Sunday, July 12, 2015

Mad River Valley

There are new riding areas lighting up all over New England in Stava's global heat map. One such area I've been keeping an eye on and getting good press is the Mad River Valley of Vermont. The Mad River Riders have been building technical trails in the greater Waitsfield area. Saturday was just the type of weather I wanted for a trip north - minimal risk of rain and too hot in southern New England.

Continuing the theme of last weekend, I kicked the ride off with a climb to Lincoln Peak summit. I climbed adjacent Mt Ellen a year or two ago. I heard Lincoln Peak was a little more doable on a bike. There's a ski area service road that goes all the way up. I've biked up just about every ski area service road in New England. Some you can cruise right up, others turn into hike-a-bike death marches. On which end of the spectrum would this 3000+ foot climb fall?

The first 800 feet were gained on pavement. Was no picnic though. Grade quickly hit 14%. There were many sections of double-digit grades. The late morning sun was already hot and beating right down on me. I put about 70oz of water in my Camelbak, thinking that would be more than enough. I was soaked in sweat before I even got to the meaty part of the climb.

There was a steady stream of cars with DH bikes on them driving up. You know, the kind that would never be pedaled up a hill. The tiny token seats are jammed all the way down and angled back. I wondered if I would be ducking for my life every 30 seconds from these guys dropping down the mountain. As I wrapped around the bottom of the chairlift, sure enough, guys were pushing their bikes up the slightest of incline to get in the lift line.

The service road started out innocuous enough. I started feeling stoked, like this is going to be a piece of cake. But ski area service roads have a way of suckering you in like that. It kept getting steeper and steeper and steeper. Then it popped out under the same lift line of guys I was sneering at earlier just when it got impossibly steep. Great, now I had an audience. What a nut job, I'm sure they thought. I managed to keep the pedals turning. Didn't get any heckles, but I'm sure they were ready with ridicule had I spun out on the loose gravel.

I cleaned the climb to the top of the DH bike lift. I still had a thousand feet to go to the summit though in very little distance! That can't be good. The road became much looser, more like talus than gravel, and hit peak grades of over 30%. I met my match. There were two brief pitches where the road was too loose and weeds to the side too dense. I hiked.  I think with hindsight and maybe a gear lower on my 2x10 drivetrain, I could clean that upper section.

The view from the top was glorious. Several hikers were passing through, as the Long Trail runs across the ridgeline. The temperature was pleasant up top, but I blew through almost all my water on the climb! I had a lot of trail riding planned before passing by the car.

The descent sucked. I couldn't believe I actually rode up that. My brakes overheated and started squealing a death screech. I had to stop a couple times to let them cool. Near the top of the DH lift, I picked up a downhill trail called Snowball. It switchbacked across an intermediate ski run all the way down. Nearly all of the 40 or so switchbacks were bermed for speed. A couple of drops gave me pause, but everything was rollable. That was a sweet payback for the climb.

Next I linked up some trails that were both on and off the map. I had hoped to hit a large number of trails in the network below the ski area, but my water was gone as I went into the woods. This was going to have to be a direct linkage of trails back to the car kind of mission.

The one trail I had to hit was Cyclone. I envisioned a flowy, curvaceous downhill run. It was anything but. Sure, some might say it has flow. Brake hard, pedal 400 Watts, brake hard, pedal 400W, over and over. It went down, but constantly scubbing what little speed you could gain just before the next grunt up over something is not my idea of flow. For those that like the STAB trails, they would probably just love this trail. A little further down, the trail Revolution was picked up to continue the descent into the valley. Now this had flow. You could actually let go of the brakes for more than two seconds at a time and not have to pedal 400 Watts ten times a minute. It looked like parts of this trail may have been machine built.

Pulling back up to the car to replenish my water, I hear my name called out. I thought I saw Louis on I-89 heading up. Erie how we keep crossing paths in random places.

I was so dehydrated I couldn't even spit, yet my shoes were squishy with sweat. Oh the irony! I was parked by a popular swimming hole and thought about just calling it a day and join the hoards of yelling kiddies. But no, my mission wasn't complete yet. There was more riding area to check out north of town.

I had no idea what Bragg Hill Rd was about. It was south facing, the day was now in the hottest part. The road hit grades of up to 16%! It seldom dropped below 12% grade. It turned to gravel part way up but was buttery smooth. I climbed another 1100ft in two miles. A couple turns brought me to the top of a trail called Old Center Fayston. Some climbing ensued to the high point, then it was all turns and grins heading down. This was mighty fine riding, still fairly technical, but nice flow. The trail merged into another called Gumball. This was even better, perfectly formed turns with modest berms. A few places it came scary close to a precipitous drop to a stream below. Just don't look down!

All good things must come to an end. Before I knew it I was back on pavement and heading through Waitsfield back to the car. To cool down and rinse off post-ride, I headed a few miles down Rt 100 to Warren Falls, a popular local swimming hole. Some travel guide sites say if you can only visit one swimming hole in Vermont, this is the one.

It must be popular, as I had trouble find a spot to legally park along the road. Cars all over. Felt a bit awkward hiking down to the gorge. Almost everybody there was less than half my age and they weren't sporting a goofy cycling tan either. Lots of beer was being consumed, smell of weed was on the breeze, and plenty of ledge jumping craziness was going on. Oh to be 20 years old again. I spent just enough time there to rinse off and take a brief plunge. Very cool place, nice clear water with a cascade of deep pools.

I liked riding here and would make the trip again to hit more of the trails. I covered about 33mi with 5800ft of climbing in 4.5hrs.  Here are a few photos from the day.

Lincoln Peak summit

Looking up section I capitulated on. Strava says it hit 30%.

Looking down the 30% section.

From summit looking west.

From summit looking east-northeast. Ski village in center, top of downhill MTB
chairlift just visible center right (green object with dirt road to it).

From summit observation deck looking south down spine of range. Long trail runs
through here and the infamous Lincoln Gap is just below.

Snowball Trail heading down.

Gumball machine in the middle of nowhere on Gumball Trail.

On of many amazingly built turns on Gumball Trail.

Warren Falls swimming hole.

Looking down the cascade of pools. Happen to catch this just as the young kid
jumped. Note the banked walls and shallow shelf in the pool. You had to make sure
you hit the center deep spot.

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