By Harlan Price,
If there is going to be a premier Enduro for us right-coasters, this is shaping up to be the one. Like last year, the 2012 OverMountain had a turnout of heavy-hitting US enduro stars. A big prize purse, a mix of natural and park terrain, and competition flying in from all around made this event the bright light that kept us, the insects, swarming.
This was my first time to Highland Mountain Bike Park. It’s a heck of a drive from Philadelphia, but as we kept turning down smaller and smaller roads we began to feel like we were privy to a little secret, especially when at the final turn onto dirt, we passed the unadorned “Highland” sign. We showed up on Friday morning under cloudy skies and certain rain, to begin tracking down lines and learning to ride a new mountain.
The main building (or lodge if you like) sits at the base of the mountain and has an elevated back porch that looks over the one lift and several runs coming down the mountain. Upstairs it has a bar and food while on the floor below there is a bike shop and locker area. It’s a small and intimate setting that provides a resting place to recover between practice runs, though I don’t recommend drinking a beer between laps. The park has been reworking the trails under the lift. Beautiful berms and big drops are a hallmark of the trail crew’s efforts. Too bad these freshies are probably soon to be under snow within the next month.
The OverMountain consisted of three stages also called “specials”, and one opportunity for a climbers prime that did not factor into the overall time.
Dave Eypper working the corners on Stage One.
With a slight sprinkle coming down we stepped onto the lift and headed towards the top. The first half of Stage One seemed machined built with some big rock options, but mostly high-speed berms and narrow bridges. The trail seemed to be handling the rain well and we scooted down to the second half which turned to newer sections of loamy single track. At about five minutes long, it was a blast with very little pedaling and a wide range of challenging trail features.
Dayne Waterlow takes the rock wall-ride low at the start.
Clarissa Finks: Stage One rock roll.
We then turned our attention to finding stage two which required us to climb up towards the back side of the mountain. Stage Two was made of more new trail with the most substantial pedaling of the whole event. The climbing wasn’t that much, but it was also the shortest stage of the three at just over two minutes. What distinguished Stage Two besides the climbing was the off-camber, narrow sections of loamy trail sprinkled with roots to send you sideways. There were options to gap little sections along the way and creativity started to play a bigger role in the riders’ line choices.
Stage Three was supposed to be walking inspection only but we rode the upper part of since it wasn’t roped off and others were riding it. We walked the rest, but later learned that others were riding the upper and lower sections. It was a little confusing and seemed like a mixed message and I’d have really liked to have ridden the lower section of trail since it had some of the steepest and sketchiest portions of the trail.
Race day was sunny and as the parking lot filled up the trails began drying surprisingly quickly.
Chris Lumb on Stage Three.
It was still soft and loamy in sections on the first two stages while sections of stage three were turning into a muddy slip-n-slide on rocks. All the riding was really fun and having lift access made it a great day on the mountain. The general atmosphere was relaxed and you could tell that people were enjoying themselves. The rain had really made the leaves’ colors pop and it was a pretty psychedelic adventure blasting through the woods.
The thing to remember about an enduro is the amount of time actually spent racing on the clock. It took around an hour to get through all three stages with the timed sections only adding up to about 10 minutes. What I’m learning is that an enduro still presents an opportunity to enjoy a full day or weekend of riding. It’s what surrounds the timed sections that make it an event worth traveling too.
Brian Whalen entering the slip-n-slid section of Stage Three.
Of all the Enduros I’ve done on the East Coast so far, this one definitely had the least amount of pedaling and leaned hard towards the gravity riders. That was probably a result of feedback about last year’s course that favored the XC riders like winner Barry Wicks. Then again, another World Cup XC rider, Adam Craig, won again this year.
Unlike an XC race where you spend most of the time in your own head, at the enduro there is plenty of time to ride with new people, try new lines, and explore a new place. It’s refreshing to not do the traditional “hit it and run” of an XC race. Every enduro I go to I run across more people who are doing their first race ever and this format seems to really be capturing the imagination of a new crew of riders.
At the end of the day we watched the sun slowly disappear while the awards came out. It was a great event in an environment that I’m pretty sure I’ll be returning to. It’s hard to beat New Hampshire in the peak fall colors on a mountain with the variety of trail Highland has to offer.