Written by e moneybags on Thursday, 16 Oct 2008.
Our fearless leader Nate always does such a nice job with these write-ups/reviews/news articles or whatever you want to call them, and my lady and I had a great trip up to Kingdom Trails in Vermont this last weekend, so I thought I might take a page from his book and share with you all.
Disclaimer: I have not, nor do I claim to have, ridden all the mountain biking hot spots all over the world. The Mrs and I rode Moab a few years back when we didn't really know what we were doing… I have ridden a fair amount of places around here, Vietnam, lots of CT spots, Bradbury Mountain in Maine (one of my favorites) so take my comments below with a grain of salt if for any reason you think I don't know what I'm talking about. Cause after all, I probably don't.
Mrs $-bags and I headed up to VT to stay at a bed & breakfast just across Lake Willoughby from East Burke Vermont, home of the Kingdom Trails. We rode Fri afternoon, a long day on Saturday, and Sunday morning. And while this write-up will be punctuated with pictures there are very few of us actually riding. Quite simply, the riding was SO good, there was no way anyone wanted to stop to take pictures... Here goes nothing.
On Friday morning as I packed up the car with all our bike stuff and regular stuff for a weekend of biking in VT Mrs Moneybags took the pooch over to a dog sitter's house. Kingdom Trails in East Burke VT has a "No Dog" policy simply because they get so much traffic, that if everyone else brought their dogs too, it would be a major disaster. Mandy got back and away we went up north... Directions were easy – 91 North, to VT exit 23 and a few miles later, you're there! And from Hamden/New Haven those simple directions still took 4 hours. We were happy to get out of the car and stretch our legs when we arrived.
I'll spare you the history on Kingdom Trails (even though it is interesting and I definitely encourage you to read about it here) but long story short, it is pay-to-play. A 1-day pass is $10 during the GREEN season (basically mid-spring to mid-fall) and for that price you get access to something like 100 miles of trails, a wonderfully clear map to take with you, and an expert's recommendation on where you should ride. So we wandered our way around in to the Kingdom Trails office where Tim Tierney the Executive Director of the whole deal was very friendly and more than happy to recommend a route for us based on how long we wanted to ride and the kind of thing we were looking for.
The rain had been sprinkling down the last few days, and even on the ride up. Now that we had arrived, it was lightly drizzling off and on, but the sun was out too. So it was cool and damp, but the scenery was nothing short of amazing.
We got on the trail about 3 pm and rode about 2 hrs or so on some of the coolest singletrack I have ever ridden on. It was not long before both the Mrs and I were saying after every new trail we went on – 'This is my new favorite trail.'
This theme would run through the entire weekend. Our 2 hr or so loop on our first day took us up East Darling Hill Road (how most of the rides here begin) about halfway until we hit Sugarhouse Run. Then left onto Beat bog, left again onto Riverwood, then Vast, right onto Bill Magill ..then right onto Pines. Not that all the trails are anything but spectacular, Pines is especially worth noting.. It is through a, you guessed it, pine forest where there is a thick carpet of brown pine needles down and nothing else. The pine forest falls away to one side and there are wonderful switchback trails cut into the side of the hill that you can just rail around. We climbed back up and out of there on Leatherwood and then down back towards town on Kitchel. Kitchel is another name you will see more of… It is a one-way downhill trail that has about 8 or 10 big berms in the last half of the trail. And since it is one-way you can really drop your seat, grab a tall gear, and crank. Leaning into those berms on the way down and not being worried about who or what was coming the other way gives you the freedom to concentrate 100% on the task at hand, which is of course, going as fast AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE! A total blast.
Post Ride, Lodging, Night Life and Food
So we got back to the car and changed out of our wet clothes, both from the sweat of a great ride, and the precipitation of a cool fall day. Hungry and stinky, we broke further north still to Angie's Haven Bed & Breakfast to get cleaned up and seek out some dinner.
The B&B was just over 20 minutes north up Burke Hollow Road to Rt 5A. The whole ride takes you right around a beautiful and picturesque Lake Willoughby. Speaking of pictures:
You could hang a left onto Rt 58 and then backtrack up around the back side of the place, or stick on 5 and go left onto Schoolhouse Rd and a short ways down was a great old big bright yellow farm house. (As an aside, I only had directions from the long way, but once we figured it out we opted for this shorter route cause Schoolhouse and the road into Schoolhouse from Rt 58 side were dirt roads and I figured why beat on the car if I didn't have to. You dig?) There was a sticky note on the door "Welcome Blue Room guests! Go to the top of the stair and the room is behind you!" Well, no one was there to tell us that WE were the blue room guests! So we wandered around this person's house for a few minutes trying to get our bearings. When our hunger finally got the better of us, we decided the blue room was ours, and got cleaned up, and went in search of food.
We knew that back in E. Burke there was a deli, a real pub/restaurant, and generally speaking, civilization… We did NOT find much of that right around the B&B. We ended up hitting Robin's Roost a few miles south of where we were staying. We were the only out-of-state plate when we arrived, and the dining room was pretty quiet (read: empty) but we pulled up some seats anyway... I ordered lasagna for some carbo power for the next day while Mandy had a full-on Thanksgiving dinner which was also delicious. A few people had begun filtering in by this time, so we felt slightly less out of place. Regardless, the food was very good, and definitely home cooked.
