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Killington, VT
Ten years ago, as relative newbies to the sport, we took a road trip to Killington, Vermont to ride down a real mountain. We had rigid forks and seven-speed thumb shifters. Purple and teal were in fashion and helmets were nothing more than a bulky Styrofoam bucket with a Lycra cover on top. I still remember the pounding my arms took that weekend from an unsuspended front-end and the ache in my hands from squeezing those big three-finger brake levers.

Fast forward to 2001. The base of the old K1 chairlift has been replaced with a skate park while nearby a new, high-speed gondola sits waiting to take us to the summit. From our eight-passenger cabin the mountains look eerily the same as they did ten years ago.

At the top, it’s a beautiful Vermont summer day. Temps around 80 and blue sky everywhere. The view is as stunning as ever. While the unenlightened may think riding a ski area is about blasting straight down the slopes, we know better. Armed with a trail map and our modern, fully suspended rigs, we set out for the twisty stuff. As I descend, I think back to 1991 and that first ride down on my Rockhopper. I am faster and more confident now. The 4-inch travel front and rear on my new sled eats up the rocks and its disc brakes let me control my speed precisely.

We take an offshoot from the gravel work road and drop into a single-track wonderland. The trail winds its way through the trees and across Snowdon Mountain. I can feel my upper body working to maneuver the bike while resisting gravity just enough to keep from going head-over-heels. My adrenaline is building. Trail maintenance is evident as we make our way across well-built wooded bridges and over foot high water bars. The trail tests our abilities with a climbing right turn between two trees and over their roots, followed by an immediate, descending off-camber left. An hour later, we are back at the base lodge and loading our bikes for the next trip up the mountain.

After a full day of riding, Sunday morning arrives with some aches and pains but we are eager to get out again. Today, our plan is to descend from the summit to trail #18, a classic Killington cross-country trail that begins to the south of and below the base lodge. We begin strong and stoked for a roller coaster of a ride. Halfway through, we are toast, but far from disappointed. The climbs are short and steep, and just as you complete one, another is only a quick descent away. I reach for some GU and a gulp of Gatorade and continue on. This is the toughest and some of the finest single-track we’ve ridden this weekend.

Driving back to New Jersey that evening, we realize that although our ability is greater and our bikes more advanced, the mountains and the rush of riding them is the same as it was ten years ago… and our hands still hurt like hell.

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Highlands Mountain Bike Adventures 2002