It’s still dark in Montreal when I turn the key and drive away from my place in what feels like the dead of night but is actually already 6am. I’ve been up for an hour getting a few things organized, and in my post-coffee life, trying to jolt to consciousness naturally, which of course takes a lot more practice.
It’s a short drive to the border on this long weekend, and my goal is to jump the traffic and be Stateside by the time the sun is properly up. That way I can navigate less stressfully. I stop after the border, which was a breeze with only three cars in front of me and two questions from the officer. First stop gas the tank and buy a couple Egg McMuffin sandwiches to take for the breakfast. They have just enough calories to get me going for the next couple hours.
I drive around Plattsburgh looking for free parking, which I find just a couple blocks away from the town center on a residential street. The spot I choose is by a pharmacy and I feel pretty safe to leave my car there for the day.
It doesn’t take long to set the bike up and get accessorized for the day; timers on, shades down; keys only mis-placed once; water filled, fizz in, and away I go. There’s a nice warm-up bike path through town before connecting with Highway 9 and I enjoy an easy start riding alongside train tracks and the water front. Lots of friendly joggers say hi or wave and it feels good to be up early and on the move.
The little detour is short, and I’m soon back on Highway 9, which has great shoulders and is smooth as glass. I ride past Valcour Island and Ausable Canyon (aka the self-proclaimed Grand Canyon of the east) before heading under (or was it over?) Highway 87. Despite my best navigation efforts I somehow end up on 22N instead of Highway 9N which is the more direct route to Lake Placid.
Of course I know this only in retrospect, and I cruise for half and hour or so very contentedly through charming apple orchards and farm country until I reach Peru and the penny drops that I’m pretty much heading due north instead of southwest.
Whoops – well, no worries – I’m out for distance today and the farmland is very agreeable. I reprogram my route and head out on a great big arc leading me west into more rolling countryside – the foothills I would call them – the road perfectly empty and smooth and the rollers long and easy. It’s really a beautiful ride to discover by accident.
I take a hard right somewhere near Black Brook and the riding gets a bit tougher dropping more steeply and climbing more aggressively into Wilmington – there are lots more riders on this stretch because it’s within easy reach of Lake Placid.
I chat to another Quebec biker in the parking lot of a small mall in Wilmington and he confirms that we’re at the base of the day’s main attraction – Whiteface Mountain climb, so I’m super happy to make it this far and know I’m in the right place. There are hardly any resources in this town – least of all places to eat, so after deciding against the fudge factory and the maple chocolate for lunch I go into a really old and dilapidated grocery store and discover they have a grill. The old guy working there is super nice, and cooks me up chicken tenders (2 of which hit my back pocket for the ride) salad and chocolate milk. We have a good conversation over lunch and we share tales of different places we’ve visited and I learn some history of the area.
Now about that hill – it looks for all the world like a bike training paradise – 10 miles of steady climbing. The road is known officially as the Veteran’s Memorial Highway and is as beautiful a climb as you’ll ever find. There are lots of look out points on the way to let you take in the view, with the added bonus of picnicking families on the wayside to cheer you on.
I didn’t know there was a toll 3 miles in – and be warned (!) – there is some old lady working there who is very mean and sent me back down the hill to line up behind about 25 cars all waiting to get through the booth. I protested, I offered exact change, I pleaded the cause to no avail.
I ended up back behind two couples on their motorcycles and we had some fun joking about how tough she was on me. They seemed concerned for this injustice. After cooling my jets for 15 minutes I was rescued by the tollbooth manager who was updating all the drivers on the full parking lot up top. He escorted me back to the booth where I gave my 8 bucks to the same mean old lady (now looking somewhat more contrite – he was her boss) and off I went. Thank you!
It’s hot as hell on the climb and I’m sweating buckets in no time. Determined not to stop I make it to within a couple miles of the summit when I’m forced to pull off the grind and cool off for a moment. Oh, for a mountain stream! Good thing I stopped for lunch first. Hot and hungry would not be good here. Be the road, just be the road.
It’s a great feeling to reach the top. Including the tollbooth wait it’s taken almost an hour and a half to make the climb, but it’s worth it. Views are amazing and there’s lots of happy folks about. I take pics of a few people and they take mine in return. One guy suggests I hold my bike over my head but I need my energy for later in the day so decline the offer. Windbreaker on, it’s time to descend – payback time! I swear it takes less than 10 minutes to descend – almost comically fast.
The comedy is made surreal passing the North Pole motel decked out like a Santa’s grotto in the middle of a parking lot. I know where I’m sending my next letter to Saint Nick!
Back to Highway 86 and another hard right for the stretch to Lake Placid. It’s approaching mid-afternoon – Bonk time. The rollers are just a bit short and steep, and my legs are crying in protest after the abuse on the big hill, and I have no choice but to pull over, eat another chicken nugget and finish my fluids off. There’s a steady stream of riders heading towards Lake Placid and I try and pace with some, but it’s a tough go, and I’m working hard to maintain a decent pace.
I have a mission to change my saddle at High Peaks Cyclery in Lake Placid and I’m not disappointed when I reach town because it’s easy to find the store. The store is a gem. Super helpful and friendly Brad hooks me up with not only a new saddle, but also gels, shot blocks, electrolytes, more chammy cream and even refills my water bottles. It’s a great experience and when I leave head to the place next door for a fruit smoothie which is super refreshing. I kick myself a few miles down the road for not taking another to go.
I opt for Highway 73 for the return leg which takes the southern loop around (well also straight over) the Sentinel Range, and it’s back to sweating and grinding soon enough. There’s a promised four mile downhill and a long river side ride, all of which is true enough. However, the headwind is blasting full jet force down the valley and I’m pushing against a good 20-miler all the way back to the coast.
Scenery is beautiful and despite the increase in traffic still pretty relaxing. I’m closing in on the century which officially comes at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. Made it 100 miles! Batteries running low, I resupply, finally hit the sugar – coke and Orangina in the bottles and head out again.
Dusk is approaching and I’m thinking and scheming now to try night riding next because as the day falls away I feel my power increase like a dark lord and I’m off, suddenly invigorated at full force. What I expect to be a short lived power burst continues mile after mile, and soon enough I’m back at Highway 9 heading onto the homestretch. The miles fall away, and I’m still at 30km/hr plus average, hitting 40 on some of the flats and just feeling great. The last 50kms turn into a flat out time trial and when I reach Plattsburgh town limits I realize that I don’t really want to stop. I’m ready to keep going.
But that’s all I have time for today. The sun is setting – I’ve been riding from dawn till dusk and loved it. Almost 12 hours on the road – some 9 and a half in the saddle and it’s been a really great experience. My car is right where I left it, a few minutes is all it takes to dismount and load up and I’m back to driving, heading home past the closed burrito restaurant and quiet diners and empty streets.