With its verdant canopy of trees above and the still, reflective surface of silver lakes, the Adirondacks is a special place in the hearts of many. Travelers from all over the world ascend our mountains for their expansive views. It’s not just the scenery, though. All four seasons bring different opportunities for adventure, and mountain biking is becoming yet another reason to plan your trip to our wilderness in the northeast. In the last ten years, largely because of BETA’s (Barkeater Trails Alliance) efforts, mountain biking trails from the more technical to flowy are available to ride in the rugged, diverse terrain of the Adirondacks. I sat down with two enthusiasts of the mountain biking movement and chatted with them about why the Adirondacks, and more specifically why Wilmington, is a destination that bikers (and future bikers) should have on their radar.
First, these are not your ordinary riders. Shane Kramer is an ultra endurance athlete who has set records all over the country. Keegan Konkoski, his wife, is also an ambitious, go-hard or go-home type as well, although she probably wouldn’t describe it that way. She is the owner of the wildly innovative restaurant Liquids and Solids and its adjoining butcher shop Kreature. Despite the record breaking, hard-working attitudes of these two, they are incredibly humble and much like the Adirondack culture — surprisingly chill and willing to break bread, share stories, and go on a ride with newcomers who share their passion for the outdoors. This is not an exclusive club. I — an avid city cyclist of paved roads and dangerously close traffic — think of the three b’s when trying to wrap my head around what drives people to the terrifying biking sport that requires a fatter tire: bikes, berms, and beer. But of course, that’s not it. Mountain biking is thrilling and rewarding, with a daredevil aspect.
MTB trails and community
Mountain biking is one of the newer sports in the Adirondack region. This region’s signature feature was once a Winter Olympic centerpiece — Whiteface Mountain in 1980, the second Winter Olympics to be hosted here. The first was in 1932, so we have a longstanding tradition of winter sports. Because of this, there are already many athletic people who live and travel here. So, why not just add one more sport to your roster? Mountain biking is a little different though — with its scrappy reputation; you get dirty doing it and that’s part of the joy. Or as, Keegan aptly described it “I feel like it can be a dirtbag sport, but it’s not dirtbag prices at all.” She’s referring to the cost of bikes, and gear. But, the dirtbag comes from its reputation as a low frills sport; you can pitch a tent and make do with very little, save for your bike…and gear.
Like many of the Adirondacks’ virtues, mountain biking here is versatile with its diverse trails, and it’s also laid back. Keegan refers to this region as a “quirky set up,” with four very distinct seasons dominating the landscape, and the different towns offering unique features. In the Whiteface Region, there are the Hardy Road and Flume Trails, both known for their flowiness.
BETA, with Josh Wilson at the helm and a team of dedicated volunteers, has been igniting a movement by building and expanding more trails each year. More people, especially women, are getting involved in the sport. In the Adirondacks there are weekly community rides, including Hardy Hour at Hardy Road, and the Ladies Ride started by Emilee Hazelden and Tatiana Rheinbolt. The energy BETA and these community rides have inspired is contagious and welcoming even to newcomers. Shane remarked that people who help to build the trails are proud of their work and want to share it. There’s no secret initiation here. Even kids are participating by organizing kids’ races at the annual Wilmington Mountain Bike Festival and initiating the building of beginner-specific trails.
The trails here do offer technical challenges. Or, as one visitor to the region told Shane, “You can’t daydream around here.” One of Keegan’s favorite rides is Ridge Trail at the Flume, one of the first trails ever built in the region, and it remains to be one of the hardest trails to do an out-and-back on. Despite the trail changing over the years, with cheater lines, “If you ride that true trail it’s dynamite, Adirondack root-y with punches, and really well designed.” She likes the technical stuff that requires focus. One of Shane’s favorite is Good Luck at Hardy Road. He too prefers the technically challenging trails.
If you are going to bike be sure to come prepared. Biking can happen year-round, but know what you’re getting into. Hunting season can be dangerous. Once it starts snowing, you’ll want the right tires, and clothing to keep you warm —especially your toes and hands. And, a light is always important. Luckily we don’t have much light pollution in the Adirondacks, but once the sun goes down it can be pitch black in the woods. You’ll want a light on your bike and helmet, and you’ll want to know where you’re going, so for starters join others on a community ride, seek out a guide, or do your first ride in the daylight. Also, don’t be afraid to get off your bike. Trying to plow through a difficult, technical part of the terrain could mean swerving and destroying the trail. There’s no shame in walking your bike.
