We’re in the fourth year running with NEMBAfest being held at Kingdom Trails. This was also the second year that it was hosted at the Wildflower Inn on Darling Hill putting the event right in the heart of the trail network. NEMBA and Kingdom Trails had it all pretty well dialed in this year with everything coming together remarkably well. The weather was a mix of perfection and the dismal but the end result was still a great weekend of biking.
Early Friday morning started off with a good dose of rain. That delayed our arrival a bit and had me a little concerned about conditions for riding this weekend. As the day progressed, the skies cleared up turning it into a really nice day. We arrived mid-day to set up our camper and get things rolling. My family and I were volunteering by working as hosts for the family camping area again. We enjoy being part of the event and it’s a nice way to get to meet other people. The family camping was relocated to a new area just behind Stepping Stone Spa about half a mile from the main venue and campground. It was a little tighter on space, but I think that might have been better as everyone seemed to interact more with each other.
Once we were settled in, I went up to the venue area to check things out. I stopped by the SRAM tent and their mechanics pulled apart and cleaned up my freehub innards just because I asked. The mechanic also adjusted a few other things that he discovered. Very nice. I visited with several people I hadn’t seen in a while, but there were many others that I missed. Maybe next year or at another event.
Friday evening I was scheduled to lead the advanced night ride. The advanced and intermediate groups were each a bit small so we combined them into one group with Chris Dussault leading. We meandered all around the east side of Darling Hill taking in the new trails Mansion View and Worth It. In hind sight, taking a group of predominately intermediate riders down Pines at night may not have been the best choice, but everyone seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves. On the way back out of the woods, we had an amazing view of the moon, Venus and Jupiter as we pedaled back to the campground.
Following a cool night, Saturday was nearly a picture perfect day in just about every way. We started the day helping out around the camping area. Later in the morning, my wife took out a demo bike and went out for a ride with me. The Giant Obsess Advanced was probably a bit overkill for her skill level but a gorgeous bike nonetheless. Our ride was probably the only time out of the entire weekend where the trails felt a little congested. The groups of riders moved along pretty well, so it wasn’t a major factor in our ride.
After a quick lunch, I headed back out to join the NEMBA Racing team on their afternoon ride. I’m no longer an actual member of the team, but it was great to tag along with some of the guys I used to race with regularly in the past. We covered a good chunk of the trails on Darling hill over the course of that ride. At roughly the half-way point, we stopped at the pump track in East Burke. The new section along the tree line was outstanding. This was surprisingly fun, but it turned out to be a somewhat dangerous with a bunch of lycra-clad racers randomly circling around each other. After a little while and a few near misses, we decided to give it a rest. We finished out the ride by tearing around the west side of Darling hill. The team ride has always been a good time.
Throughout the day on Saturday there was a LOT going on at the NEMBA venue: trials show, pit bike races, music, raffles, wheelie contests and many other activities. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to get to be part of all that as I was busy either out on the trail or eating and recovering for my next ride. I was hoping that I’d have time to try out a few demo bikes, particularly the Trek Stache and the aluminum version of the Carver Gnarvester. Cliff Bar gave out tons of sample bars to pretty much anyone that pedaled by and Pedros gave away some bike cleaner and degreaser to everyone who registered. I was able to check out several of the newly available 29+ tires in real life, now that there are more options on the market. I can clearly see some Bontrager Chupacabras in my future.
At the end of the day, I was scheduled to lead another advanced group night ride. This may have been the most enjoyable group ride I’ve ever had the pleasure of leading. All the people who showed up for my ride were strong riders (Libby, Andrew, Phil, and Adam) and we were able to just cruise the entire ride with barely a rest stop or regroup. 100% fun. My legs were starting to feel the weekend’s mileage on them by the end of the ride but it was all good. Ripping these trails by headlight is a whole different experience than riding them during the day. It’s like riding new trails, which only adds to the enjoyment.
I know I’ve commented on this before, but the trail crew, along with the entire Kingdom Trails staff, did an outstanding job preparing things for the weekend. Many little fixes were made to the trails and signage leading up this weekend. Overall, the event seemed to run like a well oiled machine. I’m sure there were some hiccups behind the scenes but it all seemed to go very well.
As I mentioned earlier, Kingdom Trails reopened Worth It and Mansion View. These trails disappeared from the network several years back at the landowner’s request but now they’re back! I always liked those trails but their reinvention was excellent. Worth It was rerouted down to the sugar house at the bottom of Sugar Hill. The connection below the original Worth It route now takes a fantastic line through the woods with quite a few berms thrown in for good measure. It’s just plain fun to let the bike go on this one. “Swoopy,” if that were a real word.
Then there was Sunday. I was woken up at some point in the dark hours of the morning by the sound of a driving rain on the roof of our camper. It rained. The rain would let up for a little while, just long enough to give a faint, false hope that it might clear out. It didn’t. As the morning progressed, it kept coming in waves. All but a handful of people in our campground packed up and left along with a steady exodus of bike laden cars heading down Darling Hill Rd. I was scheduled to lead one final group ride later that morning, but it became pretty clear that I wasn’t going to have any takers. I was actually looking forward to that ride along with checking out some stuff with the vendors before it all ended. It was a rather anticlimactic ending to an otherwise great weekend. Still, we had two great days of riding, hanging out and generally enjoying all things bike related. I hope that NEMBA continues to bring the fun back to Kingdom Trails for a long time into the future.