2021 clearly became the Year of Bikepacking. Including overnights, I jammed 7 bikepacking trips in 5 months. Bonkers! It was incredibly rewarding and I learned a lot, which has streamlined my Go Kit and made it super easy to say YES to adventure (especially snack adventures).
But now that I’m in the chillax portion of the Bike Year, where I don’t feel like I need to “train” for “that big ride I want to do” anymore and I can just go sloth around in the woods on my fat bike, grinning like a kid.
My brain is always running around in the clouds though, dreaming of my next adventure. I’m pretty terrible at remembering things I haven’t written down (usually literally – in a notebook, on a post-it note, or as a Calendar event) here’s what I’m thinking about for 2022:
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.
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)
total gear+supplies weight – 16 pounds bike weight estimated at 25 pounds
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:
Have fun, one day at a time
eat the damn pancakes
finish the ride happy, healthy, and feeling accomplished
A low rumble sounded. I’m pedaling up Old Cherry Mountain Road into White Mountain National Forest, enjoying the stunning forest gently hugging the dirt road, squarely centered on being fully present in this moment. My friends are out of sight behind me, but not worried … we’ll all regroup at the top.
That’s interesting, I didn’t realize there was a logging operation nearby.
A short distance later, the low rumble sounds again.
That’s not loggingoperations. That’s a thunderstorm. We need to set up camp NOW.
A few years back my friend Karen sent me a website for the Cross New Hampshire Adventure Trail (XNHAT). At the time, there wasn’t a lot of information other than a Map My Ride link and a few pages with trail conditions, including that ATVs had chewed up a section of the rail trail pretty badly. We put this in our back pockets for a future adventure when more information was available – but it was appealing because of the gentle rail trail grades, lots of dirt, and biking across New Hampshire.
Earlier this year I saw the Northern White Mountains Overnight Loop (NWM Loop) on Bikepacking.com and immediately wanted to do the ride for the scenery. But with a 6 hour drive to the start, I needed a bit more to make it worth the drive.
Karen, our friend Ashley, and I originally planned to ride the Brattleboro Loop from bikepacking.com but as the year progressed and the weather was persistently rainy, we decided to find something more in line with a Type I fun trip.
Enter the mashup of the XNHAT and NWM Loop: start from Woodsville, NH (a mere 4 hours from my house) and ride to Maine and back with the scenic NWM Loop hooked in on the eastbound ride over 3 days (2 nights). My friend Jean also joined us.
Day One Highlights
The Ammonoosuc Rail Trail isn’t your typical rail train in that it allows OHRV/ATVs. The gravel can get deep and chunky at times as well as significant washboarding. Wider tires help, but our hands were continually going numb from the vibrations.
The bridges and trestles are wide and well maintained, offering stunning views along the river
Seeing a buck running through the river. We watched for a bit to make sure a bear wasn’t chasing it before continuing on.
Covered Bridge at Bath
Old Train station in Lisbon
Lunch at Littleton Diner
Getting caught in a pop up rain storm leaving Littleton
11 miles of exposed pavement (Route 116) from Littleton to Whitefield is by far the least enjoyable part of the journey.
The shoulder is wide, but it’s a busy road with lots of logging trucks and virtually no shade or opportunities for shelter when weather changes
Deciding to pick up extra water in Whitefield since we intended to dispersed camp in White Mountain National Forest
Getting caught in another pop-up rainstorm as we leave Whitefield. This has got to be a record year for rainfall in the Northeast.
Back on quiet backroads and the start of actual climbing, not the gentle rail trail grades we’ve been enjoying so far
Old Cherry Mountain Rd is a fantastic climb into White Mountain National Forest
checking dispersed campsite after campsite and finding them all occupied. Feeling disheartened, but also that we need to get set up quickly because a thunderstorm is approaching.
Recalling there is a campground at the bottom of the descent … and going up to the front door of the house to see if we can get a site …. quickly
Spending the next hour on their covered front porch while thunderstorms form, merge, and then move south … while another forms in its place and dumping lots and lots of rain.
Fortunately the campground had hot showers for the coldest among us … and the owners brought us firewood so we could have a fire
Setting up camp, enjoying dinner and laughter by the fire
Everything is somehow still wet from overnight – but the temps are rapidly rising and drying things off
checking the weather forecast and realizing Sunday is 95% chance of .5″ of rain and by heading westbound, we won’t see any tapering off. Sunday is our longest day, an expected 65 miles on the Presidential Rail Trail, Route 116, and Ammonoosuc Rail Trails.
Making the decision to finish the NWM Loop portion of the route and then head back to the cars for a total of 57 miles for the day.
It’s hot. We take frequent breaks in the shade
Turning left onto Jefferson Notch Rd and feeling relieved to see it’s a gorgeous shaded dirt road
Everyone taking the climb at their own pace
SO HOT at the summit!! Photos, food, quick break in the shade, then 6 miles downhill
Learning the Presidential Rail Trail is significantly more rustic than the Ammonoosuc Rail Trail. But the views!!
The heat is starting to get to some in the group so we start taking frequent breaks in whatever shade we can find
Whitefield Market for food and time in the A/C
lunch in the shady grass at the center common park was peak bike adventure happiness
Back on Route 116, which is still really exposed but now really hot as well
Arriving in Littleton and deciding to head to the river and put our feet in
GAME CHANGER! The river was so refreshing and cool.
