Kingdom Trails & the Adirondack High Peaks

A few months ago I was helping a friend clean up his house for selling and he mentioned coming to Vermont to help him with his booth during Nembafest. After some deliberation, I rented a car for a full week with the intent to drive to Vermont, then come home through the Adirondacks. I am not sure I’ve driven much more than 10 hours total in the last 5 years, and have definitely never driven that far in one day.

Nembafest was super fun! I didn’t get to ride a ton because it rained on Friday, but a guy I met at Big Bear last summer decided to come up so we did a loop on Saturday (we had to find the infamous Sidewinder trail). then on Sunday I demoed a few bikes. The trails there were all really well built and drained quickly (given that it POURED on Friday). I didn’t get to do any of the more technical stuff on the other side of the park, and would want to take another few cracks at Sidewinder… so think a longer trip may be in order.

Sunday night I headed straight for the free parking spots on South Meadow (in the Marcy Dam area). It started storming so the drive was a little nerve wracking. When I got there, I got out of the car to set up my tent and saw some lightening (and was assaulted by mosquitoes) so I decided to sleep in the car. Unfortunately the mosquitoes followed me into the car, but the storm was loud enough that I didn’t hear them buzzing around too much.

Monday morning I managed to wake up pretty early. I had it in my head that I would play it by ear because of the weather, but I headed out and optimistically put “Gray, Skylight, Marcy” on the sign in sheet. This was an 18 mile hike up three of the high peaks. I took the truck trail into Marcy Dam, which was uneventful and not wildly scenic. Marcy Dam was pretty neat though.

After Marcy Dam, the trail got quite a bit steeper and rockier. All of the water crossings were high, some of the board walkways were completely under water so I didn’t stay dry for very long. After one of the rougher crossings I definitely thought about turning around, realizing that there was no quick way out if the weather did get bad. I also debated on rerouting to a much shorter trail (cutting through to Indian Falls) but the water was so high at the trail intersection that I opted out. I told myself I could sit and eat some food when I reached the Feldspar lean to (maybe 7-8 miles in?) At that point, I was seriously wondering about my decision making. The trails were rocky enough, and the water was high enough that any misstep could end with me soaking wet and alone in the woods or worse, knocked out in the fast running water.

By some chance, some kids came out of the Feldspar campsite and were heading to Mount Skylight. They let me tag along… they were much quicker than I was, but seemed to be ok with waiting for me. At first I told them they could go without me and they didn’t, then after a while I absolutely did not want to be hiking alone anymore.

The climb up Skylight was steep and I’m pretty sure it was a creek, not just rain water. And of course, once we got to the top it was too foggy to see anything. It was also significantly chillier but still cool. At this point, I had decided that I would do the return trip with the kids I was hiking with instead of climbing Marcy alone (with a chance of storms). My route would have been shorter for me, and it looked like the elevation changes were less steep so (in theory) less rocky… but I didn’t want to be hiking by myself.

Hiking back from Skylight, we went by Lake Colden & through Avalanche Pass. All beautiful, but very rough. Lots of janky ladders, bridges, and big rocks to climb over (the entire trail by the lake was climbing over large rocks with a steep fall). My knees were both screaming at me, to the extent that I was having trouble stepping down off of rocks and ledges. I didn’t stop at all, realizing that with my slow moving and crazy pain I would barely make it back before sunset.

At this point, most of the kids I was hiking with started moving a lot faster than me – luckily one hung back and made sure I made it over the crazy stuff. Once we got to regular rocky trail, he moved ahead to find the rest but told me he’d wait at the trail intersection. It took me FOREVER to get to them, at that point they had to split quickly to make it to their car in time to drive home. I had a few miles to go by myself, but they were significantly less rocky. I limped through Marcy Dam & up the truck trail. I had decided that I would pay whatever it cost to sleep at the LOJ and if they didn’t have any rooms available, I’d find one somewhere.

The sunset from the LOJ was beautiful! Unfortunately as soon as I stepped out of my car I started crazy shivering and could barely walk, so I didn’t step down to the lake to see it.

