Lumpy Gravy, Knuckle Buster and Moose Nuggets are some of the trails that accompany the terrain at Back County Excursions. It is the Eastern U.S.'s longest running commercial cross country mountain bike center, located in Parsonsfield, Maine. Cliff Krolick founded Back Country Excursions (BCE) in 1991 with humble beginnings and a desire to "help people see the beauty in nature." The philosophy is simple; he wants to expose people to the beautiful areas in Maine so that "they will understand how valuable the land is and want to protect it." Cliff's mountain biking enterprise started out of a small shed that he inhabited after purchasing a 10-acre plot of land. His first real home in Maine was a yurt, which still stands today.
Despite the romantic woodsy-setting and rustic atmosphere, Back Country Excursions is not a B&B. Guests planning to stay for a multi-day mountain bike trip have the option of pitching a tent, sleeping in the yurt, or staying in the main lodge. People come to BCE because they want to ride, not hang out. Cliff has been working with the general public for over 20 years, developing a keen eye for instruction. His background in psychology doesn't hurt either. Cliff prides himself on being able to "vastly improve a mountain biker's skill in a short amount of time." In addition to leading trips for the general public, BCE has experience training cadets from West Point Academy, offering teen mountain bike camps, and facilitating trips for kids from the Community Bicycle Center in Biddeford.
I've always been amazed by the consistency of the trail conditions at BCE. Maine is overrun with some hidden, and not so hidden, pockets of mountain bike trails. But BCE stands out as having some of the best kept and driest trail networks that I've ever had the pleasure of riding. After raining for over a week, I showed up to ride. While other trail systems were muddy and washed out, the BCE trails were dry beyond logic. This is due to the unique land forms in the area, which allow for maximum draining. So, while ripping up and down the natural half-pipe at sickening speeds, crossing one of the many log bridges, or practicing your stunts on the Rock-N-Log Palace trail, you can focus on riding, instead of trail maintenance. And as far as the trail naming rituals go, Cliff didn't elaborate when asked. He only said there was a campfire and beer involved.
Everything about BCE aligns with Cliff's underlying intention to respect and protect Maine's natural assets. He builds and maintains low-impact trails using concepts learned from the environmental stewardship program at Tufts University. He employs solar hot water and hot air systems to heat and cool his structures (with plans for micro-hydro power), and used lumber cleared from his own land to hand-build the lodge and his home. If that isn't enough, a percentage of BCE's annual revenue is donated to Parsonsfield's recycling and green development efforts.
BCE states it best: "We have a unique model to be able to provide a lot of land, give people great riding, and it's at minimal cost and impact—that's what we're all about."