Mountain Biking Hurricane, Utah

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When most people think of mountain biking in Utah, what comes to mind are the classic red slickrock trails of Moab. But while there is undeniably some fantastic mountain biking to be had in Moab (I’m looking at you Porcupine Ridge), there are tons of other epic mountain bike destinations in Utah. Enter Hurricane – pronounced ‘Her-ah-kun’ by the locals. (Don’t ask me where the name or pronunciation came from).

I’d actually never even heard of this little town before until I met my friend Adam this past May while visiting my brother and sister-in-law just north of Bishop, CA. We met, of course, on a ride (via a mutual friend) and after a few fun jaunts together down Lower Rock Creek and some high speed downhill at Mammoth Mountain, I was initiated into his little circle of mountain biking friends – his girlfriend Jessi, Cal, Marsha, Lane, Lindsay, his sister Deanna, Rick, Amanda, Rachel… Hallelujah! Mountain biking is not really a sport to be done solo (depending on your style of biking, it can be pretty high stakes), so it’s alway nice to make new mountain biking friends that can call 911 in case of a crash. Just kidding. Kind of.

Anyway, every year Adam and co drive out to Hurricane for a week of mountain biking fun over the Thanksgiving holiday. This year, he invited me along and of course I said yes! I was a bit nervous at first because I’d never done a big destination mountain bike trip like this before and I was still pretty new to the close-knit group of friends that do all sorts of adventures together. But holy moly, I’m so glad that I went. It was a blast! The riding was epic, the people were amazing, the weather couldn’t have been better, and I definitely level-upped in the skills department. Goat lunges, reasonable jumps, and moderate drops are all easy peasy now. All around, it was an amazing week and I can’t wait for our next adventure: Sedona, 2018! Before I break the week down into what we did each day, here are some highlights (and lowlights, because everything can’t be all berms and kickers):

Highlights:

  • Winning $35 at the slot machines in Vegas, haha!
  • Two downhill runs in Cedar City: a C Trail link-up and Blowhard. Both awesome rides!
  • Gooseberry Mesa and Guacamole. Aside from the downhill in Cedar City, these were my favorite networks of trails
  • The crew. So many good, inspiring, fun, and generous people. I can’t wait to go on more trips with these guys
  • Roasting marshmallows stuffed with peanut butter cups over the campfire
  • Gaining skills and confidence. I definitely feel like I leveled up over the course of the week both in technical skills and in fitness. I just gotta keep it going 😉

Lowlights:

  • Changing camp spots every night. I was the only one in a tent and it got a bit tiring to take it down every morning and set it back up every night. Sleeping in a car is definitely the way to go for mountain bike trips.
  • Thanksgiving dinner at the Black Bear Diner. Huge portions, but definitely not the best Thanksgiving meal I’ve ever had.
  • Feeling sticky and gross for most of the trip. I took one shower over the course of the week and then relied on baby wipes to keep myself looking (and feeling) at least a little bit presentable
  • Final day crash – my right handle bar caught a tree and I landed on my left shoulder, which is still a bit sore. I also busted up my right pinkie finger. Good thing it was the last day!

DAY 1

Adams sister, Deanna, graciously offered to shuttle me to, from, and around Hurricane since I don’t have a car of my own (yet!). She picked me and my bike up at my brothers house just south of Mammoth Lakes, where I’ve been shamelessly hiding out in between ship contracts. Then we drove 2 1/2 hours to her aunt and uncles place in Las Vegas for a quick overnight stop before continuing on to Hurricane. I’d actually never been to Sin City before, so I was excited to see and experience a bit of the hubbub. Almost immediately upon arriving, we were whisked away to the Aliante Casino + Hotel + Spa where Deanna’s aunt insisted we have a go at the slot machines before digging into a buffet dinner of crab legs and prime rib. I was a bit disappointed to find out that you don’t actually pull a lever to spin the slot machines, but my disappointment quickly faded as the coins started piling up. I ended up winning $35 dollars, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but for a first time casino-goer it was pretty exciting! Poor Deanna only won 10 cents, lol. Then, after a messy and mediocre dinner of crab legs, we made our way downtown to drive the strip. Despite never having ever seen it in person, the strip unequivocally lived up to my expectations – ungodly amounts of lights, many of them flashing, extravagance everywhere, live shows on the streets, and a general sense of excitement, drunkenness, and splurge permeating the entire 4.2 mile strip. For some crazy, odd reason, though, this non-clubber, non-partier, definite introvert, loved it. I’m excited to go back and really dive in to the scene!

