Terrific views and terrain on Wilmington’s Hardy Road trail
By Tim Rowland
As Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett sang, it’s five o’clock somewhere, and on a Friday afternoon in mid-September, that somewhere was Hardy Road in Wilmington, where local mountain bikers drifted into the Beaver Brook Tract Trail trailhead parking after a long week at work, or whatever.
Tires were inflated, helmets secured, pleasantries exchanged and cold cans of beer were nestled into fanny packs with care. It was “Hardy Hour.”
It is a casual affair to be sure, with no dress codes or guest lists. All are welcome, come when you can, minimal experience required. Social climbing, however, is mandatory—760 feet of it, to be exact, as the trail known as All In leaves the valley floor and darts up the northern shoulder of Winch Mountain.
But the payoff on this Friday was sublime, as the rocky summit of Whiteface changed colors on the chromatic whims of the sun, descending in the smoky evening light. A symphony of birdsong applauded and a curtain of mist fell softly over the ridge.
Perhaps a dozen riders sat in a grassy clearing sipping beverages, as more arrived from time to time, easily joining in the small talk or just gazing into the distance.
Hardy Hour is the softer side of an extreme sport.
The siesta was a good thing because I, for one, needed the rest. Mountain biking requires a lot more lung power than the road biking to which I am more accustomed. While Explorer photographer Mike Lynch worked the perimeter, I sat pretending to take notes while trying to control my breathing so I wouldn’t sound like a shaggy dog in a hot car.
I’d just been told in the parking lot by multiple riders how tame Hardy Road trails are in relative terms, and OK, maybe they are, but just then it struck me as the same as saying that Allen Mountain is easier to climb than K2. “They say it’s not strenuous. It’s strenuous,” said Bridget O’Leary, who was accompanied by her dog Dublin. And even though she herself did not seem strained as she assaulted the mountain, her comment made me feel better.
Our hosts, Wilmington riders Jim and Amanda Grant, assured us that Hardy Road is a no-judgment zone. It attracts hard-core riders to be sure but tends to be more relaxed than the highly technical, death-wish trails that have come to define some segments of the sport.
Even the trail names deviate from the violently amped-up “Organ Donor” or “Meet Your Maker” industry standards. Hardy offers happy little numbers like “Double Time” and “Lost Farm.”
Hence, perhaps, the laid-back, Margaritaville approach to mountain biking. “The tradition is that people drink a beer as the sun goes down,” Jim Grant said.
The Beaver Brook Tract offers some serious ledges on the rocky hillsides, but also plenty of family friendly loops lower down. “There’s something for everyone,” said Brett McClelland. “Hardy Road has it all.”
Josh Wilson, executive director of the Barkeater Trails Alliance, said based on feedback from the Trailforks mapping application, Hardy Road is the most popular Adirondack mountain biking network.
It’s also the oldest system in the Adirondacks designed specifically for mountain biking, and its stewardship is very much rider-driven. Many attendees at Hardy Hour had a hand in designing, building and maintaining the network.
The Town of Wilmington was an early mover on mountain biking, urging its inclusion in the Wilmington Wild Forest Unit Management Plan. Although a new concept for the Adirondacks, the Department of Environmental Conservation bought in, and the professional trail builders of the Adirondack Mountain Club set to work.
The resulting multi-use Flume Trails network opened in 2009, the same year BETA was formed, and plans began for Hardy Road. It is now possible to ride both networks without driving your car, or racking up excessive road miles on your bike, by pedaling up Quaker Mountain on a short ribbon of pavement, and then gliding down to Hardy Road on the 1.2-mile Three Sisters trail that’s exciting without being intimidating.
It’s a short hop on Hardy Road to the Beaver Brook Tract trailhead. (Beaver Brook and Hardy Road refer to the same system, but in the court of public opinion, “Hardy Road” has won out over the more official sobriquet.) If you’re in it for the scenery as well as the thrills, a quick out-and-back up the dirt Perkins Road offers some beautiful long views of mountains and ponds, a postcard scene that depending on the time of year, is often set off by sprays of wildflowers.
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Parking has been expanded, and the extra space is often needed. Like much of the land in this region, it was once farmed, and woodland ghosts—stone fences, overgrown foundations and a nearby spring of sweet water —hint at human activity that briefly flickered before nature reclaimed its own. An antique apple tree on the fringe of the lot was, in September, loaded with good fruit.
Adding to its user-friendly reputation, said Amanda Grant, the sandy soils do not retain water, meaning they can be ridden when other systems have yet to dry.
The trails branch from either side of Hardy Road, which bisects a teacup-shaped valley. “We recognized pretty early on that this was a great location because of the way the property was set up,” Wilson said. “It’s flat as you go away from the road and then gets steeper for a textbook stacked-loop system.”
At the bottom of the teacup are flat rides through pine forests for those who are just getting their feet wet in the sport or are otherwise desirous of a more mellow ride. The degrees of difficulty increase incrementally on loops that begin to leave the valley floor and ultimately include some precipitous bluffs.
“There’s a good mix of everything, so that you can build up and become a better rider. There’s no judging, no too-cool-for-school that you find in some places. Everyone is so nice.”– Jim Johnston, part of the Hardy Hour entourage
Experienced riders are happy to share their knowledge. Uphill riders—who technically have the right of way under mountain biking etiquette—are likely to hop off the trail to let downhill riders breeze by.
Nor would there be any snickers or snarky comments should, for example, an outdoors writer drop his notebook at the base of the mountain and have to ride all the way down to get it before climbing back to the top. Not that anything like that has ever happened.
Hardy Road is also special for a couple of top-notch views—the window on Whiteface from the the east side of the road, and on the west, an excellent panorama of mountains and wetlands reached by the Good Luck trail. Those vistas have attracted hikers, dog walkers and snowshoers, as well as cyclists.
But as much as the views and the varying degrees of difficulty, it’s the camaraderie and that feeling of home that hooks new riders and keeps local riders coming back. And when the day is done, you get to ride like the wind back to your car. What other TGIF destination can say that?
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