Torrential rain and flooding in Vermont this July ended my plans for a bikepacking trip there last month. As the weeks ticked on, my summer grew busier and I decided to look closer to home for an overnight bike trip. After scouring the internet for suitable local loops, I stumbled on this one created by the mysterious "Route Van Art." I tweaked it to create an overnight trip starting in Keene Valley which has a convenient overnight parking area at Marcy Field. Although definitely shorter than other trips I have done, this one would have the added challenge of a "hike-a-bike" of about 2 miles in order to access a tent site in Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest.
This was my second overnight using the Priority 600x, a mountain bike purpose-built for outings like this. The bike has a fully internal Pinion gear box, a belt drive, and numerous attachment points for bags to carry overnight gear.
I used many of the same bags that I've taken on other bikepacking rides. One important change was the inclusion of a custom frame bag by Rogue Panda, which allows me to use the full frame triangle for storage. This was how I packed the bags:
Frame bag: all my food, spare tube and repair kit, pump, SteriPen, camp ditty bag
Saddle bag: tent (except poles), rain gear
Handlebar bag: sleeping quilt and pad, sleeping clothes, puffy, tent poles
Top tube bag and "feed" bag: snacks, hanky, lip balm, sunscreen, power bank, phone
Water: two 26 ounce bottles mounted on the seat stays and 1 liter bottle mounted on the underside of the downtube
Despite all the practical, high-tech features of this bike, one of my favorites is... the kickstand mount! It's really hard to overstate how convenient it is to stand the bike up when you aren't on it (which is actually quite often on a trip like this).
Day 1: Keene Valley to Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest
Starting my ride in Keene Valley gave me the opportunity to explore a route I've been curious about since I first noticed it on a map– an 11 mile unpaved cut-through between the Jay Mountain Wilderness and the Hurricane Mountain Wilderness. I couldn't find much information about it online and wasn't sure if it was a well-maintained dirt road or more of a trail. Styles Brook Road leads into this section and it kicked off with a brutal climb, made more challenging by my fully loaded bike. After a short unpaved plateau past some farms, the climbing resumed and I left maintained roads, crawling up what turned out to be basically a jeep road. I was pleasantly surprised by the condition of the road, although I was definitely happy to have my trail tires and front suspension for the fast and chunky descent on the other side. This was by far the biggest climb of the day at almost 1,600 feet, with the 6 miles taking me over an hour to traverse.
Since I didn't know what to expect from the first 10 miles of this ride, I built in some extra time and was in no rush. I enjoyed views of the nearby Adirondack High Peaks as I rode slowly along. At one point, I startled a young buck and we spent a minute checking each other out.
Wildflowers were reaching peak splendor at this point in the summer and I admired them throughout this trip. Abundant blazing star, Queen Anne's lace, bee balm, and black-eyed Susan often abutted the roads I used. One homeowner had utilized the rusted-out frame of a B-110 International as a planter, creating an arresting display.
My route tended to dip in and out of small towns and I often found myself riding on a paved road for a mile or so before turning onto a dirt road. On a short town section in Lewis, I encountered one of the stranger gas stations I've ever seen. I appreciated the branding effort for such a small operation. I'd love to know the story behind the busty and extremely patriotic female beaver featured on the signage.
At one point, I used a CATS (Champlain Area Trails) trail through a forest. This was as close as I had to singletrack riding on this trip. I noticed numerous CATS trailheads during my ride. This non-profit organization has developed 60 miles of trails in the area and has some admirable goals, including linking trails to allow people to hike from town to town in the Lake Champlain area.
As I neared the end of my day's ride, I approached the Lake Champlain shoreline. The Green Mountains, and Camel's Hump in particular, were clearly visible across the lake.
A short climb on a dirt road took me away from the lake but rewarded me with some of my favorite views of the trip: the Adirondack High Peaks to the west and the Greens to the east.
My plan was to enter the Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest using the Calamity Trail. As a wild forest, biking is allowed in Split Rock but I assumed I would not be able to ride much on this trail as it was designated as a hiking trail. I almost biked by the trailhead which was unmarked and overgrown. I began a 2 mile hike towards the lake where the map indicated there were two campsites. There wasn't much of a trail at first, but there were markers and evidence that some blowdown had been cleared somewhat recently. I rode for short sections, dismounting frequently to navigate obstacles.
Eventually, the trail got much rockier and I approached a lookout near Barn Rock. The views were excellent, but I was almost completed exhausted from hauling my loaded bike over obstacles. I really just wanted to find a suitable campsite. Studying the map, I realized that in the midst of a section of blowdown, I had taken a wrong turn. The thought of navigating my bike back through this maze of downed trees and rocky terrain was too much to countenance, so I decided to pitch my tent in a flat(ish) area I had passed a few minutes back. Along the way, I met a small porcupine who would not move out of my path no matter how much I rang my bike bell. Eventually, he reluctantly climbed a fallen branch to allow me to pass.
I returned to the lookout to eat my dinner and listened to boaters below swimming and playing music. I was in my tent ready for sleep before the sun had fully set.
Day 2: Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest to Keene Valley
I slept decently, although a waning "supermoon" was so bright that I used my Buff to cover my eyes. The temperatures dipped into the 50s, a pleasant surprise for a night in early August.
After packing up, I began the trek back to the road. It wasn't as bad as I remembered, although I certainly grew tired of lifting my bike over blowdown. This trip would have been much more difficult with a traditional drivetrain which is prone to getting snagged or damaged in situations like this. This happened to me on an Adirondack trip last year and my ride turned into a long hike/scoot. The Pinion gearbox was impervious to close encounters with fallen logs and the belt drive continued to run flawlessly despite being dunked in mud and plucked by passing branches.
When I was able to check the weather, I noticed that storms with gusty wind and hail were likely later in the day. Since the final miles of my planned ride involved a climb up a mountain pass, I decided to take a more direct route home to Keene Valley in order to beat the storms. I used Google Maps to find a way back. I was amused by Google's bicycle directions, in which a 1,300 foot climb is considered a "moderate hill."
Sure enough, it started raining when I reached Elizabethtown and began my climb up 9N. Hurricane Mountain's fire tower was just visible through the mist as I crested the pass and started the descent into Keene Valley.
The rain was really starting to come down as I entered town and a man in a pickup truck suggested I shelter on the porch near Marcy Field. It looked like he and some other town workers were repairing damage done to this active airfield by vandals earlier in July. I thanked him for his offer but told him my ride was almost done.
After changing into dry clothes and stowing all my gear, I drove down Route 73 to Old Mountain Coffee for a hot drink and muffin. Despite riding on roads for much of the last 24 hours, I had seen almost no other humans. The café was a suitable reintroduction to humanity as its tight quarters were soon flooded by two families and their combined 10 children (at least 10– they were hard to count!). I watched as they nibbled on cookies and played with each other as their parents caffeinated themselves and formulated a rainy day plan B.
I'm glad I stumbled upon this gravel route and enjoyed many of the roads it traversed. I've biked around Lake Champlain on a family bike tour and remember appreciating views of it throughout my thru hike of the Long Trail in Vermont. But I had never connected it with an Adirondack trip and was somewhat surprised by how close it was, even when traveling by bike. The addition of the hike-a-bike section to this ride certainly added to the challenge, but it was a great way to test my equipment and see a wild forest I may have never visited otherwise.