NEMBAfest 2016

“You couldn’t ask for a better weekend.”  That’s the phrase I heard numerous times over the three days of NEMBAfest.   The weather was truly exceptional and bikes were everywhere.  In spite of all the rain we had during the prior week, the trails were dry, even a little dusty in places.  We had all the makings of the biggest bike party of the year.

The expo area and nice, white, fluffy clouds.

The good weather had another side effect – it drew people out of the woodwork. NEMBAfest has been hosted at Kingdom Trails for five years now, and this was the biggest one I’ve seen.  I heard that somewhere around 1200 people preregistered, and who knows how many decided to show up and register because of the perfect forecast.  Let’s just say that there were clearly more people than last year.

As in previous years, our family got involved with volunteering to help out with the family camping area.  My daughter and I also put in some time leading or sweeping a few of the group rides.  Being involved, even just as a volunteer, opens your eyes to all the little details that have to come together for an event to run smoothly.  There are a lot of them.  While there might have been some snags behind the scenes, everything appeared to run like a well-oiled machine.

Marshmallows too!

I was originally going to be leading the advanced night ride Friday evening, but readjusted to my new assignment taking out a large “inter-mellow” ride.   Thirty-two riders showed up with headlights, ready to pedal around in the dark Vermont woods.  In spite of my reputation, everyone seemed to have a good time.  It was really cool to look over my shoulder and see the glimmer of headlights scattered all through the woods.  It gives an odd perspective of the trails I ride regularly.  Thanks to Tim from NEMBA for showing us their 2nd man drop technique – it made keeping our large group manageable on the ride.  Also, a huge thanks to a guy named Mike for stepping up to be the sweep for our group.  I owe you one.

Just a few of my Friday night ride followers.  Awesome group.

The next day started out a bit more laid back with a nice morning ride with my wife.  When you have kids, you savor the moments when you can get out together as a couple just to do something fun.  The cool morning was great for riding and the trails weren’t yet busy with groups of bikers.

Old Webs in the morning.

Later that day I joined the NEMBA Racing team ride.  I’ve not been on the team for a few years now, but it was great to get out and pedal around with the group of guys that I used to race with. In previous years, I had been the one to lead the team on a large loop around the trail network.  Kevin set the route this year and he didn’t disappoint.  With the inevitable group ride attrition, we eventually were left with our core riders from several years back: myself, Shawn, Kevin, Shaun and Andrew.  Whenever Shawn (a.k.a. “Ride Bully”) joins a ride, I know how things are going to go; neither of us do well at self-regulating our desire to go faster.   I had a blast even if I was pretty much spent after our ride.  This has always been a highlight of NEMBAfest for me.

NEMBA Racing: Turning NEMBAfest into a suffer-fest.  Well, not really; we did have fun.

Even though I was pretty well thrashed, my day wasn’t over.  I was scheduled to lead another night ride on Saturday.  Like Friday night, we had a good turnout with around 18 riders putting on headlights to extend the day with some more riding.  My daughter, Emma, filled in as sweep for the ride.  The sun was just at the horizon when we hit the trails; and it didn’t seem dark enough for headlights to be necessary.  That was true right up until we got under the thick canopy of the woods.  Someone in the group had a blinding, mega-bright headlamp on for the ride, and  I think it might have left a slight suntan on the backs of my legs.  Many people in my group rides mentioned that this was their first time visiting Kingdom Trails.  It was interesting to hear the first time impressions of an area that I am so familiar with.  It made me realize that I often take the good riding I have in my back yard for granted.

I started the day on Sunday running sweep for a small advanced group ride.  I was clearly losing some steam at this point so riding at the back was a perfect fit.  Our group was small enough that a sweep wasn’t really necessary, but I was glad to get out on the bike one more time.  I did get to meet some new people on the ride, including another semi-local from the Mad River valley and a photographer visiting from Australia.  I think he wins the prize for being the visitor from the longest distance.

There was no shortage of riding opportunities.

