By Garrett Thelander
Water, check. Spare tube with CO2 cartridge, check. Sun screen, check. ID, check. $20 in cash, check. Ok, with this very rudimentary preflight checklist, I felt ready to embark on a bicycle ride I have had on my radar for some time, the approximately 81 mile loop beginning in Blue Mountain Lake, heading clockwise, first north to Long Lake, then east to Newcomb, then south to Minerva, then on to North Creek, west to Indian Lake, with the finish back at Steamboat Landing in Blue Mountain Lake, where I was staying for the weekend. I was up in the Adirondacks the weekend starting July 29th, in order to attend the Adirondack Experience fundraising Gala (I am a Board member of the Experience) that was held on Saturday, July 30th. My wife was not able to attend, so I had plenty of free time (at least in theory) Saturday before the Gala to accomplish this ride on my own.
I come to Blue Mountain Lake every year with my family (we stay at Hemlock Hall) and while doing hikes, canoe trips, etc with the family, my biking in the Adirondacks is usually a solo experience. I biked the route of the Black Fly Challenge (not recommended on a road bike with 23 cc tires, trust me!) last year, again starting in Blue Mountain Lake with a clockwise rotation via Cedar River Road and the Moose River Road, and was looking for another challenge for my 67 year old body. I live in lower Westchester County, and average about 140 miles a week of road riding, with a 50 miler usually taken on a Saturday or Sunday. I usually do at least one century ride every year, so an 80 mile loop here in the Adirondacks, even with the hills, was not totally out of my comfort zone but definitely a good challenge.
The weather for this trip was ideal, high 50’s in the early morning, maxing out in the high 60’s to low 70’s, with minimal winds blowing from the west and low humidity. I chose a clockwise route from Blue Mountain Lake for the simple reason that I had biked from North Creek to Blue Mountain Lake in the past, so I knew I could handle the 5-mile incline that starts in North River and ends some distance pass the parking area for OK Slip Falls. Psychology is very important in pushing one’s comfort zone, and while I knew the incline from Minerva up toward Newcomb (which would have been necessitated if I was to ride the loop counterclockwise) was not excessively steep, I had not done it yet, so decided that my familiarity with the North River to Indian Lake incline, even into the wind, was a better choice for which way to orient my loop.
I headed out around 7:30 am (a little later than I wanted, but it took me a bit longer to fire up my coffee on the Whisperlite stove than I was hoping) toward Long Lake, with the first challenge being the incline from Steamboat Landing up to the parking area for the Blue Mountain trailhead. I had a mild case of COVID recently, the only noticeable impact having been that it did constrict my lung capacity for some reason. So I found that I was totally fine with longer rides, but that I struggled with climbing hills that I had no trouble navigating pre-COVID. The first stop for me was the Stewart’s in Long Lake, where I picked up a quick breakfast, a banana and a blueberry muffin. While only 12 miles into the ride at this stage, I wanted to get some energy into my system, since I had no breakfast before embarking. I had a pretty good-sized and excellent pasta meal at the relatively new diner in Blue Mountain Lake, Chef Darrell’s, the night before, so I didn’t feel the need to load up on carbs the first thing in the morning of a long ride.
The ride from Long Lake to Newcomb, which is about 13 miles, is as pleasant a stretch of road as I have ever biked. Not great scenery (except for the pull off in Newcomb on the north side of 28N past Harris Lake where one can enjoy the beautiful High Peaks vista) but great pavement, a good shoulder, and very little traffic. The tail wind that I had didn’t hurt either, in addition to the fact that there were no meaningful inclines on this portion of the loop. In any event, 25 miles into my ride, I was feeling really fresh and was comforted by the fact that from here to North Creek, but for a few rollers, was going to be mostly downhill. I stopped (see above photo) where the Hudson River crosses Route 28N in Newcomb and was surprised at how wide the river is at this point, given the relative proximity to its headwaters.
