Bikepacking the Moose River Plains: A True Test of Mettle
We’d been planning this trip for a little over a month, and there was no way we were going to bail. Our destination was the Moose River Plains Wild Forest, starting to the west from Inlet, NY and traversing the entire area to the eastern entrance to the forest near the Cedar River. The chance to do some riding in the vast, glorious backcountry region that is the Adirondacks (almost 1/3 the area of our state!) had our excitement levels high. The only problem? The weather forecast looked bleak. As we would find out, the weather would indeed be bad, and then continued to get worse. Like I mentioned, there was no way we were going to bail, and thusly, everyone made the best preparations they could for what would prove to be a true test of our ability to deal with inclement weather in the middle of nowhere.
For my part, a merino wool base layer, a cotton flannel (ill advised… read on to find out why), and a sturdy rain shell accompanied by sturdy rain pants would keep me warm. Winter gloves with silk liners, and SPD shoes over liner socks and wool socks finished out the ensemble. I put on my Giro Proof winter weather shoe covers, but these were completely saturated and frozen into popsicles by the next morning. Waterproof SPD boots, or even the addition of waterproof socks would’ve been the ideal choice here… a lesson learned.
After gearing up at the Inlet town information office (and gaining permission to park overnight), we rolled out of town with high spirits, ready (in our minds) for whatever awaited us. Some steep climbing out of town right off the bat got our furnaces fired up quickly, and soon we arrived at the Limekiln Lake entrance to the Moose River Plains area. By this time, the rain had turned to full-on wet snow.
We rode forth through the snow, admiring the unique beauty surrounding us. The moody weather added a special quality to the breathtaking nature of this area — the feeling of being out there when no one in their right mind would choose to be enhanced the views. After a few steep climbs, a quick repair after Justin took an unfortunate spill on a slippery descent, and a brief stop to nosh on slowly freezing snacks, we arrived at the flat area of the plains, through which a sandy dirt road snakes towards Wakely Dam — our campsite goal for the day.
As we slowly inched towards our campsite, with one major climb remaining between us and our goal, the snow really began to accumulate. I was certainly feeling thankful for the choice to bring my Surly Moonlander along for the ride. As the cold weather began to effect us all around mile 19–20, some of us hiked a large portion of the final climb before the descent to the Wakely Dam campsites. Being off the saddle for even just a few minutes seems to re-invigorate my legs when I get back on the bike — so never any shame in a little hike-a-bike.
Having made it over the last climb, we descended to the camping area, and picked out a little spot with some decent tree shelter and an outhouse. Tents and hammocks were pitched quickly, the goal of getting into dry clothes and warming up in mind. My aforementioned flannel was soaked in moisture that had came off of my body, and by the morning it had frozen solid. Once these immediate goals were accomplished, we set off to investigate building a fire. Our wonderfully eccentric camp neighbor, Ron, who was out hunting with some friends and family for opening weekend, graciously allowed us the use of their large fire pit and stockpile of wood. After fussing with our Bic lighters and dryer lint kindling for a while, Ron once again saved the day with some good old fashioned accelerant — immediately granting us a roaring fire. Success! Ron, you are the dude, and yes, those are indeed some “BIIIIG fuckin’ tires”.
Those of us with the remaining stamina and patience for the continuing precipitation and the cold made our dinners huddled around the fire. An experiment with a dehydrator proved to be a great success, and I enjoyed a nice, warming pot of goulash while doing my best to stay warm and dry my gloves (which ended with a burned glove, because of course it did).
It was a pretty unanimous decision for us all to turn in early and hunker down in our warm sleeping bags. My 20 degree bag paired with the trusty Thermarest Z-Lite SOL kept me warm and dry all night. The sound of accumulation sliding off my rainfly had me feeling extremely thankful for my warm and dry shelter. After a bit of reading and podcasts, I drifted off to sleep.
The sound of Ron firing up his generator gently woke me around 8:00am (we forgive him for this, because he gave us fire). I had set out mise en place for coffee in my vestibule, yet my Bic lighter had become saturated with moisture from the night before, and refused to spark. Thankfully, Blake came to the rescue, as his piezo igniter was still working. A hugely satisfying cup of pour-over coffee in my tent was the result, and I sipped it while slowly and carefully sauteing my liner gloves in my cookpot over my stove to coax as much moisture out of them as I could. I should’ve brought along an extra pair of dry liner gloves, in hindsight. Lessons learned.
It had become clear overnight that neither Mario nor Justin would be able to complete the ride. Wet socks and wet gloves that were no longer adequately insulating and had little to no chance of drying overnight relegated them to hunkering down in their warm sleeping bags while Blake, Dan and myself continued the ride back to town to launch an automobile rescue mission of our comrades.
Having chowed down on a fairly frozen Clif bar, unloaded my bike (since we would be coming back here with a car, we opted to ride back mostly unladen), and donned my warm, snuggly down jacket, the three of us set back out to ride the 25 miles back the way we came through the forest. Despite my shoes being wet, some quick intuitive cannibalization of a space blanket resulted in a pair of waterproof booties with which to wrap my feet. This move was crucial — I would’ve felt slightly endangered regarding frostbite otherwise. The freshly sauteed gloves kept my hands warm the whole ride back.
The roads had gotten much worse overnight — the heavy snowfall had downed several trees, and we encountered a fellow towing a trailer with a 2WD truck who had become stuck. The melting snow had turned the dirt roads under it into muck, and the going felt slow. It was determined our rescue mission would not take us back through the forest, but rather up and around the area to the eastern entrance.
The weather on this day was much better, with not a cloud in the sky, and temperatures starting to approach 44 degrees. The three of us rode the 25 miles out of the forest without much of a break, driven by the thought of warm cars and rescuing our stranded compadres. I ticked off each mile in my head as we went, making my goal to reach the next mile. Eventually, with a fair amount of fanfare, we made it out of the forest. A short pavement ride (and one last climb) brought us back into town, and back to our warm cars. The feeling of victory was upon us… but we still had to grab our friends and our gear.
We drove up through Raquette Lake eastbound towards the other side of the forest. A winding dirt road took us along the Cedar River in towards the eastern entrance to the Moose River Plains area, where Justin and Mario awaited us. We hoped they were still alive, or maybe hanging out with Ron in his dope camper. We were happy to discover both of them alive and well, and in good spirits. After quickly packing up all of our remaining gear and bicycles, we headed out back to Inlet, NY to Screamen Eagle Pizza. A few beers and two wonderful, large, hot pizzas while sitting by the fireplace nursed our spirits and our cold bodies. After time spent reminiscing about our insane journey, we departed back to our home of Rochester, NY, to rejoin the real world.
In short: be more prepared than you think you should be. Don’t fear the weather, but respect it. Visit Screamen Eagle Pizza in Inlet, NY — they have so many good beers on tap. Always ride bikes with your friends. Maybe bring a weather sealed camera (I would’ve loved to have taken more pictures).
Until the next adventure… I leave you with pizza.
Thanks to Daniel Breslawski (who took a few of these pictures), Justin Kretzmann, Mario Rocchio and Blake Terzini (who also took a few pictures).