Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Lake George Loop: Queen of Bike Rides

As bike rides go, the loop around Lake George isn’t perfect. It’s got traffic, a tedious, 25-mile straightaway between Ticonderoga and Whitehall, and a challenging hill climb after Bolton Landing.

But it’s also almost exactly 100 miles from point to point, a distance known as a “century” in biking parlance, and a sort of Holy Grail for bike-tourers looking to up the ante of a day-ride.

I hadn’t biked a century in more than 20 years, and I was looking for a challenge before undertaking a three-week bike tour of Colorado. So in early July I recruited my friend Steve, a surgeon from Latham, to join me on a day-long circumnavigation of the Adirondacks’ most famous lake.

We parked the car in Lake George Village, not far from the water, and began pedaling before 8 a.m. The village was just waking up and the air was
cool and still. It was the Saturday of July 4th weekend, and we knew it would be a busy day, but the heavy traffic gave us no trouble as we rode north on the narrow shoulder of Route 9N.

The loop is a pretty simple design, and you don’t need a map for most of it — Route 9N north for 40-odd miles to Ticonderoga, then Route 22 south for another 25 miles to Whitehall. From here, you can either take busy roads back to Glens Falls before getting on the bike path back to Lake George, or you can follow beautiful but hilly back roads to avoid the traffic.

Two hours after starting, Steve and I had left the traffic of Lake George Village behind, as we climbed the steep shoulder of Tongue Mountain and ripped down the other side. This was the best part of the ride — a shaded road, few cars, tantalizing views of the lake and charming communities like Hague and Sabbath Day Point to pedal through.

We reached Ticonderoga in a little more than three hours. I’ve been to this historic village at least a half-dozen times, and finding downtown is always a challenge. Would a sign — “This way to village” — be such a bad idea? Even an un-staffed tourist information booth left no clue about which direction to take.

The idea was to stop and buy some food, but somehow we missed downtown completely. We had to satisfy ourselves with the shade of a tree on Route 22. Sorry, Ti.

From here, it was a long, steady plod down to Whitehall on Route 22. This is not the best part of the ride, although the rolling farmland of the Champlain Valley has a certain charm. The route is wide and shadeless, more like a highway than a country road. But the hills are easy to climb, and it took less than two hours to traverse the route.

After another long break in Whitehall, we looked at a borrowed map and made a choice. The fastest route would be to take Route 22 down to Fort Ann, and then traverse over on Route 249 to Glens Falls. But these are busy roads, and we wanted something a little more relaxing.

So we made up our own route, using a variety of county and town roads, including one that was gravel. This gave us one more big hill to climb, but it was worth it — we found ample shade, no cars and some of the best views of the trip.

By now we were both feeling the mileage. Especially Steve, who hadn’t been drinking enough to stay hydrated on this hot, cloudless day. But one final rest and a bottle of Gatorade at a small general store in Oneida Corners fueled us up for the final few miles. We biked past Glen Lake, found the entrance to the bike path, and enjoyed the final, breezy miles back to our car.

There, a hundred miles and about 10 hours after we started, we washed away our sweat in the cool waters of Lake George and celebrated a successful century.

* * *

Interested in biking Lake George but don’t want to commit to a full century? On Sunday, Aug. 8, local cyclists organize a 42-mile ride from Lake George north to a small dock outside Ticonderoga. There, they are picked up by the cruise ship Mohican at 11:30 a.m., which brings cyclists back to Lake George on a 2 1/2-hour scenic journey.

The trip costs about $20, and tickets must be purchased in advance. And, of course, if you don’t make the boat or can’t find the dock (it’s not well marked and harder than it sounds — get directions) you’re on your own.

For more information, call the Lake George Steamboat Company at (518) 668-5777.

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