Riding Around Vermont: Pine Hill Park

Also posted at MTBVT.com.

While visiting family down in central Vermont this weekend, I took some early morning hours to check out the trails in Pine Hill Park in Rutland.  I had heard that the riding there was pretty good; but, until this weekend, the timing had never worked out for me to actually get my bike out while in the area.  I had ridden there once before, about 20 years ago, with some friends from the area.  Back then, all the riding was on 4-wheeler trails and double-track beyond Rocky Pond.  It has changed a lot since then.

Banked corners abound!
Banked corners abound!

The park is about 300 acres right on the edge of downtown Rutland, Vermont’s second largest city. Unfortunately, in recent years, the city has gotten more notoriety for its drug problems than anything else.  This is too bad, because there’s more to Rutland than drugs and its “Vegas” strip along Route 7.   To the East you have Killington, Pico and the heart of the Green Mountains.  In my opinion, it is located in one of the most beautiful parts of the state.

The trailhead
The trailhead

The park is located adjacent to a decent looking neighborhood with parking shared with the Georgetti Athletic Complex.   I pulled in pretty early (for me) on a Saturday morning and had the place to myself for the first couple of hours.  At the trailhead, they have a really nice board with a trail map and other info about the park.  I studied the map and tried to memorize the layout, but I realized that was going to be pointless.  With somewhere around 16 miles of single-track criss-crossing the hill, there was no way I was going to remember which trail went where.  I grabbed a paper copy from the board and stuffed it in my pocket before hitting the trails.

Where am I?
Where am I?

Being in central Vermont, things had to start out with a climb.  Thankfully, you’d have to search hard to find a genuine steep pitch anywhere in the park trails.  I decided to work my way out to Rocky Pond at the far northern end of their trail network.  I had to check the map a couple of times along the way to make sure I was taking the correct turn at the many trail junctions.  Thankfully, nearly every junction was clearly identified with trail signs.  Once out to the pond overlook, I thought that I’d just try to cover as much of the terrain as possible with the time I had.  From there, I rode Stegasaurus, Strong Angel and many other trails that I can’t recall specifically without referencing the map.

Rocky Pond.
Rocky Pond.

It was very obvious that a LOT of work has gone into building and maintaining these trails.  Beyond the signage, nearly every trail was lined with rock borders.  The soil is the typical hard-pack I recall from my early years mountain biking in the Ludlow/Plymouth area – rocky and ledgy but not the kind of stuff that beats you up.  It seemed like every trail had been built with banked corners and little jumps littered along the way.  Anything taken as a descent was seriously fun.  All the trails had a great flow to them.

Fun stuff!
Fun stuff!

Sadly, I only had one morning to take everything in.  While the network isn’t huge, it is a LOT of fun to ride with an emphasis on flow more than tech.  A strong rider could cover pretty much every trail in 2-3 hours, but this is the kind of flowy stuff that will make you want to go back and do some repeat loops.  I definitely need to coordinate my trips down south to include some time there.  With a little better familiarity, I would love to let it rip a bit more than I could while being distracted by navigating.  I’m looking for a guide next time if anyone familiar with the trails wants to join me.

The final run down Escalator
The final run down Escalator

I’m hoping to make this the first in a series of posts covering various riding areas around Vermont which I’m titling “Riding Around Vermont.”  I plan on finding my way to many locations this summer and writing up a small review on each as I get some trail time.  Look for more in the near future.

The rocky overlook overlooking Rocky Pond.  Cool bike, eh?
The rocky overlook overlooking Rocky Pond. Cool bike, eh?
These guys were everywhere.  Thankfully, their hunter orange color made them easy to avoid.
These guys were everywhere. Thankfully, their hunter orange color made them easy to avoid.
Lots of bridges!
Lots of bridges!
Plenty of info at the trailhead.
Plenty of info at the trailhead.

 

 

Multi-speed

Since I had to get out of the single-speed business, the next logical step was to get some gears.  I got this work of art from Carver Bikes in Maine.  The Gnarvester!  It’s their 29+ bike (29×3″ tires, similar to the Krampus).  It’s taken a while for me to gather up all the parts it needed, but it did come together eventually.  I’ll have a full review done some time in the near future.  After taking it out for it’s maiden voyage this weekend I can say that it was worth the wait.  Photos added to make Wil happy.

It started out like this.
It started out like this….
When done, it looked like this.
When done, it looked like this.  It’ll never be this clean again, ever.
(comment goes here)
(comment goes here)
the cockpit view
the cockpit view
Gears!!
So many gears!!
First ride.
First ride.
IMG_1641
More dirt!

 

 

TVR Fatbike Fun

Quite possibly the coolest race T-shirt graphic yet.
Quite possibly the coolest race T-shirt graphic yet.

I learned this weekend that I really have no self control when it comes to racing.  My daughter really wanted to race Treasure Valley Rally this weekend so I agreed to pull myself temporarily out of retirement and join her.  This year they added a separate fat bike category to the race which added to the appeal for me.  I decided that I would bring the fat bikes down along with the rubber chicken with the idea that they both would keep me from taking the idea of racing too seriously.  I mentioned this to Kevin while hanging around before the start and he said something to the effect that we’d have to see how that works out once I’m on the course.  I laughed, but I should have listened to him.  Once we were out of the start area and well on course, my brain totally gave in to my instincts as I started trying to reel in whoever happened to be in front of me.  There was no decision, it just happened.  I’m a victim here.

