WOW!… Who would have guessed when Chuck and Bonnie suggested we go to Allegany State Park in western New York to check out some mountain bike trails on the tandem that we would still be at it 20 years later? That first year was “interesting.” We got there first and got a campsite. They showed up well after dark, which was long after the skunk walked through…. we sat quietly and let him wander. It was a cold night, but the next day we rode the XC ski trails and decided it was a great spot, let’s do it again, and so the Fall Allegany Rally for Tandems (FART) was born!The following few years we booked 3-4 cabins with only a wood stove for heat, running water outside and pit toilets within walking distance. Nevertheless, we had several couples attending every year. Then we found out about Camp Allegany…….kind of like a boy scout camp with a mess hall and barracks with room to sleep up to 80 people if we wanted to sleep 5 to a room! Perfect! Since we didn’t have that many people, each team could have a room all to themselves to sprawl and be right at the trailhead for the rides. Never mind we were at the BOTTOM of the trails. That was actually better than being at the top and having to climb to get back after riding all day, plus it was usually a bit chilly in the morning so a good way to warm up.
Over the years, the event slowly grew with a core group attending every year, picking up some new folks along the way. Since this year was our 20th anniversary, I asked the park manager if we could possibly have the long Columbus Day weekend, which is also the Canadian Thanksgiving. For several years now the Canadians have been outnumbering us in attendance so it seemed the right thing to do. The long weekend is very popular and difficult to reserve but we scored it this year! We were hoping it would be sort of a reunion of some of the folks that hadn’t attended in a few years. We were also hoping the fall foliage would be peak and it was very nice… maybe just a bit past, but still pretty.
We arrived first as always to pick up the keys to the buildings on Friday afternoon. Mike, Natalie and Nicole came soon afterwards followed by Mark and Lynn. While we were eating dinner a van/motorhome rolled in that looked very familiar but John and Arienne had said they couldn’t make it. We were absolutely thrilled to see them step out of the van …they were back after a 6 year hiatus due to some serious health issues for both of them! So now the Canadians once again were going to outnumber us! Soon after their arrival Anthony, Lorraine, Katy and Chris, Dave, Vanessa, Owain and Maeve, and Rob, Teo and Jean-Benoit (JB) came in. Sylvie couldn’t make it this year and we missed her. It had been a gorgeous day and was a very nice night so most of us found our lights and went for a spin around the lake. Shortly after we got back, Chuck and Bonnie came in. At any rate, the only ones missing now were Rob and Monique.
Saturday morning dawned sunny and pleasant. Up the hill we went, 10 tandems and one single bike, with almost everyone opting for the Snow Snake trail, the most difficult of the three trails to the top. Mark and Lynn were shamed into climbing Snow Snake by Arienne and John, she just coming off 5 months of chemo and John having recently been treated for a very severe case of Lyme disease, then Lynn could do it being 20 years younger ..…. and they did! Even the kids climbed it on the back of the tandem with mom or dad.Less than a mile into the climb, Dave kept breaking his timing chain. Natalie rode back to the camp to get a spare chain Anthony had in the car, however it didn’t work. In the meantime, Dave managed to get the chain back together and it lasted until the final descent later that day. Lunch was at Stone Tower with a wonderful view of the mountains and fall foliage. From there, the group split into smaller groups each opting for a different return route. There were a lot of leaves down but the trails were in excellent condition otherwise.
Anthony told us the WNYMBA guys (Western New York Mountain Bike Association) were in the process of building a 3 mile single track trail paralleling Ridge Run. He had worked on it a few weeks prior (thanks WNYMBA and Anthony) and didn’t know how far they had gotten with the project since then, but did we want to check it out? Several of us decided “why not?” Six tandems headed for an “adventure” ride, and an adventure it was! The first third of the trail was fantastic…. a few turns were tight but most of it was actually tandem friendly. The second third of the trail was marked, but had a lot of blow down that hadn’t been cleared yet so we spent a good part of it walking and hauling the bikes over downed trees. Just about the time it looked like you could ride for a bit, there was another big tree down that we had to climb over. And perhaps you can guess where the rest of this story is going – the last third was unmarked, the flags and markers just stopped!!!!!!… Now what?
