By TIM ROWLAND
Dennis Ramsey lives in Chesapeake, a city in the Virginia Tidewater where the land is flat as a cookie sheet. Never mind that. On a steamy Monday in mid-August, he and 134 of his closest new friends peddled the equivalent of a vertical mile from Ticonderoga on the shores of Lake Champlain to the town of Wilmington on the cusp of the High Peaks.
That was for practice. On Tuesday, what was more or less billed as a rest day, Ramsey and a handful of other riders taking part in Cycle Adirondacks’ Ultimate Cycling Vacation slogged the eight miles from Wilmington to the top of Whiteface Mountain on the Veterans Memorial Highway.
“I did it for the challenge and to see the views,” Ramsey said. “I was taking pictures all the way up.”
Despite living in the Tidewater, he said he gets in good mountain rides on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, where the mountains have names like “Vesuvius” and can match anything east of the Mississippi for grade and duration.
This is the fifth year of Cycle Adirondacks’ Ultimate Vacation, a high-end bicycle tour, where rides of up to 70 miles a day are rewarded with hearty meals, nightly entertainment, yoga, massage, a wine and beer garden and all the Adirondack scenery a rider can absorb.
A casual survey of riders indicated that, for many, it was their first visit to the Adirondack Park, and that the lakes and mountains were leaving a favorable impression.
“It’s beautiful, really. I hope to get to come back and see more of it,” said Ed Myers of Nottingham England. Myers said he knew of the ride because his wife is from Schenectady and he had wanted a chance to explore the mountains to the north.
The tour moves around the park, and this year the host towns were Ticonderoga, Wilmington and Westport. Riders encamped in the towns and then had a free day to explore. They could ride suggested out-and-backs or hike, canoe or fish. Or do nothing. In return, Cycle Adirondacks riders raised money for the towns to spend on recreation.
Town supervisors and Chamber of Commerce leaders used the opportunity to spread the word about the perks of their locales in hopes that riders might be enticed to come back for a visit or even to live. “We love to show off our beautiful town,” said Michelle Preston, Operations Manager at Whiteface Visitors Bureau, adding that Wilmington bills itself as the bicycle capital of the Adirondacks.
Preston said the riders were also interested in in nearby hikes, including the Flume Trails alongside the Ausable River’s West Branch, and Cobble Lookout, which is accessible by a short hike but offers expansive view of the Jay and Sentinel ranges.
In Westport, Chris Maron, executive director of Champlain Area Trails, led a five-mile hike on Vaill’s Crossing Trail, and explained its history as a footnote to the saga of abolitionist John Brown, whose body passed through the same area as it was being returned to his North Elba home for burial.
Maron also spoke to riders on the Adirondack ethic of land protection, animal migration and how ecosystems relate to each other. “We’re in an area that’s pretty ecologically important,” he said.
Theresa and Phil Smith of Utica said the tour was adding to the temptation to move to the Adirondacks. Along with the Erie Canal, riding with Cycle Adirondacks “has introduced me to long bike trails, and I like it,” Theresa said. “I love it all up here — there are so many places we don’t know about.”
Even riders who were knowledgeable of the Park appreciated the tour’s reliance, where possible, on little-known and traffic-free back country roads. Echoing many riders from more populated areas, Ruth Wheeler said she was enchanted by rural scenes such as the covered bridge in Jay and the fact that there was scant traffic. “It was hilly, but I’m used to hills so I just get into my all-day pace and go,” she said.