“There is nothing, absolutely nothing, quite so worthwhile as simply messing about on bicycles.”
– Tom Kunich
It is no secret that the Adirondacks are a mountain biking paradise. Anyone who has ridden here knows you are not going to find the smooth, velvety machine-made trails that are so common to other mountain biking destinations, and that is the beauty of this region. These trails are old-school, rugged, and make you earn every pedal stroke. One of the most sought after rugged trails in the area is Poor Man’s Downhill in Wilmington, NY. Don’t let the name fool you: Poor Man’s Downhill is anything but. If fun is worth its weight in gold, this trail is one of the richest in town.
What goes down ... keeps going down
Just as the name promises, this trail is downhill — a drop of over 1,300 vertical feet in just over three miles, in case you were curious. Be warned: this trail is as opposite of “flowy” as it could possibly get. Appropriate adjectives for PMD include “bumpy,” “rocky,” “chunky,” “boudlery,” “brain-shaking,” and “teeth-chattering.” In fact, a more fitting name for this trail would be “Poor Hands Downhill.” Between the endless vibrations from your bike rolling over the terrain and the frequent use of your breaks (for those of us who believe in using breaks during a descent like this, myself included), your hands will be doing most of the work. Fear not — this trail absolutely offers the ability to stop at any point and shake those tired hand muscles out before getting back at it. Bonus: you’ll be back up to speed in no time!
Poor Man’s Downhill is as easy as 1, 2, 3!
PMD is broken up into three sections: the “upper-upper,” the “middle-upper,” and the “lower.”
The “upper-upper” is, by definition, the most technical part of the trail. But since you and your hands will be feeling their best, this section is a breeze. However, the “upper-upper” tends to be especially slick in the early season or just after rainfall. On these days, you may be better off starting at the “middle-upper” and enjoying a safer ride, one that is still challenging and a blast. But for those who get to enjoy PMD from the tippy top, “upper-upper” ends when the trail intersects a road. Make a right onto the road and take the immediate left onto the next trailhead. This point is the start of the “middle-upper.”
The “middle-upper” is a party from end to end. However, do be careful early on. Shortly after crossing the road from the “upper-upper,” riders will encounter a couple water drains dug out across the trail. If this were a flat trail, these dugouts would hardly be worth mentioning. But the speeds you can hit on PMD combined with the steep grade of the descent can cause issues for many riders who are not expecting the water drainages. Proceed with caution, ride within your ability level, and then enjoy the rest of your descent to the “lower” section of PMD.
The “lower” has a handful of short, noticeably rockier sections than the upper two portions of PMD, but with a little maneuvering, you will be past them before you know it and back up to speed. This section is the most challenging simply due to fatigue alone, particularly in your hands. But once you pop out into the parking lot, you will want to come back for more.
A gem for local riders
It's hard to be a local rider without having descended Poor Man's Downhill. While this trail admittedly has a bit of a "been there, done that" feel in the local community, the shuttle opportunities at PMD are a rare treat. "PMD is the only shuttle-able downhill trail in the ADK region," said Jaime McGiver, a board member for the Barkeater Trails Alliance and Lake Placid local. "Your buddy can drop you at the top so you can descend over three miles without having to pedal uphill. With the addition of two new trails, Bear Claw and Gulo Gulo, you can connect some big, varied rides via PMD in the Flume network."
In addition to getting dropped off at the top of PMD by a friend, the town of Wilmington at times provides a shuttle system for "Downhill Shuttle Days" in which riders can get an afternoon of unlimited shuttles to the top of PMD for $5. When the shuttle first began, it was offered much more consistently throughout the summer. McGiver says the shuttle access allowed PMD to become more popular, "partially for the social scene and also for the fast three-plus mile run to the bottom." Please keep in mind that the shuttle is not always running, though; riders should check with the town of Wilmington before making plans that involve the town shuttle.
What goes up ... keeps going up
Although it is best known for its downhill fun, there are many riders who opt to earn the descent by first climbing up PMD. When I asked Shannon Brown of Cato, NY why he prefers to climb PMD, his answer was simple: “Why do some birds walk when they can fly?”
“Most of the time I go up the mountain is because I am training for a race,” he said. "I am more of a cross-country style mountain biker than a downhill MTB'er. That said, it is equally fun to push your limits in both directions.”
