I couldn't let one of the last great weekends of the 2010 riding season go to waste though. NEMBA Fest was going on both days at Bear Brook State Park (BB). I've read more singletrack has been built at BB. Historically, BB is my favorite local place to ride. NEMBA has added many miles of purpose built singletrack since I first started riding there over 10 years ago. The festival offered marked loops. The expert loop no doubt would showcase the new trail material. I figured I'd go there early and head out at my own, easy pace, then check out the wares at the expo after riding.
It was just cold enough to need arm warmers but just warm enough to not need knee warmers. Cars were pouring in as I rolled out just after 9am. I was surprised how dry it was there. There was zero mud. They must have substantially missed the recent rains. Even the perennial muddy spots were dry. This was awesome. In the first two hours of riding, I saw only one other rider and a bow hunter. The expert loop took me into some new areas near the campground, then around Beaver Pond Trail. The new bridges NEMBA put in were nice. The old bridges were medieval booby traps, with planks that would flip as you rode over them and huge spikes sticking up. They were that way for 10 years.
A bit more new singletrack was encountered while climbing Lynx Trail. I presume it is a bypass around a typically muddy area. This trail was little more than flagged. It had no flow (yet). I guess what better way to "build" a new trail than to mark it, then send 300 riders down it over a weekend.
Hall Mountain from the I-trail.
The route continued on the "I" Trail. This is one of my favorites at BB. Recent logging decimated parts of it, but it has been resuscitated. The loop skipped Carr Ridge Trail, but I soon learned why. A new trail has been built on Catamount. It doesn't go to the top but flanks it high up. It too was little more than flagged, often off-camber with no benching. It was a nice touch to finish the 22 mile loop with it.
Bear Brook NEMBA Fest expert loop.
Many of the big bike companies were set up at the expo with demo bikes. I was tempted to try one or two out, but I didn't want to push myself that much. Exposure Lights was there too. I talked with those guys for a while. LED lights continue to evolve at a crazy pace. Some of their 2011 lights use the new Cree X-PG LEDs, which greatly exceed the efficiency of HID lights. My Nightrider HID puts out about 50 Lumens per Watt, but the newest lights are approaching double that. Combine them with the latest Lithium Ion battery technology, you can have a blinding helmet light, self contained with the battery, for about four ounces. They are not cheap. The LEDs themselves can be purchased for about $8 in small quantities. The ballast chips are even cheaper. Wouldn't take much to build your own, but the reflector and heatsink are very important parts, so you are paying for some engineering when you buy a complete light.
I debated whether it was worthwhile heading up to the Northeast Kingdom (NEK) on Sunday. Their weekend update said it was peak color, but Monday is also a Canadian national holiday. That meant NEK would be swamped. I was feeling better, and as long as I didn't push myself too hard, I thought I could get a decent enough ride in to warrant the 5hr round trip drive.
Driving through Franconia Notch, I noticed leaf drop was nearly complete. How could NEK be at peak, even further north, but not quite as high? I also noticed Mt Lafayette was snow capped! The snow line was down below 5000ft. I hiked that with my family just last week.
There was barely space to park in East Burke. I found a spot, probably only because that group was shuttling up the mountain. Hillclimb extraordinaire Jeff Johnson was just kitting up when I got there. His posse was heading over to the Darling Hill trails on singlespeeds. NEK was running the lift for the new freeride trails this weekend. I saw lots of bikes that looked like motorcycles sans motors and lots of helmets that looked like motorcycle helmets. I toyed with the idea of taking a run down Knight Slayer, as the gap jumps did have bypasses. But I'd only be getting in other people's way. I opted to do something different from my usual this time. Instead of climbing Mtn Rd/Camptown trail and bombing all the Moose Alley stuff back down, I'd give it a try in reverse. It seems all the trails are biased in favor of the downhill set anyway, so no matter which trails you take down, it should be good. I had no idea what I was in for though.
Burke Mountain was still pretty saturated from recent rain. Its coal black, loamy soil does not perk water. A holiday weekend with hundreds of Canucks bombing trails? This rutted things out pretty badly, maximizing the depth of innumerable mud holes. Ironically, the steepest parts weren't the hardest parts. Steep stuff sheds water. The flatter parts were the most challenging, as it stayed the greasiest. In greasy conditions, this was clearly a harder way to go up than my usual. Plus, every few minutes or so, a convoy of Canucks would come bombing down. I'm pretty sure I was the only one there that didn't speak French.