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Image taken from Wikipedia

DAY 2

After a semi-early start and a stop at Trader Joes for groceries, we said goodbye to Vegas continued on our way to Hurricane. Several others in our group were already there – Cal, Marsha, Lane and Lindsay – and we met up with them in the afternoon for an easy loop around the Jem Trails. It was a good warm-up for the week, but I’m not sure I would ride these trails again. They’re pretty flat and don’t have much in the way of a challenge. The surrounding views are great, though!

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DAY 3

On our second day in Hurricane, we met up with two more members of our group – Adam and Jessi – at Wire Mesa, thus making our group a party of eight. This network was a bit of a step up from the Jem trails we had done the day before, but truthfully not much of a challenge. Still, we had a blast cranking along the winding trails, scouting alternative routes, and taking in the stunning vistas of the surrounding red rock mesas and cliff faces. After we finished the 7.5 mile loop (clockwise), Adam, Jessi and I decided to hit up another section of nearby trails: Show Me The Money to More Money and then back up the Grafton Mesa Road. These were super fun! And definitely a lot more technical than our first couple of rides with some tricky rock features, narrow squeezes, and a lot more vertical descent. My kind of riding.

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DAY 4

This was a big day. We did the Guacamole network in full: Margarita to Salt on the Rim, back on Margarita to the Guacamole Loop to the Holy Guacamole Loop and back to the parking area via Margarita and Salt on the Rim again. Phew! We were tired puppies after this one, but it was totally worth it! What a great network of trails with tons of diversity both in terrain and technicality. The only bummer was that Adam got his shin good on a pedal strike. He probably should have gotten stitches, but…

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Photo by Lane Dumm

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DAY 5

Gooseberry Mesa! My favorite trail of the lot (so far). Lots of riding on big rock slabs, goat lunges up onto small boulders and ledges, amazing 360° views especially at Gooseberry Point, and huge cliffs to try not to fall off of. Our route was the Secret Trail to South Rim to Gooseberry Point, then the White Trail briefly to the North Rim to Bowls and Ledges and finally to Practice. By the time we got to the last two trails, though, we were pretty tired and didn’t really get to take advantage of their natural playground potential – fun rollovers, little drops, wall rides, etc… I could definitely have spent another full day exploring these trails. Next time!

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Photo by Lane Dumm

DAY 6

After four big days of riding, we were all due for a rest day. But since we were car camping and Hurricane isn’t known for its city life, there weren’t many downtime activities to be had. So Deanna and I went to explore Zion National Park – not exactly a rest day activity, but fun nonetheless! We ended up having to bike into the park, though, because it was the day before Thanksgiving and apparently everyone wanted to explore Zion. The shuttles weren’t running and the parking areas within the park were full by early morning, leaving many people stranded at the gates. Good thing we had the bikes. Deanna had chosen to do the hike up Angel’s Landing, which proved to be a lot harder and a whole lot scarier than either of us anticipated. I am NOT a heights person, so I chickened out at the last part, but Deanna made it all the way up. Give me speed over heights any day.