For the remainder of Sunday, I mostly poked around at the Expo checking out the vendors and demo bikes.  There were so many bikes available to try out that you could spend the entire weekend just riding different demo bikes.  It was interesting to note how many “plus” size bikes were out there.  They were all over the place.  From talking with some of the vendors, their plus demo bikes were in highest demand.  That’s something I can understand being on my third season riding on 29+ wheels.

Demo bikes came in all shapes and sizes.

I flagrantly ignored my better judgement by taking out a demo bike from Pivot.  This was seriously sowing the seeds of discontent.  They had a Mach 429 paired up with a set of 27.5 plus wheels.  The flotation of the 2.8″ tires was slightly less than what I am used to with 29×3″ tires, but the overall ride of the bike was amazing.  I take back just about everything I’ve ever said about full suspension bikes.  If this frame could accommodate full width 3″ tires I’d seriously think about getting one.  Yes, you heard that right.  If you know me at all, you now know it’s time to put your affairs in order as the end of the world can’t be far off.

Mike Stedley making the difficult look easy.

We hung around to catch the final trials show with Mike Stedley and then packed up for home.  It’s surprisingly difficult to put into words all that made up the weekend.  More than just great riding, there were times catching up with old friends and acquaintances, hanging around the campfire, eating a long needed post-ride meal or simply enjoying the quiet of the early morning.  I ended the weekend sore, tired and more than just a little bit dehydrated.  It was great!  Now I’m looking forward to the VMBA festival next month.

Lots of smiles.
The schedule of events.
The calm of the family camping area early Friday morning.


Circumburke Fatbike Slog

On the trail.
On the trail.

This was my third time riding the Circumburke Challenge and I decided to take a different approach to the ride year.  Although billed as a “challenge,” not a race, I often rode it as if it were a race.  For a change, I decided I would ride it as a challenge to see how much fun I could have.  No Strava KOM attempts, no concern for who passes me, and no desire to beat my time from last year.  To make sure I wouldn’t become victim to my inner propensity towards racing anyway, I decided to bring the Mukluk.  Weighing in around 35lbs, this bike is the antithesis of speed: it’s big, it’s fat and rolling resistance is its middle name.  Leading up to Sunday, I messaged a few of my friends that had fat bikes hoping we could organize a little bit of a group ride within the event.  While that didn’t work out quite like I’d hoped, about half a dozen or so riders on fat bikes did show up: me, Dave Tremblay, Joe Brzoza, Matt Moody, Jeff Hale and at least one other guy I didn’t know.  There were a couple of Krampus bikes as well – they’re close enough to fat bikes to count.

I showed up earlier than I cared for as my wife would be helping out with the registration and whatever else needed to be done.  She’s very organized and enjoys that sort of thing.  The morning wasn’t all that great.  It was about 34 degrees out, cloudy and windy.  I was freezing before I even got into my bike stuff.  Surprisingly, there were people already looking to register at 7:30 in the morning.  In spite of the less than perfect weather, there was a good turnout with somewhere around 300 people showing up to ride or run all the way around Burke Mountain.

The view from the back.
The view from the back.

The course was changed this year with a new venue location.  Everything was set up in a big tent in a field across from a farm on Kirby Ridge Road. This also meant that we would be starting the climb to Victory via a different route.  I was in the parking area with Joe when the start went off.  He was fumbling around last minute with something for his bike.  We quickly packed things up and got moving.   We ended up being fully last off the line.  I was okay with this but was hoping to connect with some other guys so we could ride together.  Eventually, we did find Dave when I stopped to remove some layers.  Prior to the start, I had finally gotten warm, which should have told me that I was way overdressed.  Regardless, the three of us trudged onward and upward with the fat tires giving us an advantage in the muddy parts of the climb.

See Joe.  See Joe fix his chain tension.  See Joe fix his chain tension again and again.
See Joe. See Joe fix his chain tension. See Joe fix his chain tension again and again.

