All You Need is Dirt

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

All You Need is Dirt

The Hysterical Parent
A medical emergency
You would be a fool to venture into the wilderness without someone in your party being certified in first aid. Call your pediatrician or hospital for information on when and where classes are offered so you can learn to set broken bones and deal with cuts, bites, blisters, poisonous plants, and hypothermia (yes, even in summer.) From there, Murphy's Law applies. If you have the training, you won't need it; if you don't, all hell will probably break loose.

A flat tire
Every mountain biker should know how to fix a flat. Call your bike shop and ask about repair kits and a crash course on how to use them. And don't feel foolish asking for help. Bikers are generous when it comes to offering aid to neophytes.

What's in the water?
You don't want to know. That cascading mountain stream may look pristine, but one sip and you're gut-wrenchingly sick for weeks. The problem is the giardia parasite, and it's everywhere. That's why a water filter is essential backcountry gear, and it's no more complicated to use than a tea strainer. Otherwise, a vigorous five-minute boil will kill off all water-borne microbes.

--Lisa Twyman Bessone

Methow Valley, Washington
If you quadrupled the lodging rates and invited Gerald Ford to stop by and crash a few times, Washington's Methow Valley could very well qualify as the Vail of mountain biking. It may seem a silly comparison, given that Vail is a posh ski town, the Methow an obscure valley hidden in the eastern shadow of the North Cascades. But families trekking to Methow for a week of mountain biking will find many of the same pleasant hard-play, soft-touch attractions of a well-run ski resort--sans glitz.

The Methow, a not-so-well-kept secret for cross-country skiers, is a mountain-biking family's summertime dream. The valley's sprawling, 175-kilometer cross-country trail system was built with skiers in mind, but it's wide-open all summer for fat tires. For cycling parents, the big draw is accessibility. No need for loading the bikes on a trunk rack in the Methow. Though the trail network--maintained by the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association-- extends throughout much of the upper valley, the lower-valley trails are within easy riding distance of accommodations like the highly regarded Sun Mountain Lodge (cabins, $145-$270; doubles, $140- $235; $18 extra for kids over 12; 800-572-0493), with its own 80 kilometers of trails.

Trail variety is overwhelming, with more than enough to keep even the most determined rider busy for weeks. Families can set out for an hour-long cruise to the Methow River or a three-day, singletrack expedition into the Cascades. Beginner routes lead through the dry pine forests to a series of beaver ponds, picnic sites, and scenic viewpoints. But advanced, gut-buster trails up Thompson Ridge are only a short ride away. Farther up the valley, a growing string of mountain chalets, riverside B&B's, and country inns, such as the Mazama Ranch House (doubles with kitchenettes, $80; cabins with kitchens, $95; $10 each additional person; kids under 12 free), are found along the Methow--nearly all of them either on or very near the trail network. Bike rentals ($20-$30 per day, $75-$100 per week), maps, and advice are available at Winthrop Mountain Sports (509-996-2886). For one-stop lodging information, call Methow Valley Central Reservations (509-996-2148).
--Ron C. Judd

Randolph, Vermont
For years, Vermont's most cherished mountain-bike trails were off-limits to out-of-towners. If you were fortunate enough to know the farmer next door, you could ride on the sinuous singletrack that cut through his cornfields, but everyone else was forced to bike with the crowds at downhill or cross-country ski centers. That all changed in 1994 when Paul Rea opened up Slab City Bike & Sports in Randolph and created the White River Valley Trails Association.

The tenacious Rea knocked on landowners' doors, asking (sometimes begging) permission to link together a network of trails in this rural county. Remarkably, everyone agreed, and the result is a 240-mile system of mapped trails open to all. The terrain varies from dirt roads to technical singletrack, but the majority of the riding is on grassy doubletrack that's now closed to all vehicles except two-wheelers. The trails are ideal for children; for the past two years Randolph has been the home of the New England Mountain Biking Festival, a three-day non-competitive event with guided rides for all levels (this year's festival is September 26-28; call 802-484-5737 for information).
One particularly good route is the 12-mile Mud Pond Loop. From Slab City in Randolph, the ride climbs steeply up a hill through farmland. You'll ride past cows, rows of corn, and the quintessential white Vermont steeple before ducking into a forest of pines to hidden Mud Pond. For an encore, hard-core families can try the 44.9-mile doubletrack Circus Ride, which was used decades ago to bring the circus into town.

Rental bikes ($20 per day) and detailed maps are available from Slab City (802-728-5747). Campers should stay in Silver Lake State Park in nearby Barnard (campsites, $12-$16; call 802-234-9451). Or stay at the Three Stallion Inn, about a mile from Randolph. Located on the Green Mountain Stock Farm, the Three Stallion (doubles, $99; 800-424-5575) has about 33 miles of singletrack where you'll rarely see another biker.
--Stephen Jermanok

Deer Valley Resort, Utah
If you're looking for panoramic views of Utah's Uinta and Wasatch Ranges, one of the best networks of lift-serviced mountain biking anywhere, and first-class lodging to limp back to at the end of the day, look no further than the Deer Valley Resort. The centerpiece of Deer Valley's mountain biking is a 30-mile network of singletrack and doubletrack for all abilities, serviced by the mid-mountain Sterling lift. It lets everyone off at the top of Bald Mountain, overlooking historic Park City. From there, take your pick of Naildriver Downhill and Homeward Bound to lose the 1,300 feet of vertical. More experienced riders can move on to Flagstaff Loop, Tour Des Suds, or the 30-plus-mile backcountry route to Salt Lake City along the Wasatch Crest Trail.

The mountain-bike school at the base of the lift offers instruction and riding tips to all levels of riders, from first-timers to NORBA racers. Rates range from about $25 per hour for a private lesson to about $90 for a half-day group session with up to eight riders. Rentals cost about $25-$35 per day. The lift opens as soon as conditions permit in June and operates Wednesday through Sunday through Labor Day. A full-day pass costs about $14; kids 12 and under are only allowed with a paying adult or a waiver signed by a parent.

Two-bedroom condos at Deer Valley ($155-$260 per night) have full kitchens and sleep four to six. For reservations call 800-424-3337. Park City's Hidden Haven Campground with 35 tent sites is about eight miles away ($13.50-$17.50 per night; call 801-649-8935).
--Derek Taylor

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