DAY 7

This was by far my least favorite day of the trip. Our group (now down to 7, we lost Lane and Lindsay, but gained Rachel) shifted gears over to the trails outside of St. George, about 20 minutes west of Hurricane. The riding there is a lot different and, in my opinion, not nearly as good as the mesas above Hurricane – there’s more dirt, less rock, more sustained climbing, less shade… We (or I, maybe it was just me) suffered up and down the steep switchbacks of Suicidal Tendencies then some of us called it quits while a few others continued on to do Barrel Roll. I honestly would skip this one next time and stay around Hurricane.IMG_8019

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DAY 8

After riding the mostly flat (in terms of elevation gain/loss) trails around Hurricane for a few days, we (plus Rick and Amanda now!) ventured up north a bit to check out the downhill trails near Cedar City. Now, I love all forms of mountain biking, but zooming along well-built downhill track is probably my favorite of all. The first shuttle we did was to link up the C Trail to Highlands to Green Hollow to Lava Flow, which got better and better as we descended. The top half was mainly tight switchbacks with loose gravel (not much fun…) but the bottom half was filled with swoopy turns through a pretty forest, fun little jumps, a rock wall ride, and some mini rock gardens to bounce down. We were all smiles and fist bumps at the end. But our second downhill shuttle of the day was my favorite: Blowhard, a 7 mile downhill track that starts at 10,600ft and drops over 3,300ft through all sorts of terrain with some great views of red rock cliffs and bizarre looking hoodoos. It’s not the smoothest trail I’ve ever been on, but I like a challenge! The top was definitely the steepest (with a few snow patches to slip and slide through) and then came some tricky switchbacks, rutted and rooty single track, lots of rock gardens, and a few features to practice jumps. My forearms and thighs were definitely burning after this one! It was also the first time Adam and co have ridden the area, and they said they will most definitely make it part of their annual pilgrimage.

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DAY 9

Our last day! We definitely finished with a bang at Little Creek Mesa back in Hurricane. The trails are pretty similar to Gooseberry (lots of fun rock riding, little punchy ups, flowy singletrack through trees and shrubs…), but not as well marked as the other networks. We got turned around a few times, making the ride feel so much longer than it should have been. By the end I was feeling pretty fatigued and when I’m fatigued on a bike I tend to get sloppy… At one point, my handlebars caught a wandering tree branch and sent me flying a few feet down the trail. I landed on my left shoulder which is still quite sore and my right pinkie got banged up good. Nothing serious, though, thankfully! I think I found that seven days of good riding is about my limit 😉

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And that wraps up our week of mountain biking in Southern Utah! As I mentioned several times above, it really was a fantastic trip and I can’t wait for more adventures to come with these guys 🙂

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Soul Searching in Southwest England + A Photo Gallery

This past summer, I spent almost three months in Southwest England. I had recently upended my life in Seattle and I felt like I needed a getaway where I could reset and reground myself. I was feeling lost and lonely and incredibly heartsick. I was doubting my decision to leave the life I had built in Seattle with my (ex)boyfriend and despite my tearful self-assurances, I felt intensely anxious about my path going forward. Was going back to the ship the right choice? How would I pay back student loans if I didn’t pursue a high-paying career? Would I ever meet a partner who jived with my nomadic tendencies? These questions, and more, left me feeling pretty anxious and lost. While some people might turn to family and friends for reassurance and support, I tend to do the opposite. I needed a solo adventure. Something that would clear my head, mend my heart, and hopefully help me see a more resolute path forward. So I signed up for a three month housesit in southwest England.

It’s actually kind of a funny side story of how I landed the housesit. I was interviewing with the British couple over Skype and they were telling me about their plans to do a three month around-the-world trip with their six year old daughter. Their first stop was New England – a month-long road trip from New York to Maine and back again. Vermont, of course, was on their itinerary, so being the proud Vermonter that I am, I asked where they would be visiting. Lo and behold, they had already booked an Airbnb in the very same small, rural town where I grew up! What!? Underhill, you have to understand, is not a tourist destination. It’s a tiny town with a strong local community, some great mountain biking and hiking trails and lots of cows but not much in the way of tourist infrastructure at all. There are no museums, very few restaurants, no public transportation, and definitely no night life. Nearby Burlington, Shelburne, Charlotte, et al… have all those things and more to entertain tourists, but not Underhill. It’s a mystery how Caroline and Will decided on an Airbnb in my tiny rural home town. And the story gets even better. It turns out that the B&B they booked was located at the other end of the dirt road my parents house is on, only about 8 miles down from my childhood stomping ground. How crazy is that!? And to get even crazier, they ended up wanting to stay a few extra nights in the Underhill area (of course, it’s the best), so they booked a room at my parents Airbnb. The world can’t get any smaller than that.

