“You couldn’t ask for a better weekend.” That’s the phrase I heard numerous times over the three days of NEMBAfest. The weather was truly exceptional and bikes were everywhere. In spite of all the rain we had during the prior week, the trails were dry, even a little dusty in places. We had all the makings of the biggest bike party of the year.
The good weather had another side effect – it drew people out of the woodwork. NEMBAfest has been hosted at Kingdom Trails for five years now, and this was the biggest one I’ve seen. I heard that somewhere around 1200 people preregistered, and who knows how many decided to show up and register because of the perfect forecast. Let’s just say that there were clearly more people than last year.
As in previous years, our family got involved with volunteering to help out with the family camping area. My daughter and I also put in some time leading or sweeping a few of the group rides. Being involved, even just as a volunteer, opens your eyes to all the little details that have to come together for an event to run smoothly. There are a lot of them. While there might have been some snags behind the scenes, everything appeared to run like a well-oiled machine.
I was originally going to be leading the advanced night ride Friday evening, but readjusted to my new assignment taking out a large “inter-mellow” ride. Thirty-two riders showed up with headlights, ready to pedal around in the dark Vermont woods. In spite of my reputation, everyone seemed to have a good time. It was really cool to look over my shoulder and see the glimmer of headlights scattered all through the woods. It gives an odd perspective of the trails I ride regularly. Thanks to Tim from NEMBA for showing us their 2nd man drop technique – it made keeping our large group manageable on the ride. Also, a huge thanks to a guy named Mike for stepping up to be the sweep for our group. I owe you one.
The next day started out a bit more laid back with a nice morning ride with my wife. When you have kids, you savor the moments when you can get out together as a couple just to do something fun. The cool morning was great for riding and the trails weren’t yet busy with groups of bikers.
Later that day I joined the NEMBA Racing team ride. I’ve not been on the team for a few years now, but it was great to get out and pedal around with the group of guys that I used to race with. In previous years, I had been the one to lead the team on a large loop around the trail network. Kevin set the route this year and he didn’t disappoint. With the inevitable group ride attrition, we eventually were left with our core riders from several years back: myself, Shawn, Kevin, Shaun and Andrew. Whenever Shawn (a.k.a. “Ride Bully”) joins a ride, I know how things are going to go; neither of us do well at self-regulating our desire to go faster. I had a blast even if I was pretty much spent after our ride. This has always been a highlight of NEMBAfest for me.
Even though I was pretty well thrashed, my day wasn’t over. I was scheduled to lead another night ride on Saturday. Like Friday night, we had a good turnout with around 18 riders putting on headlights to extend the day with some more riding. My daughter, Emma, filled in as sweep for the ride. The sun was just at the horizon when we hit the trails; and it didn’t seem dark enough for headlights to be necessary. That was true right up until we got under the thick canopy of the woods. Someone in the group had a blinding, mega-bright headlamp on for the ride, and I think it might have left a slight suntan on the backs of my legs. Many people in my group rides mentioned that this was their first time visiting Kingdom Trails. It was interesting to hear the first time impressions of an area that I am so familiar with. It made me realize that I often take the good riding I have in my back yard for granted.
I started the day on Sunday running sweep for a small advanced group ride. I was clearly losing some steam at this point so riding at the back was a perfect fit. Our group was small enough that a sweep wasn’t really necessary, but I was glad to get out on the bike one more time. I did get to meet some new people on the ride, including another semi-local from the Mad River valley and a photographer visiting from Australia. I think he wins the prize for being the visitor from the longest distance.
For the remainder of Sunday, I mostly poked around at the Expo checking out the vendors and demo bikes. There were so many bikes available to try out that you could spend the entire weekend just riding different demo bikes. It was interesting to note how many “plus” size bikes were out there. They were all over the place. From talking with some of the vendors, their plus demo bikes were in highest demand. That’s something I can understand being on my third season riding on 29+ wheels.
I flagrantly ignored my better judgement by taking out a demo bike from Pivot. This was seriously sowing the seeds of discontent. They had a Mach 429 paired up with a set of 27.5 plus wheels. The flotation of the 2.8″ tires was slightly less than what I am used to with 29×3″ tires, but the overall ride of the bike was amazing. I take back just about everything I’ve ever said about full suspension bikes. If this frame could accommodate full width 3″ tires I’d seriously think about getting one. Yes, you heard that right. If you know me at all, you now know it’s time to put your affairs in order as the end of the world can’t be far off.
We hung around to catch the final trials show with Mike Stedley and then packed up for home. It’s surprisingly difficult to put into words all that made up the weekend. More than just great riding, there were times catching up with old friends and acquaintances, hanging around the campfire, eating a long needed post-ride meal or simply enjoying the quiet of the early morning. I ended the weekend sore, tired and more than just a little bit dehydrated. It was great! Now I’m looking forward to the VMBA festival next month.