We climbed for quite a while before we finally got the chance to descend.  This would have been great but we ran into our first mechanical with Joe’s chain dropping off.  With an internal gear hub, you don’t have the derailleur to take up the slack so getting proper tension is just as important as on a singlespeed bike.  Little did we know that this would be the first of many such stops.  Apparently, the Alfine hub didn’t like to stay in place on a Pugsley.

I think there was one good line to follow here.
I think there was one good line to follow here.

We rode on some double-track and log road terrain for a short while before entering the single-track.  The singletrack warrants some serious reflection of it’s own.  The previous times I’ve ridden the Circumburke it has been my favorite part of the route.  It seemed like there was a LOT more this time around.  As near as I can estimate from my GPS data, there was at least eight continuous miles of the narrow stuff.  It seemed to just go on forever and ever.  With all the twisting and turning, I soon lost all sense of where I might be, other than knowing in a general sense that I was somewhere out behind Burke Mountain.  I distinctly recall mentally pausing at one point realizing that I had been riding singletrack non-stop for close to an hour straight.  It was glorious.  The volunteers that were out clearing the leaves off the trail last week deserve a huge thank you. I would still love to see this route made an option for year-round adventure/marathon riding.  This portion of the route alone was worth the price of admission.

photo courtesy of the Dave Tremblay pectoral cam.
Photo courtesy of the Dave Tremblay pectoral cam.

We rode a pretty good pace through the singletrack, picking off riders and runners as we went along.  At the aid stations, many of the runners would catch up and pass us while I ate and Joe fixed his chain tension (again).   It was a “tortoise and hare” sort of thing.  The ground was just wet and/or soft enough to make the additional floatation of the big tires justifiable, or at least not a massive liability.  Certainly not necessary but nice.  Just like in the past, the singletrack ultimately ended in the old orchard clearing.  The whole thing had this seriously remote feel to it.

Another great part of the Circumburke were the aid stations.  I never really appreciated how good they were in previous years, but that may just be that I was too focused on making good time and not stopping to enjoy myself.  Well, that wasn’t the case this year.  I did stop – at every one of them.  We ate, talked and generally had a good time.  I think I could have gained weight on the ride this year.  The volunteers were great and the stations were well stocked.  In addition to drinks, cookies, oranges and bananas, they had several energy bars from Vermont companies: OWL (my personal favorite), Monkey Chew Bars, and Garukabars.  Some stations even had Green Mountain Creamery yogurt and pudding.  The only complaint I can make is that there weren’t any Twizzlers to be found this year.

Grilled cheese sandwiches at an aid station?  Show me any other event that can top that!
Grilled cheese sandwiches at an aid station? Served by a guy in a cow hat?  Show me any other event that can top that!

From the aid station in the orchard, we began the “Gold Road” section of the route.  This would be a tremendously boring trail from a technical perspective if it weren’t for the mud holes.  Our pace may have increased a bit here, but the temperatures did not.  I felt like I was running the risk of dehydration not from sweat, but from my runny nose.  My nose always runs profusely in the cold.   A mile or so into this section and the light rain turned over to snow.  The snow then started to stick to the ground.  I was hoping that the intensity would increase so we could ride our fat bikes through a couple of inches of snow to finish the ride.  That would have been amazing.  Sadly, the snow let up and we didn’t get to have that experience.  Maybe we’ll get lucky and that will happen another year.

It snowed enough to accumulate on the ground.  Technically, it was groupel, not snow but the effect is the same.
It snowed enough to accumulate on the ground. Technically, it was graupel, not snow but the effect is the same.

Eventually, we dropped out on Pinkham Road to connect with the Parr’s Yard trail.  This involved traveling just under a mile of gravel road.  There’s nothing like getting out on a road with a fat bike to make you feel really, really, slow.  Honestly, it felt like we were moving slower than when we were in the woods, with the exception of a nice downhill.  We followed Parr’s Yard over to the Burke ski area, taking the Shire as a descent.

