No, we haven’t been married THAT long (yet) but this anniversary did / does mean a lot.
It’s been 50 years since I took that 1st giant leap of teenage-fueled courage and adventure, hopped on my “ten-speed” bike, and rode off “just to visit friends” … 500 miles away! That I had to return home another 500 miles, putting me into “epic” level bicycle touring, was not something I had thought about as a way of life way back in ‘72. Until I did it again the following year as a much more matured 17 year-old recent high school graduate. The stage was set.
With no illusions of ever being as fast as that 16 and 17 year old was (1000 miles in 8 days each time), I’ve been psyched about a different kind of trip. Slower, more remote, still solo, yet bearing the tools of modern technology that propose (no promises) to ease the stress of finding needed resources at appropriate times. A smartphone has replaced a bag of dimes for phone calls. A smartphone has replaced paper maps. A smartphone has replaced the Kodak Pocket 110 Instamatic. And the smartphone has replaced the paper and pen journal.
The Bike is equally as advanced when compared to it’s older brethren. It has generator power to run lights and USB device charging. It has a transmission gearbox rather than chainrings, cogs, derailleurs and chains, and with no chain, the bike can run a belt. And Big Tires. This all spells durability.
Between a super-computer in my hand and a super-BIKE between my knees. I was ready to go.
Vermont’s back roads have been beckoning for years, but an interesting route popped up in the bikepacking circles a few years ago and it appeared that now would be a good time to try it myself. Being a point-to-point route, the adventure was complicated from the start with the need for a costly and time consuming transportation strategy and then would require additional persons to make it happen. OTOH … going solo dialed down the complexity issues. I could simply ride a loop out the door from home.
A Solo tour … just like the first.
Potentially 1000+ miles … just like the first.
Out the door and back … just like the first.
And so it started.
The first two and a half days were a repeat, with enhancements, of the 2020 trip out to Albany on the Erie Canalway Trail. Some sections of the trail have been improved since my last visit, and still, there are sections getting updated. I was a bit faster this time and made it past my last day one stop point, and scored a campsite at Green Lakes State Park.
It was a rough night. A foreshadowing of nights to follow. My neighbors in the site next to me had an issue at 3am when “Darrel” was supposed to get up and go to work. Darrel’s wife loudly proclaimed for all the campground to hear that Darrel would lose his job if he didn’t get up and go right now. This went on for at least an hour, and Darrel never got up. Eventually, I did.
Day 2 got me well past Little Falls (2020 stop) and out to Lock 15 in Fort Plain where one can camp for free on the lock property.
Nice. And that set me up next day for an early arrival in Troy NY at the end of the trail. Checked into a B&B for the night, I set about the errands (laundry, food, fluids, apple pie …) and messaged tomorrow’s bike shop owner about me incoming.
He gave me a great route tip which had me up over the mountain and at the shop before noon on day 4. All the biz attended to, I was underway for the start point of the VTXL, which was only about 5 miles from the bike shop.
The dirt begins.
Very shortly after leaving town. I cross the Massachusetts / Vermont border … in the dirt … and the rest of the day (another 40 miles after town) is spent climbing and descending, on dirt and on pavement, till I reach the end of the day at a small private campground near the Battenkill River. Peter, the guy, shows me to a nice tent site, points out the showers, and asks only $25. Turns out, the best shower of the entire trip was right there. I didn’t see a tip jar anywhere.
That was a fun night. It was perfect weather when I set up the tent, so I left the rain fly off for better air circulation to avoid condensation. Alas, I feel sprinkles at 2am, so I’m UP and guying out the fly just in time.
Day Five began with a 12 mile, 2000’ dirt and gravel climb. Not content with that, the route turns down briefly, then climbs again up into an old overgrown and gated jeep track that’s likely only used by the forest service. This is all U.S. Green Mountain National Forest. Not a lot of people up here.
