CMG heads for the hills

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Words: Larry Tate Photos: Richard Seck

Bloody cold it was …

With one eye on the Aprilia’s ambient air-temp gauge and the other scanning the road ahead for ice, I realized that a late October tour in the northern Appalachians was somewhat of a challenging idea.

But as I climbed through the hills of the Adirondacks, the Aprilia’s gauge dropped from the morning’s high of 3 degrees, to 2 to 1 to zero. Lack of hand-guards and heated grips had my hands rapidly losing all sensation. As I fumbled down to try and find some warm exposed motor with my left hand, my chest hugged the tank and pushed forth a wave of warmth courtesy of my electric vest – the best $120 I’d spent in a long time.

But it was only a minor relief as I felt the last drops of feeling flush from my right hand, regressing from fingers to lump to handless stump. With my visor open a crack, to prevent fogging, the invasive cutting wind caused tears to well up in my eyes, turning into searing pain as they made their slow way down my cheeks – spreading and freezing in the process.

The Caponord was better in the dirt than cold.

The road ahead meandered relentlessly through the Adirondack landscape of trees and small lakes. Small towns, not big enough to even warrant a stoplight, never mind the sanctuary of a diner, added to my growing despair. Then it happened. A row of pickup trucks lined up outside a lonesome, single story building. A diner!

I hit the turn signal and mustered as much strength as I could from my lumpy stump of a hand to pull hard on the front brake.

“What? Why are we stopping? I’m not very hungry yet” exclaimed an obviously toasty, BMW-heated-gripped-with-hand-guards riding Mr. Seck.

“I’m fookin’ frozen and I’m not going any further”, and with that moment of leadership, I disappeared into the warm shelter of the Redford Diner.

Thankfully, that was about as bad as it got, as Larry Tate, Mr. Seck and myself explored the northeastern Adirondacks – the destination of the final CMG tour of 2004. But I shall not go into further details, as your story teller for this trip is no other than the lovable Mr. Tate himself.

Three states, three bikes and, occasionally, three degrees of Celsius. What better way to wrap up the riding season of 2004 ….

Editor ‘arris


GOD LOVES CMG

By Larry Tate

“What?”

Mr. Seck begs ‘arris to try and not look too fat for the photos.

Photo: Larry Tate

This didn’t start out as a planned luxury experience, at least not for me. I mean, touring in the mountains of New England in late October, you’re doing well to avoid hypothermia and black ice, let alone experience a trip that creates glowing, fuzzy memories. Plus, most of the good tourist stuff, if such exists, is long since closed for the season.

But not the roads, not quite yet anyway …

As for our accommodation for the trip, thank God for Mr. Seck and his mysterious, magical ways of chat, and also thanks be to the weather gods who were apparently pleased by CMG’s usual pre-tour virgin sacrifices (it was my pleasure – ‘arris). With foul weather blanketing most of the continent, we traveled in an envelope of sun, spectacular colours and empty roads through New York, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

Perfect bikes for this kind of trip.

But all was not a bowl of roses. With the sun, also came the cold. We were chipping frost off the seats on the first morning and had to delay our departure the next while waiting for the road ice to melt off the hotel’s drive. All, of course, in the interest of research for you, dear readers. We’re so good to you it sometimes makes me want to weep.

The bikes selected for this tour consisted of an Aprilia Caponord, BMW R1200GS, and a Triumph Tiger, all fitted with factory hard luggage. They’re about as good as it gets for the area and the season, although morning wrestling matches over the BMW’s heated grips were standard. Apparently a complete comparo test on the bikes will follow from the keyboard of ‘is Editorship’s Mac very soon (pause for laughter and cynical raised eyebrows).

THE THREE AMIGOS

The colours in New York were still good in mid-October

Mr. Seck from Toronto, me from Napanee, and ‘is Editorship from the CMG Montreal office complex decided to meet south of Ottawa in Prescott, and head into the U.S. via the slightly spooky wire mesh bridge to Ogdensburg. Angelo’s, a truck stop/restaurant just off the 401 recommended by Ms. Betty Boop, proved a logical spot and provided an excellent greasy ground-hugging late brekkie to boot.

After the usual 45-minute wait at U.S. Customs when it was discovered that ‘is landed-immigrant Editorship had once again forgotten to renew his travel status permit, we headed south toward Cranberry Lake on quality-decreasing but fun-increasing roads, also recommended by the lovable Ms. Boop.

