Friday, August 6, 2010

Best of NEK

Dave and I both having Fridays off, we planned a trek north to hit the Northeast Kingdom trails of Vermont on Friday. Conditions were less than ideal. The area got drenched with 5" of rain during the week, my favorite trails on Burke Mountain were closed, and there was a moderate chance of rain on Friday. We had a work around plan. We would do the mostly dirt climb to the summit of East Mountain first, which would take 2-3 hours, then hit the Darling Hill trail system, which was open.

It was much warmer than we expected when we got there. The sun was coming out. Things were looking positive. Then we scored a major bonus. The trails director said he was opening the Burke Mountain trail system. We were probably the first to be told. Reports coming back said the trails were drying out nicely. And NEK just put a video up on their website stating the Burke trails would be closed all weekend. So scratch a dirt road mountain climb. We were hitting singletrack.

There are many opportunities to ride beyond your abilities at NEK. The trails have that magical flow that beg for speed. Throw in moist roots and rocks, you could easily fold yourself around a tree. I still haven't gained enough confidence to ride at the level of risk I used to before breaking my ankle. This is why I picked up a lace-up ankle support. I got a fairly stout one. If I had to dismount over the bars, I wanted to be sure it was nearly impossible to roll my recovering ankle. I think I need the ankle support more as a psychological support than physical ankle support. It worked.

Pain Cave Dave put the hurts on me good climbing up the new Burnham Down trail. I think it is intended as a downhill run for those that shuttle up to the summit, you know, the gravity challenged set. It is a two way trail, however. It climbs marvelously. It provides a nice singletrack route to the top side of Moose Alley trails, where I typically hammered pavement in the past. There was an occasional mud puddle here and there, but the trails were firm and dry for the most part. I've ridden here before when there wasn't a recent closure and conditions were much sloppier.

Once half way up Burke Mountain, we began the miles and miles of Moose Alley trails back down. This is my favorite stuff to ride at NEK. Great flow, minimal work, and insane speed in good conditions. Every now and then, dark clouds would move through, we'd feel a couple drops, then the sun would come out again. As long as this pattern held, we'd be all set. Our goal was to ride about 5 hours/50 miles.

Summit of Burke part way down Moose Alley trails.

After finishing up Burke Mtn trails, we took White School/Nose Dive back to the village center to top off water. Then it was off to the massive Darling Hill trail system.

There are several must-hit trails in the Darling Hill system. These are Coronary Bypass, Tap-and-Die, Sidewinder and others. We were picking these off at a furious pace. Having about three hours in the legs, I was beginning to lose contact with Pain Cave Dave on the climbs and some of the hairy bits. I'm keenly aware now that mishaps happen when you are tired and bike handling becomes sloppy. Some of these trails, like Pasture Point, throw nothing but non-stop roots at you. Your tires don't even touch dirt in spots. This takes a toll and takes focus.

After finishing Old Webb's, the skies grew wicked dark and opened up on us. The temperature plummeted. This killed Dave's buzz, riding a new Yeti and all, but I secretly thought "score!", saved by the rain. We were about as far from the car as you can get on the trails. We worked our way back on the mostly doubletrack VAST trail. Of course, you can't ride past Kitchel without bombing it. The 20 minute deluge was actually petering out by the time we got there, so we headed down. Neither of us doubled any of the doubles or cleared any of the table tops. I never would. Dave might have, had the surface not been juicified.

Back in the village, there is now a prominent sign stating no bike washing in river. I guess that really makes environmental sense, although there was nary a microgram of lube left on our drivetrains. We could take buckets of water up with brushes provided by East Burke Sports to clean our bikes in the grass. Laying down in the river to degunk the bodies was nice though.

We no more than packed up the bikes and the sun came back out. Bummer. At least I would make my physical therapy appointment now. We logged about 32 miles in 3.6hrs riding time. It was mostly black diamond singletrack. Even though the rain cut our ride short, we hit all the stuff we went there for. It was well worth it. More importantly, I've nearly lost my mental handicap riding greasy, technical terrain.  This was the first time I rode at NEK without summitting one of the big mountains there. Slacking off in my old age.


Anonymous said...

Doug: We were up there for the first time on Fri-Sun coincidentally to bike and hike - great trail system...the Burke TR even a bit steeper than i had expected - I rode up another big climb just to the NE - 'radar mountain' - mostly 15-20+ gradient on that one too - have you ever tried it? (looping around Burke to the south made for a nice loop with radar..)..Patrick

Hill Junkie said...

Patrick, I've been up Radar Mtn, aka East Mtn twice. Once as an out and back starting from Mountain Rd off 114, the other time as a quasi loop with Victory Rd and Mountain Rd. Interesting you bring this up, as Dave and I had planned on riding to summit of Radar Mtn Friday morning because the Burke Mtn trails were closed. We were pleasantly surprised when we were told we could go ahead and ride any trails, so we abandoned Radar Mtn plans. There are not many gated big mountain climbs in the northeast like that. The first time I did it I had the mountain to myself. A couple motorcycles went up the second time I did it.

So I'm curious how you looped it around Burke to the south. What road, and was it paved or gravel?

Anonymous said...

Doug - here's my gpsies of the route... Kirby rd around to the south - almost all gravel, mostly decent condition except some of the Kirby Mt climb was a bit more rugged. I couldn't find the main climb up Umpire Mt, but the rest was accurate. Incidentally, the section on River Rd, just post-Kirby Mt was really picturesque - wide open wetlands & river (Alaska-ish) just below grade ("Victory Wildlife mgmt area") for 6-7 miles. I didn't see anyone for many miles on Radar rd leading up to Radar Mt - felt really remote! (as you noted in your entry) Patrick

Alex said...

Ha, I was there Friday morning too! Riding considerably slower than you guys, though. Especially when solo I don't like to push things. The cold front that came through around 11am apparently dumped most of its rain to the west of there... seriously flooded rivers as I drove west from burke.