Earlier in the year I started reading Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. It sparked a strong interest in the famous expedition, and so I started planning a motorcycle ride that traveled along sections of the Historic Lewis and Clark Trail. The mileage ended up being a little “daunting” for my schedule, so I started to scale back the plans. I put together a rudimentary itinerary that included the more famous sections near Montana, but I couldn’t get any friends excited about the idea. Oh well, maybe next Summer.
Plan B was hatched. I decided to do a trip to the Adirondacks and take in a couple of sites relevant to the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
I’ve got good number of 2-3 day moto-camping trips under my belt, and so I decided to address a couple of nagging gear issues before this big trip. The first piece of gear was my tent. I recently spent a rainy evening in the Shenandoah National Forest without a tarp and so I cooked, ate, and drank beer in the rain that night. I’m a little too minimalist (read lazy) to pack a tarp, so instead I stepped up my plans to hammock camp. In one package, I’d have a bed, kitchen, and lounge.
Camping: I took the plunge with my REI dividend and picked up a Hennessy Hammock Ultralight Backpacker. I added their Super Shelter for use as three-season bottom insulation, and I added a Summer top quilt from Wilderness Logic. I also replaced the stock rainfly with the Tadpole also from Wilderness Logic. I used some titanium odds and ends from Dutchware Gear for my tree straps and rainfly. The hammock is an asymmetric design and it’s really easy to get a good lie. Initially I was lying on too strong of an angle and it was a bit of a strain. Once I reduced that, it was perfect. The Hennessy has a structural ridgeline that makes is really easy to get the perfect amount of sag. I changed out the suspension with whoopie slings to make it near brainless to hang and adjust. I opted for a separate continuous ridgeline (CLR) for the rain fly which gave me more flexibility when hanging the rainfly. I did something mildly novel so that I could use the CLR with snakeskins making it a snap to put up the rainfly first and then hang the hammock underneath.
Everything fits in a compression stuff sack that’s smaller than my 20 degree synthetic sleeping bag, and this replaces my tent, sleeping bag, and pad. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to ground sleeping. Once I sorted a few things out (like a pillow), I really took to sleeping in a hammock. It’s seriously some of the best sleep that I’ve had.
Rider Gear: On my longer rides earlier in the Summer, I came to the conclusion that I’m sick and tired of bulky jackets and pants with multiple zip-in liners. I’m always way too lazy to pull over and put in my waterproof liners so I end up getting soaked in showers that I predict will last only a few minutes. I ended up getting the Klim Badlands Pro Jacket and Pants.
The price of the Klim gear has always scared me off. I finally came around after suffering through four different jackets in the past two years alone. The Klim gear forms a functional shell. They don’t have zip-in liners, and instead you simply add your thermal layer underneath. The fit was phenomenal. I measured myself and used the fit chart to determine that I was a medium jacket and size 32 pant. I have a bit of a gut, so I was really worried that a medium would be too snug. With jackets from other manufacturers, I end up going with a large and then suffering because they’re too long in the torso and arms. The Klim jacket fit perfectly, event with a full 2L water bladder.
The fit and finish of the Klim gear is second to none. The zippers were really easy pull with gloves and, which is crucial when opening and closing the vents during a ride. I was able to close them up quickly for rain and I stayed completely dry. Once open, the ventilation system was amazing for a non-mesh jacket. I was riding in 103 degree heat at one point and it was survivable. Sure it wasn’t nice, but I just kept sucking down fluids. Now stopping in the Klim gear on a hot day is a different story. It is bitterly hot when you’re not moving. I had one guy at a gas station comment on how stupid I was for wearing that gear…I’m assuming he mistook it for a ski suit. And sure I was hot as hell after suiting up, but I cooled quickly once moving. I added some wicking base layers from Go Athletic Apparel and it made all the difference. They’re an American company and their gear rivals Under Armor for a fraction of the cost.
I also finally added legitimate boots and gloves with a pair of Sidi Adventure Boots and a new set of Alpinestar SP-X short cuff gloves. I haven’t ridden in proper boots since my last time on a track. My race boots were always too much for street use, so instead I’d wear street-style boots with poor protection. Or worse, I’d just wear shoes. The Sidi Adventure boots are reasonable to walk in, albeit a little narrow. They have a thick sole, so it took me a little while to adjust to shifting with them. They were great when standing up for long periods. Some people complain that they’re loud, but I found them on par with race boots, and to me, that’s just the sound of protection.