The LOJ was actually pretty cool, I’m glad I ended up staying there. I slept in the Loft, but there were only two other women in there. I immediately took a shower, then put my legs up the wall by my bed. Sometime around midnight I stumbled down to the front desk to ask for ice because the pain was becoming pretty terrible. They also gave me extra pillows to keep it elevated. In the morning I went down for breakfast, and an older (76, he said) volunteer sat across from me and asked if I ever did anything about my leg. Don’t think I talked to him the day before so that was interesting to me. He talked about maintaining the trails in Long Island, and different places that he has volunteered. He expressed concern about me driving home since it was my right leg that wasn’t working.

Driving home, a weird thing happened… for the last several miles of hiking I pretty much had decided it wasn’t my thing and that I’d never be back. In the car, however, I decided that it was actually kind of fun an that I’d just never go alone again (and I’d be a little more prepared in case I ended up stuck out overnight).

 

Rachel Carson Trail (short)

Hiked a few miles on the Rachel Carson Trail while catching up with Abe. The trail itself was unexceptional but it was neat to be surrounded by deer and all different types of birds. I’ve definitely noticed that you see a lot more when hiking new places instead of biking. I’m also told that the trail gets more interesting a few miles down, so hopefully will be revisiting soon.

The night ended with me throwing my camera in the car, then seeing one of the most beautiful sunsets over the lake. Also cool to watch a bird nab a fish and swallow it whole.

These are all with a new lens I bought hoping to get a better quality wide angle. It isn’t super wide but it’s definitely compact (24mm 2.8 pancake lens) so I think it’ll do me well on my trips this summer.

Retropost #2: Birthday in Ontario

So somewhere around Thanksgiving 2015 I got tipsy with my Uncle Dan and we decided we should go back to Lake Nippissing, Ontario. We had done this every year when I was a kid. My cousin ended up agreeing to go as well, and we happened to be leaving the day before my birthday.

As we did when we were kids, we decided to listen to a book on tape for the drive. We chose Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. On the first night we ate in some chain restaurant that I don’t remember the name of, and I got some boozy milkshake “for my birthday” and then they brought out a big desert “for my birthday” – all very good.

The next day, as was also tradition, we cut our trip into two parts by stopping at Webers. It’s this fantastic burger joint with mostly outdoor seating and a giant walkway over the highway so that it can be accessed by people travelling both directions. The lines go pretty far back in the parking lot but service never takes that long. I was extremely glad to find that my memories of the food weren’t just good because of nostalgia… everything was delicious.

We got to the cabin and found out that we couldn’t build fires because they were in the middle of a very dry spell. We also didn’t have direct access to the water, but that also meant people weren’t walking by the cabin all week.

The next day, I decided to take a ride while Dan & Doug went out on the boat. I had looked at a map before coming on the trip and had an idea of a few trails that I wanted to find. I noticed that everything was pretty much highway so I brought a cyclocross bike with road tires.

As it turns out, highways in Canada are not always paved, and even if they are they handle construction by laying a ton of gravel and dirt in patches. I flatted 8 miles in. I debated on turning around after fixing the flat but decided against it.

I made it into some more residential town and saw a couple on bikes standing outside of a shop. I approached them and asked if they knew where Kate Pace Way was. I knew I was close but wasn’t exactly sure how to get there. They told me it was in the direction of their house, so if I didn’t mind riding at their pace they’d show me the way. The woman had a pedal-assist bike to help her with any of the smaller hills in the area.

They actually stopped at their house on the way and let me use a floor pump to get my tires back to where they should be (the hand pump did well, but wasn’t perfect). They also gave me their business card – they owned an outdoor shop in North Bay (similar to REI). Then the wife showed me the rest of the way to Kate Pace Way.

I had failed at mapping this trail out in its entirety. It actually went the whole way to the waterfront. I got there, ate some ice cream and chips, and turned around to come home. Another trail started around there and went to the airport, but I didn’t have time for that.

On the way home I checked out the Cranberry trail, which was unpaved and likely contributed to my bonking later. Traffic was getting angry and passing me pretty close, so I took a little detour – very rocky and uncomfortable on slicks. I ended up passing part of the trans-Canada trail, but it was a section that didn’t go anywhere or connect to anything.

Two days later I decided on a shorter ride. I wanted to find Restoule Provincial Park. My tire was flat. I also had trouble shifting and sat fiddling with my derailleur for a while. This was unfortunate because I was trying to beat the heat by leaving early.

