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Wabash and Erie Canal

June 10, 2013

Indiana – Sunday, June 2

I got kind of a late start today, but at least the weather looked relatively clear. Originally I had thoughts of heading northeast to Amish country, but yesterday I had read something about a canal park in Delphi, which I discovered was a little to my northwest, so that’s the direction I went instead. I took a detour to see one of Indiana’s covered bridges. The drive took a while, but it was really pretty going through the rolling green farmland of central Indiana. I found the Wabash and Erie Canal Park and Interpretive Center and was really happy I came this way. I went into the museum/visitor center, and found out that they offer boat rides on a reproduction of an original canal boat, and I had 5 minutes to get down to the dock to catch the next tour. The canal history was really interesting – the Wabash and Erie Canal was over 400 miles long in its heyday. It was the longest canal in the US, and the second longest canal in the world. It was all dug by hand by Irish and German immigrants, and was about 40 feet wide and 4 feet deep. But just because the canal was only 4 feet deep didn’t mean the digging was only through 4 feet of dirt. The laborers had to dig through stones, rocks, tree roots and snake dens. The water flowing through some of the limestone was acidic, and mosquitoes didn’t like that, so that kept the bugs under control in parts of the canal, and the acidic water was also said to be a good remedy for snakebites. We passed one of the old lime kilns. The water in the canal was pretty high today, and the boat barely made it under the bridge – it cleared the bridge by mere inches, and only because the boat had filled its ballast tanks with water. Our boat was powered by an electric motor, but back in the day teams of mules often pulled the canal boats instead of horses – mules were smarter, stronger and easier to train. A typical work session for a mule was 15 miles, and the mules often knew exactly when they had covered those 15 miles. The big companies who frequently shipped freight by canal built mule barns every 15 miles and they would trade the tired mules for fresh ones, and usually cover 60 miles in a day. They didn’t travel at night. Private canal boats would often have room on their boats for a couple extra mules and rotate them every 15 miles. There were different kinds of canal boats, and the passenger-only ones could be quite luxurious – a comfortable and very reasonable way to travel. The Wabash and Erie Canal is mostly dry now – but a short segment of it has enough water in it for the boats, thanks to the limestone quarry that releases about 3 million gallons a day into it. Trains made the canals obsolete after only 30-40 years of use.

After the boat ride, I went in to see the museum, and enjoyed that. They had a donation box out for the park, and since I’ve enjoyed so many canal walks and towpaths, and really enjoy learning about all of that, I decided the Wabash and Canal Interpretive Center would be a good place for a donation today. The people there were interested in my journey, and a lady even came out of a back office when she heard me talking to say she had read about me in a newspaper. She also told me there was a small campground right behind the building, and that sounded like a tempting place to stay for the night, although I first had a lot of walking to do! So Tula and I set off along several towpaths, and a couple other trails, and she did a good part of the walking with me, but took a break in the middle section. We covered a little over 7 1/2 miles – sometimes it’s nice to have some extra miles stored up! We mostly walked along the canal, but part of the trail was by the river too. And Tula even walked across a suspension bridge, which she typically doesn’t like. This one wasn’t too bouncy, and she was hesitant to cross it the first time, but on the way back to the car it didn’t seem to bother her at all.

Then we returned to the campground, and got set up. I never expected to be able to camp next to a canal in Indiana!

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