Underexposed is a monthly series dedicated to showcasing trails around North America that fly under the proverbial radar for most riders. PEARL iZUMi athlete Brice Shirbach has seen firsthand what sweat equity can mean among mountain bikers and its impact on the places we call home, and with this series will look to help open eyes and shift our attention to some of the brilliant riding that exists in places both unexpected and unheard of.
The Green Mountain National Forest is an 821,000-acre swath of mountainous terrain in the great state of Vermont. Located in Bennington, Rutland, Windsor, Addison, Washington, and Windham counties, there are effectively two halves to the GMNF. It’s one of only two National Forests in New England, the other being White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. There’s the northern half and the southern half of GMNF. The north portion doesn’t extend significantly far north into Vermont, with the terminus hitting just beyond the Green Mountain State’s midsection. While not as vast as many other national forests found throughout the United States, the GMNF is a perfect reflection of its host state: it might be small but packs a lot of beauty.
Within those northern boundaries is the incredibly small, incredibly quaint, and incredibly beautiful town of Rochester. It has a population of just over 1,200 souls and is just a few miles southwest of the state’s geographic center. When you’re here, you are genuinely in the beating heart of the Green Mountains, and there’s a rhythm here that will resonate with your own heart.
During the winter of 2013, a group of backcountry skiing enthusiasts decided to form RASTA, the Rochester/Randolph Area Sports Trail Alliance, in an effort to work with both public and private land managers to open up access for skiing throughout the area. Of course, many of those two individuals traded their two planks for two wheels during the summer and fall months, so mountain biking became an official part of the expanded mission of RASTA in 2014. Since then, RASTA, which is also a chapter of the Vermont Mountain Bike Association, has utilized grant funding and donor dollars to expand their efforts. Including hiring the likes of Tom Lepesqueur to design and build trails that are genuinely brilliant for riders of all abilities. RASTA has roughly 120 summer members, and due to the fairly small population pools of the area, sees similarly modest volunteer numbers when it comes to trail days. But that “small but mighty” theme is evident in virtually all aspects of life in Rochester, which includes their volunteer groups and the trails themselves.
Taking a look at Rochester on Trailforks or any other published map of the area might not inspire a great deal of enthusiasm. Still, there are more legal trails to ride here than what you’ll find on a map, and the trails that are published are more than capable of bringing a smile to your face. While I was in town, I spent my time connecting Link to the Old Gents downhill flow trail. Link is a bit of a heritage trail for RASTA, built in the 1990s by a local mechanic and town constable, Dillon Dudley. After purchasing his home above town, he needed “a way to get to town by riding as little pavement as possible.” Link is half a mile long and drops riders close to 150 feet down a loamy, off-camber, rooty, and beautiful trail. Several optional features will spice things up if you choose, but either way, it’s stunning and fun, and best of all, there’s little to no traffic. Connecting Link to Old Gents will require you to spend south of 10 minutes pedaling up the road before dropping in on Atlas trail, a physical and meandering ride that will eventually take you to the start of Old Gents. Old Gents has become a bit of a draw unto itself, which comes as no surprise for anyone familiar with Tom Lepesqueur’s work. The corners are amazing, the pitch is perfect, and the entire trail can be ridden at any speed of your choosing and will be rewarding regardless.
From start to finish, this ride showcases two sides of the same beautiful coin, and the reality is that RASTA is set to raise many eyebrows in the years to come with some rather ambitious trail plans on the horizon. Groups like RASTA and towns like Rochester are perfect embodiments of Vermont and the Green Mountain National Forest: Sure, they might be small, but they’re full of some big surprises. It’s a place as pure as the maple syrup that flows from its trees, and it’s just as sweet.