From the Burke base lodge we crossed the parking lot, climbed the Red trail and finally descended the Kirby Connector back to the finish area.  Since Dave, Joe and I were still together, we engaged in a fat bike sprint for the finish line.  I was boxed in and couldn’t pull around resulting in a shameful loss.  You can see how devastated I was in the next photo.

I lost the fatbike sprint finish but still had fun.
I lost the fat bike sprint finish but still had fun.

I figure by taking my time and riding slower, I maximized the amount of enjoyment I got out of the challenge this year.  I can’t really claim to be that well calculated, but it did work out that way.  By keeping my pace down, I felt great.  I honestly felt like I could have done another lap like that and had just as much fun.  Once we finished, there was hot food from the Market Cafe waiting for us: wraps, soup and cookies!

At least for me, this was the best Circumburke yet.  In spite of the weather, or possibly because of it, I had a blast.  A huge thanks to the folks at KT, the volunteers, sponsors, and landowners for making this happen.  See you next year.

Odds and ends:

Joe fixing his chain again.
Joe fixing his chain again.
A little snow stuck on the top.
A little snow stuck on the top.
Guess what's going on here.
Guess what’s going on here.
Nice and clean before the ride.
Nice and clean before the ride.
Dave cropped my head off.
Dave cropped my head off.  It hurts.
Everyone got a pint glass too!  I'm trying to collect the whole set.
Everyone got a pint glass too! I’m trying to collect the whole set.

Winterbike 2013

winterbikeweb1-662x1024I had been really looking forward to Winterbike for quite a while this winter – especially since I now have a fat bike to play on.  Last year, the event was really well done and they managed to ramp things up a little more for this year.  My daughter, Emma, and I started the day off a little early by my standards and even managed to arrive at the Dashney Nordic Center before any of the group rides started to form.  We also got to witness the car in front of us avoid some deer in the road just prior to our arrival.

As for the weather, you couldn’t have asked for a better day.  The temperature  in the morning was in the teens and warmed up to almost 50 degrees by mid-afternoon.  The snow stayed nice and firm through the morning hours.

Registration.  Notice the cider doughnuts on the right end of the table.
Registration table. Notice the cider doughnuts on the right end of the table.   Thanks to whoever made them.

After signing in and getting some cider doughnuts (yum!!) and our really cool T-shirts, I pulled my stuff together and visited with a few people.  There were two rides that were supposed to leave early that morning at 8am: the “Epic Adventure” ride and the Single-track ride on the east side of Darling Hill.  I had been out on the single-track earlier in the week, so I opted for the super, mega, ultimate “Epic Adventure” ride.  Also, Jeff Hale was leading it, so I knew it would be good.  A little later there would be some more moderate group rides around the touring center.  My daughter, Emma, later joined the “Ride with the Girls” ride.  The 8 AM rides left closer to 8:30, but it all worked out well.

Start of the real climbing.
Start of the real climbing.

Our ride started by climbing.  Then we climbed some more.  After that, we did some more climbing.  This lasted almost 5 miles before things turned downhill in any meaningful way.  Fortunately, I like climbing, so I was fine with that.  We even had a nice snowmobile track switch-back above the Cutter Inn that we had to navigate.  From there, we traversed some of the summer Kingdom Trails routes through Parr’s Yard and beyond.  Eventually, we found our way to the Golden Road.  We rode this trail as part of the Circumburke Challenge this fall but in the opposite direction.   Out there, the snow was soft, not because it was warm but because it was dry powder underneath.  When I left the packed trail, I was surprised how deep it was out there.  Still, it was very manageable; and we were able to ride without difficulty.  I did have to let some air out of my back tire to get a little more float.  There were three guys from Pennsylvania who set a good pace for much of the ride out there.  When they weren’t pushing the group along, the reverted to heckling each other.  It was pretty cool.