Over the mountain, it’s a long drop down to the rolling hills of central Vermont. Real food is found at the Winhall Market, but at eye-popping prices. I notice a pattern here. I finish the day at Horseshoe Acres Campground, off route by a mile, and downhill by 1000’. Excited to get a shower, but I find the $35 fee for a simple patch of grass does NOT include a working hot shower that I plugged two quarters into to no avail. I got my 50 cents back in the morning, but I started the day pretty grungy. And sleep deprived. The party with loudspeakers that ran till 10:00pm didn’t help.
Day 6 was yet another beautiful day in the woods. I’ve been blessed with warm, but dry weather, meaning road conditions were never “marginal” due to mud. Yes, marginal due to loose gravel and sometimes rocky, but dry and predictable.
Day 6 ended in Woodstock, and this out-of-stater was caught utterly unaware of what the little town of Woodstock represents. Finding food in the late afternoon of a Sunday in a tourist trap like Woodstock was a challenge, but no bigger a challenge than finding ANY kind of overnight lodging ANY where within cycling distance. I was caught captive to the reality of extreme pretentiousness and could only rest my head after coughing up over $200 … and enjoying a “senior discount”, so says the desk attendant at the hotel with the only room left in town. I’ve heard that before. But yeah, I DID get $100 off the room. Yeah … if I wasn’t an old retired senior citizen, I woulda been taken for a bigger ride.
The grocery store across the street was the saving grace in that I could purchase “real food” for dinner and breakfast at only exorbitantly pricey rates that beat what a cooked and served meal would be. And, I celebrated with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, but NOT with my typical Cherry Garcia. Sold Out. Everywhere I looked. I find out later, it was Jerry’s birthday. No wonder.
It was here in Woodstock, after a good meal, a hot shower, and a relaxing chat with Karen while overlooking the river at sunset, that I decided to turn back toward home. By now, I had completely blown past my budget to this point, but the riding alone was almost fun enough to consider throwing the budget out. But the other issue was not as easily written off.
In my earlier posts, I’ve written about my sleep disorder, REM Behavior Disorder (RBD). I had this great idea that biking is so good for me, maybe I could just take off on my bike for days and days of really hard riding, and maybe that alone would be enough to keep the “events” at bay. I decided to “flush” my system, no meds on the tour, and see what my baseline is.
It seems like my baseline is continued dream enactments, some rather disruptive. Fortunately, I haven’t destroyed any hotel property, my tent is still intact, and my right shoulder is feeling better after falling out of bed onto a tile floor. (Note to self: Sleeping on the ground is far safer than motel beds.)
Day 7, I had an early start out of Woodstock and had to go over the Green Mountains once again, this time over the top at Killington, which stood between me and the New York border.
I made it out of Vermont and to Glens Falls where I DID find a more reasonable motel with a laundry and a Subway shop next door.
Day 8 was “goal-driven”. The job today was to get back to the Erie Canal trail at Amsterdam, and cruise up to Fort Plain where I could get a free campsite and re-visit my camp buddy at Lock 15 again.
Day 9 started with no firm plan, but by mid-afternoon, it was obvious I was in top-cog mode and was hammering through the miles toward Syracuse. I realized I could easily make Green Lakes State Park again and messaged Karen to let her know. A misunderstanding of text messages led to the phone call that resulted in Karen making plans to come meet me to camp at Green Lakes.
We had talked about wanting to go visit there, and here was an opportunity. So, I scuttled my Alt. Plan 1 (ride on to Cayuga State Park) as well as Alt. Plan 2 (ride all night non-stop to home … with lights on, of course).
So, we had a nice time camping, swimming, and checking out the park. We hit the road home the following day and I had to face the inevitable arriving home: Unload the bike. That’s when you really feel it. When the bike is stripped down and cleaned up, you know the tour has ended.
This one, anyway.
Interested in the route, stats, and more? Visit my RWGPS Collection: 50th Anniversary Tour.