Going Bass Ackward

The solitude of the woods is good for one’s soul, soothing the rough edges of civilization’s noise and constant stress. Yet there are times when the sound of cars and trucks is a blessed thing, and it happened again on Sunday when, after a few hours off road, finding Seven Lakes Drive in New York’s Harriman State Park was all I wished for.

Yes, I know that’s backward. A person who rushed to Manhattan on the Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend (while everyone else seemed to be rushing out of the city), I should have stayed in the woods as long as possible to shake off the post-Merritt Parkway jitters. But owing to a previous Bass Ackward move — bringing my mountain bike to Harriman when it’s a road bike mecca — I’d spent a good hour trying to get to the designated mountain biking/xc ski trails, a couple hours wandering in the woods, and another hour trying to find my way out. I was happy to breathe carbon monoxide at that point.

It was a lot like the time my NH riding partner and I went to Burke, VT with our road bikes. If you’re a biker you’ll recognize Burke as the epicenter of mountain biking in the Northeast, ground zero for Kingdom Trails. Yes, we were the only ones in a 25-mile-radius on road bikes. D’oh!

Regardless of the incidentals, I can recommend Harriman as a fabulous weekend destination for bikers of all stripes. We camped at Lake Tiorati in the shade of glorious mountain laurels. I even enjoyed the gentle two-mile downhill glide from the Tiorati traffic circle to Lake Welch Drive on Tiorati Brook Drive, lulled into a trance by the hum of my big fat tires. Then there was a long climb up to and past the Lake Welch entrance … loved the parkway if not the hills … until I found this turkey vulture waiting for me at the top of one lesser mountain.

a turkey vulture waiting for a biker to give up

So, riding my mountain bike on paved roads wasn’t the only massive goof up of the outing. Of course not. Map reading was another massive fail, and not just on my part. You see, I was looking for the Old Turnpike, an old fire road and designated mountain bike trail, which allegedly connects with Lake Welch Drive. Not only did I have a heck of a time finding it, the park ranger I approached also hadn’t a clue as to its whereabouts. Nor could he tell me the name of the major hiking path we were near. Maybe it was because any trail markings were just colors, like red circles and yellow circles and sometimes little cross country skiers, nothing directional. Group fail.

I thought this service road would lead to the old turnpike, but it only gave me a ranger who was clueless

The $10 full-color, topographical maps I purchased weren’t completely useless. I used them to ask several hikers where they thought they were, and did some sort of mathematical averaging to decide which location got the majority of votes. Needless to say, we were almost never close to where I thought I was. Hadn’t I taken a right where the red and yellow trails intersected? How did I end up by Lake Wanoksink instead of near Reservoir 2? And yes, I do have a handheld GPS at home that I could learn to use — but then I wouldn’t meet so many interesting people, would I?

Don’t think for a minute that I wasn’t having loads of fun biking when I wasn’t wondering where the hell I was. The trails were unmaintained fire roads, some grassy and packed, others gravelly and crumbling, and there were lots of washouts and steep mini-climbs. Traffic was minimal: I saw two trail runners, one other mountain biker, and bunches of hikers near the lakes.

not all trails were this smooth and clear, but that would be boring!

Now I’m going to use the word “funnest.” I don’t think I’ve used it since I was seven, but here goes: the funnest part was near the end of my ride, when my legs were absolute jelly and I was starting to doubt that I was really on the trail I thought I was on (Pine Meadow Road). I passed a couple of climbers carrying a crash pad. I got off and walked a bit to avoid technical stuff I no longer had the strength to tackle (and hoped to avoid laying in a crumbled bleeding heap on some remote trail). The road crossed a stream, then headed up a gnarly steep hill. I took the map out again. It showed the Woodtown Road I wanted veering to the left along the stream, and not going uphill where it seemed to be going. Really? I looked more closely. Well, maybe that’s a trail … so I got back in the saddle and followed a grassy, completely unused former road-like path downhill. It turned into the best, funnest 20-minute jaunt of the whole day, bouncing gently over a thick pad of leaves into nothing short of a sylvan glen … I hallucinated that Pan was there, playing his flute ….

Then I heard a faint noise. Not Pan, it was somebody on a loud Harley with another sort of pipes, and I was thrilled to hear it. Finally, I was really on the trail I thought I was on, and I’d soon be at the Sebago Lake dam, where Seven Lakes Drive met my amazing Woodtown Road. As much as I hated to leave this gorgeous pocket of the park, my legs were shot and I knew I had about an hour on the road to get back to the campground.

Bass Ackward is just fine with me when it ends like this:

Ahh, Lake Tiorati at the end of the trail

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