A vast network of well-maintained trails and gravel roads thread through Bangor’s 680-acre Rolland F. Perry City Forest and the adjoining 410-acre Walden-Parke Preserve, and these trails offer a wide range opportunities for mountain bikers, whether they’re looking for an easy, smooth ride on wide trails and roads or more technical, strenuous biking on single-track trails. Altogether, the preserve and the forest have more than 16 miles of trails to explore, as well as 4 miles of gravel roads and a straight corridor along the old Veazie Railroad bed.
How to get there: The Rolland F. Perry City Forest has two trailheads. One is located at the end of Kittredge Road, and the other is located at the end of Tripp Drive, both off Stillwater Avenue in Bangor. Walden-Parke Preserve has a separate parking area on a residential road called Tamarack Trail off Walde Parke Way, which is off Essex Street in Bangor. The preserve and city forest trails are connected, so you can start at any of the trailheads to access all trails.
Skill level: Beginner to advanced, depending on the trails you choose to ride. Both the city forest and preserve are home to wide, smooth trails that are great for beginners, as well as single-track trails that vary greatly in difficulty. Some of the single-track trails are especially rocky and rooty, making for some strenuous riding.
Guidelines: For mountain bikers, it’s especially important to ride in dry conditions. Creating ruts in muddy trails can be a serious problem for trail maintainers and can ruin the experience for other trail users. Also, as a general “rule of the road,” bikers yield to hikers, runners, skiers, snowshoers and dog walkers.
ATVs and snowmobiles are not permitted in the city forest or the preserve. Dogs are permitted in both, but in Walden-Parke Preserve dogs must be on leash and are only permitted on the Blue Trail; and in the city forest, dogs must be on leash while on the Main Road, Shannon Road, Tripp Drive and East Trail.
My Experience: I knew just enough about mountain biking to know I’d probably earn a few scrapes and bruises on Nov. 4, when I joined the Slipping Gears Ladies Rides group for a Saturday morning ride in the Bangor City Forest and adjoining Walden-Parke Preserve. I had tried mountain biking once before, at the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center a couple years ago. It had been fun but challenging, both physically and mentally. I’d uncovered the learning curve, and now the only thing to do was switch into a lower gear and pedal up it.
Lucky for me, Emily Odermann, the leader of the group, had planned the ride so that beginners could tag along. Many of the trails in the route were smooth with few obstacles, and on the rougher trails, the beginner riders always had the option of getting off their bikes and walking over the worst of rocks and roots.
Before the ride, I purchased some lightweight gloves at Slipping Gears Cycling in Bangor, co-owned and managed by Emily Odermann’s husband, Corey Odermann and Jason Neal. The gloves, it turns out, were essential. As we started the ride, cruising downhill on gravel roads and paths, the group easily picked up speed. The cold, crisp air became “wind,” in a sense, and would have quickly frozen my fingers stiff without protection.
On loan from Neal, the mountain bike I rode that day was, I gather, a very nice one. When I crashed it into a small evergreen tree, I worried aloud that I might have scratched it. “We can just fix it up with some nail polish,” a fellow biker in the group remarked as she paused to make sure I was OK. “Any scratches? Any bruises?” Another biker asked. She was asking about me, not the bike, I realized. I laughed. My legs and arms were sore, my pride was a bit bruised, too, but the support I felt from the women surrounding me made it easy to hop back on the bike and keep trying.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that every single woman in that group — all 15 of them — was more experienced and skilled than me at mountain biking. And it also didn’t take long to realize that I could count on them to help and encourage me through the 8-mile ride without babying me. Throughout the ride, we paused for mini lessons on how to tackle certain challenges, such as riding over logs, over tricky outcroppings and down steep slopes. And we also paused just to regroup, catch our breath (because mountain biking is a fantastic cardio exercise) and drink some water.
By the end of the ride, I had reaffirmed that mountain biking can be very physically and mentally challenging. Some trails, especially single-track trails, require you to constantly pay attention. I always had to be asking myself, “What gear should I be in?” “Do I have the momentum to get over that tree root?” and “Will by handlebars even fit through those two trees?”
I learned that to ride downhill safely, I should stand up, lean back and distribute my weight on my pedals evenly, and if I needed to hit my breaks, for the love of all that is holy, hit them both at the same time and don’t hold them for long.
I still have a lot to learn, of course, but it seems to me that the Bangor City Forest, with such a variety of trails, is a really great place to learn. Last night, my husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I replied, “a mountain bike!” For me, the fun of the activity had outweighed the discomfort, and I’m sure a lot of that had to do with the women riding with me, their knack for teaching and perhaps more importantly, their supportive words and positive attitudes.