Green Mountain Gravel Growler 2021: Girls Adventure Edition

we’re only here for the dirt

Prologue

For the past year, I have tossed around last year’s GMGG ride over and over in my head. What I would do differently, how would I feel at certain parts, and ultimately … could I finish the route successfully? Reading so many other ordinary riders complete the route only deepened my self-imposed shame over not having finished the ride last year.

This year’s goal, while not overtly stated, has been Improving Bikepacking Skills. Starting with an impromptu local overnight in April, I worked in several bikepacking overnights and an early-season 110 mile ride to get pizza for lunch. I used these trips to dial in nutrition strategy, and noticed I tend to not eat as much when I’m climbing a lot. That’s an easy fix – stop occasionally to eat and let your body process for a few minutes before moving on!

Curt is always up for adventure, which makes it very easy to dial in planning and develop a Go Kit. The Go Kit has been key, as I have everything I need in one location and have two sets of packing lists based on if there is camping or lodging (or both) involved. I can then focus on picking multi-purpose items to minimize weight and maximize comfort and safety. This helps minimize panic-packing.

This year my friend Jessica flew out from Colorado to do the trip with me. She had never been to Vermont before but knew THIS was the route for her. After talking about camping, we decided to make packing simple and book lodging. It also helped with dialing in her flight, as we could pick dates without having to worry about weather for camping. I shared my planning spreadsheet with her so we could have a central “source of truth” for notes and such. It’s also handy to share with loved ones back home so they have an itinerary of where you should be each day and an estimated route.

Even better, neither of us drinks beer so the ride became less about stopping at iconic Vermont breweries and more about experiencing the best Vermont dirt.

Monday was our travel day – I picked Jess up at the Burlington Airport, got dinner, and settled in for the night. Weather for the week was mid-70s, mostly sunny, with potential for rain and cooler temps mid-trip.

DAY ONE: Burlington to Stowe

The hardest part of this day is honestly getting out of Burlington. The urban flavor for the first few miles is mentally stressful due to the volume of cars – but once we were on the backroads, we could relax and settle into an all-day cadence and talk. Our first detour of the trip took us back onto a busy road with construction for a mile or so.

This was also the beginning of many, many “WOW!!!”moments emanating from Jess. She’s a seasoned traveler, going on multi-week trips with her husband and daughter to snowboard, ski, mountain bike, camp, and hike … but Vermont was a whole new world of lush greenery. The leaves are just starting to change and it was such an honor to be part of these first experiences of the Northeast. I couldn’t help but smile and laugh with every “WHOA,” and “LOOK AT THAT RED,” “WE’RE GOING INTO A TREE TUNNEL,” and “WOW!!!!!”

We arrived at Stone Coral well before they opened so we decided to eat lunch in Waterbury. We knew Prohibition Pig wouldn’t be open either, but we were confident we’d find a market or deli. The roads to Waterbury are flat to trending down, which paired with the winds was delicious. Lunch at Subway on the far side of town (four chickens joined us at the patio table) and then onward to the hills.

Hills are different depending on where you live in the country. Jess was coming from Colorado and had trained by riding up and down the steepest hills in her area as often as possible. But Colorado also believes in switchbacks while roadbuilders in the Northeast tend to just have the road go UP. Maybe you get an S-curve near the steepest part. So we adopted a strategy of Slow & Low & Breaks – slow speed, low gear, and taking breaks as needed. This allowed us to conserve energy that we knew we’d need for more than just today.

We paused at the top of Stowe Hollow and a local out on an afternoon ride stopped to chat with us. We dropped down to VT-100 and opted to skip the hill up to Von Trapp Family Lodge, cutting a few miles of significant elevation but getting us into Stowe in high spirits. Got cleaned up at the Stowe Inn before walking over to Ranch Camp for burritos on the patio.

DAY TWO: Stowe to Hardwick

The morning air was vaguely humid with ominous clouds surrounding us as we pedaled up the road to breakfast at Stowe Bee Bakery. A stiff breeze welcomed us head-on, much to our amusement. We sat on the patio with lattes and scones and breakfast sandwiches made with biscuits (the ONLY way a breakfast sandwich should be made, IMO) and talked about the route for the day. We knew we had big hills to tackle early on and agreed yesterday’s Slow & Low strategy would be good for today as well. It’s 9am and we’re already sweating just sitting outside.

