To momma’s house we go:
a slightly longer than S240 experience in the time of COVID-19
by Parker Hoblin 07/10/20
Early on in this pandemic, the suggestion was to not bike pack at all, leave your home as little as possible. Don’t see anyone, don’t stop at convenience stores, stay away! Then weeks went by, I had been working all winter on building up a 29x3.0 bike packing rig and it was finally done. And now I had nowhere to go! Time passed, I stared at my new bike sitting in the basement. An amalgamation of used Salsa Woodsmoke frame, SRAM shifter, derailleur crank. Wolftooth chainrings of various sizes. The questionably cheap but high quality carbon fiber fork from Tandell in China. The giddy feeling of getting a new Thompson elite seatpost, finding a WTB volt saddle on craigslist locally and finally my family buying me a set of Sunringle Duroc 40 wheels for my birthday in February. What agony it is to have all this together, and only be able to explore my local neighborhood. The governor has advised that we don’t travel more than 10 miles from our home to recreate. WTFBikeExplorers has put out a post kindly reminding us to not burden remote communities. Gosh, it was all so much to cope with in such a short time, and all I wanted to do was ride my bike!
First ride, 9.6 miles from home, obeying the governor’s orders (March 25th, 2020)
Then slowly the requirements to physically distance ourselves started to lift. Mountain biking trails were starting to open up, conditions were dry and incredible. Time to get out there! But state parks are closed and poaching a campsite in a pandemic could be considered taboo. Time to set some trail goals and make a plan. Keep it to a weekend or less, remote camp or camp at an approved family members back yard. I hadn’t seen my mom in months, let’s go!
The plan, leave late Friday night, bike to Milton town forest, enjoy the rough caress of the class IV of Rogers Road. Remote camp off trail, sleep in, drink coffee and bike the North way to Waterbury Center. This would take me to Westford, up and over Ole No. 11 road, another Class IV treat, through Cambridge, past Bootlegger bikes rail trail to Morrisville. Up Elmore Mountain road to Stowe, then the back way going down the waterworks trails to an early evening at my mom’s. The next day, take the Cross VT home to Colchester. Good plan! Pack the bike, dust off the camping equipment, charge the Zendure battery pack. Plan to not enter any buildings at all until I get home.
Then the weather forecast came in, severe storm warning for Friday night, heavy wind and rain. I was trying to keep my daily mileage low to get used to the bike with weight on it and it was still early season so I wasn’t sure how my legs would do with sustained loaded miles. But leaving Friday night was out of the question. Bike was packed and on my front porch ready to go and at 5:45pm, then the heavens opened up.
All packed up and ready to roll (May 15, 2020)
As with all bike adventures, the weather is key, and attitude will get you there smiling. My first 20 miles were pushed to Saturday, all the class IV I could gobble up was to be had and I still wanted to get to my moms before dinner so I could carry less food. Reset, focus on trail goals, get up at 5am Saturday morning and get rolling before 6am. Glory be!
The cool morning air and damp ground from the heavy rains made the early hours magnificent. Low fog rolling off of Mallets bay as I head North through Milton towards Westford. Dirt roads covered in amphibians causing me to slalom slowly towards rt.128.
Friendly roadway hazard on the way to Westford, VT (May 16, 2020)
Game on, the rolling hills and gentle ridge lines heading east towards greet me, lush pastures with horses and cows grazing, lowlands with small swamps along the roadside. I keep my eyes peeled for early morning Moose. It’s 8am and I’ve already made up the 20 miles I was planning on fitting in the night before. Rodgers road and Milton town forest pass to my left, an adventure for another day. I had planned the route and loaded it into the Wahoo, but hadn’t selected it, thinking today I had started with 73 miles on the docket and didn’t know if I would need to do a pavement bailout later in the day. Next thing I know I’ve missed a right turn and I’m further north, now on Rt.128, I guess a quick 3 mile detour to get back to the hamlet of Westford wouldn’t be too bad. I rolled into the green, looking for the road that would lead me to Ole No. 11, I’ve never traversed that section but was looking forward to it. Class IV in Vermont is always a magical adventure, you never know if you’ll be going up someone’s driveway, or just turning left to go straight up the side of a mountain on what appears to be a goat path. These are the roads I live for.
From the Westford village green I spot the top of a covered bridge to the North East, it’s the Browns River covered bridge, and is in the right direction for me to go. I pop down, take the few obligatory ‘bike leaning against things’ photos and head on my way. After a short stint on pavement I quickly found myself on dirt again. Climbing up easy little rolling hills, I know it’s near. I spot the Tinman to my left, I pause to take a photo before continuing.
