Blogger's note 3/1/17: I have to admit, this was one of my favorite blog adventures ever. I haven't been on the trails yet this year - it's obviously time to go back and relive this true Adirondack experience. Who's with me!?
I recently spent a wintry weekend in Speculator, NY at the southern edge of the Adirondacks. I would recommend this experience to just about everyone, with a few exceptions. Let me explain: if you are the type of person that hates to break out of the norm, you don't enjoy a laid-back attitude, and you hate nature - this would not be my pick for you. For everyone else, I say grab your sled, head for C4/8, pick a trail, and make the most of the end of winter.
Getting on track:
Let's set the stage... It's mid-March in the Adirondacks. We are getting bored with winter; in Lake Placid we are about to hit the 2-month mark for consistently below freezing temps. We have skied both downhill and xctry, snowshoed, tobogganed, ice-skated, made snow angels and snowmen. We have Cabin Fever. We need something new. Enter the downstate Bendell boys - they have an outing in mind.
Luckily, I am the type of person that enjoys a new experience, so when I heard the plans of a snowmobiling (aka sledding) weekend, I jumped at the opportunity. Now, I was on a sled last year for a couple of hours, at night, on a trail that runs the power lines near Paul Smiths, NY. Besides that, I have only been out maybe 2 or 3 times when I was a teen (yes, a long time ago), and then it was in a field. So, I'm going to put out there that I am a newbie. Luckily, my partner-in-adventure Greg, his brother David, and nephew Josh, are experienced riders and showed a great deal of patience with my many questions. (It probably helped that I was wearing a helmet and for the most part couldn't be heard!)
I did have a few take-aways that seemed to sum up the experience, so I put them into a list, because that's just the type of person I am...
Top 7 Reasons Not To Sled in Speculator:
#7. The convenience of the location just doesn't work for you.
If you're looking for a long, tedious drive that has you trailering your sleds for half the weekend, well, this just is not the destination for you.
Here's the thing about Speculator... When deciding where to meet up it was the ideal location; a bit over 2 hours south for us, about 2.5 hours north for the downstaters. Actually, it's pretty much the perfect place to meet up from anywhere in NY. Located in the southern Adirondacks, it's an easy drive from most places in NY, southern Canada, and Western Vermont.
#6. You like bright lights and big cities more than bright stars and towering trees.
If you'd rather push a shopping cart than push your limits, and you embrace a horizon full of major highways and strip malls, this is not the destination for you.
With hundreds of miles of trails laid out before you, there are no stoplights or crowds to slow you down. Day or night, the trails are open and the snow is just waiting for you to hit it. We managed to do around 50 miles in the morning, and 79 miles in the afternoon - and we didn't even come close to hitting the immediate terrain!
#5. You're not up on your sled-iquette.
If you enjoy road rage and would rather be flipping someone off than flipping up your helmet and feeling the fresh wintry air in your face, Speculator is not for you.
We had been lucky to rent one of the last sleds available from Village Rentals in downtown Speculator. And, while I am a total control-freak, I also have horrible depth perception, so I think it was a lucky twist of fate that we ended up with a 2-up. I did get a chance to drive, but opted for the back ragdoll seat by choice. I honestly don't know if I would have been comfortable navigating some of the backwoods trails that we ended up on. Side note: call as soon as you know you need to rent a sled, we hear they are usually sold out most weekends!
3 Quick Trail Lessons:
I knew nothing of basic sled etiquette when we hit the trail. I quickly learned that groomers have the right of way - so pull over and wave thanks to the man keeping the trail pristine!
Next lesson was a bit more confusing: We were riding in front of our pack of 3 sleds and I'll shamefully admit I couldn't understand why Greg kept giving everyone the peace sign. Even more confusing were the folks that were replying with a power-to-the-people closed-fisted air pump. Eventually I started to pick up on the silent lingo... We were being polite - 2 sleds were following ours; the fist represented the end of the group.
Finally I had to accept that I had no control from the backseat and needed to just give in, hold on, and enjoy the ride. I got this!
#4. You are a recluse and don't want to encounter friendly folk.
If you don't like strangers saying hello and smiling with a knowing camaraderie, the Adirondacks are not for you.
While riding a sled could easily be a fairly individual sport, you will, at some point, have to stop - if for no other reason than to refuel.
And, as with most activities in the Park, the people you encounter are more than willing to say hello and chat for a bit. What trails were you on? How were the conditions? Where are you from? Did you hear Oak Mountain has a band tonight? I see you like coffee, make sure you stop at Common Grounds Cafe before you leave... The information flew freely, and the coffee was great!
#3. You can't stand eating good food at affordable prices.
