I’m 25 miles north of Lake George, New York, taking a break alongside the shore of the lake of the same name, when four riding buddies pull in beside me. Nothing unusual about that. Except for the mix of motorcycles they’re riding: a brand-new, big-ticket Harley-Davidson cruiser, a 1980s-era 750cc Honda, a Suzuki Hayabusa and a Suzuki supermoto.
The foursome illustrates two of my favorite things about Americade, the annual rally based in Lake George: First, while there’s plenty of shopping, eating, lake cruises, bike shows and other activities to keep you busy, Americaders still get out and ride; and second, this is not the kind of rally where everyone’s dressed alike and riding the same kind of bike. At Americade, you could see someone ride in on just about anything, old or new, 150 horsepower or 15 horsepower.
Of course, the main enticement to get out and ride while at Americade is the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park stretching out to the north of Lake George. You could spend weeks exploring it, but I have a favorite day ride that links together several enjoyable and scenic Adirondack roads, both famous and obscure.
I start out like just about everyone else, riding north on Route 9N along the western bank of the lake. Just north of the village of Crown Point, I veer off on Lake Road and cross Lake Champlain next to the Crown Point Historic Area. This peninsula at various times in history had British, French and U.S. flags flying above its fortifications, and it makes a scenic spot for a rest break today.
The reason for my 20-mile incursion into Vermont is to enjoy a late breakfast or early lunch in Middlebury. The town is home to highly regarded Middlebury College, which features intensive language courses during the summer. Students vow to speak nothing but the language they’re trying to learn. As you stroll the streets, you may hear conversations in Japanese, Russian, German or one of seven other languages. Middlebury also offers several great places for lunch, some of which sit right beside Otter Creek, which rushes and tumbles through the center of the village.
Back on the road on the New York side of Lake Champlain, I sample some of the park’s best roads. I follow Route 9N north to the village of Port Henry and then ride west on Essex County Road 4, which starts out tame enough. Past the little hamlet of Moriah Center, it becomes Ensign Pond Road and the fun begins. It offers an uninterrupted series of sweepers through a shady grove of trees, often following the natural course of a tumbling brook. Traffic is so light, you may have Ensign Pond Road to yourself until you reach its end at Route 9.
I follow Route 9 and then Route 73 all the way to Lake Placid. The scenery picks up as I near Lake Placid, the site of the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980. To my left, the Cascade Lakes, narrow gashes in the mountains, glow blue in the sun, and then as I enter the town, I watch for the looming ski jumping towers on my left. Tours of the Olympic center are available (www.whiteface.com/summer/activities/octour.php), if you have the time.
At Lake Placid, I turn north on Route 86. It’s only about 13 miles from downtown Lake Placid to the town of Wilmington, but I’ve spent an hour on that stretch of road. So many sites lure me to stop. You can hike to High Falls Gorge, where the Ausable River plunges down a 600-foot fissure in the rocks, or take a shorter pause at the roadside overlook beside the Wilmington Flume, a smaller but still dramatic water-carved gash in the granite.
At Wilmington, I turn left on Route 431 and barely slow down for the tourist trap town of North Pole, New York, passing up the offer to have breakfast with Santa. The real reason for this side trip is the Veterans Memorial Highway, which takes me to the top of Whiteface Mountain, the fifth-highest peak in the Adirondacks. The toll road ($9 for a motorcycle and rider, $5 extra for a passenger) is similar to the even higher and more famous Mount Washington Auto Road in New Hampshire. On a clear day, the 4,867-foot peak of Whiteface offers views all the way to Canada. If the peak happens to have snagged a passing cloud, you won’t even have a view of your motorcycle in the parking area. Either way, it’s another world up there, and worth sampling.
Back at the bottom of Whiteface, I continue on 86 to the crossroads of Jay, where I turn south on Route 9N. Once 9N and Route 73 merge, I follow 73 south through Keene Valley and St. Hubert’s. Just past the Northway interstate, I watch for Essex County Road 6, also known as Tracy Road, and turn east. Like Ensign Pond Road to the south, this is a little-traveled, thoroughly winding ribbon of smooth asphalt through the northern forest. One of the Adirondacks’ hidden gems of a road.
Just past Witherbee, I turn south on County Road 7 and follow that all the way to Route 9N. Time to retrace my tire tracks back to Lake George. There are probably some fireworks or a bike show or a dozen other things to see.
This favorite ride can make for a long day, especially if you tend to stop for multiple photo ops, as I do. But because Americade coincides with the longest days of the year, you have plenty of daylight. And despite the incredible agenda of activities at Americade, my favorite thing to do, still, is take a favorite ride.