Since we began our touring series, the 718 Summer Tour has been the Adirondack Loop. This is a well-traveled lap around the Adirondack Park in Northern New York State. Adirondack Park is absolutely stunning and, despite being located in the crowded northeast, is one of the largest nature preserves in the country.
Our version of the loop begins and ends in Schenectady and thus requires a train ride from Grand Central, (or in my case a drive in a truck full of bicycles). Schenectady is located on the Mohawk River, a handful of miles from the Mohawk’s confluence with the Hudson. It is the home of General Electric, and is arguably the easternmost city in the rust belt. After assembling the group and the bikes at the Amtrak station, the ride rolls through Schenectady’s version of Little Italy (which might be called Tiny Italy) and onto a rail-trail that sneaks between city blocks, past the edge of Union College and down to the Mohawk.
We cross the Mohawk in Rexford, NY (where Kurt Vonnegut lived and wrote for a portion of his career) and from here we begin the gradual climb from river level up to the Adirondack mountains. We pass through Saratoga, home of the harness track and natural springs offering their sulfurous wonder, and onward north into the mountains. Our loop takes us to the banks of Lake George and Lake Champlain, past Chapel Pond at the base of Giant Mountain, through Keene Valley, up into the high peaks region and over the saddle of Whiteface. At the northernmost point we are roughly 80 miles from Montreal. Then we head west and then south past hundreds of smaller glacial lakes. All the while we are passing forests of pine and birch, small mountain towns, dear, heron and even a bald eagle.
The longest day is approximately 70 miles but the average is slightly below 50. This makes for relaxed days in the saddle, with plenty of time for meals, breaks, and stops to resupply. In 2018 we had a wonderful group of people, with several who had never toured before and were breaking in new bikes and tents. Everybody got along and rode well and as the days progressed several new nicknames and inside jokes germinated. Also we found a marshmallow-roasting tool we christened “Joe Bident”.
We camped at state campgrounds, which can be crowded in summer but also offer easy amenities including hot showers, fresh water, swimming, and pay phones. They are all wooded and many have beautiful ponds and lakes. Campfires were enjoyed every night.
We experienced a variety of weather - most of it good. We had temperatures in the low 90s with humidity as we were slowly grinding up mountain passes, hard rain as we descending the back side of Whiteface, and more stars than anyone can comprehend once the nighttime air dropped below 40F and became crystal clear. Mostly it was warm but not too hot, and this year all the nights were dry and comfortable.
We had elk sausage, maple sugar candy, diner breakfast, amish family-farm-raised pork chops, grilled squash, garlic scapes, homemade doughnuts, strawberries, blueberries, cheese curds, soft-serve ice cream and Michigan-style hot dogs. We ate at wonderful local eateries and also cooked over the campfire.
This trip is challenging but not grueling, offers peace and solitude but not desolation or scarcity. It is long enough to get into the rhythm of riding every day but not so long you hate it. The country is remote but not God-forsaken. I highly recommend it, hope to do it again, and hope to see you out there.
"Why are we doing this again…?"
One of the biggest challenges faced in bike touring begins once the tour ends. Distraction from the sudden abundance of humans and social obligations and amenities makes one feel like a tourist in their own home. Re-acclimation results in loss of that which was gained during the tour, internal and external. Face a blank screen now and fill it with words before the memories fade - record your experiences and always remember to carry a diary or sketchbook. You'll make less mistakes the next time you go out.
The third annual 718-Adirondack Park summer tour begins in a Schenectady, NY parking lot. Bikes are transported here via U-Haul while riders take the train up, sparing us a day spent on pointless miles from NYC. We are bound to a schedule and must burn pre-determined mileage each day in order to reach campsites reserved in advance months ago. A strict pace may result in missed scenery but reaching camp with daylight on our shoulders is ideal; the benefits of downtime include rest, food, reflection and more rest at a proper organized campground. We will ride the Adirondacks in a counter-clockwise loop and it seems the route less taken as ACA tour riders, roadies trying for Iron Man and random friendlies we encounter are often rolling in the opposite direction. Suburbia fades behind us and Saratoga Springs is one of the last cities we will see for a week. Here we stop for a food and rest break halfway through the first day, taking a moment to process the change in surroundings. We will perform this ritual roughly around the same time every day for the rest of this tour (depending on the route's projected timeframe/mileage/elevation). We get back on the road and hit our first climb at Corinth Mountain - a steep wake-up call laced with high humid temps, and it only goes uphill from there.
