Erik Nelson: Vermont Super8 Trip Report 2019
I’m not really into trip reports but this adventure seems worthy to share especially if it helps others to better prepare for a beautiful but challenging adventure. I have limited bikepacking experience with only 3 previous trips (the longest being a casual 5 day trip) so I was more curious than anxious about how I would hold up.
Fitness: I have plenty of experience riding long days but little experience riding big miles multiple days in a row carrying a lot of extra weight. Day 1 was what I expected. Day 2 and 3 I was the most sore and then my body fell into its neutral point and I felt like I had the same power output after that. It may have off dropped a bit after day 8. The arse took a beating early on but then improved with no issue. If you ride at a hiking pace you can just keep going and going. I averaged 12-14 hour days and that felt casual.
Packing: Decisions, decisions! I have done almost every kind of camping there is from multi day stand up paddle board and canoe trips to big wall climbing and multi day back country ski tours. What made the Super8 unique to me was the accessibility to resupply often at food stores and some of those stops were awesome! It also meant the 3 days of dried food, stove, pot, and mug that I carried for the lower loop weren’t that necessary. For sleeping I brought a lightweight 30 degree sleeping bag, a 30 year old Bibler bivy sack, and a Nemo single pole floorless tent. I had this on the handlebars packed which made steering feel a bit heavy and sluggish. For extra clothing I had a lightweight puffy coat, a wind shirt, arm warmers, leg warmers, an extra pair of socks, and shorts to sleep in. I carried 2 water bottles but one was a 32 ounce Nalgene and that actually worked out well.
The bike: I rode an Ibis Hakka gravel bike with 1x11 Di2 shifting. For modifications I changed my front chain ring from a 42t to a 30t and managed to squeeze a 45c WTB Riddler on the back and 1.95 Vittoria on the front. This route is the classic gravel adventure route where at any given point you’re either on the perfect bike or you wish you might have had something burlier or faster. I think a fast rolling 2 inch or greater tire would be the most ideal. I kept thinking 100mm front suspension might have been nice also.
The Grand Depart: Is this a race? Almost every event seems to have the mullet style going on (business in the front and party in the back). I’m usually competitive and want to push myself but this trip was a vacation for me. My basic goals were to soak in as much Vermont fall foliage as I could get, get away from those electronic devices, and finish the whole thing. Right out of the gate I quickly learned of the different approaches riders were taking and I second guessed my whole approach but I stuck with my plan, which was I didn’t really have one. I would ride until I felt like that was enough for the day and then sleep. It was great riding with a few others but quickly learned everyone has their own pace and it wasn’t long before I was solo which is just as nice and peaceful.
Sleeping: It’s all about sleeping or not. Several riders pushed through the dark hours to get to Pete’s camp on the first night around mile 120. That’s when I realized I don’t have a sufficient lighting system for many hours in the dark and I’m showing up with a knife to a gun fight if I want to play ball for a fast time. Day 2 I rode with my friend Kevin to Brattleboro and learned that you can pretty much sleep anywhere as long as you are out of sight. I also developed my strategy of trying to be moving on the bike by 5-6 am and to start thinking about where to camp an hour before dark. Overall, I slept well for the first few hours but then on and off until I could get myself moving.
Food: I brought way too much and I’m all set on not having a food bar ever again. It’s all about the food stores. I felt like every country store sandwich I had was the best! The stops at food stores though brief, also offered brief social interaction. On day 2 at the Jacksonville Country Store I arrived at 8:40 am. They don’t open on Sundays until 9 but there was already a line! It turns out they only stock 20 New York Times Sunday papers so the locals had to get their copy. Classic small town. I love it. In Brandon I asked a construction worker where to get a good deli sandwich, and he said the Liquor Store. He then said, ”trust me.” Being from NH where our liquor stores are on highway rest stops but only sell liquor and nothing else I was apprehensive but damn, that sandwich was good!
Terrain: Vermont gravel roads are awesome and 4th class roads will keep you honest (whatever that means). There was a downhill class 4 road on the way into Bennington that I had to stop and take breaks because my arms were tired. That has never happened to me before! Resting on downhills? I also found at least a dozen of my dream homes and views. The views (soooo many) never got old.
The weather: The weather was mostly perfect for the southern lobe and a bit more of a challenge for the Northern lobe. Weather in the fall can be quite variable and even temps can be quite different from one end of the state to the other. The good news with a figure 8 route you can update your gear for the upcoming weather. I wish I had brought warmer clothes with me to choose from when starting the Northern lobe. Temps never got above 50 and nights were close to freezing with some rain.
What I learned: I carried too much. For the southern loop I carried a stove, pot, and mug. I like coffee. I thought I needed coffee. On the northern lobe I ditched the cooking stuff and still had my coffee but I had to wait until I got to a store. No big deal. I also ditched my tent and some food for the Northern lobe. The less weight really made a difference especially when I took some of that weight off the handlebars which really helped maneuver through the 4th class terrain.
Lighting: I rode more in the dark than I planned on and it was actually enjoyable. Riding under the stars and watching the sun come up were some of the best parts of the trip. Next time I will have a better lighting system.
Knowing the route better: I had 2 mornings where I camped up high and had a nice downhill coast to start the day. Those downhills were freaking cold! I was numb. I ‘d rather start a day with an uphill to get warmed up. I also realized those downhills would have been easy miles to finish a day and get a jumpstart on the next day.
My mood: Low points and high points were all related to food. After good food and coffee I felt great, and felt like I could ride forever. Conversely, if a store wasn’t open or they didn’t have any real food I wasn’t as happy. I learned quickly to have enough food to get past a closed store and sometimes I’d get an extra sandwich or 2 to eat later.
Notes and quotes:
“You cyclists have the nicest legs, you and UPS drivers have the nicest legs.” From a women driving a convertible Oldsmobile outside the Springfield gas station.
I found 3 firing ranges. The 1st one was in the 1st camping spur and 2 cyclists were camping there on the first night! The 3rd one was before Island Pond had a shooter at 8am loading his pistol as I went by. Good morning!
It was good advice not to camp in the middle of 4th class terrain. I camped out on the side of the 4th class road after Brandon Pass. It seemed gnarly enough I couldn’t imagine anyone taking a vehicle on it. It was raining at 10:30pm on Monday when a pickup was clawing its way up the hill. That somewhat scared the shit out of me.
Why did the black and brown caterpillars cross the road? To get run over. They were all over the state.
The gps route didn’t like intersections. The route cut the corners which always showed up on my Garmin as off route.
The trail forks app was very useful in the Brattleboro town forest and Kingdom trails.
The gps route section before Brattleboro before and after the reservoir were hard to navigate.
The worst part of the route for me was the snowmobile/ atv section coming into Bennington. That 3” stone was almost unrideable on my tires. I’d hope they would add a top layer of crushed stone and make it better for all users.
Some dogs might be friendly but they still don’t like bikes. I had to out pedal one up a hill on day 3 which was not fun.
I wish I knew a Spot tracker’s battery life. I thought it would have been good for the trip. I turned it off every night except the last one before the battery died. The day I wasn’t being tracked from Burke to Newport was also the most remote!
For some reason I thought The Eden campground also had a shelter of some sort. On the Northern Lobe I ditched my tent planning on the Burke shelter and Eden but when I called the campground from Newport to confirm I was told they didn’t. It was close to 40 degrees and starting to rain and the convenience of a motel made it an easy decision but a longer last day.