It’s all downhill from here, with gravity gently pulling our bikes a little faster
Arriving back at our cars tired, dirty, sweaty, and happy for the overnight adventure with girl friends
Pro Tips & Takeaways
Align expectations prior to the start. Want to stop for photos and ice cream? Prefer to heads-down hammer between resupply stops? Be open and honest about this. Not everyone knew each other on this trip and talking over dinner about what we hoped to get from this trip put us all in the same mindset so we could have an amazing time together.
Be sure to “train” and acclimate. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know “training” generally means finding something similar to what you’re about to do and doing that a few times before the trip. If you prefer a training plan, knock yourself out.
This includes in all kinds of conditions – hot, cold, rain, exposure, shade. Know how your body reacts and how to adjust on the ride. And if the situation goes sideways, always prioritize health over schedules or expectations. Do not put yourself in a dangerous place for whatever perceived “glory” you’ll get from the trip.
Planning is essential for any adventure – know options and have back up plans.
We expected to camp at the dispersed campsites but they were already claimed with no one around to ask if we could share the site. Thankfully we had scoped a campground on the planning map that had room for us for the night.
Also changing our plans due to weather. Much easier to consider because we knew where the route option points were and distance between towns/resupply.
Prioritize packing for health and safety on the trip. Literally putting out legs in the ice cold river helped relieve the heat of the day and provided a nice respite.
Creature Comforts are important too!
Box Wine was worth the weight while around the campfire the first night
As were the Helinox and Z-chairs. The deluge had made everything at the campsite completely soaked – having a dry place to sit and warm ourselves by the fire was amazing
Rail Trail grades are appealing – but know the energy consumption increases as the surface gets progressively more rustic. Long stretches at a 1-2% incline can also sap energy reserves! Fuel appropriately and consider tire choice before heading out.
Not every adventure has to be EXTREME. Be safe, have fun, pick two.
total gear+supplies weight estimated at 24 pounds bike weight estimated at 25 pounds
The Bike & The Packs
Salsa Cutthroat GRX600, size 52 modifications: 11-40 cassette Teravail Rutland 42mm <– very pleased at the low rolling resistance and good traction in the chunk Salsa bolt-on framebag Revelate Designs Pronghorn Harness w/small drybag <–no impediment to shifters and minimized overpacking Revelate Designs Egress Pocket Revelate Designs Nano Panniers Revelate Designs Gas Can Topeak Explore MTB rack Sea to Summit eVent waterproof compression sack, Medium (14L) 26oz water bottles, mounted to fork 17oz collapsible Platypus bottle for extra water on Day 2
I spend entirely too much time on Bikepacking.com looking at routes and daydreaming about the pleasures of exploring time and space with everything I need loaded to my bicycle. As a subscriber of their print publication as well, there’s a regular feed of tales from the road that fuel my desire to truly experience the details of where we live. Less blazing my own path forward and more leaning in to those who know the best roads and the great places to stop for a meal to see the very best of what the location has to offer.
After tackling (and being humbled by) the Green Mountain Gravel Growler last fall, I decided to scale back and focus on building my skillset on overnights and 3 day adventures. Fortunately Roundabout Brattleboro registered as a great way to experience a mini-GMGG … and my adventure partner was totally game for a shorter route that fits nicely in a 3-day weekend.
In the ten days leading up to the trip however, it became apparent that Mother Nature was not planning to cooperate for the second long holiday weekend in a row. The first being Memorial Day weekend, which Curt and I had planned to ride the Delaware County Catskills Dirt Circuit but canceled due to rain and cold. The forecast called for two of the three days to be a steady rain with the third day a toss-up. Determined to stick to the plan despite the rain, we pivoted from camping to booking lodging in Wilmington and Londonderry. 80% less packed gear was nice!
Growing up, any time it was raining and I didn’t want to go outside, my mom would remind me I’m not made of sugar so I won’t melt if I get wet. So I dubbed this trip the Not Made of Sugar edition.
Day One: Where the Hills ArE
Making a conscious decision to ride bikes for at least 48 hours with up to 2″ of rain expected
the woman riding a unicycle under an umbrella, looking super unphased by the weather
Climbing 3,200′ in the first 24 miles felt much more accessible than it sounds
Running into a solo bikepacker on the same loop with full camping gear at lunch in Jacksonville
Coffee and warm sandwiches for lunch
Spillway at Harriman Reservoir
Catamount XC Trail is a GEM that should be savored
Replacing our disc brake pads before setting out (due to the wet and dirt from Day One)
Deciding to skip Castle Brook Rd since conditions were subpar on even the dirt roads (pretty soupy to peanut buttery)
Arriving at USFS 325 and deciding to remain on Forest Road 71 for above reasons (we missed the bus because of this decision)
Forest Road 71 is actually very lovely
A group of guys at a dispersed campsite with a huge fire going, asking if we wanted to come hang out with them and their red solo cups (and other altering substances)
Sitting at the gate for IP Road, weighing an up to 2 hour slog through mud or sticking to the road to make up time and get to resupply (and potential warmth)
Low traffic backroads climbing Stratton south to north with our rain jacket hoods down for the first time in the trip
Descending into Winhall in a blinding rainshower (funny how weather can be different on opposite sides of a mountain)
Seeing our fellow bikepacker at Winhall Market. He confirmed camping was super soggy and the trails were muddy.
More coffee and a sandwich on the front porch swing, shivering in the rain
Lovely dirt along the Winhall and West rivers
Deciding to head into Londonderry to the bike shop to get another pair of brake pads (sadly, they didn’t have the specific brake pad my bike needed – but the rain stopped and the sun came out!)
