Posted by: Mark | 9 December, 2014

Global Fat Bike Day at Catamount

Global Fat Bike Day was the first in the Le Grand Fat Tour series of events.  The designated day for  Global Fat Bike Day around the world was on December 6, but that didn’t work out for things in the Burlington area.  On Friday, those in charge of such things decided that the forecasted rain wouldn’t go well with the event, so it was moved to Sunday.  Personally, I was looking forward to the war stories I could tell about going to a fat bike event held in a cold, early December rain.  There is a certain perverse joy I take in riding in such conditions.  Maybe I’m just weird, but it was a bit of disappointment.  On the other hand, I was glad to not be on the road Saturday morning.  I like driving in those conditions, but my concern is more about other drivers on the road.  You know, the folks who are responsible for the existence of anti-lock brakes, all season radials and ambiguous check engine lights.

Hitting the trails early in the day.

Hitting the trails early in the day. Photo by Isabelle Neault.

It did rain for the early part of the day on Saturday, so the date swap turned out to be a good thing.  The rain switched over to snow later in the day.  Somehow, the Catamount Family Center got enough snow to make things happen.  There were a couple of inches on the ground and no ice to be found on the trails.  Just a few miles down the road, the snow was little more than enough to make lawns look white.  I think they made the right call in shifting things ahead to Sunday.

Sunday was clear and surprisingly cold.  Of course, I arrived late, just like I do with nearly everything else.  Since there wasn’t really an official start time, there was no problem.  I was hoping to get out with the first group ride of the day, which was pedaling out as I pulled into the parking lot.  After getting my stuff together and registering, I took off on my own, with my nose already running.  I’m somewhat familiar with these trails from racing here back in the ’90s and I’ve always liked the riding  on the north side of the road.  It didn’t take very long before I connected with the group ride.  We rode some double track and even some moderately twisty single-track.  We even made first tracks on some trails that climbed the power line area.  The snow was just enough to make things interesting, but could easily be ridden.  Near the end of the ride, several of us broke off and continued a ride on our own.

Our morning group ride.

Our morning group ride.

That was great until I broke my chain while climbing a short, steep ledge trail.  Since I didn’t have a chain tool, I hoofed it back to the center.  By that time, it was close enough to noon that I decided it was time to hunt down some food.  First, I had to mooch a chain tool and shorten my chain so I could ride for the remainder of the day.  I lost the use of my big ring, but it was better than nothing.


By this time I was cold.  The clamminess from riding paired with the wind and temperatures in the teens was starting to get to me.  I grabbed a hot bowl of chili and stood by the fire for a while.  This helped a little, but I was still really cold.  Even sitting in my car for fifteen minutes eating some snacks didn’t really make any change.  I could not get warm.  The only solution was to get back out on the bike and start heating from the inside out.  That actually worked!

Warming up by the fire became a popular activity.  Photo by Isabelle Neault.

Warming up by the fire became a popular activity. Photo by Isabelle Neault.

There was an alley cat race sometime around mid-day, but I declined that so I could stand by the fire a little longer.  I did manage to get some time on a few demo bikes later in the day.  I love the idea of being able to test ride different bikes, but it’s not great for my personal contentment.  I really was happy with my bike until I tried the Specialized Fatboy.  Of course, it’s not really suffering to ride my Mukluk either.  I’ll note that experience down for future reference should I decide that I need to upgrade.

Demo bikes from various shops.

Demo bikes were available from various shops. Photo by Isabelle Neault.

The weather stayed beautiful for the entire day.  It was nice to ride the trails around Catamount without the intense suffering of a race.  While they don’t have massive mileage, the trials are actually quite well designed.  From what I understand, they are available for fat biking all winter long.


More single track. Photo by Isabelle Neault.


The event was pretty low key, but reasonably well attended considering the random weather and schedule changes.  Being the first event of the season and their first time around, I’m expecting that it will get even better in the future.  Now to look forward to Überwintern next month!

Last ride.

Last ride.



Posted by: Mark | 3 November, 2014

Season’s End

It's over.

It’s over.

It has been my tradition to get out at the end of the day on the last day that Kingdom Trails is open for the summer season.  I don’t actually plan it that way, it just seems to work out that I can’t get out on the bike until the very end of the day.  This year was not different in spite of my efforts to ride earlier in the day.  I’ll blame the time change for messing with my scheduling.   Regardless, on Monday the trails will be closed to the public, so I wanted to squeeze in one last ride.

This afternoon was quiet.  I only saw one other rider out and he was rearranging stuff in his car.  I’m assuming he was done for the day.  It was quite relaxing to ride alone in the woods.  The woods feel unusually empty this time of year.  The trees are pretty much bare now and the leaves cover the ground making the cold wind seem a little more raw than it might otherwise.

As I pedalled along I reflected on the past year, both things related to biking as well as other issues.  My best thinking occurs when I’m out alone on my bike.  Anyway, I realized that I’ve had a pretty good summer of riding.  I didn’t race this year thanks to some ongoing knee issues, which was a change that had some surprising benefits.  There were no training rides, just getting out to enjoy the trails for the sake of riding.  I may not have ridden as much as I have in previous years but it still managed to add up to quite a few miles.

It seems like there were lots of changes made to the trails this year.  After NEMBAfest, there was work going on and changes found almost every week.  An excellent climbing trail, Burrington Bench, was added mid-summer.  In addition, there were many, many improvements made to the existing trails: new bridges, rerouted sections, bermed corners, and trails raised up out of the mud in several locations.  Each improvement makes the network more sustainable.  I often take it for granted, having lived here for over 20 years, but this is a pretty great place to have “next door.”

