kingdomexperiences

“Nothing Compares to the Simple Pleasure of Riding a Bike” – JFK

By Quinn Campbell

Mountain bikers get so wrapped up with the start of the season. New bikes, new gear, new trails, more training during the winter– there’s an agitated frenzy that surrounds the cycling community as we wait for the snow to melt and the trails to dry. Normally, I’m as guilty as anyone, chomping at the bit to touch tires on dirt and begin spinning the pedals. But this spring has been different, and I’ve been, admittedly, a little lazy. My trail bike is still sitting in a box at my house, waiting to be assembled. And before too long, I’ll spend an afternoon upstairs in the shop, prepping my brand new bike for the next six months of abuse, routing cables into my new frame, sloping sealant into squeaky clean tires that haven’t punched through mud holes or broken loose across abrasive Vermont granite. But that hasn’t happened yet because I’ve been so infatuated and blissfully distracted with my reconnection to the most basic, youthful aspects of riding a bike.

This spring I’ve put countless hours in atop my dirt jumper. Out of my three bike quiver the dirt jumper most closely resembles my very first bicycle. Bare bones– one speed, one brake, bald tires and a short travel fork. It pales in comparison to the sleek lines of a carbon framed, well engineered full suspension trail bike, but the notable lack of expensive, high-maintenance parts, make me think a lot less about the bike itself and a lot more about the ride. It’s simple to step outside the house and leave directly from my driveway. There’s no Strava to turn on and clipless trail shoes are replaced by my most comfortable pair of well worn Vans. Riding shorts, jersey, gloves, and backpack are all left behind– I won’t be going farther than a few miles. Without needing to prepare for an afternoon in the saddle, load all my gear into a car and drive to the driest spring trail system, I’ve been able to get out frequently, and it’s just goofy, unhindered childish fun.

Rolling out the driveway I’ll cruise through familiar village backstreets, bunny-hopping curbs, hunting for natural jumps on driveway corners, manualing over speed bumps and wearing away any remaining tread with long skids. It’s been a good reminder to ride for fun this season and focus more on the trails beneath my tires than what bike I’m on or how fast I rode. Tune out the distractions and throw a leg over your bike for no other reason than because you love to ride.

Loosen Up and Let it Roll: Tips for Descending Better!

By: Jane LeMasurier

A few years ago I went riding with a friend who was a much better technical rider, but someone of about the same fitness level. I’d stick with him no problem on the climbs and flats. However, within ten feet of starting into a descent, he would pull away from me. It felt like in a single pedal stroke he’d be gone, bounding off over rocks and through tight trees like a deer in the woods. Naturally I would start to pedal harder. But no matter how much physical effort I put into going faster, I couldn’t catch him. On a particularly long and rocky descent, I came barreling to the bottom of the trail, my forearms on fire, my tires smashing into rocks, huffing and puffing, only to see my friend sitting and resting on his bike, as if he’d been waiting for hours. He said something to me at that moment that I will always keep in mind. He told me that I needed to realize that going fast downhill isn’t like going fast uphill. He told me to loosen up and let it roll.

So, here are a few simple tips to loosen up before you descend:

Start with the Hands: You obviously want a good grip on the bike and a quick trigger for the brakes, but if you’re clamping down for dear life, that sends a fear signal to your brain, which can tense your entire body. The same is true for how you position your body over your bike. Stay rooted to the bike but give it space. The more you try to control the bike, the rougher your ride will be. Open your knees and let the bike move underneath you. Give the bike some room to perform! If you give the bike space to maneuver as it’s been built to maneuver, you’ll ride happier with more finesse. Certainly staying loose and relaxed is just as much a frame of mind as it is a body position.