Climbing out in Victory

Eventually, we ended up on the VAST trail that cuts through the gas pipeline through the town of Victory.  The trail was wide open and smooth; much better maintained than most state highways around here.  There were some flat sections where we actually had a paceline of sorts going.  After several miles of this, we returned to the narrower trails and finished out the ride on some of the groomed stuff in the nordic XC network.  Altogether we rode around 16 miles.  My incomplete GPS data from the ride is here.

The aid station.
The aid station.

We arrived at the aid station much earlier than I expected.  It was pretty well stocked with food and drinks of various sorts.  They had some of that really good bread like last year along with some Vermont Peanut Butter – good stuff!  It was quite a busy place with people hanging around from the other group rides.  It was a nice setup and warm enough that we didn’t need a fire.

Bikeman was there too.

Another really nice thing they had were the fat bike demos from Carver Bikes and the Village Sport Shop.  This was good, but be careful if you ever borrow a fat bike for any real length of time;  it’s almost guaranteed to make you want to part with your cash if you don’t already own one.   My daughter, Emma, took one out for about half an hour or so.  Her response: “I want one!”  We’ll see.

Emma on a demo bike from the Village Sport Shop
Emma on a demo bike from the Village Sport Shop

In the afternoon, they had the 6X snow downhill race.  I didn’t show up to see the race until the finals.  By this time  a good size crowd of spectators had built up.  The finish of the course ran through the lodge area and had been reduced to the consistency of a bowl of mashed potatoes.  The conditions unquestionably favored the fat tired bikes this year.  There were some pretty good prizes during the awards ceremony with champagne spraying everywhere – literally.  In the raffle at the end, some guy won a fat bike frame from along with a really nice set of very yellow rims.  My daughter was really hoping to win that one.   She did manage to get a Kingdom Trails sweatshirt, which was part of the many schwag items that were tossed into the crowd.

Last year, regular mountain bikes outnumbered fat bikes by a huge margin – I don’t think there were more than 12 or so of them in total.  This year, they were everywhere and clearly in the majority.  Mountain bikes with “skinny” tires started to look weird by the end of the day.  The intermediate rides still were set up so that they were enjoyable on either type.  Hopefully, that will continue in the future as not everyone who would enjoy this kind of thing has a fat bike.

Lots and lots of fat bikes.
Lots and lots of fat bikes.

Overall, it was a great day.  The weather was amazing, and we had some excellent riding.  There were lots of little extras like food, beer, sugar on snow and probably other things that I’m not remembering.  Last year this was a donation funded event but I have no complaints about the $15 registration this time around; it was definitely worth it.  Thanks to MTBVT, Kingdom Trails and all the others who made the event happen.

It was really great to have a second snow biking event with Überwintern being just two weeks ago.  The scale of Winterbike was significantly bigger, which isn’t surprising considering it is in its second year.  The weather at Überwintern was 100% winter where this weekend was more like spring skiing.  I hope MTBVT can develop both of them so that we will have two very cool biking events to look forward to during the very long winters up here.  Both were really enjoyable.

Below, I have posted some of the photos I took.  I’ll add links to any other blogs or articles the event as I find them.  I’m still waiting for this guy to post something too (no pressure Wil, none at all…).

Other links:

CircumBurke 2012

This is my second time riding the CircumBurke Challenge.  I missed the on-line registration deadline, so I showed up a little bit early to sign up.  It was a good thing, because the registration line soon stretched up the stairs in the lodge.  There were enough people that they pushed the start time back 1/2 hour because registration hadn’t caught up.

The turnout this time around was surprisingly bigger than last year’s.  There were 145 bike riders preregistered but, by the time we lined up to start, it seemed like there were a  LOT more than that there.  There were only three or four other single-speed riders – not as many as I had expected for an event this size.  I would be riding with a rigid fork on my race bike this time.  I guess I was sticking to the theme of riding “old school.”  I was really counting on David Tremblay to join me again with his rigid single-speed but that didn’t work out this year.  It seems like he and I cannot coordinate a ride together at all lately.

The start from above. Photo by Jeff Hale.