This ride started out with a little more climbing than the first one. There isn’t much climing, I managed about 2000′ over 40 miles which was the most I could really get when I was mapping things out beforehand. It was really nice and the roads were mostly empty. It did get really hot though, and at some point I saw signs for a honey farm and decided to step inside to take a break from the heat.

Board’s Honey farm was pretty cool. They actually took me back into the kitchen to pour me a fresh bear of Ginger Honey, which needed to be strained first.

I didn’t end up making it all the way into Restoule Provincial Park. The last few miles were under construction and were very roughly covered in gravel. I sat down to eat a peach, was attacked by black flies, and decided to get out quickly. On the way back I stopped at a restaurant and asked if I could sit outside to eat my fruit.

The rest of the ride home was extremely hot. I had one work truck almost run me over (I bailed into the grass and he came right on through at full speed with an oncoming car). I made one last stop for some mountain dew with about two miles to go – I do not do well with crazy heat.

I don’t really remember the chronological order of everything else. We ended up going to the outdoor adventure shop and we went to Board’s Honey Farm via car. We even stopped at that same restaurant and ate ice cream. We visited New Ontario Brewing. Doug & I half-sank a paddle boat, then I took him out in a canoe for his first time. We had to race a thunderstorm back, which was challenging. We had several good sunsets and at least one quiet evening in with books & board games. We discovered that my tire had actually been torn open during my first bike ride and I later found out that my derailleur hanger was bent.

On the drive home we stopped at Weber’s (of course) and Niagra Falls. We found a few breweries. Then on the second day we detoured to Southern Tier, and it happened to be some kind of summer party.

 

Retropost #1: GAP test trip

The weather has been super terrible and I haven’t done anything exciting. I didn’t even finish the coffeeneuring challenge which was disappointing. There’s always next year? At any rate, I figured I would put up a few posts from trips that happened before I decided to record things in a blog.

This trip happened in September, right after I purchased the PDX Bindle Rack. My excuses were to test out my gear for the C&O Towpath and to visit my grandmother after her first eye surgery. I also wanted to scope out the different campsites on the GAP.

On the way out, I reached the first campsite and the water pump was broken. There were a group of middle-aged men sitting around trying to figure out if they really wanted to go further. I convinced them that the next one was totally reachable and had riding company for the next 10+ miles, and camping company for the evening. These guys were fascinated by my camp snuggie. I obviously didn’t take the photos of me, those were mostly taken by Patrick.

I had packed canned food and some pasta. A little heavy for trips like this and none of it was very good so I made a mental note to not go that route for a longer trip.

It was a lot colder than expected overnight. I definitely had trouble staying warm in the hammock. I also had night terrors about a woman circling me as I slept.

I left earlier than everyone else the next morning because I needed to meet my Aunt Donna in Ohiopyle for lunch. I did feel slightly rushed and ended up pushing back the timing from our original agreement. Partway along, some guy was on the side of the trail and I stopped to see if he was OK. He was debating on turning around and decided to ride with me to “the pipeline” – he left from there to go to Ohiopyle (much faster than me, on an unloaded carbon road bike) and while I stood there taking a photo another guy approached me. He recognized me from Instagram and was on his way to DC. I kept pace with them for all of three miles, had some bag malfunction and told them to keep going.

Aunt Donna treated me to lunch and we caught up, then she drove me and my bicycle back to my grandmother’s house.

My great aunt actually had also surprised my grandmother with a visit. I also went to a fundraising event with my mother, where she won a fleece blanket – I promptly stole this for my trip back home. I stayed there for a day, then had my grandfather drop me off in Meyersdale to ride back to Pittsburgh.

Funny enough, my great uncle Ernie was also doing the trip to DC that weekend and happened to be starting from Meyersdale that morning. We met up with him at the starting point and I headed off in the opposite direction. I mainly wanted to see the Salisbury viaduct because I hadn’t seen it before. I had also not seen the Pinkerton tunnel (it was closed last time I biked home). It felt super trippy.

I left a bag at home, so my grandfather went back to pick it up and met me in Rockwood (both points are about equidistant from my grandmother’s house). I also ran into another group of Pittsburgh cyclists in Rockwood headed to DC – obviously it was the perfect weekend for the trip.