We were already 2/3rds of the way into this trail. Our options were over the blow downs again, back the way we came, or keep going. It was already 2:30 in the afternoon and we had taken over an hour to get where we were, not to mention the turkey in the oven back at camp, our Thanksgiving dinner. Brian had his iPhone with topo lines and could see where Ridge Run was. We were very close but just didn’t know how to get to it. Anthony started down a hill towards where he thought it was but couldn’t find anything so Brian took his phone and headed in a slightly different direction and after about 1/2 hour eventually found the trail. While he was gone, we decided whatever we were going to do, we HAD to stay together. But those three words “I found it” were music to our ears. We grabbed the bikes and started pushing them down the hill toward his voice. We just had to go through the stinging nettles and up a steep ravine to get to him. Thank goodness Brian’s phone battery didn’t run out! A bit scary to trailblaze this year, but the trail will be wonderful when it is finished. We are looking forward to riding it then. While riding down Ridge Run trail, we encountered Rob and Monique who had arrived earlier in the afternoon coming the other way. Our group was now complete.Dinner back at Camp Allegany was awesome with all the Thanksgiving fixings and more! We even had a Turducken, a turkey stuffed with rolled-up chicken and duck breast. I guess it’s for folks who can’t make up their mind what they want for dinner. It was good though. It was also Chuck’s 60th birthday so Bonnie surprised him with a cake which was also decorated for FART’s anniversary. Thanks Bonnie! Now that everyone was stuffed, no one wanted to ride up to the summit for the night ride down Patterson trail, opting instead to ride around the lake. When we got back, those that didn’t ride had a bonfire started. Sunday Mike, Natalie and Nicole had to leave as did Chuck and Bonnie. It was a bit on the gloomy side, but the rain held off until dinnertime. The rest of us decided to check out some abandoned roads on Indian reservation land in adjacent Salamanca NY. After climbing up almost to Stone Tower, we rode down an abandoned park road to get into town. From there it was flat. Once out of town and onto the abandoned roads we encountered a number of large puddles on the dirt roads, some of which were quite deep. We were able to ride around many of the puddles but some we had no choice but to ride through. The kids wanted to go to Thunder Rocks after our ride and climb the glacial erratic rocks there so we headed back to the park. Rob and Monique who left later than the rest of us, met us as we finished up lunch. They had broken their freewheel, and ended up walking for miles before snagging a ride back to the park from a guy with a pickup truck.
The rain stopped after dinner so a few of us decided on the traditional ride up to the summit. Since it had been raining, most didn’t want to ride down the trail in the wet leaves and dark so John and Arienne along with us, and Mark and Rob on singles rode UP Patterson trail, something we had never done in the dark, having always come down it. Anthony, Katy and Chris rode up the road instead. About half way up the trail it started to rain harder and harder. It wasn’t too noticeable in the woods, but they said it was pouring on the climb up the road. We met them at the top and even though we left at the same time, they made it down the trail faster than we did on the road. Rob’s light died part way down the hill so we had to stop so he could borrow a light from John which probably explains why we got back after them. It was very foggy at the top and made for a very spooky ride downhill. So much for a campfire tonight.
Monday we woke to rain. Rob and the boys headed home, Rob and Monique were going to borrow a rear wheel from someone so they could ride but decided to go home instead while the rest of us headed up a paved park road to ride a dirt road back down. It would be a short ride so we could be back to have lunch (leftovers), clean up and head out by 3pm. With all the rain the night before, the dirt road was quite muddy. Brian could hardly see out his glasses, there was so much mud spray.But we had a wonderful weekend. Other than a timing chain that repeatedly broke, and a broken freewheel, there were only a few scrapes and bruises to deal with. Most of the time there were 6-8 tandems on each ride along with 1-2 singles. There was a lot of pedal swapping, handlebar adjusting and captain swapping as stoker kids were fitted to different captains depending on who was riding what. When Rob asked JB what were his favorite 3 things about the weekend, he answered without hesitation “the first day, the second day and the third day!” How cool is that?
We always seem to eat more than we ride, this is my favorite bike weekend of the year. This year we had great weather, great riding, great food and best of all ……GREAT company. Everyone helps with clean up and what looks like an impossible chore after dinner is done in no time. Thanks to everyone for helping, even the kids! They are awesome riders and a joy to be around. Hopefully next year Rob and Monique will get to ride the entire weekend, Dave won’t be breaking a timing chain, the new single track trail will be rideable and the weather will again cooperate. Maybe we will see you there?