It was all good, although be warned that the road signage in the area is about the worst I’ve seen in New York. On the other hand, we never really got lost. As Mr. Phatt of CMG Poet Laureate fame has been known to say, we enjoyed exploring some alternative destinations for a time, including some hard-packed dirt and rough asphalt. Fabulous fun if you like that (and well-suited to our test bikes), but definitely best ridden with caution otherwise.

As we entered the borders of the Adirondack state park, we wicked it up down my favourite section of Rte 3 to Tupper Lake – it’s a fast, sweeping and hilly section with superb pavement and good sightlines. Plus, on this Monday afternoon, no traffic and no state patrols; just as well, as speed could have been a factor …

Mr. Tate and Editor ‘arris relax with the Scotches at Hohmeyer’s Lodge on the shores of Clear Lake.

God definitely loved us that Monday, as just a bit northwest of Saranac Lake, we saw our only police car of the day as we conveniently braked to a near-stop for the turn-off to 30 north. Shortly afterwards we saw perhaps the most stunning vista of the trip, a wide valley opening across to Mt. Pisgah north of Lake Placid, thousands of acres of gold and red illuminated by the lowering sun. Absolutely magnificent.

It was the perfect end to a first day, trumped only by our accommodation for the night at Hohmeyer’s Lodge on Lake Clear. More in the accommodation section; suffice to say here that I’d go back there any time to eat host Cathy’s cooking even if I had to camp in the woods (and I hate camping). The event can only be described as a culinary orgasm of the first degree. Perhaps husband Ernest would let me camp in the basement pub with its 50+ European beers …

This is a GOOD place.

DESTINATION NEW HAMPSHIRE

Surprisingly, the Lake Champlain ferry ride was also fookin’ cold.

Still in a digestive torpor Tuesday morning, we reluctantly passed up Cathy’s offer of breakfast and after chipping the ice and frost off the bikes, headed towards Plattsburg for a 10-minute ferry ride across Lake Champlain. As explained in the introduction, Editor ‘Arris suffered cold hands on the Caponord – the Tiger has protective guards, the BMW guards plus heated grips, the Aprilia neither – so we stopped at the Redford Diner for a pleasantly red-necky sort of hearty hunter’s brunch and a nice warm-up for all.

Once into Vermont, at the request of Editor ‘arris we made a diversion down the famous 108/Smuggler’s Notch toward Stowe. The Notch is amazing – albeit I hate riding through the ultra-tight top kilometre or so. From there it was a quick dash across the 100 or so Kms of Vermont. Speed could have been a factor, but it’s good to have somebody with an English driver’s licence leading, just in case.

Smuggler’s Notch!

We entered New Hampshire at the start of 112 – possibly my favourite road on God’s green earth. It starts by insanely twisting, turning, and bucking along the Ammonoosuc River, climbing into the White Mountains up to Lost River at the Kinsman Notch and onto the justly-famed Kancamagus Highway.

If you’re clever, however, you’ll come to a screeching halt about 2/3 across the Kancamagus at the turn to the Bear Notch road and head north(ish) – it’s rough, but absolutely wonderful. In our case we headed still further north from there through the spectacular Crawford Notch to our overnight at the Mt. Washington Hotel.

My, oh my. If you ever want to score BIG points with your S.O. and money is definitely not an issue …

Feeling at home in the splendour of Mount Washington hotel.

We skipped dinner at the main hotel (they would have loaned us dress jackets – of course – but we decided ‘is Editorship’s cargo pants and combat boots were just not quite so-so for the main dining room, you know?) and gorged on ribs down the road instead. Mr. Seck embarrassed us by insisting on taking the uneaten pound or so back with him, further adding to our discomfort by strapping the brown paper bag to the BMW the next morning.

Knowing a good thing when we see it, we did the Bear Notch again for photo ops, then ran the remainder of the eastbound Kancamagus. From there we looped down to the 113 (another Boopster suggestion), and started our journey back west. The 113 is a superb road – albeit a bit crowded and built up on the first half, but a screaming hoot on the western bit, especially with Messrs ‘arris and Seck running ahead as bait.

Okay, this is still in New Hampshire, but we seem to be lacking Vermont photos.

Just east of the Vermont border, Mr. Seck insisted on stopping at a deli to buy some pasta salad and eat it in the parking lot while gnawing at the rib remnants. In the interests of the group’s health, we finally overpowered him, trashed the food, and hit the road again.

