Thursday, November 1, 2012

CircumBurke 2012

The course map. Of course.

Twenty four miles.  Three thousand feet of climbing.  Bridgeless stream crossings. A soul-crushing twelve-hundred foot, three and a half mile 7% grade climb straight out of the starting gate.  Speeds approaching 30 mph down a glorified streambed covered with leaves.  Twisty singletrack up the side of a mountain that makes FOMBA look like an airport runway.  And let’s not forget the half-dozen or so mud pits big enough to make your redneck friends build a bonfire, buy a case of beer and make a mess of their favorite truck.

These are the foes that line up to do battle with your psyche when you step up to the start of the CircumBurke ride. 

The ride, which is not officially a race, commemorates the life of Dave Blumenthal, an endurance rider from Vermont who was killed competing in the Continental Tour Divide race.  The field includes mountain bikers as well as long distance runners.  This was my first year taking part, and I was joined by the full Nor’Easter Backcountry contingent including Gered, Brad and Justin.
The soul crushing climb.
Copyright Herb Swanson
For someone who had been training on the rolling hills and buffed singletrack of MetroWest Boston, I was a bit nervous about the prospects facing me.  Okay that’s not entirely true.  I should have been nervous but was a bit overconfident.  Buoyed by my Strava results on the local Massachusetts trails, I was feeling like I was in pretty decent shape.

Ten minutes into my climb, somewhere in Camptown singletrack, the mountain dispossessed me of any notion that I was going to breeze through the course.  I was solidly in the middle of the pack:  just another body suffering through the torture of a thirty minute climb.  Brad and Gered had leaped out ahead of the main field and were somewhere far ahead of me, while Justin was somewhere just behind.

After rolling past the mid-Burke lodge and up Camptown trail, I settled into the last part of the climb up the CCC Road to the southern shoulder of Burke Mountain.  I had been in this area last winter, following Justin down a rabbit hole known as the Red Trail, to some amazing sidecountry glade skiing.  Today I was focused on the rocky doubletrack, breathing deeply and pushing myself upward.  Despite all the suffering, the mood among the riders around me was festive.  We joked about the climb and encouraged each other onward.

A half-hour of climbing behind me, I finally crested the top of the ridge and started my descent into the wilds of Victory.  The pain in my lungs and legs subsided as I thundered down the trail.  Loose rock waited stealthily under leafy camouflage as I navigated through a couple minor washouts. The occasional water bar launched me into the air, and I struggled to keep my weight back behind the seat.  Somewhere near the bottom third of the descent, I gambled on the wrong line and a hidden rock bucked me into the air and over my handlebars.  Miraculously I avoided any serious damage, and hopped back on my bike laughing in amazement with a couple fellow riders.
All we were missing was monster trucks and rednecks.
Okay maybe just  the trucks.

A short on-road section where I raced along in a small pack of riders was followed with a leap back onto grassy doubletrack.  Here I encountered the first of the muddy sections.  By this time enough riders had been in front of me that I could see the muddiest and least consolidated of pathways.  This didn’t help much, though, as I found myself (and the bike) covered in thick mud after only a short while.  Between the mudholes the seemingly innocuous doubletrack demanded my attention as I swerved to avoid the ruts and rocks that lay hidden in the tall grass.

Honestly, most of this section is a blur, although I do remember seeing Tele the Mystery Dog, barking from the end of a chain in the front yard of his house.  I wanted to go over and say hi, but I had other pressing matters.

I had no idea someone snapped this photo.
*Courtesy of CircumBurke organizers and/or
trail gnome.
The trail followed some of the logging road that Justin and I had used to climb up onto Umpire Mountainfor our backcountry trip last winter, then cut into the woods.  The singletrack after this climb was a maze of twisty fresh trail cut into the side of Umpire mountain.  Although seemingly brand new, these trails rode extremely well.  The complex turns, dips, short climbs and descents had me wrestling the bike and begging for mercy.  After climbing generally upward for what seemed like an eternity the singletrack descended slightly and emerged from the woods.

I curved around a broad field and arrived at a large aid station where I begged for anything salty.  I had already consumed two of my Gu packets, but didn’t have anything in my bag with salt.  Cheese Nips did the trick, and within a minute, I was back on the trail.

The next section was an endless logging road, interrupted with stream crossings and bridges in various states of disrepair.  Named the "Gold Trail", it has one particularly nasty section which starts with a cockeyed bridge, continues into a deep mud pit, and climbs over an impossibly steep hill.  By this time, it was all I could do to walk myself over the crest of the hill.

The familiar view from McGill Field
For most of the ride I had been surrounded by other riders, but suddenly I found myself alone.  On the far side of the mountain I waged a solitary battle with my body- trying to coax it into continuing without stopping to take a break. The logging road slowly continued upward and just before the last aid station it started a long descent.  

One more short climb and I found myself in McGill Field at the top of Moose Alley and within view of my final destination across the valley.  I knew this area well, as I often start my rides at Kingdom Trails with a run up this section.   This time, however, I was headed down the way I usually climb.  I bombed down the smooth singletrack eventually emerging onto the dirt road.  I was alone as I headed down the paved road and back into the Burke Mountain parking lot.  After dipping into the woods one last time, the finish line was in sight.

I cruised across the line at just over three hours. 

While I finished solidly in the middle of the pack (80th out of 180), my buddy Gered finished first overall in just over two hours.  Brad also rode well, finishing in the top twenty, while Justin rolled in with a respectable three and half hour finish.
Bombing down Trillium.
Copyright Herb Swanson

It was an excellent day for a ride, and given the festive spirit of most of the riders an all around good time.  I’ll be sure to carve out a space for it on next year’s calendar, and maybe some time for more hill sprints in my training schedule.


  1. Good write up and great job on the race!

    1. Brad Brad Brad... it wasn't a race, remember? (even though Ed might've treated it as one trying to catch crazy racer Gered and Sheldon too, I, for one, was quite happy with my leisurely just-under-four-hour jaunt!)

    2. Or was I just under 5? yeah, that's probably more like it... at least I got to enjoy more of the views!

    3. I know it wasn't a "race" but I'm just trying to make Gered feel justified in crushing the rest of us.

    4. your schadenfreude is all the reward i need

  2. It was nice to finally meet the whole Nor'Easter Backcountry crew! Certainly was a great time at Burke - Andy, you captured the feel well, yet again. Hope to catch up with you guys more, in any season!

    1. Great to hang out with you and Ed as well. We'll have to get out on skis this winter!

    2. Thanks Sara. Nice meeting you and Ed. I look forward to touring with you two this winter. We'll take you up to N. Twin if you guys show us around Kinsman.

    3. ah, I see deals are in the making. Sounds good!

  3. I first caught wind of this race (OK, "ride") just a couple weeks ago and thought "Cool, that sounds right up my alley." Your report confirms that, I'll have to put this on my calendar as a must-do for next year. Congrats on your excellent time, even if it wasn't a "race"!

    1. Thanks Jeff. It was a really fun event. Definitely get some hill sprints in the training regimen, though!