Submitted by guest blogger: Gail Testa
Why would anyone want to live anyplace else?
I have been riding a bicycle for as long as I can remember.
According to my family, I first got on a bike at age 4 and just took off. I grew up on a small farm in eastern Pennsylvania, so my bike was my transportation to visit my friends when I was young, and to go to the movies or my babysitting jobs as I got older. When I was a young stay-at-home mom in a one-car family, my bike continued to be my source of transportation, only now it had a baby seat on the back to carry my son and a basket on the front for my shopping.
We moved to the Adirondacks in the early '80s, when my three children were young. They learned to ride their bicycles here, and together we spent many happy hours riding. Sadly, life took us from the area for many years, and it wasn’t until 10 years ago that my husband and I — our children were now grown and gone with children of their own — were able to move back to the area.
As I walked into the Westport post office a few months ago, I passed an older gentleman walking out. It was a morning in late April and the day before 2 inches of snow had fallen. That particular morning was cold and crisp, and the sun was shining brightly. As the man passed me, his face beaming with a beautiful smile as he looked out over Lake Champlain, he said, “Why would anyone want to live anyplace else?”
I find myself asking that same question quite often, now that I have moved back to the Adirondacks and can once again live and ride in such a beautiful place. As I cycle back and forth to work, I’m struck with the realization that I have been cycling for more than 60 years and there is no place I’d rather ride.
Cycling in the Adirondacks
The Adirondacks are truly a magnificent place for road cycling. Compared to other parts of the country, the roads are not too busy, most drivers understand the meaning of “share the road,” and the majority of the roads have beautifully wide shoulders on which to ride. But the best part of riding in the Adirondacks is still the scenery! Every place I ride I am blown away by the beauty of this area. Even though I’ve driven these roads many times, it wasn't until I took my time to ride those same roads on a bicycle that I really appreciated the amazing scenery.
Another joy of cycling in the Adirondacks is the diversity of the terrain. Yes, there are hills. At times, they are long and steep. As a hiker, I often endured those long climbs up the mountain trails because I knew I’d be greeted with a beautiful view as my “reward” once I reached the summit. On my bicycle, after peddling long and hard up the hills, I am also rewarded with the opportunity to sit back and rest while I glide downhill and enjoy the magnificent view.
This summer will be the second Cycle Adirondacks event, hosted by the Wildlife Conservation Society. This event is designed to bring people to the Adirondacks to enjoy the beauty of the area and to promote an appreciation of the area wildlife. I missed it last year, so when I saw they were doing it again this year I immediately signed up.
Getting ready to ride
I’m not a competitor, so I’m happy the Cycle Adirondacks event is not a race but a tour of the Adirondacks. I can ride the way I enjoy riding — taking my time, stopping to take pictures, and enjoying the scenery. That doesn’t mean it will be an easy ride. After all, we live in the Adirondack MOUNTAINS! At 65, I’m guessing that I will be one of the older cyclists on this trip, so I need to be prepared.
After riding indoors on a stationary bike all winter, I look forward to getting outdoors, so as soon as the temperature gets above 37 degrees I put on my warmest cycling clothes and go outside to ride. I start with a short 12-mile loop near my home. I like to get up and out early, just as the sun breaks over the horizon. What a shame it would be to miss such a gorgeous sunrise.
After a few weeks, I begin making the 20-mile round trip ride from my home in Elizabethtown to my job in Westport every day. After climbing a short but steep hill out of Elizabethtown, most of the trip to Westport is downhill. However, that means the trip home is mostly uphill. A long, long uphill. My favorite view on that ride is when I get to the top of that last hill and there, towering above the town of Elizabethtown, is Hurricane Mountain. When I see that, I know it’s all downhill from there!
On weekends I enjoy taking longer rides. I pack a lunch and either set off from my home or my husband and “roadie” drives me to a starting point. One of my favorite rides in the area is along the Ausable River from Keene Valley to Ausable Chasm. This is a 30-mile ride on good roads with nice wide shoulders and spectacular scenery. Along the way, there’s a nice rest stop along the river where I can stop to have a picnic lunch. Once in Ausable Forks there’s a nice little deli/bakery that’s a great place to stop for a rest, a cup of coffee, or a scone before continuing on Route 9N for the final 11 miles through farmland, up and down rolling hills with views of the High Peaks in the background, and then into the town of Keeseville and on to Ausable Chasm, where my roadie is waiting for me with a smile, a hug, and more water.
When I’m ready for a slightly more challenging ride, I leave my house in Elizabethtown and head to Poke-O-Moonshine mountain. After taking a few back roads, I reach Route 9 in Lewis and start the 15-mile trip north. Even though Route 9 is a major road, the traffic isn’t bad, the pavement is good, and the shoulders are wide. The trip north on Route 9 is a consistent but gentle incline with a few steeper climbs. Eventually I see Poke-O-Moonshine towering above the road to my left. Pulling into the parking area, I get off of my bike and stretch out on one of the picnic tables and enjoy the sunshine. After a rest, a drink, and a few more stretches, I’m back on my bike for the ride home. Coming south on Route 9 is much easier. Riding north, I barely notice the steady incline, but heading south I can now sit back and enjoy that reward of a much easier ride home.
It's time for a challenge
When I’m ready to add some more challenging hills, I turn off of Route 9 onto Stowersville Road in Lewis and head toward Willsboro, where I find some very steep hills. Coasting down the other side of the last and steepest hill into the town of Reber, I stop for a rest at a little church in the center of the village before taking Deer Head Road, a long winding road with lots of hills, back to Route 9 and eventually home. The hills are tough and the scenery is beautiful.
Bill McKibben, Sue Halpern, Mitchell Hay, and Barbara Lemmel have a great little book called "25 Bicycle Tours in the Adirondacks." This book is an excellent resource for people wanting to see the Adirondacks while riding their bikes. I’ve done many of these, including the popular “Ice cream Loop” in Paul Smiths. This delicious ride features a stop at Donnelly’s ice cream stand, which the authors call “the apogee, the zenith, the ultimate” ice cream. (They are right!)
Pilot Knob Loop is another personal favorite. It takes you around the “other” side of Lake George, away from the popular downtown along the shores of Lake George, and it eventually returns you by way of a beautiful wooded bike path.
For a real challenge, I recommend the Marathon Loop around Schroon Lake. This is a 26-mile route around the lake with several challenging hills on the eastern side of the lake. Three of the toughest hills are very close together and have been christened “The Three Bears,” with good reason. They are each a bear to peddle up!
The Willsboro Ride Between the Ranges is another favorite. The route takes the rider up and down rolling hills on a nicely paved road through the woods, past Long Pond, and into the Town of Willsboro. I recommend following the suggested side trip out to Willsboro Point. The views of Lake Champlain and Vermont’s Green Mountains on one side and New York’s Adirondack High Peaks on the other side are magnificent.
I plan to do many more rides this summer, including the 2016 Cycle Adirondacks seven-day tour. But for now, what I enjoy most about living here is being able to walk out the door of my home, get on my bike, and just starting to ride knowing that anywhere I go, the scenery will be breathtaking.
As you ride through the Lake Champlain Region, be sure to check out some of the shops, restaurants, and art galleries along the way.
About the blogger: Gail Testa is a retired psychotherapist and yoga teacher that moved to the Adirondacks full-time 10 years ago with her husband Ron where they opened the Namaste Inn Bed & Breakfast in Elizabethtown. Gail also works for Champlain Area Trails (CATS) in Westport and enjoys cycling in the Park ever chance she gets.