Thursday, August 2, 2012

Vermont 2012, Part 3

Kingdom Trails, East Burke, VT

Before I get to the last part of the Vermont trip, I have been reading a bunch of other recaps and watching some of the great videos over on cyclingdirt.org and one thing I've seen is that a lot of folks came to VT with a relatively light gear. In fact, the first person I spoke to at the start specifically mentioned choosing a nice easy gear for the ride. I actually went the other way - for most of the season, I've been riding a 32:20 but opted to go 32:18 in VT. I wondered if it was really a good idea given that the ride was specifically on a mountain, but I actually prefer the 18 in general, so I decided to give it a shot. Since pretty much all my races have been endurance length this year, I spent most of the season on the 20 just for sake of still having some legs after 5 or 6 hours in the saddle. Since SSUSA was going to be at most a 30 mile ride, I figured I'd be fine with the 18. And I guess it was okay in the end. There were definitely a few spots when I thought that I'd made a mistake (the first climb alone had me wondering what I'd gotten myself into), but by the end of the day I think I was happy with the choice. Anyway, I'd heard so many different folks mention going with an easier gear that it seemed worth mentioning.

Part 3 - Kingdom Come

On to East Burke ...

I woke up Sunday morning around 7:30 and took my time getting all packed up. Before leaving, I went to breakfast at the cafe next to the hotel. I was looking forward to riding up in the Northeast Kingdom, but I have to admit I wasn't in any hurry to leave Stowe. The few days I'd spent there were fantastic and  I knew that SSUSA would officially be over once I left. As I was sitting in the cafe eating breakfast, I saw a few cars loaded with singlespeeds heading out of town.

Eventually, though, it was my time to get going as well. I headed back to Route 89. My plan was to drive up Route 2 from Montpelier. The sky was threatening most of the way, but then again it had been threatening pretty much since I'd arrived in Vermont, so I wasn't going to let that stop me. The drive took a little over an hour - it's actually a very easy trip.

I didn't know how much hunting around I'd have to do to find the trails, but when I arrived in East Burke, it was quickly apparent where I had to go. Everything in the area around the trail office is all about bikes and there were probably a hundred other riders riding around all told. In fact, I started to wonder if it would be too crowded out there -- at the time I really didn't have a feel for just how large the place really is.

I stopped into the office to buy my daily permit and, as per the advice I got from a few folks in Stowe, asked for "the maximum flow ride off Darling Hill". The guy in the office knew exactly where to send me, and mapped it out for me so I was off.

I had one misfire early - my front tire flatted on Coronary and when I went to replace it, I realized that my spare, which had been in my bag for over a month, had a tear in it as well. So I had to put the slow-leaking tube back in and ride back to my car to get an replacement. That meant another climb up Darling Hill. After the ride the day before, I wasn't all that excited about climbing, so that kind of sucked. But once I got going again, everything fell into place.

Kingdom Trails is everything it's been advertised to be. I can't even describe the flow of the trails there. For anyone from down in the PA region, just imagine Raystown - but with less climbing and more miles. I wouldn't say it's better than Raystown, but it is bigger and, if you add in the downhill sections (which I never rode) it certainly has more styles of riding available. I rode a whole bunch of trails, but a few really stuck out for me. Far and away my favorite was Sidewinder. I attached a video below, but it really doesn't do it justice. It's just this insane rolling berm-to-berm trail that allows you to just let loose and fly. Other than that, I would have to say my favorite was Rim Trail on the East Branch of the Darling Hill section. The trail is a narrow bench-cut trail that runs along a ridge the drops off severely to one side.

One view from the Rim Trail drop-off

A few other gems would be Tap-n-Die and Troll Stroll. All of these trails are super flowy and fast - the perfect antidote for tired legs after a ride like SSUSA. For that matter, almost any trail I rode on Sunday could probably be characterized the same way -- the Web trail winds through pine forest at ridiculous speeds and all you have to do is just steer to avoid trees. Just forget you even have brakes.

Winding through Web
I put together a video of a few choice sections of the ride, but you really need to experience this place for yourself. It's a long drive, but the payoff is more than worth the windshield time. I couldn't have asked for a better way to end one of the best weekends I've ever had on a bike.



After I finished my ride at Kingdom, I was wiped out. It was time to head home. I had made a decision that I wouldn't do the drive straight through, so I planned to drive to Newburgh, NY on Sunday night and then finish the drive Monday morning. It was a good plan -- as tired as I was, eight hours would have been brutal. 

As I was driving down Route 91 headed for home, I was beat but also really happy. My weekend in Vermont couldn't have been better - hanging out with good friends, making new ones, having a super fun ride through some incredible trails around Stowe mountain and up in Kingdom, and the great pre- and post-parties for SSUSA. I really couldn't ask for more. I'm now four days past my ride in Kingdom and I'm still riding a high. Next year's SSUSA is going to be in Minnesota and based on my experiences last weekend, I'll be making every effort to make it out there. And I would advise anyone else who can to do the same! Huge thanks to the great folks from VTMTB and Five Hills Bikes for putting on one of the best events I've ever been a part of!

I've only got one more race scheduled for the summer -- this weekend, I'll be at the Darkhorse 40 at Stewart in NY. No big plans beyond that until November's Cathedral Pines race. And after taking part in a "race" like SSUSA where it was less about how you finished and more about how much fun you could pack into the ride, I think that's right about where I want to be now. This weekend was what riding should be, and I'll be happy to carry the attitude of SSUSA forward through the summer and beyond! 

See you on the trails!

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