The Green Mountain State
Fascinating Fact: Vermont has the only state capital (Montpellier) that does not have a McDonalds
To check the route we took click here
Day 1: Bristol -> East Middlebury -> Robert Frost Memorial Trail
We left Montreal at around 11ish after having done a little bit of a tune-up to the bike that I was going to use; Loic's brother's. It was pretty much plain sailing the rest of the way. There was a slight delay at US customs as they didn't know what form to make me fill in. Plus there's always that $6
immigrant administration fee to pay.
We decided to base ourselves in Bristol as it seemed a decent location, giving us the possibilty of going through the Green Mountain State Park as well as alongside Lake Champlain. When we reached the town, we looked around for a place to park the car. On the recommendation of the local tourist information volunteer, we went to the police station and left it out front there.
From there we cycled down to East Middlebury, a small village right at the entrance of the Park. Interestingly, as we bought some drinks at the gas station, Loic asked the girl about the park, and she (admittedly being about 15) said "What park?"
Anyway, a little further up the street, a pedestrian coming the other way asks if we're going to continue up the road. Upon confirming this, he then wishes us luck as we have one helluva long climb ahead of us. And he wasn't kidding. It was really tough, especially at the beginning, especially when you've not been on a bike for years.
Still we got to the top of the slope and were starting to look around for campsites, but it was pretty dense woodland. Then we found this Robert Frost Memorial area which had beautifully mown grass - and a sign saying no overnight camping. So we continued another few hundred metres, and found a rec area complete with picnic tables, toilet and hand pump. And another sign for no overnight camping.
Unperturbed by this, we cooked up our food, waited for it to get dark and then put up the tent. There were a few tense moments with people pulling up to take a quick break, but we seemed to get away with it.
That was until the next morning, where, just as we were about to pack up the tent, the local Forestry Ranger Volunteer turned up to tell us we'd done something very illegal, cos despite the park having camping anywhere, this was official Govt property. He said we'd only got away with it cos we had bikes and thus had no car parked in the layby. Apparently it would have cost us $500 per person in fines!
Day 2: Robert Frost Memorial Trail -> Bethel -> Brookfield -> Ellis State Park
What goes up, must come down
After the warning from the Ranger we packed our stuff up pretty quick and headed on out. Whilst eating breakfast, we'd seen several cyclists zipping by - one group was heard to remark to hold sthg back from the second climb.
Uh-oh, another climb, and this was worse than the first, if only because it was longer. Still I was better prepared for this one, and struggled up to the top: the Middlebury Gap. After a brief respite, we then got to zip down everything we'd climbed in the past two days in about 10 minutes. Loic managed to break his speed record and hit 79 km/h! I didn't go quite as fast, since I didn't know my bike, its breaks or how it would respond with all the load on the rear end. Still, I wasn't slow. It was pretty sweet.
Then as we finally slowed down, we stopped at a river for a bit of a swim and to clean and refresh ourselves. A little further on we stopped for breakfast and listened to the Americans undertake their national hobby; lawn mowing!
From there we headed south - we had originally planned to head towards Woodstock, take in the local brewery, and then following that head around a few supposedly nice villages before cutting across to the Lake and back to Bristol. However, this would have involved travelling down a pretty nasty stretch of highway, so we decided to do a sort of slow sweep back north.
This was a pretty easy ride, rather flat, farmer country. Unfortunately, my ass was now in severe pain as it was so unused to the constant pressure. To make matters worse, it had worked itself loose and was no longer at the correct angle! Not fun, I can tell you. Loic offered to change saddles for a bit, but unfortunately his was firmly stuck in place.
Anyway, apart from that, everything was going swimmingly, and we earmarked a state park for our campground. When we reached our turn off from the main road, we realised our predicament. Since it's a state park, it means it's going to be nice scenery, which also means that they tend to be high up. And so another climb commenced, and it was another long one.
We finally arrived at the tiny village of Brookfield, complete with floating bridge and incredibly deep river. Loic jumped in and swam around, whereas I just sit on the edge to tired to do anything. We were also a little put out by the fact that our park sat on the other side of the bridge and staring at us across the bridge was one mother of an incline.
