This past Saturday, Cathy and I decided to forgo racing or any such nonsense and do a mountain bike day trip up to the Kingdom Trails in East Burke, VT. We hadn't had a chance to make it KT all year and were very excited to go. The weather forecast for Saturday was near perfect and so we made the call. A 6:30AM departure would get us there in good time.
I needed to stop off in Lyndonville, just a few miles from East Burke, at my brother Chad's barbershop in order to drop off a mountain bike I'd gotten for my nephew. We did so and sat around for a bit listening to and occasionally participating in the rural barber shop conversation. Barbershop conversation is basically the same everywhere, usually centered on the weather, politics or sports. Not super in-depth or too thought provoking but often heated or passionate. It was good to catch up, if only briefly and to also get a familiar haircut. Until I was about 35 years old, my brother and father (also a barber) were the only ones ever to have cut my hair. It was quite literally nerve racking experience when first I went to a local barber, not all that long ago.
We arrived in East Burke and found a parking spot behind the Pub Outback, who have some of the best onion rings on the planet as well as a great beer selection. As we looked to the car beside us we noted the familiar face of Doug, who it turns out was up for a day trip with a buddy as well. Like minds I guess. Doug's plan involved lots of climbing, big surprise, and an extended trip out to East Haven to the old radar base. That involves another mountain climb, similar in scope to that of Burke Mountain.
Cathy and I planned to stay local but to make a bid for all of the main areas, which include the mountain road to Camptown, Dead Moose Alley, the slopeside trails to Pinkham Road, Magill and Moose Alley. RT114 to Burnham Up, Red Tail and Kirby Connector. That was the morning's plan and we nailed it all. Most everything was in very goods shape. I did note that Dead Moose is taking a beating and isn't nearly as much fun as some of the other trails. Also, the lower part of Burnham Up was great but when we started to level off, the trail was pretty muddy in spots and pretty gutted out. They have been building boardwalk to beat the band but it seems it may be a loosing battle in that particular area and they will be forced to bridge it all. A daunting task and a massive consumption of resources.
The last time we were at KT, nearly a year ago now, they were working on a new slopeside trail. I think it is called Dragonslayer (it's actually Knightslayer). Starting this year, Burke Mountain is doing lift service on the lower lift that takes you from the base to mid Burke. The trails that they have designed and built for the lift served gravity crowd are absolutely incredible. They are also absolute terrifying if ridden properly and no place for a skinny little XC bike with low handlebars and high saddle height. I was wanting for my Yeti 575 but really wished I still had my Intense M1. Regardless, I had my very nice but wholly inappropriate 29er XC bike. This left me basically with no business being on those trails. As such, we quickly played through and headed for some more appropriate terrain.
Once we finished up on the Kirby Connector, which has recently and unfortunately, been logged, we took the Kirby Road back to town for some lunch. Bailey's Country Store (now called Bailey's & Burke) is back in business and providing very, very good eats. We had the typical for us, Thanksgiving on a roll sandwich and topped off the fluid stores. From there it was an afternoon of the really good stuff on both sides of Darling Hill. To loosen back up after lunch we opted to beeline back out RT114 to White School trail. Feeling a little bloated we rode gingerly along the trails, winding our way back to the Darling Hill Road, a paved climb with small stretches in the mid to upper teens, grade wise. Nothing brutally hard but you feel it.
The West side of Darling Hill affords incredible views of the valley beyond as well as the Willoughby Gap. This is, IMHO, one of the nicest and most picturesque places in VT if not all of New England. This area also houses a treasure trove of the best that KT has to offer in terms of new school XC trails. You hit the trails one after the other, each having a slight feel a flavor of their own but also weaving nicely together into an incredible ride. Our staple is Loop, Poundcake, Fenceline, Bog Meadow, Pastore Point/Loop, Coronary and back up to the top of the ridge. Then we traverse on Bemis to get to any of the multiple, totally excellent descents back down the ridge. This time, we found a new trail that had been made and decided to give it a try. This was in addition to Tap & Die and Tody's Tour and was named Troll Stroll. This trail was incredibly well laid out, with good flowing sustainable turns and elevation gains that made use of the descending momentum you had accumulated to make small cross gains painless. This maximized your time on the trail. I can say without a doubt that this sets a new benchmark, at least in my opinion coming from a true XC standpoint.
At that point in the day things were getting a little blurry. Cathy had been a trooper and humored my numerous ascents and trail choices but was starting to grow weary. We chose to hit only the best of the rest, which meant no climb back up to hit Tap & Die and then again for Tody's Tour. Instead we hit River Run to Webs, climbed up Violet's Outback to Sidewinder. Sidewinder is a must do. It is short but very sweet, a true roller coaster ride on two wheels. The KTA folks have reworked it a bit as well so it is ready to go. We then climbed up out on the switchback trail and tool in Old Webs, before making our way up and out of the West side of Darling Hill, over to the right side. There are a ton of trails on this side of the ridge as well but we opted to make a fairly direct route back out via VAST, veering off course only to sample Leatherwood and Kitchel.
We finished up back at the van happy with the days adventure. Along the course we had racked up 45 miles, just shy of my outside 50 mile goal but well over my 40 mile minimum goal. We had also accumulated about 5k of climb. Not bad. Clean the dirt and mud off, hit the Pub Outback for a drink and some o-rings and shoot for home. A very good day. So good, we are planning to do it all over again this coming Saturday.