[Also posted on MTBVT.com]
The Vermont Mountain Bike Festival is one of those events that I look forward to all year long. A weekend of camping, great riding, good food and hanging out with friends is hard to beat. I was unable to go last summer, so I had built up even more anticipation for getting down to Ascutney again. Especially since this would be the last year it would be held there for a while as VMBA moves the festival around the state. The riding there was so good last time, I really didn’t want to miss it again.
We tend to travel to events like this as a family. We arrived on Friday afternoon to setup camp and hang out a little. I thought I might catch the first round of rides but I was a little late for that. Along with some friends, my wife and daughter went out together for the first novice ride that evening. They seemed to have had a really good time hitting some of the trails around the Mile Long Field, finishing up with Hayride – a nice swooping ride through the field.
A little while after they returned from their ride, I went out to join the night ride scheduled for that evening. The sun was just setting as a handful of us started our winding climb into the woods. It didn’t take long under the thick canopy of summer leaves for us to need our headlights. We did a nice little loop around the side of the mountain. We also came out of the woods at the top of the Hayride trail. The sky was just light enough to see the bats dancing around overhead chasing Vermont’s never-ending natural resource: bugs. We cruised down the field and then worked our way back to the camping at the old Ascutney base lodge parking area.
Saturday started out with a little threat of rain, but that quickly burned off and blue skies soon prevailed. I signed up for “The Works” ride: a meandering tour of the Ascutney mountain trails. Stan, our ride leader, was on a fully rigid single-speed bike; I had a feeling this was going to be good. I thought he looked familiar and eventually figured out that I had ridden with him the last time I was there. The group started out quite large for an advanced ride with nearly forty people showing up, but that quickly broke up into two groups as we started climbing. Fortunately, there were enough ride leaders to adapt to the change.
We worked our way up and over to the West Windsor town forest trails where we spent the bulk of the time on our ride. I’d love to give a play by play of all the terrain we covered, but I was mostly in tent caterpillar mode following Stan’s wheel. Getting into the details would take up too many paragraphs and would fall far short in conveying how much fun I had. Some of the trails were familiar and others were quite new to me. The terrain on the mountain is an awesome mix of technical challenge and pure flowing joy. There’s nothing boring to be found anywhere.
We crossed back over to the main mountain area by taking the Last Mile trail. This gave me momentary Vermont 50 flashbacks. I quickly recovered from the sudden anxiety attack when I realized that I wasn’t bonking, in pain or otherwise hating my bicycle; and I was able to continue to ride, enjoying the experience. We finished up the ride by climbing up the recently built 42nd Street and descending Broadway, a trail even more recently cut. Very nice work by Jim Lyall and STAB.
While I was out riding, my wife went to the women’s skills clinic. Being relatively new to mountain biking, she really enjoyed the clinic. The women in the group had a pretty wide range of experience, from those who had only ridden off-road a few times to some who were just looking to improve an already existing skill set. Everyone seemed to be accommodated by the women instructors. Some of the more experienced participants even chipped in to help or encourage the newer riders. There was a lot of information to take in, but she came away with quite a bit that she felt would be helpful.
I returned from the morning ride a little bit later than I had planned. I ate a quick lunch and then met my friend Dave. Not getting enough riding in that morning, we opted to head out again for the afternoon with our own group of two. We hit much of what I had ridden that morning, but in the opposite direction. Along the way, we got slightly lost and worked in a few new trails as a result. We met a couple, both wearing NEMBA Racing team jerseys, who had a trail map. Dave and I mooched a look at their trail map more than once trying to figure out where we were and how to get to where we wanted to be. We crossed paths a couple of more times before heading back to eat.
One of the things I really like about the festival is that everything stops for the Saturday evening BBQ and games. After eating, there was a bike limbo, slow bike race, and the “bike olympics” – a short race over an obstacle course (including water balloon pelting) on 12″ wheeled bikes. The industry isn’t likely to latch on to that wheel size as the next big thing, but maybe 12″+? Who knows?
For me, the highlight of the evening was the Huffy toss: bike snobbery at its best. The kids were first to try their hand at tossing a small bicycle made of the lowest grade steel known to man. I’m pretty sure my full size 29+ rig is lighter than that little bike. I was the first one up in the adult competition and set the mark with my underhanded sling technique. There were many attempts at spinning the bike discus style – some of which seemed quite dangerous for any nearby spectators. One toss looked like it would have won, but was disqualified because of stepping well over the line. In the end, my toss stood, but victory by technical fault. I got to keep the bike as my prize for winning.
Sunday morning was another beautiful day and the trails in “Joe’s Jungle” were calling me. I’ve ridden the trails on the mountain a few times, but what I was looking forward to this year was getting out on the trails on the other side of the valley. These are off the official map but I’ve been told by several people that they were really good. My legs were definitely a bit heavy from all the riding the day before and there was plenty of climbing in store. At least with all that climbing comes a boat load of great descending. With all the looping around we did, I didn’t really know where I was at any given point, but I wasn’t too concerned either.
We wandered all around the woods in West Windsor following mile after mile of great singletrack. Near the end, we stopped at Joe’s house where we cooled off with the garden hose and his wife had some tasty cookies for us to munch on. Gary, one of the leaders for this ride, decided to take those of us who wanted more speed out for a hammer for the remaining couple of miles of the ride. That was a blast. There was still more riding to be had, but I needed to get back to my family before they packed up the camper and left without me, so I pedaled back to Ascutney with a couple of others from our group.
On the way home, we stopped at the Ascutney State Park. My wife and daughter got in one last ride out on the Swoops and Loops trails. They’ve built what might be the best beginner-oriented trails I’ve seen. It’s definitely approachable to a less experienced rider, but still interesting to ride. It was a nice way to close out the weekend.
It was one of those weekends I didn’t want to end. I thoroughly enjoyed the festival. Not only is the riding great, but the atmosphere has a cool, laid-back feel. It has a good family atmosphere that’s not an afterthought. While it’s nice meeting new people, it seemed like half the people there were familiar faces. VMBA and all the local members did an excellent job putting things together.
Looking over the map, I realized that there are still quite a few trails that I haven’t ridden and still many more that are not on the map. STAB has done an outstanding job with building a great trail network and there seems to be more in store in the future. It’s definitely one to visit and keep your eye on. I need to make the time to get back down there to ride, even without the festival.