Getting Back to my Roots…and Rocks

Recently I have have rediscovered one of the main reasons I love mountain biking. It was after a ride at the Holyoke Range Trails in Amhearst, MA. but it wasn’t until I went back to ride a particular local trail network that I realized not only how much I missed the type of riding there but how lucky I am that the trails are as close as they are to me.

My friend Javier on a tricky section of the trail at Holyoke

In the Beginning

I remember when I started mountain biking. Years ago, before I had kids and a house to take care of, I had a lot more time to myself so I rode more. I was also more involved in the local mountain biking community. I chatted on local message boards, went on group rides, made friends and helped run a local mountain bike club. The Saratoga Mountain Bike Association was formed in 2001 as a reactionary measure to keep some local trails from being closed by the land owner. I had just started riding these trails a year or so earlier and it was the most challenging trails system I had ever been on. At the time, no other trail I had ridden locally could come close to the technical and challenging nature of “The Stables” as they were called back then.

My Trek 7000 rebuilt as a winter beater

It is About the Bike

My first real mountain bike was a Trek 7000. I bought this bike new from CK Cycles of Albany. I did a ton of research and this was the best I could get and still stay below $800. It was a good, reliable bike and was light and fast but it was totally unsuitable for the terrain at The Stables. When I first started riding there I would endo at least once every ride. And not just a casual-over-the-bars-I’m-okay but one of those spectacular endos where you end up on your back, the bike is either on top of you or off trail somewhere and all the gear you were carrying in those neat fishnet pockets on your Hydrapack are spread out on the ground all around you. YARDSALE! I remember trying to master these technical trail features, long rocky and rooty climbs and descents and thinking “Will I ever be able to ride this stuff?” I used to ride with a great bunch of riders and some of them were really good, even back then. I would watch them fly up stuff I wouldn’t even attempt. I just stood there in awe of their seemingly inhuman ability. As the years passed and I stayed involved with the club I rode there more often. Even upgraded to a full suspension bike, something much more suitable to the terrain. It wasn’t until I bought my Rocky Mountain Switch that my riding really progressed. Having a 6 inch travel bike with a slack head tube a big tires allowed me to make mistakes and not have the bike throw me to the ground because of them. It just took the abuse as if to say “Thank you sir may I have another!?!” But even so there were parts of the trail I could not master. I don’t know if it was from not being able to do it on my old bike or not wanting to look like a clutz on my new one. Some trail features I would just avoid if I could.

My Rocky Mountain Switch SL at Holyoke

The Leave Taking

Over the years I was able to spend less and less time helping run the club and riding. Babies and work and life in general can do that. So I had to restructure my priorities and had to give up my volunteer work with the club and focus more on my job and my family. If I was going to ride, it would also have to be closer to home. Since I have left, others have taken the reigns and have done a fantastic job with the club and the trails.

Out of Sight, I Must be Out of my Mind

Since I was out of the loop, I couldn’t really see the progress being made, couldn’t work on the new trails, couldn’t feel that exhilaration of completing a new trail. For a while I was content to just hear about what was being done and not really care. I did other things, rode new places near home that helped me forget about The Stables. A busy work and home life also kept me from thinking about what I was missing. It wasn’t until this recent trip to Holyoke that my love for technical trail riding was rekindled. The Holyoke Range Trails are by far the most technical trails I have ridden to date. Never had I seen that much rock and roots in one place. Really challenging stuff. On the way home I realized how much I missed riding really technical trails. The excitement you feel once you’re on top of a particularly hairy section of trail and if you dab you could very well fall off the rock spine and scrape an arm or even break a bone! The exhilaration of cleaning a difficult section or making a steep loose climb, or setting the bike up for a fun drop off a trail feature. It awoke something in me and I made it a point to get my arse back up to Saratoga as soon as I could.

Regaining my mojo at Holyoke

How Johnny got his Groove Back

Since my kids are older now, they don’t need as much help as they used to. Now my wife and I can actually take time for ourselves to work out and have fun. One Sunday a few weeks ago I was able to get out to Saratoga and meet my friend Sam to ride. I made sure I had a good amount of time because I wanted to ride all the new trails which are a good ways into the property. We started the ride and hit a few of the classic trails that have been there a long time like 107, Monkey Bridge and Dam Extension, then hit some of the new ones like GNOD, Porky Pine and Backstretch. The trails were strange to me but still familiar, new but old. We continued onto some of the newest sections of trail called Upper Canyon and Lower Canyon. Now these trails were totally new to me and what a surprise. So much rock to ride up there and the trails were technical in spots but still fun with good flow in several sections. I was having the best time. It took me a while but once I got back into the technical trail riding mindset it was almost like second nature. We rode for over 3 hours and it wasn’t until we were on our way back did I realize I rode a lot of the stuff that I couldn’t ride, or wouldn’t try only a year or two before. I think that’s maybe why I didn’t think about it, I was in the zone, enjoying the ride. I am so glad I made it back up to The Stables. Even though it’s still a good 45 minutes each way from my home, it is worth the drive, to get back to my mountain biking roots.

New rock bridge on Backstretch

If you like technical riding, are in the Saratoga Springs area and have time to ride, feel free to get in contact with someone from SMBA. Probably the best place to hook up with a local is on their facebook page. Since the club leases the property, they charge a membership fee to pay for the lease, liability insurance, sponsored events and trail maintenance. Although a visitor is not required to purchase a membership to ride, they are required to have a SMBA member with then during the ride. Some people are just opposed to the whole “pay to ride” theme but without that money these trails would have been closed long ago and would have gone into disrepair. Also, none of these new trails would have been built. SMBA is also branching out and have adopted new trails in Pittstown State Forest. All this made possible through membership dollars and lots of volunteer work. Great bunch of people and both are great places to ride.

Jim, Brian, Keith, Bob, Davis and I taking a break at “The Point”

I plan on doing more rides in Saratoga and around the region. My friends and I are planning an overnight trip to the Vietnam Trails owned and operated by NEMBA, stay overnight in Milford, MA and then on our way home the next day, stop off and ride the Holyoke Range Trails in Amhearst, MA. I am so stoked to ride Vietnam. I’ve never been there and I can finally cross that one off my bucket list.

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