An Adventure Worth Tackling
Rob Levasseur on the North Lobe
Super 8 Day 1 - Sept 25, 2020 86.4 Miles
The kickoff was at 8:00 AM in Montpelier. Met early in front of the statehouse and, after pictures and some greetings, started on our way. Dave, Emil, John and myself made up our little group. Dave had reserved a spot tracker for GPS tracking and emergency location in case it was needed but the trackers got lost in the mail. We were promised an on the trail delivery as soon as they came in.
Through the streets of Montpelier and up into some back roads, in the fog and cool of the morning. Weather was supposed to be nice for the three days ahead of us. Right off the bat, I noticed my RideWithGPS app was not notifying me of the turns. I could navigate if I touched the screen and viewed the marked route ahead of me, but this was not how it is supposed to work. I stopped and tried to recenter the location but that did not bring back the turn notifications. Looks like I will have to just live with it today.
Dave, John and Emil raced ahead and I soon was left behind the pack. My bike (being a heavier mountain bike) was slower and seemed to be very heavily loaded. I tried not to think about weight but it always comes back from time to time. I resigned myself to the fact that I would probably ride the day without seeing those guys, at least for a while.
I was looking forward to riding the old rail trail from Plainfield to Marshfield as it was not part of my Cross Vermont Trail (CVT) ride a few years ago. The CVT goes up Rt. 2 and joins the old rail trail at the top of the hill out of Marshfield. I remember seeing the rail trail going back towards Plainfield and wondering why the CVT did not follow that.
After riding some dirt roads up above Montpelier and Plainfield, the route joined VT 214 and continued on into Plainfield (passing Goddard College on the way). In Plainfield I crossed Rt. 2 and rode past a park and ride where I saw another rider stopped there. Got to the beginning of the rail trail and continued into the woods. This turned into a nice, pleasant path which was easy to ride for most of its length. The other rider soon caught up with me and we hung together for most of the day. Scott, a former AT thru-hiker who was doing the northern lobe like us – not as a race but a tour.
I was surprised how soon we came upon the junction above Marshfield where the CVT joined the rail trail. Most of the rail trail behind us had been easy enough for almost any bike to ride, with the exception of a couple of short single-track sections (easily walkable if your bike won’t handle it). Joining the CVT, we rode on familiar territory for me, passing the big pond (Bailey Pond and then Turtlehead Pond) and riding on the straight, narrow road out towards Groton State Park.
The next turn was Lanesboro Road, which headed out towards Rt 232. There was supposed to be an off-road section up ahead and we soon came upon it. This is a horse\bike\foot traffic trail that parallels 232 until just below the entrance to New Discovery State Park. It was nice riding, a little rough in places but not bad. Met two horseback riders at the next trailhead and exchanged greetings (after slowing down so as not to spook the horses).
At the entrance to New Discovery, I expected to show my Passport card for the day use fee but the gate attendant waved us on. She said we were covered and smiled. Nice! Through the campground and then a left onto a class 4 trail/old road that hugged the shore of Peacham Pond for its length. Back on the roads again and a short way on Rt 2 until it turned off to go up a long hill by the Covenant Hills Christian Camp. Scott was with me for this portion as we passed farms and descended into South Peacham, West Barnet and finally a stop at the covered bridge in Greenbank Hollow. Dave, Emil and John were already there along with Brittni (she was riding the full Super 8, unlike us who were only dong the northern lobe). We ate lunch, rested and filled up on water while answering questions from passing tourists who were interested in what we were doing. They all left before I had finished my sandwich, so I took my time and enjoyed the break. The road ahead looked horribly steep but in reality, it was an illusion (tricks of the eye on perspective from a distance) and it rose up gradually without much extra effort.
It wasn’t very long before I came to the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail (LVRT) that descended into St. Johnsbury. This proved to be a welcome relief from all of the climbing, as it descended easily for 10 miles before turning off onto a side street at the bottom. Through the town of St. J. and on another back road heading out of town.
This road eventually took me past Lyndon State College and down the hill into Lyndonville. It went into town and followed a bike path through a sports field with kids playing football. Leaving town, it soon went back up a small hill and past the fairgrounds, then down to Rt. 114 almost directly across from Darling Hill Rd.
It was just starting to get dusk but there was still plenty of light to see by. I stopped to take a picture of the chapel on Darling Hill, as it was nicely silhouetted against the sky. Scott came pedaling up behind me then. He had stopped at Subway for a bite to eat and saw me go by. We rode up the hill to the Kingdom Trails Trail Hub café, where I refilled my water for the remainder of the journey. At the top, we took the E. Darling Hill road down to where the bike trails entered the woods. Herbs and Kitchell trails down (we were supposed to stay on Herbs but I got onto Kitchell by mistake) but ended up at the VAST trail junction as planned. Across the road onto White School (a rough, rooty, twisty trail that slowed me down more than I liked). I opted to skip the Where’s Davis trail and stick with White School to save a little time but ended up on a few more spurs anyway. The end worked out ok because it all dumped out onto White School Road.