The next leg of the loop was approximately 26.5 miles to North Creek, via the Roosevelt-Marcy Trail through Minerva. The nice thing about this portion of the ride was that at its end, I would be stopping for lunch, and I would also be well over half way through the ride, even if the last 30 miles would be the most challenging. On this portion of the ride, I kept thinking of what it must have been like for Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, who was rushing down this road in the middle of the night on a stage coach in order to be available to take the oath of office as President, after learning that President William McKinley had unexpectedly died from a gunshot wound he had received two weeks earlier. They didn’t have high beams in those days or paved roads!
I got to North Creek at about 11:30 am, about four hours after I started, with an average pace of well over 14 mph. Not bad, but I hadn’t hit the hills yet! I hadn’t planned my lunch stop prior to arriving at North Creek, I just knew there would be lot’s of food options. A little over 50 miles into my ride, and I still felt really good, no sign of fatigue in the legs. I stopped briefly at the crossing here of the Hudson River under Route 28N just before entering North Creek and marveled again at the increase in the size of the river from just Newcomb to North Creek. After turning right off of Route 28N and heading into downtown North Creek, the first thing I noticed on the right was a cool looking handmade sign (I like cool looking signs, I think they signify good quality food in most cases) for the Café Sarah Bakery. No big line yet since it was early for lunch, so bingo! While Café Sarah has the look and feel of a bakery, they had amazing premade wraps and sandwiches for lunch, which was perfect for me, as I didn’t want to take the time to order something off the menu. I feel like if I sit for too long, I get a little too relaxed. I knew I still had lots of work to do biking. After downing a vegetarian pesto wrap, a jar of chocolate yogurt, and a banana I had picked up at Stewart’s way back in Long Lake, by noon, I was ready to hit the road again (after refilling my water bottles). Google maps indicated this last leg of 29 miles would take about 2 hours and 45 minutes. I had been beating the Google map bicycle time indicators, so I assumed I would be back well before 3:00 pm, with enough time to relax before the start of the Gala at 6:00 pm, and get in a rejuvenating swim in the crystalline waters of Blue Mountain Lake.
Now I knew the slog was about to begin. I savored the last real flat portion of the ride from North Creek to North River to just past the turn off to the Barton Mines facility and enjoyed the views of the Hudson River on my right while mentally preparing for what was coming up ahead! I couldn’t even look up to gauge the distance of the climb, as I knew I couldn’t come close to seeing the top of the hill (it is actually a series of hills), so I just put my head down, found a very comfortable rhythm, and just pedaled, and pedaled, and pedaled! While a long climb, this is not the steepest incline by any measure, so finding a comfortable rhythm is the key. And I still felt pretty strong, which was in large part due to the fact that the temperature and humidity were ideal. Lastly, and equally important, I knew I had done this climb in the past.
I made it to Indian Lake, and knew the worst of the ride was now behind me! There were just a bunch of very manageable rollers between Indian Lake and Blue Mountain Lake, with a nice view of Durant Lake on the left as I approached the Blue Mountain Lake hamlet. Got to Steamboat Landing around 2:30 pm (picture of me in front of Steamboat Landing attached), and the temptation to stop at the Strong Rope Taproom at Potters for a craft beer was very strong indeed (pun intended!), but the desire to jump into the lake first was even stronger.
So here was an 81 mile loop, successfully completed, without incident, in the middle of the Adirondacks, now in the record books (at least my record book!). I felt surprisingly well, and did not experience the fatigue I usually feel in my legs after a long ride which was a great feeling. Was this on the bucket list up there with riding the Dolomites in Italy? No, but I would categorize this as a Tier II bucket list goal! And with that thought, I started contemplating other Adirondack bike ride loops to do, many already swirling around in my head.
Photo at top: The author takes a self-portrait shot of the Hudson River from the overpass near Newcomb on Route 28. All photos provided by Garrett Thelander