming steadily warmer — a boon for our ride home.

Enjoying various breakfasts on the bank of the canal.

My wife, myself, and our friend Jason planned to take off a bit ahead of the main group, who planned to take another swim before heading home. With a hint of a thunderstorm in the forecast later in the afternoon, we opted to ride during the nice weather. We broke camp and packed our bikes, saying our farewells and wishing luck to our new friend Théo.

Morning scenes. (35mm photograph by Alyssa M DeWitt)

The three of us took off, heading eastward back towards the city. Bolstered by the good feelings from the day before, and with the wind at our back, we made quick and easy progress towards home. A quick break for water and snacks in Brockport and Spencerport, and soon, we were nearing Rochester.

Heading back home on a nice day, with the wind at our backs.

By 1:00, we had reached the finish line. We bode farewell to Jason as he headed home, and we loaded up our bikes at the park to head back to our own home north of the city. We were tired, but happy. Alyssa’s first bike camping trip had been a success, and she completely crushed it. We rewarded ourselves with a meal and a drink, the warmth of the experience washing over us as we discussed highlights.

With such a big group, there were many opportunities for issues along the way. However, through a combination of preparedness, knowledge sharing, and perhaps luck, the entire group made it out and back with no mechanical issues. Several had now been bitten by the bike camping bug, and a small group pushed on for another overnight south of the city. Our mission of spreading the excitement of bike camping had been a rousing success.

Thank you to: Alyssa M DeWitt for being a badass wife who tried something outside of her comfort zone, Daniel Breslawski for organizing the ride, and Alex Parsons, Jena Cinanni, Emma Heartcell, Meirav Cafri, Kay Colner, Daniel Kamalic, Bryan Agnello, Dustin Leavy, Blake Terzini, Scott Wagner, Jonathan Stafford, Onnolee Wierson, Michael Kelly, Jason Benedict, Julie Tjhung, Nate Deka, Daniel Esler, Théo Daniel, Ryan Scott Davis, and Mario Rocchio for being an excellent group of human beings to ride bikes with (forgive me if I forgot anyone).

(35mm photograph by Alyssa M DeWitt)