Cycling

Day 8: Stillwater, New York (69.68 mi/112.14 km)

My entire route was basically developed backward. In thinking about where I’d like to go for a bike trip this year, I thought about how I could bike up to George’s camp—a place I hadn’t been in thirteen years—and stay for a couple of days over the weekend and reconnect. From that basic idea, I worked backwards: I could go through the Adirondacks—Lake Placid would be nice—and come up through Vermont across Lake Champlain. Honestly, Montreal was an afterthought once I looked at the route and saw that it was only 350 miles (I know, I know).

And so, having made the visit with George the idea for the trip, it was really great to get to spend those couple of days reconnecting. We had intended to go boating on Schroon Lake on Saturday, but the weather prevented that. So instead we stayed around the campsite, playing corn hole or ladder golf, or sitting by the fire and talking, and that was just perfect.

After a good night’s sleep, I got up around 7 a.m. and started packing my panniers and getting dressed. George started preparing breakfast for everyone—eggs, bacon, sausage, and English muffins. After that delicious repast I said my goodbyes to everyone and got on the road.

My route took me down Schroon River Road along, appropriately enough, the Schroon River. About nine miles into the ride I came upon an interchange with a sign that I recognized right away: Skye Farm Camp. Skye Farm is the United Methodist camp in the Adirondacks where I went as a kid and through which I participated in two bike camps (see, Day 2’s blog).  And so, it was right here, right at this very intersection where my history of taking long distance bike rides began. The road I was on—Schroon River Road—had to have been the very first road that we rode down on that first trip 35+ years ago. I imagine that much of my ride today from this spot into Lake George was a recreation of that first day’s ride.

Entrance to Skye Farm camp
Where it all began

Continuing down Schroon River Road, I came upon another cyclist and we wound up riding together for a little while. He helped me find a shortcut to the road I was eventually going to wind up on without having to go through Warrensburg. His name was Tom and it turned out that he was from Moonlawn Road in Brunswick, about 2 miles from where I’d grown up. It was nice to have a riding companion for a bit—it makes the miles go faster and the steep incline on Diamond Point Road toward Lake George not quite as miserable.

We parted ways and he headed off on his ride as I careened down the hillside toward Lake George. Turning onto the lakeside road, I made my way toward the village of Lake George, along the way beholding an old, familiar sight:

The Minnie HaHa on Lake George
The Minne Ha Ha—a tourist favorite on Lake George

I continued into the village and turned left, running along the beach at the lakeshore. The Minne Ha Ha and I must have been traveling at the same effective speed since it was docking right as I biked by.

Warren County Bikeway

From there the route moved onto the Warren County Bikeway, a converted railway trail that went southeast out of the village and toward the south. The riding here was very good although there was a fairly significant incline for the first couple of miles. But it was followed by just as long a descent which made the riding easy. In addition, the setting—through the middle of a forest—was beautiful and made for an enjoyable ride.

The relative flatness of the day, combined with the day of rest the day before were making it possible for me to travel at a pretty good clip, close to 15 miles an hour. And so, I was making really good time.

The trail eventually merged onto Route 9 and I continued south. The road itself was well maintained and I noted that alongside the route, the hotels and motor lodges all appeared to be open and running. Now, that may sound strange, but on Friday’s ride, coming from Lake Placid to Pottersville, I had also been traveling on Route 9 and noticed a number of hotels and motor lodges that had long since been shuttered. Cute little bungalow cabins nestled in the valleys of the Adirondacks that hadn’t seen a customer in decades. These clearly had all fallen victim to the construction of the Adirondack Northway (I-87) decades ago. What had been the main route north (Rt. 9) was now a scenic byway—lovely to travel, but not the route that people who are trying to get somewhere quickly will take. And so, all those cute little motor lodges were now just ruins, shuttered and forgotten.

Route 9—looking good

But here, along this portion of Route 9, all the same kind of businesses were flourishing. The Northway still ran parallel to the route, so something must be different here. And, of course, it dawned on me as I rode on. We were getting close to Saratoga. The tourists flocking to the region every summer for the horse racing season were likely the reason that so many inns, hotels, and motor lodges are able to stay open. Not dependent on the traveler to Plattsburgh or Montreal to choose to stay overnight on their way, these places were still doing well: freshly painted and clean looking. Cars in the parking lot. Free WiFi advertised on the sign out front. It was a different world from that of the North Country not that many miles away.

