|Sun, bike, singeltrack and water: a winning combination.|
I'm no stranger to brambles, having stumbled through more than my fair share of bushes over the years. I regularly fished for baseballs in rasberry bushes wearing only shorts and a t-shirt when knee high socks and parachute pants were all the rage. Heck, you'll still find me waist high in thickets of prickers looking for hidden singletrack. I've picked more thorns out of my body and cursed more burdock than I care to remember. So a warning about "stinging nettles" didn't phase me, until he repeated with any hint of a smile now gone from his face: "Really, watch out for those stinging nettles."
I was up in Vermont to visit my mother in the Middlebury area and drop off my boy for his first long weekend at Grandma's. This was a joyous occasion for us both. To him it meant an endless supply of blueberries, new toys and wide open spaces to explore while for me it offered a rare opportunity to go find some new (to me) mountain biking trails in my favorite corner of the world.
|Frog Hollow Bikes in Middlebury.|
My first order of business was to drop in on Frog Hollow Bikes, formerly known as the Bike Center in downtown Middlebury. My mother had bought me a gift certificate from the Bike Center for Christmas that was still floating around in my wallet.
Busily working behind the counter was one of the new co-owners, Chas, who greeted me warmly and didn't bat an eyelash when I whipped it out my gift certificate to ask if it was still good. "No problem" he assured me.
After picking out a cool new Frog Hollow Jersey, I asked Chas what he thought of Moosalamoo and which part I should explore. Without hesitation he directed me to the Minnie Baker parking lot at the south end of the Leicester Hollow/ Chandler Ridge loop. He noted that it was less crowded than the Silver Lake lot next to Lake Dunmore. He added that the best approach was to ride the loop counter-clockwise. Although there were plenty of other trails in Moosalamoo, he confirmed that the loop would be perfect for my three hour window. And then he added his ominous warning about the stinging nettles. But really, I thought to myself, "How bad can they really be?"
|One of the many sculpted rock sections on the Leicester Hollow Trail.|
|I braved stinging nettles to get this shot for you.|
As I flew along, ankle high plants on the sides of the trail brushed against my exposed legs. About the time I remembered Chas' warning I started to feel the sting on my legs. Like sweating on hay-scraped legs or a mild sunburn, my legs sizzled. This was my first experience with stinging nettles. I had always thought, until that moment, people were talking about briars or thorn bushes when they mentioned "stinging nettles". Only after I looked them up online afterward did I realize I was dealing with their chemical warfare cousin that injects a histamine into your skin from small hairlike needles as you brush against it.
Having been expecting another steep climb, I was downright stunned when Silver Lake appeared between the trees ahead. The trail around the lake is lined with campsites, and there's a large sandy beach where I waded into the cool water to extinguish the fire on my legs.
On the northern tip of the lake the Chandler Ridge Trail begins its ascent. After crossing a dam, the first hundred yards wound between rocks hugging the side of the lake before climbing a series of switchbacks up onto the ridge above. The trail is well designed and maintains a steady pace all the way to the top. Upon reaching the crest of the ridge, the narrow singletrack snaked nearly two miles, occasionally dipping along the western edge of the ridge giving breathtaking views down into the valley and Lake Dunmore below.
|Lake Dunmore in the distance.|
The real fun began on the southern tip of the ridge where over the next two miles I descended on single track nearly six hundred feet back to the junction with the Minnie Baker trail. Like the climb, the descent was shepherded by a series of bermed switchbacks which were easily navigable. I sailed over small drops and rumbled through the occasional rock garden or bundle of roots on the dry, dusty trail. Despite the drought, the trail was in excellent condition with no hint of washouts and only one blowdown near the bottom from a recent storm.
After reaching the junction with Minnie Baker I took my hands off the brakes and flew down the wide doubletrack, occasionally jumping off large rocks and bumps in the trail. Reaping the rewards of the hard earned vertical on that three quarters of a mile made the perfect ending to my adventure. I rolled back around the gate into the parking area with a huge smile on my face. And a new respect for stinging nettles.
I'll definitely be back for another ride, but next time I might dig out those knee high socks.