Sunday, September 21, 2008

Northeast Kingdom Rant

Having scratched my racing itch Saturday (report forthcoming), I decided on a whim to head up to the Kingdom Trails Sunday. There are only a few good weekends left to ride the best trail system within a thousand miles of here before it closes for the winter. I went up solo, getting to East Burke at 10am. It was cold and dreary, but dry. The parking lot was nearly full already, mostly Quebec plates, but a lot of Mass and NH plates too.

In Hill Junkie tradition, all good MTB rides start with a brisk climb to "open" the legs. At the Northeast Kingdom, this means summitting Burke Mtn before getting to the meat and potatoes of the ride. To my dismay, there was a constant stream of fully laden cars heading up Mountain Rd. Odd, I thought, as folks that stay at the campground would already be up there for the weekend. But many of the same cars were coming back down empty except for the driver. As I passed Upper Dead Moose Alley trail head, it became clear what was going on. Girlfriends or wives were dropping the guys (and some gals) off half way up Burke to start their ride. This is all of what, maybe 1000ft gain from town? It appears a lot of mountain bikers are gravity challenged.

So while I was anticipating a quiet, clean ride to the summit of Burke this Sunday morning, I had to endure a noisy caravan of vehicles, exhaust fumes and stinky brakes for the first two miles. Once I got past the drop-off point, I never encountered another vehicle.

Riders should earn their vertical. Not doing so is admitting defeat. Might as well stay on the sofa and watch Kranked DVDs while sucking down Bud. So here's my proposal to the girlfriends, wives and significant others carting your gravity challenged bretheren up. The next time you hit the Kingdom Trails, drop everyone off in the village. Then drive to the summit of Burke and leave the car there. Heck, if you ride too, bomb on down the toll road to join them. I bet you'll be waiting a while though. Then after 4-5 hours of riding, it's time to pay penance. The car is at the top, and that is where everyone's ride will end. Do this once for each time unearned gravity was taken. 'Nough said.

When I reached the summit, it was completely socked in with clouds, and it was so cold you could see your breath. All I had for layers was a soaking wet wind breaker. I froze on the descent. I bombed into the Moose Alley trail system. I was not nearly as successful at cleaning everything as a couple weeks ago. It was just a tad greasier in the woods than last time, but not really muddy. After finishing all of the stuff with "Moose" in the name, I went north on Rt 114. I had heard rumors of a "secret" climb out that way to the summit of East Mountain. It gains more vertical than Burke, but not as steeply.

Radar Rd. Pretty, eh?

The road to the summit is called Radar Rd. It is named so because there used to be a large radar installation at the summit. It was disassembled and abandoned decades ago after the cold war ended. All that is left now is a deteriorating one lane asphalt road and massive concrete and steel platforms that once supported radars. The climb gains about 1200ft in the first few miles cresting the East Haven Range. Then you lose 500ft of that gain before the real climbing begins. Large portions of the asphalt have completely deteriorated or washed out. The climb would not be suitable for road bikes. Cross bikes with some decent tires, certainly. The last two miles of the climb average nearly 11% grade. Above the upper gate, the pavement is quite good. The section through the switchbacks nearly killed me, having raced the day before and drilled Burke first thing in the morning. I had brought only about 70 ounces of fluid, a Gu and a Clif Bar with me thinking I'd be back to my car in three hours. It was three hours and counting before I even reached the summit of this beast. On the way up, a pair of enduro style motorcycles passed me. Not sure where they cut in, as there were gates further down.

One of the not so nice parts.

When I started this climb, the summit was buried in clouds. By the time I reached the top, the sun was coming out. How sweet. There wasn't as much of a view as I hoped for up top, as the trees have pretty much regained the summit area. I'm sure it was open a few decades ago. The structures all had asbestos warning signs on them. You could see the asbestos hanging from ducts and other places. Generally the stuff isn't too dangerous unless you disturb it to release fibers into the air.

The descent was nice. It was just warm enough now I didn't completely freeze. It was 10 miles back to Rt 114, but there was that pesky 500 footer half way down to deal with. Was glad to have the wind to my back on 114, as I was beyond bonk stage. Out of water for an hour and counting, and no food. I still was going to end my ride in tradition though. I could have just taken 114 back to town, but no. I popped onto White School trail, hit Nose Dive, then followed the river and cornfield. Crossing over next road, I continued on White School, then climbed to Darling Hill to pick up top of Kitchel. It is such a fun trail to finish a ride on, and it pops out right in the village.

Summit structures.

All together, I logged about 43.5 miles and upwards of 8000ft of climbing in 4.4hrs riding time. Hoping to get up there one more time before the season ends. Once the snow comes, pilgrimages to the Cape will satiate the desire for dirt.


plum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
plum said...

I love the rant. Amen brother - earn your vertical. The pictures are fantastic too. Very cool day.

Anonymous said...

Nice photographs. And after reading a lot of your blog, and recently a book by Ned Overend, I'm thinking that mountain biking might be almost as much fun as road riding.