The gloves were great in the hot weather. I’ve had a real nice pair of gauntlets for years that I keep crashing and repairing. They have great palm and pinky protection and are armored well in the heel and side of the hand. I just toss them out, because few gloves can really compare. The heat of gauntlets and their uncanny ability to collect runoff water had me looking for some short gloves. This pair rivals a good set of gauntlets in terms of protection. I’m particularly impressed with the extra length along the side of the hand that extends over the wrist.
Enough gear talk, on to the ride…
Day One: Locust Hill and a Redneck Motel
I pulled out of Raleigh, NC early on a Saturday and headed up towards Charlottesville, VA. My first waypoint was the University of Virginia. I wanted to tour the original section designed by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was an accomplished amateur architect, and UVA’s campus was one of his favorite projects.
After leaving UVA, I headed to Ivy, VA to look for the site of Meriwether Lewis’ family plantation, Locust Hill. The original brick sign posts are still along the street, but there’s not much else. The foundation of the home where Meriwether was born still exists but it’s on private property and the neighbors have all made a pact to keep it a secret. I actually knew where it was, but they directed me elsewhere in a friendly way. The family graveyard is now a historic site thanks to private donations, so the neighbors gave me directions on how to find that. I was appreciative of their help despite the deception.
After visiting the remains of Locust Hill I headed over to a spot that I’ve been meaning to visit, Starr Hill Brewery.
After leaving there, I headed into the George Washington National Forest. While do my planning, I found the Brandywine Motor Court on this great little mountain road. I looked up the motel and found some good reviews. Perfect. Well when I got to the turn off for that great little road, it was a forest service road. I was really excited at this point, because I figured I was taking the back way in. I figured I was in for a little adventure on the way to the hotel. Along the way, I even crossed a pair of rocky creeks and flooded an auxiliary light. When I finally got to the waypoint, it was nothing but a redneck campsite. Looks like I was had. I didn’t have enough water to camp, so I pressed on crossing three more creeks and a black bear. It was getting dark, but I wasn’t too worried. Sure enough, I popped out of the forest into some old cattle ranch roads and eventually made it to a state road. It was a long day, but I eventually found a hotel and grabbed some horrible barbecue from a “Blues Bar”.
Day Two: Harper’s Ferry and the Beautiful State of Pennsylvania
Early the next morning, I headed over to Harper’s Ferry, WV. Harpers Ferry was the site of the second national armory. It was strategically important, located at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. I was primarily interested in stopping here because it was the site where the final preparations were made for the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The picked up several rifles, cannons, and ammunition in addition to the famous keelboat that Lewis designed.
When I pulled into Harper’s Ferry, I went straight to the entrance of the park. The line to pay was long, so I rode through and parked with the intention of walking back to pay. I stopped by the information desk first and realized that I had just missed a tour. Oh well, I decided to skip out of there and head across to the town side. I drove around for a short bit before I ended up in the historic center, exactly where the tour would have taken me by bus. I parked my motorcycle for free, grabbed my camera, and gave myself a self-guided tour. It pays to snoop around. I know that I would have been miserable trapped in a tour group and away from my motorcycle on the other side of the highway.
Harper’s Ferry is also a popular stop along the Appalachian Trail. They have a small outfitter there where through-hikers pick up supply packages sent ahead of time. The AT heads through town and then across the Potomac alongside the railway.
I spent a little more time walking around and snapping pictures before departing. Just past the churches was Jefferson Rock. It seems as though he hiked up there once too and liked the view as much as I did.
Harper’s Ferry was definitely a treat. I had no idea that it was so rich in history. It played an important role in the Civil War as the site of the spark of the war itself. The spark was a raid by John Brown, an abolitionist. During the war, it was plundered by both sides for its armaments.
The rest of the day is largely undocumented. I rode through some great Amish country and through Pennsylvania. I knew it was Amish country, because the local church had a grass parking lots with hitching posts instead of parking blocks. The day’s ride was really nice and full of scenery, despite being on the Interstate for nearly half of it. That night I camped in the Allegheny National Forest. I definitely need to get back up to Pennsylvania.
Day Three: Niagara Falls and Adirondack Bugs
The next morning, I hauled ass up to Buffalo, NY. Well, I made good time until I got popped with a speeding ticket for doing 13 mph over the speed limit. Garbage. My goal in Buffalo was to visit Niagara Falls. First I stopped for some lunch along Lake Erie. Then I headed to Niagara Falls, snapped my picture, and left.
Parking at Niagara Falls was a piece of cake on the motorcycle. The parking attendants let me park for free and kept an eye on my bike. Still I didn’t want to leave my jacket there, so I carried it. If I would have changed out of my pants and boots, then I might have enjoyed it more. The heat and tourists really got to me, so I just bugged out. Perhaps another time I’ll cross over into Canada and view the falls from their side. I hate to be a checklist kind of guy, but really there was nothing for me there.
