**** PART 1 – THE LAUNCH – THIBAULT POV
It’s been a busy week, busier month, and crazy season to date. It’s Sunday night and David, mon frere du Quebec, is to arrive with Isabelle any minute. Tonight is the eve of our six day bike trip… and I am entirely unprepared.
Months earlier David and I had concocted a far fetched plot. We’d ridden bikes all day, imbibed on numerous brews and in a fit of irrational exuberance, decided the next best thing to do would be a week long bikepacking trip up the State of Vermont.
The fastest riders complete the 300 mile XVT route in a straight 38 hours. We’d take six days to cover half the mileage… with twice the fun! We also intended to cheat and take advantage of the great food and B&Bs along the way. And so the term “Funpacking” was born!
Dave pulls up with his car neatly packed and I hand him a beer, explaining that I need to pack. He knows me. He’s not surprised. We head down to the basement and I show him my pile of gear ready to be sorted into bike packs. David is a proper partner in crime. He promptly edits my cache down to a third of its original inventory, packs it into bags by priority of use, and lashes it to my bike. Thanks to Dave, who I dub my “logistics manager”, I am now ready for our Great Green Mountain Singletrack Traverse!
A two hour car ride and two lifts have brought us to the top of Killington Mountain. From the peak we take stock of the Green Mountain ridge lines we’d follow north for over 150 miles. Jumping on our bikes we begin our journey by making pursuit behind body-armor clad locals on DH bikes. Before long, and all too soon, we’re at the bottom. High fives are dealt to the locals and we are off. But not before lunch and a celebratory pint of ale.
From the bottom of the ski resort we ride on asphalt for twenty minutes before merging onto the official VT bikepacking route. We find the route’s entrance hidden behind a ramshackle roadside garage. A straight double track hill climb ascends the mountain side in front of us. It’s September but it might be the hottest week of the summer. The double track is crazy steep and the sun is directly overhead. This is our first test and we are not doing well, we need to get to the top of this hill fast and into the shade.
We finally level out; It’s late afternoon and the shadows are getting long. We know we are on the back side of the mountain upon which Pittsfield’s Green Mountain Trails are perched. The peak is definitely above us, but the double track we’ve been navigating has petered out to a wall of bramble. David peers at the map on his phone. We have made it thirty miles from the top of Killington without incident. So far and so close!
“We need to bushwhack!” David says pointing up hill. I’m a sceptic but Dave knows his shit. Minutes later we merge onto a sinuous singletrack trail known as Fusters. We point downhill and pedal for the Pittsfield General Store, the first oasis on our trek.
Hot food, cold beers, and GM trails’ steward Matt Baatz await. I’m exhausted and pleased with accomplishing today’s long ride. But wait, we are staying in the cabin on the top of the mountain above.
After a dizzying 1000 foot nighttime ascent on a very full stomach we’re greeted by a quaint stone hut and gorgeous starscape. Day one completed, we abandon our bike shorts, lay out sleeping bags, sip on a nightcap, and count shooting stars till bedtime. This is living!
**** PART 2 – PITTSFIELD TO ROCHESTER – LAUZON POV
Day two’s morning light revealed the most scenic vista from Shrek hut. Today we would ride from one mountain top perch to the next visible horizon line and beyond to the town of Rochester in the next valley.
Leaving the hut we bombed down the flowy trails of Pittsfield. We rode awesome singletrack for the better part of an hour before reaching the bottom of the network. We headed back to the general store for our second breakfast (it was too early for beer, even for us!).
Matt was waiting for us there. We asked him to ride with us to Rochester and beyond. On a whim he said “Yeah, why not.” And with that were were five.
The Contest Trail is one of the first legal trails in the Green Mountain National Forest. It starts as a peaceful double track (if you can call major climbing peaceful) through majestic fields with a great view. We signed a guestbook stashed in the middle of nowhere and pedaled deep into the woods on an ancient doubletrack with a nice singletrack burned into it. This is what I love about bikepacking, enjoying great double track trails like back in the day, trails that people now dismiss because they are not new school singletrack. No berms or table tops here, just water bar jumps and pure speed down the valley wall. Hiyya!
**** Rochester is home to the local mountain bike cultural hub, Green Mountain Bikes. If you have not been there put it on your bucket list. We took the rest of the day to set our tents up in their backyard and have a couple of beers. After an afternoon nap the bike shop crew finished work and we headed out for a shuttle ride.
Returning at dusk we BBQ’d behind the bike shop before climbing into our tents.
**** PART 3 – ROCHESTER TO THE MAD RIVER VALLEY – LAUZON POV
Day three’s goal was to ride the Mad River Valley from Rochester to Waitsfield.
We left our comfortable gypsy campground behind Green Mountain Bikes and hit the road for a first stretch of 25 km on gravel. I was ready to get this part over with in short fashion but after climbing out of the valley, was blown away by the beauty of the route. It was picture perfect Vermont!
The first singletrack of the day was on the Blueberry Lake network. We rode the entire network and in a lucky twist of fate, ran into our good friend Brooke Scatchard, trail builder extraordinaire and owner of Sinuosity. Brook was finishing up a new downhill trail and let us christen it!
Tonight we would crash north of Waitsfield, which created a bit of an unbalanced length between days three and four, so we arranged a comfy car ride (five people, five bikes, a dog, our stankin-ass gear and a huge stash of beers in one Subi) to the Sugarbush ski resort to be able to ride most of the Mad River Valley Rider’s trails that day.
We stopped in at the Warren Store for lunch totally in sync with a huge downpour. We felt overly blessed and a bit cocky about it too. The food was amazing and the general store quite comfortable with the bad weather outside.
At the base of Sugarbush we entered the trail network and rode the slippery roots of Eurich Pond, Purgatory, Ridgie, Maple Misty, Enchanted Forest, Cyclone connector to Clinic. And then our weather luck ran out. We descended Clinic in the biggest downpour possible. It was so ridiculous that it actually became a very zen experience. We couldn’t hear anything but the sound of driving rain as we bombed down Clinic at top speed. We were in the zone, totally comfortable with limited eyesight, very slippery roots and the taste of our own watered down sweat. I will always remember that moment.
After climbing back up on GS the rain stopped as we rode towards Cyclone and then down Revolution. We got to the bottom ecstatic about our ride. As we cracked open our post ride Sip of Sunshine (ironic?) we met up with John Atkinson who had helped us plan this route weeks before. We then rode to the river to clean up a bit before getting more Sip of Sunshine (on tap this time) and great ribs at the Localfolk Smokehouse situated next to Stark Mountain Bike Works and right at the bottom of the Cyclone Trail. A bit blurry, we strapped on our lights to ride to Wilder Farm Inn on a mix on busy road and quiet dirt roads. A good night’s sleep was going to be very welcome.