Yippee, it’s Harley Davidson season again — that time of year when 7 million people all ride the same motorcycle, wear the same clothes, go to the same places, eat at the same spots and travel around in packs of 60. All to express their individuality.
I don’t mind the concept. It’s a free country. But I do mind the noise. There has to be a better way for some balding, dentist from Altoona to address his insecurities than by trumpeting his existence across three adjacent counties, particularly in the Adirondack Park — you should not have to hike two full miles into the bush to escape the mechanized flatulence echoing off the canyons.
All that said, my own sport of choice is bicycling, and I know some people feel exactly the same way about me. I’m a nuisance because I’m going 6 miles an hour up a narrow winding road, a serious impediment to motorists with 200 horsepower at their disposal.
So I fully understand that one person’s sport is another person’s spittle.
When I was a kid I rode my bicycle across the United States, and nowhere did I feel more loathed than on the back roads of Kentucky, where coal trucks thundered down the mountains at breakneck speeds, their drivers having no use for any impediment to their income and convenience.
This bicycle route was called Bikecentenniel in 1976 (see what they did there?), and it still more or less exists, but with a different name. It wasn’t so much a bike route, as it was a route for bikes, traveling on existing roads with no particular improvements other than a sign about every 500 miles, pointing in the wrong direction as a general thing.
They passed out maps, but they were not good maps. They appeared to be overlaid on U.S. Geological Survey maps (or pirate treasure maps c. 1740, it was hard to tell) and made no sense whatsoever, and every so often we would wind up in Arkansas when we should have been in Illinois. But we were kids out from under the thumb of our parents for a whole summer, so what did we care?
Bikecentenniel reminds me very much of what they have in mind for the Empire State Trail, at least as it pertains to the greater Champlain Valley, where there are no designated bike paths, just regular highways and byways on which bicyclists will be assigned to ride.
The Empire State Trail resembles a sideways T, running from New York City to the Canadian border and then from Albany west to Buffalo. It’s a marvelous thing and a great idea and I am all for it. But a handful of supervisors on southern Lake Champlain are raising an important concern that the state really ought to listen to: Between Crown Point and Port Henry, NY 22 squeezes through what are known locally as the Rock Cuts — sheer cliffs to the west and railroad tracks and/or lake backwaters to the east with narrow lanes and zero shoulders. It is much like the road past the Cascade Lakes on Route 73 east of Lake Placid, except that the road twists and undulates and there are no sightlines allowing for motorists to spot slow-moving bicycles in advance.
Nor is the pavement always in great shape. Most long-haul bicyclists will be able to hug the right-hand stripe on a good road, but crumbling pavement forces them to dodge into the middle of the lane, which obviously can be unpleasant if oncoming cars are meeting in the same spot. Adding to the stew, this is a road where locals who know the terrain habitually drive fast, because they do not expect any obstacles to appear in their way.
I’ll ride a bike just about anywhere, but I’d think twice about riding one here. And I can’t imagine a family with a couple of kids feeling comfortable doing so.
An idea was floated to route the bikes along parallel, local roads, but the supervisors didn’t want the liability. And since the state likes to support tourism in any inexpensive way that it can, I don’t imagine we’ll see the road repaved anytime soon — and widening it doesn’t even appear to be possible.
So then, at a discussion of the Crown Point Reservation UMP last month, along comes Crown Point Supervisor Charles Harrington with this idea: Route the bicycles to the Crown Point State Historic Site and then run a ferry across Bulwagga Bay to Port Henry.
Harrington said people look at him like he’s from outer space when he makes the suggestion, but then maybe they haven’t seen the bike ferry in operation across the lake on the causeway north of Burlington.
Consider the benefit to Crown Point as well, a beautiful peninsula studded with ruins going on three centuries old and multiple historic storylines, with dozens of species of birds, the foxes, and fossils of aquatic plants and animals that were alive hundreds of millions of years ago. And yet Crown Point is begging for visitors.
Consider the benefit to bicyclists who might otherwise miss this jewel, and who could also take advantage of the state campground next door (and how many campgrounds have a lighthouse and authentic Rodin on the grounds?) right across the street. Not to mention getting a scenic boat ride across the bay.
Consider the benefit to local residents who not lose time and valuable blood pressure points to a herd of vehicular turtles. And even consider the benefit to the taxpayer, the cost of running a party barge across the bay a few times a day almost certainly being less than an accident or two each summer.
Those Kentucky coal truck drivers would make their feelings known by running their trucks as close to the bicycle riders as they could, even grazing a pannier or two in the process. A couple of we younger ones took to standing on our pedals and leaning the bike a little more into the road to give them a fatter target — I don’t think they ever truly liked us, but oddly enough they kind of recognized us as comrades in stupidity for this behavior and awarded us what passes in coal country as respect.
But there was no avoiding coal mines in Kentucky. Here, the danger can be avoided by employing Supervisor Harrington’s compelling idea.
Map of proposed Empire State Trail courtesy New York State.