When I woke up on Saturday morning, the ground was white with frost. That’s not what I consider a great start to a day on the bike, but today it worked out better than I had hoped. The week leading up to Circumburke was wet. Maybe not as wet as some of the coastal areas in New England experienced, but we didn’t lack for rain either. The forecast looked something like this:
Saturday was supposed to be a more of the same, too. Occasionally, the forecasters get it wrong and it turns out to be a good thing. The valley fog burned off and it quickly warmed up through the morning. The sun stayed out pretty much the entire day and it was the warmest Circumburke I’ve seen yet. Late October in the NEK is usually cold and damp (actually, that pretty much applies to any month you pick around here) so the deviation from the norm was appreciated.
The turnout was great with over 300 pre-registered and close to 400 actually showing up the day of the event. Big crowd. Apparently a lot of people got the message about riding this thing on a fat bike. Unlike last year, where there were only a handful of us on fat bikes, this year there were too many of us for me to really count. I’ll take credit for that with my article last year giving everyone the idea.
I started the ride on time for once. I had no intention of racing in any form, so I was happy to settle in at the back of the long pack, along with several friends. We couldn’t hear much of the pre-ride briefing back there, other than something about crawling under a gate. I still don’t know what that was about.
Once we got rolling, the climbing started almost immediately. This progressed from a dirt road, to a driveway, to a jeep road, to crawling our way up even steeper class-4 type roads. There were a LOT of people out on the course and that first climb felt like trying to navigate commuter traffic on a Monday morning. The upside of that long climb is that it really stretched out the riders so that congestion wasn’t much of an issue for the rest of the ride.
Once we regrouped at the top of the climb where it intersects the CCC road, it was time to strip layers, add air to my tire and then roll out for some more. The long descent down the back side of Burke is always fun, even if it seems much shorter than the climb up. At the bottom, we took the hard left that starts the wilderness riding in Victory.
It wasn’t long after this turn that we came upon the first aid station. They located it at a junction in the woods where the 18 mile runners would take their shortcut and the rest of us would continue to follow the full length of the single-track. It made for a congested stopping point. Again, most of the guys in my group managed to reconvene here for a short rest and snack.
Every year the single-track has been a little better than the last and this year continued that trend. It is one of the best things about Circumburke that I look forward to. I think it was mostly the same as previous years, but I really couldn’t tell for sure. Dave, Hans and I broke off our little group, keeping our own pace. After a little while I lost all sense of direction. I kept thinking we must be getting close to the next aid station but that didn’t seem like it was going to ever actually happen. Honestly, getting stuck on never ending singletrack is not a bad problem to have. This was only broken up by one field section that was very well worn from the Back Country Cross earlier this fall. It was quite fast riding. From there, it was back into the woods for some more.
It was well over an hour of winding through the woods before we hit the next aid station. We were pushing lunch time now and I was getting really hungry. I just didn’t realize it until I stopped. Joe arrived soon after Dave, Hans and I stopped. And…. there were grilled cheese sandwiches again! At this point, I realized that I hadn’t been eating or drinking enough, but I thought I had made up for it at this aid station.
Our little group split became official when we left the aid station to take on the Gold road. The Gold road is always muddy, it’s just a matter of how muddy it will be. This year, it was muddy. Fortunately, this was where having a 4 inch wide swath of aggressive tread makes a big difference. We rode through many sections where fat bike tracks were the only ones other than foot prints. Some of the mud holes were surprisingly deep and could be challenging, even with that extra traction. Unfortunately, all this mud was taking its toll on my drivetrain. I started having chain suck pretty consistently when climbing in the small chainring. Eventually, this started showing up while pedaling in the big ring too.
Soon, we had reached the next aid station. The mud glommed around my bottom bracket was pretty amazing. I was operating with the assumption that I still had a derailleur somewhere underneath it all. A brief snack and a few minutes rest and then we were back in the saddle for the last few miles of the ride. There was one more aid station on Pinkham Road and then it was a brief dirt road grind, followed by Parr’s Yard trail, The Shire and over to Kirby Connector. On the final climb from the Burke Mountain base lodge, I was just starting to feel the dehydration in my legs. A few more miles and I’m pretty sure I would have been getting full blown leg cramps. Thankfully, the last mile or so is all down hill and a fun descent at that.
It felt good to finish. Really good. I put some clean, dry clothes on which made me feel even better. Market Cafe was serving up burritos, soup, and cookies. There’s something about a long ride that makes a good meal taste even better.
For me, Circumburke signals the end of the summer season. This would be depressing if it weren’t for the fact that it also starts my mental shift to winter biking. We still have to get through November which is the most depressing month on the calendar: a bleak, dismal, cold, grey month where I have to stay out of the woods for my own safety. This event is like the big end of year mountain bike party that takes a bit of that pain away. Oh, and we got pint glasses too!
(most photos by David Tremblay or Joe Brzoza)