After departing from Niagara Falls, I headed Northeast through the state riding through farm country. Quite frankly it wasn’t very spectacular. I should have taken more Interstate and just burned through it. I ended up towards Fort Drum and I camped just past that on the edge of the Adirondacks. I stayed at a KOA for the shower. It wasn’t bad, but the bugs were furious. The mosquitoes were swarming and the yellow flies were tagging me pretty good. I ended up building a fire just to smoke them out. I can’t imagine how bad black fly season is up there.
Day Four: Lake Placid, NY
After another wonderful night of sleep in my hammock, I packed up and headed to Lake Placid along the scenic Highway 3. Lake Placid was one of the big destinations for the trip, but I didn’t really know what I was going to do there. I had a few ideas on what to do in the area, but nothing concrete. On the way there I saw Lake Saranac, and knew that I wanted to check it out. I had lunch and afterwards I stumbled upon a neat little museum. Apparently, there was some significant tuberculosis research there.
One thing that really interested me was the early radio next to the bed. It was basically a HAM radio of its day and allowed patients in their cottages to communicate despite being quarantined.
Lake Saranac wasn’t the huge stop that I had hoped, so I decided to head on to Lake Placid thinking that there was more stuff along the way. There wasn’t. When I got to Lake Placid, I happened to take a turn that brought me near the Olympic Skip Jump Center. A little snooping around pays of again.
I knew that Lake Placid was the site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, but I didn’t realize that it was such a huge deal. Lake Placid is also the East Coast Olympic Training center. I saw some cross country skiers training on skates along the road. I even heard a little gossip about Lolo Jones punching out the daughter of the some important official at the center. I decided to stick around that day and to visit as much as I could…and there was plenty. I started with the skip jump center.
I looked over my newly acquired tourist map and venue pass. Then I headed over to the bobsled center. There I was able to tour the new course, including a walk down the middle of it. I didn’t realize that the course is open for competition every year and is the site of world cup events and several smaller events. I figured that specialty Olympic infrastructure like this just rotted after it was built.
The new course is built primarily of gunite, like a pool. It’s refrigerated and covered in most parts so that they can really extend their sliding season.
They have several start houses for the different skill levels and types of sliding that they do. The bobsled starts are wider and the luge and skeleton starts are smaller since they don’t take a running start.
The walking tour really puts a strong perspective on things. The turns are enormously tall and consequently wide. However, when the track goes to flat it gets really narrow. This means that drivers have to steer from up high on the huge corners through an incredibly narrow flat section and often immediately into another corner. I know how hard it is to hit marks on a motorcycle race track lap after lap. And that’s with brakes! Sledding has got to be scary.
Next I went over to Whiteface Mountain to visit the downhill venue. I rode the gondola up and took in the scenery and cooler temperatures. They offer downhill mountain biking there, but their bikes looked pretty dogged and so I didn’t really trust that their trails would be in great shape either. Still it might have been nice to squeeze in a little lift-assisted riding even if I had to ride a rental.
While I was at the summit, I met a couple that told me about another attraction, which was big Whiteface Mountain. We could see it clearly from where we were. This sister peak has a scenic tollway that leads up to a small castle-like building. My pass covered the toll, and it was open late enough for me to make it over there. The highway and castle were a public works project from Franklin D. Roosevelt when he was governor of New York. This was pre-New Deal but the trend was already established with projects such as Pike’s Peak. Not wanting to be outdone, they developed the road, built the castle, created a rocky hike to the top, and placed a weather observatory up there. FDR showed up to tour the project later once he was president and the lack of handicap accessibility was immediately evident. So later, they bored a tunnel into the mountain and then an elevator shaft to the top. It was nearly 90 degrees outside, but it dropped to the 40’s (IIRC) as soon as I walked into the tunnel. Definitely an amazing project that would never be done today.
The road to the top was paved, but really lumpy. There were huge ridges and holes, even though the pavement wasn’t broken. I ended up following a couple of French Canadians. The first guy was on a KTM 990 Adventure and the second guy was on a Goldwing. I ended up standing most of the way, which made it bearable. The guy on the Goldwing tried it out too, but the ergonomics of the Goldwing really got in the way. Hopefully his buddy gets him on an adventure bike soon.
That was a busy day. I rode back into town, grabbed a hotel and shower, and then headed to a local brew pub. On my way out, I noticed the French Canadian guys had pulled into the same hotel. I ended up saying hello, but we never crossed paths again. I hope they enjoyed their ride.