Moving the clocks back last night made my estimation of remaining daylight more than a little bit off. Darkness was starting to fall as I finished up my ride.  I ended up cutting a couple of trails out of my intended route.  The temperature was dropping pretty quickly as I made my way back to the car with a runny nose and numb fingers.  I’ll be back when the snow has covered the ground.

Last light

Last light

Posted by: Mark | 28 October, 2014

Circumburke Fat Bike Slog MMXIV

The first climb

The first climb

When I woke up on Saturday morning, the ground was white with frost.  That’s not what I consider a great start to a day on the bike, but today it worked out better than I had hoped.  The week leading up to Circumburke was wet.  Maybe not as wet as some of the coastal areas in New England experienced, but we didn’t lack for rain either. The forecast looked something like this:

Wet, with chance of soggy.

Wet, with chance of soggy.

Saturday was supposed to be a more of the same, too.  Occasionally, the forecasters get it wrong and it turns out to be a good thing.  The valley fog burned off and it quickly warmed up through the morning.  The sun stayed out pretty much the entire day and it was the warmest Circumburke I’ve seen yet.  Late October in the NEK is usually cold and damp  (actually, that pretty much applies to any month you pick around here) so the deviation from the norm was appreciated.

The Start

The Start under blue skies!

The turnout was great with over 300 pre-registered and close to 400 actually showing up the day of the event.  Big crowd.  Apparently a lot of people got the message about riding this thing on a fat bike.  Unlike last year, where there were only a handful of us on fat bikes, this year there were too many of us for me to really count.   I’ll take credit for that with my article last year giving everyone the idea.

I started the ride on time for once.  I had no intention of racing in any form, so I was happy to settle in at the back of the long pack, along with several friends.  We couldn’t hear much of the pre-ride briefing back there, other than something about crawling under a gate.  I still don’t know what that was about.

Once we got rolling, the climbing started almost immediately.  This progressed from a dirt road, to a driveway, to a jeep road, to crawling our way up even steeper class-4 type roads.  There were a LOT of people out on the course and that first climb felt like trying to navigate commuter traffic on a Monday morning.  The upside of that long climb is that it really stretched out the riders so that congestion wasn’t much of an issue for the rest of the ride.

The CCC road.

The CCC road.

Once we regrouped at the top of the climb where it intersects the CCC road, it was time to strip layers, add air to my tire and then roll out for some more.  The long descent down the back side of Burke is always fun, even if it seems much shorter than the climb up.  At the bottom, we took the hard left that starts the wilderness riding in Victory.

It wasn’t long after this turn that we came upon the first aid station.  They located it at a junction in the woods where the 18 mile runners would take their shortcut and the rest of us would continue to follow the full length of the single-track.  It made for a congested stopping point.  Again, most of the guys in my group managed to reconvene here for a short rest and snack.

Every year the single-track has been a little better than the last and this year continued that trend.  It is one of the best things about Circumburke that I look forward to.  I think it was mostly the same as previous years, but I really couldn’t tell for sure.  Dave, Hans and I broke off our little group, keeping our own pace.  After a little while I lost all sense of direction.  I kept thinking we must be getting close to the next aid station but that didn’t seem like it was going to ever actually happen.  Honestly, getting stuck on never ending singletrack is not a bad problem to have.  This was only broken up by one field section that was very well worn from the Back Country Cross earlier this fall.  It was quite fast riding.  From there, it was back into the woods for some more.

Field riding was even fun.

Even field riding was fun.

It was well over an hour of winding through the woods before we hit the next aid station.  We were pushing lunch time now and I was getting really hungry.  I just didn’t realize it until I stopped.    Joe arrived soon after Dave, Hans and I stopped.  And…. there were grilled cheese sandwiches again!  At this point, I realized that I hadn’t been eating or drinking enough, but I thought I had made up for it at this aid station.

Grilled cheese anyone?

Grilled cheese anyone?

Our little group split became official when we left the aid station to take on the Gold road.  The Gold road is always muddy, it’s just a matter of how muddy it will be.  This year, it was muddy.  Fortunately, this was where having a 4 inch wide swath of aggressive tread makes a big difference.  We rode through many sections where fat bike tracks were the only ones other than foot prints.  Some of the mud holes were surprisingly deep and could be challenging, even with that extra traction.  Unfortunately, all this mud was taking its toll on my drivetrain.  I started having chain suck pretty consistently when climbing in the small chainring.  Eventually, this started showing up while pedaling in the big ring too.


More mud please!!

Soon, we had reached the next aid station.  The mud glommed around my bottom bracket was pretty amazing.  I was operating with the assumption that I still had a derailleur somewhere underneath it all.  A brief snack and a few minutes rest and then we were back in the saddle for the last few miles of the ride.  There was one more aid station on Pinkham Road and then it was a brief dirt road grind, followed by Parr’s Yard trail, The Shire and over to Kirby Connector.  On the final climb from the Burke Mountain base lodge, I was just starting to feel the dehydration in my legs.  A few more miles and I’m pretty sure I would have been getting full blown leg cramps.  Thankfully, the last mile or so is all down hill and a fun descent at that.


It felt good to finish.  Really good.  I put some clean, dry clothes on which made me feel even better.  Market Cafe was serving up burritos, soup, and cookies.  There’s something about a long ride that makes a good meal taste even better.

For me, Circumburke signals the end of the summer season.  This would be depressing if it weren’t for the fact that it also starts my mental shift to winter biking.  We still have to get through November which is the most depressing month on the calendar: a bleak, dismal, cold, grey month where I have to stay out of the woods for my own safety.   This event is like the big end of year mountain bike party that takes a bit of that pain away.  Oh, and we got pint glasses too!

(most photos by David Tremblay or Joe Brzoza)


Is this thing on?

Is this thing on?


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