Saturday, October 30, 2010

Zim Smith Trail

With all the press recently about a new section of the Zim Smith rail trail opening, Bill and I decided to check it out. In fact, we had never done the old section. Originally a six-mile bike ride, the Zim Smith trail seemed too short to be worth loading the bike on the car and driving up the Northway. Now, with two additional miles, we figured we would give it a chance at 16 miles round trip, beginning in Halfmoon and ending in Ballston Spa.

Finding the trailhead took a bit of research. We chose to begin our ride at Coons Crossing, the southernmost end of the trail and not far from Exit 10. We discovered, after driving by twice, that no signs of any kind mark Coons Crossing. At the junction of Ushers Road and Cary Road, just beyond railroad tracks we saw a road sign denoting a bike crossing. A car parked in a pull-off, the obvious beginning of a trail, and a barricade to motor vehicles made it clear that we had found our trailhead, but what about that blank kiosk?

The beginning older section of the trail is not paved, but the hard-packed gravel on a solid base gave me no trouble on my road bike. Passing next to marshes and the back yards of lovely homes, a few grasses, oaks, and sumacs lent a final flash of autumn color on this gray November-like Saturday.

With temperatures in the 40s, We started off wearing a hat under our helmets, mittens, and a scarf. I remembered what biking was like in chilly weather last Spring, and I wasn't planning to be uncomfortable. We soon warmed up and shed a few layers, even though the trail has only the slightest upgrade from south to north.

The middle section is paved and passes by a few parking locations, including Shenentaha Park where a playground and soccer field showed soggy evidence of recent heavy rains. To my surprise, the level yards and meadows along the trail turned into rugged ravines as we peddled. On the left narrow waterfalls cascaded through layers of sedimentary rock and woods, flowing into pretty creeks below to our right. An overpass for Route 9, another for the Round Lake Bypass, and an underpass for the Northway told us that we were quickly making our way towards our destination.

Continuing past the town of Round Lake, we eventually hit the new two miles of paved trail. While completely smooth and smelling of new tarmac, this is the least scenic part of the trip. (Bill, in the photo, is on the new section before we hit suburban development.) In no time we were in the middle of Curtis Lumber's storage area with the sour aroma of composting wood chips and next to live train tracks.

Advertising its "Halloween Hall," Curtis Lumber's version of Spiderman stood at the corner of route 67 playing an orange air-filled guitar and flagging people into the driveway with surprising enthusiasm. Stewart's, a few feet off the bike path, had three bikes parked nearby.

The trail ends at Oak Street, within a couple tenths of a mile to the intersection of East High Street. We discovered that this, in itself, is not a destination. However, the Village of Ballston Spa is just another six-tenths of a mile away. Lunch at one of the cute restaurants in town is a great option and would add just enough time and mileage to make this a full-day's outing.

We did not need lunch, but had brought a bottle of apple cider with us, so we turned around at Oak Street and headed back. Stopping at Shenentaha Park, we sat on a bench and had our drink. We also stopped at Round Lake on our return, riding our bikes through the charming village. Originally a Methodist Camp, Round Lake has narrow streets of ornate Victorian cottages and the perfectly restored auditorium which features concerts in the summer.

When we reached the unpaved section of trail, we were startled to see an ATV headed toward us. Even though it was traveling at a slow speed, it did not belong. Otherwise, our ride was pleasant and uneventful. We saw almost no one all day except for a few dog walkers and a handful of bikers.

Other trails in the Capital Region, such as those along the Mohawk or Hudson, offer greater scenic beauty, but this is a wonderful new option. We will definitely come back, next time bringing friends and planning lunch at the Whistling Kettle in Ballston Spa. Look for my ADK listing of an outing here next April!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Following the Foliage

My father "follows the foliage." Ideally, this means that in September, he would head north where the colors are first coming on, and then work his way South as the colored leaves move through the state. The plan never quite works out this way, but over a few weeks, depending on the weather, he catches as much of Autumn's brilliance as he can. And then there is that blessed time when it's right in his own yard.

