May 07, 2023
Our latest adventure took us across half of the state of Vermont: from St. Johnsbury to Stowe, and back. This trip gave us a chance to try:
Our day began with an early morning ride to Saint Johnsbury. We woke, we coffeed, we snacked, and before long we were off to our starting point: the furthest eastern point on the entire Lamoille Valley Rail Trail.
The morning was a bit chilly to start -- chilly enough to make me almost regret wearing my new Bedrock Sandals -- but the scenery was beautiful and the sun was warm. Within a few miles, the exercise and UV rays had me rolling up my sleeves.
We cruised our way uphill past Danville, past Joe's Pond, and up towards Greensboro Bend on the rail trail. In Walden, we encountered our first "trail closed" signs... but decided to go ahead anyways for some investigation.
As it turns out, the "sinkhole" that's shut down that section of trail is about the size of a pothole. Anyone who thinks we need to shut down the trail for safety purposes is clearly unaware of how dangerous riding on the road is. Bah, humbug.
Near East Hardwick, we cheated: we chopped off the tip of a bend in the trail to get to breakfast in Hardwick sooner. In our defense, we were hungry, and the coffee shop only makes a limited number of breakfast burritos and donuts every weekend.
Breakfast at Front Seat Coffee in Hardwick was as brilliant as always. I even lucked out enough to get the very last burrito, conveniently made with a gluten free wrap! It's like it was made just for me.
After Hardwick, we hopped back on the trail and headed to Morrisville. Lots of new sections of trail here: some good, some bad.
The good: miles and miles of trail stretching through beautiful forests. Occasional cows. Ferns popping up out of the ground. Trillium rearing their beautiful magenta heads up above the podzol.
The bad: a stretch of trail currently shut down while Vermont DOT awaits a bridge inspection. I assure you that the section of VT-15 we had to ride instead was... much, much more dangerous than riding on a recently-restored trestle bridge that has stood for over 100 years. Bah, humbug.
The section of trail after the bridge is one of the few that deviates from the old rail route, and the surfacing is not quite up to par with the rest of the trail. Fortunately on the Moonshiners that's not an issue, but I hope the planned resurfacing happens soon for the sake of all the skinny tire folks out there.
Before long, we found ourselves in Morrisville, where it is surprisingly difficult to find food. We first stopped at Lost Nation Brewing, located right on the rail trail past town, where the single working employee just could not keep up with the dozens of bicycle riders fueling up. We took mercy on him and rerouted to Black Cap Espresso for a breakfast sandwich... which was also somehow overwhelmed with bicycle traffic, and only had one employee working. So we ended up buying lunch wraps and a 4-pack of Heady Topper at the co-op. Shoutout to the two other cool bikes who shared the patio with us: a Surly and some custom raw steel bike that I should have asked about. We ate our wraps and headed out of town to split a beer in a scenic graveyard (since the co-op doesn't allow you to drink a beer on their patio). After our wild Morrisville adventure, we only had a dozen-ish miles of dirt and singletrack to go before we made it to Stowe.
The dirt roads were steep, but brilliant. The singletrack was downright awesome: we've never ridden those trails before because they aren't part of any larger network, but they're a really cool way to connect dirt roads in the Stowe area.
It wasn't long before the singletrack dumped us out onto the Stowe recreation trail, which took us straight downtown, where our hotel room beckoned. A little bit of bike room confusion later (what exactly are all of those wires for?), and we were off to Ranch Camp for some burritos and beers.
Then a quick dip in the hotel pool. I can't pass up a chance at a heated outdoor pool, after all.
Then we headed over to Lower Bar, a surprisingly local-oriented establishment for a bougie town like Stowe. A great taplist, fair beer pricing, speedy service, and literally the largest plate of loaded nachos either of us has ever seen. Seriously, I'm pretty sure it was an entire family pack of tortilla chips and a whole bag of shredded cheese. Exactly what we needed after a long day of biking.
Our bellies full and our legs tired, we turned in for the night to prepare for a morning of even more singletrack.
