First you see the tents: more than a hundred little domes, perfectly arranged on the village green. Then, you hear bluegrass music coming from the white gazebo. The unmistakable aroma of grilled meat drifts through the air reminding your stomach that it’s dinner hour.
Were it not for racks of sleek racing bikes and neon-colored skimpy clothes drying on lines, the scene could be mistaken for a Civil War encampment or a scouts’ jamboree.
Welcome to Cycle Adirondacks, a weeklong bike tour sponsored by the Wildlife Conservation Society. The event introduces visitors to the natural resources and cultural splendors of the Adirondack Park, from a bicycle seat. “There’s nothing like this in the Adirondacks,” says Zoe Smith, director of WCS’s Adirondack program. “The event benefits host communities, local vendors and businesses, and the nonprofits and school groups who serve as volunteers.”
Doug Haney, co-event manager in charge of sites and community relations, adds, “We offered the tour for the first time last summer and had 160 riders from 29 states and three Canadian provinces. This year we’re aiming for 350 participants.”
Cycle Adirondacks rolls out from August 20 through 27, and cyclists can register for the full seven days or opt for the half-week package. In 2016, the route will wend along classic Adirondack lakes, rivers and streams. Matt Van Slyke, co-event manager who oversees route development and safety, stages the course on less trafficked back roads for enhanced beauty and a pleasurable ride. Van Slyke emphasizes that “It’s a tour, not a race. Riders can travel at their own pace as they cover the route which averages about 60 miles each day.” The tour makes a counterclockwise loop through the northeastern portion of the Adirondack Park. This year’s course starts and ends at Hadley / Lake Luzerne located between Saratoga and Lake George. One rider last summer commented, “We’re seeing different parts of the Adirondacks, and the rolling landscape has just enough killer hills thrown in.”
On most bike tours, riders tend to ingest cheap carbs, institutionalized food like spaghetti and meatballs or frozen chicken Parm reheated in an oven. Cycle Adirondacks takes a deliciously different approach. “Food is a showcase on this tour, not just fuel,” says Jim Moore, director of the event. “We chose Mazzone Hospitality Group, based in Clifton Park, because they understand the importance of healthy local foods and have been attentive to all the logistics.”
Thanks to a grant from Taste of New York, Cycle Adirondacks hired Kevin McCarthy, a chef and assistant professor in culinary arts at Paul Smith’s College, to connect with area farmers and source as much local product as possible for Mazzone. McCarthy works with the Adirondack North Country Association, an economic development agency that promotes local food and agriculture.
McCarthy took Mazzone’s menus and found farmers who could provide those products in the requisite amounts. He managed to source 40% of the produce and meat from local farms, with hopes to surpass that percentage this summer. Maple View Farms, Juniper Hill and Fledging Crow supplied produce, Kilcoyne Farm provided beef while Harmony Hill offered pork.
Imagine planning an outdoor wedding. And then staging the event for seven nights. In seven different locations. That’s essentially what Mazzone accomplished to meet the catering needs for Cycle Adirondacks. The daily drill? Arrive at the site, create a fully functioning facility, start preparing dinner and the next day’s breakfast and lunch, then break it down after breakfast and reconstruct it 60 miles away in the new location.
Sean Willcoxon, chief catering officer for Mazzone, loves the challenges of off-site catering. “All of the event planners met in May 2015, jumped in two vans and spent three days traveling the route to study the logistics of each site.” Every location posed unique twists, but the team always found viable solutions. “In off-site situations, things rarely go 100% as planned. That’s Catering 101,” says Willcoxon.
In addition to showcasing the Adirondack Park, what distinguishes this tour is the food. “The first night we had three entrées: brisket, catfish and chicken,” says a satisfied rider from Georgia. “This is as close to restaurant-quality food as I’ve ever experienced on a cycle tour.”
