Earlier this week, the ENE TV crew visited the White Mountains, where Mount Washington is already dusted with snow. The lower elevations still offer brilliant foliage, however, which we captured on film during a mountain-biking excursion with REI Co-Op’s Experiences Guide Mike Sopyla.
We met Mike—an avid mountain biker, climber and skier—at the stunning REI store in downtown North Conway, where we were fitted for mountain bikes and helmets (all done in a very Covid-safe environment, I should add). REI rents bikes, skis, camping kits, kayaks, climbing gear, and other types of outdoor equipment to folks who want to try out a new activity or who may have left something at home. All of it is cleaned and sterilized after use.
With our bikes ready to go, we headed for nearby Echo Lake State Park, one of many trails in the North Conway area. These range from expert-level “gravity-fed” routes such as Attitash to intermediate and beginner-class trails such as the one Mike had chosen. In the parking lot, Mike spoke on camera about some of the things a novice mountain biker needs to know in terms of bike operation and trail safety. As you might imagine, there’s a lot more to the sport than simply hopping on a bike and tearing off through the woods, and Mike would occasionally stop to dispense “teaching moments,” such as how to negotiate a steep incline, negotiate a fallen tree, and how to dismount on uneven terrain. This was all stuff a beginner might learn the hard—and possibly painful—way, without an experienced guide like Mike leading the way.
By the way, the bikes we used were REI Co-op DRT 3.1 models, which are based on lightweight, strong aluminum frames and feature a 10-gear drivetrain and adjustable, hydraulic front and rear suspension systems, which makes for an unbelievably smooth ride over rugged terrain. Another neat feature is the remote-controlled dropper seatpost, which allows for instant adjustment of the post on the fly.
After our ride with Mike, we met up with Yohann Hanley and Ally Scholtz of the White Mountain Trail Collective, which helps maintain and repair many hiking trails in the region. WMTC also coordinates trail projects with other groups and volunteers. It’s an important and often complex job, as we learned when Yohann and Ally brought us to Cathedral Ledge, a popular rock-climbing spot. Here, the WMTC, with funding from REI and the National Forest Foundation and help from Appalachian Mountain Club trail crews, had repaired and enhanced an access trail to the cliff base by creating a series of stone stairs and reinforcing heavily eroded areas. The project involved quarrying granite blocks from a nearby talus slope and transporting them via a cable and grip-hoist system to the site. It was a “monumental” task that took the better part of the summer to complete.
Next we visited Glen Ellis Falls, a popular waterfall in the National Forest on the upper Ellis River. Here, the trail had been closed for the summer while a WMTC crew worked to repair and upgrade the trail (originally created in the 1930’s by professional stoneworkers under a WPA program) by creating and clearing drainage channels, rebuilding retaining walls, filling sinkholes, and making parts of the path wheelchair-accessible. Ally and Yohann were justly proud of their work on both projects, which should be appreciated by visitors for decades to come.
By the end of the day, we had learned a lot about both mountain biking and trail maintenance–and so will you when the episode airs next year!