On day 2, we didn't stop to rest. Instead, we started with the hardest miles of riding yet: Cady Hill Trails, a small-but-delightful singletrack network behind Ranch Camp. We had but one goal: riding Florence, Cady Hill's premier zoomy, bermed, racy MTB trail. As I've said before: mountain biking is silly. But riding our Moonshiners on a trail like Florence is delightful. They zoom. They bounce. They fast. And you get some very weird looks from the jersey-wearing folks riding crabon bikes with electric shifters and clipless shoes.
After burning some calories shredding the gnar, we grabbed a quick breakfast at a coffee shop in town (apparently very popular with highly irresponsible dog owners, coincidentally also a great nutshell description of Stowe), checked out of our hotel, and slowly ground our way up a very steep road on the east side of town to head back to Saint J.
Our very steep road swiftly turned into a windy dirt road with sweeping views of Mount Mansfield. And then evolved into a rutted muddy road (my favorite) weaving its way through tight trees, with the occasional sick view. And then turned into a snakey, up-and-down dirt ridge road with occasional cemetery stops (for enjoying Heady Toppers), cows, and more sweeping views. It was lovely.
But it wasn't all fun and games; soon, we returned to reality in Morrisville (a land known for its unaffordable housing and resulting lack of service workers). Fortunately, we didn't stop this time. We hopped right on the rail trail and made our way towards our lunner (or dinch) stop: Positive Pies in Hardwick.
The trek between Morrisville and Hardwick was quick on day 1. But it was even quicker on day 2. Our only significant stops? Enjoying a Heady Topper on a rock face (great breeze and a great view) and the crazy, random happenstance of running into my brother on the rail trail near Wolcott. Worth it for some insider tips on picking fiddleheads.
After our stops, we had one major obstacle to overcome: the Fisher Covered Railroad Bridge. A bridge doesn't seem like an obstacle, you say? Isn't that a person on the bridge in the Wikipedia article? Well, it's currently an obstacle, because when Vermont decided to restore the bridge as part of the rail trail, they opted to park a bunch of construction equipment inside of the bridge to prevent anyone from crossing it before it officially opens. Normally I'd respect their decision to err on the side of caution: after all, you don't want your bridge to collapse soon after you open it. But in this case the alternative is riding on the side of a 50mph highway that looks like this. We already tried that route on the way to Stowe. And seeing as I'd rather break a silly law than end up crushed to death between a guardrail and an F-250, you can figure out how we proceeded.
One definitely-not-trespassing-with-a-horizontal-bicycle-held-over-my-head-hijink later, we made it to Hardwick, where we enjoyed:
Fortunately we were able to move our bikes across town to a bike rack (and our butts into the restaurant to avoid any more unnecessary anti-bike aggression).
After Hardwick, all we had left was a long downhill on the rail trail. This time, we didn't cheat -- we rode all the way up to Greensboro Bend on the rail trail, all the way back down (including the closed "sinkhole" section), to Joe's Pond, and finally on to St. Johnsbury.
The way was long, and honestly sort of boring. Rail trails are really nice for a break from car traffic, but after a few hours they can get a little monotonous. I still love 'em -- they make routing SO much easier. But I'm not sure I could ride a rail trail exclusively for any weekend ride. I just love dirt and singletrack too much. So I guess it's a good thing that we got Moonshiners.
The skies grew grey. The sun started to set. The not-quite-summer night chill set in. We got hungry. But we didn't have to deal with any cars, and our cache of Sour Patch Kids kept us rolling. On the last stretch from Joe's Pond to St. Johnsbury, we averaged close to 20 mph -- quite a bit better than our usual leisurely 10mph (ish) pace. I chalk it up to the candy sugar high.
We finished up the ride around 8PM -- not bad for a ride across half a US state, with thousands of feet of elevation gain and plenty of breaks. We picked up a selection of St. Johnsbury's finest Deluxe Crunch Wraps and Doritos Locos Tacos (an amenity we simply don't have in small town Littleton, NH), then headed home to aloe our sunburns and rest our achy legs.