Mornings start with a buffet of oatmeal, egg casserole, roasted potatoes, side meat, granola, yogurt, whole fruit and almonds. For lunch, each rider receives a freshly made meat or veggie sandwich or wrap, fruit, cookie, bag of chips and Polar Seltzer or Dr. Brown’s soda. At the rest and snack stop, hungry cyclists can refuel with a bagel and peanut butter, Nutella or cream cheese, trail mix, beef jerky, chocolate-covered pretzels, whole fruit and a drink. Dinner offers three entrées, a grain dish or starch, roasted or steamed veggies and a salad bar. Of course there are home-baked desserts.
Not surprisingly, Cycle Adirondacks and WCS promote a leave-no-trace ethos, generating minimal trash by using recyclable and compostable materials. A separate team sets up well-marked stations at each site, collects the compostables and transports the recyclables to proper transfer stations. The group achieved 80% composted/recycled and 20% actual trash, impressive results for this movable feast.
HANG WITH THE LOCALS
Each night morphs into a party with a band and a concession with vendors organized by the local chamber of commerce. “We don’t want to come in and just use a park. We want visitors to share an experience in each town,” says Moore. A local brewery such as Good Nature Brewing from Hamilton, New York, sets up a beer garden, and everyone from town wanders over. As an additional perk, every rider gets a free beer each night, courtesy of Mazzone and Cycle Adirondacks. “The riding is great, but the connection with the towns and people is where the unexpected magic happens,” says one cyclist from New Jersey who has experienced other town-to-town tours.
Well before the riders descend on a town each afternoon, the community rolls out the welcome mat. And tents and bathroom facilities. Cycle Adirondacks relies on legions of volunteers in each town: baggage handlers, site set-up and breakdown, hospitality, food servers, rest and lunch stop on the route. Volunteers must be nonprofits or school groups. In one town, members of the high school cross-country team manned the dinner buffet, and the next morning, eager Boy Scouts shuttled wheelbarrows laden with riders’ duffle bags to vans that transported the luggage to the next site.
“It’s great to see these kids volunteering and doing purposeful work, a reminder that they really do take pride in their hometowns,” says Mary, a retired schoolteacher from Ohio.
Wildlife Conservation Society director Zoe Smith says, “WCS is all about community engagement. Our mission is to promote vibrant communities within the Adirondack Park. Working with small towns establishes partnerships and empowers them to step up and embrace new initiatives like this. Riders definitely feel the enthusiastic reception in every stop along the route.”
As a century-old organization focused on conservation science and research, with chapters in 60 countries, WCS incorporates education into the tour. Smith continues, “We have WCS staff and scientists at each camp and along the route, offering interpretive field guides to the natural resources of the park. Participants can learn about climate change, moose, wolves and loons and the geography and history of the Adirondacks.”
Non-riders can partake in the adventure travel program, which allows a companion to enjoy the park’s resources. Activities range from guided hikes and paddling excursions to tours of museums, wineries and other cultural sites.
As for accommodations, cyclists can bring their own tents or sign up for the rental service from Comfy Campers. After pedaling into town each afternoon, riders find their pup tent waiting, fully assembled. Air mattress, camp chair and fresh towel included! Participants can also opt for lodging in area inns and motels.
TWO YEARS OF PLANNING
Zoe Smith reflects on the tour’s origins. “We came up with the idea in 2013 then hired Jim Moore, a consultant from Oregon who worked for Cycle Oregon and Cycle Yellowstone. We asked him to replicate that experience here in the Adirondacks. We started planning in earnest in February 2014. Doug Haney came on that summer and Matt Van Slyke joined us in the fall.” Doug has been media manager for elite athletes on the U.S. ski team, such as Lindsay Vonn and Bode Miller.
Jim Moore sums up the event’s mission. “A conservation group brings in an audience to spend time in the place they’re trying to protect and conserve. It’s really an awareness raiser. If you’re here for a week, you develop a deeper respect and appreciation for the region.”
At midnight, after the tired and satiated riders have settled into their pup tents on the village green, a sleek racing bike leans against the gazebo. No lock, no chain, no worries. And that’s the unexpected magic of Cycle Adirondacks.