Adirondacks by Motorcycle
From the top of Whiteface Mountain, you can see forever. A gentle road with lots of places to view the spectacular scenery takes you near the top, where you can go into the tunnel and ride the elevator up, or take the rough and steep path the last quarter mile to the summit.
It’s worth it, every little bit of it.
My buddy Rob and I started from different corners of New York, he from Albany, and I from Ithaca. We met in Rome, NY for a late lunch (jalopeno cheddar burger) and continued to Lake Placid. I’ve been to the Adirondacks before and even rode through Lake Placid, but I had forgotten what a very long ride it was. After a few wrong turns (entirely my fault) we arrived at our destination, the Cobble Mountain Lodge, just east of Lake Placid on Tuesday, just after dark.
The Cobble Mountain Lodge is basic digs for explorers like us. Mini fridge, two beds, a breakfast table with stools and an operational but microscopic shower. It was clean, bright and had everything we needed for a base of operation.
The weather report was for rain Thursday, so we decided to make for Whiteface first thing Wednesday morning. Thanks to one of the wrong turns I made the night before, we had a good idea how to get to Whiteface. It is a $16 charge per bike to ride up the mountain. Enjoy the climb as you rise 2,300’ from the base of the mountain to the parking lot at the top, then into a wheelchair accessible tunnel and elevator to carry you the additional 300’ to the summit.
The road’s biggest challenge was not the grade; it was the view tugging my attention away from the road. Every curve, every slope showed more and more of the rugged, ancient beauty of the Adirondack Mountains. We resolved to stop at a few of the stops on the way down, but as the weather was beginning to close in, we made directly for the top.
The long tunnel with its beautiful copper arched ceiling led to a glass elevator where an operator gave us a well-rehearsed history lesson as the elevator made its way slowly to the summit. Outside the glass elevator car, we noticed the stairs leading around and around. In case of emergency I suppose.
When we emerged at the top, we were greeted with the Adirondacks in all their green glory, spread out at our feet. One direction the familiar loop of Lake Placid, another the High Peaks, another a group of lakes, and another, the rugged path leading from the summit to the parking lot below.
At 67 and frankly in no shape to climb at all, I decided to make the trek down the trail. Rob politely declined and took the elevator down. After the first 50 feet, I realized that my decision to hike wasn’t well advised, but I stubbornly continued. There are great iron railings to hang on to, without which the mountain rescue squad might have had some unwelcome business.
Another thing – I was wearing a sweater and a leather jacket; perfect for riding and enjoying the view, but a little excessive for the strenuous hike I was making. About 45 minutes later, I arrived at the castle-like gift shop building drenched with sweat, and deciding that my mountaineering days were indeed over. It was, however, a bit of a moral victory, one I’ll cherish. I climbed Whiteface.
We descended that spectacular road, and went in search for the elusive Lyon Mountain, at the far northern edge of the Adirondack Park. Why Lyon Mountain? Rob’s last name is Lyon, and he wanted a picture with him next to the sign. Seriously, who needs a sensible reason to ride in the Adirondacks? It’s all magnificent, and every one of the roads are fun to ride.
Having achieved our two goals; Whiteface and Lyon Mountain, we made our way back to Lake Placid and the biggest outdoor barbeque joint I’ve ever seen, Smoke Signals. We sat outdoors under a tent and had some excellent pulled pork and other greasy stuff that went down wonderfully after a day on the bike.
The rain was kind enough to wait until we were seated before disgorging everything it had and soaking the world. About the time we asked for the check, the rain stopped and we had a mostly dry ride back to the lodge.
The weather was not nearly as kind Thursday. We opted for the taxi to carry us into Lake Placid to enjoy the Olympic sites, some eclectic shops and of course a couple excellent meals. I highly recommend the “Breakfast Club” restaurant. Good food, outrageously good coffee and a very competent and friendly waiter.