So it kind of felt like fate that I landed this three month housesit in the UK: I needed a solo adventure, I couldn’t afford all the expenses of a big trip because I had just quit my job with no future job lined up, I had no personal obligations, the timing was right, and the homeowners were traveling to my home town in rural Vermont. All the signs pointed to yes. It was settled, then. Just before my 32nd birthday in June, with my mountain bike in tow, my few belongings stuffed into my backpack, and a sense of adventure that I hadn’t felt for a long time, I left for the UK.

There were plenty of ups and downs over those three months. I wish I could say that I healed my heart, I gained new insights on myself and my future, and I came away stronger than I left. But the truth is that none of those things really happened. England ended up being more about stepping away from it all, not about figuring it all out. And that’s quite all right with me. Instead of getting my ducks in a row, I went mountain biking and hiking every week, I watched wild ponies graze on the moors, I explored small, medieval towns with their quaint markets and boutique shops, I ate wood fired pizza with the locals, I made friends… I also spent days on the couch watching marathons of Gilmore Girls and eating ice cream out of the pint to distract myself from ‘real life’.

So despite my intentions of ‘figuring things out’ in the UK, I left England still feeling pretty lonely, lost, anxious (particularly about money), and unsure about how things would continue to unfold as the year went on. But I also left with some pretty great memories, a handful of new friendships, and most importantly, I left England with a regained sense of being a strong, independent, female traveler, an identity that I feel like I lost during my four years in Seattle. It was good to feel that confidence again and know that I still have the travel mojo 🙂

Onward and upward!

Below are a few of my favorite photos that I took from various places and adventures around southwest UK. I hope you enjoy!

EXMOOR NATIONAL PARK

I spent a lot of time in Exmoor National Park because it was one of the closest nature areas to where I was housesitting aside from the Quantock Hills. Besides being gorgeous, the park is also home to numerous herds of wild ponies, which I never got tired of watching. Many of my trips into the park were with my bike since the mountain bike guidebook I found in Exeter had a whole section of rides in Exmoor. Each one was stunning!

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DARTMOOR NATIONAL PARK

I only spent one glorious day in Dartmoor National Park and I regret not exploring it further. It’s different from Exmoor in that it’s more wild (think actual moorland rather than farmland) and there are ancient stone circles and standing stones hidden among the valleys and hills, something I didn’t come across in Exmoor. Of course, wild ponies roam freely and the cattle and sheep that graze within its boundaries have the best life of any farm animals I’ve come across in my travels. Plus, one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes episodes was filmed there – The Hounds of Baskerville 😉

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THE QUANTOCK HILLS

Like Exmoor, I spent a lot of time in the Quantock Hills mountain biking and taking the dogs for a walk. It’s a beautiful area, if a bit more popular and crowded than the other two parks. Some of the downhill rides were top notch, but the climbs back up were not…

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KILVE BEACH

I found this beach in an off-the-beaten-path guidebook that was sitting on the bookshelf in my room. I used that guide book for a lot of outings over the summer and it never disappointed. Every destination was off the beaten path and it felt like I was actually discovering a local’s only place every time I ventured out per its instructions. Kilve Beach was no different. I actually missed a turn trying to find it because the road down to the beach was so inconspicuous. The beach itself was fascinating. Crazy geological features, huge prehistoric fossils, beautiful views out to the ocean, and an adorable (and delicious) little cafe that serves light lunch fare in a ramshackle (but historically significant) old church.