Day Five: A Tour of New York State
I still had several miscellaneous waypoints for my last day in New York. I wasn’t too sure how close they were or whether I would be able to make them all. I suppose I could have planned better, but where’s the fun in that. I hit the road early that morning. My first goal was to make it to Fort Ticonderoga. On my way there, I blew my headlight when I double-flashed my brights to warn someone of a hazard. I figured this was due to my flooded auxiliary light since the controller is tied into the high beam signal. So now I was looking at a flooded light, blown controller, and broken headlight. At least the brights still worked, so that was a good sign. I did what I should have done earlier and pulled the fuse for the auxiliary lights instead of just turning the handlebar switch off.
Fort Ticonderoga was the first American fort, even though the French built it. The English captured it before the revolutionary war and then we took it during the war. We lost it back to the British two weeks before they surrendered. I never realized how important the Northern lands up near the Great Lakes were until I learned a little more about the fur trade. Makes sense that these exotic furs would demand steep prices in Europe since most of Europe’s game was long decimated.
My next stop was Adirondack Ural in Chestertown, NY. Unfortunately they were closed. I found a great restaurant with a sandwich and milkshake selection though. The milkshake filled my glass and so he have me the mixing tumbler as well. It had an entire other milkshake in there. Awesome.
My next planned stop was Max BMW. I order stuff from them all the time, and so I wanted to see where all of the M&M’s come from. Maybe I could even talk them out of a bag. Besides, I actually needed a part since I blew out my headlight. It’s a great shop, and they were super helpful. Of course, they were backed up and couldn’t look at my bike. I pulled my headlight bulb and it was obviously blown. I figured a new one was all that I needed, and luckily I was right.
My next stop was Orange County Choppers. I’ve always been a fan of Paul Jr.’s work, and so I wanted to drop by their international headquarters and check out a few bikes. It was pretty cheesy, but they bikes were awesome. I lived in South Florida for some time, and so I’ve seen a ton of customs. The stuff that OCC does is pretty over the top. It’s definitely something that’s more impressive in person than it is on the television. I sure as shit wouldn’t own one, but I love them nonetheless.
I actually drove around the nearby towns looking for their first two shops and Paul Jr.’s shop, but I didn’t find anything. Oh well. From there I decided to head West to avoid the Eastern seaboard. I was sick and tired of I-87 and I really didn’t want to take I-95 home. So instead I took I-84 to Scranton, PA and then hopped I-81 South. I made it as far as Harrisburg, PA before I stopped for the night. I considered camping at a place that I found while planning, but the heat really got to me so I found a hotel with a pool. Solid!
Day Six: Searching for Air Conditioning on the Way Home
The slab was killing me. At Max BMW on the previous day, I saw temps of 103 degrees. I got off to an early start the final day, but the heat picked up quickly. I decided to head to the mountains and I picked up Skyline Drive through the Shenandoah National Park. It added a couple of hours to my trip, but I certainly didn’t mind. I stopped for lunch at Big Meadows and ran into another GS rider that was just riding through the park for the afternoon.
We had a good lunch and conversation. After parting ways I headed through the park and then onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. I hopped off and headed towards Amherst, NC before picking up Highway 29. I find myself on Highway 29 six or so times a year since I’m always up this way. The rest of the trip was pretty mundane. Yet again I didn’t stop at the Tank Museum near Danville. Oh well, one of these days.
It was a great trip. I really liked the approach that I took to planning. I selected an ambitious set of waypoints that I used as a go-to list but not a check-off list. I didn’t have any serious deadlines, and so I just found nice routes between the waypoints. I should, however, start carrying more water so that I can just pull of and camp wherever next time. Perhaps if I get some metal luggage, then I’ll stick a rotopax water container on of them.
I ended up logging 2300 miles in 6 days. That’s nearly 400 miles a day and it really wasn’t too bad. If it was cooler, then adding another 100 miles or so would be no problem. I had no mechanicals and didn’t really burn too much oil this trip. I had the one electrical which was a cinch to fix. And I did flood a light. Luckily ADVMonster warrantied the light really fast. I sent both lights in because neither were working since I likely burned up my controller. The lights worked when they received them after drying in transit, and so they replaced the flooded one and sent the set back with all of my parts. I plugged them up and amazingly my controller is working perfectly. Stoked!
Being home took me a few days to adjust as usual. I’m an introvert, and a trip like this is exactly what I crave. Sure it’d be fun the share it with a friend, but I can never seem to talk anyone into it. So it usually works out that these trips are time for me to clear my head, simplify my outlook, and to recharge. Luckily when I rolled back into town it was the eve of my birthday weekend. So I didn’t go right back to the grind. I headed to the beach for lots of drinking, bicycle riding, and relaxing with friends at their beach house. Great week for sure.