Tuesday, November 8, 2011

-Trip Report- Ascutney: One Week Later (November 2011)

I have the urge to sculpt this out of mashed potatoes.
I swore I wasn't going to write any more mountain biking articles this year.

If you hadn't noticed, we've already switched the graphics over to our winter offering.  Like a department store, the Halloween decorations are already in the box and the garland and lights are up in the windows.  Ski season is clearly on our minds.  This weekend screwed all of that up.

I should probably start by apologizing to all of you who check these reviews out for the pictures. I'm afraid you're going to be sorely disappointed with this post.  That Google Earth image of Ascutney (with the slightly exaggerated elevation profile) is all you're going to get with this review.  This is because I forgot the camera.  That's right, blame me.  I'm afraid you're just going to have to read about this one.

So there Gered and I were in the Ascutney parking lot last Saturday, and what a difference six days had made.  It was almost a week earlier that Gered, Brad and Kara were slop surfing down the front side of Ascutney.  This time we were unloading our mountain bikes for some late Fall hunter-baiting.  Given that it was "bring your trigger-happy-youngster hunting" weekend in Vermont, we wore our most obnoxious colors for this late afternoon ride and I did a little more whooping and hollering than usual.

Gered and Brad had been regularly mountain biking at Ascutney this summer, however this was my first biking trip up the mountain. And yes, I mean UP the mountain.  Last year we skied the same side of Ascutney, discovering some interesting glades peppered with cliffs and evergreen brambles.

Ascutney, which is purportedly the remnants of an ancient volcano, rises nearly straight up out of the surrounding terrain and is covered with a number of steep and narrow ravines on the side where the state park is located.  The mountain biking trails are maintained by the Sport Trails of the Ascutney Basin (STAB), who also help to acquire easements from the local land owners.  The trails mostly wind their way up and across the ravines, incorporating numerous switchbacks to cut the climbing into manageable chunks.  The constant turning and elevation changes give this place what I like to call the "FOMBA" feel, albeit with more vertical.  You are constantly out of your seat accelerating into a climb, or working around a turn.  The trails simply don't allow you to get much rest.

In our two and a half hours of biking we climbed a little over two thousand feet.  Our climbing rate was well above what my other trips this summer had been and approached my pace for the "half-hour of pain" laps up to the Arlington Heights water tower.

Gered showed me a number of trails including Rock and Roll, and Pass the Buck, as we zigzagged our way across the mountain.  Although the leaf cover made for slower than usual going, the singletrack had some flow with constant minor technical challenges.  In particular, Ascutney has more than its fair share of closely spaced tree "doorways" to navigate.  Somehow I managed to make it through the ride without bruising my shoulders or catching a handlebar.  In addition to the constant needling from rock gardens, doorways and roots, the trail incorporated a good amount of bare rock sections and even had some high bridges, logs, and cliff hugging.

The highlight of the day was by far the end of our ride.  The sun, having just set, cast a bright orange alpenglow in the crystal clear sky above the distant horizon.  As we wound our way down Cloud Climber with our lights turned off I found that moment of zen where you forget time and place and are absorbed in winding your way along the trail.  The colorful light, soft leafy carpet and crisp autumn air filled my senses.

After the ride we headed down to the Skunk Hollow Tavern in Brownsville for some burgers and beer.  Although a little pricey, this place is instantly among my favorite watering holes.  Think of that generic bar in your town that has stainless steel counters, generously spaced backless stools, 50 inch plasma screen televisions, endless beer selections, and sugary sweet waitstaff.

Now picture a bar that is the exact opposite of the soulless place I just described and you've got an idea of what Skunk Hollow is like.  Nothing about it seemed packaged, generic or fake.   The fact that they had my favored Trout River Red as one of their two beers on tap certainly didn't hurt either.

In the end it was an extraordinary day of Fall mountain biking in Vermont.  The kind of day that can make the lack of skiing in November almost bearable.  Almost.


  1. Glad you finally made it to Ascutney. How were the trail conditions?

    I stopped into North Conway, NH on Sunday and checked out a couple trails in town: Sticks & Stones and Sidehill Trail. Nice stuff.

  2. A little bit of leaf cover but otherwise excellent conditions up at Ascutney. Very little mud. As for North Conway, we want a full review!