Another hot shower, short walk to a tavern for dinner on the patio, and comfortable bed at the Snowdon Chalet
Day Three: Where Redemption is FounD
The weather gods have smiled upon our sacrifice and provided a perfect day for our final leg of the journey – mid-60s, partly cloudy, no rain
Coffee and continental breakfast on the motel porch to strategize the day, mist artfully decorating the mountain tops
Knowing today’s route trended downhill on long stretches of backroads
Most importantly, FRESH BIBSHORTS today!
Route 121 at mile 94ish was a little slice of heaven
early stop at Grafton Market for pre-lunch. Enjoyed half and decided to go for the final off-road section
Ledge Rd is a GEM that also should be savored.
We didn’t see our fellow bikepacker but we did see his tracks
Brookline/Grassy Brook Rd featured a gentle incline to mile 118, then it’s all downhill to the end
Eating the rest of our wraps on the side of the road, bike propped against a split rail fence while we soak in the farmland
Finishing on the beautiful Quarry Rd and the West River Trail
Plan ahead – but be flexible and adapt plans to conditions. Research your route, watch the weather, and adjust along the way. Knowing when to deviate from the plan in favor of health, safety, and fun is key. Pivoting from camping in the rain to lodging, making route edits along the way to save energy and time exposed to the elements, meant stripping away a layer of survival that was unnecessary for a three-day trip. Be safe, have fun. Pick two.
Bring extra maintenance items, especially on wet and muddy trips. Curt brought a can of WD40 to keep our derailleurs functioning. Checking and replacing our brake pads on Day Two meant we could continue our journey safely.
Pack for the weather. Curt’s fashion choice of rubber banded plastic bags over his shoes kept his feet warm and dry on Day One. We also brought extra socks for each day. I definitely wished I’d brought a thermal long sleeve instead of just a regular long sleeve jersey to better retain my core warmth. It was a tough call though – day two was supposed to be in the 60s, not the 50s, when I drove up to Vermont. Certainly had room in my pack for the “extra weight” of a warmer jersey and it wouldn’t have been terrible to have that option.
Water Resistant is NOT Water Proof. Know the difference. Packing my items in freezer zip-lock style bags kept everything in my panniers dry despite 2″ of rain and riding through muddy conditions. Side benefit: using quart sizes kept everything modular and organized!
Lube your downtown. Wet conditions mean extra chafing opportunities as skin gets waterlogged. Don’t skimp on the chamois cream if you know you’ll be out in the rain all day.
Eat, eat, eat. The best nutrition plan for me has been to start eating an energy bar within the first hour of riding and keep eating a bite every few miles. Eat real food as often as possible. Do not underestimate the restorative powers of coffee, pickles, and potato chips.
Fantastic adventure overall! Joe Cruz routes combine scenery with challenging terrain to create an uniquely amazing adventure. Guaranteed to be the best roads and trails available! Do not underestimate these routes though … enjoy the time spent experiencing the textures of the land.
Curt and I are already talking about our next trip and strategizing the GMGG Redux planned for this fall. We even created a day-trip loop to go back and bag the two trails we skipped this time due to conditions.
Many fun adventures begin with a text from your friend asking if you want to do something crazy. So I took a day off work, loaded up my bike, and we hit the road for a bike overnight.
I was deeply apprehensive going into this trip. 50-ish miles a day turned into 65. A fair amount of climbing (5,000′) on day one. Resupply every 35 miles or so. Coming off the epic bonk of Green Mountain Gravel Growler has been second-guessing everything. Will I be ok?
But my imagination is more powerful than my fear and I know my friend wouldn’t ask if he didn’t think I could do it. And worse comes to worse, it’s only a 2 hour wait if my husband needs to pick me up.
Highlights from the Overnight
Pavement involves radiant heat as well (I tend to forget this since I ride mostly on shaded dirt roads)
Quiet backroads lined by adorable farms
Having a bee somehow find its way under the chest strap of my heart rate monitor and having to disassemble my jersey/bib/baselayer combo on the side of the road to get it out
Relaxing in the shade because it’s hot
Bananas are game changers, especially if you can’t find pickles
So are bathrooms where you can “free up some space” without having to dig a cathole
AT through-hikers at the market. They started walking back in February!
unexpected dirt roads!
fresh thick gravel for miles (thanks MassDOT)
Stop for supplies and a break at the Great Barrington Food Co-Op
big climb and then …
Climbing out of the nature preserve in search of a place to set up camp for the night
we saw a porcupine!
Listening to the birds slowly wind down for the night, snuggled into my sleeping bag
Day 2 begins! Fortunately today Trends Down
unexpected adventure road, complete with dicey bridge
Mill River General Store & Post Office – a must stop!! Chat with the old men who run the store and ask about the mugs with names on them
Mile 95 – start climbing again after 30 miles of basically downhill
riding by a field where hay was being cut …
having a truck pass, flinging cut hay into our faces. hello allergies!
Mile 100 overall – feeling tired and ready to stop. Rest and eat a ClifBar in the shade
Realizing we’re just about at the top of the day’s climb so … keep going
North Kent Rd, fully loaded, downhill. Check Your Brakes!
sit-down food in Kent … only 15 miles to go
racing a rain shower to the end (although the cloud cover cooled us down and felt amazing)
Overall, super success. It’s still early in the season, so I’m happy to be able to have a successful long-day bikepacking overnight under my belt. I’ve accumulated enough gear now that I can put together a lightweight (15lb) setup and hit the road fairly quickly. And heading out was a reminder that it IS about the journey, real foods are better than cramming “sports nutrition” in your face all day, and take the time to connect to the people you meet along the way.