We got to Morristown too early to have lunch at Lost Nation, so we popped into town to take a break and get more water and snacks at a gas station before heading back out into the hills. We decided to get lunch in Craftsbury, a short detour off the main route. The further east we pedal, the higher in elevation we are and the more foliage surrounds us. The colors pop against the cloudy skies and it starts to sprinkle as we roll into Craftsbury. We stop at the Village Store for sandwiches, enjoying them on their covered patio. Jess gets a maple cree-mee, a Vermont specialty.

Since we aren’t beer consumers and with weather to the east looking decidedly wet, we decide to skip the hills out to Hill Farmstead and follow the dirt hills more directly to Hardwick. We found a lovely road that rejoins the original route just in time for the epic descent into Hardwick. We roll up to the Inn by the River and are greeted by Frieda (she recommended we call next time to take advantage of direct-booking discounts). She also allowed us to keep our bikes in the locked office overnight.

A short walk into town for dinner at the Village Restaurant and then back to relax by the river to soak in the day.

DAY THREE: HARDWICK to WAITSFIELD

Hands down the hardest but my all time favorite day of the route.

We got breakfast to-go from Connie’s Kitchen (yes, I got pancakes) that we enjoyed in the shade by the river before kitting up and heading out to Hardwick Market for extra water and snacks.

Buffalo Mountain Road was in surpringly great shape and we were able to ride the steepest parts before hopping off for a bit to walk where it was much chunkier. Riders who prefer to not hike-a-bike will not love this 12 mile section of the route, but we had a blast. It’s truly the gem of the route and a road that should be savored, not skipped.

We rolled into Montpelier for lunch at 2pm, enjoying the low-key energy of late lunch on the patio at Three Penny Taproom. Looking at the route, we decided to skip Hill Rd in favor of the more moderate climb up Northfield Rd. Unfortunately, this also put us on a very busy Northfield Rd that wandered along the river with a tiny shoulder. Jess wasn’t psyched about East Coast drivers and how little psychological safety is afforded cyclists so we pulled over to figure out options.

For reasons unclear to me, my RideWithGPS app wasn’t functioning correctly for my off-line route and I couldn’t zoom in to where we were to see options. My Garmin was telling me we had a right turn in about 2 miles, but we weren’t sure if that was trying to reroute us back to Montpelier or get us back on-route. But we did know if we turned left, we’d be able to get back on -route on a quiet dirt road.

Rowell Hill Rd is a 1 mile dirt connector street that averages 11%+. We laughed as we pushed our loaded bikes up the steep s-curves, taking breaks along the way to catch our breath and keep going. We agreed we probably should have just taken Hill Rd and stayed on-route. Once we got to the top, we still had the same amount of distance to our next turn …. which was the same road from before we pushed up this monster hill. We laughed pretty hard about this as we enjoyed the descent on the backroad.

Arriving at Northfield Falls, we opted to turn right onto Cox Brook Rd instead of continuing south on the main route. The official route was recently updated to remove the Waitsfield Gap, which is technically a class 4 road, due to erosion and private land rights – rerouting riders from the south back up to the Moretown Gap. It’s already late in the day, we’re tired, and there isn’t a reason to add the additional southern miles so we head up the Moretown Gap, which was a very pleasant ride along the river.

VT-100b was also very busy so we popped onto Pony Farm Rd and were rewarded with quiet, rolling hills on dirt. We chatted with a woman walking her dog at the top of a hill while refueling. The skies have cleared and the wind is still ever-present, but the sun is shining for golden hour. We roll into Mad Taco for to-go dinner before setting in at the Waitsfield Inn for the night. Vickie and Jon were phenomenal hosts, providing us with access to their shed for our bikes, ice for my knee, and a clean, comfortable room.

DAY FOUR: WAITSFIELD TO BRISTOL

The Lincoln Gap Day. The day that broke me last year. So much trepidation and anxiety was about to culminate. Would the Gap break me again?

Although if I’m being fair and honest with myself, a lot of things contributed to last year’s failure. Mostly not being fully recovered from surgery, wonky digestion, not eating enough throughout the days leading up to day four, and pushing an overloaded bike with 2.2″ tires as hard and fast as I could to keep up with Curt. That’s not on him in any way – we all have to ride hills at our own pace and I needed to be more proactive and protective of my energy levels.

The weather reports had been changing every day and settled in on 100% chance of rain with up to an inch of precipitation depending on where one was in the state for the day. We woke up to pouring rain, already well over half-inch already fallen overnight. We tucked ourselves into a separate dining room, drinking coffee and eating breakfast (oatmeal, scrambled eggs with cheddar and chives, and toast with jam and butter) and talking about the day’s strategy. Temps in the upper-50s/lower-60s meant pulling out the wind vest for the morning.

