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Q&A with Two Gals on the Canal

Who are the Two Gals on the Canal?

Mother-daughter duo Sara Catalano and Beth Walker started paddling the Erie Canal together in 2018 with the goal of finishing the entire canal from end to end. When not on the water, Sara works as a Palliative Care social worker and Beth is a math professor and small business owner of Math Explorations.

What inspired you to paddle the canal?

The canal is part of New York history. Growing up in the Syracuse and Rochester areas, we constantly cross bridges over the canal. It is a safe place to canoe or kayak because the water is relatively calm and the abundance of launch sites make for easy day trips. We decided to try kayaking the whole canal instead of the same portion over and over again. Time on the canal is a chance to recreate, exercise, and explore beautiful NYS all at the same time. With 500 miles of navigable waterways in the Canalway system, there is always another adventure waiting.

How do you pass the time as you kayak or bike the canal?

When we paddle or walk together, we often talk the entire time! We also sometimes sing or listen to the sounds of nature around us – the birds, animals rustling along the shore, and the trickle of little waterfalls. Our favorite surprise was paddling quietly through a wooded section and suddenly realizing we were within five feet of a beaver who watched us go by!

Where are your favorite spots?

Beth and her husband regularly walk portions of the canal towpath near Palmyra and Newark with their big yellow lab, Yankee, stopping for coffee or lunch, or at Palmyra’s Chill and Grill for their famously generous ice cream cones. Sara enjoys walking and biking the Pittsford to Fairport section, especially on the weekends with stops in Schoen Place for a cup of hot chocolate or tea.

There are many easy-to-paddle day trips that pass through the Canalway’s hidden gem towns. We loved paddling through Lockport’s flight of locks that transport you from a beautiful gorge into a more pastoral setting. The canal takes an intriguing 90-degree turn in Medina where docks are available to get out and explore the town and several small waterfalls. Fairport just added an awesome adaptive kayak and boat launch and offers restaurants, coffee, gelato, an Erie Canal gift shop, and a historic lift bridge, all within walking distance from the launch.

How are the Canalway Challenges?

Our first Canalway Challenge was a big one! We were already a year into our goal of paddling the entire canal when the Challenge first started in 2019, and we jumped on board to complete our 360 End-to-End challenge by kayak in 2020. We shared our journey on Instagram and were quickly inspired by many followers who cheered us on and shared their own canal goals.

Since then, Sara has continued to log miles walking and cycling and has participated in each year’s annual February 15 challenge. She set a goal to complete her second End-to-End challenge by the close of 2023, this time by bicycle!

What motivates you within the challenges?

Each aspect of completing a challenge comes with its own motivation. Setting and working towards an achievable and inspiring goal gave us a feeling of great pride and accomplishment. When paddling or walking as a team, we found motivation in the beauty of the canal and spending quality time together in the quiet of nature. The Canal Water Trail experience is different from the water than from land, and we found we couldn’t wait to explore the magic and mystery of each new section. Getting to the next landmark kept us going when we were tired, and even then, the beauty around every curve of the waterway kept us moving.

What do you do as a canal steward? Why do you choose to be stewards?

Erie Canal Waterway Volunteer Stewards adopt a section of the Canalway approximately 10 miles long from May 1-October 31. We clear garbage from the waterway and launch sites in our section, chat with boaters, and get to know our section’s lock operators. It has been a wonderful way to give back to our community and help keep the canal clean and accessible for all to enjoy.

Canal Travel Tips

  • Keep emergency supplies on hand (whistle, airhorn, lock phone numbers, cell phone solar or battery charger, life jackets, and maps)

  • Be aware of the weather for the entire day.

  • Check out the ramp or launch you are headed to and verify its location!

  • Don’t overestimate how far you can paddle so you’re not caught between launches as the sun sets.

  • Locks usually shut down between 5-7pm, so plan accordingly.

  • There are stretches where you cannot exit the water because the banks are too steep and there may not be any place to get out and use facilities between launches, so plan ahead.

  • Let someone know where you are going.

  • Turn into oncoming wakes caused by motorboats. Stay to one side of the canal to let others pass.

  • Enjoy the experience. We see bikers fly by on the towpath and wonder if they are aware of the wildlife, flowers, smells, and sounds of this natural treasure.

  • Don’t let your destination rule the trip!


"We love talking about the Erie Canal and are happy to share our stories! Follow us on Instagram at @two_gals_on_the_canal and send us a DM if you’d like to connect!"

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