Words and photos by Sarah Cooper (@iowacoop)
I took on The Adirondack Trail Ride (TATR) for the first time in 2019. After many years of racing road and gravel, I was entirely new to bikepacking and mountain biking. I had a limited amount of time to ride, and knew I wouldn’t finish, but decided to give it a go just for the experience. It was incredibly difficult, and unlike any challenge I’d taken on before. I knew that I would be back someday to finish it. I turn 50 this year, and it seemed like a fitting way to celebrate.
My 2019 TATR lite experience set me up well to prepare for 2021. I had much better mountain bike handling skills and peeled at least 15 pounds off my bike. My gear list was pretty short: clothing, repair kit, water filter, electronics, and an emergency bivvy. I planned to sleep in lodges when I could find them, and just keep riding where I couldn’t.
There is a profound amount of hike-a-bike on this route, and I seemed to hit the most challenging sections at night, and before anyone else had broken trail. I lodged a foot between two rocks, fell, and gave myself a very large hematoma on my left leg the first night near Fawn Lake. I tore my legs apart on brambles and gave myself a matching hematoma on the right leg not long after. All on hike-a-bike—I hadn’t even yet fallen off my bike.
The route is simply amazing. Beautiful scenery, fantastic gravel roads, singletrack, and super fun and technical ATV/snowmobile trails. It was engaging, and fun to ride. I was never bored! Every section had some type of bite to it; pushing, route finding, bushwhacking. It requires a high degree of patience and love for adventure however it comes. Initially, it was all very manageable. The weather was mostly mild, with some pretty cold nights, and only one night of rain. Trail magic along the way at Camp Oswegatchie and from residents on the route was so appreciated. I managed to get enough sleep to be functional, either in lodges or in the dirt by the roadside until the last day.
I arrived at a gas station in North Hudson 90 minutes before they opened. This was the last opportunity to restock before Lester Flow (a notoriously difficult trail section), and since I had missed some overnight opportunities, waiting seemed to be the sensible option. I had bedded down out of sight and was charging devices and trying to nap when two men arrived, nearly out of gas and ticked off. They walked around the building and found me. One wanted to use my charger for his phone, and he was pretty upset that I wouldn’t share. Seemed like a cue to leave, and so I did. I could’ve done any number of things at that moment, but what I chose to do despite knowing I only had 400 calories on my bike was to move forward and suffer the consequences.
The crossing of the Boreas River was beautiful and magical, and thanks to some trail magic by local cyclist Michael Feldman, the first part of Lester Flow was completely open. Then, the trail was gone. I have no words for what I experienced in the six-plus hours of finding my way out of that swamp. Mikey, the organizer of the event, says Lester Flow grows on you. I think maybe like poison ivy or ringworm. The last 70 miles after Lester Flow were even tougher. Big climbs and technical, often unrideable trails. Not a minute of relief for having traveled over 500 miles.
Every inch of progress toward the finish was earned. With 20 miles to go, I hooked my rear wheel on a stick and launched myself into the rocks. I was done riding after that, and with no obvious escape route to be had, I committed to walking to the finish. I’ve finished some seriously tough ultra-cycling events in my life thus far, and that is without a doubt the deepest I have ever had to go to get to a finish line. Exhaustion and pain like I have never known. I’m gradually coming around to the idea that my own choices are what made this last section so horrible, but for my first big bikepacking adventure, I’m happy with it exactly the way it went.
A grand adventure to celebrate turning 50!
2021 Adirondack Trail Ride Results
- 1st: Sarah Cooper (4d 22h 59m)
- 2nd: Jared Pazienza (5d 15h 43m)
- 3rd: Michael Lapcevic (6d 11h 49m)
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