For those he refers to as the “real masochists,” Brown offers an optional route to add more climbing to your day. “When you reach the top, keep climbing over to the Cooper Kiln trailhead and you can add another five miles of trail that dumps out on Bonnieview and will bring you into Wilmington. I will warn you that Cooper Kiln is a lot of hike-a-bike — really challenging and not for everyone. Be prepared for a lot of effort and occasionally asking yourself, ‘What the hell am I doing when there are so many really awesome trails at Hardy and Flume?’ All that said, normally I would just turn around and enjoy what I just came up.”
The old school technical style is what draws Brown to PMD. “There are no berms to carry your speed like more modern downhill trails,” he said. “This is old school at its best. Having this trail just adds more variety for what is quickly becoming one of the best areas to mountain bike in NYS.”
Fun for the whole family (if your family #shreds)
My introduction to mountain biking came from the Turner family, my dear friends from Fulton, NY. The parents, Russ and Karen Turner, developed a life-long love for outdoor recreation which they have instilled in their three sons, Elijah (age 16), Caleb (age 13), and Heath (age 9). The boys have each been mountain biking since they were young, and all three have taken on some of the more technical trails in Wilmington and Lake Placid. Poor Man’s Downhill is no exception, with four of the five Turners having PMD checked off and Heath chomping at the bit to add his name to that list.
“Riding with my boys, watching their confidence and skills grow with every ride down PMD is pure joy,” said Russ. “I’m grateful to be able to share my passion for riding with them.” PMD is a trail Russ enjoys on a personal level. “It’s one ride where I don’t get distracted by my thoughts. I enjoy the challenge of riding fast while focusing on the line to take. It keeps me ‘in the moment.’”
Elijah, the oldest of the three boys, has been riding Poor Man’s Downhill for three years. He feels his experience on this particular trail has made him a stronger rider overall. “Ever since I first rode PMD, I’ve been able to choose better lines and have more control of my bike,” he said. “Just knowing my physical capabilities and riding PMD has helped to give me more courage to hit bigger drops, ride faster, and know who I am as a rider in general.”
Caleb, the middle child of the three, just started his first season of descending PMD this past year. “Being able to ride PMD feels like a huge step forward,” he said. “I was never confident on steep downhills. Moments before my first time down PMD, I was nervous. But after I got to the bottom, I wanted to go back up. I feel that it has improved my downhill confidence a lot and would 100% recommend it.”
Both Elijah and Caleb volunteered to be personal tour guides for their mother, Karen, and I as we joined forces for our first-ever descent down PMD this year’s Wilmington Mountain Bike Festival. We had been warned by family and friends of how steep the descent was, so much so that we were practically expecting a waterslide rather than a trail by the time we reached the trailhead. Russ and Heath shuttled us up to the top with their car, Caleb and Elijah led the way as our PMD guides, and before we knew it, our names were added to the unofficial list of cool kids who have descended this iconic trail.
“I think the hype of PMD was way more intimidating than actually riding it,” said Karen. "I was so happy that I rode it, and it was the boys that gave me the confidence to know that I could ride it. First time down, I followed Caleb. Both boys stopped at certain intersections of the trail just to make sure I was okay and didn’t miss a turn. Kind of interesting role reversal of taking care of mom! It was so great watching the boys ride within their limits and making smart choices going down. It made me proud to know they also think of safety. As for me — it was a lot of fun.”
Heath, the youngest of the three boys, can’t wait to try PMD with the rest of the family. “I’m excited because I love downhills and love going fast. I love All In (a popular trail in the Hardy trail network) but brake a lot because I’d rather be safe. With PMD, I want to keep a steady pace and just enjoy the ride! Seeing all my family members do it makes me jealous, and I really want to try it out!” Something tells me the whole Turner clan will be descending PMD in full force by this time next year!
So the next time you bring your trusty steed to the Whiteface Region, make sure to get a lap or two (or five) down PMD! Have a full PMD day by grabbing a bite and a pint at Pourman's Taphouse. If you go on the right day, you may catch some live tunes. Want a grab-and-go bite? Grab a sandwich at the Little Supermarket. Just up for dessert? Treat yourself to some sweets at Adirondack Chocolates or enjoy a Rootbeer Float at A&W. Happy shredding!