I realized a few years ago that I am also nuts about colored leaves. Living within the city of Albany, where Norway maples make a good showing, but don't actually turn until mid to late October, I am on pins and needles that I might miss the colors elsewhere. I know that when I can see the leaves out my window, they will be down outside of the Hudson Valley. So I better get out even though it's still green at my house.

This year, I missed them in the northern Adirondacks, but with a week of blue-sky crisp days recently, I did what I could to satisfy my craving wherever I went. In Cooperstown a couple of weeks ago, heavy winds and rain had brought many leaves down, but here and there a few beautiful trees made me glad I was walking, not driving! Driving with my head swiveling from side to side is not recommended.

Not long after, I was visiting my parents in Saratoga. I had a few hours in the afternoon on a crisp 60 degree day. My father was ready in minutes when I suggested we go to nearby Shippee's Ledge, a mile-long walk with 250 feet elevation gain in the Town of Day. Shippee's Ledge has to be the biggest "bang for the buck." With views from a rocky promontory down to a branch of the Sacandaga, the half-hour hike on an old logging road is a perfect short outing.

On this day, clouds came and went. As each patch of blue opened and the colors below sparkled, another cloud followed. I had a hard time tearing my father away as he waited for "just one more" break of sun in the clouds. Watching the moving shadows on the hills, he would pick out a patch of color that he needed to see next in its sunlit glory. I had a rehearsal in the evening, and had to go. It took me a half hour to pull him away, and who wouldn't want to stay watching this brilliance return and retreat with each gap in the clouds?

My friend, Rachel, and I get together rarely for a hike. An Adirondack 46r and Northeast 114r, who feels like her hiking days now are very limited, she longs for more hiking opportunities. An annual family trip into Marcy Dam on Columbus Day keeps her hopes up that someday her young daughter will want to do the big mountains with her.

We set aside a day that proved to be cloudless and in the 50s, perfect hiking weather. On the phone, we decided that we would go "somewhere near Lake George." "Okay," I said, "I'll drive and you can study the book and map on the way." How could we go wrong on this day? Everyplace would be beautiful. We debated the East or West side of the lake, and chose the Tongue Mountain Range. Neither of us had been there in decades. It would be fun to explore and views would be crisp.

Despite not hiking often these days, Rachel is a fast and strong hiker. She is also a great conversationalist, so I let her talk, while I huff and puff behind her! Seriously, she sets a good pace, I get a workout, we catch up on the news, and we see some beautiful Adirondack scenery. Here she is on the overlook near Five Mile leanto looking West towards Gore Mt.

In fact, we didn't exactly know where we were going. We had missed the first trailhead and had begun at the northernmost part of the Tongue. Heading south, we were never sure when we had reached our destinations. Now we know--Five Mile Mountain is a great destination. Its rocky outcropping facing Lake George and looking East is a perfect lunch spot. We stood and admired the view and then said, "should we go farther?", "are we where we thought we should be?", "maybe the view opens up wider on a bigger summit."

We decided to go "just another half hour and then turn around." After a steady downhill, we turned around, and had our lunch overlooking hills of color. Back at Five Mile Mountain, we admired the green-blue of the lake, where one boat made a white trail below. Only large areas of evergreens broke the peak fall foliage.

The next day, we again had heavy rain and wind. Some of the leaves in my neighborhood blew off in swirls. But my Norway maples?--mostly still green. This year, we had to have one of the two maples in front of the house taken down, and the other lost a few big limbs. Usually, when the leaves have fallen off every tree in town, mine are bright yellow. In the upstairs bedrooms, on a sunny day, a soft yellow glow permeates the rooms. This year, I wonder, are there enough branches of the tree left to shed a glow inside the house?

I miss having two maples out front. I used to look up my street lined with gold. We do still have a mammoth maple in the back. The leaves from this tree, that I used to rake into monster mountains for the kids to jump in, now cover all of my gardens for the winter.

This season, I have done my best to "follow the foliage," and there is still more out there. The Northway in Colonie is a panorama of color, spots of brilliance line the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers, and glow in Washington Park. And when it is all gone, we'll have a period of brown and gray in the Northeast and then some snow. After that, I'll be marking my calendar for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing when the ground is covered in white and the sky is blue.