They started us in the lower parking lot in front of the lower lodge this year.  I’m thinking it was because the group was so large, but that’s just speculation on my part.  The first two or three miles is just a long, steep climb and there’s really nothing enjoyable about it with the possible exception of the Camptown trail.  I took off a bit faster than I would have liked so that I wouldn’t get stuck behind someone climbing slowly in the initial single-track.  It worked out well, because I was somewhere in the top 10 when we finally entered the woods.  The Camptown climb was almost fun, and we were soon on the old CCC road that crosses the main mountain.  There were sections of this climb that were quite boney with loose rocks.  Unfortunately, those loose rocks were all covered by a thick blanket of leaves which made keeping traction an interesting affair.

The CCC road eventually turned downhill.  The descent goes on for at least a mile, which was a little more challenge than I expected with the unsuspended front end of the bike.  This was mostly because of the leaves that obscured the ruts and rock.  Still, it was nice to have a chance to recover from the long climb.

The descent was followed by more double-track.  This placed us on some dirt roads out in Victory.  We rode the roads for a mile or two before returning to the trails and the first aid station. The trail started out with a section of double-track that was quite muddy with large rocks hidden beneath some grass and weeds.  I had to pick my line well and try to stay light on the wheels to prevent any unexpected hard hits.  This lasted for about half a mile before things became a little more enjoyable.  We hit another short portion of dirt road before getting back to the trails.

Note the really cool looking fork on that bike.  Awesome.  Photo by Jeff Hale

Soon after leaving the road, I took a wrong turn which led to a log road intersection which obviously was not intended to be part of the course.  I had to turn around and back track a little.  Once back on track, I was on the “never ending” single-track section of the ride.  Nearly all of this single-track was freshly cut.  I think a lot of this was the same as the single-track we rode last year, but some of it may have been rearranged.  Some parts I recognised and others seemed like I might have been riding it in the reverse direction.  I’m really not sure because I was completely turned around after about 10 minutes on those trails.   Like I mentioned last year, these trails were really, really fun to ride.  I love this section.  The Jabber with the rigid fork was amazing in this stuff; the handling was lightning quick and I could pick my line with amazing precsion.  It felt faster, even without the plushness of a suspenion fork.  It would be great if Kingdom Trails could somehow make this part of a regular trail or route that was available to ride all year long.   I mentioned this to Tim Tierney, the KT director, at one of the aid stations but he didn’t seem excited about the idea at that moment.

From here we rode on and eventually were on the Gold Trail.  Things were quite a bit drier here than last year.  There were a handful of riders that were in view now.  I wasn’t exactly racing at this point but for all practical purposes, that’s how we wer riding.  Over the next few miles, we traded places a few times and generally provoked each other to work harder.  Eventually, I was riding with only another rider on a green, rigid 26″ bike.  We stuck together through the North Pasture trail.

Soon the trail opened up to Magill Fields.  Now I knew exactly where I was.  We rode the edge of the field to to Pinkham Road.  Once we crossed over to Trillium, I let the bike go and flew down the familiar trail.  This was followed by the gradual descent down Dashney Rd  and then to the Burke lodge.  I finished in 2:22 which put me in about 6th or 8th place overall.  Here is my Strava data.

After the ride, I changed into some dry clothes so I could sit down and enjoy the lunch from the grill. Very good food.  It was nice to hang around and visit for a while after the ride.  The weather was particularly warm for this time of year which made the whole day quite nice.  I’ll be putting this on the calendar again for next year.


I got another cool pint glass too!

Winterbike 2012

Winterbike PosterNow, I don’t get up early on a Saturday morning for much; but I do like to ride my bike which was just about enough motivation.  When I looked at the thermometer out my kitchen window, it was only 12 degrees (Fahrenheit).  Not exactly the most enticing temperature.  Still, the clouds were almost non-existent, and it looked like it was going to be a good day.  My daughter was already up and wanting to go.

