June 17, 2023
I rolled into the parking lot to find a group of twenty-five riders or so milling around. Most of them had embodied that signature mountain biker look - long shorts, slightly baggy t-shirts, bike shoes, and sleek wrap-around sunglasses. They were rocking waist packs with water bottles poking out and had lowered their dropper posts to lounge about while waiting for the ride to begin.
The evening was sunny and clear, accompanied by the brisk touch in the air that Northern Vermont so often provides, even after warm spring days. I parked on the far end and looked around to see if my co-workers had arrived with the bike I would be borrowing. They’d convinced me to join the group ride that evening and my attire did nothing to hide my lack of bike experience. I took a breath and climbed out of my car dressed in Altra running shoes, hiking pants, and a long sleeve base layer. To complete my look, I put on my trail running pack and then finally dug out my helmet.
If I hadn’t started working at a bike shop, I would still be riding once every two years. Biking was not something I ever became smitten with. After thirty minutes of pedaling, my back would start to ache, my butt would get sore and I’d have an incessant need to shift in my saddle to try and make it better. I’ve been told if you ride enough, you get used to it, and I’m sure that’s true, but I could never bring myself to struggle through when I could get my fill of nature and exercise by running, hiking or paddling instead. After two years at the shop though, I couldn’t help my curiosity. What was it about riding bikes that brought so much joy?
Onion River Outdoors holds weekly group rides as long as the weather allows. These rotate between gravel rides in the fall, fat bike rides in the winter, back to gravel rides in the spring and finally, once the trails dry out, mountain bike rides in the summer. Our local Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBVA) chapter, Montpelier Area Mountain Bike Association (MAMBA) partners with ORO to offer three different ride groups - mild, medium and spicy - to accommodate a variety of abilities on the trails. Given my little experience and slow speed, I had chosen to join the mild group. I figured I had a better chance of liking bikes if I was not left in the dust and lost in the woods.
The ride began and I held back as the faster paced groups sped off towards the trailhead. There were four of us riding in the beginner group tonight and it was a relief to get distance from the more experienced riders and be able to move at my own pace. I clicked down to my lowest gear and began the grind uphill. Cady Hill, where we were riding, has a collection of smoother-flow trails and eventually I settled into the rhythm of climbing, only every so often steering around a rock or bumping over a root.
We stopped to catch our breath halfway up and I took the chance to step off my bike and stretch. Road riding had never offered me the tranquility the woods now delivered. The sun was starting its descent and light filtered through the newly sprouted leaves throwing glints of orange and gold onto the trail. After a drink, we resumed the climb.
Mountain biking poses a couple of unique challenges. Not only do you have to be able to ride a bike to partake, but it also encourages a talent in wielding said bicycle over obstacles including, but not limited to, small rocks, large rocks, full on boulders, tree roots, human-made bridges that are frequently very narrow and sometimes have loose boards, and a collection of rather sharp twists and turns, all while pedaling uphill - which is tiring. Then, you get to the top only to realize that you also have to make it back down (yes, it is true what they say, what goes up must come down) and in order to do that, you have to go over the same obstacles but at much higher speeds because gravity is real. So, in the grand scheme of things, going uphill was the easy part. I cross-country ski, hike and run, and enjoy going uphill - in a type two fun kind of way. The difference is that each of these offers various ways of slowing down and stopping during your descent. Whether it is a strong snowplow (or power pizza as I call it) while skiing, or just not taking another step forward when running or hiking, there are options. On a mountain bike, I quickly learned that sometimes it was more dangerous to put on the brakes than it was to “let it roll.” I didn’t want to brake too hard, skid out and crash or brake too much, go over the handlebars and crash, but I also didn’t want to not brake, go too fast, hit a tree and crash, which left me in a bit of a conundrum.
As we began our descent, I positioned my pointer fingers on the brakes as instructed. My remaining fingers executed a death grip on my handlebars. My eyes scanned the upcoming trail and I mentally prepared for my exit strategy: eject onto the softest spot possible. The one comforting thought was that I could always get off my bike and walk if I needed. I clunked over the first couple of rocks before the trail tipped downward. My inner dialogue reduced itself to sound effects and naming the various obstacles that I passed… “tree!” … “rock!” … “uh oh… that’s a bridge” … “Ahhh!”... while the rest of my brain power went to navigating the winding trail.
The trail eased up in enough places to slow my speed and when the rocks got too rough or a turn too sharp, I’d climb off and scoot by on foot. I could hear the hoots and hollers from the other groups as they wove through on nearby trails and a comforting rattle that let me know the beginner group leader was still behind me. At least at my ability level, mountain biking required a level of focus that left little room to worry about other responsibilities. I let my attention narrow in on the sounds surrounding me and the feeling as my bike bumped along. Maybe this sport was for me after all because, with a little more practice, I could see how this flow might bring joy.
ORO & MAMBA summer 2023 mtb group rides are held Tuesday evenings, meet at 6pm, ride starts at 6:15pm. Rides last 1-1.5 hours. We ride a variety of local trails, so be sure to follow @Bike_Mamba for the location details.