Sub, chips, and Saratoga water at Stewart’s

Just after 50 miles of riding, I stopped—for the last time—at Stewart’s for lunch. Stopping by these places has been a nice taste of home for me. And so I wasn’t going to let the last day go by without at least seeing if there were a Stewart’s on the route. Sure enough there was, right about where I would want to stop for lunch. I grabbed a bite to eat, sat and rested my legs for 45 minutes or so, replenished my water supply and moved on. I had only about 18 miles to go.

I was soon in the city of Saratoga Springs, a popular destination for locals and for tourists alike. I didn’t spend much time here since chances are good that at some point this week I’ll be back here in a much more convenient mode of transportation for any shopping or dining.

Saratoga Springs, NY

Leaving the downtown area, I headed past the Saratoga Spa State Park. Running parallel to Route 9 through the park was a lovely bike path that took me through wooded areas and along a golf course before rejoining Route 9.

Malta Drive in
The Malta Drive-In

Once out of Saratoga and its accompanying stoplights, the riding proceeded quickly. I was soon in Malta driving by the legendary Malta Drive-In (showing Mission Impossible, The Meg, The Incredibles 2, and Christopher Robin if anyone’s interested.) One last major incline and I was at the road that would take me to Stillwater.

I turned onto 9P—okay, I need to stop here. For some reason, in the State of New York, there are a number of highways named 9-something. They are all state roads and all run somewhere near US-9—a route that runs from the Canadian border all the way to New York City, where it becomes Broadway in Manhattan. For some reason, the State of New York has decided to have a number of 9’s all around the federal highway. I was on 9N earlier in the week (not to be confused with US-9 North). Running alongside Lake George was 9L. There is also a 9W (not west) a 9J, and I’m sure a bunch of other 9’s as well. So, here I was, turning onto 9P. This route took me along the south shore of Saratoga Lake, before I turned south toward Stillwater.

Saratoga Lake, as seen from route 9P. (The P stands for “pretty,” maybe?)

At some point, I missed the turn I was supposed to make, but as it was really just a shortcut, I eventually intersected the road I needed to wind up on in any event. And so, once I got on the right county highway, I made my way south, knowing that in only a few miles, I would reach my destination. And then, there it was in front of me—my mother’s house:

I pulled into the driveway and around back, ringing my bike bell and scaring my poor mother half to death. But she was happy enough to see me to take this picture of me having completed my ride:

Mark Schaefer with bicycle

All in all, I’d made the 69-1/2 mile trek in four hours and 45 minutes—an average speed of 14.5 miles per hour, and with enough light left in the day to be able to enjoy a pleasant afternoon looking out across the valley to the east and Vermont—the state I had biked through not five days before—in front of us.

The flower bouquet my mom had waiting for me. And yes, that’s Queen Anne’s Lace. 🙂

At the end of it all, I feel really good having accomplished another long distance ride and my first one in four years. I feel like I have continued to learn things about myself and about these rides. With every year, I get a little better at them. This year, my two biggest accomplishments were in figuring out the right schedule for breaks and eating and getting myself into the shape where a sixty mile day feels like a short day. Being in better physical shape has not only increased my strength and endurance for rides like this, it’s helped me to be mentally prepared for the challenges. As daunting as the mountains were coming into and out of Lake Placid, I never felt like I couldn’t do them. They might be difficult, they might be challenging, they might be exhausting, but they were doable. And they were.

I am gratified that I was able to use my ride once again to raise money for a good cause, and this time to raise money for the Kay Spiritual Life Center and the work that means so much to me. I am also gratified that so many people offered support and encouragement, both in contributing to the fundraiser and the messages of support on social media. I’m grateful to all the folks who helped me along the way—to Henry for his valve adaptor, to Omar for helping me get out of Montréal, to George and Melissa for their gracious and generous hospitality, and to Tom for showing me a shortcut on my ride. And I’m gratified that even now, in the waning months of my fiftieth year, I can still do something like this that makes me feel young and virile (even if my hurting thighs beg to differ).

And so, I’ll close this bike riding chapter now. There’s still some daylight left and a view of the Hudson River Valley to behold. And a lot of evening to go before I crash. And something tells me I’m going to crash hard.

But in the meantime, I will enjoy some of this “High Peaks” blueberry pie my mother made in honor of my Adirondack biking adventure. After burning 34,735 calories in the past week, I think I can indulge.

Blueberry pie with tall mountains crust design

Stats:

523.12 total miles
841.99 total kilometers
21,148 total feet climbed
34,735 total calories burned

Full workout link: https://www.mapmyride.com/workout/3077781172

Donation link