So we decided to take a break, and maybe see if we could get something to eat in the area. It turned that the store was at the bottom of the hill we'd just climbed up! So that was ruled out. However, there was a restaurant, which although pricey, offered the onyl practical alternative.
It was about now that the skies darkened, and thunder started rumbling around. We took shelter under some trees to see if it was going to pour down. Doing so we started talking to a couple of neighbours who were sitting on their porches. These guys were super cool - one of them turned out to be a cartoonist for the New Yorker: Edward Koren.
In the end they made us late for our reservation at the restaurant - as an indication of it being pricey, when we came in, they showed us our table and I said that we were supposed to have a table in the pub, and was then informed that this WAS the pub. Oh.
As we walked in, the manager said "Let me guess, you were waylaid by Edward Koren." Yep we replied, "The Mayor as we like to call him around here." He wasn't the real mayor of course, but was pretty much the focal point of the community. Apparently, every winter he tries to beat his record of how many days he gets out cross-country skiing!
Another point to mention about Brookfield is that although a state highway passes through the town, the residents refused to have it paved and also refused an off-ramp from the nearby Interstate.
After a great, rather indulgent and expensive meal, we headed up towards the campground, with more warnings of big climbs ahead of us. Once again, they were founded beliefs. I confess I had to resort to getting off my bike and pushing - I just wasn't capable so soon after eating and without any warm up for my legs or to get my cardio going. In the end I was as fast as Loic, and when the first slope levelled out I got back on and rode up the other bitch of a hill to the park itself.
Ellis State Park
When we got to the park, it was shrouded in mist and we were allocated a really rather crap campsite. It took us a while to find and upon arriving it turned out there was no flat piece of ground except for a section of gravel. Still, Loic had confidence in our inflatable mattresses so we pitched our tent.
It was then that we realised we had forgotten a rather vital part of any camper's equipment: an axe. The firewood we had bought were just big chunks of wood, not the easiest thing to get started - they gave us some newspaper, but no real kindling. I thus went to our neighbours and asked them if they had an axe. They said no, but offered to help us with getting the fire started.
The guy came across with a bottle of lamp oil and after a liberal application to the wood and the insertion of newspapers the wood quickly caught as it had been well stored in a dry shed. We talked to the guy for a while, bit of a redneck, but harmless. He was apparently getting married the following week, but for some strange reason, had just quit his job. A rather strange time to do so, but hey, each to his own.
Just after the fire had gotten going, we put up the tent when suddenly the heavens opened! We dived into the tent and sheltered for the next 10-15 minutes. We had decided to put the tarp we had brought on the base of the inside of the tent, as the ground was rather damp and Loic assured me that the outer tent was waterproof.
Alas, the rain continued most of the night and slowly seeped through and was dripping onto my sleeping bag or mattress for most of the night. What was worse was that I had caught the sun on my left shoulder and thus couldn't sleep on that side and face away from the drops. This meant I had to decide whether to be splashed by the water or have a wet sleeping bag. i chose the latter.
Day 3: Ellis State Park -> Montpellier -> Lake Elmore
Freewheeling to the capital
A pretty easy start to the day, we practically didn't have to pedal for the first 5 miles! We arrived back at the paved highway and since it was early Sunday morning, practically had the road to ourselves.
Day 4: Lake Elmore -> Stowe -> Waterford -> Waitsfield -> Bristol
Rain, rain, go away
Up until now the weather had been following a pretty regular pattern. It would be pretty cloudy in the morning, the sun would poke through at about lunchtime, and it would be pretty nice until the afternoon whereupon the clouds would gather. It would then usually rain in the evenings, with some pretty heavy showers, and usually some thunder.
Today, it started out cloudy alright, but then skipped the getting nice part and went straight into the rain. And what rain! Maybe it was the fact that we were on a bike but we soon completely drenched. To make matters worse, the road between Morrisville and Waterbury was very busy at it provided access to the Interstate so there were several lorries zipping past in rather worrying proximity to us.
It was also here that I had my only real scare, due to traffic, of the weekend. I was cycling at a pretty constant pace along this major route when all of a sudden an SUV connected to a trailer cuts past me to turn onto a side road, forcing me to slam on my brakes and skid to a complete stop to avoid hitting him. I was distinctly non-plussed by this.
