By Tim Rowland
The town of Wilmington makes the claim of being the Mountain Bike Capital of the Adirondacks. Five miles down Rt. 86, the town of Jay has to at least be in the discussion for Adirondack Road Bike Capital.
Starting at the Jay Town Green, multiple loops are possible due to a configuration of the roads that more or less offer up to four parallel routes along the length of the East Branch of the Ausable River.
This is different than in much of the park, where a paucity of roads limits bicycling exploration to either out-and-backs or taxing 60-milers. Further, these loops can be joined and modified to make your adventure as easy or as challenging as you want.
With the Instant Summer that presented itself in early May, the road bike beckoned, but a modest ride to ease quads and seat back into shape seemed prudent.
One short and interesting loop leaves Jay and circumnavigates an old compound known as Fourpeaks Camps and Guest Barns, an establishment operated by the famously cantankerous innkeeper Martin Schwalbaum.
Schwalbaum died in 2015, but there are still crumbs of his world lingering in the electronic ether, including a delightful piece in Adirondack Life by Mark Obbie; a Facebook page; and Yelp-like reviews, where mild inquiries into accommodations could generate a exasperated response, such as:
“My emails were NOT ‘auto generated.’
The problem is, you are too busy to READ.
I’ll READ you the important parts.
As hosts go, he made Leona Helmsley look like Jackie Kennedy. Yet on his Facebook page, Schwalbaum could be gentle and poetic, waxing philosophic about the seasons and about nature reclaiming man’s agriculture past.
The Fourpeaks route will clock in at about 13 miles with only one climb of consequence. It offers interesting views of these four conical nubs, all in the neighborhood of 2,000 feet. They are named Wainwright, Ebenezer, Winch and Bassett, with two smaller shoulders known as Rattlesnake Knob off of Ebenezer, and Paleface, home of an old ski resort, off of Bassett.
Begin by riding south out of Jay on 9N toward Upper Jay. (If you face a strong south headwind, you might want to reverse this loop, riding counterclockwise instead of clockwise.)
The East Branch of the Ausable River hugs the road on the left and dramatically sets off views of Cascade and Pitchoff mountains until the mighty Sentinel Range dominates the landscape. Stone homes appear along the way, once home to the valley’s upper crust, and in Upper Jay is the Wells Memorial Library, a 1907 Tudor revival design as pretty inside as it is out. Across from the library is the short driveway up to Sugar House Creamery, and if you’re there on a day it’s open you can grab a confection baked by local culinary legend Mona Dubay.
Speaking of food, it was at an Italian restaurant in Upper Jay that the career of Disney theme-park and toy designer Arto Monaco was nurtured by the encouraging words of John Steinbeck and Rockwell Kent, both of whom had community ties.
At Upper Jay, turn right onto Springfield Road for the only serious climb of the ride. It’s not tortuous, but is more than a mile long, and gets your attention. Springfield will level off for a bit before your next turn, a right on Hardy Road. This will bisect the Hardy Road mountain bike tract, and at the left-hand trailhead, a quick tenth of a mile ride on a hardened trail will bring you to the handsome Beaver Brook overlook.
Further on, if your bike can handle a little dirt (if it can’t, walk) turn right on Perkins Road, and in three-tenths of a mile and look off to your right — you won’t be disappointed by the view.
Hardy Road terminates at Rt. 86, where you turn right back toward Jay. Perhaps the most grand view of Whiteface to be had anywhere awaits, and, since it will be a little behind you, it’s worth stopping, to avoid neck cricks (bad) or running into a bar ditch (worse).
After one last little climb you will be on a long glide path back to your car, with the broad shoulders of Jay Mountain to the east. Later this summer, if you time it right, your return can coincide with an outdoor concert in the green, sponsored by the Jay Entertainment and Music Society. And by all means, walk, bike or drive down the short pitch from the green to the Jay covered bridge, which passes over rapids that once powered industrial mills whose ruins are still visible.
After a nice, vigorous ride, there are worse places to sit and rest.
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