When we got back to the B&B after dinner the proprietor was there as well as a few other guests. Turned out we guessed right on the room (Phew.) and had a nice chat before we headed to bed. Breakfast was set for 8:30 the next morning.
My alarm went off about 8am waking me up from a restless sleep (I need to sleep in my OWN bed!) and we got our biking stuff together and headed downstairs. Soon we were met by a young couple from across-the-state's own Burlington VT, and another young couple from Boston MA. None of us had been to Kingdom Trails before (minus the Mrs' and I short romp the previous day) and breakfast powered us up good for the day's pending adventure… Some really good fresh fruit, coffee, ham, corn bread, and baked oatmeal (which was AWESOME and I had never had it before) and we were on our way. (Also worth mentioning that Louise (who run's Angie's Haven) provides bike parking in the garage so they are safe from ne'er-do-wells and the elements.)
Angie's Haven its self is tucked back in Orleans, VT on a dirt road sitting on quite a few acres (don't know how many). Louise, the owner, has a lot of cleared land which was a beautiful emerald green against the barely pre-peak foliage colors of the trees. At any point you can look out a front window and on the lawn across the road, no more than a couple hundred yards away, it would not be unusual to see some deer munching on the grass. And there are walkways cut into the meadows in every direction, so you could walk all these lanes around the property for a little fresh air, and probably cover a couple of miles. Louise also had a handful of bird feeders out so you can stop some other types of native wildlife… We saw a few bird varieties we hadn't seen before. There's a beautiful dining room with a huge hand carved table and chairs and exposed beams where we ate, and also a few couches in front of a fireplace and a TV to the side. I found my favorite spot in front of a large front window in a recliner.
This morning was MUCH colder than the day before, but sunnier. We had a decent amount of gear on to stay warm while we were out there, including a skull cap/ear band, and heavy-weight winter riding jackets with a layer or two underneath.
When we got to the trails about 10 the parking was already outta whack. Parking in the main lot behind the trails office was basically full, but I found a spot to sneak in to. People were parking on the main road through town, across the street in the East Burke Sports store parking, and everywhere else. We walked over to the office where a nice young lady gave us a pretty good loop to cover a lot of miles in the 3-4 hour range.
Again we started up the road, but this time going straight to the top where there was another parking area beside the farm the trails took us through.
We started out on Loop (past some ENORMOUS bovines) to Bemis, to Tody's Tour (which is essentially parallel to Tap & Die which you may have heard of?) to Cat Box Hill (sandy), to Webs, then River Run, Dry Feet, West Branch, Hog Back, and Sidewinder. And let me stop you right here… Like I said, all the trails that we rode this weekend were all first class without a doubt, but Sidewinder gets a special mention. It is a natural gulley and it rides like a halfpipe. So you come in one end, down a steep 40 ft as fast as you can stomach which carries you up the other side, which is basically steep enough to be a berm, where you turn back down and in, then up the other side, and repeat those steps about 12 more times. All you hear from the bottom (or top) of that trail is the echoing of hoot's and holler's from people making their way down. DEFINITELY ride Sidewinder. We climbed back up out of there on West Branch which brought us to a confluence of about six trails in a sandy area which has since been turned in to a playground/picnic area. There's a couple of skinnies to play on, some benches for grabbing a rest and having a granola bar, and so forth. I hit the main skinny 2nd try (Go me!) and then away we went up the left (north) side of Old Web's. Another trail that deserves special mention. Much like Pines, Old Web's is in a pine forest where there is no undergrowth and you can basically see someone 100 yards away as the crow flies, but is about a half a mile away as the trail goes. This is a very cool recurring theme in this place. Coming down from the top of Old Web's is where you make your money… Fast flat turns, bermed turns, a few jumps, and enough fun to make you go hoarse without doubt. I don't know who Old Web was, but he built a mean trail! Then some cool mellow singletrack along Border, Culvert Cut, Vast, and Connector. The Mrs went Connector to Bill Magill and I chose to hit the lower section of Pines again (to confirm it was as much fun as I thought it was. (It was.)) and then climbed out on Nose which was a toughie. We met again on top of Kitchel, and this time I made sure my seat was slammed, my Pro-Pedal was off, and I had even more fun than I did the day before.
I think we were out for 4 hours or so, and were feeling pretty burned, so we grabbed a quick snack from The Pub Outback (I had a bowl of chowder, the lady some chili, and we split an order of fries. All were delicious.) and headed back to the B&B so we could get cleaned up and head to Morrisville to meet an old college buddy for dinner. The ride out there was spectacular, and the way back was exciting too as I came whipping off some street on to Rt 58 through some sort of red and white octagonal shaped stationary communication device and promptly got lit up by one of VT's finest. Thankfully, he was not in the mood to write a ticket so I got off with a "Don't do it again" and a written warning. I was careful the rest of the way back.
