Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Vermonster 2017 - Day 1

The memories of 2016 Vermonster remain seared in Kait's memory - in a PTSD sort of way. I'm sure she still wakes in a cold sweat reliving nightmares from that weekend.

Last year, we crested Rochester Gap in pouring rain with temperatures hovering around freezing. At the top we found 2 feet of snow lining the roadside.  We then had about 10 miles of descending in these conditions. When we arrived in Bethel, we were wet and 80% frozen and in serious need of some hot food and a chance to dry out. Luckily we stumbled into a café where we ordered anything and everything that was hot and attempted to dry our soaked gloves with a full  roll of paper towels. After an hour, we had filled the void in our bellies and thawed just enough to head back out to ride another 30 miles. This day will stay with all of us for a long, long time. It will be the standard by which we judge misery. It is also our badge of honor. After surviving that, we know we we can get through anything.

Despite that still-raw-memory, we were all quite eager to do Vermonster again this year, including PTSD sufferer, Kait. We had new folks who even after seeing the photos and hearing our horror stories, still wanted to join us.  We had hoped to pick a date earlier in October, but due to various scheduling issues, we selected the 3rd weekend of October.

It is amazing what a difference one week makes.

Where last year's photos showed us all wearing winter cycling boots with overshoes and woolies and rain gear and heavy gloves; this year's photos featured smiling cyclists in shorts and short sleeves. Last year's snow photos have been replaced by pictures of amazing foliage. Last year's memories of stalling inside heated cafés as long as possible were replaced outdoor coffee stops. We even got to experience peak autumn color!

The basic idea of Vermonster was the same as the first year. We'd take the Amtrak Vermonter train to the northern reaches of civilization, and then ride home, sticking to as many dirt roads as possible. Just like last year, we faced a limit of three bikes per train, so our group had to travel up on two separate days. Hopefully Vermont tourism can work with Amtrak to make bike travel a bit less hassle in the future.

It seems to vary according to the humor of the conductors whether bikes can be rolled on and parked as pictured above. The official policy is that one has to use a special bike compartment with just one of these per car. IMNSHO, these compartments are poorly designed, requiring the removal of the front wheel, potentially damaging a front fender, requiring one to lift the bike and taking much more time loading and unloading. It would be much better use of the space as pictured above, where 3 or 4 bikes take barely more space than one bike in the compartment. Since the wheels remain on, the bikes are quickly rolled on and then off, and gear can stay on the bike.  And with 4 bikes per car, we could have 12 cyclists travel on the same train, rather than 3 one day and 3 another. This is twice as many folks staying in local hotels or B&Bs, twice as many cyclists eating at cafés in small towns along the route and twice as many cyclists buying Vermont souvenirs. So, ahem, Vermont tourism and Amtrak, if you are reading this... please let's make this process better.

But enough complaining about Amtrak. On to our trip.

First the logistics

This year, Jamie, John and I would travel up from Greenfield on Thursday afternoon. Dave would stash a bike in Montpelier and drove down to White River Junction, where he would leave his car.  He would join us on the northbound train in WRJ and then depart in Montpelier, unlock his bike and ride home to Waitsfield.  John, Jamie and I would continue onto Essex Junction and then ride 10 miles to the apartment Jamie shares will Allie in Burlington.

On Friday, Jamie, John and I would ride to Dave's place in Waitsfield.  Friday afternoon, Caleb and Kait would get on the train in Northampton. Daniel would join them in Brattleboro. The three of them would stop in Montpelier and ride to Dave and Nancy's, where we would all feast and then scatter mattresses about the place and sleep.

On Saturday, we'd have a big rolling party, with Dave, Nancy, Daniel, Jamie, Caleb, Kait, John and me, rolling down to Woodstock, where we had arranged to stay with Josh and Jenny. Dave and Nancy would join us for a cookout there and then go sleep at Alan's place nearby. The remaining six of us would take over Josh and Jenny's kids' old rooms for the night.

For Sunday, we would head on a more westerly route than last year and stay at Mt. Snow where I'd found a B&B with a big bunkroom. Daniel would split off partway and head back to Brattleboro, so it would just be five for the night. Dave and Nancy would ride to WRJ and take their car home.

For the fourth and final day, we'd coast downhill to Shelburne, where we'd split up, with John, Jamie and me returning to Greenfield, while Kait and Caleb continued further south.

Sound complicated enough?

We'd use a lot of the same roads for the first two days, but then diverge and take in some roads that John and I had ridden before near Mount Snow. There would be a couple of new-to-us roads, but we all packed a sense of adventure in addition to our rain jackets, and just hoped for the best. When mapping things out, I tried to stick to scenic dirt roads, with a few bits of civilization thrown in for lunch and snacks along the way.

Links to RideWithGPS routes for each day are at the end of each post.

So without further ado...

Vermonster Day 1.

Our day had a leisurely start with breakfast at Maglianero Cafe,  followed by a visit to Old Spokes Home, where we had a great time exploring the museum upstairs.

Then we had a second coffee stop at Bario Bakery. We traveled along the Burlington waterfront a while before picking up the cross Vermont trail, which we would follow all the way to Waterbury.

Bluebird skies!

Given our leisurely start, we planned a later lunch at Red Hen Bakery & Café in Middlesex. Then the hard work began, as it was all uphill to Dave and Nancy's mountain-top villa.

What an amazing day. Daniel, Kait and Caleb joined us as planned for the night. Dave and Nancy prepared a scrumptious feast. We then turned in and dreamed of another fabulous day to come on Saturday. 

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