If you're looking for a seven-course meal with cloth napkins, fine wines, and a fancy dress-code, Speculator probably isn't the first choice of a vacation destination for you.
Let me qualify that: you can certainly choose to eat in the beautiful dining room at the Melody Lodge; but when you pull up to their doors after a wild day on the trails, and you take off your helmet to free your crazy hair, I'm betting a cold beer and full plate at their pub area will be more your style. (The four of us ate apps & dinner for under $90) Insider tip: try the buffalo shrimp appetizer and the hand-cut chips. I will definitely return for seconds!
Of course, nothing says Adirondack breakfast like bacon-stuffed pancakes and maple syrup. Personally, I had a few minutes to spare and stopped by the Sunrise Diner. It was an awesome choice. Not only did I fill my belly, I got a good serving of local gossip and an endless cup of of coffee (all for $10!).
#2. You despise comfortable Bed-to-sled-to-trail lodging.
If you expect to open your hotel door to a waiting valet instead of your waiting sled, Speculator might not be the choice for you.
If you're looking for perfectly comfortable accommodations, friendly hosts, and the convenience of actually walking out of your room and getting onto your snowmobile instead of into your car, you've found your paradise.
As we pulled into our hotel for the night, the first thing I saw was a pickup truck unloading a sled onto a snowbank at the edge of the lake. That seemed pretty telling.
We stayed at the Lake Pleasant Lodge and honestly, we couldn't have been happier. As a first-timer, I was a bit shocked to look around the parking lot and realize there were more sleds than cars parked in front of the rooms. But really, what would you expect? This quaint little hotel is literally right on the shore of Lake Pleasant (hence the name), with direct access to many sled trails, just south of Speculator's center. Oh, and major bonus: the whole hotel has radiant floor heating - I hate cold feet!
Side note: With a beautiful view of the lake from our room, I can only imagine how much fun it will be to visit in the summer. There is a patio and gazebo available to the guests and I heard rumors of a beautiful sandy beach. I have visions of putting in our boat and trolling around the lake on a fine, sunny day (that may be a bit of the cabin fever talking).
#1. You hate fresh, wide, well-groomed trails / You hate winding, narrow, skill-testing trails
If you hate variety, fun, and a true Adirondack sledding experience, Speculator and the Hamilton County trails are not for you.
If, however, you want to ride some of the freshest, coolest trails in the Adirondacks, I say get your sled out now. Right Now. The season is almost over, but there's still time to see what you've been missing.
In the morning I had an amazing, relaxing time on wider, freshly groomed trails. We went for miles and miles in the fresh air, saw a good deal of wildlife, and had a great time.
In the afternoon, we took to different terrain. The trails were a bit more rutted, the trees surrounding us closely on all sides, the experience more like a wild adventure.
We flew across a number of lakes, "What!? There's not a speed limit on the ice!?"
We saw a crazy, beautiful, fox-coyote-wild-dog something, something.
We had a stare-down with a huge deer and her two little ones.
We found some unique places with unique names - Outhouse Corners, anyone?
The evening saw us taking it a bit slower as we took one last ride under the starry-starry sky. How lucky were we that it was a full-moon weekend!?
How cool was it that when we walked into the restaurant, in our full outdoor gear, the host pointed to a shelf built specifically for helmets?
How awesome was it that I managed to survive a weekend with the boys and only fell off the sled once?
Hit the Trails
I feel pretty sad right now. While I had an absolutely awesome, memorable weekend, I wish I had discovered this great Adirondack pastime earlier in the season. I can't wait to come back. But, note to self: next time I will be sure to get my own sled. It's hard to be a backseat-driver with a helmet on your head!
So, yeah, if you don't want to have a great time in an awesome location, I say: "Don't sled in Spec." If, however, you're up for a good old time, this is definitely the place you should be. Now. Get there now. Here's the links to places to stay, places to rent sleds, places to eat... what are you waiting for, the snow is melting! Go now, and say I sent you - it won't get you a discount, but at least it'll prove I was actually working. (If you can call having an amazing time spending a day on the trails in Speculator "work"!)
I had an awesome weekend in Speculator, and I look forward to describing the day and the details of the places we stayed, the meals we ate, and especially my ride in a brand new groomer. However, that seemed like a lot of info for one little blog, so I'm going to break it down into a few additional installments - check back soon!
Many, many thanks go to Lake Pleasant Lodge, D.R.A.G., Rick Swift of Village Rentals, and my grooming tour guide, John Nilsen. Special shout out to David & Josh Bendell for agreeing to the madness and for snapping pics when my camera decided to revolt; and to Greg for not deliberately hitting too many ruts.
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