Saturday, June 18, 2011

Bike Camping

What to do when I have a week off from work? Hmmm…how about a bit of bike camping!

I picked out a two-day route that started in Waterbury, just a short drive from home where I could catch a ride with my hubby to his work place and start from there. I also chose the best weather days of the week.

Planned route in central Vermont. Lake Champlain at left.
All packed and ready to roll, I was a bit wobbly at first. I hadn’t ridden the Trek since an early spring ride with the hub.

I wanted to explore dirt roads north of Montpelier. I stopped at a cemetery to eat a snack under the shade of a huge maple tree. I pressed on, confirming turns with whoever was outside their homes. I wanted to just wing the directions  – I’m not a big fan of Google maps. But it is a bit precarious having to depend upon the kindness of strangers…because, as I found out, you might just miss a turn. I did, and soon I was descending a 6-mile hill, right back into Montpelier.
To backtrack up another long hill to stay on my route is out of the question when one is hauling 30 lbs., so I adapted and started following the Cross VT Trail because I knew it basically headed eastward. I needed to be at a certain camping area by the end of the day to continue the loop on Thursday.

In Montpelier the Trail follows an unused rail road corridor for a half mile. I loved this sculpture of a mish-mash of bike parts. Look closely and you might find something in that jumble that you recognize. I found a Mixte frame.
At a general store in East Montpelier I was advised to try out a rail trail that would lead me in the right direction. It started as single track…
Then there was a major washout. I managed to get around it following a treacherous path, already trampled by others.
There were sections completely denuded of gravel where old rail ties were exposed like pick-up sticks. I walked those areas, but at times the path was beautiful too.
I was later to learn that only two weeks earlier a tornado-like torrential storm dropped 11 inches of rain in 24 hours in central Vermont. Roads were still closed, bridges non-existent and some towns still were in the process of reconstruction.

After 55 miles I was tired and set up my tent at a state park. A shower always feels great and afterward I wore my rain gear and hat to ward off the black flies. I had forgotten my utensils so for dinner I ate a can of ravioli with my pocket knife, stabbing one ravioli at a time.  At dusk I retreated to the tent where I easily fell asleep, listening to the loons on the nearby lake.

Morning mist and cool weather drove the insects away. I drank my yogurt (did you know you can do that?), wiped the muck off my rims from the previous day’s trail ride, and left early. I always enjoy tenting. For this short trip I was able to fit tent, inflatable mattress, and sleeping bag all inside panniers.

Because Vermont’s mountains run north to south, my route ascended and descended most of the 2nd day, sometimes traversing 3-4 mile hills. It was tiring even though I was expecting the difficulty.
I met this man along a dirt road. He was stooped over picking up stones. It turns out he sorts through the road side rocks to discard the sharp pointed ones so they won’t give his son flat tires (from a bike, cart, or motorcycle I never found out).  A retiree from a nearby granite quarry, he spends his time now welding interesting sculptures from old farm equipment. He had that classic old Vermont accent “ya can’t get theyah from heya”. I talked with him for 20 minutes as he also showed me his rock collection, all lined up on split rail fencing.

By noon I was done with the day’s mileage, ending back in our capital of Montpelier. I locked up my bike at a bus stop where I would later take a commuter bus back home. With nearly four hours to spare I grabbed an iced mocha and changed into a skirt because the day was downright hot. It was fun to browse the main shopping streets. Montpelier is one of the right-sized Vermont cities where I could picture myself living someday. I sipped a margarita and ate a quesadilla in an outdoor restaurant.

Again, I found another sculpture. I seem to recall that two years ago there was a special bike art exhibit and the art must have been donated to public spaces.
I tried to relax in the shade on the capital lawn, but all the benches were taken so I gravitated to a nearby state building with white rocking chairs on the porch. When I discovered that it was the Vermont Historical Museum, and I hadn’t been there since I was a teenager, I spent the next hour in air-conditioning, reliving Vermont’s past.

The displays were a delightful treasure and rounded out my trip with many thoughts to ponder on the bus ride home.

Actual route in orange - 100 miles

Things I learned:
  • be flexible if traveling dirt roads - it’s part of the overall adventure
  • you can get by without using utensils
  • general stores have much to offer, often with deli counters
  • a soda tastes refreshing, especially if you haven’t had one in a year
  • a shower at the end of the day is rejuvenating
  • take time to smell the flowers
  • take lots of pictures 
  • an overnight trip is worth the effort


  1. What fun! I like your "pick up and go" style!

  2. Great time you much have had. I'd love to go biking and camping. As close to camping my wife would ever come to camping would be in a motorhome. But she is coming around closer to getting serious about cycling.

  3. That's awesome! I admire the wunderlust and that you went all on your own!


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