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.

Mud!!

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.

GOPR0854

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)

Random:

Is this thing on?

Is this thing on?

 

Posted by: Mark | 7 August, 2014

VSSM Epic Summer Event 2014

The Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum‘s Epic Summer Event was hosted at Craftsbury Outdoor Center this year instead of in Stowe as it was in previous years.  It was also the last event of the EFTA New England Championship Series for 2014.  Since Craftsbury is only about 45 minutes from my home, I really couldn’t come up with a good excuse not going.

The Expert start.

The Expert start.

The last time I did a full mountain bike race at Craftsbury was sometime around 1991.  That was back in the days when NORBA ran the world of mountain bike racing and USA Cycling was just for the leg shaving, pavement-pounder crowd.  I don’t really remember much of that race other than it being really cold (it snowed) and pedaling through very soggy, grass covered nordic ski trails.  My experience this year was much better than the one I had 20+ years ago.

Racer's meeting

Brian running the racer’s meeting

The course was a combination of traditional, technical single-track, grassy X-C ski trails and some newly cut machine made trails.   The technical single-track made up the majority of the five mile loop  that we rode with some bermed corners on the descents thrown in for extra fun.  The climbing was definitely noticeable, but never steep enough that my 1×10 setup couldn’t handle it with ease.  Normally, I hate grassy trails, but the grassy sections were fairly firm and generally made for some fast riding.  The very few places where things were a little softer, my 3″ tires made the riding pretty easy.  The thing that did stand out was the rooty sections.  Since I was riding a fully rigid bike, this took its toll on me.

First climb from the start

First climb from the start

We started the race in the lower fields at the nordic center.  This led to an immediate climb up a short grade covered with chipped wood – slow going.  From there, we crossed another field before entering the woods and funneling into the first section of single-track.  The first lap was pretty congested with the racers from the large expert field trying to establish position.  By the end of the first lap, we seemed to have settled down into a more reasonably spaced out field.

For me, the race itself was relatively uneventful.  I was really getting into the single-track sections by the second lap and was able to spin up the climbs without burning myself out – gears are great for that.  I spent much of the second and third laps riding solo with only the occasional need to pass.  I was really enjoying the twisty stuff in the woods.  By the time the fourth lap rolled around, the technical terrain had really beaten up my arms and I was more than ready to be done.  Usually my legs are the first to complain but that wasn’t the case with this race.  Between my arm muscles and having to pass riders from the tail of the Sport field, I was drained.  Thankfully, the final mile of the lap is a smooth downhill and an open climb.  I kept my pace through to the end and was glad to get off the bike and rest.

Me!

Me!

While I didn’t manage to get a podium spot, I stuck around to watch the awards.  My nephew did his first mountain bike race and managed to pull off a win in the junior novice category – and he did it wearing jeans.  I did manage to come home with some loot by winning a t-shirt in the raffle.  Overall, it was a great race and I had a good time.  Brian and the folks at Craftsbury did an outstanding job organizing things for an excellent event.  Hopefully, VSSM will return to Craftsbury for their Epic Event next year.

 

My nephew finishing up.

My nephew finishing up.

Random:

Sometimes you have to race with a rubber chicken on your back.

Sometimes you have to race with a rubber chicken on your back.

Posted by: Mark | 30 July, 2014

Burrington Bench

"Caution Uphill Riding Only"  Now that's my kind of trail!

“Caution Uphill Riding Only” Now that’s my kind of trail!

I heard the idea of a climbing trail by Toady’s Tour discussed by various Kingdom Trails staff for over a year now.    After a long wait, it is finally here.  The new trail, Burrington Bench, climbs from the base of Cat Box Hill to Bemis.  The trail is just over a mile long and climbs a little more than 400 ft., at least according to my GPS/Strava data.

The stats....

The stats….

The ride itself is pretty good.  The entrance to the trail doesn’t look like much, but it quickly improves.  The only steep sections are found early on and are very short.  From there, the trail gradually gains elevation.  Switchbacks?  If you wanted switchbacks, you’ve come to the right place.  There are at least a dozen switchbacks helping to stretch out the climb into a more gentle grade.  Once you get rolling, the trail allows you to keep a pretty good pace – even to the point where some of the switchbacks might need a little more berm.  The entire trail is a comfortable middle-ring affair.  It reminds me a lot of the West Branch climb from the bottom of Sidewinder.

Switchback?

Switchback?

A ton of work had to go into making this trail.  Most of the trail is benched, which means that the trail crews had to spend a lot of time digging things out.

A lot of earth was moved to make this trail.

A lot of earth was moved to make this trail.

If I could make any changes, it would be the brief section following the doubletrack at the top.  I’d much rather stay under the tree canopy and wind through some more single-track right to the end.  Still, it’s only a few hundred feet and hardly enough to justify complaining about.  Once the logging is done in the area, the little bit of log road should firm up and be fine.

A short section of double track.

A short section of double track.

This new trail makes a great addition to the trail network on the west side of Darling Hill.  Prior to this, if you wanted to ride Troll Stroll, Tap n Die or Toady’s more than once you either had to climb back up River Walk or River Run or ride all the way down to the south end of West Branch.  River Walk and River Run have some pretty steep sections and are pretty much in the “not fun” category, as far as climbs go.  With Burrington Bench, we can more easily do repeat loops on these downhills.   Hopefully, we won’t be wearing out Troll Stroll as a result.

Intersection with Bemis at the top of the climb.

Intersection with Bemis at the top of the climb.

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