Last week, Vermont thermometers were pushing 85, the daffodils budded, locals unhitched their snowplows, and summer tires replaced studded snows. It's closing weekend at Stowe, which barely has a top to bottom run left to ski. The skies are blue, and the trees are brown sticks poking out of the bare ground. Spring corn has skipped Vermont this year, so instead of carving spring conditions on skis, we ride the dry trails on fat tires.
March, April, and May in Vermont are typically a painful time for those who prefer to roll rather than slide. Mud season is what we call this slushy substitute for spring. Just as cold weather keeps ticks from migrating north, mud season keeps the rest of New England from relocating to the Green Mountain State. When summer finally hits, it's typically wet. Humidity and rain get trapped under a canopy of leaves. Tree roots in the trail seem to perspire.
But not today. The Stowe Town Loops are the driest I've ever ridden. Nary a mud puddle punctuates the buff trails. I ride along bone-dry rocky spines and pick my way through roots that turn my hardtail 29er into a mechanical bull. Our group of five whoops through the landscape, gasping for air. The vistas are long, and with no leaves on the maples and birches, I can see the forest clear through the trees.
It takes a few tries to get the air in my shock dialed in. Someone's chain gets jammed in her bash guard. It's an early season mechanical meltdown, but no one complains. We all need the rest. It's hard to imagine that by mid-summer the sweeping loops that feel challenging today will end up a fraction of a day's ride.
We only see a handful of other bikers, but the parking lot is full of Subarus and pickups parked crookedly between the potholes. When we roll in after two hours of stiff hill climbs and root garden traverses, we crack the first tailgate IPAs of the season. —Berne Broudy
For more information on Vermont's mountain bike trails, visit fotwheel.org, stowemountainbike.com, and mtbvt.com.