This past weekend was the opening for Millstone Trails. The weather has been so nice with this unusually early spring, that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get in some single-track riding. The weather was perfect and the woods were very dry. Since I was already in the area earlier in the day, it just made sense to drive a little out of my way to get in some riding.
Dave Tremblay and I had a few email exchanges and managed to work things out so we could ride together. I considered changing the title of this post to “David Tremblay Rides Millstone” or something similar since he requested to be “featured prominently” on my blog. Is this enough Dave? David and I have both ridden Millstone before, but only as part of the Millstone Grind race in previous years so this would be a bit different. There is a kind of tunnel vision that you get in a race that keeps you from noticing things around you other than the course. It doesn’t seem to exist when riding just for fun.
We both arrived at the small parking area in Websterville, VT. This was a gravel lot that could hold maybe a dozen or so cars. Very different from the mass of overflow parking that you end up dealing with on a Saturday at Kingdom Trails. We then went up to Lawson’s store to get our day passes. This is an small, old general store that looks like it might not have changed in several decades. I thought it was pretty cool overall, but I can’t really comment much more on the store as I was only interested in getting out on my bike at the time. The woman who was working there was very helpful in going over what the area has to offer and making some suggestions. One thing: bring cash because they don’t take plastic in any form at the store. Thankfully, I was accidentally semi-prepared for this.
David and I were both riding fully rigid single-speed bikes. I decided to bring along my race bike, since this was my first chance to ride some real trails with it. This was both a good thing and a huge mistake. Since I just built up this bike over the winter, I haven’t been able to work out the kinks in it yet. I had to adjust the saddle before heading out and then mess with my front brakes. At first, I thought it would just need an adjustment of the pads to keep the rotor from rubbing. Then I realized that I needed to do a bit more. I think Dave was a bit surprised when I started messing with the mounting bolts. I thought I had it fixed, and we started riding. After a few pedal strokes, it was clear that it was not fixed. The rotor wasn’t just rubbing a little, but it was making a racket every time I stood up and mashed down on my left pedal. I have no doubt that other riders elsewhere on the trail system could hear this thing rubbing. More tweaking. This cycle of riding and adjustment went on throughout the rest of the ride. Eventually, I got sick of it and tightened down the pads so that they provided a nice quiet, constant contact. Yes, I’m sure it slowed me down but at least it wasn’t driving me completely insane. I hate bike noises.
Dave and I rode about 300 feet into the woods before needing to consult the trail map. While not as expansive at Kingdom Trails, there really are a lot of trails there. Lots of them, with intersections interspersed at seemingly random locations. Think of it as a corn maze for bicycles. The up-side of this is that even when you take a wrong turn, you’ll still be on some trail that is going to be fun to ride. The trails were actually pretty well marked, and the map was clear; but you had to stay alert, or you would miss some critical junction. I turned over navigation responsibilities to Dave and resigned myself to remain generally clueless about where we were for the rest of our ride.
Our first trail was “Screamin’ Demon,” which had quite a few wooden ramps, bridges, drop-offs and banked corners. Neither Dave nor myself really got into this stuff. Maybe it is because we were both on rigid single-speeds. Maybe it’s an early sign of aging. Maybe we’ve spent too much time racing. I kept thinking to myself: “When I was a kid we didn’t have artificial terrain, we were just glad to have trails. Up-hill in both directions… in the snow….” Still, I can see where it would be fun if you were on a full suspension bike and into that kind of thing.
If there’s one thing Millstone has, it’s good technical terrain. Where Kingdom Trails is open and “flowy,” Millstone is rugged and twisty. Rocks are everywhere. I liked it. In some ways, I hate to compare the two as they are so different. I’ve been riding Kingdom Trails since well before there was a Kingdom Trails organization, and it is my biggest point of reference. I often say: if you don’t think KT is technical enough, you’re riding too slowly. At Millstone, you don’t need to crank up the speed to get that effect.
The trails wind around numerous old quarries that are scattered all over the area. It is a strange combination of the natural with the industrial. There are huge piles of excavated boulders that we rode around and many open quarries. There were areas that had old quarry equipment or junk cars along the side of the trail. Some areas had large steel cables or chains strewn across the trail.
Dave and I ended up riding quite a bit of the course from last year’s Millstone Grind race. We did divert from the race course to a trail that we were told people either “love it or hate it.” I was prepared to be deeply ambivalent about it, but it turned out to be quite enjoyable. It was one of the “extreme” trails, TNT. There were sections that took some effort to clean; but, overall, it was one of the most fun trails we rode.
One of the stranger things about Millstone Trails is how relatively flat it is by Vermont standards. The elevation only varies by a couple of hundred feet throughout the entire trail network. There are quite a few short climbs that got me breathing hard, but there aren’t any long sustained efforts. These short climbs, combined with the rocks and small ledge rises, required a bit of deep effort to muscle up.
In half a day, we rode only a small portion of the trails. I’ll be looking for another opportunity to get over there to ride more of the trails that I missed this time. There was a lot of terrain that we didn’t get a chance to explore. It might even be worth it for me to invest in a season pass. It was definitely worth the trip.