October 14, 2021
E-bikes are getting more popular and for good reason! They’re fun to ride, a more sustainable commuting option, and a good way to get some fresh air and exercise. If you’re new to e-bikes, you may be hesitant to try one. Whether it’s because you’re nervous about the extra power from the electric assist, or convinced the electric assist is “cheating”, we encourage you to put aside your initial thoughts and give it a try!
• You want to ride your bike farther than you comfortably can now
• You want to ride hillier terrain or carry heavy loads
• You want to bike-commute without getting too sweaty in your work clothes
• You want to try replacing your vehicle with a bike but are concerned about going the distance in the time you have available
• You’ve got recurring aches, pains or injuries that deter you from taking a spin
E-bikes are bicycles that are powered by a small motor. Some of these motors require pedaling in order to kick in (Class 1 and 3 bikes), while other e-bikes are equipped with a throttle that can provide assistance without pedaling (Class 2 bikes). At ORO, we sell and rent e-bikes that require pedaling. These bikes will greatly boost your input until the bike reaches 20 - 28mph depending on the model and have an average range of 25-50 miles on one charge.
With pedal-assist, you choose how much of a boost you’re getting. If you’re heading up a steep hill, picking a higher assistance level will lighten your load. If you’re in the mood for a workout, keeping a low assistance level will get your legs and lungs pumping and extend the range of your ride. You can switch back and forth between assist levels anytime as the terrain and your energy level changes. The amount of torque these finely tuned machines are able to provide is more than enough for the beginner to average rider to tackle the hilliest terrain.
We know that riding a traditional bike is a blast, and you may not be interested in the pedal-assist for your fun weekend rides. Instead, consider using an e-bike to drive less and enjoy your daily travels more. That one big hill on the way to work that keeps you from biking to work more often? The extra couple of miles to the grocery store that feels too far to walk? A busy schedule that doesn’t allow you enough time to ride a traditional bike from one commitment to the next? Fatigue at the end of a long day? Pedal-assist can give you the extra boost to do all of these things by bike (and avoid traffic congestion while you’re at it). Racks and panniers allow you to carry groceries and your work bag with ease, while cargo e-bikes can handle the additional weight of a person riding on the back.
Still not sure if an e-bike is in your future? Good thing we offer test rides and rentals so you can come see for yourself and enjoy a little extra power to go all the places you want to go!
May 17, 2021
“Uuuhhhhh! My Wahoo is saying we missed our turn!”
I can hardly hear my wife and cycling partner yelling to me that her GPS was alerting us that we missed our turn.
“Kyle! We have to turn around!”
We’re three miles into a one hundred and twenty mile ride…..
This is not a rare occurrence. Something almost always goes wrong with the Wahoo. It’s mostly human error. Either a wrong button got pushed, I forgot to sync the GPS, or, while mapping out the route on my computer, I misplaced a waypoint.
So here we are, Bailee and I, on our first bikepacking trip. We are riding the Cross Vermont Trail from Wells River in the east to Burlington in the west (with a couple detours. The actual route is only 96 miles) and we’re already lost. We weren’t actually lost, we had just missed our turn. I had expected the turn to be more obvious or have a sign where the CVT turned off the main road. I had paper cue sheets to help navigate and chose to ignore the GPS thinking our turn was coming up. It never did and we ended up having to stay on the busy highway much longer than we anticipated. Not exactly the scenic route….
I had planned for this trip for a while. I’ve always been a planner when it comes to my outdoor adventures no matter how many miles I’m covering or nights I’m sleeping outside. Even after all of this planning I’ve already managed to get off course. How does this always happen? Even after hours of staring at maps and going over checklists again and again something always goes wrong. I just want things to go smoothly and maximize our precious days of freedom from work and life.
This is just like our first trip to Yosemite National Park. I had planned that trip months in advance but never anticipated that snow would close the pass over the Sierras and we would be forced to drive 12 hours from our house in Nevada rather than the 5 hours I had expected. Nevertheless, we still made the trip and had a blast. This was also the case on the Cross Vermont Trail.
After many other adventures, big and small, I’ve come to learn one thing; No matter how much I plan the route, analyze the weather, or reorganize my gear, something will always go wrong. Even after coming to this realization, I’ll never stop being a planner. Many of my adventures would have fallen flat without some sort of planning. It’s always a good idea to have a somewhat of a schedule in place to maximize your time and maybe some forethought on other essential travel needs to maximize comfort. What I have figured out is that it’s okay for things to not work out. Working through problems is what makes an adventure and adventure. If I wanted everything to be easy I could ride the downtown bike paths and come home to sleep in my bed. But I don’t want to ride the bike path, I want to experience the roads-less-traveled. Sometimes you just have to be prepared to be unprepared.
