Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bicycling Around Great Sacandaga Lake

I’ve always thought of the Great Sacandaga Lake as a poor man’s Lake George.

It’s not meant to be an insult. Quite the opposite. When folks from New York City and New Jersey and around the northeast drive up to Lake George and their 20-foot-wide lake frontage and million-dollar neighbors, they pass right by the Sacandaga and don’t even know it. Outsiders come to Lake George; locals stay at the Sacandaga.

Its shores are never crowded. Tasteful, discreet summer homes dot the shores, both south and north, but never overwhelmingly so. Chicken-wire cages that protect garbage pails bespeak of wildlife (mainly raccoons) that you’ll rarely see in Lake George Village. And bisecting the middle is the wondrous, 3,000-foot-long Batchellerville Bridge.

Last week we explored both sides of the lake on a 65-mile bicycle ride. Though the leaves had only just begun to change, it was a scenic, two-wheeled view into a part of the Adirondacks usually left out of outdoor guides.

Our journey began and ended at the West Mountain parking lot, where my cycling partner Steve and I saddled up. In no time we were climbing hard as we headed west. But once we reached the south shore of the lake, the road was fairly level, with occasional views of the water.

The lake was created in 1930 with the building of the Conkingville Dam, for the purpose of controlling flooding downstream on the Hudson River. The dam flooded a handful of Adirondack valley towns, turning hundreds out of their homes — but created one of the park’s largest lakes.

Our ride brought us past buildings both historic and modern. Halfway through, we reached the general store in Batchellerville, a historic building well over a hundred years old. From there, we crossed the bridge.

The bridge itself is as old as the lake. The state Department of Transportation is spending $56 million on a replacement bridge, now under construction only a few yards to the west of the existing one.

Cycling along the older bridge is far better than driving. Due to safety concerns, it’s now down to one lane of traffic, giving drivers a long wait at either end if they time it wrong. In the meantime, bikers have two huge shoulders to choose from, and can stop and admire the construction of the new bridge.

The north shore of the Sacandaga is even nicer than the south. We left the main road heading east, choosing instead to climb a steep hill on Military Road, a charming lane that parallels the shore. Here we got treated to a brief sample of local heavy-metal — a band was practicing in a nearby garage with the doors open, and the screams of the singer serenaded us as we pedaled by.

From there, we headed further east, eventually crossing the bridge over the Hudson’s Rockwell Falls at Hadley. It was a few days after that massive rainstorm we had, and the water was roiling in a way I’d never seen it before. The falls itself was entirely covered by the swollen river, creating massive standing waves over rock shelves where sunbathers lay in the summertime.

Steve, an avid white-water kayaker, stared at the aquatic apocalypse and considered possible lines.

Eventually, we wound up riding down one of the steepest, twistiest roads I’ve ever taken on a road bike — made even scarier by the fact that my brake cable was about to snap — before bringing us back to West Mountain. The Sacandaga may be the poor man’s Lake George, but we felt ever the richer for having explored it.

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