Once in Vermont – I’ve always found Vermont a bit on the squeaky-clean side while New Hampshire has a more honest dirt-poor and less touristy look to it, but they’re both great – we followed the somewhat entertaining Rte 4 all the way into New York state until we finally veered off toward our bed for the night at Lake George … a place to which I have no interest in returning.

The Fort William Hotel was perfectly pleasant and has an absolutely stunning location on large grounds at the south end of the lake. But apparently if you’re not in summer season in Lake George nobody wants to see you because nothing much is open, including the hotel bar. Now that’s NOT very CMG-friendly!

A RAINY END

When Larry left, so did God. A rainy departure from Lake George.

The next morning dawned wet, as God had seemingly temporarily abandoned us, which was a shock after three perfect days – we’d even had the electric vests turned off in the afternoons, or at least I did. Not this day though.

Since we were separating, me heading back to Napanee with the Tiger while the CMG Executive headed for the Catskills, rain or not, Mr. Seck did some pics of the Triumph down by the waterfront before I headed off north back to Canada.

Shortly out of Lake George, I caught the 28 – yet another Boopster suggestion – which I followed all the way across the park, dumping me out onto Rte 12, heading north to Watertown and the border.

I can’t believe I haven’t been on this gem in all the years I’ve been going through the Adirondacks. The 28 is simply a spectacular road, with everything good that you’ve ever found in the eastern mountain areas rolled into one fantastic piece of asphalt. Even with the weather as foul as it was ([very] low teens and off-and-on raining pretty hard), the 28 was an absolute treat to ride. It dives and twists between dozens of little lakes and ponds like a paved deer track, catching the odd little hamlet for emphasis before disappearing back into deep empty forest punctuated by the occasional astonishing vista as you crest a hill. Amazing – and for the most part, reasonable pavement as well.

Editor ‘arris shows Larry the desired route home.

I stopped at the opprobriously-named Inlet for fuel and a muffin, planning to catch a little road loop called Big Moose Road on serious finger-shaking instructions from ‘is Editorship. Sadly, I missed the turn-off in the rain. Being something of a short-ass at 5-8, I wasn’t in the mood to try U-turning the tall Tiger on the no-shoulders, no-safe-view soaking wet road and just kept enjoying 28.

Big Moose will have to wait until next time and ‘is Editorship can sod it.

Once I hit 12, it was basically a drone back north – not an exciting ride. Note to self: pay more attention and never, never, never go through Watertown again. The town’s layout sucks and the drivers are worse than suburban Toronto’s.

I intended to catch the ferries back from Cape Vincent to Wolfe Island and Kingston to get back into Canada, but I missed the U.S. one by five minutes and at this time of year and day (late October, lunch-time) he wasn’t going to be back for an hour and a half. So it was back to the Hill Island crossing (a surprisingly pretty ride along 12E), where the nice customs lady laughed and waved me through after realizing how many layers of clothing she’d have to watch me undo to get my passport.

At least the memories were warm.

After a 500 km wet and cold day I was home in good time to pack the Tiger in the truck and head off on a six-hour round trip to Georgetown to my friend Lawrence Hacking, who was going to deliver it to his journalist brother … a small price to pay for the trip, I suppose, although I was more than a tad spacey back at work on Friday. Actually, it was worth the drive to see Lawrence’s new shop/garage/basement, but that’s another story.

All in all a very, very, very good week – rain or no.

God does indeed love CMG.


THANKS TO:

George Ruffolo and Frank Trombino of Vaughan Cycle for helping to make our first ever ride of an Aprilia possible!

For the accommodation for the tour part:
(click on links for CMG review)

Bear Notch, near the Mount Washington Hotel.

Hohmeyer’s Lodge on Lake Clear
6319 State Route 30, Lake Clear, New York. 12945
518-891-1489, 877-6-ADK-ALPS

The Mount Washington Hotel & Resort
Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. 03575
603-278-1000

Fort William Henry Lake George Resort
48 Canada St., Lake George, New York. 12845
518-668-3081

Sunset at Long Lake, New York.

And for the accommodations for Seck and ‘arris’ Catskill/Adirondack exploratory extension (to be included in a future section):

The Alpine Inn
Alpine Road, Oliverea, New York. 12410
845-254-5026

The Adirondack Hotel
State Route 30 (PO Box 355), Long Lake, New York, 12847-0355
518-624-4700

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