Next time I’ll probably just mount the rack back on my bike. We had to transport a gallon of water from town to where we finally set up camp and it was much easier to strap it to Curt’s rack than anywhere on my bike. Plus my sleeping bag didn’t fit anywhere so I strapped it to the top of my seatpost bag – but it kept shifting no matter how tightly I secured the straps. As a small-framed bike rider, the extra capacity and stability a rack provides will be vital for carrying unexpected necessities.
I also picked up a Helinox ground chair but didn’t bring it. Definitely wished I had carried the 1.4 lb chair while sitting on a pointy rock to eat dinner. haha
This past weekend my friend Anna and I put together a last-minute bikepacking trip to a local county park … for one night. I booked the campsite, threw together a quick route, about 25 miles each way with different roads, and scrambled to get my bike packed up the night before.
Isn’t that a lot of effort for not a lot of payoff?
Sure. And because it’s only (basically) 24 hours or less, one can experiment with minimalism and going as light as possible. Do I need this for the next 24 hours? No? Awesome – not being packed.
For this overnight, I wanted to try out a few things:
38mm GravelKing SK tires (vs the 2.2″ Teravails that come stock on the Cutthroat that I’ve previously used for bikepacking)
Narrower Tires. For this trip, we had mostly pavement and smooth hardpack with the only chunky gravel in the county park. The narrower tires kept things light and quick, especially when the road started tilting upward. The narrower set up was squirrely in the chunky gravel so if this had been a longer trip, I may have switched to the 2″ tires for the added plushness and stability.
Compression Sack for front harness. I was able to cram my tent, sleeping attire, rain jacket, and a few other items into the compression sack and then smoosh it down to fit between my bars. Being able to thread the front harness straps through the compression straps felt more secure than my usual dry bag.
Inflatable sleep pad. I have only used the self-inflating kind so this was new. The Thermarest was extremely comfortable and warmth-retaining despite packing down well and being very light. However it does fit exactly under you so I had to figure out how to place my arms so they wouldn’t be laying on the ground (and cold). It crinkles when you roll over, which wasn’t awful but I was worried about waking up my friend every time I moved.
Ultralight, ultra-packable sleep system. The 50*F quilt, liner, and sleeping pad all pack down super small, making it easy to just toss in the seatpost bag.
Prepaying for firewood to be left at the site by the ranger. Once the sun went down, having a fire to hang out around was super nice. Not having to schlep it by bike was even better.
Water Drop. I was able to bribe my kid with gas money to drop off a few gallons of water for us at the campsite since there is no water available in the park.
ThinGs That Didn’t Work So Well
Summer-weight sleep quilt with spring overnight lows. I didn’t pay attention to the “comfort” limit being 57* for my 50* bag. So even with all my layers plus puffy plus thermal liner, I was chilly all night and slept superficially (low was 43*F) . Going to need to figure out how to bring my down 20* sleeping bag in the future for spring and fall bikepacking.
Forgetting to take my digestive enzymes with dinner. While my digestion has stabilized pretty well over the last 10 months, I still have issues with fats and sugars, especially at the levels most backpacking meals contain. The PackIt Gourmet Chili was delicious – but my guts were gurgling unhappily all night.
Shoes. This was a mix – they were very comfortable around the campsite but after a dozen miles or so or riding, I was getting uncomfortable under the balls of my feet. Likely because the shoes need to straddle being stiff enough for riding without being too stiff for walking around after. Seeing as these are a 2013 model that I bought for bike commuting but then never wore, I’m sure technology has changed and may be able to find something that straddles this divide better.
Somewhere to sit that’s not The Ground. Because we had the fire going, I rolled over a tree stump to use as chair. Anna brought a lightweight backpacking chair. Exploring the idea of getting a lightweight backpacking chair to bring for the good times spent hanging out around the campsite with friends. Need to weigh the weight to need return – but sometimes creature comforts make or break a trip.
Bikepacking overnights are a great way to satisfy the need to get away for a bit and try new things in a low-risk way. It also just feels cool to be riding around on familiar roads with everything you need for a day or a weekend while everyone else is just out for their weekend ride. The gear signals Adventure Is Happening and hopefully sparks others to explore their proverbial backyards too.
Shortly after our 2019 Taste the Catskills ride, Curt mentioned he wanted to ride the Green Mountain Gravel Growler, a 250-mile bikepacking route that links iconic Vermont breweries. I was 100% interested but not able to commit. Apparently no one else was either so it never came together. But the seed had been planted and we started to make plans for this year.
2020 has thrown plenty of curveballs, including having to have my gallbladder removed in June. Even laparoscopically, this is major surgery that required 4-6 weeks off the bike. I spent the end of July, August, and early September rebuilding my strength and endurance – and researching and dialing in my gear for the ride. We also monitored travel guidance to ensure we were in compliance with Vermont travel requirements due to the coronavirus pandemic. For us, this meant self-quarantine in our homestate before traveling.
The first rule of bikepacking is Pack Light (or as light as you can). Originally we planned to bring summer-weight sleeping bags, but as it got closer to the ride, the overnight temps were plummeting towards 30*F so bringing a down sleeping bag (i.e., staying warm) became the priority. While I don’t think I brought an excess of things I didn’t use, my gear isn’t necessarily designed for anything but car camping. I had my shop install a rack and I used the panniers I bought several years ago for bike commuting.