Follow A Better Rider (and ride their line): I’m a visual learner, so following better riders down more and more technical lines has improved my riding significantly. Ask a faster friend to slow down so you can stay on his or her wheel. Just as important as it is to watch someone pick tougher lines, it’s important to learn how to see your own line. This means scanning the trail both directly in front of your tire and off in the distance. Scanning between the two visual points will help you prepare for what’s immediately underneath you as well as what’s coming up. And don’t be afraid to take a moment on your ride to turn around a try something again — a bridge, a rock garden, or a rolldown, for example. Getting out and riding technical terrain is the first step to improving, but slowing down and looking at the terrain, or having a friend encourage you to ride it (and be there in case you fall!), will help you relax and improve your descending.

Go Faster: Really. The slower you go downhill, the harder the technical features become. At slower speeds these features require more balance and more skill to ride them. I’m not encouraging reckless abandon, but a little confidence to let it roll faster than your comfort zone will actually help you ride downhill with more success!

The 5 most important things I learned while in Rome

By: Collin Daulong

Recently Caitlin and I went to Rome, Italy for a little R&R before the season heats up as well as to do a fact finding trip for an experience we are planning for this fall.

Before we got to Rome, Caitlin gave me some disclaimers (as she lived there for nearly 7 years before we met) about Italians, the city and their pace of life in order to prepare me (an admittedly “type A” American) for the potential culture shock.  I decided in advance to go in with an open mind, and try to embody the adage of “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. Armed with this mindset and my wonderful tour guide, we set off to one of the most ancient cities in the world. Here are some things that I learned:

1) Life is not all about money and working yourself to the bone. One of the most clear distinctions that I noticed between the States and Italy (at least Rome) is that their daily rituals prioritize quality of life over work. A long (at least by American standards), leisurely lunch – with vino of course – certainly sets the rest of your day up for success and feels downright luxurious in comparison to a quick sandwich or salad next to my computer while working. A nightly passeggiata (walk around the neighborhood) was not only good for digestion but worked wonders for my sleep schedule (even with 11 pm dinners).

2) Do not expect things to be on time, or even open necessarily. One thing that we are accustomed to in America is hyper-vigilance of hours of operation, timeliness of public and private transportation and strict adherence to a schedule and deadlines; in Rome this is not so much the case. This is not necessarily a problem if you are willing to approach it with an open mind and fully immerse yourself in the culture (both positive and negative) of Romans. Realizing that most restaurants close around 3 and do not re-open again until 7 or 7:30 is hugely helpful in planning for meal times.

3) The food is simply amazing. In my experience, Italian cuisine relies on simple, fresh ingredients that are cooked to perfection. There are not many meals that I had over there which were overwhelming flavor bombs (like a triple bacon cheese burger) but all the flavors and ingredients were appropriate, delicate and delicious. The portion sizes were also interesting: they are moderate and leave you feeling renewed after a meal, not like you need to take a nap from a food-coma!

4) The riding was unexpected and it over-delivered. When you think of riding in Italy, most people think of Northern Italy in the Alps, which is what I thought as well – until I went to Rome. I took a tour around ancient volcanic craters and quaint, colorful hillside towns, and it blew my mind. Within a 45 minute drive from the city center, our friend Linus and I departed on a 30 mile mountain bike ride leaving from a beautiful lake side town, Castel Gandolfo (known as the pope’s summer residence). We rode around a couple of mountains with increasingly impressive vistas and fast flowinig single track. On our way back to Castel Gandolfo we passed through a town, Nemi, where we had ridden the day before with Darius Arya, one of our celebrity tour guides. The single track was amazing here, the dirt was tacky and fast and there were just enough technical features to keep you on your toes.

5) It is important to have someone with local knowledge. When we were walking around Rome we saw enormous groups funneling into all the same museum entrances and restaurants; this lead me to believe that these were the best places, or where we needed to be going, but this was far from the truth. One of the most important things I took away from our trip is that you need to be guided around like a local – not like a tourist – to experience the true Rome. Some examples of this would be that we would go to restaurants off the beaten path and away from the high traffic tourists area because that is where real roman food is. Food around the major monuments is overpriced and less authentic. Another example of going with a “Local”: we went to see Saint Peter’s Basilica at the most inopportune time, Friday evening. The line was enormously long and they were actually closing down for visits due to a Papal mass. Our local friend shuffled us around to the back where we gained access and were fortuitously seated within 20 feet of Pope Francis.