As I was climbing Pinkham Road, I saw a flashing bike taillight ahead of me on the hill. I figured it was Scott, as he had gotten ahead of me back in the White School trail mess. It was now dark and I had to turn on my lights, more to be seen than to see. At the top of Pinkham, it turned off onto Candy Barr hill, a descent down a single-track trail that was rough and dark enough to require my lights now. Finally, it came out onto the mountain road and I at least knew where I was supposed to be going. I climbed up to the junction and saw the campground sign at the left turn. Straight up to the campground but I could hear voices and see camper’s fires and lights ahead.
I turned in and almost immediately saw the guys sitting around a picnic table eating and getting ready for the night. The lean-to was a welcome sight. It was 8:00 PM. I claimed a space and set up my sleeping gear, ate dinner, then showered (yes, they have a nice little coin operated shower in the bath house). What luxury! Dinner was a Mountain House Chili Mac and Beef meal. It said serves 2 but I had NO trouble finishing it off. There was a group in the next site that was talking loudly and laughing (Friday night campers excited to be riding the KT tomorrow) but we were all so tired that their voices did not bother us much.
Super 8 Day 2 - Sept 26, 2020 84 Miles
I got up around 6 after a good night’s sleep. It looks to be a nice day today and on the menu for breakfast is one of Mountain House’s breakfast skillet meals. Yum! It says it feeds 2 – we’ll see about that! After eating breakfast and packing up our stuff, we were all ready to take off – UP the hill. Yeah, the route takes you straight up the toll road until it intersects with the CCC road about ½ mile up. It was steep enough that I thought it not worth trying to ride, so I walked the bike up instead. The gate at the CCC road marked the first landmark and I turned off at it and waited for the others to catch up (how did I get ahead of them?).
The CCC road started gently enough but it soon started climbing again, although not as steep as the toll road. I got a good picture of the view at one of the ski trails we crossed and soon enough, we had crossed a few more trails as the CCC road cut across the mountain. Finally, the road leveled off and on my left was a path to one of the lean-tos which was visible from the road. I was able to ride now and it was rather pleasant going down even if it was rough in places. A second lean-to soon came into view on the right, except that this one was right beside the road. Looked like a nice place to camp.
After a lot more downhill and rough trail/road, the route came out into the open and fields were visible on both sides of the road. A look back towards Burke Mt. revealed more foliage and a nice picture opportunity. The road became a better dirt road now and it soon joined the road the Rasputitsa used a few years ago (that we had ridden too). More downhill riding as I rode Victory Hill Road down to the River Road. Now the riding was more mellow. River Road passes by Victory Bog and is mostly small rollers with little change in elevation all the way to Gallup Mills. I passed John and Emil, who had stopped by a municipal garage looking to fill their water bottles.
In Gallup Mills, we turned onto the Radar Road and headed north. The Radar Road is so named because it leads to the top of a small mountain where an old Cold-War era early warning radar station once was operational. All that is there now is an empty shell of a building that is visible from many locations in the remote country ahead of us. During the 2010 moose hunting season, Matt and I traveled all around this area in search of a nice moose to take home. The moose won.
Radar Road went on for 2 ½ miles before the route turned a sharp right and ascended the southern side of the mountain by a different road. Scott was filtering water from the stream at the junction when I came along. We started up the mountain but the climbing was relatively moderate and made the ride easier than I had originally expected. After skirting around the mountain as we climbed, we finally leveled off and started descending.
The descent was fast and quite a welcome relief from climbing. I knew that down there somewhere was a turn to the north again as the route got onto the powerline road (again, Matt and I had been there before). Sure enough, the turn came up and we started climbing the road that goes under the powerline. This is a DC powerline, unlike the conventional AC high voltage transmission lines we are used to. The powerline road proved to be hot and dry as it went up, down and back up again multiple times until we finally got to its end. However, the views were great and picture opportunities presented themselves everywhere. Scott and I hung together for this section and we could see Emil and John up ahead.
At the end, we were dumped onto the Madison Brook road where, again, Matt and I had traveled during moose season. The sign for “the Roost” indicated the direction to the camp on top of the road to the left. We had walked up to it, a long uphill walk, during moose season. The Roost is a hunting camp situated high above near some upper elevation bogs and dense woods. We turned right on Madison Brook road and soon turned left onto South America Pond road where there was a bridge over the stream and nice cool water. A break was in order here as Emil and John needed a refill (I did too). Scott headed on as we took a much-needed rest.
After eating and drinking some water, we headed out again. The road here was a narrow gravel road that, although originally built as a logging road, was now passable with a car. We were passed a few times by motorcycles and some trucks. People were out enjoying a ride in the back woods. At the top of the little hill, I remembered when Matt and I had come across a huge cow moose crossing the road. Right behind her was a very small calf, all fuzzy and brown. They saw us and took off into the woods, climbing the ridge with ease. That was in 2010. No moose sightings today.
