Fall is a great time for mountain biking. Across the Midwest, thetrails are less crowded. The fall foliage is near its peak. On a dryday, a careful rider can go deep into the backcountry without damagingpaths or fragile plant-life. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s BrianMann set out on his bike recently into a remote corner of New York’sAdirondack Mountains. He sends this audio postcard:
Fall is a great time for mountain biking. Across the Great Lakes region,
the trails are less crowded. The fall foliage is near its peak. On a dry
day, a careful rider can go deep into the backcountry without damaging paths
or fragile plant-life. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Brian Mann set out on
his bike recently into a remote corner of New York’s Adirondack Mountains.
He sends this audio postcard.
(Ambience of bike thrashing through trees)
It’s Sunday morning – an overcast, fall day – when I set off into the chain
of trails that criss-cross the Saranac Lake Wild Forest, in the heart of New
York’s Adirondack Mountains. It’s been twenty years since I took a crack at
this kind of rough terrain on a bicycle.
(Ambience of bike, combined with “onboard” narration)
“This is a
great stretch here. Just enough contour to make the ride interesting, but
not so many roots or blow-downs that you can’t get some momentum and really
move down the trail…”
The path stretches eight miles through a mix of hemlock and beech and
lowland bog. The Adirondacks are famous for rocks and roots and on a
bicycle you feel every one of them.
“Bicycles have a bad reputation on trails, and
it’s possible to really chew up the path. But if you’re careful, and you
walk your bike over the muddy spots, you can really avoid doing damage.”
After an hour or so, I come to the ride’s first reward: a solitary view of
metallic blue water down through the trees:
(Ambience: Water lapping at shore)
“It’s a gray morning, but warm. The first fall color
is just settling in here. You can see beautiful maples, bright red and
orange along the bank.”
As our parks and wilderness areas grow more crowded, finding real solitude
is a challenge. This trail is popular among hikers in the summer and
snowmobilers in the winter, but this time of year the area is quiet.
There’s a bridge at the outlet of the pond, where I stop to eat my lunch
and check the map.
“It’s a narrow creek of water, buttressed on both
sides by downed timber. A wonderful stretch of water and there’s color
here, too, bright reds and yellows.”
As I’m packing up, I see a canoe working its way slowly up the stream. In
the back woods, bicycles and canoes have a lot in common. There are easy
stretches, when you cruise forward effortlessly. But then there are the
carries, when the boat or the bike goes on your shoulders. The biggest
obstacle of my day is a huge patch of blowdown. A recent fall storm sent a
microburst of air crashing through this section of forest –like a bowling
ball scattering pins.
(Ambience: bicycle pushing through pushes)
“So here we are again, pushing the bike, down through
the undergrowth. It’s thick in here with witch hobble and ferns and the
upturned roots of these trees that have been knocked down.”
(Ambience: Blue jays and chickadees calling)
I slog on, muddy and tired, braking often to lift the bike over patches of
marsh. A creek winds between two kettle ponds. The bridge is out and I’m
forced tightrope walk over stumps and bits of timber, the bike balanced on
my shoulders. Later, on a rocky patch, I take a minor tumble.
“A ride like this can be pretty tough on the hardware. Right now,
I have a good-sized stick jammed up in my chain. (Klang-klang!) Okay.
That wasn’t exactly in the trail maintenance handbook, but I think it did
For every setback, there are incredible views: a grove of beech trees
struck by a sudden patch of sunlight, openings in the canopy offer a
glimpse of the water that defines this country. And then there’s the
sudden, liberating moment when the trail unkinks on a steep downhill slope.
(Ambience of riding)
“There’s nothing better than coming through a
tangled patch, where you’re carrying your bike and then discovering a
wonderful stretch of open trail. Really makes you feel like you’ve earned
It’s mid-afternoon as I work my way back to the road and civilization. I’m
covered with mud from my gaiters to my riding gloves and pretty well
exhausted. Still, I’m humming after an afternoon of pure solitude. And
with the things I’ve seen: the powerful aftermath of a windstorm, the
strokes of color, the rough, rich textures of the forest.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Brian Mann on the trail in New
York’s Adirondack Mountains.