October 2016 - BICYCLING
The Adirondack Trail Ride
A Multiday Adventure Race
By Michael Feldman
A self-supported, off-road, bike-packing 580-mile race in and around the Adirondack Park has been a dream of my friend, route creator and race organizer Mikey Intrabartola of Northville. Six riders showed up for 2015’s inaugural “The Adirondack Trail Ride” but only one person finished. Riders returned with stories of a demanding route that required endurance, technical riding and navigation skills. This auspicious first event piqued the interest of riders from as far away as Victor, Idaho and Ontario, Canada. In 2016 the field grew to 15 with nine finishing.
Mikey has done an amazing job, piecing together the route, while avoiding wilderness areas. There are minimal stretches of pavement. All trail sections of the route are multiuse for skiing, hiking, snowmobiles, horses and ATVs. Some sections are not suitable for horses; ATVs are restricted on others. There are no purpose built MTB trails on the course.
The route, beginning and ending in Northville, can be ridden anytime but on the second Friday in September there is a preregistered Grand Depart, capped at 19, to race the route. This is based on a solo, self-supported, self-reliant framework with no caches or support crew. Spontaneous help by “trail angels” – typically locals who may offer food, water or mechanical help – is allowed.
Mikey gave us a pre-race pep talk. It went something like “be safe, be respectful, low impact...” What I remember the most was the quote he attributed to Winston Churchill, “When marching through hell, keep marching.” What I can tell you is that on more than one of my marches through hell, that quote kept me going.
We rolled out as a group through town and into the Sacandaga Park. Once we crossed NY Route 30 onto the Mountain Road, we broke out and I watched race organizer Mikey take off on his quest of a four-day finish. This was an important moment for my ride because I wanted to be out there and it took discipline to hold back. I reminded myself this was a 580-mile ‘ride’ with over 47,000-feet of climbing.
Thirty-three miles into the ride I was at the Sacandaga River crossing. I hoisted my bike onto my shoulder and waded in. From here the route climbs a steep section of Creek Road to the Bennett, Middle and Murphy lake trail. It was a sweltering humid day and I was looking to duck into the cooler woods. Once in the woods, it was still hot and relentless humidity. I rode all the way to Pumpkin Hollow, then Pine Orchard to Girard’s Sugarbush, the most physically demanding part of the route. As the sun was setting and it became too dark to see, I stopped to get my light out, with coyotes howling in the distance.
I cruised into Speculator battered, dehydrated and hungry. My first stop was for dinner, then a motel for the night. I made it to my room and reflected on the day. My neck was throbbing from the pack. Then the realization – if I were going to finish I need to make drastic changes. I triaged my kit and lightened my load by ten pounds.
I was up fairly early and was stretching outside when another TATR rider came out of his room. Jeff had decided to get a room as well. Unfortunately for Jeff, but I didn’t know this yet, he was in extreme pain from saddle sores. Jeff is an experienced rider and many hikers in the Adirondacks know of him as “the guy from Vermont who bagged all 46 High Peaks in two weeks!” – self-supported and riding his bike between trail-heads!
I grabbed a quick breakfast and headed out. I was halfway through Willis Vly when Jeff caught up to me. We rode a bit together up to Indian Lake, and continued out to the Moose River Plains, where I stopped to stretch and Jeff pressed on. That was the only time I would get to ride with a fellow competitor. I got into Inlet and went to bed early.
I awoke at 4:30am and it was pouring! I waited until 8am and cruised along on the Tobie trail. Cruising through the myriad of logging roads, I was on Stillwater Road when I noticed my GPS batteries were down to 25%. I had left behind my extra batteries to save weight with a plan to resupply in Star Lake.
I rode through Soft Maple Campsite, across an ATV trail to Long Pond Road, and climbed a dirt road, with more climbing over to the Oswegatchie River – where I was in a field of chest deep briars. I rode up the road even though it looked like the leaders went the way of the briars. I rode on and come back and waded in. Old slashing underneath threatened to trip me. The trail is to the right of me. I leave my bike and walk a little further. No trail... I plow on. I went looking for the trail again and stumble upon the ATV trail. Soon after, I was rolling past Streeter Lake, and a nice snowmobile trail into Star Lake. After replenishing, I looked for somewhere to camp to find a decent place to hang my hammock for the night.
At 3am, I awoke, packed the gear and headed down the dirt road under my lights. A gorgeous night and soon I was at the Moore Trail. Following the river, there is a heavy fog and then the trail disappears, and I fall straight down about six feet to the river. Over the handlebars and bang, crunch, ouch! Nothing breaks, on me or the bike. Eventually I made it to Wanakena at dawn. I rolled out past the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s Ranger School, and started out on the Peavine Swamp Trail – more ski trail riding, and across NY Route 3 into the Tooley Pond Easement. Big climbs, double-track, and logging roads eventually led to NY Route 56.