We will be taking a mountain bike trip to Rome in the fall. If you would like more information, please follow this link! 

Conquering your Fears

By: Moriah Wilson

I want to talk a little bit about fear. When I was younger, I used to have a fear of riding bridges. It started when I fell off of a twisty bridge one summer day. I distinctly remember the situation: I just came in a little too tight on the corner and my back tire slipped off. Although I came out unscathed – except for maybe a slight scratch here or there – it was traumatic for me as young rider. From there on out I was fine on straight and wide bridges, but anything narrow, turny, or high up gave me anxiety. I began to walk these bridges, and the more I walked them, the harder it became for me to attempt crossing them again.

Fear for beginners is normal, especially after an incident that can be used to justify that fear. It’s even deeply rooted in our biology, and can commonly be described as the “fight-or-flight response,” in which our sympathetic nervous system releases hormones during stressful situations to determine whether we should flee or fight. From an evolutionary standpoint this response has been extremely useful. However, in modern times it is often overused in situations that don’t actually pose serious threats to our survival. Is falling off a bridge while riding my bike an extremely dangerous threat? In the grand scheme of things… the answer is no. I’m not trying to disregard fear altogether – it’s just important to realize that many of our fears are a little irrational. And the real kick is that they can always be overcome.

For me, the process in overcoming my fear of bridges involved taking baby steps. I started with some of the easier “hard” bridges, and focused on the things that would help me succeed in crossing them. For me that was looking ahead on the bridge so that I would stay balanced and keep myself moving in the direction I wanted. The small victories gave me the confidence and the motivation to try harder ones. And the feeling I got from doing something that scared me was the most rewarding of all.

So whatever your fear may be, know that it can be overcome. Make a plan, and gain confidence in each step of the process. The reward will be worth it.

“The young learn from the old”

By: Quinn Campbell

I always tell people that East Burke and the riding community which surrounds Kingdom Trails is the best place to live or play if you love mountain bikes. And I realize, you may read that statement and think to yourself, “Everyone says their hometown riding location is the best.” But I’ve visited and sampled some of the premier cycling meccas on our continent, and I really, truly, mean it. Nothing compares. And here’s why: There are the obvious reasons– more than 120 miles of pristine single track which straddle Darling Hill and circle the town of East Burke, filling the woods with lines of rich dirt that snake between sugar woods and pine forests. Locally sourced burritos as big around as your fist, which can be devoured no more than a minute from the trail head, and the only outdoor tiki bar in the Northeast. But all of the best riding locations have a similar composition, what’s special about East Burke is the multigenerational group of skilled local riders. 

The small mountain town is called home by riders from the ages of 50 to 10 and they contribute something positive to the area. I like to simplify the generations into three larger categories. There are the “OG’s”, those in their 40’s and 50’s who witnessed, supported, and created the first legitimate mountain bike trails in the North East Kingdom. They know everything about the region and have provided a foundation for the growth of every generation to follow. Many of them have invested their lives in the area and remain deeply involved in the continual growth of Kingdom Trails and the mountain industry which revolves around the riding mecca.

The 2nd age group makes up the largest portion of East Burke’s riding population, as is the case with most mountain towns that center themselves around a bike or ski culture. The cyclists in their 20’s and 30’s provide the majority of the driving force behind the area’s industry. Running bike shops, bars, restaurants, and hosting events which allow Kingdom Trails and the Burke Bike Park to deliver a well rounded tourism experience for those traveling to sample pristine dirt, and a vibrant mountain town lifestyle.

