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Doing the dirty work: Claremont crew preps Arrowhead for big downhill cycling event

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    Rob Walker, of Claremont, left, and Conor Rowan, of Windsor, descend a trail at Arrowhead Recreation Area in Claremont, N.H., after an evening of working on mountain bike trails on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. "We're on a deadline crunch," said Walker of the approaching Eastern States Cup, a qualifying mountain bike race for the Enduro World Series, which needs six race-ready trails by August 21 when the event begins. "We don't wait for sunny days anymore." (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

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    Conor Rowan, of Windsor, chops a root out of a mountain bike trail named Conway, after himself, at Arrowhead Recreation Area in Claremont, N.H., on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. "I sold it before I built it," said Rob Walker, general manager of the Claremont Cycle Depot, who arranged for the Eastern States Cup, a qualifying mountain bike race for the Enduro World Series to come to Claremont on August 21 and 22. Now Walker and several fellow riders are working to build new trails and improve trails they have ridden on the mountain in preparation for the race. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Rob Walker, of Claremont, right, and Conor Rowan, of Windsor, descend a section of trail that Walker said is more difficult to walk down than ride after an evening of trail work at Arrowhead Recreation Area in Claremont, N.H., on Tuesday, July 27, 2021 in preparation for the Eastern States Cup enduro race. Riders of the event must ascend the mountain six times and descend six different trails. Over 300 riders are expected to compete on August 22. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 8/12/2021 10:00:07 PM
Modified: 8/12/2021 10:00:14 PM

CLAREMONT — On a cool, wet early Sunday morning in late July, three men were hard at work building a section of a mountain bike trail in the woods at Arrowhead — a small, city-owned hill known mostly for winter skiing and tubing.

Earlier, the trio hauled their tools of the trade — shovels, saws, an ax-like Pulaski, picks, rakes, a chainsaw — up the ATV trail on their backs to work a few yards off the trail. The men raked away loose top material, tamped down dirt and rebuilt a small jump.

Will Jaarsma was on his hands and knees, repositioning several rocks to alter the bikers’ direction off the jump. Rob Walker worked another section.

“It is not just running a rake over it,” said Walker, who manages Claremont Cycle Depot. “You have to get the duff (loose material) off the top and get down to the soil that packs and holds.”

Jaarsma, Walker and Conor Rowan have been coming out to Arrowhead since March to build and improve a network of trails for the MAXXIS Eastern States Cup Enduro bike race that is coming to Claremont Aug. 20-22 with more than 300 riders taking part.

The race is also an Enduro World Series Gold Cup qualifier that will bring the sport’s elite riders to Claremont.

“For the EWS qualifiers, we will have entrants from across the United States, because everyone wants to get qualified for EWS,” said George Ulmer, with Enduro Eastern States, from his home in Albany, N.Y.

The race will have six stages or trails down the hill, with a few different starting and ending points. Racers will ride over a variety of terrain, from very short, hard-packed, flat sections to steep drops, dips, turns and jumps dominated in parts with rocks, roots and ruts.

While downhill racing is usually a single run with lifts to the top, Walker said Enduro racing, using full suspension bikes with special gearing for climbing steep terrain, is more like a “battle of attrition.”

“You have to get yourself to the start,” Walker said. “Your body is fatigued, but you still need the focus of a downhill racer. Downhill is this incredible burst of energy that comes so fast but what Enduro does, it throws it at you five or six times.”

What’s going on at Arrowhead

About 10 years ago, Walker began lending his trail-building talents at Arrowhead and nearby Moody Park.

“I was just trying to make what we have locally better,” said Walker, a member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission. “Our parks weren’t measuring up to other places I rode. I thought our community had assets that were underutilized, so I started to dig” and build trails.

He is quick to give a nod to those who worked years ago building trails.

“Some of it existed before I got here, and some sections were here from previous volunteers,” Walker said. “The bones were here, and now everything has been reworked so none of those trails are what they were.”

Arrowhead is being discovered by more mountain bikers, and with a YouTube video advertising, it is not unusual to see out-of-state license plates in the parking lot.

“People travel to bike parks for this type of riding,” said Walker, 41.

“The shop phone rings now, and more than 30% of the calls are not about what I can do for them at the bike shop. They asked what is going on at Arrowhead.”

The groundwork for Arrowhead’s selection for Enduro goes back several years when Walker said he and Rowan, who were both racing Enduro, and others started hosting a “secret kind of race” after the official Enduro schedule ended in October.

“This grassroots thing became its own little series, and we started to get bigger names wanting to come here,” Walker said. “We had the Enduro national champ come here and guys who finished top-three in the pro category.”

And then came the phone call in March from Ulmer.

“He said, ‘What’s going on over there? Where is Claremont and is this real?’ ” Walker remembered. “We said, ‘Yes.’ ”

That is when the trail building began in earnest, even in frigid March.

“This is the ridiculous part: We were leaf blowing the snow to dig,” Walker said.

Insane terrain

Ulmer said he chose Arrowhead based on rider input.

“We heard it has a lot of raw, natural terrain that racers love, with easy transfers (untimed returns to the start),” Ulmer said.

The trail builders on Arrowhead that July morning wholeheartedly agreed.

“The potential here is insane,” said Jaarsma, 22, of Cornish, who did a senior project in high school on designing and constructing a sustainable mountain bike trail. “My style of building is to find natural features, like a big rock or cool gully or ravine; I like to build in between those. If it is there naturally, why not utilize it? This place is so condensed with these insane natural formations.”

The men have done the lion’s share of the digging, volunteering countless hours, with help from others, including Gavin Boardman and Avery Mornis, who is with a professional trail builder, Sinuosity in Vermont, and volunteered a month to the effort.

“In the spring, we were digging five to six days a week,” said Jaarsma, who also works at Cycle Depot. “We would come out before work, go to work at 9, then get out of work and dig from 5:30 to 9 or when it got too dark.”

They bring their collective experience and respect for one another’s knowledge to a collaborative process.

“We have all been doing this long enough and have developed a sense of what is fun and what features you want to ride on,” said Rowan, 41, of Windsor. “We will bounce ideas off each other.”

Added Walker: “I think we work so well because we all want the same thing out of a trail. We want it to be challenging, we want to go fast but we don’t want to build something dumb that is going to hurt people. Here, you can create the experience rather than let nature dictate what the rider will come up against.”

The competition field is full, according the MAXXIS web site. Practice is scheduled for Aug. 21, with the official race the next day.

Walker rode all six stages earlier this month, pedaling 10 miles with 3,000 feet of climbing and hit a maximum speed of 37 miles per hour. He will do it again on race day but also has another objective.

“I want to see firsthand the reaction of the racers to the trails we built,” he said.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.




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