A big draw to the Whiteface Region is sports. Regardless of, and for some, the long winters here make an ideal and beautiful training ground. You’re likely to find other athletes with similar, crazy ambitions as you. Shane is both an exception and not, in this regard. He is known for setting records. Never mind that he does much of his racing on a single speed, which he claims is doable if you get used pedaling downhill. He set a record for completing the TATR (the Adirondack Trail Ride), a 550+ mile bikepacking ride, in three days. At one point he gave up racing and thus gave up his bikes. Left with only a single speed, he didn’t stay dormant for too long.
Recently he wanted to see if he could bike 300 miles in one day, and he did by cycling around Lake Champlain. Just days before I spoke to him he was planning a trip to Michigan to take on the Marji Gesik race in Marquette County, Michigan. And, this past summer he set a new goal for himself: to cycle the elevation of Mt. Everest — 30,000 feet.
He fittingly chose the iconic Whiteface Mountain to achieve this goal. All Adirondack peaks have a distinct beauty, but Whiteface stands above the rest partly because of its location, dramatically hovering over the Wilmington Notch. It’s the fifth tallest mountain in the state, with scars and a peak pointing toward the sky more akin to the steep rockier mountains in the west, distinguishing itself from the pack. The ‘Face carries its own mythology as the region’s tallest ski mountain, a 46er, and now a biking destination. So on a dry, hot day with the sun pouring down in June, Shane biked from the four-corner intersection in Wilmington to the entrance of the toll road on Whiteface Mountain 24 times. The plan was to accomplish this on a cool rainy day, but alas, fickle weather in the Adirondacks. Keegan joined him for one round, and that was enough for her. Every once in a while on a trip up, Shane would see the Poor Man’s Downhill shuttle bus, that takes mountain bikers up the toll road, with his friends waving hello while he “suffered.” Despite his next day sunburn and the sheer physical exertion, he wasn’t deterred, or perhaps he may have been inspired. Next stop? Who knows, he's always planning a challenge.
Work and play
A large part of Shane’s life is training for races. “If you’re going to do a four day race, the training you have to do to get to that level is tough,” he told me. Keegan, on the other hand, who has less time to train because of her full time business, uses “pockets of time” to get out and go for joy rides. If it’s a 30-minute ride in the middle of a work shift at Liquids and Solids, she’ll take it. This kind of slice of daily outdoor adventure, right outside your doorstep, is what makes the Adirondacks unique. You don’t have to drive to nature. We’re it. Our mountains are the playground, but the culture here is leave no trace and respect the land. And, juggling extreme work with extreme play is something most Adirondackers know and do well. Summer is a short but splendid season here. By September we are already losing three minutes of sunlight a day. But, this is not something we lament here. We revel in it and just change our activities. So come prepared with the right gear to be in synch with the elusive sun and dark skies of seasonal change.
Mountain biking culture in the Adirondacks is one of grit, community, and fun. It’s about being bold on a bike, but also just getting out there to ride and have some fun. It's the perfect way to release endorphins, challenge yourself, and take in the awesome views of the surrounding Adirondack landscape. The Adirondacks’ northern location makes it that much more special. You can still experience solitude in our woods, especially in the late fall and winter when we become less traveled, but no less beautiful or adventurous. Keegan described her and Shane’s relationship to the Adirondacks and the biking community here: “We have no plans of going anywhere anytime soon. We like it here. Mountain biking brings people here. It’s just such a cool topic to talk about. It’s endless. Some people go for the gear talk. Some people just want to talk about the flow.”
Mountain biking, while dirtbag, is not to be taken lightly. It brings people places. It supports local economies. The Little Supermarket in Wilmington is a great example. Bikers praise the store's giant sandwiches that offer sustenance just a short distance from the Hardy Road trails. I agree when Keegan says: “We are on the cusp of something great.”