(AFTER I got home, I weighed everything and discovered I had been hauling around at least 27 pounds of gear, food, and clothing. TOO MUCH!! This will be an important factor later in the ride.)
Exiting Burlington was a combination of bike lanes and multi-use paths and far too many turns – but once we got out of civilization, the number of cars declined and the dirt dialed up. The route was mostly flat until we climbed out of Waterbury towards Stowe. The last 12 miles of the day was a portent of things to come.
The scenery was amazing and pedaling along pristine dirt roads so packed they were like pavement was a nice entry to the ride. We rode a short section of singletrack before deciding to stick to the road with our loads that were less than compatible with the agility singletrack demands. Also, pushing our loaded bikes up a steep incline to get back to the road was ridiculously hard.
We lunched at Stone Corral on the patio and were very careful to wear masks and use santizer when we didn’t have access to soap and water. The food was good and the first pint was had. Well, Curt had a beer. I’m just along for the ride and the adventure. On one of the phenomenal descents, Curt yelled for me to stop. Something was not right with his bike. He tightened up his headset, but I noticed his front skewer looked off. Turns out it wasn’t closed and tight. A few seconds later, we were back to descending … safely this time.
We arrived at our intended campground right on target, got set up, and then rode into town for dinner. It was chilly that evening and the down sleeping bags were very much worth their weight so far.
Curt is an early riser, so by the time I rolled out of my tent at 7:15am, he already had enjoyed a cup of coffee. I am Not A Morning Person so I had to set my alarm clock to wake up in time to eat, get dressed, pack up, and roll out by 9am. The way we had divided up the route, this was going to be the longest day for miles. The route also had several significant climbs and more singletrack, which we knew would bring our average speed down significantly.
Unfortunately, my isopro fuel ran out while making coffee so when we got to the singletrack section, we opted to backtrack to the road and go into town to see if we could find fuel (and hopefully gain some time back into the day). Stowe Hardware to the rescue! Back to the road and the climbs that awaited us.
The climbs were slow but the descents were fantastic. The full load on the rear transformed my bike into a freight train and I had to scrub speed constantly to keep from flying out of control. Any bump or jostle, especially at speed, disrupted the weight balance and required conscious effort to keep in control. We passed through the first of several covered bridges and enjoyed lunch on the patio at Lost Nation Brewing.
With no campgrounds near our end point, we stopped by the Hardwick police station to ask for their recommendation (and let them know we’re here camping). They recommended a town park that turned out to be perfect. We set up camp and watched the sun set across the pond before turning in the night to avoid the mosquitos.
The temps didn’t drop until about 4am, at which point my down bag felt like a good choice. Or was I looking for reasons to justify bringing a bulky bag on this trip? I just knew I didn’t want to spend nights cold and sleepless because there’s no “out” on this trip, no calling to get picked up by a sympathetic spouse. Today was going to be tough, as the route was shorter but the climbing was still intense.
We rolled out under cooler temps to the Hardwick Village Market for more water and supplies. The employees there were super kind and helpful – if you are in the area, Hardwick is good people!
The route gods had a good belly laugh at our loaded folly when we started up an ATV road that as littered with boulders and washouts – and pitched skyward. This is where I learned that pushing my 80-bazillion pound loaded bike was actually more work than riding mechanically speaking. The energy to keep it upright in the conditions would have been too much though. So we hike-a-biked it where we needed and rode where we could.
It took us 2 hours to cover the first 12 miles of the day.
Lunch was in Montpelier at Three Penny Taproom. While we waited for our outdoor table, we stopped in at Onion River Outdoors and I had the guys check my brakes (and picked up a set of spare pads). ORO also runs the Muddy Onion Spring Classic, which is an excellent event that you should totally sign up for when events can run again. You can read about my experiences in 2017 and 2018. Montpelier is also good people.
We decided to once again skip singletrack sections where we could to try to make time to our destination, Waitsfield. We knew we’d either be camping in a town park again or trying to find a room at an inn and wanted to finish before dark.
Important to this route is paying attention to the names of the roads. Anything with “hill” in it usually has a substantial climb. So Hill Rd as our first climb out of Montpelier was peak Truth In Advertising. As we came up to Bear Barn Rd, I was running out of gas and decided to walk the steepest portions of the hill.
Being a rural area, there was a young girl on a quad riding up and down Bearn Barn Rd. She smiled and nodded at me and I reciprocated, a tip of the hat to a fellow female doing bad ass things. She became my spirit guide for this challenging hill as she kept tabs on Curt and I as we slowly pedaled up the hill. When the road ended in a class 4 two-track, she helpfully told us “it gets really steep near the top.” I smiled and thanked her, said we would be OK with that. She smiled and ran off with her dog while we continued onward.
The two-track quickly turned into a gnarly jeep road that did indeed get very steep as we approached the top. Much of this time was hike-a-bike again – which meant further wrestling my overloaded bike over significant chunk and boulders erupting from the earth. Curt mused that the other side was probably not the smooth descent we were hoping for.
It wasn’t. The descent was so steep and littered with rocks, logs, roots, washouts, ruts, and debris that it became perilous to try to ride it. So I ended up wrestling my overloaded bike DOWN the chunky descent. Whenever I tried to ride, the weight on the back of my bike made staying in control and using finesse to navigate the features nearly impossible. Knowing we still had to get through this -and a few more miles- and still find a place to sleep with only one more hour of daylight left- safety took priority.
