NY Route 458 gets two thumbs-up as portal to the northern Adirondacks. I say this for two reasons: Rt. 458 is less traveled and woodsier than either Rt. 56 or 30, it goes through the unspoiled hamlet of St. Regis Falls (a perfect rest stop with a general store/deli), and it has lots of hills and thrills.
Of course, it’s the hills that in a sense exile many of the truckers and – let’s face it, bicyclists, too – to the lowlands and heavy traffic. But it turns out Route 458 is not a corridor of solitude. There’s some local traffic, even an occasional logging truck, and of course the wildlife here has an audible voice (amazing in the modern world!). And then there are the fitness enthusiasts.
All through the northern Adirondacks I ran into triathletes in training and other high-powered cyclists on fancy machines; most of them are connected to the top-drawer training facilities in Lake Placid, which since the 1980 Winter Olympics has become a year-round athletic venue to rival Aspen, et al. But not everyone on the roads is an Ironman champion.
Case in point: On Rt. 458 I ran into a cyclist named John who happened to be doing a training ride; he’d driven his car down from a town near the St. Lawrence and was cranking out some miles uphill and down, all to prepare for more challenging hills like the infamous stretch of Route 73 between Placid and Keene - a gloriously frightening descent or heart-pounding upgrade, depending on which direction you’re going.
Anyway, John, a North Country college professor who said he had a son studying at RIT, proved to be a great conversationalist as he and I rode along together, mostly side-by-side on the otherwise mostly vehicle-free highway. We covered plenty of bike topics – strangely, though he didn’t hesitate to hit the road alone, he didn’t have a full tool kit, nor did he know how to change a flat – and shared anecdotes about the blackboard, now whiteboard, jungle of academia. (When I stopped at a public library to check my email, as is my custom on the road, I got some bas news about a case I was following: Norman Finkelstein, one of the best and most committed scholars working on the question of Israel/Palestine, was finally denied tenure at DePaul Univ. in Chicago; the denial follows heavy-handed intervention by the egregious Alan Dershowitz of Harvard. It's a complicated story that I'll pursue in another venue. But the take-home message is this: Readers should check out Finkelstein's website, normanfinkelstein.com, and send their messages of outrage to DePaul administrators.)
John was riding a Serotta road bike; later, at the Lake Placid bike shop he recommended, I saw Serottas on the sales floor priced up to $8,000. Talk about sticker shock. But the shop did have some good, and reasonably priced, Pearl Izumi cycling gloves; I bought a pair to replace my old Lake gloves, which lost their cushioning power a year ago or more. So with the new PI’s, at least my hands were able to proceed in style.
Speaking of attire, etc.: When the temperatures were in the 70s or 80s, I stuck to my usual road gear: cycling jersey or 50/50-blend long-sleeved tee, plus the mandatory padded cycling shorts. But when the weather turned blisteringly hot, I went back to my canoeing outfit, at least from the waist up: a loose-fitting, cotton-flannel long-sleeved shirt (probably a lightweight Chambray would be even better). When you’re in motion, the loose shirt billows up and acts something like A/C. True, the added air resistance cuts down your mechanical efficiency – but what the hey, touring is not a race.
Another concern: As a melanin-deprived person of Celtic descent, I’m a big believer in bathing in sunblock. But I know that sunblock/sunscreen can’t equal tight-woven fabric for UV protection. And exposing bare skin to the sun also increases solar absorption. Not to disparage fun in the sun, but we’d probably do better to emulate the traditional peoples of the desert in summer from 10 AM till 4 PM – and save the para-naturism for safer hours.