Ever since journeying through the ADKs to visit Vermont, or camping at Lake Lila – I’ve wanted to do a long ride through the mountains. This trip would give me the opportunity – and it would also allow me to test the fitness I’ve been working to regain since I last partook of the long distance riding – back in 2006 when I successfully rode a 200, 300, and 400k – and DNFd on the 600k. I was living in southern Vermont and enjoying the rides of the Boston Brevet Series.
We routinely drive the route from Burlington to Utica to visit family. Typically we take the Charlotte Ferry and head over the mountains on Rt. 74 and connect to the Northway. Depending on weather we would then follow Rt. 8 through the ADKs or head south to the NYS Thruway. I modified our driving route by stitching together some quiet roads heading out of Burlington, followed by a climb to Paradox, NY off the main path along Creek Rd. Next time through I’ll add in a few dirt roads I scouted on this trip. From Paradox the route is easy – Rt. 9 south to Loon Lake followed by Rt. 8 nearly all the way to Utica. At the very end there are a few turns to avoid the ‘interstate style’ Rts. 8/12 south into town.
I prepped the bike by getting my newly replaced (warranty) SON dynohub wired up to my E6 lights. I had also recently cracked my rear Honjo fender – so in the mail was a replacement from Velo-Orange. Add to the mix a long awaited Bagman Sport from Harris and a Nitto Mark’s Rack from Rivendell and I had my hands full wrenching. At the last moment I decided to swap out my tires – the tread on the Conti-GP 4 Seasons would have easily lasted – but I didn’t want to take any chances. I debated switching brands and trying something new – but I opted for the tried and true. Continental GP 4 Seasons have treated me well – so I added another pair of 28’s to my collection.
The first leg of my route is a flat to rolling ride south through the Champlain Valley. A quick ride into Vergennes, VT and then south and over the Crown Point Bridge to New York. I made a bathroom and water stop at the DEC campground just over the bridge. I started rolling at 4:15 am and left the campground by 6:20 am.
Heading up and out of the Champlain Valley would now begin – I started the climb to Paradox – up Factoryville Rd. to Creek Rd./Rt. 2. Creek Road followed a beautiful creek – up and up into the woods and mountains. I passed along several ponds and then arrived at Rt. 74. A right turn and some busy miles later I arrived in Paradox. I made a quick stop for water at the Paradox DEC campground and headed towards Schroon Lake.
I rolled through Schroon Lake and past Loon Lake turning west on Rt. 8. Jen was somewhere en-route. By the numbers she would have met me somewhere along Rt. 9 between Schroon Lake and Pottersville. She got a late start, and I was rolling ahead of schedule. Somewhere near Johnsburg I stopped to check my voicemail – worried that she was lost on the route – and she was. She had made a wrong turn off of Rt. 8. I had been holding off on water and lunch as I knew she was close – I didn’t want to chance running into the only general store along this stretch and miss her. This put me climbing up 11th mountain – out of water and unable (or unwilling?) to choke down anymore calories. My stomach was a upset with the constant stream of energy bars and ClifBloks. I pedaled on – and after stopping for a picture at the 11th mountain elevation sign I saw the flashing of car lights and a friendly toot from the horn. Jen surprised me with PB&J sandwiches – a treat that helped sort out my stomach. She also loaded up on water – so I topped off my bottles and headed out. I was hoping for a nice steady descent to digest my lunch – but the stretch to the Rt. 8 / Rt. 30 merge at the Sacandaga river was work – a rolling downhill that offered minimal respite from the climbing. My lunch stayed put and by the time I reached the bridge and the climb to Speculator I was feeling strong again. I gave up most of the elevation I gained on the climb to 11th mountain – I now had to climb nearly the same distance to Speculator. 7 miles @ 4-5%, with some false flats and a consistent rain pouring down. Jen met me again in Speculator – she had salty chips and ginger ale waiting for me – and I managed to sneak a kiss to our snoozing little one. We conferred on my final route choice and set up cell phone ‘worry times’ – and she was off to dinner with her folks while I rolled another 100k+ into the oncoming weather.
I had it in my mind that after I arrived in Speculator I would have a much easier time with the terrain. I was mistaken and will remember to use Topo to plot routes before I head out the door. Nothing in the ADKs is downhill. Everything trends upward. Mentally I was preparing for an easier ‘downhill’ run… but I had quite a bit of climbing to do before I could enjoy any descending. I had a fast few miles to Lake Pleasant, then some rain and more climbing. From the river crossing to Piseco the road was fairly busy – so I had the blinkies blinking as the rain came down, and took my fair share of the shoulder or the lane. For the most part I traveled on good road surfaces. There were a few sections that were a bit sketchy – with the pavement crumbling and the shoulder disappearing – but in general I was pleased with the room I had to ride comfortably. As I drew near Poland, NY the weather changed again – the temperature seemed to drop and the clouds rolled in. I swapped my undershirt for a long sleeve woolie and refilled bottles in someone’s front yard. What sounded like a NASCAR broadcast was booming out of the front door of the doublewide – the residents seemed to pay no heed to the cyclist stripping to his bibs on their front lawn in the pouring rain. The end of the ride was to be a death of a thousand cuts by countless rollers – spin up to 28 mph, grind down to 7 – repeat and repeat. It was encouraging that the landscape began to look familiar – West Canada Creek was following by my side, and town and street names came to mind from memory of dozens of car trips through this stretch.
I arrived in Poland, NY on schedule. Made a quick phone call to give Jen a status update, downed PB&J #2, and rigged for night running. I still had plenty of time before dark – and was hoping to be well into Utica proper before I needed my lights. As I rolled out from the Stewart’s there was a single clap of thunder and the heaviest rain of the day poured down. I didn’t know how long this would last – the sky was far darker than previous and I didn’t want to chill with the night coming on. I donned the rain cape (I carried it all this way!) and gritted my teeth for a soggy 12-16 miles to the finish. The rain didn’t last long – it drizzled out as I climbed Shermerhorn Hill. The sun was setting and the view crystal clear… when I checked traffic behind me I caught a glimpse of the most incredible rainbow I’ve ever seen. I pulled to the side and stood slack jawed for about 20 minutes as the light changed and the intensity of the colors increased. To passing traffic I must have been a sight – a strange creature on a bike in a cape, blinking lights, pointing at the sky with his camera. Oncoming traffic had a view – but only a few folks stopped. I hope the balance at least noticed the wonder before them.
Refreshed and inspired I pedaled on – up and up again to Walker Rd. only to have my dreams of a long downhill into town dashed by countless rollers. I plotted a poor route to avoid traffic, and called Jen to arrange a convenient meeting place. I debated riding door to door – but that meant an extra 10 miles through town, as night and the rain was falling. Depending on my route I could have added another 10-12% grade within 2 miles of the finish… it would have been an exclamation point on the day – and it would have put me over the double century mark.
I accomplished my goal of riding a 300k through the mountains – and instead of pushing on through traffic and rain and darkness – tired and mentally spent – I gladly met my wonderful wife and the car for the final miles to my inlaws.