Saturday, September 28, 2013

Magic Kingdom

Longtrail. Those are hops bushes
behind us and IPAs in front of us.
Vermonters know this remote corner of their state as simply “The Kingdom.” We came to know it by names like Tap and Die, Troll Stroll, Sidewinder, Widowmaker, Kitchel, Skydive, Freefall, Coronary, and Coronary Bypass.

It started with ten guys, twelve bikes, three vehicles, and a nine hour ride. That’s a story right there, but for me personally there was an unexpected side story. We drove past childhood memories in Vermont like Queechee gorge where my sister and I used to drop pine cones off the bridge and count the seconds before they hit the river below. And the White Cottage where we’d stop for lunch with my grandmother during our annual summer pilgrimage to Maine. These memories were striking because so much has changed since I last saw these places as a teenager, but ironically one of the few things that hasn’t changed in all those decades is the simple beauty of a bicycle and a fall weekend with friends. A universal truth reaching out across the decades, connecting me to myself as a little kid…
The caravan at Longtrail.

Our pilgrimage included a stop at the legendary Long Trail brewpub in the heart of the Green Mountains. The table for ten was next to the beautiful Ottaquechee River in the shade of a very large hops bush. The Budweiser truck in the parking lot was a bit of an eyesore but even those guys get thirsty for a real beer once in a while. The pork shanks (a.k.a hocks) were the best pub fare I’ve ever had the pleasure of washing down with an IPA. Basically it’s a BBQ pork lollipop - slow-cooked and flavorful like ribs but with more meat and less mess.

Friday morning we awoke in The Kingdom to a steady drenching rain. Two coffee makers were brewing, biking videos were playing, and there was a lot of studying of Doppler RADAR. The green light came at the visitor’s center around noon when Penny told us the trails were open “rain or shine” and so we allowed ourselves to indulge in one of mountain biking’s greatest sublime pleasures – sloshing through muddy single track and over wet roots in the warm rain. There is something liberating when you surrender yourself to the wet and the slop, this rain ride was one of the highlights of the trip.
Front wheel is braking hard,
rear wheel about 18" off the ground.
If you don't think this could end
well, then you are correct...

The rain stopped the Saturday morning and by Sunday (and four huge loads of muddy laundry) the sun was out for our third day in The Kingdom. Troll Stroll was super-tight singletrack with lots of bermed turns and rollers descending through dense forest. Tap and Die, was a little more open, and a little faster. Both were masterful pieces of flowy single track artwork, we could have ridden them all day.

Sidewinder was a jaw dropping double black diamond uuberpipe. It started innocently enough, then we hit a bit of a traffic jam. I was near the end of our train, the word was passed back that someone was “sort of stuck.”  They eventually got unstuck or something and the train lurched and started moving again. We could not see what lay ahead but we could hear a lot of yelling and whooping, and a couple of blind turns later we knew why. We were dropping into a massive ravine (the uuberpipe) and then rocketing up the other side, then swooping back down. Over and over, each swoop getting larger, the ravine getting deeper and deeper and adding energy to each cycle. With each swooping dive, the bike could compress at the bottom due to the centrifugal force and you would rocket to the top of the next. Again and again. The walls of the ravine were so steep you could not dab at the top of a turn or you and your bike would tumble into the debris field at the bottom. There were a couple people who had crashed or somehow bailed, they were wallowing in the bottom of the ravine trying to avoid getting hit by the riders careening from side to side.
Trail feature on the downhill course
behind the house

Those were the signature trails, but there dozens of other trails all memorable. Webs which wound through a dense pine forest over a carpet of pine needles. A long tough root infested climb dubbed Coronary Bypass. Kitchel which was a steep free ride descent with rollers, tabletops, and HUGE bermed turns. It was the first machine built trail in the network and smooth as butter. So many others.

That little kid I remembered on the drive up would have totally approved of the weekend. He would have loved the bikes and the mud and the stories around the campfire. All of the jokes about Cranston and Dirty Penny and trombones would have been right at his level. He would have been right there with his three dollar bills on the kitchen counter. And the scrapes and bruises would have been tangible evidence of his epic adventure, stories to tell his buddies back home. The simple beauty of a bicycle and a fall weekend with friends…
Our home in The Kingdom


“Like dogs, bicycles are social catalysts that attract a superior category of people” 
     -- Chip Brown

“Kick his ball(s)”
     -- Leigh's Dad

YouTube link below but note it will not play on mobile devices (tablets, phones), must be played on a PC. I made the effort to assemble the video so the least you can do is make the effort to find a PC to play the dang thing...


  1. Chris, this film looks fantastic. You realize, of course, that you are now on the hook to help out with the SSCXWC13 film, so block out December 6, 7, and 8. Nice touch using a tune from Boogie Nights!

  2. Jesse, music choice was half the fun. Wow a legit film shoot, that sounds pretty interesting...