Sights of the Erie Canal inspire rower

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Maryland man covered up to 60 miles per day in Adirondack guide boat, raised $8,000 for scholarship

On the days leading up to his trip, Al Freihofer set up a blog that was titled, “Can Al Canal?” that would describe the adventures of the Maryland resident’s unique journey rowing through the Erie Canal.

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After 350-plus miles, apparently he can. After all, this isn’t Freihofer’s first voyage. In 2006, he covered 452 miles during a 13-day row from Troy, N.Y., to his hometown of Baltimore in a 15-foot Adirondack Guide Boat. He raised $17,650 for the Boys’ Latin School of Maryland scholarship program, where he works as an English teacher.

“I received the Adirondack as a 50th birthday present, and I thought I might as well get good use out of it,” says Freihofer, who is now 57. “Since we are a private school and there is tuition, there are some good students who might not be able to attend because of that. I like the idea I’m helping expand their opportunities.”

Freihofer departed June 22 from Buffalo, N.Y., and arrived Aug. 6 in Waterford, N.Y., averaging about 60 miles per day. Although this trip through the canal was not planned as a fund-raiser, he managed to raise $8,000 for the school.

“I’ve always loved small boats, growing up near Lake George, N.Y.,” says Freihofer. “I’ve always preferred sail- and rowboats to anything else.”

Freihofer owned a 26-foot Nonsuch catboat he sailed on Lake Champlain until 2001, when he moved to Baltimore. His Adirondack is double-ended and made of Kevlar, with two sturdy cherry wood oars. Freihofer carried little with him but basic supplies. The boat can hold about three days’ worth of food, a laptop, a life jacket, tent, sleeping bag, tarp, bed roll, an extra line, air horn and a signal mirror.

Al Freihofer rowed the Erie Canal from end to end, one stroke at a time; a snack and a check of the

“You can pile a lot into this little boat,” says Freihofer. “I was lucky. It only rained one day on the whole trip and the rest of the time seas were calm. I was fortunate.”

Freihofer says he spent only three nights in a hotel and the rest of the time he camped out, often right on the land near the locks of the canal.

“The locks themselves are so nicely kept and the keepers saw I didn’t have a lot of options, so they wouldn’t mind if I threw up a tent for the night,” says Freihofer. “I didn’t have to sleep in the boat, which I had to do once on my Baltimore trip. That was an uncomfortable experience.”

As much as Freihofer enjoyed the adventure of the experience, he enjoyed the people more.

“I received so much kindness from strangers,” says Freihofer. “It’s so much better to see the world rowing at 4 mph as opposed to being in a car. More often than not, I would stop when people would see me on the water and call me over to ask what I doing. Sometimes they’d even send you off with a drink.”

Freihofer’s gift to them in return was his blog (www.canalroweriecanal.blogspot.com), which gave day-by-day descriptions of his experiences, such as his royal welcoming at the Schenectady Yacht Club, which allowed him to pitch his tent near the dock and have full access to the club’s shower and swimming pool.

Freihofer averaged about 60 miles per day.

“This was a quiet trip — the row to Baltimore was more of a man-versus-nature experience,” says Freihofer. “This was also a shorter trip by about 100 miles. It was great exercise and a great way to see the world go by at a slower pace.”

This story originally appeared in the January 2009 issue.