Monday, September 18, 2017

FOMBA to Bear Brook Epic (October 2016)

Red carpet treatment.
 I've heard it said that Autumn is the reason New Englanders put up with the long, cold, dark winters.  While there are other reasons to love living in New England, I have to agree that Fall is at the top of the list.

But like most things, it is fleeting, and you need to make the time to breathe-in some of its essence before we descend into the hellish hangover that is November.   And what better way to capture the sights, smells and feels of the season than a leg crushing epic mountain bike ride in the hills of sourthern New Hampshire?

The bike matches the trees.
Autumn in all its glory sure is a sight to behold.  Beginning in September, New England experiences a slowly building show of colors which explodes into a finale of  red, yellow and orange landscapes as it marches south.  

A room of golden light.
Equally intoxicating are the cold nights, and cool dry days.  Or even the fog draped mornings-  where clouds hide in the deep river valleys until the brilliant autumn sun eventually burns through revealing crystal blue skies above.

While other places experience it to a degree, nowhere is Fall more pronounced or dramatic than in New England.  Honestly, it is what I missed most when I lived for a time in the south.

Last year, peak foliage was arriving in Sourthern New Hampshire and I saw a beautifully cool and clear forecast for a Friday, and decided it was high time to check a ride of my list that I had been planning for some time.

Two of the best mountain biking destinaions in Southern New Hampshire, FOMBA and Bear Brook, actually don't sit too far from one another.  With a little investigating, I discovered that the two could be linked using a combination of local conservation trails, snowmobile corridors, and powerline doubletracks.  

Nearly forty miles, the loop would also involve around 3,000 feet of climbing.  It would be a hard day's work, but would cover some of the best trails that New England has to offer.

Along Tower Hill Pond
Having seen the forecast, my buddy Brandon didn't hesitate to join in on the fun.  And so we set out under a brilliant mid-morning sun from the Depot Road parking area at FOMBA, still wearing our warm outer layers in the cool autumn air.

The first part of our journey took us under Route 101 and up along Tower Hill Pond.  A wide doubletrack, this part of the trail provided beautiful views over the pond as we climbed upward and around a large hill on the far side of the pond.  The fire road continued north, and descended down to Route 27 where we crossed and entered the woods again on the far side. Beautiful foliage surrounded us as we rolled along continuing our journey northward.   The fire roads are well maintained in this area and we flew along, averaging over 10mph under the brilliant canopy. We might have gone even faster had we not stopped every few minutes to snap photos of our amazing surroundings.
Wondering where my legs
went after that climb.

Trees on fire!
We passed a large swamp with more brilliant foliage and eventually entered the Bear Brook park-proper, and climbed a stony doubletrack where we jumped onto our first singletrack of the day.

We rolled along Ferret Trail, Hedgehog Ledge, and Carr ridge until we reached one of the highlights of the day- a descent along Alps d' Huez trail.  As you can probably guess, this trail switches back and forth across a steep hill, and you roll  downward on the smooth flowy singletrack under a high hardwood canopy.  At the bottom we eventually climbed up and out of a steep ravine before crossing a park road to reach the famed Hemlock Trail.  Another highlight, this bench cut singletrack takes you along the steep walls of a ravine where you whizz downward through an immense hemlock stand.

Clmbing out of the ravine.
Finally turning south, we cruised along some doubletrack before crossing the camping area and the start of the Beaver Pond loop trail.  This rough and rooty section made it a challenge to stay on the bike and roughed us up before reaching some of the toughest climbs of the day.  The first-  a long and steep climb up Lynx- had me huffing and puffing and pushing the bike. We stopped at the scenic lookout at the top, where we admired the peak foliage below and wolfed down some food.  As I admired the steep hill across a small valley, it occured to me that we were going to have to climb that steep hill to get where we were going.

After a short descent it was onto the toughest climb of the day- to the top of Hall Mountain.  Again, I stood high on the pedals, climbing until my legs gave out and forced me into another hike-a-bike up to the very top.  At the edge of a meadow we finally begain descending back toward the junction of fire roads, and the trails that had carried us to Bear Brook from FOMBA.

Even the clearcuts were pretty.
Beaver pond trail gnarliness.
Having completed our loop of Bear Brook we returned the way we came, skirting around the other side of Tower Hill Pond, and across 101 to FOMBA.  Entering from the eastern edge, we rolled along Worm and Lady Slipper before rolling back out to the car- too beat to take on some of the other fun FOMBA offerings. It was an exhausing but truly memorable day.  

As Fall comes upon us again, be sure to get your fill of cider donuts, pumpkin pie, spiced lattes and leg destroying foliage tours.  Becuase November isn't far behind.

Here's the GPS from our ride:


  1. I really enjoy your narratives and adventures. I most certainly appreciate that you share the locations. It makes it easier to plan and check things out. Keep on riding and writing!

    1. Glad to have you along for the ride. I hope to get back to writing more regularly this winter. Lots of stories to tell. Thanks for reading and for your comments!