I enjoyed some nice riding off of Route 56 onto some secondary, tertiary backroads, and a late lunch at the Cedarwood Grill. It felt good to get back on the bike, and before long I was making the turn down Lake Ozonia Road. Darkness came on fast and I found a camping spot.
At zero dark thirty, the road illuminated with my light, it wasn’t long before the rush hour commute started. Cars and trucks came barreling up the road on their way to Potsdam, I presumed. It’s a narrow road and the “center lane” seemed to be the lane of choice. Pretty soon though, I was on the gravel of Blue Mountain Road, where I only had to deal with a few logging trucks. I had fallen into an easy cadence when I saw a rider coming towards me. It was the first cyclist I’d seen since Cedar River Flow. It didn’t register at first, and I lazily raised my arm to signal a hello, when I recognized my friend Bob Rainville from Saranac. He circled around and pulled abreast; I must have had a puzzled look. After a nice roadside lunch we rode together through the Debar trail.
So there is a pattern developing. Everyday there was at least one hurdle, one something that just made it not a normal ride. It’s the challenge of multiday, self-supported rides, but sometimes you just make rookie mistakes. From Wilmington, I had set a goal to reach Westport. Even with a lot of climbing between here and there, I figured after Styles Brook Road the climbing was done, and it would be a mellow cruise on backroads to Westport.
Mistake of the Day: Don’t presume to know the course if you haven’t ridden the course. With that I came to a “T” intersection, and the route continued straight into the woods, on the other side of the road – but there was no trail. Eventually I found remnants of a trail. Mostly it is thwack, thwack and thwack. I was still picking spiders off me when I got into Westport, where I stopped for the night. The next day would be a big day. If that little foray into thwacking were fun, it would be Disneyland thwacking compared to more difficult thwacking tomorrow – on the Irishtown Snowmobile Trail and Hoffman Road.
A 3:30am start with a full moon and the sky lit up, I barely needed lights. The air temp was crisp, perfect riding. Then I was out of the farmland and climbing up a gravel road that seemed to go on and on. I noticed the temperature was now very cold, so I re-layered with everything I had and started the descent. It was not long until my fingers throbbed and I started shaking, but I continued the descent, mildly hypothermic. It was 5:30am when I passed a side road, spotting a lit sign that said ‘Open’ out of the corner of my eye. I made a U-turn and headed down the road to the little country store and diner. I savored the warmth and hot food, but soon had to keep moving.
By 12:30pm, I was across the Boreas River and stopped for lunch. It was five miles to Hoffman Road. I got motivated and made the trek, riding a little, pushing a lot, leaving my bike to navigate, and then pushing on. I planned to stop in North Creek for the night, but just before I got there my friend Bone Bayse pulled up in his truck and shouted, “We’ve been watching you on the computer race tracking, and you’re doing GREAT!” I was all fired up! Soon after, I calculated my battery life, water and decided, “What the heck, I’m gonna make a push for the finish tonight!” So I rode right through North Creek, over Oven Mountain Road, through Johnsburg, and the first climb up the side of Crane Mountain. But that was it, I camped right there.
Day seven had taken its toll on me with a dark slow start. Climbing up West Stony Creek Road, I picked up some awful drivetrain noise, and the bike didn’t feel right. I was off the bike again, troubleshooting the drivetrain, when I found a stone lodged in the suspension. The bike is rolling smooth again, onto the Arrow Trail to East Stony Creek. Living in Benson, I was close to my hood now. Soon I was in Hope Falls, when another friend drove up with a dose of encouragement. He was Gant Ginter from Victor, Idaho; also with him was Chris Yates of Brocktondale, NY – both finished in six days, four hours, 35 minutes. After 580 miles, there was a last surge of energy, and I pushed to finish where friends and family waited – seven days, eight hours and six minutes, whew!
After a couple days recovering, I went back out and spent four days riding with my wife, Jody Dixon – yes, my wife was also riding – and she finished in about 16 days, eight hours! Congratulations to all the competitors and thanks to our friends and family for their support. Cheers to the winner, Rob Cook of Ithaca, for a blazing ride – finishing in four days, 12 hours! For more info, visit: theadirondacktrailride.com.
The price for admission was a donation to the cause of your choice. I chose the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and dedicated my ride to them. My thoughts were ‘it can’t hurt worse than cancer.’ When I was tired, I wasn’t post-chemo tired... My head was cold, but my hair wasn’t falling out. It was easy getting up and facing another day in the saddle.
Mike Feldman (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Benson is a member of the Beer Jersey Riders and consistently ranks in the middle of the pack. When he’s not building MTB trails or racing in a bike packing event, he can be found paddling the steep creeks and rivers of the Sacandaga drainage. He skis a bit too.