I had originally planned to stay at Stewart’s Crossing that night, but on the way down I noticed that it was essentially a few shelters beside a shopping center’s parking lot. That didn’t feel particularly safe to me, so I filled up on water and headed to Roundbottom. This campsite was pretty overgrown and had no potable water, but was quiet and in the middle of nowhere. A few other folks showed up (one family by kayaks and canoe).

Sleeping was much warmer, although I had long sleeves & pants and a fleece blanket. I also hung the hammock inside one of the shelters, which helped with any wind.

the next day dragged on pretty terribly. I actually almost tried to get a ride home in Mckeesport but was unsuccessful. It didn’t help that I got lost taking the “loop” (of course I did). I pretty much stopped to pet every dog during this trip, which helped me finish out the ride.

Coffeeneuring #6

It’s getting chilly in Pittsburgh, which makes it harder to convince myself to leave the house (that’s the point of Coffeeneuring, right?) Anyway, got someone to agree to meet up with me before hitting the winter sale at REI. One more!

Where: Southside Park, Pittsburgh

With Who: Kyle Hackmeister

What: I had green tea, he had instant coffee

Coffeeneuring #5

Originally planned to ride out to Hartwood Acres but Saxonburg Blvd is closed (somewhere?) so instead dumped down to the bottom of Frick and sat by Nine Mile Run (I hope this counts? Twice at Frick but two different locations within the park). Caught up on a friend’s recent vagabond activities.

Where: Frick Park, Pittsburgh – via Highland Park, so 10 miles round trip

What: he had pour over coffee, I had instant

Who: Chris Ayers

Coffeeneuring #4

(November 2nd)

First solo ride, was shooting for Riverview but wasn’t feeling it so ended up at Point State Park. Legs have been super tired lately and I want a good deadlift session tomorrow so trying to genuinely rest today.

Where: Point State Park, Pittsburgh (10+ miles round trip)

What: mint cocoa tea 

C&O Towpath

 

None of this trip went as planned.

A month or so ago I did a little test run out to visit my folks. I made it to Ohiopyle on the way out, then came home from Meyersdale with one night camping in each direction. I talked about doing the whole trip in November and my aunt reminded me that peak foliage would be in October, so I scheduled the trip for the 11th. Then I found a tick and had to do two weeks of rough antibiotics until the 10th, so rescheduled my train ticket for the 18th. The weather was initially looking like it would be cold but mostly dry, so I bit the bullet and bought a bunch of (pricey) cold weather gear. Then with a few days left, it warmed up and I had to reconfigure.

The morning of the 18th (and by morning, I mean the ungodly hour of 3am) I woke up to my cat puking all over my bed. Decided that meant I should get up and eat breakfast, discovered holes in my hydration pack’s bladder. I duct taped the holes and got everything ready to leave, then rode to the train station… with water leaking all over the place. I got there around 5am dripping wet. The guy working gave me a massive garbage bag, and it was my companion for the rest of this trip. Also rolling your bike on is remarkably easy, and nobody checked my ticket or identification which I thought was strange.

If you’ve ever taken the train to DC, it’s a beautiful ride. Very long, but beautiful. I had a pretty good seat neighbor, Charles from Honduras. I mention it because I learned that there is an island in Honduras where everyone has British names, and also that Charles may or may not have pirates for ancestors. Kind of fascinating. We sat and watched the leaves and made small talk with other folks on the train. You’re really missing out if you don’t talk to anyone on a long trip like this; there are tons of fascinating people from all over the country on the train. An older guy kept pointing at things and muttering, and eventually I caught on and started pointing at things and asking him questions… he seemed to know everything.

I got lost in DC. I did get to see the White House (in passing) and the Washington Monument. Google Maps did not navigate well at all and my 3 miles turned into more like 8 after 2 hours. Everyone I asked on bikes had no idea what the Towpath was and some guy day drinking on the sidewalk was convinced I should cross the river into Virginia. I finally found a guy named Art who led me to the Capital Crescent Trail, so I missed mile marker 0 but at that point I didn’t care and was pretty grateful that one human in all of DC knew where the stupid trail was.

