With the last rays of yellow sunshine disappearing over the hills, I gave P a “one lap” warning. As he finished his last loop around the pump track, I stood up and stretched. A few cows that had been lounging in the field beside us did the same. As they stirred, the rattling of their bells interrupted the early-evening silence.
Blair, P, and I rode our bikes up the short hill to the parking area. The door to the The Village Sports Shop, a quaint bike shop slash coffee shop slash bar, was still open so we stopped inside to see if there was time for a beer. As it turns out, there was. The shop’s closing time was like nearly everything else we found in East Burke, VT–it opens when they want and closes when they want. The town caters to mountain bikers, and as long as there are mountain bikers around, the shops are open.
We took our beers to the back porch, found a table, and watched the sun set over the green hills. Despite being late September, the evening temperature was balmy and we sat comfortably in our short-sleeves. Small twinkly lights hung around the outdoor “bar” window; a painted moose skull hung above.
With its farm fields and small towns, Vermont seemed to us a blue-state version of Idaho. Parking lots were filled with Subarus rather than F150s and locals at the gas station wore Crocs rather than cowboy boots; but aside from these small idiocyncrocies they had more in common than not. For the first time since South Dakota, we felt comfortable and at home.
The Kingdom Trails
Of course our reason for coming to Vermont wasn’t drinking beers above farm fields. It was mountain biking. East Burke is home to the world-class Kingdom Trails, a system of purpose built trails circling the little mountain village.
This was some of my favorite mountain biking of the trip thus far. After lots of flat-land riding across the Upper Midwest, we finally found ourselves in mountains again. Not huge mountains, mind you, but large enough rises to allow decent climbs and descents. Rather than the wooden features of Copper Harbor and Duluth, the Kingdom Trails felt to me like a return to home.
A more touristy version of home, perhaps. We were shocked, mid-week, to see how many people there were riding the trails. We found out that a lot of them were from Quebec. East Burke, and the Kingdom Trails Foundation, has done a fantastic job of marketing themselves as a tourist destination.
All these tourists despite the fact that you have to PAY to use the trails, a shocker for a western-raised girl. The trails run through private property and are maintained via a hefty $15 day-use fee. This was probably the only negative part of our stay.
The trails were ideal both for serious trail-rides and family rides. In fact, we rode for seven days straight during our stay. The system had three separate pump tracks that we rode, as well as plenty of green-trails for our five year old to cruise.
We did spend one day at Burke Mountain ski resort doing lift-access riding which wasn’t worth the money, in my opinion. The lift was really busy and there so many riders that we had difficulty riding with our 5 year old. In fact, we had one really bad run-in with an overly aggressive rider that I won’t go into in this post. It would make our stay at the Kingdom Trails seem negative, which it wasn’t.
Learn More About the Kingdom Trails: kingdomtrails.org
East Burke, VT
The “village” of East Burke, VT was almost as big of a draw as the trails themselves. Most of the town was set-up for mountain bikers, but maintained a quaint and not-overly-touristy feel. The main street through town housed an ice cream shop, a bike shop, a visitors center, the Kingdom Trails center, and Mike’s Tikki Bar. The latter of these was situated on the trails, and we found ourselves there nearly every night of our stay. Rotating food trucks fed us, the beer cheered us, and hot showers even cleaned us! We would bring a deck of cards, eat some food, and stay until darkness forced as back to camp.
Speaking of camp, we were fortunate to find the most amazing spot. Camp Kent was located just foot-steps from the center of East Burke, so we never had to drive anywhere. The camp is on private property and has just two campsites. There was no running water or hook-ups, but they did provide water in Gatorade jugs and port-a-potties. More importantly, we had a beautiful picnic table, cooking table, bike rack, and tent platform that we used as a hammock and yoga deck.
Learn More About Camp Kent: http://campkentvermont.wixsite.com/info
At the two and half month mark, Vermont remains near the top of my list of favorite destinations, along with Copper Harbor, MI. The trails were top-notch, the town was sweet and memorable, and our campground was peaceful. Despite being so far from home, it felt like home and I hope to come back someday.