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CLOVELLY

The farm I was housesitting at was pretty remote, but thankfully I had an awesome neighbor – Amy – who lived in the ‘malt house’ right next door. She’s a bit younger than me, but we hit it off and we’re actually doing a road trip together in California in April! Super excited about that. Aside from movie nights, wine nights, walks with the dogs, and picnics on the lawns, we went on a few adventures farther afield. One of my favorites was to the super cute town of Clovelly. No cars are allowed in town because the cobblestone streets are so narrow and steep, which made the vibe even more quaint and charming. The houses – all brightened up with flowers and garden beds – are built close together and overlook a small bay and boatyard. A few of the houses were actually set up as the would have been in the old fishing days with lanterns, antique furniture, old pictures and photographs, cast iron cooking utensils, etc…

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BATH

Towards the end of my stay in England, my mom came for a short visit. It was a bit of a rollercoaster ride because tension often runs high (I won’t go into that now), but we did embark on some fun adventures. One of those outings was to the old Roman city of Bath, renown for its classical architecture and, of course, its geothermal baths. Funny story – we actually thought that we could go into the ancient Roman baths, so we walked around the exhibit with a large bag packed with towels and swimming suits… turns out you can’t soak in the 2000+ year old pools. Silly us.

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CORNWALL

Another adventure my mom and I went on was an overnight trip to the southernmost county of England – Cornwall. Prior to visiting, my only reference to Cornwall was the binge-worthy British drama series – Poldark – that takes place in the Cornish countryside. If you haven’t seen this show, I highly recommend it, it’s sooo good! And a little sappy 😉 The landscape scenes alone will make you want to visit this gorgeous part of England.

We didn’t have a whole lot of time to explore since I had to get back to the house and dogs (Amy was kind enough to watch over them for a night), so we did a whirlwind tour of a few standout places.

We went for a short but stunning hike in Zennor head. Unfortunately I had a back pain thing going on, so I couldn’t do anything too strenuous, which was a bummer since it was so unbelievably beautiful there.

We caught a day-time show at the cliffside Minack Theater, which was such a trip. I’m not a huge theater aficionado, but this was a definite highlight. The theater is carved out of stone and is situated right at the edge of a cliff that overlooks the English Channel. The views were absolutely insane and the show itself – Nell Gwynn – had us in stitches.

My mom wanted to see a real castle before she left, so we stopped at St. Michaels Mount, an island fortress just outside of Penzance. You can walk to the island at low tide or take a boat shuttle if the walkway is covered in water. Since the tide was high in the morning, we took the boat over then walked back a few hours later along the long, paved footpath.

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I visited and explored many more places than these few highlights, but these were some of my favorites. I can’t wait to get back and explore more of beautiful England. I hear there’s some fantastic mountain biking in the northern regions, especially Scotland and Wales 😉

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Rock Creek Ride from Top to Bottom

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I’ve been spending the last few weeks at my brother and sister-in-laws place in the Eastern Sierras since I have a good chunk of time off between contracts on the ships (two months to be exact). Two months is a long time of no work, but all the ships are in shipyard this time of year, so it’s time to play. And play for me equals mountain biking!

Last time I was in California I bought a new mountain bike, which was long overdue because my old mountain bike was at least 8 years old. It was a Gary Fisher Rumblefish and it served me well for many years, but it was definitely time for an upgrade. And what a difference that upgrade has made! I ended up settling on a Devinci Troy and thanks to new geometry and technology I’m faster, I feel more confident going over jumps, technical ups and downs are easier, and it’s so much lighter than my last bike so pedaling isn’t as laborious as it used to be (or maybe I’m just in better shape…). But really, it’s amazing.

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Since we’re coming up on ski season, though, the mountain bike park at Mammoth is closed for the winter, so we’ve been riding a few of the lower trails in town like Uptown, Downtown, Paper Route, Mammoth Rock Trail, etc… and of course Lower Rock Creek just south of Mammoth, which is one of my favorite trails ever.

But this past week my brother scouted out a downhill route that runs all the way from Mosquito Flat trailhead at the top of Rock Creek Road to the bottom of Lower Rock Creek Trail that shoots out into the tiny community of Paradise:

20+ miles, only 350ft gain in elevation, and a whopping 5200ft drop in elevation. Yessss! I was definitely game. My dad, who was visiting, was also in and a friend of my brothers came along as well.