The route then dumped us onto a class 4 road that was overgrown and had a few blowdowns to navigate (and thankfully no electric fences). Here is where is started to rain. We debated putting on our rain jackets or just leaving our vests on. We opted to not open up our bags to the rain and continued on. When we got to an actual dirt road, Curt noticed something was wrong with his front brake. It had loosened up to the point where it was about to fall off. He tightened the screws and we continued on.
After a long day of wrestling our loads over chunky terrain, we decided to stay at an inn. The first few places we phoned didn’t have any availability, but we did find one that had rooms available and booked online from the parking lot of another inn that didn’t have room for us. We biked over to Mad Taco and phoned in our order from the parking lot. It was dark and we were cold with sweaty gear when we arrived at Lareau FarmInn as the only guests. A hot shower and a comfortable bed awaited us.
Soul Asylum sang about being so tired that you can’t sleep and that was my experience. I didn’t get to sleep – real, deep, restful sleep – until around 3am and we were up at 7:30am for breakfast at 8. The proprietor was our chef and the whole wheat pancakes with berries sounded good but too sweet so I asked for scrambled eggs. This was my first mistake of the day, as I really should have just had the pancakes for the carbs. I also ended up eating the farm-made sausage, which I knew was going to mess up my digestive system but didn’t want to be rude. So no carb breakfast before a significant climbing day is Not Smart.
We lubed our chains and headed out under cloudy skies to be met with a decent hill within a few miles. I was climbing slower than the previous days, but attributed that to it being Day 4 and how much effort we had expended the day prior. My legs were stiff and it took a few miles for the ligaments in my left knee to soften enough to pedal without soreness. Soon we found ourselves at the base of the Lincoln Gap.
Knowing I would be climbing very slowly and possibly pushing my bike, we agreed to meet at the top. Curt was able to ride the entire Gap by switchbacking the whole way up as cars allowed. I had to hop off as soon as it started to get steep and ended up pushing my bike the final 2 miles to the top.
Pushing my loaded bike over the Lincoln Gap is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The grades pitch to 20% and are unrelenting. The road would be challenging on an unladen bike; coupled with my load, I ended up pushing for 100 feet or so and then taking a break. Push, stop, catch breath. Push, stop, catch breath. Repeat for a half hour.
Once at the top, I was destroyed. We sat in the grass for a while until I had eaten enough to feel like I could continue on. This was mistake #2, as I only refilled what had been depleted.
A few miles later, Curt noticed I was climbing even slower so we took a break beside a pasture. I laid in the grass for a few minutes before deciding I needed to eat something. Curt also said I should eat something. I dug up a protein bar and started to nibble.
“How do you feel?”
I’m out in the middle of nowhere with no cell service, completely bonked, and with no options but to keep pedaling. Exactly my worst fear for the trip come to fruition. And by my own hand.
We decide to abandon the route in favor of getting into Middlebury for food and descended on a beautiful dirt road that followed the river. I remembered the fruit slices candy in my pocket and ate those to try to keep going. We found a sandwich place, but I couldn’t eat. I sipped ginger ale and tried to find an Uber back to Burlington. No cars available. We decide to ride to the campground we found on the map and see if we could get set up so I could relax.
6 miles later, we arrive at the campground and are told we can’t stay because the bathrooms are closed. I’m wrecked. Curt is handling everything at this point and for that I am grateful. He calls the only hotel in Bristol and reserves two rooms. 5 more miles. I put a few more candies in my mouth, take a swig of ginger ale, and pedal on.
Robin the Innkeeper (Bristol Suites) met us at the front door and got us in our first floor rooms immediately. Of course you can bring your bikes into the rooms. The rooms are good size, well appointed, and very clean. I take a cool shower and decide to keep nibbling on ClifBars to stabilize and hopefully eat my sandwich. Curt heads out for a burger and beer. I’m able to get to a place of feeling stable and fall asleep by 7:30pm.
By the grace of a deity, I wake up at 7:26am and panic because I forgot to set an alarm for Saturday. We’re meeting at 8am for breakfast, mostly ready to go. My stuff is still strewn everywhere from the day prior. I get everything packed up , clean up, throw on my bibshorts under my joggers and t shirt, put on flip flops and head across the street to the Bristol Cliffs Cafe.
Bristol is a quintessential Vermont small town, rimmed with mountains that were ablaze with autumn foliage and turn-of-the-twentieth-century buildings on the downtown block. I have been to several Vermont towns but never felt so comfortable. It was a truly magical morning moment, the kind you daydream about when thinking about your next adventure.
After getting my egg & cheese on a bagel (carbs with my protein breakfast!) and coffee (Curt got pancakes again), we walked to the town park to enjoy breakfast. I was feeling hollow still but hoped breakfast would satiate me and allow me to finish strong.
“You have to finish that.”
“I know I do.”
I got 3/4 of the way through my sandwich.
We decide to take the shortest route to Burlington because I’m suffering. All road, no more dirt. Minimal hills. Only 30 miles. A few hours. I can do this.
6 miles later I am nauseated and feeling lightheaded. We pause at mile 10 and I eat a little more. I re-stabilize and we push on, but Curt notices I’m riding slower on the flats now as well as the hills. He pulls over at mile 12 and I follow suite.
“Curt, I’ve got nothing left. I have to be done.”
