Trails to Match a Great Community: Checking out the Best MTB Rides in Central Maine

Photos: Bob Robinson

Central Mainers have a long history of hardcore cyclists riding their bicycles over abandoned, well-worn, rocky-rooty logging roads and social paths deep in the New England backwoods. Back then, there was no such thing as mountain bike trails in the area.

In recent years, however, dedicated individuals, communities, and businesses have been working to open the sport up to more outdoor enthusiasts. One of the ways they are doing this is by creating purpose-built trails designed primarily for mountain biking.

Central Maine New England Mountain Biking Association (CeMeNEMBA) is one of the leaders to have successfully grown the sport and increased rider numbers. As the first individual NEMBA chapter in the state, they have been longtime advocates for the sport.

“In recent years, we have been working to attract a broader audience of mountain bikers to the sport by presenting them a more user-friendly experience,” stated Chris Riley, President of CeMeNEMBA.

“With the entire package of mountain biking improving, it no longer just attracts people like us who were willing to risk bashing their head against a rock or tree,” chuckled Riley.

He told of an era when he and his cycling buds would flag a path between trees, maybe even drag a rake over the main line, and then call it good. Whereas, now they want to make trails more approachable and attract a wider audience to the sport.

Riley explained how the CeMeNEMBA area does not have massive expanses of land available to construct large networks of trails like nearby Carrabassett Valley or Vermont’s Kingdom Trails. Their focus is to create pockets of trails on available lands throughout the community, easily accessible for everyone to enjoy. They are not as motivated to create a mountain bike destination as to make the area a more inviting place to live and work. And, if they create a cycling environment that draws in more visitors in the process, the area businesses are sure to appreciate it.  

Trail construction is not the only activity CeMeNEMBA is involved in to grow the sport. They host numerous events tailored to encourage untapped audiences to climb on a bike and ride the trails. They also developed a phone app for members to stay abreast of the club’s activities.

The club puts on bicycle repair clinics focused on basic maintenance for keeping their bikes operating properly, and on the trail repair techniques.

The club hosts weekly, no-drop, group rides to inspire a community atmosphere among the riders. One of these weekly rides consists of women only, successfully attracting riders who had never considered riding trails.

CeMeNEMBA hosts two annual races, so everyone has a chance to apply their cycling skills. These function as social affairs and fund raisers for the club.

And then there is The Annual Odyssey Ride, an end-of-the-season event organized for riders to gather with their buddies and enjoy the fruits of the year’s labor. The objective of the Odyssey is to ride as many area trails as you can in a forty-eight-hour period. This is followed by the “big after-party” to celebrate the awesomeness of mountain biking on local trails they have constructed and maintained. Build what you ride, ride what you build.

Theirs may not be a “one size fits all formula” for every mountain bike club to follow. However, it is working for CeMeNEMBA. Their membership has more than doubled over the past four years, currently approaching nearly two hundred members.

Their success in growing the sport hasn’t gone unnoticed. The City of Auburn recognized the entertainment and health benefits of having diverse mountain bike trails for its citizens. Over the past four years, they have donated some $75,000 for a new parking lot, trail signage, trail construction, and other related enhancements.

 “The trails are one of the city’s hidden gems,” says Sabrina Best, Director of Recreation for Auburn. “We want to create a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone who comes to visit the trails.”

CeMeNEMBA has also been able to double financial donations with matching grants.

Let’s Ride

CeMeNEMBA maintains a long list of trails in the area to plan your mountain bike adventure.

The trails at Mount Apatite was Riley’s first recommended ride. CeMeNEMBA sponsors four full-time, plus three part-time, workers to help maintain existing trails and construct new ones. The crew has dedicated a great deal of trail love to the Apatite system.

This network of ten miles continues to grow, with a mix of old-school singletrack and groomed, machine-cut flow trails. He explained that Apatite is a great example of the direction they are going with current trail construction to make mountain biking more accessible for a wide range of skill sets.

Per Riley’s suggestion, I began my ride at the new trailhead located at the end of Small Road. The original one, located at the Army National Guard, is scheduled to be shut down in the future. Until they do, however, for riders not planning to cover the entire network of trails, and who prefer avoiding a lot of climbing, you can knock out some comparatively flat miles by starting at the Guard.

As with many of the trail networks in the Central Maine area, this one has been constructed with a goal to fully utilize the available acreage. Apatite consists of an outer ring of trails with a web of shorter connector trails within.

I found it enjoyable to begin my ride just following the flow and not get too hung up on trying to follow a designated route. Rather than constantly pausing to review a map and match it with posted “You are here” signage, I enjoyed exploring the area until time was up. I then followed the signage to work my way back to the vehicle.

I chose the recently constructed Carrie On trail to begin my Mt. Apatite adventure. Small Road splits the Carrie On trail, so I pedaled back up it a short distance to drop onto the trail to the left.

Riley piqued my interest, telling me when CeMeNEMBA’s trail crew first began constructing Carrie On, they had planned to machine cut it. However, when the building started, they discovered the hillside was covered with remarkable rock features. They opted to ditch the machines in favor of hand-built tread work to effectively incorporate the boulders into the trail. He explained that trail construction is an organic process for them. They allow the terrain to dictate the design of the trail.

It was a little techie climbing up and over a few of the larger boulders. But Carrie On is the type of trail where your appreciation grows with each ride. After a couple of runs, you applaud the crew’s decision to put away the machines.

