Sunday, July 17, 2011

Burke for Breakfast

My weekends are booked into September. I was really jones'n to ride the Northeast Kingdom trails (NEK). I had a small window of opportunity early on Saturday. Early meant leaving the house before 6am. I don't like getting up that early even to race. A perfect day was on tap, so I managed to drag my sorry carcass out of bed. It's getting harder to find takers for MTB day trips. One riding buddy has become more infatuated with rowing than riding these days. He says the same about me and running, so I guess we're even. I headed up solo.

I reached East Burke at 8:30am. There were three other cars in the parking lot. The pass was $15! I almost didn't notice at first. That is what you expect to pay for premium grooming XC ski trails, where expensive machines and fuel till the trails 1-2 times per day. Off-road riding in Vermont has typically been a pay-to-play deal. This is changing, however, as the Green Mountain National Forest Service is warming up to the mountain biking community and entering into partnerships to build and maintain trails for mountain biking. National forest land in most other states is open to mountain biking unless posted otherwise. In Vermont, it is closed unless posted open to riding. There are still very few off-road riding opportunities on public land in Vermont, a state with vast national forest land. Thus the popularity of places like Kingdom Trails or Millstone, where you pay to ride. It is a bit ironic that snowmobiles pretty much have free-range of the Green Mountain National Forest in winter months. While they don't disturb the soil, snow machines are heavy air polluters.

I had a business agenda for the first part of my ride. With a couple hillclimb races coming up, I wanted to hit Burke Mtn hard all the way to the summit. You can ride singletrack up the first half now. The trail called Burnham Down was claimed to be muddy due to recent rain. I found it to be not bad at all. Interestingly, the sign at the bottom says "Burnham Up." I much prefer burning up this trail, which is quite steep at first but totally doable.

Camptown trail continues the climb. It switchbacks parallel to the road to the summit. Why is it I always see cars and trucks loaded with guys and bikes going up, but empty trucks with a girl driving down? I have some vertical credits to sell if anybody has a guilty conscious for not earning their vert...

The last 1.5mi to the summit is a paved sufferfest. 15-25% grade, 28 lb dualie, 12 lb Camelback and 28 psi in the tires. My heavy Camelback nearly had me wheelying over backwards on the 0.2mi of 25% grade.

Burke Mtn from Magill Fields.
Waist deep wildflowers and 100 bees per cubic foot

Climbing, I noticed a new wind farm in the distance. Wow, northern Vermont finally made this happen. There has been resistance against wind farms for years. All kinds of reasons were given, but it really boiled down to "not in my pristine backyard." Vermonters like their green ridgelines. For a state that claims to be progressive, it is a bit hypocritical to shun an energy source as green as wind. Humans have been harvesting wind power for about two millennia now. The Dutch mastered wind power many hundreds of years ago to grind grain and pump water (since a lot of their land is below sea level). My hometown Holland, MI has a 250 year old dutch windmill. I've toured it. The massive timber frame construction is a marvel.

Look closely for windmills on ridgeline to left

With the business part of the ride completed, I bombed down all the Moose Alley stuff, then headed over to the Darling Hill trail system. I rode for two hours before I saw another rider on the trails. Satisfying yet creepy. My last close encounter with a bear was at NEK. I hit all my favorites - Coronary, Tap and Die, Sidewinder, Rim and Kitchel. You cannot bomb Sidewinder without letting out a yelp. It takes all my might to not grab a fistful of brake as gravity pulls you into the bottom of the gully each time. There's almost a moment of weightlessness as your arc goes from skyward to earthward. At the end, I paused briefly. A kid in full downhill gear stopped to raise his seat 6" and commented it was now time for the "big climb." See the profile to put this "big" climb into perspective.

The Ridge/Rim/East Branch descent is underated. One of my favorites.
Here is a switchback after Rim pops out on East Branch

I completed my planned route more quickly than anticipated, so I wandered over to the town forest trails. It is a small beginner network without much climbing. A log stunt in there was anything but beginner! I probably wouldn't even try it with spotters.

Massive log stunt in the town forest

All the parking lots were full when I got back.  A nice touch NEK has added this season are coin operated showers by the parking lot. While dipping in the river is nice, a real shower is even nicer when you are driving directly to an evening engagement with the wife without going home first.

This was one of my better rides at NEK. I covered 35.4mi with 5000ft of climbing in 4.3hrs. You do get a lot for your $15 trail pass. The trails are meticulously maintained. Problem areas are continually being addressed. For example, many new spans of bridge and rock armoring have been added to Burnham Up. Without this, there would have been several mud slog hike-a-bikes. You get a good map and accurate signage. Where else can you ride 4-5hrs or more and not even see anything twice? I don't think $15 would get in the way of me continuing to ride there. Gas to get up there and back costs much more than $15. Many NH state parks charge admission fees too, although much lower at $4 per person. Hopefully this holds me up until this fall when I can get back up there.


Alby King said...

Showers? Awesome! Can't wait to hook up with my VT peeps this fall. Good times.

Totally with you on the "earn your DH" philosophy. But the truck driving babes were hot - yes? That's gotta count for something.

Mookie said...

We should get a group together for a weekend up there this fall after all this racing nonsense is over.

Peterdbikes said...

Nice ride. Always a fun time.

CB2 said...

How many coins to get clean?

Hill Junkie said...

Four quarters buys you five minutes. You can add a minute per quarter after that. Beeper goes off minute before water stops. Felt like my car at a manual car wash.