I’m seriously behind in chronicling my big bike trip of 2007 – the last installment ended in the Adirondacks, and since then I’ve hit the shores of Lake Champlain, Burlington (VT), the high points (and low) of the Green Mountains, the Mass. Berkshires, the Pioneer Valley, NE Connecticut, much of Rhode Island, and the budding bicycle magnets of Brooklyn and Manhattan. So let me take these one at a time.
After leaving Lake Placid, I headed down Route 86 through rocky Wilmington Notch, where I had an unusually clear view of Whiteface Mountain. I say unusual because in recent years, if the fog doesn’t obscure the summit, the particulate pollution does. Only we oldtimers recall how long the vistas used to be in these mountains, before the monster smokestacks of the Midwest and eastern Great Lakes sent so much stuff in our direction. Acid rain has infamously struck the Adirondacks, but acid deposition, via particulates, comes in any weather – and the fine particles produce a haze that limits the view. Still, the mountains are compelling. Whenever I pass through the High Peaks region, I get nostalgic. So many backpacking trips with friends and family. So many bracing climbs in all seasons and conditions, so many rainy but wonderful trudges up and down Algonquin, Marcy, Cascade, etc.
All along Route 86 between Placid and Jay, I saw bikers/triathletes in training – dozens of them. Lake Placid is of course a major athletic training center with state-of-the-art facilities, but still I was surprised to see so many pedalers on the road. Jay itself is a quiet hamlet; I took a half-mile side trip to see a covered bridge that’s being reconstructed. (Yes, NY State has a good share of this type of bridge, which through the miracle of marketing has become so closely associated with New England.)
I have to admit that for most of the ride between Jay and the west side of Lake Champlain, I was fixated on getting to the ferry at Port Kent that goes across to Burlington, Vermont. I also had to watch the road surface a good deal, since it wasn’t as smooth and inviting as it had been. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing worth seeing on that route. Indeed, the edge of the plateau offers scenery with two personalities: over your shoulder there are the mountains receding, darkening as the sun sets; and before you is more open country leading to the expanse of the lake, which since the 1990s has officially been the “sixth Great Lake.” It’s much smaller than the Big Five, of course. By the way: Why is it that Lake Superior is considered the largest of the five? Though this ranking business inevitably involves arbitrary standards and judgments, it’s obvious that Superior, which I dearly love, is much smaller than Michigan-Huron, which has a level connector (the Straits of Mackinac) and by rights should be considered a single lake.
Anyway, Champlain is easily crossed by bike – and I don’t mean pedal-boat. All you need to do is get the Port Kent-Burlington ferry, a traditional and long-successful operation that costs only $4.70 for a walk-on plus a buck for your bike. A lesson for any community that longs for such service. (In a future installment I’ll discuss the equally pleasurable fast ferry service between Providence and Newport, RI – bike-friendly and cheap.)