Sunday, October 6, 2013

Nature's Kaleidoscope

On Saturday I revisited a loop in the Upper Valley area of Vermont in hopes of riding through some color and exploring new (to me) trails. I got a little of both. I ended up riding solo, as two buddies bailed on me last minute. I don't get worked up over things like this. Heck, I even go on cycling trips by myself and ride in extremely remote areas. The Upper Valley certainly has a remote vibe to it.

I parked in Norwich and started up Bragg Hill Rd. There's a large network of trails I knew little about south of Bragg Hill Rd that locals frequently ride. Previous times I've ridden here, I've started by grinding several miles up Bragg or Beaver Meadow Rd to get to the first trail. This time I found myself on rugged singletrack much sooner.

The climbing was steep, the terrain rugged. A few dismounts were required. A deep burn in the legs was set upon reaching the ridge. The riding had a rough edge about it, but very satisfying.

A steep plummet brought me down to one of the great trails in this ride, which I believe the locals refer to as Ben's Ridge trail. It climbs a good while on tight, twisty singletrack. Never overbearing, just steady, hard work. There is a seriously steep punch as the ridge is gained.

Ben's Ridge

On the ridge, I noticed long, white slabs of wood scattered about, like 2x4 sized splinters really. To my left was a large hardwood that was utterly destroyed by lightning. Nothing was left of the tree. 20ft long shards were hanging in nearby trees. I found sections over 500ft away. Amazing, what nature can do. The tree was nearly 18" in diameter. I bet a few tons of wood exploded instantaneously.

Force of nature. Tree was about 18" in diameter. Chunks were hanging in trees all around.

Many shards were daggered into the ground

I'm a little skeptical when I meet people who claim they've been struck by lightning. When you read statistics on this, there's no separation of direct hits, secondary hits, ground current, or incidental injury from heat or flying debris. This tree was obviously a direct hit. Imagine what a direct hit could do to a 160 pound human body. Lighting freaks the shit out of me when I'm caught on a treeless ridgeline in Colorado.

After dropping down the ridge and a bit of road, the Upper Valley Dam (UVD) trail system was hit next. There is an extensive network of singletrack here that sees much more traffic than Ben's Ridge. Highly scenic in river gorges and through open meadows. Wicked climby too. Numerous punchy climbs kept the burn in the legs.

A bunch of climbing out of the valley via paved and dirt roads brought me to the final section of singletrack, the climb up Gile Mountain and the several mile ruckus descent, called Blue Ribbon. Leaf drop varied from 20-50%, so I couldn't get too carried away on unfamiliar surface. It was fun having the sofa bike on parts I could let the speed run out a bit without too much risk.

The climb up to Gile Mountain starts out multi-use, then segregates into biking and hiking trails. Hiking basically heads up the fall line, while biking meanders and crosses the hiking path a few times. Before reaching the split, I met an older couple coming down. The clothing, facial hair, body language said it all. My presence was not acceptable at all. I was getting a hefty dose of stink-eye. I smiled and said hi. If the man could have scowled any harder, his face would have cracked and bled!

I finally dared to climb all the way to the top of the fire tower on top of Gile Mountain. Many hikers were out doing the same. I don't like heights, and cleated shoes on skinny steps on a tower that moves with other human movement weirds me out. The view was good though. The reds had pretty much dropped in the area, leaving only yellows and oranges. Driving over the higher points of I-89 in NH, there was more red than yellow. Go figure.

Lookout tower on Gile Mountain

From small tower deck, Mt Monadnock in distance

Blue Ribbon Trail descent

I got back to Norwich with 45.6mi, 6600ft in 5hrs on the Garmin. Despite overcast day with threat of rain, the conditions were perfect. The temp stayed in the 60's all day and the trails were bone dry, much like for the Vermont 50 MTB race the weekend prior.  This is adventure riding at its finest. You won't find the finely manicured trails here like you find at Kingdom Trails. You will find solitude. I encountered only a few people away from trailheads all day. One of my best Vermont rides to date.

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