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 4.
If you're trying to read these in backwards order (who am I to judge?), check out part 3 here:
If you somehow missed my post for day 1, check it out here:
Thanks to our late night campfire, we wake up a bit later than usual -- 6:30 or so. But we make OK time during site breakdown, first breakfast, and my very fast, very cold, very free shower. So we end up on the road at 7:15.
It's nice to roll downhill to the entrance of Mount Philo. But then we descend into madness: 18 miles of trash on the side of the road, small shoulders, and cars driving "45 MPH" from the soulless sad exurbs and suburbs into town. All to get to a coffee shop that we're not that excited about. It turns out Burlington's north/south bike infrastructure is nonexistent. Once you get inside the city proper, I'm sure it's fine. But the suburbs do a worse job than Denver at keeping us safe next to traffic.
You could say we're excited to get back into the mountains.
After a particularly haunting stretch of miserable road where we couldn't even hear cars because of the incredibly loud fighter jets flying above (why on earth do people live here?), we arrive at second breakfast: Red Barn Market & Deli.
It has all the charm of an especially clean Central New York gas station, without the gas station parts. The sandwiches are OK, especially the spicy one, which reminds me of Deli Sandros (in?)famous Wake-up call sandwich. The coffee is ... not artisan. Nor especially cheap. But there's a bathroom with paper towels, so I'll call it a win.
After Red Barn, we're excited to start moving up into the foothills towards Waterbury. This meant getting back to the XVT trail that we loved so much for the first two days of the trip -- surely a good thing.
It's not a good thing.
To the east of Red Barn, the "sad suburbs" quickly escalated into "sadder strip malls and shopping centers." The kinds of places where you're never sure where to be on a bike: surely not on the 45 MPH 5-6 lane road? But probably not on the (inconsistent) (poorly maintained) (frequently blocked by abandoned shopping carts) sidewalk? But sometimes the sidewalk claims to be a bike lane?
Overall it's very confusing and not very fun. We're ecstatic when the shopping centers finally recede. But our ecstasy isn't destined to last long: we haven't escaped to fun riding yet. Just a series of very poorly marked intersections, both bike path and road. As if whoever posted the signs didn't understand that the proper place to mark the XVT continuation is at the intersection... not 100 meters down the road, behind a bush. Woof.
After fighting our way through the suburban Labyrinth, we end up on one more nightmarish skinny-shouldered 45 MPH hellscape... before we turn onto a delightful dirt drive. The transition from "dump truck passing without giving any space at 50" to "cows without touching distance" is abrupt, to say the least.
It isn't long before we see yet more dirt road construction (a fad, down here in the flatlands?), but we're fortunate enough that the construction workers just wave us by.
Then we hop back on a (wider shouldered!) paved road for a couple of minutes, before finally diverting onto the "true" XVT: a dirt road that soon morphs into full-blown singletrack. Sick.
After shredding the gnar on our fully loaded rigid touring bikes, the XVT dumps us right in front of our lunch destination: Stone Corral.
Stone Corral treats us very well, with a top-up of our phone batteries, a well executed black IPA, and -- most importantly -- an impressive breadth of burritos, tacos, and rice bowls. I especially like the fact that they put all of the sets of ingredients in one big list, and you can order a taco, burrito, or rice bowl with each set of ingredients. It's something you usually see with bowls and burritos, but tacos, too? That's texmex innovation.
Anyway, the burrito is great -- it gives Ranch Camp and Black Lotus a run for their money for "best burrito of the trip." With heavy hearts and heavier stomachs, we set out towards Waterbury.
Not far after Stone Corral, we cross the Long Trail. Vermont is kind enough to put a very impressive pedestrian suspension bridge over the Winooski River here so hikers don't have to swim.
Soon after the bridge, we spot a true Vermont icon: Tractor Man. Huge mutton chops, hair like Riff Raff from Rocky Horror, driving an ancient tire-chained tractor decorated in full hippie spray paint regalia. Legend says if you see this man on the road in Vermont, your turnips will grow especially fiercely next year.
On our way into Waterbury, Meg's knees start to give her some trouble. We decide to ice the knees over a nice long second lunch at the Prohibition Pig, which fortunately has a delicious food and beer menu. Chatting with other travelers -- some old, some young -- passes the time quickly. We even met some vanlifer Sammie Rae fans! Thanks to David and Lily Jo for the great conversation. Always nice to chat with fun people and get some music recs in the process.
We stay at Prohibition Pig slightly later than intended. Fortunately, the ride to our campsite is really short -- just a few miles. Waterbury is very busy with car traffic, but it isn't long before we're on yet another dirt road, climbing up towards the top of a gorgeous dam with striking views of the Green Mountains. And not long after that, we arrive at our campsite, nestled under pine trees high up a precipitous cliff above Waterbury Reservoir. It's damn cozy, and our fire makes it even cozier. The cabot cheese and slim jims take it over the top, and before we know it, we're asleep from the sheer cozy overload.
Check out part 5 (whenever I finish writing it -- maybe I already have?) at Day 5 (Little River/Stowe to Morrisville).