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The upper part of the trail is pretty technical with lots of rock gardens and drops to navigate around, but as we descended, the trail kept getting better and better. We skirted around a glistening lake on perfect, packed down single track then entered a wooded area with slightly sketchy plank bridges (sketchy because some of the bridges had 2-3 inch gaps between the planks that could easily eat a bike tire). We scooted through empty campgrounds, bounced down chunky stone steps, weaseled our way around tight hairpin turns and eventually had to hit the tarmac for a 4-5 mile descent down Rock Creek Road to the start of the familiar Lower Rock Creek Trail, a trail we’ve done countless times before, but never gets old.

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Lower Rock Creek is divided into three sections (i.e. three road crossings) and each section is pure mountain biking fun. The first two are flowy with little-to-no technical sections, but the third section is a bit more tricky. It’s my favorite, though, because I love a challenge 🙂

All-in-all, it took us about 2 hours of moving time to get from the top of Mosquito Flats all the way down to the bottom of Lower Rock Creek and there wasn’t an inch of those 20 miles that wasn’t fun. I loved it so much, in fact, that a friend and I went back and did it again two days later. This will be a routine ride, for sure!

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Biking The Grand Western Canal To Knightshayes Court

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During this past summer in England, I spent a lot of time taking the dogs for a walk along the Grand Western Canal trail which was located just a few minutes drive from where I was housesitting in Stawley. The trail is a 11.5 mile bike/walking path that runs all the way from Lowdwells (basically just a parking area) to the small, cute village of Tiverton. Apparently the canal was dug in the late 1700’s to connect the English Channel to the Bristol Channel, but it was never finished because the railway beat them to it. Now it’s just a pretty waterway that cuts through stunning farmland and is home to families of swans, ducks, and other wildlife.

 

After a few weeks of settling into England and housesitting life, I decided to ride my bike from one end of the Canal to the other and back again. I started at the north end and cycled south along the mostly flat gravel track toward Tiverton. The track passed under a million ridiculously cute and quaint stone bridges plastered with ivy and ran past picture-perfect English estates with manicured gardens. It was a pretty easy pedal, perfect for a lazy ride where the ‘experience’ is more important than the destination.

After about an hour and a half of pedaling, I arrived in Tiverton where I stopped for a quick coffee at The Flying Pickle before setting off on backroads to Knightshayes Court, a majestic old manor about 3 miles outside of town. At Knightshayes, I parked my bike and explored the grounds with included a beautiful walled kitchen garden, expansive greens,  manicured terraces, wooded paths, and a playground made from a gigantic fallen tree. Then I entered the manor and strolled from room to room gawking at all the cool, old memorabilia. Before heading out, I treated myself to a delicious elderberry ice cream cone and from there it was a slow, contented pedal back along the canal.

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Mountain Biking Southwest England

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This past summer, I found myself spending 10 glorious weeks in magical and stunning Southwest England. I had somehow managed to land an amazing housesitting opportunity just north of Exeter in a small little town called Stawley. Actually, calling Stawely a town is a bit of a joke because it’s really just a few houses, some barns and lots of sheep. There’s not much else there other than stunning scenery and very (very!) narrow driving lanes. (Think bike path width. As you can imagine, it was a little stressful trying to navigate those lanes while driving on the ‘other side’ of the road. I put ‘other side’ in parentheses because really, there was only one side of the road unless an oncoming car necessitated a sharp veer into the hedges, thus making the bike path a two lane road. It’s amazing I didn’t bang up the mini coupe I was so generously left to use.)

But anyway, having grown up in Vermont, I’m pretty accustomed to life in the boondocks so I was in my element. The old farmhouse was beautiful, I had two black labs to love, three goats to laugh at, two degus to walk by, and a neighbor about my age to befriend. Amy and I will actually be doing a California road trip together in April, which I’m so excited about!

