Bikepacking Wild Vermont

When Corinne Prevot broke her shoulder at the Enduro World Series race in Madeira this past May, her summer goals refocused from white knuckled downhill racing to long days of gravel grinding and nights spent camping in the wilderness around her New England home. She writes about her first bikepacking trip, the lessons she learned and the importance of waterproof pannier bags.

Photography by Elliot Wilkinson-Ray

The injury from Madeira changed my summer plans, but I quickly caught on to the appeal of gravel riding. Perfectly timed, my Colorado-residing Vermonter friend, Elliot, called on Burlington pals Tad and I for a multi-day jaunt through some of Vermont's less traveled roads. With a couple weeks to prep, a bright orange cyclocross bike on Craigslist caught my eye caught my eye and I picked it up on a Sunday morning, already fit with a pannier rack, gravel tires and a bell.

This Vehicle Makes Frequent Stops

In the weeks before departure, we tossed around some route ideas. Our goals were to hit our favorite swimming holes around the state and have the flexibility to stop for a beer or camp in a friend’s yard. I’d left packing to the last minute and the forecast was looking relentlessly rainy. In spite of the rain, I knew our trip was destined for success when I scored a weather resistant and perfectly coordinated set of pannier bags at the local gear exchange.

On day one we headed towards Ripton. The Ripton General Store was a welcome refuge after our first big climb. The Ripton General Store was a welcome refuge after our first big climb. We took shelter inside while the first wave of rain came down, washing the grime off of our bikes. “You’ll survive because of your attitude, you can survive anything that way,” said the Ripton General Store owner about riding north in the pouring rain.

A new adventure in a familiar place is a special form of a bicycle trip. It’s so easy to go back and forth over the same path in repetition until we aren’t sure what we’re lacking. We do this with our logic, our fears and our rides. Until, we realize that there’s more out there. And maybe it’s not in a distant land, maybe it’s a snaking dirt road that starts behind the post office that you’ve never thought to take, worried that it dead ends or that it might go up and up forever.

After lunch, our pace took a turn just as we passed Hanksville. At our first sight of “detour” signs, we decided not to take the alternative route. We speculated about what could lie ahead. Road work? Washed out pavement? Ahh, bridge work. We quietly approached the construction site, looking for another way to cross the Huntington River.

We followed a tractor trail along the bank, scouted a shallow section and laced up for our first river crossing. A scramble up the opposing bank and wiggle through another overgrown field put us back on the road and we carried on north. At this point, the rain was more a part of the scenery than an annoyance, and it continually washed our bikes and bodies free of grime.

When the sun dipped towards the plains, the rain clouds exploded with pink and orange and our phones buzzed with flash flood warnings. I changed into a dry shirt in the bathroom of the Prohibition Pig in Waterbury. A big plate of mac n' cheese and plenty of whiskey wrung humor out of our soggy day. An old friend at the bar offered us some floor space just a couple blocks away and we reluctantly set aside our plans to camp.

Break Out The Sunnies

We woke up groggy after two long days of riding, but the rain clouds had passed. I dug deep in my panniers to find my sunglasses buried at the bottom. Today's route wiggled through the steep old cut trails around the Waterbury Reservoir, spitting us north towards Stowe.

We took the afternoon to complete our last leg to East Hardwick. A few thousand feet of climbing brought us to some of the most remote roads we’d seen. Part riding and part pushing our bikes up, we were horrified and elated at how much gnarlier the road was getting. These are the same rugged realities of Vermont that in high school caused spine shattering bus rides. We wanted to be from somewhere more hip and modern and developed, like the world on MTV. Now not that many years later it’s this same rugged environment that defines who we are, this Wild Vermont.

Not long after the sun went down, we reached our final destination on Bayley Hazen Road. Headlamp clad, we were welcomed with pizza, more friends and a satisfying sense of exhaustion. That night I slept in my house, but I couldn’t have been anymore at home than when we were out on the road.

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