A few weeks ago my family and I all jumped in our van and drove up to New England to visit family in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Since I’d only gotten my Niner EMD9 a couple weeks previously, I had to take it along. I got to ride some of the trails I grew up riding in Massachusetts, then went up to New Hampshire (where my parents now live). Since I haven’t done much riding there, I hit up Google to see what was in the area, and discovered Fort Rock.
Fort Rock is actually two different town forests in Exeter, NH connected by a trail tunnel under route 101 – Henderson-Swasey and Oaklands (check the link for some good maps). They’ve been given some good attention by the New England Mountain Biking Association (NEMBA)– there are multiple areas with nicely-laid planks over swampy (and just plain pond-y) areas, which is great because otherwise the trails wouldn’t be rideable (or would just get torn up). There are also some less-noticed touches in certain areas to help with drainage and prevent erosion – but mostly the trails are left pretty natural – which is a very good thing!
Overall the entire system is both a blast and a challenge – and like many New England trails rocks and roots are more common than, well… dirt. Some suspension is pretty much required here unless you’re just begging for a beating. These trails were a little rockier than most though… not many New England trails get a branch named “Kill-Zilla” (according to some forum research, it’s also known as the “Demoralizer”). The name is fitting… I’m sure with some practice I could clean it, but the two times I rode it (once from either direction, once on purpose and once by accident!) I definitely had several foot dabs and a couple walks up hills when I couldn’t get going again on the slope. The rocks aren’t just around the trail – in many places the best way to go is OVER a bunch of rocks (and I’m not talking small ones), and there are lots of ways to kill your momentum – especially going up the steep hills that make up pretty much the entire trail. I spent much more time in my granny gear than I think I ever have before (boy was I glad I wasn’t on my singlespeed!).
My one gripe with the trail system is that I’d read it was signed, and that was true – but only barely. It has blazes – but one of the major trail sections runs in a circle, and actually branches a couple times – so even with the blazes it’s not always that easy to figure out where you are. I’m sure after a couple rides it becomes easier (I was starting to figure it out by the time I left), but for a first time rider bringing the maps along would be a good idea. I figured that out after my 1 1/2 hour ride turned into a 3 hour ride… I kept finding myself looping back around to where I didn’t want to be anymore! I was on my bike and having fun though, so it was all good (well, up until the point my water ran out!).
I didn’t get to ride anything like all the trails in this system despite the time I spent in it, so I’ll definitely be back there next time I’m in the area. I do want to thank the town of Exeter for letting mountain bikers use the trails in this way though – and NEMBA for helping make it into a more sustainable (and fun!) system. My introduction was exhausting and challenging, but incredibly satisfying.