Meg and I once again completed our longest self-supported bike tour yet: seven days of dirt roads, singletrack, surprisingly nice Vermont corner stores, and Heady Topper. I'm dividing this journey into seven posts, one for each day. This is day 3.
If you're trying to read these in backwards order (who am I to judge?), check out part 2 here:
If you somehow missed my post for day 1, check it out here:
Primitive camping by the babbling brook turned out to be a very pleasant way to sleep. We awake early in the morning to our chilliest morning yet.
Remember how yesterday's Lincoln Gap ascent was brutally uphill? The way down was... slightly less brutally downhill. And largely dirt. Note to self: the next time you climb Lincoln Gap, ascend the dirt side.
We set out on a long and winding path to Middlebury, where we've tracked down the first coffee shop of the day. On the way, we'll pass through Lincoln and a whole lot of dirt roads.
Lincoln sits within a valley in the Green Mountains. As we ride lower and lower into the valley, it gets colder and colder. We start to notice frost on the fields. The ponds give off a decidedly spooky vibe, thanks to fall foliage and the steam evaporating off the warm pond surfaces into the cold air.
We enjoy a lovely morning, looping up and down and over and across a myriad of hills on the healthy population of dirt roads in the Lincoln area. The occasional school bus or gaggle of kids waiting at the end of a driveway serves as a reminder that despite our vacation, for the rest of the world, it's Monday.
We finally descend fully into the flatlands surrounding Lake Champlain on a very windy, very steep, paved road.
It becomes immediately obvious that we're no longer "up in the mountains": the air is warm, the tree-encrusted hills give way to sprawling farms, and the narrow dirt roads inflate into wide, highly-trafficked pavement.
Aside from our cruise through East Middlebury and the crossing over 7 (as truck-filled a road as I've ever seen in Vermont), we manage to keep to back roads. The route into Middlebury and our coffee shop destination takes us on a dirt road right in the middle of resurfacing. Which means next to no traffic, except for the grading machine, because there's a giant pile of sand in the middle of the road.
We soon reach Middlebury, and take the "trail around Middlebury" to avoid the roads that are now somewhat-clogged with cars. A confused high school student asks us if we've seen her outdoor gym class on the trails; I wonder if she's still out there, looking for them.
A suspension bridge and a mildly stressful downtown ride later, we arrive at Royal Oak Coffee. After all our hard work, it seems fitting to reward ourselves with a vegan pastry "flight" containing:
Meg was especially fond of the cider donut. I thought the cardamom bun had the most "not-vegan" texture. When you regularly buy cider donuts in the local diner for 50 cents, purchasing a fancy vegan cider donut for $3.75 feels not entirely unlike the infamous Pulp Fiction $5 milkshake. But Royal Oak did made some of the best coffee of our entire trip, including one of the best mochas I've ever had. I'll allow the markup since vegan pastries are really freaking hard to get right.
Chock full of pastries, it's time to check out the local brewery. We head north to Otter Creek brewing, one of the older Vermont breweries. It dates all the way back to 1991, positively ancient!
Our experience at Otter Creek is decidedly odd. First off, our beers: I enjoy a bitter IPA. Meg opts for a flight:
The beers are decent, if unremarkable. The staff, however, is the friendliest staff of any brewery I've ever been to. And we've been to a lot of breweries. We chat for a solid hour with the only two employees about Otter Creek's wild ownership ride over for the past few months: no less than three acquisitions involving breweries absorbed by breweries that proceed to get bought up by other breweries.
They make a very peppery homemade mac and cheese, which they are happy to inform us they recently created as a means of feeding the many bicycle tourists that pass through on the Gravel Growler. Apparently carbs are the number one bike tourist request. The panini wasn't bad either. My only regret? We hung out the entire time inside, because the employees were so nice. As a result, we missed out on the beer garden outside. At least we enjoyed 99% of the rest of the day outside on the bikes.
But we can't hang out at the brewery all day. So after a couple of beers and some carbs, we hit the road to Vergennes. The weather is beautiful, even warm. There are cute farms, dirt roads, cows, and very fluffy dogs.
Time flies by, and before long we find ourselves at the 3 Squares Cafe.
I enjoy a remarkably well executed pita. Meg chooses a soup that is disappointing only because it really really sounded like a creamy soup... but turned out to be not creamy at all. Such is life.
We grab a 4-pack of Foam beers at the local wine store, and take the annoyingly busy route 7 out of town to a corner store that stocks subs and pop tarts.
Then, it's a relaxing lumpy ride all the way to Mount Philo. Even at the base of the hill, the views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks are stunning. The ranger is kind enough to let us take our bikes the wrong direction around the hill to avoid an extra mile or two of brutal climbing after an already long day on the bikes. Thanks Nathaniel! Sorry for spooking you at the window when we silently arrived on our bicycles.
After arriving, we grab a couple of cans of beer and enjoy the sunset view at the peak. Nothing beats petting a very kind golden retriever named Mango while looking out at a sunset over the mountains and sipping a local beer.
Soon, it starts to get dark. We say our goodbyes to Mango, and return to the campsite to set up the tent. Before long, our good friends (and new Burlington residents) Rachael and Gino stop by with some firewood, beer and hot dogs. Thanks for stopping by to hang out! It was a great way to spend the evening.
Check out part 4 (whenever I finish writing it -- maybe I already have?) at Day 4 (Mount Philo to Little River/Stowe).