One of the sites I especially wanted to see was the hockey arena where the 1980 miracle happened. My wife and I clearly remember that game against the Soviet Union where our USA Amateur team pulled out the “impossible” victory against the larger and more experienced Russians.
Entering the arena was like passing through the gates of a shrine. I just sat and soaked it in, tears running down my cheeks. On the ice, figure skaters were practicing. Based on the music and the quality of the skating, they were “top end” competitors, but I didn’t care. My head kept playing over and over “Do you believe in miracles?”
The Olympic Museum has some areas that you must pay to enter, but the parts that I cared about were completely free to explore. There is a wall of championship games held at the arena – one of them the 1970 Cornell National Championship team, a special memory for me. I’m sure, if winter Olympics are special to you, you can find something meaningful to you as well.
Lake Placid has the usual collection of shops, low end, high end, t-shirt, curios and souvenir. Lots of restaurants and of course, a Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. After the day of wandering, seeing the sights, shopping and eating, we called the taxi for a ride back to the lodge. As we were waiting in the entrance of Ben & Jerry’s, a young man approached us and asked, “This may sound crazy, but are you… two… Ben and Jerry?”
Rob was caught with nothing to say. I was lost as well; this question was not from left field – it was from another planet. We assured the young man that although we would LIKE to have been THE Ben and Jerry, we were in fact Rob and Monroe. I think he was a little disappointed.
Wondering where the question came from, that evening we googled an interview with Ben and Jerry, who could have been our brothers. Funny world.
A six pack of beer did us for the entire three days. Drinking while riding is not a thing you do. Thank you to the mini fridge.
My constant companion on this trip (besides Rob) was my little Fuji X-T10 mirrorless camera. I purchased it for another motorcycle trip. It had to be of professional quality, but small and light enough to fit in the front of my tank bag. Stop the bike, zip, and I had my camera at the ready. You can’t do that with the big Canon DSLR cameras. Having vacationed with the big Canon 5DII a few times, it was not an option.
The little Fuji does an extremely good job in low light situations, and weighs about a quarter of the Canon. It uses easily available SD cards. In all, a great companion. The iPhone is better for selfies tho…
We departed Lake Placid the next day. The weather had cleared, and it looked like clear sailing. We rode past the Olympic ski jumps which were in the process of being upgraded, past the ski side of Whiteface and through the high peaks. Although the road travels right through the middle of these granite monsters, we saw very little of them because of the dense forest tunnel we were riding through. On the far side of the high peaks, a nice rest area afforded us the view we wanted, beautiful mountains on the far side of a lush green field.
The Northway, I87 is the long way home, but faster. We stopped for lunch at the A&W in Lake George for their clam platter and a delightful root beer float. Then on to the bikes for the journey home. We beeped farewell at exit 4, and I took the rough I88 home to Ithaca.
Motorcycle trips are fun and refreshing if you are prepared. Rain suits, reflective vests, water, leather jacket and chaps (my choice) and plenty of time. The distances between places are never as short as you expect, as evidenced by our late arrival at Lake Placid that Tuesday. We had the same experience biking through Nova Scotia a few years previous, where we had to forego visiting several places because I had jammed too many things into the itinerary. I’m still learning.
Count on rain. If you are prepared, you will be surprised how much it does NOT rain. The reverse is true as well. Murphy has a law about that. And Murphy was an optimist… Also, I used to be a stupid macho rider; “…don’t care about the weather. I can handle it.” Clearly stupid. If it’s pouring rain, call a taxi. Trust me.
Here are some links you might find helpful…
http://www.cobblemountainlodgellc.com/, one of the least expensive choices in a town based on tourism. It’s about a mile out of town, but the savings are worth the inconvenience.
http://www.lpom.org/olympic-center, information site of the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, hall of fame and the ice skating venues.
https://visitadirondacks.com/about/adirondack-park is your go-to site for everything you want to know about the Adirondacks.
There are many other places to find information – too many to show here. Just be sure to research your route first, and have a good time. Don’t rush.