March 04, 2021
There is no better place to reap the benefits of this month’s snowfall than the Bolton backcountry. BC skis? Telemark skis? AT gear? Splitboards? Yep, they all work here. Even weeks after a storm there are still powder pockets to be found. I recently made it out to Bolton’s backcountry on a set of wide waxless Fischer Sbound 112’s skis with a Voile hardwire binding. Paired with a two-buckle plastic Scarpa T4 boot, there really is nowhere you can’t go. Climbing up to the Cliff Hanger trail I made several quick laps in the Holden’s Hollow area with no skins necessary. The low angle birch glades make for excellent terrain for those of us still learning how to drop a knee. Remember, traveling in the backcountry carries inherent risks and rewards. Always bring these ten essentials when traveling in the backcountry...
The Ten Essentials:
Stay safe out there and get skiing!
February 26, 2021
Had enough evenings at home yet?
Most winters, the allure of cozy nights reading by the woodstove has evolved to grinding monotony by sometime in February. This year, with pandemic-dashed vacation plans and our usual daily diversions and weekend trips severely curtailed, cabin fever hit early. When the only travel options are close to home, and home is Vermont in winter, perhaps it's time to pull on your warmest wooly long johns and plan a winter camping vacation.
Winter camping is appealing in the same way that exercise is appealing. You see glossy photos of smiling, active people and think: That looks fun the way they’re doing it. And also: I sure would like to be the kind of person who does that difficult and rewarding thing.
Maybe this year, you will do the difficult and rewarding thing of lugging a lot of gear into the woods and sleeping out in the snow. Good on ya, as my British friend says in encouragement.
Winter camping is not without its charms, certainly. Hot chocolate and a pot of rice and beans are never as sublime as under the cold glitter of stars on a zero-degree night. Changing into a dry shirt and thick socks rarely induce shouts of hallelujah except in a tent in the snow. And the deep silence of snowy woods ushers a quiet in ourselves that feels like a balm, a respite, a small peace.
But winter camping has challenges a-plenty that summer camping does not. You need to carry more clothing, food, and stove fuel to contend with the colder temperatures. Snowshoes or skis are a must for staying on top of the snowpack, since wallowing through snow drifts without flotation saps energy and fun. You’ll need a heavier sleeping bag and a sturdier tent than in the summer, which means a bigger backpack, or maybe a sled. You can’t go light on first aid supplies, because when things go wrong in winter, you could turn into a popsicle waiting for help to arrive. And you’ll want to prepare ahead of time to minimize fine-motor tasks like unwrapping granola bars and changing the batteries in your headlamp so you can keep your fingers toasty inside your mittens.
If you are already familiar with the basics of summer camping and dressing in non-cotton layers to keep yourself warm, winter camping can be an exhilirating alternative to another evening at home, scrolling for something to watch. Here are five tips to make your trip go a little more smoothly, inspire safe adventuring and help you find the sometimes-subtle joys of winter camping.
1. Make your first winter camping foray in your backyard, a closed public campground (these are generally still open to use even when they are gated for the season), or a destination just a short distance up the trail. There’s a lot to figure out, from managing your snowshoe bindings with a heavy pack on, to melting snow without burning it. (Hint: add water to the snowpack in your pot, and keep the flame low at first.) Give yourself an out in case your equipment doesn’t work the way you hope, your pack is too heavy to carry far, or your sleeping bag isn’t warm enough. You’ll still appreciate the amazing night sky and your morning coffee will still bring a song to your lips even if you aren’t in the depths of the wilderness.
2. Enjoy your fats. Slow-burning, energy-dense foods help keep you warm in your sleeping bag overnight. Stir a chunk of butter into your hot cocoa and another in your oatmeal, have pre-cut chunks of cheese and pepperoni in a bag in your coat pocket, and indulge in breakfast bagels fried in oil and topped with cheese and eggs. (Pro tip: Cut your bagels and everything else at home before you pack up, not in the woods when they’re frozen solid and you are hungry.)
3. Keep regularly-needed items easy to find in your pockets, not your pack. The name of the game is energy conservation, so reduce the number of times you heave your pack off and on by keeping your snacks, headlamp, and map easy to grab in your coat pockets. Get rid of packaging from your snacks and spare batteries before you hit the trail so they are easier to use without taking off your gloves. Simplify any tasks you can, especially food prep, so you can spend your time enjoying the experience rather than fumbling with your basic needs.
4. Dry out damp clothes with body heat, but not against your skin. Wet socks and sweaty base layers come with the territory in winter. Change into dry layers as soon as you get to your destination, and drape damp clothing over your shoulders, on top of your base layer but under your puffy jacket. They’ll dry slowly there, without chilling you. Adding chemical heaters under your puffy, or a hot-water bottle (tightly capped) in your sleeping bag will help with the drying effort and your level of happiness.
5. Plan for many hours in your sleeping bag. Short daylight hours and cold temps mean that you’ll be snuggling into your bag early in the evening. Whether you pass the time catching up on sleep, in the pages of a captivating read, or playing cards and telling tall tales with your tentmate, remember that this is vacation time, and don’t neglect your fun diversions.
Talk to Onion River Outdoors staff for more winter camping tips, our favorite backcountry recipes, and page-turners that are worth their weight in your backpack. We love to talk about this stuff!