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'SLACKBIKING' AND ENJOYING SIGHTS ALONG SEAWAY TRAIL

A FEW Appalachian Trail hikers have defined a new type of traveling. They call it slackpacking, and I'm all for it.

Slackpacking is the antithesis of, and a reaction to, the kind of fast-paced, goal-directed, go-for-distance driving ahead that so characterizes many in the hiking community. Slackpacking is strolling along, paying attention to the world around you and stopping often -- to chat with those you meet along the way, to observe the wildlife, to admire the scenery and simply to enjoy the time and place.

I'm for it not only because I appreciate that environment, but also because I have never been strong enough to maintain the pace called for by the speedsters.

Now I add a term and definition of my own: slackbiking. Its characteristics are exactly those of slackpacking except that the mode of travel is the bicycle.

I tried out slackbiking a week ago along the Seaway Trail from the New York-Pennsylvania border at Ripley to the Southtowns at Lackawanna. I took two full days to bike the 68 miles that many cyclers would have accomplished easily in one.

It was a wonderful excursion. This part of the trail generally follows Route 5, departing from that route to steer still closer to Lake Erie along Lake and Lake Shore roads from just east of Cattaraugus Creek to Pinehurst.

Doris and I had traveled part of this route a few weeks earlier on our return from Alabama. That gave me a basis for comparison of the kinds of observations you can make driving at 50 mph and biking at 5. Those differences were striking.

Wildflowers that we could see as hardly more than a blur from the car now resolved themselves into individual species: The beautiful deep violet New York and New England asters and their smaller white relatives, heath asters. Pale yellow evening primroses that folded their soft petals as each day progressed. Twisted chicory, ugly plants except for their lovely blue boutonnieres. Yellow-orange goldenrod fronds and the white umbels of wild carrot or Queen Anne's lace. I even found a few late pink soapworts, whose alternative name, bouncing Bet, I have never been able to fathom.

Many homeowners' gardens also contained handsome fall flowers. Best-of-show for me was the Meyers' near Ripley.

It was still early for the height of fall colors, but a few trees were changing. Sumacs varied all the way from green to orange to bright red. Many ashes were yellow, and a few maples displayed some red. Those colors you can see from a car, but you don't have the opportunity, as I did, to inspect the remarkably varied individual leaves.

Some other things you would miss from the car: The black and orange woolly bear caterpillars crossing the road to head for winter homes in leaf litter. The round stone lighthouse hidden among the trees at Barcelona. Blue and white berries of dogwoods, red rose hips, blue-black wild grapes, red hawthorn and elderberries. A dozen goldfinches picking thistle seeds, a sapsucker joining a few kinglets and chickadees at the entrance to the Evangola State Park campgrounds, and a Carolina wren teakettling away along Big Sister Creek. Schools and homes already decked out for Halloween.

It was an enjoyable outing. Now if I could just get someone to pull me up those hills.

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