Backroad Biking in Vermont

 Autumn in Vermont brings to mind images of an explosion of colors from the many trees that cover the State. Nearly three-fourths of the State is covered with trees, with the most amount of maple trees in the country. The backdrop of the mountains add to the bucolic effect and the grandeur of the scene. The peak time to see the fall foliage in Vermont is usually around the middle of October. Witnessing this spectacular array of color on a bicycle allows you to notice things that you would not usually observe while whizzing past in a motor vehicle: the landscape, architecture, details from a covered bridge, or a historic sign or site. You might also notice a bug in your eye from time to time, but that just adds to the adventure of attempting to steer with one eye closed on a rocky road. The foibles of events, such as nearly riding into your traveling partner while close to a cliff, are what makes good stories after all. He disagrees.

My traveling partner (aka spouse/chauffeur/guy Friday, etc.) and I have biked several back road routes in Vermont and have come across many interesting things. On our last biking trip in Vermont we rode on a transformed rails to trails bike path in the Northern part of the state that nearly went across Lake Champlain where the trail ended at a bike ferry that took us across to the other side where we biked to a winery. This made for an interesting trip back. On another trip in the southern part of the State we stumbled across an 18th century Moravian cemetery, Norman Rockwell and Robert Frost’s homes, and enjoyed homemade ice cream from a place called the Chocolate Barn while riding on back roads in Bennington. In addition, while biking through Chester we came across a maple syrup stand while traveling on an unpaved road, which was very quaint. My traveling partner thought it ridiculous to purchase a glass bottle filled with syrup while traveling on a rocky unpaved road on a bicycle. I disagreed, but consented. He later drove back to the stand though to get some syrup, which allowed me the good fortune to purchase additional quantities, and then make him pay for it. This road that I speak of is called the Green Mountain Turnpike. Originally from New Jersey I imagined this “Turnpike” to be a major highway and certainly no place for traveling on a bicycle. I was pleasantly mistaken as it is a dirt and gravel road. This road is one of my favorites due to the backdrop of the mountains and rolling farmlands. I learned of this road and route through a “Backroad Bicycling in Vermont” book by John Freidin that I just happened to stumble upon at a bookstore in Vermont. If you are a stumbler like me, or would love to stumble into things, I recommend having a few beers at Mulligan’s Pub in Manchester. Just kidding, sort of, but really if you like to wander around and just enjoy the scenery then bicycling may be up your alley. I was not an avid bicyclist when I purchased the book, but have since come to love this activity and currently bike often.

Freidin’s book, which can also be obtained through lists several regions in Vermont to bike through and includes easy to difficult terrain routes. To be forthcoming, I sometimes alter the listed routes because it can be quite strenuous biking 26 or more miles on the various terrains. At times even the easy to moderate difficulty level may seem like a huge feat and you may want to either walk up the hill while saying to your partner “whose stupid idea was this?” only to realize it was yours, or just say “I’m done” and turn around. Been there!You don’t need a special bicycle to do backroad biking, but one that has fat tires or a hybrid  (which is what I use) would be beneficial. You don’t even need to be experienced. When I say experienced I mean that you don’t have to have special knowledge or experience to enjoy backroad bicycling, not that you don’t need to know how to ride a bicycle. I don’t want someone suing me because they went biking in Vermont and could not ride and crashed into a tree. Just covering my bases.Backroad biking is not without some possible mishaps, so being prepared is a good idea. First, it is a good idea to take pictures of the map from the book with your cell phone so that you are not carrying a book while trying to ride. While the journey is half the fun, getting lost is not. Been there, done that also. We have met some very interesting people though while trying to find our way. The locals are the nicest people you will ever meet, but don’t expect to have a short conversation with them. Spent an hour once listening to some gentleman tell me about his lost dog all the while thinking “you’re not going to find him this way.” In addition, you want to make sure you have a water bottle that stays put when going over a rocky road to avoid having your traveling partner slam on their brakes to save the water bottle only to have them wipe out and end up on the road. The salesman at the bike store told us that the helmet had a lifetime warranty. Unfortunately its life only lasted one day. Another good idea is to purchase a pouch for your bike if you don’t have one. This comes in handy for stashing a cell phone, snacks, money, band aids, or syrup.

If You Go
March and April is often mud season where the snow is melting and creating a mess. Therefore, you might want to avoid this timeframe. May and October are the optimal times to go due to the weather being relatively mild.If you are heading to Southern Vermont there are numerous Bed and Breakfasts and motels. There are a few hotels ranging from the inexpensive Best Western in Bennington to the more expensive Equinox in Manchester. I prefer the more expensive one’s, but my budget tells me otherwise. Therefore, I usually crash at my sister’s house near Manchester. When I can’t do that I will utilize or to check availability of rooms.