I also had my mountain bike. It was my brothers suggestion to bring it (the thought haven’t even crossed my mind) and while it ended up being a big pain to lug all the way across the pond and cost me more baggage fees than I wanted to spend, it was totally worth it. Biking, in my opinion, is the best way to explore and southwest England, I found, has some great cross-country routes.

So how did I know where to go? Well, on my first venture into the big city of Exeter, I discovered a Southwest England Mountain Biking guide book a local bookstore and that was all it took to get me going. My intention was to try to ride every route in the book (there were maybe 20?), but that didn’t happen for various reasons: the rides were pretty long and I needed a few days in between to recoup, gas is expensive in England and some of the rides were over an hour drive away, the dogs couldn’t come with me so I did a lot of hiking as well. But the rides I did do were amazing! Below are a few recaps:

Lynton and the Valley of Rocks

Withypool Loop

Monkton & Brompton Ralph Ride

Quantocks Singletrack

My only regret is that I didn’t get any mountain biking done in Dartmoor National Park. I’ll just have to go back 🙂

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Mountain Biking England: Quantocks Classic Singletrack

This is post 4 of 4 for my mountain biking in England series. Read more here!

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I found the good stuff, woot woot! But to be truly honest, this was actually my second attempt at this loop. The first attempt went something like this: spend 15 minutes backtracking again and again at the start because I wasn’t really sure where the right trail began, huff and puff up a pretty mellow incline that felt like Everest, backtrack again, eventually find the first downhill but grumble and curse because it’s basically a rock pile, hike-a-bike up a ridiculous climb, climb some more, call it quits for the day.

Not my best outing to say the least… 

That was a few weeks ago, so why did I go for attempt number two? Well for starters, my goal was to ride every route in my South West England Mountain Biking book before I left England in August so I had to actually complete this ride if I was going to keep to my goal (which I didn’t in the end…). I also knew that I wasn’t in the best of moods that first attempt and my body was obviously tired; plus I knew that there is some good singletrack in the Quantocks and I was determined to find it. So fast forward to attempt number two, it was 150% better than attempt number one!

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The route pretty much consisted of three different loops: three climbs and three downs. The first climb (that felt like Everest on my first go) really wasn’t that bad. The top part got a bit steep, but the rest was pretty easy pedaling. The first descent – Smith’s Combe – came after a nice stretch along a grassy ridge dotted with wildflowers. It was probably my least favorite down of the day just because the first section was basically a rock pile that had me bouncing all over the place and holding on to the handlebars for dear life. I think I wore through half my brake pads just trying to maintain control. My forearms got a workout, though!

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After the rock pile, the trail transitioned into some fun, swooping turns before abruptly face planting into a steep, rocky climb (that I hike-a-biked). Thankfully the steep part was short, but the slow trudge back to the top on grassy double track was not.

The second descent of the day – into Weacombe – was much better. A super fast, curvy, well-defined singletrack led down through a narrow valley that was walled in by steep, grassy hills to each side. It was a bit too short for my liking (especially considering how much climbing was involved to get back to the top), but those couple of minutes were exhilarating. I had to remind myself to hold back a bit because it would have been easy to really let it rip. Riding by myself is great for a lot of reasons, but the idea of getting tossed from my bike without anyone around to help out is always a bit concerning…

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Another steady, leg burning climb that got the best of me at the end landed me back to the top for the final (and best) descent of the day. I really, really loved this one – Stert Combe into Somerton Combe into Hodder’s Combe. I met a group of hikers at the top who were ‘appalled’ that anyone would want to bike down that trail, but I assured them that it is quite fun. Their eyebrows rose. But what fun it was! Twisty turns, deep ruts up to the thighs, a few technical drops and rollovers, a mostly smooth track… my kind of trail. It was also the longest descent of the day and spit me out right back at the car without much pedaling to be done. 

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In all, it was a pretty fun loop. I did miss the flowyness of well built mountain bike areas that at least have switchbacks for climbs rather than straight ups, but I can’t really complain. I was England for the summer, exploring by bike. Life is good 🙂

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Mountain Biking England: Monksilver & Brompton Ralph

This is post 3 of 4 for my mountain biking in England series. Read more here!