Arriving at the end of the trail, I reversed direction for the total Carrie experience, non-stop. This made for a sweet, smooth roller coaster ride that settled me into a righteous frame of mind to jumpstart my ride.

As you gracefully flow through the dense forest, be sure to keep an eye out for the techie “secret” alternate lines that route riders over large natural features.

Exiting Carrie On, as you continue to pedal through the maze of trails, there is another trail worth finding. Signature Trail is a twin sister of Carrie On. With even more secret lines and steeper descents, this trail is sure to crank up your “fun meter” several notches.

Mt. Apatite also has trails that route riders on an interesting tour along the edge of a picturesque, abandoned mica rock quarry. The waters collected within the quarry provide an inviting cooldown for riders on hot summer days.

The excitement continues as riders weave through the tight twisting turns of the lower trails like Hansel and Gretel, with bar ends just missing trees closely bordering the narrow pathways. Trail crews have done a great job with turnpiking and bridges to keep these trails rideable even during wet conditions.

Riding along these lower trails, bordered by old stone fences, auto parts, appliances, and other abandoned materials, riders’ imaginations are stimulated with hints of forgotten stories of others who have passed this way.

Riley explained trails had traversed Mount Apatite as far back as when he was a child. The CeMeNEMBA trail crew has done a great job upgrading many of these rugged old paths that hikers have followed into bike trails that even a novice cyclist would enjoy.

With just over 10 miles of trails, riders can easily pad their total mileage with repeats and reverse rides. The additional rides will prove even more fun when you have an opportunity to prepare for the “Oh crap!” surprises common on a first ride.

And there’s more

Bond Brook Trails is another popular on that has experienced a great deal of love by CeMeNEMBA crews, intent on beefing up sustainability and constructing purpose-built, fun singletrack.

This network consists of short, punchy climbs and fast, fun descents. Trail crews have put in a lot of work removing roots and rocks in the bike path so that even newbies will enjoy many of these trails.

In keeping with CeMeNEMBA’s goal of providing trails for every skill set, all the trails have not been “upgraded.” Riders will definitely need their “big boy/girl pants” to take on the Land of Make Believe Trail. They have even posted a sign at the trail stating, “The trail ahead is challenging, rooty and technical. It is that way on purpose.”

Wannabe Trail is an exciting ride that terminates in a natural U-shaped bowl locals call “Bikers Halfpipe.” The trail flows up one side of the hollow, then down and back up the opposite side, crisscrossing the drainage a total of six times with 180-degree turns at each end. Yes, this rates a high score on the “whee factor” scale.

Riley explained the background behind the trail’s name. When he was exploring the area to construct new trails, the steep gully immediately grabbed his attention. He knew they had to create something special.

As he stepped off the feature, he was reminded of the legendary Sidewinder Trail at Kingdom Trails in Vermont. Although the huge gully, with its massive walls, dwarfed the landscape at Bond, he decided they had to attempt re-creating Sidewinder.

Thus, Wannabe was born. It isn’t Sidewinder, but it “wanted to be.”

Overall, I recommend a clockwise direction for Bond trails. There are exceptions, but as a rule, clockwise tends to work.

Old school

While in the area, if you yearn for a flashback to early Maine mountain biking, plan to crank out some mileage on the Androscoggin Riverton State Park Mountain Bike Trails.

Hand-cut singletrack, mixed with ATV trails, all heavily “shaped” by nature, these trails expose riders to mountain biking in the early years.

Not to say the trails won’t make for fun riding, but after riding area trails that have been constructed with mountain biking in mind, for some cyclists, these may require a little perseverance to appreciate, and possibly a second, or even a third, ride.

The network consists of over twenty miles of trails. However, unless you are one of “those” riders who must ride every mile within the system before saying you have ridden Androscoggin, I recommend focusing on the singletrack trails listed below first. After conquering those, even the die-hard might decide to adjust their goal.

Exiting the parking lot and pedaling up a short stretch of gravel road to reach the trail system, drop off to the left onto Porcupine Trail.

Consider yourself forewarned: On sections of trail with any degree of ascent or descent, be prepared for rocky and rooty conditions. After years of Mother Nature doing her thing washing away topsoil, the only remaining materials in the trail corridor are those which are anchored, i.e., rocks and roots.

That said, take your time on the ride, and you may learn to enjoy the challenge of navigating around and over these natural obstacles.

When you reach the end of Porcupine, and if by this time you aren’t off your bike and pushing it, then you have the right stuff to continue onto Harrington Trail. This trail is pretty much more of the same, but by this time you are cocky, and think you can handle anything the trail can throw at you and are enjoying the ride.

After completing Deer Path, Fox Run, and Bradbury Loop, feel free to pat yourself on the back; well-deserved congratulations for being a true badass mountain biker. You can begin working your way back to the vehicle. Or you can log additional miles on the remaining trails, which are mostly doubletrack.

It takes a village

Auburn is not the only one jumping on CeMeNEMBA’s support bandwagon. Tumbledown Brewery donates 10% of all sales from their Bench Cut IPA to trails, Busytown Bikes is installing bike repair stations at bike trailheads, and Lost Valley Ski Resort opens several trails to fat tire bikes during the winter so cyclists can ride year-round, just to name a few of the trail supporters.

Yes, indeed, the future looks bright for mountain bikers in The Pine Tree State.  

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