14692176_10155359232042501_6959134829245021249_o.jpg

So obviously having spent 4x as long looking for the trail, I needed to figure out where I would be camping for the evening. Some lady yelled at me to get off the trail if I was going to play with my phone (hunny or sweetie included) because I delayed her race-pace passing a pedestrian. There was no “off the trail” except in the canal. This didn’t help my mood. I’m including it here only  because it goes well with the overall trip.

The first night I made it to Horsepen Branch and camped with a guy named Ron. He was a local, and he was doing our Pittsburgh equivalent of camping at Dravo Cemetery. He boiled too much water both at night and in the morning and let me use the extra, which was fantastic. It somehow didn’t end up with me making up any time, but whatever. He did make one comment that was a little off, when I asked him if he had ever slept in a hammock. “Yeah, all over Asia!” Why were you in Asia? “Killing little people. They didn’t care, they just made more.” (Vietnam war). It was pretty toasty, I didn’t put my rain-fly on, and I made friends with all the spiders in hopes that maybe they’d eat all the mosquitoes. They didn’t.

IMG_4369.jpg

I don’t remember a ton of details from the next day except that I saw my first awesome enormous snapping turtle, hit a string of really iodine-heavy water pumps, and right around late afternoon I hit a bump and threw a bag into my front wheel – ripping it open and lodging a pair of wool underwear into my brake. Couldn’t get the fabric out so took the brake off and hung it from my handlebars.

That night I camped with a guy named Ron. I told him I would call him Snowbird Ron because he bikes to Florida every fall and back to Pittsburgh every Spring. Ron watched me puke from the iodine water. We also were both paranoid at night, I heard footsteps and we both heard voices (I thought it was his radio). He checked both times and nothing was wandering our campsites, but he was also concerned about a woman who was behind him earlier in the day.

[edit] I almost forgot this part, but we burned the torn underwear that destroyed my brakes as well as an odd sock (I must have lost one on the train). Sort of a funny detail in retrospect.

Woke up the next morning, ate a few nuun tablets and made my way to Williamsport Sheetz for breakfast and better water. Fried food and redbull… got back on the trail and puked again (I had more iodine water before making it to sheetz). Definitely saw a theme for the trip. Ran into quite a few folks making the PGH to DC trek, and several told me to take the Western Maryland Rail Trail, a paved 20+ mile trail parallel to the towpath. I’m glad I saw the sign; the trail was beautiful and fast. I stopped at the bike shop in Hancock and ate popsicles. Note – they have the sketchiest toilets of the entire trip. Watched an older lady fall off her bike (she was fine) and her friend ride away on her bike. Good midday comic relief (obviously only because she was fine).

Got back on the C&O and was thinking “I feel pretty good, nothing terrible happened today” and then my phone fell, while connected to a charging cord. I caught the cord and it swung into my wheel, destroying my phone and bending a spoke.

IMG_4453.jpg

At this point I hadn’t really been running into folks on the trail so expected to camp alone. I knew the next place I might find a Verizon store would be Cumberland, and that I’d want to try to make up the time I’d lose looking. I also knew I’d have no entertainment after it got dark so thought I’d ride after sunset. Made it through the Paw Paw Tunnel – holy sketchballs. But riding the Towpath at night (and trying to pick up speed) may actually be more sketchy.

 

I camped by myself that night, for the first time ever. Not sure I expected camping alone to be more sketchy than camping with a stranger, but it was. I had no concept of time. I woke up the next morning and had a cold. Packed up and hit the trail as soon as I could see. The guy at the next campsite (traveling from Maine to Mexico) told me it was 8am, so it was the earliest i had actually made it out.

The sky was pretty angry the next day and the wind had picked up considerably. I kept looking for places I could take shelter if it started raining, but the rain didn’t come until I was in the very last 2-3 miles. I made it to Cumberland and went into the bike shop. They told me there were no verizon stores nearby and kindly let me call my mother. After determining that riding another 150 miles with no maps or contact was a bad idea, and also that the weather looked terrible… I opted to eat a sandwich and get a ride home.

On the way home, I noticed that most of the leaves had already fallen compared to when I came through on the train a few days ago. This made me regret my decision a lot less. I also found out my aunts were in town for an event and ended up having a pretty good weekend with family, so all-in-all I’m definitely glad I didn’t opt to bang out the GAP in the rain just to say I could.