Rides We Like: Upstate New York – Chapter One: Lake George
(2017) We are the reluctant boys of summer.
Moments after passing the sign welcoming our packed vehicle into the Adirondacks, we turned off of the Adirondack Northway via exit 21 and wound our way to Million Dollar Beach in Lake George, NY. We had recently navigated a thirty-minute traffic jam in Albany and had been in the car for five hours. We wanted to ride to shake out the legs for the Saturday ride of our Upstate excursion. We were not let down.
In the past Lake George, NY, seemed to close down after Labor Day. Being two weekends removed from the American holiday, the town appeared anything but. The town was fairly busy and strangely the beach parking lot was aglow with activity. We had landed right in the middle of a running relay event. Here were more people trying to prevent the surrender flag of summer from rising despite the autumnal equinox happening only hours prior. The next day would be the Adirondack Balloon Festival; peak leaf peeping season was forecasted our weekend of September 22-24. Add to the evening summertime temperatures in the high eighties and who could blame anyone from wanting to pass on one more weekend in the mountains. Hell, that’s what we were doing, too.
On the drive to Lake George I had fired a message out to one of our friends on Instagram. Derek regularly posts cycling photos of Million Dollar Beach; it would be great to be led by him around a route we had found on Strava. We described ourselves to him simply: look for the pickup truck with four bikes hanging off of the back. He pulled up looking confident he had the right crew, as we were ready to roll. Twenty-four miles was slated with approximately 45 minutes of sunlight remaining. How naïve. It may have been 45 minutes back home where there are no mountains, but here we were, rolling out of the beach parking lot being led by Derek.
It’s hard not to add a John Muir quote to our ride. We went to the mountains and it felt like home. Derek took us down the Warren County Bikeway; a nearly ten mile paved path-connecting Glens Falls, NY, to Lake George. A teachable moment we could have identified in hindsight was going downhill for satisfyingly long stretches of road means climbs will come at some point. Our guide gave us a tour that pointed out places of great photos and information about how the Bikeway has plans to be connected to other paths across the state. Imagine riding all day and not once touching a road.
We jumped onto roads as the setting turned an indigo in the air. We passed several golf courses full of golfers who were also racing the sun and season with just a few more strokes. Daylight was fading rapidly and our pace may have betrayed a bit of anxiety. Perhaps that was residual suburbia anxiety. This evening we would melt off that anxiety and the remainder would fizzle over the next two days. The path dumped us onto a wide country road called Round Pond Road set in a thick forest of yellow pine needles and never replicated scents. Oh the comfort of being on these roads. Oh the resurgence riding on new roads gives. This is why we ride.
We exploded out of the tree line and continued the anxious tempo crossing Route 9. For anyone who has ever traveled the New York Thruway – and subsequent Adirondack Northway – Route 9 is a familiar sight. It parallels the northerly expressway. My dad once said he wanted to ride it in its entirety. Our meeting with 9N was moments after parting ways with Derek; he had to get home via the Bikeway. Not a bad way to safely ride home as it got dark expeditiously. The concentration among the four of us was thick with concern as we hammered north. We only had two headlights among the four of us. Each moment spent going hard was an earned moment off the road. Each rider knew his space in the paceline. Lights were every other rider. With the vicious pace I came unhitched on the inclines. These were fast guys and fast times.
We contacted the shores of Lake George again along the southeastern portion. At one point we thought we saw the finishing beach only to be a false marina. Oh the cruelty! It was here the route began a roller coaster of descents into ascents. Carry enough speed and the ascent was nullified. In theory. We were riding in reserve due to the darkness. We had exactly seven miles of balance remaining once we accessed route 9L.
After I lost count as to how many times I thought we were nearly home, we suddenly came to an intersection looking familiar and turned down Beach Road, guided by the lights of the relay runners still competing and their support van occupants clapping. Satisfied the legs had been shocked into commission we loaded up the truck and went looking for dinner. With runners passing by adorned with blinking headlamps, it was hard to look at them in a bewildering manner after we rolled back with two headlights among the four of us. They too were simply hanging on to the season one mile at a time.
We had just finished a ride after passing through the gateway to the Adirondacks. The tone of what was to come had been established on that short route with great riders and a rapidly setting sun.