By Katie Dolan
[Note: This is the first of three blogs about Cycle Adirondacks, which runs from August 23-29. ]
My sister, Amy, and I stop to admire the quiet vistas and look for loons and other majestic wildlife. As we pedal out of Saranac Lake in upstate New York, I start focusing on the placid waters reflecting puffy clouds rather than thinking of the 68 rolling miles ahead.
It’s Day One of Cycle Adirondacks, a bike tour sponsored by WCS (the Wildlife Conservation Society) to highlight the Adirondack Park’s natural beauty and conservation value. The park’s six million acres contain 3,000 lakes and ponds. The daily routes – ranging from 50 to 75 miles a day at an average elevation gain of 2,000-3,000 feet – allow riders (and even non-cyclists) to immerse themselves in the region’s forests, lakes, and abundant wildlife. At an early rest stop, just beyond the carefully wrapped peanut butter sandwiches, granola, and water refill stations, several loons swim on Tupper Lake.
At the welcome celebration Sunday night, WCS Adirondacks Program Director Zoe Smith had promised that riders would “get to know WCS’s work, the park, and its people,” including some talented local scientists stationed at the bike rest stops. I take the opportunity to talk to Jerry Jenkins at the naturalist tent. Jenkins, an ecologist with WCS’s Adirondack Program, explained that lake chemistry records have been collected for decades in the area.
A recent decline in acidity levels offers some good news for the local fish and birds. The overall loon populations appears to be stable (there are an estimated 2,000 loons in the Adirondacks), however continued high mercury levels, especially in the western Adirondacks, can cause loons to be less attentive, less effective parents, according to Jenkins.
I think of the birds and their eerie calls once again when offered a painted loon souvenir at the Newton Falls rest stop. Cheerful volunteers from a local church serve homemade snacks and a gift to each of the participants. The pastor had carefully cut round wood medallions and then members of his congregation hand-painted images of the Adirondacks on the mementos. It is a generous gesture that makes all the riders feel truly welcomed to the tiny community.
In Star Lake, residents line up along the main street to cheer us in for the final two miles on our first day. It makes me feel like a celebrity for a moment.
At the final aid station on Sunday evening, a sign reminds riders to “Eat, Sleep, Repeat.” So we head to a gourmet food buffet to fuel up for the following day’s trip to Boonville to see more loons and other wildlife and greet local residents along the way.
Katie Dolan is a WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) Trustee and environmental writer.