I made it to the top of the open singletrack, about 2/3 of the way up Burke Mtn from the village. You can't start going down at this point. You have to finish the deed. I locked out the shocks and pointed my bike skyward. Literally. The trail pops out right at the base of the 25% grade section of the paved road. The easy sections after this are only 12% grade. For those of you who've done the hillclimb here, try this on a full-suspension mountain bike with 24psi knobby tires and a 12 pound Camelbak sometime. You'll cry.
View from part way down Burke Mtn.
Leaf drop is 80-90% complete.
Even though I worked pretty hard to reach the summit, my extremities were freezing. It couldn't have been above 40F up there. I immediately started heading back down. I had no windshell with me and my long layers were saturated. I picked up Camp Town trail part way down. This is how I normally come up. It has nice nice berms and great flow descending. The soil is sandier here, so no mud. This was more like it. Further down, I picked up Lodge Trail. It had some downhiller traffic. Wide open white knuckle stuff. It popped out at the bottom of the lift. There was a line there. So glad I didn't attempt the freeride runs.
I cut across Mtn Rd to finish my descent on Burnham Down trail. This was new last year and despite being rated double-black diamond for some reason, it makes for a great climbing trail. I think there is only one root step I can't clean climbing it. Today though, the upper portion was an absolute quagmire. The stuff would roll around your tire and pack inside the rim, only to slap you in the face anytime speed picked up. This trail pops out just east of the village on Rt 114. I had been out 2.5hrs already and covered embarrassingly little terrain, but I did net 3300ft climbing.
All my NEK rides have the "Lobster Claw" in them. This time I
rode the claw clockwise.
Having taken a beating so far, I opted for something a little less challenging to finish my ride. A loop out to the summit of Radar Mountain sounded good. It is a little pavement and a lot of gravel and one-lane forest service roads. I would need some more fuel first and went back to the car. Jeff happened to come back to refuel at the same time. Their bikes were spotless. Mine was a disgusting mess. I thought maybe I should head over to the Darling Hill side instead, but then remembered there would be hundreds of riders in those trails. While riding solo, I prefer solitude.
I forgot how big the initial climb on dirt Victory Rd was. About 1200ft. Then you give half of it back before picking up Radar Rd. The gate to Radar Rd was open. Oh-oh. This was not good. It is hunting season. I didn't have my colors. Radar Rd would no doubt be an Autobahn for Rednecks. It climbs very gradually along a stream that was moving swiftly. Lots of pretty waterfalls along the way. Only a handful of trucks passed me on the way to the next junction. I had completely forgotten how long this loop was. I told Jeff 15-20mi. It was 15mi just to the base of the steep part. I was feeling pretty cooked, nearing 4hrs moving time, dark clouds were moving in, I didn't have any hunter's orange, and you never know what "elements" you might run into out here. I decided to bag the final push to the summit and turned left instead. The Google Earth image highlights in yellow the last 1200ft of climbing to the summit that I didn't do. While I contemplated this, a couple guys in a van came down from the summit, marvelling that all the gates were open. They asked me if the way I was heading down was open. I had no idea, but doubted it, as that gate is not your typical forest service gate.
Yellow on left is out and back to Radar Mtn summit. Red is
They went that way anyway. I followed, but first I had to get over the next mountain pass, another 500ft of climbing. Once cresting, the intermittent single lane of pavement becomes more dependable and I let my speed run out. I'm hauling around this huge sweeping curve at about 30-40mph when all of a sudden, a van is coming at me at 40mph with about one second to impact. Somebody must have been watching out for me on that one. After I assessed whether my chamois was still clean, I figured the gate was locked, as I suspected. We both should've known the other was coming.
I reach the gate. There's a big truck parked in front of it on my side with the doors open. Nobody around. Hmm, kind of creepy. I know there are guys with weapons around here somewhere, but where? As I carried my bike around the gate, a pack of dogs came at me. Oh, there the hunters are, standing in the yard of the last house on the open road side of the gate. A particularly aggressive German Shepherd was getting uncomfortably close with his hair up. I don't automatically fear dogs like some people do. This one didn't particularly scare me. Do you think that any of the eight or so guys standing there in camo called him off? Nope. I'm sure they thought it was entertaining. What was I to do, throw a rock at the dog? Headlines: "Mountain biker missing in northern Vermont." Just ignore the dog, don't make eye contact with dog or hunters. Eventually one of the guys did call his dog back, but not until it started to give chase when I hopped on my bike. I could feel bark breath on my calf. Would that weird you out?
From here on it was pretty much all downhill back to East Burke. I felt somewhat defeated that I didn't summit Radar Mtn, but I did the right thing. I would have been wicked late getting back home if I had, and who knows what else could happen up there. I finished with 45 miles, 5500ft of climbing, in 4.3hrs moving time. I didn't even cough up chunks of tapioca after this ride, so I must be getting over my illness.