The rain abated by the time we rolled out, around 10am. Peanut butter roads greeted us and we conserved energy by soft-pedaling up the hills. There was a much bigger fish to fry today. Descents were soft and littered with wet leaves, requiring focus and a lot of braking. We dropped into Warren and stopped at the Library for water and quick bathroom break.

Our legs slightly stiff from the previous three days of riding meant gentle pedaling up the first 2.5 miles of Lincoln Gap Rd. We stopped for photos and talked to an elderly local who told us “it gets steep up there” and “most bike riders push their bikes.” We wished him a great rest of his day and pedaled onward.

Jess managed to pedal a bit further into the steep part than I did, but in the end we both pushed our bikes up to the top, taking breaks for a few moments along the way. Amazing what a significantly lighter bike and a much cooler day will do for stamina! It was very windy at the top and we pulled out our arm warmers while we ate a snack and took photos at the top. It was such a 180 from how I felt at the top last year. We descended carefully as the dirt was still peanut buttery and leafy. As we turned south, the sun came out and the dirt was drier.

We decided to skip the last climb and take the dirt road descent directly into Ripton. The Ripton Market didn’t have sandwiches so we swooped down VT-125 into East Middlebury, rolling into Otter East Bakery & Deli 13 minutes before they closed for the day. We got our sandwiches and sat under the deli’s apple trees to enjoy a well-deserved lunch.

The rest of the day was flat to gently-rolling dirt roads and trails through farmland into Middlebury and then up to Beldens. The 5 miles from Beldens to VT-116 was gorgeous farmland and the backroads up to Bristol were quiet. Got to the Bristol Suites and hauled our bikes up three flights of narrow stairs to our room. Cleaned up, take-out from Bobcat Cafe & Brewery, and slept well after another tough but rewarding day. Hard to believe there’s only one more day left!

DAY FIVE: BRISTOL to BURLINGTON

Take-out breakfast from Bristol Cliffs Cafe (latte, oatmeal with dried fruit and maple syrup) and walked over to the park to enjoy. Last year the park was empty but this year it was bustling with energy as the community was setting up for the Harvest Festival.

We noticed bikes on the back deck of a second floor suite and ended up talking to the group before departing. They were also riding the GMGG, but stopping at all the breweries. I can’t imagine drinking a few times a day and trying to get to the next town – but they couldn’t believe we were just out to enjoy prime Vermont dirt roads. To each their own!

The phrase of the day was “hey look, another hill!” as we pedaled north through farmland. As we crested one early hill, we could see Lake Champlain with the Adirondacks as a backdrop. Stunning!

A few miles and hills later, we rolled up to Monkton Ridge Orchard, a tiny orchard on a side road no more than a quarter mile from a clearly larger and more “professional” apple orchard operation. We stopped for cider donuts and a glass of fresh cider before continuing on.

Jess marveled at how a regular dirt road would turn into these single-lane rustic roads and back on the same “road.” Part of the charm and texture of Vermont dirt!

We stopped for lunch at Folino’s Pizza in Shelburne before the final few miles into Burlington, splitting a large margherita and guzzling lemonade. The Burlington Bike Path has rolling closures so we ended up having to detour. This detour brought us to Lake Champlain Chocolates, which Jess had been hoping to find again before she flew home. The detour was clearly kismet.

Rolling up the Burlington Bike Path along Lake Champlain was a perfect end to our trip.


TOTALS

  • 226 miles
  • 19,305′ of climbing
  • 5 days (just shy of 24 hours total ride time)

THINGS I DID RIGHT

  • Focus on FUN. Having done the route before, I knew what to expect and could offer options when we had opportunities to make adjustments. As cool as it would be to show Jess the Von Trapp Lodge, the dirt climb to get there is soul-sucking. Better to get burritos and have something to look forward to next time.
  • No need to rush. I am exceptionally proud of my “second fastest time” notes on Strava throughout the routes. I was able to finish strong and with plenty of energy each day.
  • Pack Light. Lodging lightened my load by about 8 pounds, to a total of 16 pounds of gear. Which is still MUCH less than the 30 pounds I hauled around last year.
  • Nutrition. I was constantly eating a bite here and there, a few gummies every few miles. Fueling the ride meant more days feeling stable, solid, and ready for the day. I also focused on carb-centric breakfasts like scones, oatmeal, and pancakes with bananas and eggs to complement.
  • Modifications to the route. We made changes to almost every day, whether to remove unnecessary miles/hills or to get off heavily trafficked roads. All edits were made to maximize the FUN part of the ride – and since we didn’t have a need to get to a brewery for a beer, we were free to check out other local attractions. We took the main route as a set of options and chose the ones we wanted to do.

