Cyclist discovers scenery, history along Fulton Lakes
By Dan Keefe
With apologies to the Edward Abbey- loving wilderness purists out there, nothing sets a road cyclist’s heart aflutter like a good stretch of smooth black asphalt through the countryside. And just such freshly laid pavement on Route 28 between Old Forge and Eagle Bay has enhanced road cycling in that popular southwest corner of the Adirondacks.
For the past several years, the shoulder of Route 28 had crumbled and washed away, forcing cyclists inside the white line to jockey with high-speed traffic. The worst spots, it seemed, were near blind curves, so that an SUV barreling up the road towing a seaworthy speedboat wouldn’t see you until the last minute.
Mountain biking, anyone?
Actually, an intricate network of snowmobile trails doubling as mountain-bike trails make the area around Old Forge and Inlet paradise for the fat-tire set. But I’m a confirmed road cyclist, so when I arrived for a regular visit last summer I immediately began planning a 37-mile trip around the first four lakes of the Fulton Chain and out to Big Moose Lake. This is also a good trip in spring, when traffic is much lighter.
The Old Forge Public Beach on Lakeview Drive, with ample public parking available, is a good place to start. With Old Forge Pond in front of me, I head to the right toward South Shore Road, a nice, undulating lane where on many mornings you’re likely to see more deer than cars. The road rises up and the homes thin out after a couple miles, and I note the checkpoint on the right. Yes, indeed, that’s the entrance road to the Adirondack League Club, a 50,000-acre private sportsmen’s club that in 1991 sued some canoeists who paddled past club lands on the Moose River. After nearly a decade of litigation, the state’s highest court ruled that the public has the right to paddle on navigable rivers that run through private property.
Today, I’m staying on terra firma, and at 6.1 miles, I turn left onto Petrie Road to catch a view of Fourth Lake from the Alger Island Picnic Area. One of the many nice things about touring by bike is that, unlike car-bound travelers, you can poke your head into any old state park or public campground for free. Northwest from the picnic area I see Alger Island itself, which boasts a small state campground accessible only by boat. I didn’t know it at the time, but much earlier in the day, before dawn, a speedboat struck the island, killing one of its young passengers.
At 7.8 miles, Petrie Road reconnects with South Shore Road. I enjoy the tongue-in-cheek camps signs, like Loon-a-tic Lodge, Katknapp and Beside the Point (whatever happened to the Moot Point sign?). I’m also fond of St. Olaf Chapel, a woodsy little place of worship, which I pass on my right at 10 miles. Next time I get married, I like to tell my wife, it’ll be there.
With the chapel behind me, I know I’m close to Inlet, and soon I cross the bridge over the channel between Fourth Lake and the rather grandly named Fifth Lake, which is hardly even a pond by Adirondack standards. Up ahead is the intersection with Route 28, the site of my all-time favorite car-bicycle confrontation. (Every cyclist has one.) A motorist blared his horn and shouted at another cyclist and me, apparently because we had the audacity to ride in the road and slow him down a little. That’s not so unusual, but this time, because he got himself waylaid by Route 28 traffic, we actually caught up to him!
Some impolite words were exchanged, and so I guess he felt obliged to come charging out of his car to defend his manhood, yelling, “You got no right to be in the road. You’re holding up traffic.”
“Your car is parked in the middle of the road, holding up that traffic,” I replied. “And, you’re standing in the middle of the road, holding up that traffic.” He mumbled something sweet and slunk back into his car, leaving me happy to have avoided my first fistfight since third grade.
I turn left onto Route 28, in the heart of Inlet, and pull into Arrowhead Park just up the road at 12.6 miles. While it’s certainly gotten busier over the years, Inlet to me has always felt more relaxed and subdued than Old Forge. I think a big part its charm is Arrowhead Park, featuring a sandy public beach and nice playground for kids that hasn’t been entirely risk managed. I refill my water bottle at the drinking fountain and walk down to the dock for an expansive view of big, blue Fourth Lake before returning to the road.
Between Inlet and Eagle Bay there’s a new paved path for cycling and walking, providing a welcome alternative to the thick car traffic that clogs the road in summer. A trailhead to Rocky Mountain on the right side of Route 28 leads to a good view of the lake below for an easy half-mile scramble up the hill. But today I’m saving my legs for the ride up to Big Moose Lake.
This was the 100th anniversary of Chester Gillette’s felonious forehand, which sent Grace Brown to her death in Big Moose Lake and inspired Theodore Dreiser’s classic novel, An American Tragedy. In Eagle Bay, reached at 14.9 miles, I turn right on Big Moose Road to make my pilgrimage up to the storied lake. It’s a mostly winding, uphill ride to Big Moose, and the traffic here is a bit heavier than on South Shore Road, so a little caution is in order when heading around the bends. I pass the Cascade Lake trailhead, push on to take a right on Martin Road and then another right on Glenmore Road at 21 miles. The couple stayed at the Glenmore Hotel here, and a historic marker notes where Grace, who was pregnant, Chester and his tennis racket left for their ill-fated boat trip. The hotel burned in 1950, later replaced by the Glenmore Bar and Grill across the road from the original site. The part of Big Moose Lake accessible by bike is mostly lined by private camps, so it can be tough to get a view of the lake. For another option, turn onto Higby Road to a boat launch about 1.5 miles up the road.
I zip downhill back to Eagle Bay and turn right onto Route 28 at 27.2 miles. Summer means heavy, fast-moving traffic on Route 28. Cyclists wiser than I—and who have knobbier tires—may want to avoid the highway traffic by taking the sandy path that runs parallel to Route 28. The trail flares away from the state highway after a couple miles and eventually deposits riders at the end of Rondaxe Road. You can take Rondaxe Road back to Route 28 and follow the highway for a mile to Hollywood Road.
But I have been looking forward to the new pavement outside Eagle Bay and find it pleasant to ride along the wide, solid shoulder back toward Old Forge. Eventually, I take the left onto Hollywood Road, where a steep drop to First Lake awaits. It’s funny how 30 mph in a car is nothing, but on a bike it’s the point where I begin to think about my wife, my two kids and my mediocre life insurance policy. First Lake is at the bottom of the hill, and I roll along the quiet road taking in an extended view of the lake and camps that line the long channel back to Old Forge.
The parking lot to Enchanted Forest and Water Safari is packed when I make the turn on Route 28 to get back into town to complete my ride. No doubt, the people inside are having fun on those roller-coasters and water slides, but the little kid inside me will take my adventures on two wheels and some hard asphalt through the mountains any day of the week.