Friday, July 31, 2015

Northeast Capitols/Highpoints

While I was in New York to compete in Ironman Lake Placid, I took a little bit of time to tick off a few northeastern points of interest from my list. I only had so much time around the race itself, and staying in Lake Placid made it hard to get to everything still to be seen. If I had had five days just to drive around New York and New England, I could have toured 7 or 8 State Capitols and visited 3 or 4 new State Highpoints. With the time I did have, I only managed to tour the New York and Rhode Island Capitols and go to the Massachusetts and Rhode Island highpoints. I would have liked to hit the Vermont highpoint and Capitol as well, but ran out of time before my flight home. I got as high as a sub-peak of Mount Mansfield, but did not get to a point where I could claim to have completed it. Even still, I'm pleased to have knocked off highpoints numbers 44 and 45.

After traveling all day Wednesday on three flights ending in Burlington, a rental car, and a ferry across Lake Champlain, I got to my hotel in Lake Placid around 9pm. Coincidentally, it was the same hotel I stayed in back in 2009 when I climbed Mt. Marcy. It felt too early to go to bed, so I wandered town and wound up getting some ice cream for dinner/dessert. I stayed up later than I should have, doing nothing important. I did not sleep well, having trouble finding a comfortable temperature and occasional noise in the hall.
I woke up at 5:30, a few minutes before my alarm was set to go off. As I was leaving the hotel about 6, there was a beautiful sunrise over Mirror Lake out the big picture windows. I joked to the desk clerk "too bad it's not pretty here." I picked up a sandwich for breakfast at a deli on my way out of town; it wasn't great but it did the trick. With a long trip planned, I wanted to leave at 6 in order to get to Albany at 8:30 when the Capitol opened for visitors. I kind of forgot that it was a weekday and Albany is kind of a big city, so there was quite a bit of traffic. I just relied on my phone to get me through traffic as it saw fit. I wasn't quite sure where I should park, so I followed a line of cars into the Empire Plaza lot. I didn't realize the queue was nearly as long as it turned out, because the toll taker was a good ways into the structure. With a ticket stamped 8:42am and a goal of getting out before my free hour was up, I headed to the Capitol through the underground corridor. Of course everything in New York has to at least appear secure, I had to go through a metal detector to get in. They didn't make me sign in or anything, so it was hardly maximum security. I hadn't done any research on the building, although I probably took a class trip there as a kid. It's not the standard domed Capitol like so many states, I would say it's more of a mansion style. An incredibly large mansion with three grand staircases and very nice stonework throughout. I couldn't get in anywhere to get a good view of the Senate, I only managed a shot through a window in the gallery, but they do allow visitors in their ornate antechamber. The Assembly, on the other hand, I was able to go into from the dais side. There was a guard at the entrance to the Assembly wing, and he just kind of pointed to where the chamber is, there was nobody else to watch me or tell me where not to go. The door to the chamber was open, so I walked in, but only briefly to snap a few pictures. Although nothing told me I shouldn't be there, I did not feel invited (they were obviously not in session). After I hit the major points of the interior, I took a quick stroll outside. I was almost amazed I managed to find my way back to my car without having to go back into the building (and through security again) and retrace my steps. It was 9:37 by my clock when I pulled out of the parking lot, getting my $10 back.
Once my phone got me out of Albany, it was a pretty straightforward drive to Mount Greylock State Reservation, home of Massachusetts' highpoint (except I missed a turn that would have cut out a few miles, no big deal). I stopped at the visitors center before driving the 8 miles to the War Memorial at the summit. Unfortunately, the memorial is undergoing repairs and won't be open until sometime in 2016. There were quite a few people around the highpoint, quite a few who had hiked from somewhere or other. The Appalachian Trail runs right past, so some of them could have even been AT hikers. I took photos of the view, the monument, the survey marker, and of course one of myself standing in front of the monument. I decided to have some lunch at Bascom Lodge at the top, a grilled cheese sandwich. I realized that since it was already afternoon, my next stop had to be another Capitol and I only had time to either Connecticut or Rhode Island. I decided on Rhode Island and set coordinates for Providence.
The parking situation at the Rhode Island Capitol kind of pissed me off- there didn't seem to be any visitors parking lot, and while I did find a close spot on the street, it was an old fashioned coin-operated meter that didn't give any credit for the nickels and dimes I had on me. I took my chances with the little bit of time the quarters I had gave me. There was again metal detectors to get into the building, which is a traditional domed-with-wings architecture. I took kind of a quick spin through the building, it isn't really all that big. The doors to the House and Senate floors were open, with a barricade to keep people out. The galleries were both open, however. Unfortunately the battery in my real camera was dying, so I had to use my phone to take most pictures. When I had seen enough of the interior, I was frustrated again when I found the front entrance to the grand entry stairs was barred for lack of a security detail. I had to go around to the back of the building, the way I had come in, to make a full circle of the exterior and end up back at my car.
I headed west out of Providence toward Connecticut. Just before crossing the state line I arrived at Jerimoth Hill, Rhode Island's highest point. I must say it is one of the best marked highpoints I've been to (and this was my 45th). There is an official brown sign on the road pointing out the highpoint, and then the Highpointers have put up a bunch of signs on the trail that leads about 400 meters from the road. There's a little marker every 20 meters, plus ones pointing to the two survey markers. Really the only issue is that the parking area is on the opposite side of a high-speed 2-lane highway with enough traffic to be concerning. Apparently even being able to get to the highpoint is a big improvement over what it was like years ago when the land was privately owned. There was nobody around this time, so I had to balance my camera on a stick to get a picture of myself on the little bit of granite sticking a foot above the surrounding ground. Safely back across the highway, I went on my way back to Lake Placid, with a stop in Clifton Park, NY for dinner. I arrived back at my hotel at 10:30, making for a very long day and 600+ miles round trip.