Tinman on Old No.11 road Westford, VT (May 16, 2020)
As the road rose in elevation I could feel the excitement of going on a new to me road. Next thing I know, I’m at the end of the road, and two driveways are before me. Do I go right, or left? Which one connects to the class IV goodness? I see some tire marks in the grass to the right, and figure where’s the harm in investigating them. I followed them across the yard and then they suddenly turned left up a steep rocky grade into the woods. Looked legit enough, I dismounted and pushed my bike and gear up the track, prickers scratching my legs and feet. Sandle-packing through the woods can be a harsh treat. I get to the top of that hill having to work my way through shin deep puddles and mud. I take a mental note to do a tick check once I get to the other side of this. I kept working my way deeper into the woods, exploring, coming to intersections and having to choose again and again, right or left? Which way is correct? I ride my bike for 20-30 yards at a time before hopping a downed tree or finding myself wading through another deep mire. I start to think I may be off track a little. Maybe, just maybe, I should have taken the left driveway to find Old No. 11 road.
Off track and imagining this is the right way (It isn’t!) Old No. 11 Road Westford, VT (May 16, 2020)
After 50 minutes of bushwhacking, lifting my bike over logs, walking down a flowing creek bed, climbing up one side of the ridge line only to return back to that side..I found the exit, I had found the proper route through. With loud war whoops and the joy of an actual legitimate roadway in front of me I busted out onto Seymour road, headed for a quick descent to Rt.15 and a paved section to shuttle me to Cambridge and on to Jeffersonville.As soon as I got on the main road I stopped checked my leg. I pulled two ticks that were crawling behind my knee, they hadn’t tried to embed yet. Off down Rt.15 I went, blasting along, the miles came quickly now that I was out of the temperate jungle. After a quick swing by to say hello to the great folks at Bootlegger Bikes in Jeff I had a long fast section along the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail to Morrisville. It felt like blistering speed, maintaining 18 miles an hour along the gravel surface. From Morrisville is was up and out Elmore Mountain road, what gorgeous views there are to be had along that stretch. I loved watching the low clouds caress Mt.Mansfield and seeing snow still on the ski slopes. Fields were turning green and the grass was heading for an early first mowing. It was still pretty early in the day, I was a little over 60 miles in and it wasn’t even 1pm yet. Time for a quick photo op, stick stand, engage!
Elmore Mountain Rd, Mount Mansfield in the background (May 16, 2020)
With my goal of my moms house close at hand I pedaled on, enjoying how the road followed the contours of Elmore mountain. The elevation stayed fairly consistent while still giving great views to the valley south of me. This is why we do this, this is why we bike pack. Great views, amazing temperatures, dirt roads and knowing we got someplace to sleep tonight. The rest of the ride towards my mom’s house in Waterbury was pretty uneventful, the terrain was gentle, only one more class IV in front of me in the form of the waterworks, which I had traversed many times. As I popped out the far side and rode down Ripley Road near my birthplace I was caught by a small pack of cyclists on gravel bikes. One of them recognized my bike from when it spent a short period of time getting checked out at Old Spokes Home. I guess I had put together a winner cause he fondly recognized it and its final assembly. Only a few miles left to go, a quick punch in the gut climb of Perry Hill road saw my compatriots zip ahead of me. No camping gear on board, I felt a slight twinge of jealousy. My day would have been much faster without the bulk I had on board. But I knew I would have food and a warm night's rest.
Cue me ten minutes later rolling into the driveway, my mom walking to the barn to care for the horses. This is the first time my love of bike packing and my family have crossed paths. I’d been on the road for over 7 hours with only a handful of minutes spent looking at the GPS or taking photos. I was delirious, excited, and hot. “Hey mom! I made it, I’m going to go skinny dip in the stream, see you in ten minutes!” I shouted as I rolled past, across the lawn and up into the trees to drop my camping gear and cool off. I stripped and dipped, the water was COLD, it had snowed just four days earlier and the stream was still carrying snow runoff. Yelps and splashing commenced. A few minutes later I was strutting back across the lawn, in my soft sweatpants for sleeping and my puffy coat on. It was barely 3pm and life was wonderful. I sat on the porch and caught up with my family, had a meal of grilled local hot dogs and salads, just like a summer picnic. It was so great to see everyone after a couple of months of being locked up at home with the roommate. After the meal I went and set up camp and settled in, the stream burbling by and the wind gently swinging the hammock.
Set up in the woods, out of sight, out of mind (May 16, 2020)
Sleep was great, I had gotten 72.6 miles in, and 5,200ft of elevation, first bike packing trip of the year in the books! A full belly and the quiet of being in the woods refreshed me. The next morning I was up and making breakfast on my camp stove at 6:30 thinking today would be hotter and getting home would be a priority to get errands and chores done before Monday rolled around. Quick oats and dried fruit hit the spot. I packed up and walked down to the main house to say my goodbyes. My mom refilled my water, I air hugged my family and set off. It was an easy day, less than 40 miles, the sun was shining and everything had dried out from the rain on Friday. My muscles complained a little from the day before but once they warmed up settled into a gentle pace that would get me home a little after noon. It was perfect, in every sense, I got to try out my new bike, I got to do some loaded miles. I clocked 110.9 miles in 30 hours, got a great night's sleep and saw my family for the first time since the pandemic started.
Field of Dandelions, McCrae Park Colchester, VT (May 17, 2020)