IN NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND WHEN THE DAYS GROW SHORTER AND THE AIR BEGINS TO COOL, NATURE REVEALS ONE OF ITS AWE-INSPIRING SPECTACLES.
In northern New England when the days grow shorter and the air begins to cool, nature reveals one of its awe-inspiring spectacles. The leaves of the deciduous forests transform from summer green to a kaleidoscope of colors. Maple, beech, birch, oak, gum, and willow, paint the hillsides their unique color ranges as far as the eye can see. The moment is fleeting as the leaves accumulate covering up the trails and signal the inevitable arrival of winter. It's that combination of sheer beauty mixed with the desire to get the goods before it's gone that motivates people to flock to the more rural corners of the Northeast in autumn. With the cold of winter all but staring you in the face, it’s time to find a place for one last ride.
The journey began in northern Vermont just a stone's throw from the Canadian border. A region covered in mountains and thick forest, unspoiled from human inhabitants. It's possible that more people live one city block than the entire 1.3 million acres of the Northeast Kingdom, and that is the way many Vermonters like it. The area is home to numerous adventure opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts including fantastic fishing, hiking, world-class craft beer, and of course mountain biking. The best way to experience this decidedly rural region is to get off the interstate and ramble.
As a mountain biker, It's all about The Kingdom Trails in East Burke. A small ski town where more than 60 private landowners have come together with the Kingdom Trails Association to develop a network of singletrack that has become legendary across the country. From the outside looking in, you'd never expect to find such variety of world-class trails nestled into the quaint and quiet hillside dotted with farms that break up the vast expanse of forest. From the fast and flying trails to the old-school tech, there is something for everyone here.
It's the kind of place where time seems to slow down a bit. One that takes you back a few generations to a time when life was a bit more straightforward, and a whole lot less hectic. After a day of shredding in the hills, you could wander back into town and pick yourself up a set of antlers, a bearskin rug, or pair of antique wooden snowshoes. Or partake in the modern amenities and sample an assortment of the local craft beers on tap, grab a burger at one of the farm-to-table food trucks, and chat about the days ride with the some of the few dozen fellow riders and friends you've yet to meet.
About an hour drive east from The Kingdom Trails though picturesque Crawford Notch, and below the infamous summit of Mount Washington, lies the small town of North Conway. A burgeoning mountain bike scene has grown here in the heart of the White Mountains. No stranger to recreation and traditional tourism, already well known as a world-class rock climbing and hiking region, but mountain biking has seeming flown under the radar here. It's surely not for lack of trails and enthusiastic riders, as there are some of the best gems in the region tucked away in the hills surrounding the town.
The locals have focused on quality trail building and advocacy more than publicity. Through this humble approach, the lore has spread slowly by word of mouth. It's a difficult place to ride without some insider knowledge, but if you spend the time to explore the area, you just might be rewarded handsomely. It is a place of endless unspoiled scenery. With layers of mountains as a backdrop and foliage that seems to wrap around the hillsides and go on forever.
Just off the doorstep of Lake Champlain is rapidly expanding Richmond Trails Association. The trail system is a collaboration between outdoor enthusiasts, a public ski area, and the town. It grew out of an underground scene that started on Cochran's ski hill, as a family of ski racers and mountain bikers began to share a love of carving turns. The network has expanded tenfold in what seems like the blink of an eye.
Cochran's ski hill is not only a mountain famous for the Olympic skiers from which it gets its namesake, but also for being the source of one of Vermont's other famous exports - maple syrup. Throughout the fall, riders wind their way up and down the hills below a canopy of colorful leaves and a spiderweb of pale blue sap lines. With it taking nearly ten gallons of sap to yield just one quart of sweet golden syrup, you can bet those lines are flowing just as fast as the wheels below.
Adjacent to the ski hill in all directions of the nearby woods, you will find some of the region’s grade A dirt served fresh. The good stuff. The stuff that you can feel roosting you in your shins and calves as you carve through a turn while offering up just the right amount of traction. With new lines popping up all the time, and near-constant trail work, you can ride here a few times in a single week and see little tweaks and refinements going on at all times.
FRONT WHEELS BECAME LOST IN TURNS, AS THE UNDERLYING TRAILS DISAPPEARED UNDER A BLANKET OF LEAVES.
With the canopy of colors gone and the trails buried under cover of leaves, it signaled our time to go. But as seasons change and snow covers these woods in the coming months, skiers will share in the same thrill of carving turns.