Heart of Darkness

Lower Paugussett State Park is a mythical place. I’d heard the terrain was insane. I’d heard the trails were not marked well. And I’d heard that if you got through the gnarl, there was a bootleg trail network built by some guy named Kurtz.

Mark lives across the street from the entrance. He’s ridden a bit of it, and wants to get permission to develop the trails. Ben and I rode with him yesterday to explore for that purpose, and maybe to find Kurtz’s trails. We hoped to run into him, to get to know what he knows about the woods here. 

The road in is half a mile of badly maintained dirt that dead-ends in a parking lot. It sees so little use that I found two pop-tops from 1970s beer cans on the ground. From there we fired-roaded it until a trail presented itself. We crossed a stream, a gas pipeline, climbed some, dismounted to get under windfalls, and came out in a cul de sac.

Reversing course, we crossed the road we came in on. And then we climbed through classic New England rocks and laurels and scrub. We walked a lot too, since that’s what the trail was made for. We came down stuff that rivaled Haviland Hollow. We trusted our bikes to get us through the angular rocks. We followed other fire roads. We got our feet wet in multiple streams. Or maybe it was the same stream in different places.

We had no idea.

But we felt like we had to be nearing Kurtz’s trails. And then, when we were at our go-back point, we came to a T. There they were. Clearly leaf blown. Clearly laid out for mtbs. Right or left? Either way looked fine, but left took us back toward the cars.

We went left, and it wasn’t a hundred yards before we realized the trail flowed the other way. But it was still pretty rideable. If we were better, it would have been very rideable. We talked about how the good riders we know would eat this shit for breakfast. Mark fumbled a switchback, rolled down the hill in a somersault, and leaped to his feet with a flourish.

We pushed on until the trail looped back away from the cars, and then, conceding to adulthood, we bushwhacked out. In the parking lot with some Hull’s Export in our bellies, Ben brought up Kurtz’s Strava tracks.

Holy shit! We just touched the south end of that system. Kurtz has miles of trails in there.

The horror…

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About swampyankeecyclist

I'm Andy Engel, just a middle-aged, middle-class guy from Roxbury, Connecticut. I've been married to my best friend since 1988, and we have two grown sons. I like riding bikes, and my biggest accomplishment is the 180K D2R2. I own 5 bikes but my go-to rides are a 2016 GT Grade gravel and commuter bike and a 2016 Specialized 650b hardtail mountain bike. Additionally, I have a 2000-something carbon-fiber Orbea road bike, a 1990-something Specialized Sirrus that's my old dirt and commuter bike and which now serves as a spare and a trainer bike, and a 1985 Ross Mount Hood MTB. All but the 650b have Brooks saddles. I work from home now, but used to commute 32 miles round trip to work by bike year round. I was a carpenter and still love building things, but regular paychecks, insurance, and vacation time lured me into journalism. I've written a couple of books on carpentry, and I've been an editor at Fine Homebuilding, Fine Woodworking, and Professional Deck Builder magazines. Currently, I manage construction events at the JLC Live and Remodeling Show trade shows. Additionally, my wife and I run Transylvania Guest House, an Airbnb. Find us on Instagram. Come stay with us and I'll show you some great cycling.
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