Backyard Bike Tour
Updated: Aug 22, 2022
An overnight bike tour in the Adirondack High Peaks
What better way to kick off summer vacation than with a bike tour?
This past spring, I sold my old steel commuter/touring bike– my faithful companion on numerous multi-day bike tours. It's replacement is from Priority, a New York City-based company known for bikes that feature low-maintenance belt drives instead of chains. The model I chose, the Priority 600, also has a completely enclosed Pinion gearing system with a 600% gear range. Other features that I've already been enjoying on my commutes include hydraulic disc brakes, lights powered by a dynamo hub, and cushy 50 mm tires. Even though I've been commuting on the 600 since April, I hadn't used it for a ride longer than ten miles and wanted to test it out on a longer trip. A mix of bikepacking bags and more traditional pannier bags provided plenty of space for the gear I needed for a single night of camping. I picked a route that offered a mix of popular landmarks and less-familiar terrain, piled all my gear into my car, and arrived in Keene by early afternoon.
Day 1: Keene Valley to Lewis
I chose to start at Marcy Field in Keene because I knew I could safely leave my car there overnight. This active airfield also serves as a hiker parking lot, shuttle hub, community garden, and farmers market venue.
My plan for my first day called for a clockwise loop of the High Peaks region. I would head west towards Lake Placid, northeast towards Wilmington (home of the Whiteface ski resort), and then make my way southeast through Jay, ending up at a family campground in the town of Lewis.
I didn't have long to wait for the most significant climb of the trip, as the road tilted upward away from Keene Valley and towards North Elba. I took my time here, looking over my shoulder occasionally as the view evolved with my ascent. I passed busy trailheads for Pitchoff and Cascade mountains, at one point stopping to chat with some Canadian hikers. A few miles down the road, I paused to enjoy the iconic view of the MacIntyre Range from the Adirondak Loj Road. The eccentric spelling is a homage to Melvil Dewey (of Dewey Decimal System fame) who was passionate about spelling reform.
The Olympic town of Lake Placid was next, although I only skirted Mirror Lake and didn't ride into the town proper. The road into Wilmington (Route 86) was busy but had expansive shoulders. Whiteface Mountain, the fifth highest peak in New York, seemed to loom over me for miles and I encountered plenty of cyclists taking advantage of the challenging terrain and compelling views.
Things got quirkier as a I made my way through Upper Jay, with its funky art center and an empty phone booth perched on the edge of the Ausable River. I saw a gray fox wander into the road before spotting me and dashing back into the woods.
I stayed on Route 9N, riding through Jay and tracking the Ausable River (the source of significant flooding during Hurricane Irene in 2011). This stretch of road was new to me and the large shoulders and scant traffic were a pleasant surprise. The secondary road that I used to cut over to Route 9 and my targeted campground was hilly with an unpaved section. I was past ready for dinner when I rolled into my campsite around 6:30 PM.
Day 2: Lewis to Keene Valley
The night was cool and breezy with lovely stars visible between the clouds. After a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, I packed up camp and got back on the road. The sky was blue and the forest on either side of the road was resplendent with the light of the morning sun.
Like many small towns in the area, the hamlet of Lewis celebrates its military veterans with a series of banners posted along the road. Most appeared to be from the World War II and Vietnam eras. I was struck by the large number of "hometown heroes" that hailed from such a quiet corner of my state. Many were so young in their photos that they reminded me of my high school students.
After a short unexpected detour (summer roadwork was a theme of this trip), I started a long climb as I made my way back to Keene. I passed fields of wildflowers and several trailheads, including the one for Hurricane Mountain.
An exhilerating two-mile descent dropped me back into the valley and only a few minutes ride from my car. After cleaning up and stowing my gear, I made my way to Keene Valley's excellent new café (Old Mountain Coffee Co.) to caffeinate myself for the ride home.
This trip was a reminder that I don't need to go far for adventure. Although I've been hiking in the Adirondack Park for years, viewing favorite landmarks from the perch of a bicycle saddle leant a pleasantly novel perspective. My new bike passed its major first test, performing beautifully on this trip. I especially appreciated the silent drivetrain, huge gear range, and burly tires that (while heavy) made for an extremely comfortable ride. The hydraulic disc brakes made me feel confident on long descents. I'm used to cramming all of my overnight gear in restrictive mountain bike frame bags and the capacious panniers allowed me to justify a few luxury items (a stove for hot meals!). This excursion left me excited to plan a future trip in another corner of the Park and reminded me how satisfying it can be to travel on two wheels.