Climbing a mountain on 50+ lbs worth of bike and gear requires focus and seamlessness between you and that bike and the do's and dont's of weight distribution quickly become apparent. Each climb is a unique choose-your-own adventure seeking the path of least resistance with enough speed to keep from tipping over at times; the inevitable descents are as scary as you want them to be, reaching speeds that no one back home will believe. The vast scale of the Adirondacks really hits home when it dawns on you that some scenery you're admiring is so very far away. You ask yourself the question the very first visitors asked: how do I get there from here? Once you get there, the second part of this adventure begins as you break out the camping gear that you will carry on your bike for hundreds of miles. Packing for tour requires much scrutiny in necessity, comfort and weight. Shelter, cookware, clothing, tools, maybe one luxury item (camping chair). Ask yourself many times: do I need that item on this tour?
Reaching camp on day one of a tour is a great morale booster - we made it through today, let's do it again tomorrow. The first night at Lake Luzerne saw us shift from riding to camping discipline after 50 miles in the saddle. Unload bike, set up hut, start fire, cook food, relax with crew, explore campground, unwind, sleep in comfort under stars. Break it all down in the morning, break fast and do it again 8 hours or so later in a new place. Repeat. On day two we rode near 50 miles to a similar site on Rogers Rock and gorgeous Lake George, taking guesses at property values all the way. Day three saw population diminish further over 70 miles to a campground in the shadow of Whiteface mountain. Each day guaranteed us at least one challenging climb so far and we began to now feel the elevation change. Looking up at the steepness of Whiteface brought on a feeling of vertigo. Mountain biking happens here in the summer and riders rolling into camp fresh off the mountain looked more tired than us.
On the morning of 48-mile day four we stuffed ourselves with breakfast and packed bags with reserve food knowing it would be a while before we had a chance to re-up. Whiteface is one of the more ass-kicking climbs on this tour but light rains pinballing through the region cooled us off. Halfway through the climb a Christmas-themed amusement park named Santa's Workshop rolls into view. It is the strangest thing we will see on this tour and I'm not sure why it exists other than to give us a reality/sobriety check. Good descents followed on steamy roads for miles with no one else in sight until we hit Saranac Lake.
There are points along a tour where supplies and human contact are scarce yet we need not carry more than dry goods and snacks day-to-day. Stay hydrated - shade is scarce on these roads and so are water sources at times. We roll the dice and ride light since campgrounds often have general stores nearby, providing goods for the vital dinner meal and breakfast that follows. At Fish Creek we find a trading post that sells cold food, hot food, cold beer, gear, clothing, knives, edible cricket candy, romance novels and one-person rafts. Who wouldn't want a raft on bike tour? Consider the possibilities…sign me up.
Riding further away into forever wild wilder country meant less humans and reception but when your C-3PO of a GPS craps out, cue sheets and ample road signage get the job done. Days five and six unfold this way, 34 and 50 miles whizzing down through lake regions and crawling back up sprawling vistas with backward glances at climbs we had conquered. Keeping a tally of these victories becomes meaningless as the miles and hours become a blur. The hardest challenges were behind us by now and ahead lay comfortable steady paces along winding roads, population: motorcycles, 4x4s, RVs, logging trucks, roadkill, us. The sun and heat persisted as it had for most of this tour, and this was a blessing. On a previous tour we experienced storms so fierce and cold that we should have been paddling instead of pedaling, but this time around the region was unseasonably dry. In contrast to the day, night went down to 40-degree chills at times. The skies witnessed over Lake Eaton and Moffitt Beach were among the best, being the furthest from light pollution.
Day seven saw a 30-mile retreat from the mountains to a cozy town and campsite at Sacandaga Lake where we spent the traditional last night celebrating the anticipation of our success. Party, recap and feast fireside with the finest rent-a-family-for-a-week riders you could ever wish for on tour. With the end in sight we prepped for a sobering early departure and therefore slept somewhat light. At dawn on day eight we broke camp one last time and saw the final 40 miles to Schenectady go by fast (albeit touring bike fast) along the Erie Canal and decaying industrial boneyard roots of Old New York for one last lonely scenic history lesson. Signs of suburbia intensified and the miles ticked off down to zero. We ended up back in the parking lot where we started, but we now found ourselves in a different place. Pack the bikes up, bid a hasty good-bye, disband, get in the van. Upstate NY fades in the rear-view mirror and NYC lies in wait. The tour is finished and the next challenge begins.
I recall a moment on the final day of a tour when our group passed a couple of locals standing roadside and they asked us, "Where are you headed?"
Looking over my shoulder I simply replied, "Home."
Why are we doing this again..? We are doing this to get away in order to get closer.