WEST DOVER, Vt. -- Although I scoffed at the guys on line at the bike center in their full body armor, I should have reserved judgment. After two days on the trails, I would have been grateful for a little Kevlar.
Mountain biking at Mount Snow, considered the sport's Northeast mecca, was humbling. I'm a decent rider, but most mountain biking is not done exclusively on the downhill -- some of that straight downhill -- on a track that descends more than 1,600 feet in just over a mile.
Foolishly, I had imagined that much of the riding would be down grassy ski slopes, a swishing, zooming ride that would blow the wind in my face as I coursed downward, still able to enjoy spectacular views of the Green Mountains and valleys below. No wonder I was confused by the ''45 miles of trails." At first, that seemed to me an awful lot of miles to get from point A at the top to point B at the bottom. I now know that those 45 miles crisscross the slopes on winding tracks through rugged rocky woods. So along with being humbled was the glory of getting from point A to point B by passing through and over all the crazy places in between. I know that Phil, my partner in all things outdoors and insane, and I have had a successful day when we high-five at the end and congratulate ourselves on simply remaining intact.
Meanwhile, my sedentary friends just don't get it. If you're going to bother to get on a bike in the first place, they ask, why on earth would you then elect to ride it in the woods, over tree stumps and rocks, around and over boulders, along scree routes and through streams? I don't have an answer. I don't know if anyone who does these sports has an answer except that it's outside, it's an incredible challenge, adrenaline does wonders for the psyche, and you feel much more deserving of attending the beer festival at the end of the day.
In addition, Mount Snow Valley is gorgeous.
When we arrived at the Mount Snow bike center, there was a line. It turned out that everyone who wants to ride the ski lift to the top, either to cycle or picnic and then ride it back down, was purchasing tickets on the same line. And it was the bikers who were taking up time, because the trail maps require a bit of explanation. For those feeling adventurous, very nice dual-suspension rental bikes are available, but we had brought our own, trusty hard-tails from home.
Because neither of us had done a lot of biking recently, we opted to stay off the slopes on Saturday and ride in the forested Crosstown Area, across the street from the resort. If you mountain bike in the Metro Boston area, Crosstown is similar to the Winchester Fells -- with a few more drops, more roots, a narrower single track, and without the constant noise from Interstate 93. The maps were somewhat lacking, and one trail was closed, so we rode aimlessly through bramble for a couple of miles -- happening upon some of the best wild blackberries I've ever tasted -- and then at the end of the day, Phil and I got separated. Unless you are very experienced, this is not a sport to do solo, and although you cannot ride too close together for fear of smashing into each other, taking whistles along is a good idea. Unfortunately, we didn't. So once we found each other, we decided the only reasonable thing to do was to leave the woods and partake of some of the area's microbrews.
Later we made our way back to the Deerhill Inn, which is close to Mount Snow and south on Route 100. Purchased just over a year ago by innkeeper Stan Gresens and chef Michael Allen, it is all things a Vermont inn should be, and more. The decor is charming. There was a piano player in the fireplaced lounge on Saturday night. And a ''gallery" area displays work by local artists. The white clapboard building is located on a hill and commands sweeping views of the mountains. Every room is decorated individually.And then there's the food.
We had a lovely, long dinner in the inn's restaurant that night, and after the excellent and rich cuisine, making it upstairs to our room was another challenge. In the dining room next to ours, a couple from Peoria, and a dozen friends, celebrated their civil union, which had been codified earlier on the inn's grounds.
On Sunday, after an excellent full breakfast at the inn, we tooled over to the 8th annual Southern Vermont Garlic & Herb Festival in Wilmington (motto: ''Vermont Stinks!"). We ate raw garlic. We listened to The Garlic Lover's Jazz Quartet. We tasted vanilla and clove garlic spreads, and learned that there are many, many types of garlic, and that they can differ substantially in taste and strength.
Then, with breaths of fire, we took on the mountain. The day was spectacular, and the ride to the top of the slope, with our bikes hanging off the quad on specially designed racks, was fantastic. We could see hundreds of New England's peaks. The lift was largely empty. There weren't too many bikers, though the first who came barreling down our way were fully outfitted in riding regalia, and the last of the three was wearing a head-cam.
I was humbled quickly. Falling will do that, though I am of the school that believes it is important to fall. You find out -- generally -- that you get back up. We rode on, rolling and banging over rocks, careering over roots and stumps through the woods. You have no idea how high a ski slope is until you have ridden down it on a hard-tail bike. When I could look up from the trail, over my vibrating handlebars, the woods were mossy and beautiful and the vistas, as we passed from trail to trail, were amazing. After four hours, we were pretty spent.
We were also hungry. So with our bruises -- Phil taking the prize for an impressive bloody gash -- we drove over to Jerry's Deck, where excellent grilled fare, from assorted vegetables to Angus rib eye, is the main option. Tables sit above the river on a wide roofed deck with heaters.
Monday arrived gray and rainy, so with little encouragement, we vetoed biking and decided to shoot skeet. The Hermitage Inn, another fine lodging choice, has a skeet range where we spent three hours shooting 100 rounds at orange clay pigeons on five different fields. Our intrepid guide wore a T-shirt with the last slogan you want to see on someone handling guns: ''I'm awake and dressed, what more do you want.We didn't spend time in charming Wilmington nor in funky Brattleboro, but that was OK --they're not going anywhere. And we were content to leave something for our next trip.
Beth Greenberg is a freelance writer who lives in Boston.