I used to think I was a mountain biker. Not much of one. But I would have said, "Yeah, I mountain bike." After biking at Kingdom Trails in Vermont, I realize I'm someone who rides my bike in the woods. And that's quite different from being a mountain biker on trails in the actual mountains!
I've known about Kingdom Trails for a several years and had talked to Matt about going. Miles and miles of trails through the pastoral hills of Vermont. You can camp there. It seemed like a mountain bikers' Eden. It is, actually. The guy who worked in the office and mapped out our route said he felt like it was Disneyland when he first moved up there. He had a point.
The scenery was so idyllic, I half expected cartoon rabbits and deer to pop out of the meadows and sing me a tune as I biked by.
We told him we did a little bit of mountain biking, and we were looking for 2 hour ride. And then he mapped out this course, and we thought quietly to ourselves, "Wow, that seems like a lot". Especially because that line that runs diagonally top to bottom is a ridge line.
See that straight orange part in the upper right corner? It's East Darling Hill Road. He said we'd warm up riding up that road to the top of the ridge line. And trust me, it was a darling of a hill.
I truly did not think I was going to make it up the road. More than once I had to stop and walk my bike. Matt did too and he's in much better shape than I am right now. We talked about turning around and going back to the car.
When we got to the top - which was the along the ridge line - this was our view. How could we not continue?
If you ever go, word to the wise - this is the actual trail head. There is a parking lot up here at the top of the hill. Unless you have legs of steel and like to start out a challenging mountain bike ride with an unrelenting climb up a mountain road - use it! Ignore the nice guy in his early twenties at the desk who bikes here several days a week.
When you get out of your car, you'll be surrounded by mountains and the biggest barns you've ever seen in your life. And if you're from the Midwest like me, your heart will sing a little. Up there, it is like farm fantasyland.
We got on the trail and rode awhile. We'd recovered a bit from the climb and were having fun.
But we already realized that our planned route was way too much for us. The innkeepers back at Rabbit Hill Inn had warned us that it can get confusing on the trail. Twenty minutes in, we were headed in the wrong direction and had to backtrack. It was a blessing in disguise because it meant we were skipping part of that northwest spur.
Most of territory was very lovely, but some of it was quite challenging. The ground was still a little too soft. The trails were narrow and the hills were short and steep. I fell off my bike once. I've never fallen, but the section we were in was very narrow. I was only going about 2 mph when my bar end hit a tree trunk and sent me sideways onto the ground.
When I recovered, I rode up the trail a bit to come upon Matt launching over his handbars and tumbling towards a tree stump. It was also a slow, controlled fall. My breath stopped as I watched it unfold, but I could tell he would be fine.
Three minutes later, I came upon him again tumbling, with his bike, sideways into a patch of brush.
And that's when I started to want to go home.
We walked our bikes out of that section into friendlier territory. We entered a section with sandy soil, pine trees, and wetlands. Again, we felt like we were back at home in the Michigan. This was good riding. This is what I'm used to.
Our bikes were beaten up from the earlier section though, and started to squeak and squeal when we pedaled through puddles. We started to wonder to if our decade-old bikes would hold together.
Eventually, we came upon a section that was being logged and we asked a guy on a tractor how to get back to the road. He sent us up a long two track through a meadow. We had to steadily pedal throughout the upward grade. After awhile, my legs were done. I got off, grabbed the camera, and walked until I caught up with Matt at the end of the road.
The country smells took me back to the springs of my childhood in a subdivision next to pig and cow farms. I miss the cows. And the piglets. Especially the piglets.
I didn't have views like this in my Midwest neighborhood.
We rode the ridgeline road (aka our escape route), coasting back down to our car. The whole way, we saw views, barns and houses that were larger than life. I might as well have been sitting on one of those chairlift-type rides that wind their way through amusement parks. Only this was so much better.
We were out biking in the Northeast Kingdom for three hours. An hour longer than requested, and we covered 1/3 of the territory mapped out for us.
Was it worth it? Yes. Kingdom Trails humbled me. If I went again, I'd go on some big bike rides the month before to prepare, get my bike tuned up, ask for a route half the length we were given, and ask to avoid any big climbs or narrow sections of trail. I'd also remind myself that even though I've lived in New England for 5 years now, I'm still a flatlander and I'd proceed accordingly.
Afterwards, we went in the country store to change and buy a snack. Matt talked me out of taking this vintage chair home from their little antiques corner. Most stores in that part of Vermont have an antiques corner. It was only $25 and I think I made a big mistake walking away. It was weeks ago and I'm still not over it. Learn from my mistake - don't leave Vermont with an antique!
Since I was exhausted and I was in Vermont, there was only one thing left to do. Buy some Ben & Jerry's on a stick, lean back, and relax.
That day, I earned it!