Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Leominster State Forest: In the Diving Bubble

You got your rock wall on my trail.  You got your trail on my rock wall.

Leominster and I go way back. 

Back when my idea of mountain biking was riding the fire road freeways at Blue Hills, I found a place that challenged my idea of where a mountain bike could go.  Every Thursday my buddy Gered and I made runs down the spine jarring, bone bruising, glorified streambeds that Leominster calls trails.

Did I mention that we used to ride there at night?

How many times do you see the word rock?
When you look at the trail names on the Leominster map you get a hint what the place is all about:  Rocky Pond Road, Rocky Pond Trail, Wolf Rock Road, Wolf Rock Trail, Rocky Rock Rocks… Okay I made up that last one, but you get the idea. I think the map makers were so shell-shocked by the landscape that they couldn’t come up with any other adjectives to describe the roads.   (I’m also guessing they saw a wolf.)

And if you thought the roads were rocky, a few seconds on any of the side trails will vaporize any hopes of “flowy singletrack”.  While the roads look like the work of an inept cobblestone mason, most trails look the creation of his insanely evil apprentice.  And where there are not rocks, there are plenty of roots to keep you busy.

Truth be told, I prefer rocks over roots.  There’s no trickier obstacle in the universe then a bunch of wet roots that run just askew to the direction of the trail.  They will either cause you to spin out on a climb, or catch your tire and wipe you out when you’re cruising along on a downhill.

The mental challenge that comes with Leominster is matched by the physical.  Two prominent hills (Ball Hill and Wolf Den) come at you off of the bat.  If you’re used to rolling lazily along the trails in Belmont or even tackling the occasional hill at Middlesex Fells, these might be a rude awakening. 

With the combination of obstacles and elevation, the peaceful nirvana of smooth singletrack is replaced by the singularity of consciousness that grips you when you’re fighting for your life.  This place, more than any other I’ve ridden, requires that you concentrate to find the right line, as well as push hard to maintain speed and stay above the gaps between rocks and roots grabbing at your wheels and trying to throw you off the bike. 

A ride at night, where you live in the space of your spotlight, only amplifies the effect.  It was on those late Thursday nights where I tunneled deep into the woods in my solitary bubble, dodging a thousand disasters and existing in the next five feet in front of me.

It was probably two years after my inaugural ride that I first saw Leominster in the daylight.  Given that I never really have time to look up, it didn’t really look that different.   

NEMBA has done a stellar job of bridge building and maintaining the riding trails at Leominster while preserving their wild character.  Not all the trails are for mountain bikes, as some hiking trails are off-limits.  It is best to get a map so that you can avoid being “that guy” who pisses off the locals.

My most recent trip to Leominster was like the many before it:  physically taxing, mentally challenging, and absolutely satisfying.  After spending most nights on the relaxed trails in Belmont, it was nice to be reminded where my mountain bike could go.

If you’re going for a ride there, I strongly recommend parking at the end of Rocky Pond Road on Route 31.  Warm-up on the trails between this parking area and the ponds to the  north, near Wolf Rock Trail.  When you find your way out of this maze, cross over Rocky Pond Road to the trails between Wolf Rock Road and Paradise Pond.  If you’re still feeling frisky, check out Loop Trail (counter-clockwise).  I particularly like the trails that run between Parmenter and Mamouth Brook.  We referred to these as “Upper and Lower Hansel”, as in “Hansel, I lost the breadcrumb trail”, given that sections of this trail could be mistaken for the evil forest in a fairy tale.  Don’t believe me?  Go look for yourself.

Accessible from downtown?
Despite all the time I’ve spent at Leominster, there’s still plenty I haven’t explored.  After superimposing the map on Google Earth, it appears possible to mountain bike from the center of Leominster all the way into the State Forest by using a combination of powerline trails and back roads. 

If you’re going to Leominster, be sure to give yourself a lot of time to explore. 

Enjoy the video from my recent ride:


  1. nice vid! That singletrck looks really nice and flowy. I might have to head out there, not that far from where I work in Marlboro.

    Nick, AlpineZone

  2. You should definitely go check it out Nick! I went back for seconds on Tuesday evening when work took me out that way. I did another 10 miles of mostly singletrack barely touching my path from Sunday. I found the flowy stuff over on Wolf Den Hill. With all the unnamed trails and lack of signage be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get lost and found again.