[Also on MTBVT.com]
What do you get when you take 100+ miles of trail, add a couple of thousand bikers and mix in camping, several dozen vendors, lift service, shuttle buses, demo bikes and tons of activities? One incredible weekend of fat tired fun called NEMBAfest. New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA) conspired with Kingdom Trails and Burke Mountain to make this event happen again at Burke Mountain. I was surprised by the scale of the event last year and they seem to have managed to push things up one more notch this year. The dial goes to 11.
Even though we live only about 15 miles from Burke, we decided to take part in the whole weekend by bringing our little camper and staying through Sunday. Last year, our family volunteered, working with the registration on Saturday morning. We enjoyed helping out with that, so we decided to see what we could do to lend a hand this time around. I’m not the type of person that needs to be busy or involved. Quite often I’m very content to do nothing at all. Still, there’s something a little bit better about being involved with this event than just being a participant.
We wheeled in to town late Friday morning. The village was already busy and things were starting to ramp up on the mountain. Our task this year was to help out with the family camping area located at the Nordic Center out at the end of Dashney Rd. For the most part, we helped direct people to where they needed to go and answer various questions. I was expecting a lot more people out there but I’m not sure everyone was aware of the option. It really was a nice, quiet spot and not very far from the base lodge expo area – much easier to bike to than the main campground higher up on the mountain. Rather than getting rowdy late at night, we had early mornings with groups of small children tooling around on little pink bikes calling to one another. There may have even been a game of tag. The madness was completely over the top.
Friday was a nearly perfect warm and sunny day. Mostly, we just hung out waiting for people to arrive. There were some late afternoon and night rides but I decided to ride up to the Burke Mtn. Campground to find some of my fellow NEMBA teammates before it got dark. I took a spin through the festival camping area just for kicks and it was already busier than I remember things being last year. Very cool.
Saturday started out with a very early rain shower; but, thankfully, it wasn’t enough to soak things. We biked down to the expo area at the Sherburne Lodge to check things out. There were tons of things going on; more to do than we were able to take in. Being more of a cross-country type of rider, I was surprised at how busy the lift service was. The line for the chair looked more like something I would expect during the ski season but I didn’t hear much complaining, if any. I scoped out some of the demo bikes but didn’t have time to take any out that morning.
My other “official” action in NEMBAfest was leading the team ride on Saturday afternoon. This wasn’t on the agenda for the event; but since we’re NEMBA’s official racing team, I think that makes it more official than most. We went out for a three hour tour that covered most of Kingdom Trails. By the end of our ride, the rain had returned and was starting to actually soak the ground a little. We stopped in at Pedro’s bike cleaning station before calling it a day. The rain was a bit of a downer but it didn’t seem to be putting a stop to the fun. People were still out on their bikes all over the place. Due to our ride, I missed the wheelie contest and, more importantly, the Huffy toss. There’s nothing like seeing the flagrant display of power required to launch a department store bicycle. I was hoping to catch the pit bike races around the expo area that evening but missed that in favor of food.
As the evening wore on, the rain picked up. I’m sure this put a damper on the campground revelry, but the local restaurants must have loved it. The camping itself really is another “event” of the weekend and it was a shame to see that diminished. The weather last year was nearly perfect for the entire weekend and I wondered then how rainy weather would affect the festival. We found out that it wasn’t the death sentence I feared. The rain really pounded during the night.
Sunday morning started out looking rather grey. Fortunately, the clouds started to break up and we even saw some sun by mid-morning. My daughter and I rode up to the campground to see Kevin, Shaun and Dustin and maybe get them out of bed if they were sleeping in. They were already up. As the morning wore on, the sun came out more making it warm and humid. That’s the kind of weather I like!
We moved the camper out of the campground and parked down by the base lodge for the rest of the day. This would allow us to check out the Expo area more and let the kids just hang out if they didn’t feel like doing anything. Through my own poor sense of time, I was too late to take part in the tire changing contest. I thought I might do well with this since I can usually pull a tire off the rim without any tools. I guess I’ll have to wait until next year to demonstrate my tube-swapping prowess.
Things had become quite busy by mid-day with surprisingly long lines for the chair lift. I did catch the trials show, which I alway like watching. I like trials riding. I also got out on a demo bike and tried the new trail “The Shire.” A climbing trail from the lower lodge to the mid-mountain area is a great idea, but I really do hate grassy fields. Hopefully, this trail will improve with use or something.
My wife asked why I liked this so much, I’m not a particularly social person. I had to think about it a little. I generally prefer to ride alone. It’s not just the riding, although that was great; I can ride these trails almost any time I’d like. It’s not just the events. I couldn’t nail down any one thing, but think it’s simply the sum of everything over the whole weekend. Even if you weren’t riding, there were plenty of things to do. Even just hanging out in the campground doing nothing was enjoyable.
Having a very small part of making things happen this weekend made me more aware of all the work that was done by many others. The trail crews did a TON of work over the days and weeks leading up to this weekend. Seriously, you wouldn’t believe the level of activity that was going on all over the trail system in preparation – bridges were built, mud-holes filled in, bad spots were rerouted, and probably more details that I missed. A huge “thank you” to all of the work they did along with the many volunteers that gave their time and effort. It was a great time. I’ve already marked the dates on my calendar for next year.