Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Women-Only Overnight to Grand Isle State Park

Sometimes you have to seize the good weather, pack panniers, and hit the road with like-minded girlfriends. And there's no better destination than Grand Isle State Park because of it's easy proximity to Burlington and relatively flat terrain. Not only is it a perfect route for novice bike tourists, but midway you pedal across the Colchester Causeway where there is jaw-dropping lake scenery.

Pausing on the bridge for a look at the Winooski River.
Paula and I started from my house and met up with Carmen on the waterfront. I'd reconnected with Paula recently after 6 years (I loaned her my panniers) and Carmen is a new friend I met through Queen City Bicycle Club rides around Burlington. After the same overnight ride organized by the Queen City Bicycle Club was cancelled due to weather, I proposed that we do it on our own once mother nature was in our favor.

The smooth, stone dust causeway trail is 4 miles long.
We left at 4 pm. and headed north. the only deadline was catching a ferry ride across The Cut (opening in the causeway to allow boat traffic) by the 6 pm scheduled closure.

The ferry crew rolled our loaded bikes on board for the 3 minute crossing.

The captain got a kick out of the fact that I was bringing Jiffy Pop - visible beneath my cargo netting - and joked that he'd meet us in our campsite for a few handfuls.

On the South Hero side, we dodged a potholed dirt road among late afternoon shadows - a tricky feat - then struggled through a construction zone riddled with chunky, rocky gravel, and were finally relieved to be pedaling on asphalt once again. 

With a warm evening, we stopped at Keeler Bay Store - a haven for travelers - and bought sandwiches, micro-brews, and fruit, bread, and in my case, also an avocado for breakfast. 

Three tents fit easily onto the spacious, grassy site.
The state park was half full and we had our pick of sites, but just in case I had called ahead to confirm their no-turn-away policy for bicycle travelers. In the busy season, the park will accept two-wheeled campers (as I experienced last August) and in the case of full campground, the rangers reserve group sites to handle the overflow cyclists. 

We were hungry and tired by 7 pm arrival, we took their suggestion and set up on #84, close to water and bathhouse. Of special note, all of us were self contained travelers: carrying tent, sleeping gear, stove, pots, and food - by design - because all three of us were trying something new. Paula wished to be independent, hauling her own gear for the first time; Carmen is a veteran camper, but has only ever traveled by tandem - this was her initiation into being independent; and I was using a loaded front rack on my Clementine for her first camping trip. We ate dinner then set up tents, then munched on greasy, tasty Jiffy Pop until we retired around 10 pm.

On Sunday morning I woke by 5:30, well rested, but too early for Paula and Carmen, who had a restless night and crawled from their tents around 8 am. It's amusing to watch what other travelers have for breakfast. I drank tea because I hadn't located my coffee filter at home, while Carmen reheated yesterday's coffee and milk (great idea) and Paula brought instant coffee. Carmen ate oatmeal; (I forget what Paula had!); and I ate an apple and a roll smothered in avocado. 

New this year: three dinosaurs!
By 10 am we set off, crossing the island for a alternate route back to the ferry. The morning was lovely, mostly shaded, rolling by farms, near bays, with a welcome headwind because the day would warm into the 90s.

One of our favorite stops was near the hundreds of crayon-colored birdhouses opposite White's Beach. Every year the birdhouses multiply, and according to Paula and Carmen I missed where the owners had a road side display stand where you could buy your own brightly painted birdhouse, payable by the honor system.

The birdhouse forest is taking on a life of its own, with the addition of dinosaurs roaming the woods.

At the public beach I just had to take my inaugural dip into frigid Lake Champlain. Paula and Carmen probably thought I was nuts and documented my "swim". It's the best way to cool off, wearing wet clothes and riding a bike!

Back on the causeway we take the ferry back to Colchester. By 1 pm the day is toasty.

Seven miles from home Carmen proposes we stop at Charlie's Boathouse. I wouldn't have given the idea a thought because I'm so used to heading to our camp - only a mile away - so it's never been on my radar as a destination, but I've also learned to be flexible. As it turns out, this place is Americana. Step back in time, eat a hot dog, buy worms for fishing, rent a canoe, chat with friendly octogenarians, proprietors and siblings, Christine Auer Hebert and Charlie Auer. And, if you're lucky, Charlie will have made sauerkraut to have on your hot dog.

We eat our hot dogs on the large swing, watch people putting together a dock, pet Charlie's new adopted three-legged beagle resting in the shade, admire overloaded boats unload passengers onto the sandy shore, and become a part of this unique summer community at the mouth of the Winooski River.

Would I do this trip again, even after the hot slog up the hill home?  You betcha!


  1. Proof that you can go on a long-distance ride on a step thru bike. This encourages me to do the same.

    1. It's a novelty to tour on a step through in the US, but certainly not in Europe. Of course it can be done!

  2. If I go on an S24O again I am bringing jiffy pop!! Now that you have had her a while and have some miles under your belt I would be interested to hear your thoughts on Miss Clementine.

    1. Ryan - So many people have asked my opinion on this bicycle. I've been reluctant to give my impressions because, frankly, I don't know how I feel about a bicycle that's so foreign from anything else I have ever owned. If you want a basic thought, I'd have to say the bicycle is heavier than I'd want and I'm trying to compensate by lightening my load. I'd like to try narrower tires, like the 1.75" I'm used to, but I cannot use 650B tires on our other bikes so my frugalness means I will use the current tires until they wear out. I still haven't dialed in the saddle so that's work in progress. But the bicycle fits me, which is breath of fresh air! It floats over bumps and the ride quality is exceptional. I'll stop there. Hopefully this is enough to satisfy your curiosity.

    2. By the way, shake Jiffy Pop over low heat on a camp stove to avoid burning kernels. Ask me how I know!

    3. Thanks for the insights on your Clementine and the pro tip for Jiffy Pop!

  3. Looks like a lovely trip! Do you have a pannier packing plan? That is, do you have lists of what goes in and where? I've tried to be organised with this and have got a spreadsheet with all that I need on it but it still took me ages to get everything together and packed last time I went on a trip! I'm trying to increase the efficiency by keeping the basics, like toiletries for instance, in a container ready to go.

    1. Lizzie, I have a packing list that covers all the extremes, from colder weather clothing to a bathing suit. I am a minimalist so anything that does double-duty, like tights & t-shirts (can keep you warm or use as sleepwear) is preferable. My method is to pile up possible items to bring then pare down and refer to the list to make sure I haven't forgotten anything. However, I keep a special duffel bag to organize cooking and camping gear, which is helpful. Like you I have a toiletries kit filled with trial-size items to speed the packing process.


  4. Great trip. I'm envious. Lots of interest. Love the bird houses, dinosaurs and Charlie's Boathouse, esp.


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