We take a few minutes for me to eat and drink and I’m not stabilizing. I am so far into the red I’m wondering if there is a color deeper that that for the hole I’ve dug myself. Curt walks up to the nearest house to ask if they will call a taxi for me, which they do without any question. Taxi will be here in 30 minutes. We move ourselves next to their driveway and wait. I nibble a ClifBar and eat ClifBloks and sip my water. My arms and legs are tingling. By the time the taxi arrives, I am feeling stable again – but I know better than to try to do anything. Curt and the taxi driver load my bike into the minivan.
I thank Curt profusely for taking care of me and tell him I will text him when I get to my car, when I am leaving Burlington, and when I get home. He finishes the ride solo.
Once back at my car, I get changed and it saps my energy again. I gas up, pick up snacks to nibble on and a ginger ale to sip, and begin my drive home. A few hours later I feel well enough to finish my egg & cheese bagel, a short can of Pringles, and four Nature’s Bakery fig bars. I’m singing along to the songs as I drive. Just stopping the ride was a good place to start recovering. We ordered in pizza when I got home and I fell asleep surrounded by my very happy dogs.
As I sit here at home, doing my best to do as little as humanly possible and eat small amounts frequently … What an amazing adventure! This was far harder than I expected, in no small way compounded by my own errors of not ruthlessly packing light, not eating enough, and underestimating how long it would take to get through some of the gnarliest bits. I know better but sometimes I think it won’t matter as much – and I am basically wrong.
And maybe a small part is taking on a challenge like this only 3.5 month after major abdominal surgery that has altered my digestion. Even using digestive enzymes with each meal, I’m not positive my body was processing the fuel I was giving it optimally.
Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect for great weather and near-peak foliage. Although it could have gone in either direction (too hot or too cold), I think it would be better to do this ride in early September to go as light as possible if camping.
I need to review my gear list and figure out what could have been left at home and what needs to be replaced with lighter or smaller gear should I want to do something like this again. My 2p tent was 5 pounds, each pannier was 11 pounds, plus I had my sleeping bag and a self-inflating sleeping pad. Too Much Weight.
For sure, the best way to experience this route would be a credit card tour – book a room at your final destination so you don’t have to worry about bringing more than a few things. If it doesn’t fit in the handlebar bag, framebag, or seatpost bag, it shouldn’t come along. Or – have someone be your SAG with all your gear and meet you along the way for water, supplies, and keeping the ride as efficient as possible.
I’m looking forward to doing this route again, possibly extending the trip and recalibrating daily stopping points to accommodate the time it takes to clear the class 4 and singletrack sections. Also, if you are looking to do this route and hit up as many breweries as possible, you will need to factor that into your time to complete each day.
April 19, 2019 – Coming this summer is a three day gravel ride through the Catskills. Slightly modified from what Ralph rode last year. No date yet, but thinking June. – Curt
The beginning of epic adventures is so small – casual words in passing or an idea that pops in your head … or in this case, posting a call for comrades on a social media site for bike rides. I’ve ridden several rides and events with Curt and Ralph so I know their style of riding, which made it easy to say YES to the invite.
Taste the Catskills is a 320-mile self-supported bikepacking route with over 22,000′ of climbing developed by local randonneur Ralph Pruitt. Ralph is known for seeking out every hill and every inch of dirt he can find. Deeming a route a “Ralph Ride” can only mean it’s stupid hard but incredibly fun and rewarding. It should be noted that Ralph previewed the route last year in one shot.
Lodging. We stayed at Blue Hill Lodge & Cafe in Clarysville and Hammo’s Pub & Lodge in Hensonville. Having a room booked in advance gave us a pre-determined end point each day as well as a cool shower and comfortable bed.
Packing. With the daily distance, heat, and humidity – packing light and fast was paramount. If it wasn’t necessary for three days on the road, it didn’t come. Everything fit in my seatpost bag, half-frame bag, and handlebar bag. Also, “fast” is all relative as we were out for 10-13 hours each day.
For a full list of what was brought and what was purchased along the way, check the end of the blog post.
Training. I’m not a fan of formal training plans in the same way I am not a fan of riding on a trainer. My general plan is to figure out what I’m getting myself into and build up to something that’s a reasonable facsimile. 2019 has been a year of challenging rides, with most including around 100’/mi of climbing.
The climbing didn’t feel like an issue so much as I haven’t ridden a century in something like 4 or 5 years. Looking at the daily breakdown of the route (we were riding this over 3 days), there were lots of beastly hills in the back half of each day – pacing would be key to make it through each day.
It was super hot & muggy and not very shaded. Once we climbed out of Pawling, we cruised on the rail trail for 30 miles – so most of the climbing was concentrated into the back 55 miles. Once we left New Paltz, opportunities for refueling and refilling water from commercial outlets dropped dramatically. After climbing Mohonk and Peekamoose, we were pretty shredded. A 15-mile downhill awaited us, which was such a relief. But we were rapidly running out of water and we still had a crazy climb to get to our rest stop for the night. Only 1 of the three camp stores we tried was open. The final 5-mile climb was obscene in places and I’m not ashamed to say I hopped off my bike and pushed it in places.
We arrived at the Blue Hill Cafe to find the restaurant portion closed. All three of us were tired and hungry; the thought of choking down another ClifBar as dinner was nauseating. Fortunately, the owner was closing out her register and set us up with fresh homemade chicken salad sandwiches, pickles, chips, and beverages. The cafe wasn’t going to open before we needed to leave in the morning so we were able to grab delicious coffeecake to go.
