[Also on MTBVT.com with some extra photos.]
Every few years, VMBA moves the Vermont Mountain Bike Festival to a new location highlight the riding in different parts of the state. After three years at Ascutney, the Mt. Ellen ski resort became home for the festival with the Mad River Riders chapter hosting. Since my first time attending several years ago, this festival has become one of the highlights of my summer. The riding and laid back vibe of the whole thing is just awesome.
I haven’t ridden in the Mad River valley in over 20 years. It used to be a regular thing for me back in the mid-90s when we were all poaching single-track under the radar. That is, until some things went south with a couple of land owners… but that is the reason why VMBA and the many chapters around the state exist. Cooperation between riders, trail builders and the land owners. Regardless, I certainly wasn’t going to pass up a chance to return to take in some of that great terrain.
When I arrived late Friday afternoon the parking and camping areas were already filling up. For whatever reason, there were already more people here than I saw in previous years. I quickly picked out a spot to camp for the night and headed up the hill to register for the weekend. They even had some very cool new T-shirts for the event this year.
Once registered, I organized my stuff a bit and then connected with fellow Kingdom “fast old guy” Derek for a quick evening ride. We pedaled up German Flats Road and jumped onto the trails to follow the well-marked demo loop. It was the perfect length for an evening ride. With the warm, humid weather I worked up a light sweat before we left the pavement. On the trail, I was quickly reminded how good the rooty, rocky single-track in the valley is. We had a nice undulating ride down Sugar Run and Catamount. After carving through some switchbacks, we dropped out onto German Flats Road. From there, we climbed back up to the Mt. Ellen base lodge area. A nice end to my day and a great start to the weekend.
Riding always brings out my appetite unlike anything else. I embarked on a quest for food before returning to set up my camp site. In the end, I settled down in my hammock to watch the sky light up with the arcs from a line of thunderstorms passing just to our north. The show was awesome and I drifted off… until I was awaken by the rumble of a much closer oncoming storm. I quickly rolled up my sleeping bag and made a mad dash for the car just seconds before the deluge unleashed. I hid out there for about an hour until the storm had passed.
All of the nasty weather had cleared out by Saturday morning and everyone seemed ready to ride. After a pancake breakfast (with real syrup), I was also itching for some single-track. I waffled a little between the “epic” ride and the “classics” but I ended up taking the option for more distance. There would be no shuttle bus ride on this one. We rode down to the trailhead just below the access road and started climbing up the stuff I had descended the previous night. Then we climbed some more. After that, we really got into climbing. It was really fun stuff in spite of all the vertical gain. The Mad River Valley has some of the most interesting and technically challenging terrain of any place I’ve ridden. I never tire of it.
With the climb up Techie behind us, the group descended Maple Twist followed by Enchanted Forest. We looped around on several more trails in that area: Cyclone Connector, Clinic, GS and probably some others. There was so much good riding that it is nearly impossible to describe adequately. There was tight stuff, wet, mossy ledge, rock drops, roots – an almost constant challenge every where we rode. It has to be ridden to truly appreciated. Our group held together pretty well through all this. We finished out our time on this side of the valley with a long descent down Cyclone and Revolution to Lareau Farm.
At the farm we regrouped and topped off our water supply for the remainder of the ride. We also had a handful opt for the shuttle ride back up to the base lodge. The rest of our group continued on.
We rode along the river path and through the village to Center Fayston Road. As we turned onto the dirt road one, of the ride leaders informed us that we’d be climbing for about 20 minutes. He wasn’t kidding. We climbed up Gumball and Old Center Fayston back to the road. At this point, I was starting to feel a little bit shaky. I had been questioning whether or not I had eaten enough for the ride, and it was becoming apparent that I hadn’t. I peeled off from the group and rode back down into town retracing our path back to Lareau Farm. Riding 20+ miles in this part of the state is nothing like the same mileage at Kingdom Trails. It felt like twice the distance.
After a post-ride jump in the river and change of clothes, it felt good to be clean and dry again. Saturday evening always has a fun agenda at the VMBA festival, starting with the BBQ. As people were starting to gather, another storm was imminent with dark clouds rolling over the tops of the mountains. I had never seen a faster breakdown of the vendor tents at any event. Only a handful were battling the strong wind gusts that preceded the rain. There were several rides still out on the trails and the folks had some interesting stories to tell when they returned. The BBQ was moved inside the base lodge which seemed to work out pretty well. Fortunately, the storm cleared out just as most had finished eating. The evening “bike olympics” and other games went on as planned.
Sunday was another beautiful day. There were still quite a few guided rides available, but I was able to connect with my friend Dave for our own tour. He made a point of getting me out on some of the trails that I missed on Saturday. We climbed up German Flats Road arriving at the trail head just as a shuttle bus was unloading. We could have ridden the shuttle, but why do less riding? Dave led me back up Techy and then to Ridgie, Pusherman, High Plum and Plum Line. Ridgie and Pusherman felt like we were riding miles away from civilization. Super fun terrain. High Plum was a fairly amazing, narrow path cut into the side of a steep hillside. Some of the trail features had some potential failures of pretty high consequences. It was definitely one to keep you on your toes and picking your line very carefully. The remainder of Plum Line was just plain fun with seemingly endless series of drops and short, punchy climbs as it worked its way down to the river valley. I was pretty spent at this point and decided to head back up for some lunch. It was a great way to end the weekend for me. Dave and I haven’t ridden those trails together in over 20 years.
A final long ride was the perfect ending to a great weekend. I grabbed a burrito on the way out of town for a late lunch and then took a short swim before driving home. I have to admit that I was initially disappointed that we wouldn’t be returning to Ascutney this year but things turned out well enough that I’ll be glad to come back next summer. In spite of some weather that could have ruined things, the event turned out really well.