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Well, what an ill-fated ride this one was! First of all, I wasn’t really ‘feeling it’ when I headed out that morning. I was tired and honestly didn’t feel like exerting any energy which I knew I definitely would be because there isn’t a flat mile in south west England. But I pushed through those excuses and headed toward Monksilver (where the ride was to start) because I usually find that the sluggish feeling dissolves once I’m in the bike saddle.

Not this ride.

Here are a few things that went amiss

  • As I was unloading my bike from the car, an older couple walked by and the elderly gent stopped for a chat. I usually enjoy a pleasant conversation with a stranger, but this guy WOULD NOT STOP TALKING. Holy moly. He asked me about cats and camping and what I do for work and why I’m in England for the summer. He told me about his daughter who is a hair dresser and how he once held two goats for a woman so she could milk them. He shared that he and his wife lived in a camper van for six years and he was a retired plumber and his last name is White so people call him Whitey. Interesting stuff, for sure, but my god it went on and on. After trying to convince myself during the drive that a ride would be fun, this guy made me ecstatic to get on my bike just so I could get away! Thankfully his wife (who probably had years of practice) was able to coax him along.

 

  • Stupidly, I forgot my guide book with the map of the route and written directions at home, so I was just relying on the digital map I created on ridewithgps.com which I then imported into the maps.me app. This system honestly works really well – all I have to do is check my phone to see if I’m on the right track – but I feel better when I have a physical map and directions with me. ‘Just in case’. I started the ride with a slightly doomed feeling because I knew I shouldn’t be heading out by myself into the back trails of Exmoor National Park without an actual map…

 

  • It started raining just as I was riding away from the car. I know this isn’t a big deal – people ride in the rain all the time – but with that doomed feeling in my stomach already the rain just added another layer of gloomines.img_7110
  • The hills! Oh the hills. Maybe I was just tired and hadn’t given my body a good break for a while, but I felt like these hills were seriously out to make my ride and day miserable. I know it’s not their fault, but many curses were thrown at them anyways

 

  • Much of the trail was so overgrown that I could barely ride it. It was kind of fun pedaling through tall grass at first, but that got old pretty quickimg_7115
  • This was the real kicker. With 3.5 miles to go I got a flat tire and I 100% wasn’t prepared for it. No spare tube, no pump, no repair kit, nothing… At this point all I could do was laugh because this ride had already been so hapless. I had a chuckle then started pushing my bike through the field trying to avoid stepping sheep shit as much as possible.

 

  • I laughed until I discovered that the last three miles were composed of awesome downhill single track through a narrow tree-and-stone-wall corridor. Gah. It would have been epic.

     

  • As I was walking down this amazing single track, cursing the ride all over again, somehow I managed to strike my pedal against my shin which resulted in an immediate half dome swell and numbing pain radiating through my shin and calf. More curses.

 

  • When I got back to the car, I checked Strava to see how far I had ‘ridden’ and of course it had failed to track.

Ok, so it was a pretty ill-fated ride, but I also like to think of the positives. So what didn’t go wrong (because it’s hard to say that anything really went ‘right’)?

  • I had created and downloaded a digital map of the route and imported it into the maps.me app before the ride, so at least I knew where I was at all times. And my battery didn’t die nor did I have any technology issues, thank god.

 

  • It didn’t pour down rain, it was just a light drizzle and then the skies cleared up midway through the ride lifting my mood a notch or two

 

  • The flat tire happened three miles from the end of the ride, not at the beginning or in the middle.

 

  • Maybe if I had ridden the awesome downhill single track I would have gone over the handlebars and split my chin open (again). Or worse.

 

  • I had enough food and snacks to avoid the disastrous hand of hangryness

 

  • I learned some valuable lessons: always be prepared for a flat tire (or other mechanical issues), listen to your body, and go through a checklist before heading out for a ride so you don’t forget anything! And don’t talk to strangers.

Onward and upward!