On Monday, after the Ironman, I wound up getting off a little later than I had wanted. I figured I could get everything taken care of and be heading out around 9am, but once I had gotten my stuff sorted and stopped in for the morning-after breakfast, it was just before the awards banquet was starting, so I stuck around for a little bit to hear Mike Reilly congratulate everyone and give some statistics (apparently there were 199 DNFs). It was 10am when I finally got rolling out of Lake Placid, which was still crazy with Ironman traffic. When I pulled up to the ferry it was just past 11, and the boat was about 200 meters from the dock. Since I had time to kill I got an ice cream and soda at the store, and by the time I got back to the waiting area there was a small gathering of people coming from the race. We chatted and traded notes until the next ferry arrived at 11:30. There was some more time to chat on the ride across the lake, where we arrived about noon. I was ticked that even though I was the second car to arrive for the crossing, my line of cars was the last off the boat. Then my phone made the poor decision to route me through Burlington to get to Mt Mansfield. It was after 1pm when I got to the bottom of the toll road up the Stowe ski slopes (it was kind of funny to see ski run signs and the road is a green run called "Toll Road"). It took a little while to get up to the little information hut and parking area at the top. I knew it was at least something of a hike from the top of the toll road to the actual highpoint, but for some reason I hadn't expected 1.4 miles and much of any elevation gain (I had it in my mind it would be more like Arkansas). I was heading toward the trail when I started doing the math that it was about 1:45pm, the hike would take me at least an hour round-trip, I had to drive an hour back to Burlington, and I had a 4:45 flight. There was a chance I could use my trail running training, only stop at the summit for a minute, and still make it, but it seemed unwise to bet my fate on my legs the day after an Ironman. I took some photos and started back down the mountain, stopping to take some more photos from the top of a chairlift. So I went back to Burlington without bagging #46 and dreaming up ideas for coming back and hiking Mansfield in greater style.
Even after dropping off my rental car and going through security (which had decidedly small-town non-federal TSA agents, one officer was asking about my race and ended with "see you next year"), I had plenty of time for a beer and late lunch/early dinner. I stuffed my face even more on my layover in Detroit. I finally got home around 11, and took care of a few things before going to bed. Then it was back to work on Tuesday.

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