The big question was: What do I wear??  Being too hot can be uncomfortable, but being cold actually hurts.  I read the forecast for the day a few times and tried to plan out what I would need.  I usually get it wrong, so I piled on a few layers.  The hardest thing I have to deal with is my feet.  I can be overheating all over, but my feet will still be painfully cold.  Old wool Army socks seemed to fit the bill.  It was a bit strange packing the bikes in the back of the wagon while there are still snowbanks in the driveway.

It seems like I’m always late for everything.  We arrived at the Kingdom Trails Nordic Center quite a bit later than I wanted; but, thankfully, things weren’t happening yet.  Emma and I registered and tried to get a sense for what the schedule would be for the morning.  They had plenty of food on-hand (homemade doughnuts!).  Quite nice for an event that is only asking for donations.

Waiting to StartRiders were broken up into 3 or 4 groups:  one group was going to ride easier terrain,  another more moderate and another group was for fat tire bikes.  I think there might have been a fourth group that was going to be doing some more technical single-track or something, but I never saw them.  Emma went with the first group along with one of her friends.  I opted for the second group since I didn’t have a fat bike or studded tires.

Typical trailThe conditions were absolutely perfect.  Earlier in the week we had a thaw and received quite a bit of rain followed by a couple of inches of snow.  They must have groomed the trails as the temperatures dropped because all of the X-C ski trails we rode on were a perfect, dense corduroy.  There were some patches of ice, but they were the exception.  The patches that were there had enough texture that it never presented a problem for the bike, even without studded tires.  You really couldn’t have asked for better conditions.  My summer “mud” tires were ideal.  Even the climbs provided enough traction that we didn’t need to walk any hills.

mid-ride bon fireThe group I was in had about 15 riders altogether.  I knew a fair number of people in the group, but there were still a few who had traveled from outside the area – mostly from northern Vermont.  About half way into the ride we stopped in Magill fields where they had a camp fire and quite a bit of food and drink.  The doughnuts and cider were great, but the idea of beer or vodka mid-morning just isn’t my thing.

After hanging out and talking for a little while, we hit the trails again.  This time we circled around some trails on the other side of Pinkham Rd.  This started off with a really long downhill section that seemed to go on forever.  I followed a woman on a Pugsley through the descent and gained new appreciation for those fat tires.  We then crossed the road back to the other side of the trail system and reversed much of what we rode earlier in the morning.  It was a blast.  Things were starting to warm up a bit and patches of the trail were started to get soft.  We climbed back up towards the touring center to end the ride.  Unfortunately, I had to leave shortly after lunch and was unable to stick around for the 6X race.  I hope to link to some photos from that if I can find some on-line.On the Trail

This is the most mileage I’ve put on the black Jabberwocky frame.  I love the way that bike handles.  It will definitely be worth a review of the frame once I have some more mileage and a few races on it.  Still, after seeing so many fat bikes in action, I now have a renewed bike envy for a Pugsley or Mukluk.  I’ll be saving up any loose change I might have towards one for next winter.

Overall, I had a lot of fun.  I got some great riding in and met a few new people.  I really hope that Kingdom Trails and others are able to keep this event going in the future.   While the attendance was pretty good for a bike event in the winter, it would be great to see it grow a bit more.

Update: A couple of more write-ups about the event can be found here, here, here, here, here and at MTBVT.

Circumburke Challenge 2011

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 start area

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.

Fat finger

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.

Circumburke Start
The start. Photo by David Tremblay.

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.

Burke upper lodge parking lot
Me trying to catch my breath and Dave on the Burke upper lodge parking lot. Photo by David Tremblay.

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.

Riding in Victory
Me with Dave (partially obscured) somewhere in Victory. Photo by John McGill.

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.

There would be a really cool photo here of me riding with a Twizzler in my mouth but I couldn't get Dave to take it.

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.

After the ride
Dave and I after the ride. Photo by Herb Swanson.

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.

Beer glass from the Circumburke
Cool glass that everyone got for entering.