THINGS I CAN IMPROVE

  • Packing. I brought an entire nano panier of food (probably 5-6 pounds) and came home with 3.5 pounds of untouched food. Psychologically it was a safety net and I always had something to eat – but yeah, can definitely pack lighter there.
  • (I’m sure this will get updated as I think of more things to do better)

Packing List

total gear+supplies weight – 16 pounds
bike weight estimated at 25 pounds

The Bike & The Packs

Salsa Cutthroat GRX600, size 52
modifications: 11-40 cassette
Teravail Rutland 42mm 
Salsa bolt-on framebag
Revelate Designs Pronghorn Harness w/small drybag
Revelate Designs Egress Pocket
Revelate Designs Nano Panniers
Revelate Designs Gas Can
Topeak Explore MTB rack
26oz water bottles, mounted to fork

Attire On the Bike

rinsed out my kit nightly, hung to dry
changed kits after 3 days

Off-Bike Clothing & Gear
  • Showers Pass Syncline CC jacket in leaf green
  • Pactimo thermal arm and knee warmers
  • Pactimo wind vest
  • Extra wool socks
  • Capri leggings, t shirt, softcup bra for off-bike time
  • Shorts, t shirt, old sports bra for sleeping
  • Midweight wool quarter-zip long sleeve for layering
  • toiletries (travel size toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, tweezers)
  • Chamois Butt’r travel packets
  • medications sorted into plastic jewelry bags (morning, afternoon, evening)
  • day hike first aid kit
  • wallet pouch with laminated photocopies of my ID, insurance card, and covid-19 vaccination card, cash, and a credit card
Mechanical & Tools
  • extra velcro and voile straps
  • multi-tool, tire levers, CO2 for MTB tires
  • spare tubes
  • spare brake pads
  • spare shifter cable
  • travel size chain lube and shop towels
On-bike Nutrition
  • ClifBars, assorted
  • Skratch Labs gummies (sour cherry is my fave)
  • Skratch Labs hydration, individual packets
  • Untappd Maple Coffee flavored maple syrup packets
  • ClifBlok gummies in Salted Watermelon
  • Spare cookies from the first night’s hotel stay

GMGG: Round 2 Pre-Thoughts

welcome to my anxieties

So I’m leaving tomorrow for a second shot at the Green Mountain Gravel Growler, an epic adventure in north-central Vermont. My brain alternates between “you got this, girl!” to “wtf are you doing?”

Readers may remember last year’s ride, which was deeply influenced by a few key factors:

  • Limited bikepacking experience (it was my 4th bikepacking ride)
  • overpacking (27-30 pounds of anxiety packing)
  • Not eating enough quick-energy snacks on the hills
  • digestive issues, directly related to …
  • having major abdominal surgery 3 months prior

While I had an amazing time on the ride last year, I’ve been pretty hard on myself for calling a taxi 18 miles from finishing the route. I have zero regrets about this, as I remember how deeply bonked I was, and used this vulnerable moment to inform my adventures this past year … but I also feel I have unfinished business with the Gravel Growler.

My girlfriends tease me about being a Finisher, but there’s an element of truth there. I want to finish what I started last year.

This year I spent a lot of time working on my bikepacking skills, starting in April with a local overnight and culminating in late July with the Cross-New Hampshire Adventure Trail: how to pack lighter, how to decide what to leave at home, how to dispersed-camp, how to know your route enough to know where other options are when your plan A doesn’t pan out.

I did another local overnight in August but have been focused on just riding and keeping the legs prepped. I have spent hours pouring over the map, dialing in contingency plans and writing down notes in case cell service is absent when we need it most.

This year, my friend Jess is flying in from Colorado to join me on this trip. To keep things light, we decided to shift from camping to lodging along the route. I think this will be a key benefit, as the weather forecast has two days of steady rain in the middle of the ride. If Brattleboro taught me anything, it’s having a warm shower and bed to sleep in is amazing after a day in the rain.

That and bringing spare brake pads in case we need to put in fresh ones after a rainy, dirty day.

I just weighed my bags for the trip … 16 pounds. A good chunk of that though is quick-energy snacks for the whole trip plus a few extra. Understanding this isn’t totally necessary as we can stop along the way to get food at convenience stores and local markets, it’s giving me psychological safety. And the load will get lighter over time.

Bottom line, I have three goals for this year:

  1. Have fun, one day at a time
  2. eat the damn pancakes
  3. finish the ride happy, healthy, and feeling accomplished

Stay tuned for the recap post when I return.

See you out there!