Finally, there’s a gaggle of kids who chase the rear wheels of the area’s more experienced riders. Ranging in age from 10 to 18 most have grown up in or near East Burke amidst a community that’s focused on enjoying where they live by way of two wheels. All members of the youngest group are wildly talented in their own right, which comes naturally with a wide variety of terrain at their fingertips. They’ll eventually be responsible for the direction and structure of the North East Kingdom mountain bike culture. But for now they’re focused on doing better wheelies than their friends and riding uphill as little as possible.

I’ve spent time in both Whistler, British Columbia and Durango, Colorado– among others– and they’re riding is unarguably fantastic. The mountains are massive and everyone who lives there is in pursuit of an outdoor adventure lifestyle. But, almost everyone that lives there is 28. I have yet to visit a riding destination that possess a similar multigenerational connectivity to East Burke, Vermont, and that makes the East Coast town special. There’s a grain to the culture because people of all ages ride together. The youngest learn from the oldest, which cultivates a community that’s wholeheartedly devoted to the mountain town we call home.

The Butt Smear – Collin Daulong

Mountain biking and instruction are two things that have not come together universally until relatively recently. I have done some thinking on why this is and came up with a few reasons why.

“ It’s as easy as riding a bike”; one of the oldest cliches in the book. Used to describe anything that is easy or intuitive; mostly used because of how young we are when we start riding a bike.
The sport of Mountain Biking is relatively young, only in the 70’s did Gary Fisher and Joe Breezer start making klunkers to descend down sketchy fire roads with reckless abandon.
The final reason why I think these two have not been tied together more tightly is because the race scene has been relatively under exposed compared to some of it’s other outdoor counterparts like skiing and snowboarding.

Now that we are living in the age of social competition like Strava, the price of admission in the form of equipment is becoming lower and race formats are becoming more friendly for all ability level and age groups, we are seeing more and more people seeking out assistance in the form of instruction to make themselves better riders. I cannot stress enough the importance of getting targeted instruction – even if you think you do not need it (sure says the guy trying to sell instruction). Before you judge, let me explain myself in the form of a story.

I have been deeply passionate about all things mountain bike since around 1997. I was a “husky” kid with pimples, braces and 4 eyes who did not fit into the regular repertoire of middle school and high school sports (let alone their jerseys) so I sought out something I could call my own: mountain biking. Ever since then I have made it a goal to remain competitive against myself and try to be my best. Over the years I thought I had gotten it, I was riding faster and faster, becoming more skilled, cornering better and even getting fit!

Last year, I took a certification class to become a certified mountain bike instructor through PMBIA. I went in expecting to check off boxes and not learn much that would be new, as I felt that the skills taught were things I was doing intuitively for years and even decades. I went in with an open mind and acted like a sponge. Many of the things we learned like how to shift your weight when climbing, how not to shift under load and using front brake versus rear brake….boring right? Especially at my superior level (insert heavy sarcasm)?!

And then BOOM, it happened, I learned something game changing, something that I use hundreds of times a ride that sets my riding apart – it was the butt smear. Ah yes, I am sure you are dying to hear more about my butt smear! It is actually a pretty ingenious way of thinking about cornering and how to position yourself and your butt for that matter. It means that when you go around a corner imagine smearing your butt on the outside edge of the corner to position your body correctly to get the best traction to carry your speed better. In all honesty this is something that I was doing for years prior, but it was not until I had an instructor help me visualize it in this way that helped me optimize the motion. This visualization and different way of thinking about something has lead to an increased amount of fun and excitement on EVERY SINGLE RIDE I have had since then.

There is a quote: “the physician that treats himself has a fool for a patient” and this could not have come to life more thanin the PMBIA Course. I am not saying instruction is for everyone or for you, but what I am saying is that if you open yourself to the opportunities that targeted instruction can present it can enhance EVERY SINGLE RIDE of yours after that.

Now let’s go smear our butts and ride to a better future!

Happy Trails,

Collin