As I let out the clutch and roll the throttle all the way open, leaning in to turn #27 of I-don't-know-how-many, eyes glued to the freshly painted yellow line instead of the pink and purple clouds hovering over Sacandaga River, I find myself wondering how I got to this place.
Eight months ago I found a vintage Honda CB400 on craigslist. I called in sick to work and drove six hours with a friend who claimed to know about motorcycles to check it out. I bought it on the spot, and immediately started riding it... up and down my driveway.
It took me over an hour to feel confident enough to take it out on the road, and when I did, it broke down. Well, actually, the gas switch was just turned off. Still, I felt a significant bump in my "cool" status. I may have been broke down on the side of the road, but at least I was broken down on the side of the road with a motorcycle. From the start, I knew I wanted to ride in the Adirondacks.
After a brief but sufficiently terrifying lecture on motorcycle safety, and a few more breakdowns as I learned to always turn the fuel switch on and to check the killswitch before trying to start the bike, I took my first real ride.
We covered 100 miles of windy roads to the top of the Blue Ridge Parkway and back. I later learned that it was considered more of an advanced route, especially in December when the threat of frost was ever present. Throughout the whole ride, I found myself projecting into the future when I might finally ride along the lakes and rivers of the Adirondacks, preferably in the sun.
Getting Acquainted: Becoming a Motorcyclist
It took several tries to find all the bugs in the nearly 40 year old electrical and fuel systems, but when I did I wasted no time turning my dreams into reality. I enlisted my friend and fellow rider, Max Prime, to join me for what I described as an epic loop through the very best of the Adirondacks.
I could never have known how true that would be.
I rode down to Canajoharie, a small village just south of the park's border, to meet Max on a Sunday night. The clouds whipped across the night sky, alternately obscuring and revealing the bright, waving crescent of the moon. It was the first night in a long time that I was glad to have an extra layer of warmth between me and the wind. The pavement was wet with rain, but I never felt a drop. In the last fifteen miles before Max's house, the wind from the previous storm had done significant damage. Trees were down everywhere, including across all three lanes of eastbound I-90 traffic.
I pulled in the driveway to find Max polishing his Kawasaki KLR650 and fitting the last of his belongings into a pack just above his taillight. I looked again at the pack, feeling the weight of my own on my back, and knew I'd be envious by the end of the trip. We reviewed the route, crossed our fingers for good weather, and agreed to embark at a casual 9 am.
My mind buzzed with anticipation: 300+ miles through a dream of rolling hills, high peaks, lakes, and rivers. But...what if the weather turns bad? What if my bike breaks down? Worst of all, what if I'm just not good enough for this ride yet? I comforted myself with the knowledge that I actually love rain, I'm not alone, and there will surely be an alternative route if I find myself overwhelmed.
I drifted into a night of sleep filled with images of swerving yellow and white lines, ink-black pavement, and the soft sound of whispering pine trees.
Motorcycle Diaries: The Adirondacks
In the morning, I bungeed a tripod and camera pack to the back of my seat, cleaned the bugs off my visor, and took an obligatory selfie while Max stood in the background and gave a thumbs up.
We pulled out onto the open road, eager to cover some miles, but first, a quick pit stop to fuel up. Our quick stop became longer as we remembered the damage from the previous night's storm, passing three gas stations that all had power outages. Twenty minutes later, however, we were on Rt. 10 headed north with full tanks and ear-to-ear grins. It was the first and only time we had any trouble finding a gas station.
Rolling knolls and open pastures spread out as far as the eye could see. The roads were rough, but not terribly so, and the sun beat down on our backs, warming us against the morning chill. As we approached the Blue Line, the boundary of the Adirondack Park, the fields and pastures gave way to forests, the smooth arc of the hills became sharper and more distinct. Finally we saw it, the iconic "Entering the Adirondack Park" sign, and bright yellow letters greeting us into my dreamscape. We gunned our bikes into the park, reveling in the summer sun, the fresh air, and the twisting roads.
Within twenty minutes of entering the park, we found beautiful S-curves, mountains with bare rock faces, vertical cliff walls right by the road, and lake views. We followed Rt. 8 to Speculator and Rt. 30., known as the Adirondack Trail. This is one of the straightest shots through the Adirondacks, and it's also one of the least trafficked. It connects the smaller villages of Northville, Speculator, Blue Mountain Lake, Long Lake, and Tupper Lake, and continues right on up to Montreal.
Aside from those pockets of civilization, Rt. 30 feels like the wildest, loneliest highway in the Adirondacks, which is why it was the centerpiece of the trip I had in mind. At times, you can crest a hill and see miles of straight highway ahead of you, not a car in sight, and an ocean of trees on either side. The mountains in the distance look like giant blue waves out at sea, as you roll up and down the hills they ebb and swell in the distance.
Despite the sparse distribution of its populace, or perhaps because of it, the people along Rt. 30 are incredibly kind and welcoming. They are eager for new visitors to experience their pockets of culture hidden in the wilderness. Max and I stopped for lunch in Indian Lake and left full to the brim with reasonably priced food. We detoured at the Blue Mountain Lake Center for the Arts, where I myself once had photos on display, and were welcomed warmly by the woman at the front desk who even paused to give us a short tour.
We spent an hour and a half uncovering the history of the Adirondack Park at the Adirondack Museum, where we discovered that motorcycling in the park is a longstanding tradition. A photo of a man from 1905 shows him riding a motorcycle with a canoe attached to the sidecar, on his way to paddle one of the thousands of lakes and ponds in the area.
As we pulled into our lakeside motel in Tupper Lake around six, the weather was so nice we promptly turned around for ice cream and to watch the sunset on Tupper Lake's northeastern shore. As the sun dipped low in the horizon, I only felt excitement for the day to come.
Day Two: The Adventure Continues
The bikes were wet with rain the next morning, but the sky was clear and we were eager for more. We set out bright and early, eager to cover some miles before breakfast. We detoured on some side roads, exploring swamps and bridges before grabbing a delicious breakfast at the Blue Moon Café in Saranac Lake. The views looking towards the High Peaks as you leave Saranac Lake and head towards Lake Placid have always captivated me, but from the seat of my bike, they were jaw dropping. As we left Lake Placid, a brief spattering of rain concerned us, but after only a few drops, the sky cleared once again, and we didn't see a drop for the rest of the trip. As we passed through the Cascade Lakes, I was stunned with an appreciation for the scale and wildness of the Adirondacks. I pulled over and climbed up the mountainside a short distance to get a photo of Max as he came through. The sun was bright, the air was sweet, and I couldn't think of any way for the day to get better.
And then, late in the day, after miles of beautiful mountain vistas, perfect S-turns, and lakeside bends, it did. We had just ridden over the roughest roads we had encountered since entering the park (which were still nicer than some of the roads we had ridden on the way in), and we were starting to get a little fatigued. The forests were closing back in, and we knew we had a long way yet to go. But suddenly my handlebars stopped shaking, my suspension stopped squeaking, and the pavement glittered with fresh asphalt. We began a thirty mile stretch of brand new pavement, twisting and turning along the Sacandaga River, with the sunset just beginning to work its magic on the evening sky.
So there I was, letting the clutch out, as I rolled the throttle all the way back, eyes glued to the freshly painted yellow line, remembering that I got to this amazing place by way of mile after mile of twisting, rolling road that was every bit as beautiful as this.
At the end of the day, the Adirondacks provide a place to ride with immaculate roads in places with views so incredible and terrain so wild, it's hard to imagine being able to reach them by trail, let alone on a motorcycle. I smile to myself, looking forward to many more rides in the Adirondacks with Max.