This morning breakfast was at 9 as we were all dragging a bit from the day before, and again we sat down together for a delicious breakfast (fruit, bacon, French toast) and swapped stories about what trails we had and hadn't been on previously, and where else we were planning on going today.
After we had taken care of our passes and gotten our route squared away for the morning (again, courtesy of the very knowledgeable and friendly folks in the trails office) we were on the trail no later than 11. We hadn't hit anything that was on the northernmost section of the map before, so that was our task. Again we slogged it up the road, which was a little more pleasant given some better weather and yielded some wonderful views of foliage on and around Burke Mountain from Darling Hill Road.
We entered on Harp to Coronary Bypass to Fence Line. We got a little turned around in here, and ended up going North on Fence Line, back down south on Bog Meadow, then back north again on Pastore Point to Pastore Point Loop, then repeated on Bog Meadow. Then back south on Coronary where we found the trail's namesake, a real P.I.T.A. climb. Left at the junction with Loop and then back right onto Poundcake which was a fun and switchbacky climb. We blazed back down the road a bit to get back onto Sugarhouse Run only long enough to catch Kitchel again back down into town. I think we finished up just before 2pm? And it was just the right amount of riding before a long ride home.
Like I said, all of the trails we were on were amazing. Most were quite smooth and fast, so if you would normally cover 6 or 8 miles on a regular ride around here, you might well do 10 or 12 there. I don't know what our mileage was, but I know I was pedaling more-harder gears up there more comfortably than I ever do around here. That's not to say the trails are not fun, there are some spots were you can practically give another mountain biker on an adjacent trail a high five as you pass each other, but it will still be 10 minutes of riding before you get to that spot that's 5 feet away from you. I found it amazingly fun. The trails were very well built and they had made great use of such techniques as rolling grade dips and rolling grade reversals as well as wooden bridges over stubbornly wet spots. (There was NOT A SINGLE WATERBAR in this entire network that I saw for all you curmudgeonly water bar lovers.) Lots of switchbacks were used on ups and downs which increases mileage, adds interest, reduces erosion, makes the ups a little more tame, and makes things damn fun. And since the trails were relatively smooth (no loose shale sections or pointy rock parts) mechanicals were limited. We saw one guy with a derailleur issue in the 3 days we rode. No torn sidewalls, no thorns, no derailleur grabbing stumps. What a novel idea!
Basically 99% of mountain bikers we ran into were friendly there. Hell, it was hard not to be friendly cause you're having so much damn fun! And there were all walks, kids on 24" with their parents, geeked-out XC hammerheads, 8" travel free ride bikes, old guys with white beards, and young pups with fancy bikes. Most people seemed pretty aware of trail etiquette too, though I picked up one or two bar/gel wrappers that were on the trail. And there was only one time, when I was climbing Poundcake, that I had to run one Frenchie off the trail cause he apparently wasn't aware that up-hill has the right-of-way. Well, he's aware NOW! English speaking or not! And there are plenty of Quebecois there, don't forget how close you are to the Great White North, eh?! In fact, Montreal is probably the closest metropolitan area to East Burke, even if you wished to consider Burlington a metro area.
What else should you know?
East Burke Sports has a bunch of stuff if you should forget/break anything. There is also a coin-op bike wash out back. A quarter gets you a minute with the hose. So spray wisely! The Pub Outback doesn't open til 3pm on Saturday for lunch, but in the trails office they have cards for buy one get one ½ off for Saturday lunches. Grab one of those. Kingdom Trails also sells a variety of their own wares, the Mrs got a neato t-shirt. There's also a restroom in the office area, and changing rooms, so don't get naked in the parking lot while someone in the restaurant is trying to enjoy a meal. Use the changing rooms…
There were all sorts of bikes there as I already mentioned.. 24", 26", 29", hard tail and full squish, carbon and steel, and every variation in between. I rode my normal ol' FS trail bike (~5.5" rear) and had plenty of fun. I am loving the bike for sure, and it handled all the tight turns and ups and downs wonderfully. Mandy was on her Prophet as always and didn't have any problems either. I did hear one idiot mutter that the place was ‘perfect for twnty-niners' and all I could think of for the rest of the ride was "Highland Mountain Bike Park is made for folding commuter bikes".
All in all, once you line up a place to stay (and I highly recommend Angie's) there isn't much you need to prepare for. Just plan to show up and ride. Like us, if you have never been there before someone will be able to point you to the right trails for you to cut your teeth on, whatever types you prefer.
A big thanks goes out to the always punctual E moneybags and lady wife science chick Mandizzle for providing us with this editorial! Where are they now? Some say they joined a KISS cover band and rock three nights a week in some chicken bar, and still others say, and I hope this is true, they live somewhere in Hamden and make riding bikes look good while smelling nice.
We here at Crankfire love user editorials, reviews and whatever! If you have something you would like to contribute, please, please please please, contact us. Sure it might take a a week or two for me to find some time to put it live, but when we do... well, yeah, it's pretty sweet when your all famous and stuff.