I grew up biking in flat-as-a-pancake central New Jersey, but started mountain biking seriously in college in Upstate New York. My riding time thus became divided between the two surprisingly different types of terrain. Having the good fortune of going to school–and riding–in a location much different than home has taught me the importance of diversifying the terrain I ride, and the importance of a good ass-kicking on the rocky boulders of good ol’ New York.
I grew fond of New Jersey as I learned in the woods near my house, eventually driving further and further to find more challenging trails. Pretty soon thereafter, I felt I had plateaued. My notion of improvement was dependent on the risks I took and how far out of my comfort zone I was. Racing against previous strava times was fun, but I yearned for the feeling of being just on the edge of something totally painful and totally awesome.
Enter the Saratoga Springs, NY trail network. After riding on these trails almost exclusively for 3 straight college years, I still find features that give me the downtown push-downs, if you know what I mean. I barely even use strava there, because the time and energy I expend to cover even a fraction of the distance I do in New Jersey is mind-blowing. The elevation gain is huge compared to Jersey.
The Saratoga Mountain Bike Association trail network (referred to by locals as the “Simba” or Stables trails) rocks. Pun intended. My school’s Outing Club actually boulders (climbs low rocks without harness) there every now and then on a patch of rocks we’ve affectionately named “Skidmore Boulder.” On some of the lesser trodden trails one can find some impressive masses of rock to ride up and down. Out on those boulders, I really honed my climbing ability and my ability to drop down rock faces that made me a bit uneasy.
I developed a love for the lesser manicured trails, which only intensified as I learned to ride with my clipless pedals. Many silly (and painful) wipeouts later, I was able to find the zen moments where I could navigate a challenging section with success, front wheel darting back and forth. As I fought not to fall, I felt like a dancer in my movements. For all the climbing one finds in these woods, the views and scenery are rewarding. At the highest points, there are incredible views of the surrounding mountains; at the lowest, a beaver pond with incredible fauna.
Riding here in NY–especially on the wonderful SMBA trails–is incredible for its ability to challenge me, even if I know what’s coming. If you’re ever in the area, (or at all remotely close) DEFINITELY pencil in some time to ride.