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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Katie in the Kingdom - Mountain Biking Kingdom Trails 2019

I love a solo trip.

A solo trip is a chance to go at my pace, spend time just Olive and I, focus on myself and my wants and needs.  There is something to be said for doing things on your own for being independent and comfortable with your own company.  Solo trips are selfish in a way, and a perfect way to recharge.  Solo trips.... they let you think.  Those long hours in the car or miles on the trails let me get in my own head, hashing out where I am in life and what I am doing right and can improve upon. 

This wasn't my first time packing up the car for one girl and one dog, but this trip didn't start that way.  It was originally planned as a 3-day weekend away for Adam and I, leaving the dogs behind to bike Kingdom Trails for a day before heading to Stowe for two more days.  He had never been to Stowe and had never even heard of Kingdom Trails and I was excited to show him some of my favorite parts of Vermont. 

But sometimes plans don't always work out. Life had other plans and mother nature sent some nasty weather our way.  Adam (the lineman) had to work 16-hour shifts until everyone's power was back on.  Non-negotiable.

Most people would cancel the trip, maybe reschedule for another weekend, put it off for another time.  I knew if we did this, we would probably never end up putting it on the calendar, and we would miss the end of peak foliage.  If you know me, you probably know that I am a pretty independent human who doesn't mind an adventure on my own.  I was sad to be missing out on the weekend with Adam, but knew I would really be bummed to miss out on a trip to Vermont as the leaves began to fall.  

So this year, when Adam had to work through the weekend and I was faced with the choice 'Do I Stay or Do I Go (alone)" I chose to go on my own - and it was an easy one.  I loaded up my car Friday night and Saturday morning, woke up to my 4:45 alarm and headed north to the little town of East Burke, Vermont.  This year my car had the addition of Olive, who was staying with a sitter in West Burke I found on while I mountain biked. $25 and she was hanging out for the day with a sitter and visiting Dog Mountain (more on that later).  An audiobook and car full of way too much stuff and we were on our way.

In 2016 I wrote a general post about Kingdom Trails and last year, I wrote all about this trip solo and what it meant to me.  To sum these posts up, Kingdom Trails is mountain biking mecca with a 100-mile trail system from flowy greens to technical black diamonds. These trails are in the most picturesque little Town East Burke, and in the past, I joined Thatcher and some of our friends on this trip every Columbus Day weekend.  This was a hobby I gained through Thatcher, and something I did in groups with friends.  Last year was the first year I went to Kingdom Trail on my own, and it was a different experience - mostly in a good way.  I loved being able to bike at my speed, pick my trails, and stop to take as many pictures as I wanted.  I gained the confidence and assurance needed to enjoy this trip in the company of one.

This year, my focus shifted.  I knew this was something I was plenty capable of doing on my own, but now I just wanted to figure out how to be better at it.  With that group atmosphere, came the relaxed attitude that there would always be someone to fix something or help me if I was in a bind. When you are out on your own, you need to know all the basics and then some. You need to bring all the tools and know all the tips and tricks. So this year, I spent some time on the trail figuring out how to be a better, more independent mountain biker and this is what I came up with.

1. Switch back to flats. As someone who doesn't bike as often, I don't trust my skills over technical terrain while clipped in. It starts to ruin the ride for me when I am so focused on being able to get out of my pedals in technical sections. Flats will be a safer choice for now, and give me some more confidence on the trails. Unfortunately, flats come with the bruised shins from whacked peddles coming back around.

2. Learn basic bike maintenance. I relied on Thatcher for flat tire changes, tools, and fixing my gears or chain.  So I basically head on the trails with some water and a map and hope for the best - not the best strategy.  I relied on others for skills I should have had all along.  REI has bike maintenance classes (even some specifically for women). You can also check your local bike shop to see if they are offering any classes. The day after KT 2019 I signed up for a class at our local bike shop.

3. Bike more at home.  Practice is key and mountain biking uses different types of muscles and certainly challenges endurance. If I really want to make the most of my weekend at Kingdom Trails, I need to get some more miles in at home.

4. The drive is always worth it. It is so easy to talk myself out of this trip... it adds up to roughly 9 hours of round-trip driving just to mountain bike for the weekend (the day, really). But every time I pull into that parking lot, pedal along these insanely perfect trails, walk into the bike shop for a beer, or stop at Heavens Bench to take in the view, I remind myself it's worth it.  It's always worth it.

5. Fuel your body with the right foods. Physical activity doesn't mean you earned the junk we consider rewards. Balance is key and I do enjoy the bad foods on an 80/20 ratio. But when doing activities where I rely on my body, on feeling good and energized, proper fuel is key. The older I get and the more I ask of my body, the more this point rings true.

6. Mountain biking is hard. You are moving yourself and a bicycle up steep sections of trail, up and down mountains. The first 30 minutes is always pretty rough for me as I get comfortable on my bikes and on the trails. After that, things loosen up, my confidence builds, and I really start to have fun. You won't always be good at it. Understand yes, this is hard, but you can do hard things.

7. Solo trips are so good for thinking. It's just you and your thoughts on wooded trails in the most beautiful place. If you go on a less busy weekend like I do (the weekend after the chaotic Columbus Day weekend), you can find large stretches of trail with no one on them.  Just you and the beautiful views of Vermont as you make your way through the Kingdom.  At one point, I hit this beautiful field on a green flowy trail and parked my bike, pulled out my travel notebook, and sketched this gorgeous part of Vermont.

8.  and lastly...the trail "worth it" was not in fact worth it. 
On a more serious note, I spent a lot of time with my map.  Next year, I hope to be more confident in my riding, and head where the trails take me and just go with the flow (without 500 stops to check a map and my direction).

I'm not a great mountain biker, but I'm a grateful one. This trip is something I look forward to every year and I know better than to let last-minute changes in plans or a solo journey deter me from heading to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. I learned a lot this year, and can't wait to see how much I've improved before October of next year when I pack up my bike and my bags and drive north to Vermont. I'm hoping to make it north when the snow flies and check out another side of Kingdom Trails when the fat bike festival takes over and the tires on the trails double in size.

After my day on the trails, I picked up a tired Olive from the sitters and we both headed even farther north to Island Pond, Vermont for the next part of our adventure.

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