Anyway, we reach Stowe more or less in one piece, and this has to be the biggest tourist town in all Vermont! Every shop was aimed at tourists, kind of like St Paul in the Old Port. We hurried through, aiming to reach Waterford for lunch.
Once again we got caught in the rain, just as we were starting to dry out as well. Still, we were pretty dry again by the time we arrived at the Ben and Jerry's Factory! You would not believe how busy the place was - or how touristy. Think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory! We visited the flavour graveyard and had our photos taken in the Cookie Dough lid, grabbed a free sample and headed into town for some food.
The only way is up!
We took it for the first hour or two after lunch because we were preparing ourselves for the ride back to Bristol. From our map we had decided that the best way to go was the most direct, which unfortunately involved going up and over the Green Mountains again, but this time via the Appalachian Gap. This gap was at an ever higher altitude than the Middlebury, and was also used for skiing and so we were expecting the worst.
My hope was that it would be like the road to Elmore, a very slow and gradual slope, but I wasn't too confident in that. The ride to Waitsfield was alright, again quite a busy road and trucks insisting on passing us on blind crests making me a little nervous.
We paused briefly at Waitsfield before heading up to the pass. My hopes of an easy-ish ride were dashed when we saw the sign "Not suitable for trucks or vans during winter." However the first few miles were no problem as we followed the river. Then it started to climb, and climb, and climb. After a mile or two, as my legs were starting to feel the burn I noticed there was a sign for pedestrians. My heart soared as I knew that the only place pedestrians would be crossing would be at the ski lift station.
Y'see, after a while you get very sensitive to road signs, especially when going up hill - if there is a warning about a curvy road ahead, it usually means it's going to be downhill as that's where there is most risk. So seeing this sign is a pretty good indicator that you're almost at the summit of the climb.
So, I'm pretty happy at seeing the ski centre and expect Loic to be waiting for me. However, he is nowhere to be seen on the side of the road but I catch a glimpse of him, cycling up another slope on the other side of a hairpin curve. Uh-oh, this is not good. So, I catch my breath, drink a little Gatorade (which saved my life for sure) and start to climb again.
This section was even steeper than the previous, and pretty soon I was in my lowest gear (I couldn't actually go all the way down due to the derailleur) and inching my way up. And still the road kept going up. Round each corner would another slope be revealed.
I totally had to switch into a mental mode, before I had been concentrating on my breathing and keeping a steady rhythm, but this was not going to be enough, so I decided to take on the mountain. Visualising it as a challenge, one that I was determined to overcome.
But the mountain was crafty and had a few tricks up its sleeve - one of the worst of which was the headwind. That almost killed me, but I reasoned, wind means I'm nearing the top - it's an act of desperation from the mountain. I reckon the only thing that kept me going was that round one corner I had caught a glimpse of a radio tower. Now THAT I knew HAD to be at the top. But it was excruciating getting there.
When I was about 500m away from the tower I had almost had enough, I was being forced to stand and pedal in my second lowest gear just to keep my legs going fast enough to stop me falling over. It took forever to reach that corner. When I did, there was a little car park and I stopped, I was really rather exuberant at having beaten the mountain - and I let the mountain know what I thought about it, and I was hardly very gallant in my victory. Definitely, one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I'd be interested to know the exact height and length of the climb.
So of course, we now get to zip down the other side and it's plain sailing back to Bristol and the car and Montreal. Cool. Except the road on the other side was incredibly twisty - so perhaps it wouldn't be as fast. Anyway on the second corner, a left hander, I realise that my current cornering arc wouldn't be enough to stop me hitting the barrier.
Knowing fine well that turning and braking at the same time results in a skid, and that I have all my weight over my rear wheel, I'm not desperate to do this, so I just brake hard and almost stop and then turn. This had, however, really made it a little hard to let go and for the rest of the descent, and indeed on another two occasions I had to employ the same technique - the first time ever I had to observe the speed limit (20 mph) on a bike!!!
At the bottom, we jumped into a river to refresh ourselves, and then quickly covered the remaining 4 or 5 miles - thankfully flat - to Bristol. Then, dismantled the bikes, unpacked the bags, grabbed some pizza and hit the road!!!