Bike Camp! Waterbury and Middlebury Gap

Although we have been biking forever, this was the first bike camping/touring ride for our party of three: The Dashingly Handsome Nate, the Ever Laughing Red, and myself, the Ginger Kiwi. The plan, a 2.5-day loop from Burlington, Vermont, south down Route 100, over Middlebury Gap, and back up Route 116.

Easy, right? 

Friday. Work schedules being what they are, we would depart at different times from Burlington, to head south on an easy 30-mile ride to Waterbury and our evening destination of Little River State Park. I would depart solo, super keen and not wanting to wait. With a rush of excitement (likely due to almost falling off in my driveway due to the weight!), I headed off.

After a stint of being lost in Williston suburbia and a short stop in Richmond for the most expensive (and amazing) chorizo sausages ever, I was at Little River by 6 pm. Just in time to set up the tent and welcome Aaron -- who, after breaking his collarbone in four places a few weeks earlier, was relegated to driving and, more importantly, being the 'beer bitch' (and an awesome job of that he did). Kinda felt like cheating, but hey, nice cold beer you didn't have to lug 30 miles is always good by me. A few beers by Waterbury Reservoir were had before Nate and Red arrived with Bill in tow. What followed was eating and talking around the campfire. Just what bike camping should be about!!

Saturday. The morning led to an early departure by Aaron, Bill biking home after fixing a flat (for the second time), and us heading south. Red and Nate took a short side trip along the top of the Waterbury Reservoir, a massive structure built before World War II.

The famous Waterbury Flea Market was hit up, and pinwheels were bought for bike decoration. Before my pinwheel even made it onto the bike, a 25 mph downhill made it reach maximum velocity before blowing apart and hitting me square in the cheek. While Nate and I collected the pieces, Red rolled about laughing. A quick pit stop saw the pinwheel parts re-purposed, and a quick caffeine stop at Waterbury Station coffee shop was totally worth the visit -- such a cool place to just hang out.

The real ride started two minutes out of Waterbury, with the surprising Duxbury Mountain. Funny how driving it doesn't give you any idea of the length and steepness that you feel on a bike, hauling way too much weight! Coming down into the Mad River Valley felt awesome, with the sun now in full glory. Epic weather was enjoyed and awesome mailbox decorations seen. What better way to bike tour than to stop in almost every town and eat or drink? So, we made a mandatory stop in Waitsfield at The Mad Taco for lunch. (Yes, it was already lunchtime; we left the camp late and messed around a lot.) Epic tacos, cold cerveza, and sweet sombreros!

A short stop at the Mad River to check out a tiny house led to 20 minutes of panicked phone calls to the state park and The Mad Taco, in an effort to locate my wedding ring ... only to find it in the bottom of my open bike-shorts pocket. Whew! Yes, I'm an idiot. 

We took the scenic way south down East Warren Road to avoid traffic. Didn't avoid a hill or two though! The benefits were amazing views, quiet roads, and a country store well worth the visit. The downhill into Warren was beautiful and the Warren Store provided some laughs. It's the only physical place I have seen Handerpants for sale, which would be good for mid-summer touring. Good snacks readied us for the next 'uphill leg' through Granville Gulf. (What the heck is a gulf? was asked a few times on the trip, and a partial answer was found in this excellent article in Smithsonian Magazine.)

What an amazing piece of highway; totally worth the climb. A must stop happened at Moss Glenn Falls, with the crisp spray from the plunging water cooling our sweaty heads.

Down the other side, past a multitude of homes for sale, and we were on our way to Hancock and the dread that had been brewing inside us: Riding up to Middlebury Gap. Yeah, yeah, I know that it's not that bad, but with 50 miles on our legs and the bikes feeling heavier and heavier, it was a worry. We pondered our attack outside the Hancock Store, where we were surprised by Ben, Jeff, and Matt, who were road riding a quick double gap loop over App Gap and back over Middlebury Gap. After a pound of trail mix and Red eating the biggest popsicle thing ever, we embarked on the slow grunt up Middlebury Gap. It really wasn't that bad, but you couldn't have told me that in the last mile. The only thing getting me through was the cheery banter of the 'speedy' cyclists and the markings on the road telling you how far to the top of the King of the Mountain, part of the Green Mountain Stage Race held every year. KOM 1km was a welcome site to see, but it felt like a helluva long time before getting to KOM 500m. The stop at the top was a very brief celebration and photo opp (due to it suddenly being super buggy), and then the death-defying descent down to the Middlebury College Snow Bowl.

Snow Bowl also proved to be too buggy -- we swear they all hatched that day for the summer -- so, we kept rolling downhill, seeking a rogue camping site. We headed down a nice dirt road and came across a picnic table and fire ring (location not to be divulged), which we made home for the night. Lovely location beside a pond, and with a nice grassy area. We had a pleasant evening of eating, chatting, and drinking the smallest bottle of Champagne ever to celebrate the taming of the gap. A short stroll to stretch the legs led to an early bedtime, only to be blasted awake by some 'neighbors' starting a full-fledged dance party at 10 pm! Dem's the breaks when you are freedom camping, I guess.

Sunday. What we thought was a sunrise get-up was contradicted by the clock telling us it was past 8 am. A quick departure and downhill roll into Ripton led to one of the planet's great items, coffee. This was not just any coffee spot, though, so we enjoyed some time relaxing in the Ripton Country Store. (Vermont is king of the country store, of course.)

Breakfast was needed, and partially obtained down the road at a corner gas station, in the form of a sausage-and-egg breakfast sandwich (should have gotten the 99-cent pizza slice instead). From there we made our turn to the north and began the longish stretch home, passing many verdant farms and yet more homes for sale.

We set our sights on Bristol for brunch, where we found a much better breakfast at the Bristol Bakery & Cafe. A totally awesome spot (and yes, this did turn into an eating tour). Egg burrito? Super scramble? Coffee? You betcha. The day was warming up at this point, and we could feel the pull of home and a plan to beat the heat, so we headed north. The byway known as Monkton Road seemed like a fine idea, and we were pounding the pedals in an amazing pace line (thanks to Nate; I was just trying to hang on the back like a dead anchor) ... until we came across a few steep hills we had not anticipated and I had not mentally prepared for. All we could think of was the cool taste of a creemee on our lips, so we kept on cruising.

Arriving back home after 133 sweet miles was met with relief and sadness all at the same time. Man, I was knackered, Why hadn't we done this before? When could we go again? How awesome was that, and only two and a half days?

The frigid water from the garden hose felt amazing, cascading over our baking skulls; and the creemees from Al's French Frys were just as amazing. I can’t wait for next time -- maybe I will get a creemee in every town we pass through!

Get more information about bike overnights.

Tips for this adventure: All in all, I learned two things: 1) Take less stuff (my bike and gear still weighed 65 pounds at the end, while Nate's and Red's weight 44 pounds each); and 2) I can't wait for the next trip; maybe I will get a creemee in every town we pass through. And if you do this ride, you need to go the The Mad Taco!

Favorite local bike shop: Skirack of Burlington.

2 responses so far ↓

c2c in 2006 - Mar 5, 2013 at 7:16 AM

So glad you made it to Bristol, VT and found good eats. Bristol was my late Mom's hometown and where I learned how to ride a bicycle. I too have pedaled a loaded touring bicycle into town to be welcomed by my gracious aunt. Enjoyed your journal.

GravelDoc - Mar 6, 2013 at 5:17 AM

I really enjoyed reading about your bike tour! Your words conjure up images of verdant mountains and rustic country stores plus awesome eats! Sounds like "loads" of fun!:)

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