For various reasons I missed the Circumburke Challenge last year, so this was my first time participating in this ride hosted at Burke Mountain ski area. It is a non-race “challenge” to ride (or run) a course around Burke Mountain following jeep roads, single-track and XC ski trails. The ride is held in memory of Dave Blumenthal, a Vermonter who died in the 2010 Tour Divide.
The weather was actually pretty nice. It was 37F at my home in the early morning. By mid-morning, it had warmed up considerably but it still wasn’t truly warm. I started the day by trying to get my act together for the ride. I had to replace my pedal since it was damaged from the race I did the previous day. I also needed to adjust the chain tension on the bike. Even though I only live about 25 minutes from Burke, I still managed to leave myself just barely enough time to get to the lodge and register. There’s nothing quite like doing things in the last minute to give yourself a focused start to the day.
My friend, David Tremblay, talked me into registering for the two lap option (not that it takes much to talk me into something like that). I was beginning to question the wisdom of that choice since I had raced yesterday and was still feeling a bit fatigued. On top of that, I had hurt my finger pretty badly at some point during the race on Saturday. I don’t recall actually injuring it but that is typical for most of my race injuries. I noticed that it ached after the finish, and it grew progressively more sore that evening. By morning, it had become quite swollen. I wasn’t sure how well I’d be able to ride with it or if I could even get my bike glove on over it.
It seemed like there were quite a few riders at the start – many more than in the photos I saw of last year’s event. Later, I learned that there were a total of 88 participants including runners and bike riders – a pretty nice turnout for a non-competitive event.
The ride started at the base lodge at Burke. They lead us out with a 4-wheeler for the first mile or so. I’m not going to take the time or space to describe the course much as the website covers it quite well in detail. I will say that the first mile or so leaned towards the miserable end of the riding spectrum. The group started off at a quick pace and the climb to mid-lodge is pretty steep. Dave and I had agreed to do the ride together, both riding single-speeds, but he started off climbing faster than I was ready for. I should have warmed up for a few minutes first. At least we were able to get past many of the geared riders while the course was wide and open. Climbing on a single-speed requires a more aggressive approach than on a geared bike, and we didn’t want to get stuck behind someone slowly spinning their way up the single-track section of the climb.
Once we climbed a short section of single-track (Camptown trail), we then took the CCC road around the south side of Burke Mountain. I used to ride this part of the mountain a lot many years ago when I was in college, and I always liked it. The latter part of this “road” is a very long descent into Victory bog. Following Dave here felt like the rides he and I used to do 20 years ago out in the Reading and Plymouth, VT area. I was having to work to keep up with him and then realized he was riding on a bike with a rigid fork. He was always discouraging me like that on the descents, but that’s another story.
Somewhere in the first part of that descent, Dave went over his bars in a muddy waterbar. It looked like his front wheel sank in up to the axle in this little mud hole. We were riding quite fast there, and his crash looked really bad. Fortunately, he was able to get up and keep going without much more than a few minutes of reorganization. He must have hit just the wrong spot as I had no issue with it only a few feet to the right.
Most of the route, as the web site says, “harks back to the early days of mountain biking.” There was a lot of rough double-track riding and enough mud to keep any 3 year old happy for months. Dave and I were able to talk throughout the ride and had a great time chugging up the hills and bombing the downhills together.
One part of the course that merits mention was the single-track before the second aid station. I don’t know exactly how many miles of it there were, but it was amazing. I’ve ridden on freshly cut single-track many, many times over the years and this was outstanding. Whoever had picked the lines had a great sense of flow on the bike. The fact that they had raked or used a leaf blower to clear the leaves was icing on the cake. I would gladly slog my way back there during the summer months if I could locate that single-track section again. It was that good.
The second aid station was unmanned when we arrived but obviously well stocked. The best part was that they had chocolate chip cookies! YES! I scarfed a cookie and a banana and then we headed on our way.
From here on the route was rough double track with even more mud. At the third station, I grabbed another cookie and some red licorice. I rode a while with a red Twizzler hanging out of my mouth. Not a bad way to take on the mud.
The course finishes by following several of the XC ski trails and then descends a dirt road (Dashney Rd.) to the lodge area. We turned onto the ski area road where there were some children pointing the way to the final section of trail that leads to the lodge. Dave and I rode in together at 2:08 according to my cycle computer.
Dave was ready for a second lap, but I knew I was not up to it. I felt pretty good, but I know that I would have bonked if I had gone around a second time. The race yesterday had definitely taken a little toll on me. Next time I ride this event, I will come a little more rested so we can take in that single-track section a second time. I don’t know who came in first, or second or anything like that. I think Dave and I were around the fourth or fifth riders to come in – not that it matters.
The event as a whole was surprisingly fun. I live pretty close and was skeptical about how enjoyable it would be to ride trails that are generally available to me. Thankfully, that concern was unfounded. After we finished there was pretty good grill food in the Burke lodge. It was very nice to put on some dry clothes and hang out talking with others who had done the course. I’ll be putting this ride on my calendar for next year.