Or just stick to the flat road section
By Tim Rowland
A couple of months ago, my colleague Mike Lynch said “we should get in shape and ride our bikes up Whiteface” and I said great, and while we’re at it we should grow wings and fly to Neptune.
But still, a bit of a seed had been planted and while I’m sure it won’t come to anything, I’ve been kinda-sorta aiming for bigger and bigger hillclimbs just to see what I’m (in)capable of. So that’s how this particular adventure came to be, and if the 1,000-foot climb smack in the middle of it has the effect of throwing worms on a sundae, I’m sorry.
The ride begins at the Jay Green and in its initial phase heads south for five flat-as-a-pancake miles to Upper Jay. If you have any sense, you may want to stop there and ride back, and I would argue that for scenery, food, entertainment, agriculture and ecology there is no finer 10-mile ride anywhere in the Park.
Time it right any you can coordinate the ride with entertainment at the Recovery Lounge in Upper Jay, the JEMS Summer Concert Series in Jay, groceries and primo cow-watching at Sugar House Creamery or a meal to destroy your best calorie-burning efforts at ADK Cafe or Ice Jam Inn.
Yet commercialism is all but invisible on the ride, which hugs the East Branch of the AuSable River on your left as it reflects mountains of the towering Sentinel Range to the south. On your right are the rocky, Hobbitesque bluffs of Fourpeaks, home to peregrine falcons and quite possibly a family of gnomes.
Maybe that’s what inspired toymaker and theme park designer Arto Monaco of Upper Jay, who was doodling in his father’s Italian restaurant when luminaries Rockwell Kent and John Steinbeck respectively encouraged him to go to art school and take his talents to Hollywood. (This in a roundabout way explains what the hood to Herbie the Love Bug is doing in the Town of Jay Community Center, but that’s not what I came here to talk about.)
Alert students of topography will notice that the valley narrows precipitously as it approaches Upper Jay. South of the hamlet, the broad hayfields and pastures are gone, the mountains rising steeply on both sides of the river.
Heading toward Keene, the highway passes the interesting Monday Tuesday Grill, whose owners noticed that most ADK eateries are closed those days and cleverly and correctly concluded that a restaurant that was ONLY open Mondays and Tuesdays would be a good bet.
Shortly after that you pass the relatively new East Branch Community Trails, an excellent mountain biking park that is civilized enough for hybrid and gravel bikes; a nice day could be made of riding from Jay the six miles to the park, exploring the trails and returning.
But I wasn’t out for nice. I was out for two miles of hell called Styles Brook Road.
From southbound Route 9N, Styles Brook heads left. And up. The climb starts almost immediately, and after three tenths of a mile my ears popped and it felt like my arteries would be next. I don’t remember my 30s well enough to know how challenging this route would have been for me back then, but I believe it would have at least gotten my attention.
In a little less than a mile the climb eases somewhat, and passes by the trailhead to Clements Pond. The hike isn’t too hard if you wanted to make it a multi-sport day, or if you want to take a rest and splash in the brook it can be accessed by a narrow shelf of state land on the same side of the road as the parking area.
Other than that, the stream can be heard much of the way, but not seen. The watershed is chock full of historic, cultural and economic interest, and is the subject of an upcoming book by Adirondack author Lorraine DuVall, “Where the Styles Brook Waters Flow” (Bloated Toe Publishing).
From the Clements Pond trailhead, the road continues to climb moderately, giving you a false sense of security right before it delivers one more kick in the tuchas at the top of the gorge. Here, the route levels as it enters the great high meadows collectively known as The Glen.
Before you are Jay and Saddleback mountains and beautiful pastures waving in the breeze.
The road turns to fairly well-manicured dirt and Styles Brook road continues through the glades until it intersects with something called Jay Mountain Road, which basically becomes a dry streambed venturing into an ancient mountain pass.
Some riders here will turn right. Pray for their souls. If you are normal, you will want to go left, and before long you will be repaid for all the work of getting to this point, since you are now at the top of what is basically an eight-mile downhill back to Jay. Continue down Jay Mountain Road to Glen Road and turn right (continuing straight will bring you back to Upper Jay, should you want to double back to Jay along the Ausable — not a bad option).
Glen Road is mostly a long pleasant glide through an attractive countryside with long views all around. For a little variety, just after passing through the Ward Lumber complex turn left on Covered Bridge Lane, which will take you over the covered bridge, from which it is a quick little uphill back to the Jay Green. At about 20 miles, two of which are intense, it’s not Whiteface, but if you are “in training” it will certainly help.