Posted by Miles Arbour
Words and photos by Daniel Jordan (@bonkism)
Back At It
After finishing in 2018 I thought, never again! Some sections crushed me simply because I wasn’t mentally ready. But I grew so much as a rider in 2019 that at the end of the season a bug bit me and I knew I wanted to take on the Adirondack Trail Ride (TATR) again. I set the goal of finishing a full day faster than my 2018 time. I had experience with two-night ultras but not yet a three-nighter, so this was a good push out of my comfort zone. I had a great bike for it, and the course is close to home. I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. As my 2020 season continued and I felt strong, I set the FKT goal and began relentlessly to study the past rides of Shane Kramer, Rob Cook, Zach Verhey, and Mikey—all of whom had different strategies—and I tried to take the best from their approaches. I really wanted this FKT. During the ride, I was gradually “lapping” my 2018 self until I reached the point where I was a full day ahead. Without a doubt, this was a constant source of mental boosts.
What did I learn the first time?
Some of TATR’s rugged stretches are incomprehensibly long and arduous. You’re following rock gardens through the forest all afternoon with no long climbs to help you feel accomplished, only short punchy ones. I wasn’t mentally prepared for this at all in 2018, and I almost scratched at mile 70. I learned on the fly how to recover from a bike ride with a bike ride.
This year, I was ready for a rematch with the Wilcox Lake Wild Forest. I had two strategies for these sections: study the course in advance and break it into as many chunks as possible to keep focused on intermediate goals, and empty myself of expectations of getting anywhere, surrendering instead to present-mindedness. Just keep moving forward. I used the first strategy closer to the beginning, and the second strategy on day four, after I started to crack. Physically, I gained experience over the summer with the rugged ADK-style backcountry trail on some key scouting rides, including the new 90-mile Over Easy MTB course (would recommend!). This helped me actually have fun.
This Year’s Challenges
Racing a grand depart is always a dice roll, and this year the odds were in my favor: fine weather, dry trails, low rivers, and the deadfall had been cleared off many sections. The field of riders had good energy as well, and from night one to day three I was either riding with or chasing Jeremiah Hawkins. Challenges this year might have been COVID-related, but the only closed down services I came across were in Westport.
I did have a huge COVID-related setback, though. I made the mistake of packing hand sanitizer (new to me this year) in a bag with most of my snacks. It exploded, which I didn’t think was too big a deal, until I tore open a fresh bag of trail mix to discover the alcohol-based hand sanitizer had teleported through the sealed plastic bag (science!). This was a huge bummer because it was the start of night three and I didn’t have nearly enough calories to ride a bike until 5:00 AM. I thought I was done! Here again luck was on my side: I had forgotten about Moriah Center, where I managed to roll in 10 minutes before the general store closed.
What Stood Out?
More than anything else, the things that stood out to me this year were the dot watchers and the trail magic. This was TATR’s sixth year, and the community aspect was incredible. It’s so stoke-building to have a stranger call your name, or want to chat with you about the ride, or offer you a snack, or for shop owners to have Trackleaders pulled up on the computer and to tell you about the next section. They’re just as stoked to share their neighborhood with you as you are to share your race with them, if that makes sense. Special shout-out to Nolan in Wanakena, who has a super cool general store turned local history museum (ask him about the microburst). To him, TATR is just one more thing that gives Wanakena its character.
TATR’s organizer Mikey has done a great job providing a consistent event to the bikepacking community as well as liaising with the NYDEC, snowmobile clubs, and other trail users in the Adirondacks to ensure that TATR persists in a sustainable way. Bikepacking ultras are still a young sport in the Northeast, and those of us working to build our own grand departs have Mikey’s leadership to look up to.
Congrats to everyone who participated at this year’s Adirondack Trail Ride. The event brought in 21 riders (the biggest year yet), 10 of whom finished the entire route. There were 19 men and two women, and for most it was their fist bikepacking event. Daniel Jordan set a new course record of 3 days, 9 hours, 54 minutes—nearly three hours faster than Zach Verhey’s 2019 ride.