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It’s a Magical World

Ryan Dunfee  /  Sep 17, 2021  /  5 Min Read  /  Mountain Biking

Rolling through a full-scale sensory rebellion in New England.

Gentle light beams belie 50-mile-per-hour winds battering the mountain ridges surrounding East Burke, Vermont. A wall of scrubby trees buffered rider Brooks Curran from the worst, while the photographer—perched in a nearby fire tower—experienced the full brunt of the storm.

All photos by Dave Trumpore 

As the sun falls away from its summer dominance of the New England skyline, nearly every tree across the region begins to cut its losses. The leaves are too taxing for the food they provide, and the trees, selfish to the last, abandon them to the cold, cutting off the supply of chlorophyll that drugs them into a homogenous shade of green all summer. Soon, the leaves will fall and coat the forest floor, humbly fading into future food for the trunks that abandoned them.

But for a few brief, mischievous and beautiful moments, the blades of birch, maple, oak, ash and hickory refuse to go gently into the good night of winter, brandishing their distinctive pigments in a full-scale rebellion of color.

It’s a Magical World

When a rare October snowstorm coated Burke Mountain, Vermont, in a foot of white, Joe Cavallaro started the morning in ski gear, farming powder turns in the yellow and orange foliage. He ended the day riding his bike through dream dirt on the mountain’s lower slopes—a full dose of seasonal confusion.

It’s a Magical World

A mix of damp soil, a sprinkle of loam and even a hint of dust: A tire and its track tell the story of a damn fine day in perfect New England conditions. East Burke, Vermont.

It’s a Magical World

Go fast and blast the problem right off the trail. Evan Booth unclogs a leaf-blocked drainage ditch while riding outside Northfield, New Hampshire.

From afar, the contrast is entirely visual. But up close, hurtling across the peel of the earth on a pair of wheels, the shifting season affects every sensory vector. Dropping temps and a dose of chilly moisture revitalize the dirt. Trees begin to shed their bounties, with maples covering the turf in a rough-haired swath of red and orange. A ceiling of yellow and gold trembles above, still affixed to the poplars, elms and snow-white birches, until they, too, succumb to the weather. Autumn’s blue skies are sharper and clearer than those of summer, and the final two hours of the day invigorate the landscape, crystalline amber light contrasted against black shadows. On even the most objectively abysmal days, a soaking grey rain will crank the palette to electric hues. When dusted by the odd October snow, there is little room left for thought. There is just instinct and awe, felt to the bone.

It’s a Magical World

An autumn sunset kisses Vermont’s Burke Mountain, highlighting the tallest treetops—and one tiny human—against the changing fall colors. Jake Inger dropped from the summit just as the light faded, but with winter coming, every sunset ride is worth finishing in the dark.

It’s a Magical World

Brooks Curran pops out of the ferns to glimpse the fiery foliage surrounding East Burke, Vermont, before dropping back for more hero dirt.

Your tires convey every detail of the changing earth underneath. Even in rain, the sheet of maple and birch leaves conceals an impressive grip; their skin is too thin to separate tire from terrain, allowing you to amble on gleefully while the smell of decay hangs in the heavy air. Then an interlude of full-day sun dries them to a crinkle, and you bathe in creeks of orange and yellow, feeling but not seeing the trail, a popcorn symphony cracking beneath your wheels. The trail dives into a pool of gold, and—CLANG!—your front rim meets a piece of granite buried in the depths of the leaf litter. Then it’s over the handlebars, and your hand-shoulder-torso meet a pile of roots, the blow softened by a blanket of birch leaves.

It’s a Magical World

For decades, Rude Awakening on Vermont’s Burke Mountain was simply known as the DH Trail—until 2018, when it was featured in a popular film segment with Enduro World Series champ Richie Rude and renamed in his honor. Renowned trail builder Knight Ide overhauled much of the original trail for the shoot; three years later, his signature rockwork is still as beautiful as ever. And despite global fame, it’s still the DH Trail to locals like Brooks Curran.

It’s a Magical World

Stowe, Vermont, is the quintessential northeastern ski town and sees droves of hikers and leaf peepers each fall. Locals like Annie Henderson know how to get away from the crowds: Choose the right trail and you’ll have it to yourself on even the busiest days.

The only universal menace is the oak. The last species still wearing foliage, it scatters stout leaves and piles of acorns in a cohort altogether opposed to traction. It’s devious enough to bring about the end of the season for some. But for others, it is simply a reason to increase the gamble: to see if the oak leaves are so packed and wet, or so dry and riddled with acorns, that you slip on your ass at the first corner, while your accomplices carry on with maddening gaiety and equally wet haunches all the same.

It’s a Magical World

Corinne Prevot navigates a northeastern “yellow brick road” on a rainy November day in Maine. The texture of New England’s trails changes on a near daily basis during October and November, as falling leaves coat the ground in ever-changing sheets of color that endow familiar rides with an entirely new feel.

It’s a Magical World

In northern New Hampshire, it’s not just the trees that change color come October; the fields of wild blueberry bushes take on an added vibrancy as well, dropping their fruit as their leaves turn from green to a brilliant crimson.

But if the gamble pays … well, there’s a lode of beautiful memories to sustain the cold months ahead. The wind blowing a spray of dirt across your favorite trail. The fading plumage of fall bordering your tire tracks, still handsome in its darkening shade. A placid afternoon, frozen in November repose, filled with the sounds of bike interacting with terrain.

Either way, the snow is coming and spring is many months away. There is no time to waste.

Please enjoy this preview of the cover story for our Fall 2021 Journal, just one example of the beautiful photography and storytelling from the issue. Shipping to stores and mailboxes late September.

It’s a Magical World

“Often, October kicks off the cold and rainy season, but occasionally summer hangs on and the rains stay away, meaning you can enjoy those gilded views on trails that are still in perfect condition.” —Dave Trumpore. Brooks Curran, Cambridge, Vermont.

It’s a Magical World

“Sometimes, a little dust will even show up to make the evening ‘golden hour’ just that much more golden.” —Dave Trumpore. Brooks Curran, East Burke, Vermont.

It’s a Magical World

“That’s the magical time of year when the ferns turn to gold and the leaves begin to match, when the hills and the trails look on like they’re on fire.” —Dave Trumpore. Brooks Curran, East Burke, Vermont.

It’s a Magical World

“But days like this are numbered, and those colors don’t last long; they’re an encore to summer—a grand finale, of sorts—for once the leaves fall, it’s time to put the bike away and start waxing skis.” —Dave Trumpore. Brooks Curran, East Burke, Vermont.

It’s a Magical World

“And when summer doesn’t linger? Sometimes it just rains and it’s cold and there’s none of the stunning color. But you’re still in the woods biking with friends, which means it’s still fun—sometimes more of the Type 2 sort than anything else, but fun nonetheless.” —Dave Trumpore. Corinne Prevot, North Conway, New Hampshire.

Often when we ride in the mountains—or climb, run, exalt—we follow paths leading through Indigenous lands. We’re grateful to the original stewards of these places we enjoy and love. We acknowledge the injustice of their removal and exclusion from them. The photos in this story were taken on the unceded lands of the Abenaki peoples.

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