The "official" TVR course map.
The “official” TVR course map.

Thankfully, the course itself was pretty much the same as last year – a nearly endless rock garden dishing out relentless abuse as it winds its way around the Treasure Valley Scout Reservation.  I’ve done this race a few times and always think of it as a real test of a mountain biker’s ability.  You can’t get away with just being strong, or aerobic – you need to add in good handling skills, serious stamina and a mindset bent ever so slightly towards self abuse.  It’s demanding but very fun!  The fat bike race followed the same course as the sport riders: one full lap including the even more demanding loop beyond Sampson’s Pebble (a massive boulder located at the high point of the course) followed by a shortened loop bypassing that technical section.   This all was further complicated by the fact that the earlier rain had made plenty of mud that would grease up all the roots and rocks for us.   In general, lap times seemed a little slower as a result.

Racing on a fat bike did have some advantages on this course, but it wasn’t a complete plus.  The 4″ tires did help with traction, but it still required some vigilance to keep the bike upright.  With the muddy rocks, the large contact patch gave a solid grip on the trail.  Some rocky sections I was able to ride over and through because the tires wouldn’t get pulled around by the rocks.  The best part was being able to sit down and spin up every climb on the course.  The down side was that the bike was fully rigid.  You’ve probably heard it before, but big tires are no substitution for suspension.  They help smooth out the little stuff quite well.  On big hits, if the tire pressure is too low, you risk bottoming out on the rim.  If you have more pressure, then you run the risk of having the bike bounce around like a basketball rolling down a flight of stairs.  Either way, your arms get a serious workout.

Off the start, I was a briefly distracted so I was dead last going into the woods.  I soon caught up with the rest of the guys in my class on the first climb.  On the long climb up to the Pebble, I spun my way to the front.  I didn’t expect to last long in this position so I figured I’d just ride at my own pace and see what would happen.  In spite of my claims about not racing, “my own pace” turned out to be whatever I could manage to keep the guys I just passed from catching me.  On the technical “extra” loop I was gaining ground on other riders but even with the fat tires it was sometimes difficult to keep things rolling in the worst of the rock gardens.

Stream crossing (photo by Tamara Wong)
Stream crossing (photo by Tamara Wong)

The sun came out as I was starting the long climb up from the lake back up to the Pebble.  Instantly, I felt like I was roasting.  After a little while, I adapted to the heat but probably didn’t drink enough.  Somewhere out there I managed to snag my shorts (yes, I wear baggies) on the nose of my saddle.  I managed this trick several more times, repeatedly tearing open the back of the leg a little more each time.  I also cracked a large portion of the sole of my shoe apart on a sharp rock at some point.  I didn’t realize that either was a significant issue until after the race.  The remainder of the lap I was working hard to keep my momentum going.  I felt really strong going into my second, shorter lap.  By this time, I seemed to be riding alone – usually a that’s a good thing.

Soon into my final lap I realized that I was actually starting to fade a little.  By the time I finished the long climb to the Pebble, I was getting that feeling that I might be getting in over my head.  From there, I was starting to get fatigued and sloppy.  Really sloppy.  If I ran across a section of trail that had a rock on either side, I would somehow manage to hit them both and in completely the wrong way.  The rocks were like magnets drawing my tires to them.  I was all over the place and my progress was starting to suffer as a result.  I couldn’t have taken a clean line if there were a yellow stripe painted on the trail marking the correct path.  It was horrible.  I was expecting some of the guys in my group to show up and pass me well before the finish.  Somehow, this didn’t happen and I managed to pull in through the finish in first place.  This was especially surprising considering that this was my first ride on dirt of the year and I haven’t put on any real mileage other that commuting to work.  I guess biking through the winter must have given me a little bit of a base to draw on.  At 2:29, this was, without question, the longest and hardest ride I’ve done this year; I was pretty much spent.  So much for not racing.

Fat bike podium!
Fat bike podium!

My daughter made out like a bandit this weekend.  She won her category by default which included picking some bike goodies out of the prize box.  Later on, she won a gift certificate in the raffle.  As if that weren’t enough, she also won a new Carver 96 frame which happened to be in her size.  I sat there in disbelief.  I should have had her pick out a lottery number for me too.

Emma!
Emma!

TVR is one of my absolute favorite races of the EFTA series, and maybe in all of New England.  The combination of the challenging course and a well run event make it tough to beat.  The money they raise goes towards the Scouts and the local fire department.  I know that the forecast wasn’t looking so great for Saturday but was still disappointed by the low turnout compared with other years.  Regardless, it was a great time for those of us who did make the trip.

 

Pint glasses!
Pint glass prizes presented to podium placing people!

Random:

 

Being Efficient

All my life I’ve strove striven towards personal efficiency.  Some might be inclined to call this laziness, or the path of least resistance, but I view it as thoughtfully applying my efforts only in areas that have value.  I ran across the graphic below on Fit Recovery (great blog, BTW).  I knew bikes were cool, but now we have evidence that they’re also the most efficient form of transportation.  The only real exception is that they’re probably not efficient when you’ve spent as much as I have on bikes over the years.  We’ll ignore that issue for now.

Speaking of transportation and biking, the National Bike Challenge started this week.  Go sign up if you haven’t already.