Trip report: Cross Vermont Trail

Two weeks ago, Old Spokes Home took Adventure Cycling Association’s suggestion and got a group together to ride the Cross Vermont Trail on Bike Travel Weekend. Six seasoned and green cyclo-campers rolled up to the shop Saturday morning. Some were old faces from wheel building class, volunteering, and last month’s bike-canoe odyssey to Law Island. Others were newcomers, remarkably accepting of (Old Spokes Service Manager) Sam’s and my quirks and “qualities.”

The Cross Vermont Trail is an admirable undertaking that provides cyclists with a marked, not particularly hilly route from Burlington, through much of the Winooski River valley, to Wells River, Vermont, on the Connecticut River. The trail is about 90 miles and traverses a custom blend of pavement, silky singletrack, retired railbed, and good old Vermont dirt road. A sprawling website provides easy-to-follow cue sheets and maps for travel east- or westbound on the Cross Vermont Trail. Prior to Bike Travel Weekend, I had ridden sections of the Trail on a jaunt from South Hero to Portland, Maine, but never the whole chimichanga.

Sam and I elected to ride a 1991 Gary Fisher Gemini tandem mountain bicycle. Taking care to wait until the morning of departure, we dressed it in new cables, our saddles of choice (his Brooks Cambium, my Velo Crossbow), period-correct front and rear racks, and my secondhand Ortlieb waterproof panniers. If we’d had another three hours, we might have attempted custom frame bags for its triangle wonderland. We strapped our shop “baby” (do not ask) into his seat to mediate the inevitable disputes between the aft and stern riders. (As Steve reminded us, wherever your relationship is going, a tandem will get you there quicker.) The first dozen miles would belie not only our fears of intra-cycle strife, but also the utility of the bike’s vintage tires.

Our companions rode single-occupancy bicycles well suited to the adventure at hand. While a parade of versatile Surlys and reanimated Miyata ‘cross bikes warms this bicycle retailer’s soul, I am forever inclined to say that the best bike to ride is the one you have. Or one of the ones you have. Or yes, I suppose, one of the ones we have.

Before I run out of ink, I’ll get to the highlights of the ride. Even if you don’t want to ride to New Hampshire, I recommend checking out the Chittenden County segment of the Trail. There are many miles of bike path through Farrell Park and beyond that many people do not know about. The extension of Johnny Brook Road is a classic jog that will make you feel like you’re doing something right.

By the time Williston hit, the Gemini was in acute danger of blowing its rear tire. A pit stop at Catamount Outdoor Family Center and the generosity of Jim and his staff got us back on the road with fresh rubber. Thank you for being a friend!

We broke for lunch in Richmond. Some riders met a curious cat in the park, while others played bike traveler, lounging around beside their steeds on the walk beside the local market. Rain began to fall as we returned to the Trail. The road became slick and muddy. The Gemini yearned for a matching small block front tire. In Montpelier, to the disappointment of completists and those with government allergies, we skipped the fraction of a mile south of the river and rode proudly straight past the State House.

Cruising a section of railbed farther along, we encountered the show-stopping East Montpelier Washout. This blemish has marred the Cross Vermont Trail since 2011, raising Doubt (turn back?) and its attendant Spirit of Adventure (forge on) in all comers. Robert almost hopped a log and sailed into the pit, but we chose a more cautious, collaborative approach, passing bikes from person to person down a steep slope, under down trees, over riprap, and up the opposite bank.

Our coterie ducked into the Plainfield Food Co-op for dinner, snacks, and drinks before continuing to Onion River Campground, our home for the night. We met two other other cyclists who were celebrating Bike Travel Weekend with their own circuit of central Vermont. We discovered that nearly everyone in our number had brought chocolate to share. It was bad.

Two riders joined us for the second, sunnier day from Marshfield to Wells River. I had read about Rainbow Sweets in David Mamet’s salvo South of the Northeast Kingdom, but I underestimated the magic Bill spins in his Marshfield café. Go there.

Back on railbed, we dodged biting insects, demolished puddles, and pushed on to the mighty Connecticut. The bridge down Lovers Lane, closed to cars, is a gem. Just before Trail’s end, its chief proponent (Cross Vermont Trail Association Executive Director Greg Western) popped up in the woods and snapped a few photos of us staring down destiny. Lounging in Railroad Park in the Woodsville section of Haverhill, New Hampshire, our work completed, but our journey in full blossom, we encountered a regal being named Tom E. Cat, riding high in a stroller pushed by his human chauffeur. What will you encounter if you ride your bicycle to New Hampshire or Paraguay or Church Street?


Christine and Liza kindly picked us up in Van Helsing* (the Old Spokes Home van), and soon we were hurtling west into the sunset, obstacles shattered, cats met, and sweets sweat.

Our next shop bike camping outing takes us along a section of the xVT, the Cross Vermont Trail’s low-profile, dirtier, north-south cousin, from Lowell to Waterbury. Join us for the second annual Dooryard Dalliance, June 30 to July 2. We are forecasting clear skies and high fives with a chance of beignets.

Thank you to Karsten and Joy for taking the superb photos you see here.



Buyer / Mechanic / Dapifer


“[Van Helsing] is a seemingly arbitrary man, this is because he knows what he is talking about better than any one else. He is a philosopher and a metaphysician, and one of the most advanced scientists of his day, and he has, I believe, an absolutely open mind. This, with an iron nerve, a temper of the ice-brook, and indomitable resolution, self-command, and toleration exalted from virtues to blessings, and the kindliest and truest heart that beats, these form his equipment for the noble work that he is doing for mankind, work both in theory and practice, for his views are as wide as his all-embracing sympathy.”

— Letter From Dr Seward to Arthur Holmwood, Ch 9, Dracula