Point-to-point sporting enthusiasts have put a lot of work into the trails they've created, and there's no shortage of epic treks to be had here in New England. Vermont's has it's own version of the Appalachian Trail in the 272 mile Long Trail. For epic paddles you can float the Roger's Rangers route up the Richelieu from Lake Champlain to the St. Laurence River. Epic road riding? There's the Harpoon Point-to-Point, or, for the truly insane, the 1200 km Boston-Montreal-Boston Randonee. And with plenty of great through-routes in the Whites, it's not exactly slim pickings for skiers either.
Mountain bikers, on the other hand, have a long day at Kingdom Trails and... the Catamount Trail?
While it's not exactly dedicated single track riding, Vermont's Catamount Trail fits all the other important qualifiers of an epic backcountry experience. It's long. It's remote. And given the right conditions, a point-to-point ride from Massachusetts to Canada would be one epic breeze.
|Marty, Balki, and John|
Yes, I know the Catamount Trail is a cross country ski trail. But I've scoured CTA's legal documents and determined that, as a winter-use trail built in the spirit of muscle powdered travel, mountain bikes could fit right in. There are already specific allowances for skiers and snowshoers, and the trail network takes advantage of large segments of the VAST snowmobile system - if only someone could invent a winter-friendly mountain bike...
|Yes, that fat|
Maybe it's my prejudice against fat people, but I've always thought fat biking was a niche sport for lazy and/or obese bike junkies. Like cyclocross, fat bikes seemed another specialty bike that would get limited use and only serve to infuriate the wife. Wives are no fools - it would be hard to miss a new 60 pound iron pony bedding down in the stalls.
Seems to me that lately the pressure to get on the fat wave has been rising. And, with Mother Nature increasingly unpredictable when it comes to snowfall, there's also more reason than ever to ride a winter rig. Those fat tires and low pressure allow a rider to travel safely over packed snow and ice, and can turn your favorite long-lost summer single track into a slippery mountain biking playground. Once broken in with snowshoes, fat bikes can cruise easily along at skinny bike-like speeds.
Here at NoreasterBC we've been talking a lot about how winter biking could enhance the sport of skiing, allowing us access to locations and conditions that would otherwise be out of range at certain times of year. For instance, we could have easily riden the snowmobile leg of our recent tour to Magalloway. With that realization, the mind began to race, thinking of other BC dream skiing could we get at with a fat bike, long after skin-access tracks had melted away.
Then we started to think about all the backcountry skiing we could hit up along 300 miles of remote Vermont single track. Lincoln Gap. Hazen Notch. Bolton to Trapp's. All you'd need is a modified ski pulk hooked to your seat post, and some of Vermont's best BC goods would be yours for the taking.
Although thoroughly documented in recent Banff Film Festivals, winter biking is still a recent offshoot of a new niche sport, and thus not well understood by the skiing or biking communities. Here's what I know about what I don't know about the sport, as they relate to a possible end to end journey along the Catmount Trail.
|Big tires, big air|
- Fat bikes are heavy and I've heard they can go lots of places my skinny bike can't.
- I've never riden a fat bike so I don't really know if #1 is true.
- Because of #2, I don't really know how many miles can be covered in a day, or if fat bikes can climb anything steeper than a handicap access ramp.
- Since I don't own a fat bike, I really can't get answers to 1, 2, or 3.
Here's what I do know though. I know that 30 years ago when those three GIS geeks invented the Catamount Trail they probably never dreamed anyone would even ever consider tackling it on a bike. But it used to snow a whole lot more 30 years ago, so there really wasn't really a need was there? A bad snow year with ample thaw and freeze cycles makes for terrible XC and BC. And could make for incredible winter biking.
|Ok, so it's pretty obvious I started |
writing this last week
While conditions refuse to stay right for bikes and bad for skis long enough to decide if this would actually be a good idea, I'm going to go against my genes and put a plan together anyway. So next time we're all sitting around bitching about how MN skunked us in the latest weather cycle, I'll be ready to put some serious miles in on a winter bike.
If you've always wondered where the rest of New England's best backcountry mountain biking is, all you need to do is pick up a copy of Mountain Bike Steve's Wilderness Treks in New Hampshire's Remote Northern Territory at your local LL Cote. You'll be one of 6 people in the know.
Photo credit: Kristopher Henry, frame maker and owner of 44 Bikes.