Day 2 – The Longest Day.
Coming off day 1 and seeing a forecast of even higher temps (near 90* F) and humidity paired with an additional 18 miles until our next overnight accommodations, we opted to leave earlier. Curt had to repair his front shifting cable so we ended up leaving only an hour earlier than Day 1. The morning chill was most welcome as we zoomed out of town and found our first good hill within a few miles. Today was Dirt Day and we knew there would be some formidable climbs in the latter half of the day. Dirt always takes a bit more energy than pavement but is generally mercifully shaded, which provides much needed respite from the sun.
Brunch was 45 miles into the day at a diner in Downsville where we gobbled up eggs and toast and homefries while draining glasses of lemonade as fast as the waitress could bring them. When asked where we were headed, we replied Windham … to which another patron exclaimed “That’s far!” About 75 miles far. Two women on motorcycles stopped me to ask about my bike setup … turns out one of them is planning a ride from Portland, OR to Denver, CO in September. She asked if I would be interested in that journey. I wish I could have said yes.
Leaving Downsville I noticed my rear tire had gone flat … not from the chunky dirt descent to NY30, but from a staple on the road in town. The guys had my tire changed before I could protest and say I could do it myself. Back on the road, we started the 10-mile climb to De Lancy that was happily mostly shaded. The same could not be said for the road between Delhi and Hobart, which was paved and radiant in the sun. It was so hot the tar was snapping under our tires. We ducked onto the rail trail but it was very slow going and overgrown. In the interest of time, we popped back out on the road into Stanford.
Maybe the best part of touring is ice cream stops. We were hot and sweaty and in need of inner cooling. A massive twist cone was just the ticket to keep moving. We’re at mile 82 with 36 hilly miles to go. By mile 101, we’re all cooked again and just want to get to our next overnight room but we have four more “bumps” to conquer before being rewarded with a 5-mile downhill into Windham. From Windham, it’s only another 3 miles to our room. We finally get cleaned up and head next door to Vesuvio Restaurant in Hensonville. We ate like royalty and after a long day, it felt good to put real food in the belly.
Knowing our final day would be lower miles and lower climbing, we opted to see what time we woke up to determine when we would leave in the morning.
Day 3 – The Easy Day
We woke around 6:30am and headed down the street to Nana Gail’s for breakfast, filling our bellies once again with eggs and bread and bacon for the guys. The day was overcast with a 50% chance of thunderstorms so we made sure our rain gear was easily accessible should we find ourselves in a downpour. A short climb out of the Windham area gave way to an epic 15-mile descent back to the Hudson River. We crossed on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge and made our way to Copake, where we would stop for lunch at Dad’s Diner. Our energy is high because we’re on our way home.
This is also the only day I beat the guys up any hills. It should be noted they both have McGuyver’d their gravel bikes to have a 40t or 42t granny gear on their cassette – so they were mostly spinning up the hills like it was Sunday. My granny gear is 34t on my cassette so Grind is my middle name.
If I ever find the funds to start building up a custom gravel bike, you can be sure mountain bike gearing with deep low gears will be top on my list.
After lunch the clouds had given way to brilliant sunshine so we made our way to the rail trail for some shaded goodness. The connection between the two segments from Copake to Millerton is still under construction so we headed onto the pavement. We stopped for cold snacks and water in Millerton before heading back to the cool and shady rail trail to Wassaic.
Sometime after Wassaic, we decided to skip the remaining bonkers hills in favor of an “easier” route to the end. It ended up being only 600′ less of climbing (over 20 miles) but the hills were more rolling than challenging. We’re tired, our bodies are protesting, and frankly this is the second or third day in a kit so it’s getting a bit … funky … around here.
Rolling up to our start location, we decided to get cleaned up and have one final meal together at the local pizza place to celebrate our incredible journey.
Ride What You Got. I love my bike but it doesn’t take tires wider than 30mm. I ride the only gravel tire I’ve found sub-32mm. Sure, I can’t bomb down chunky descents and I have to pick my lines carefully, but I’ve become a skilled technical rider in the meantime.
Learn to Pace Yourself. There is nothing worse than bonking even a few miles from your final destination. Don’t dig yourself into a hole – be sure to eat and hydrate regularly. Take a look at the course so you have an idea of where the hardest parts are and don’t go for KOMs. You need energy for more than just today.
Learn to Eat & Drink On The Ride. “I can’t eat on rides.” You wouldn’t drive your car around on Empty, so why try to bike that way? It’s not a race – Don’t dig a hole you can’t climb out of. The way to do this is to eat something every 90min or so and sip your hydration beverage every few miles. Eat real food like trail mix, salted nuts, potato chips, pretzels … convenience stores are generally well-stocked with these foods. Some even have sandwich counters, which can save the day.
Be Clear & Copious. If your pee isn’t clear and copious, you aren’t hydrating enough. This isn’t always possible to achieve but it should be on your mind as an easy way to monitor your hydration levels.
Have Fun! The whole point of a bike adventure is to get away from it all and explore new places. Remind yourself that all you have to do today is ride your bike. And then go ride your bike.
Thank You to Ralph for creating an amazing route that showcased the hidden gems of the Catskills, to Curt for wanting to ride the route over 3 days, and to Yorktown Cycles for keeping my Salsa in top condition and for the excellent upgrade recommendations. The Nox wheels were clutch in keeping my energy transfer to the bike and not on rotational resistance. And to all my bike friends who have come out to ride bonkers events and routes with me in preparation for this adventure.