Finally, the road started the descent and I heard someone shooting not too far off. Shortly, I came around a corner and upon a boxed in shooting range, right next to the road. A few guys were there using it. Funny place for a range, I thought as I sped down the hill past them. Soon I came across a major route change, as South America Pond road took a sharp left and flattened out. A few more miles and it went through a flat wooded area and out into the open. I had to cross the Nulhegan River on a leaning wooden foot bridge. It almost looked like it was going to fall into the river. This next part looked like a moose path through brush and thick weeds next to the river. Then across the tracks and onto Rt. 105 for the journey towards Island Pond.
This part of the trip was my least favorite, as it was sunny and warm and being a main road, sort of busy. After miles of pavement riding (actually only 7 miles), the route took a right onto Henshaw road. I was feeling a little left behind at this moment but got over it and decided I didn’t have much choice but to press on. It was pushing 2:30 PM and the campground at Brighton State Park was tempting me.
Henshaw road was easy for a long way, all dirt and some houses but it soon turned into more of a logging transport road. I stopped for a break in a shaded area and heard a bike bell behind me. It was Brittni and she caught up to me and told me the guys were behind me eating tacos (or something) back in town. Of all the things! I thought they were way ahead of me. She told me I was crushing it, then took off ahead. Well, if the guys were behind me, I could keep going, even though they would eventually catch me and pass.
I stopped for a water refill and ate some peanut butter and crackers at a small stream near a log landing. I came upon this landing right after that, logs piled high in neat stacks waiting for the work crews to load them on Monday. The last house on the road came into view and the road turned up and left through a sand pit. Then it became a true class 4 road. Narrow and mostly passable only with Jeeps or ATVs. I thought that I must be near the top by now but I was wrong. Each time I crested the next hill and started down, I would come around the corner and see another uphill. It seemed to go on and on..
Actually, it was another 5 miles before I got to the top. Here it was muddy and full of ruts. The moose were in this area because their tracks were everywhere. As I was pushing up the last steep climb, I looked back and saw Emil coming up behind me. Still a long way off but catching me. John and Emil caught me at the top and we rode together as we started to go down. I asked them if Scott was with them and they replied that he was last seen back in town. He was coming but no one knew his location at this time.
On the descent, the guys took off and I was alone again. I took my time and tried to be careful as it was rocky and there were hidden obstacles in the grassy parts of the trail. I ended up getting some decent speed in places though but had to stop when I heard a loud buzzing noise coming from somewhere. It was my rear wheel rubbing on my seat bag, which had come loose and was hanging down. Great. I cinched the straps back up and thought all was ok. Shortly after that, I came across a sign indicating a trail of some kind on my left. Way up here? Something to check out later, I thought. The road eventually got better and I was able to go faster down the hill. I cruised around a sharp right hairpin turn (I had been expecting this part, as it is near the bottom on the map). Then I felt my rear wheel lock up and the brakes stopped the bike. I got off and could see that my T shirt had come out of my seat bag and wrapped itself around the rear cog. The sleeve was caught in the brake caliper and all shredded by this time. I had to remove the rear wheel and pull all the fabric pieces out of the caliper. All was not bad, however, as I did get it cleaned up and running in short order.
I stuffed the T shirt back in my pack and really cinched up the straps, making sure the pack was really closed this time. Then it was down to a gate and onto Rt. 114. North on 114 for a short section until the left turn onto Hurricane Brook road. Ah, easy riding again! Nice and almost flat for a few miles as it skirted the west side of Norton Pond. I came around a bend and there in the road was a funny looking bird. It turned out to be a Partridge (or Grouse), in full strut. His tail feathers were all fanned out and his neck feathers were fully extended into a very visible, ruffled collar. From a distance, it looked like he had a large pom-pom on his head. I took a picture, then continued on the road. As I approached, he walked to the side of the road but another Partridge flushed on the left side. Oops, his potential mate must have been spooked. I guess I ruined his little courtship display and his moment was gone (for now, at least).
It wasn’t too much farther when I came upon a nice open cleared area where I could see someone was camping by the side of the road. I saw their dog’s tail as it crossed the road, then saw them. They had a tent next to their truck and there was a fire ring and privy in this site. Very nice!
As I approached, the guy looked up and I waved. He said, “hey, is that Rob Levasseur?”. What? I looked harder and recognized it was Todd, his wife Dawn and Todd’s mother at the site. Of all people! I worked with Todd and Dawn at a former employer a few years ago and had become good friends with them. Todd said they come here every year for a campout. What a place! I should have stopped right there and pitched my tent with them! We talked a little and then I pressed on.
A short distance beyond their campsite, the GPS track had me turn right onto a rough class 4 road. This turned out to be a long distance on a rocky, rough and muddy (in places) trail. The good part was that the elevation change was not great but it was getting late in the day and I had (I guessed) about 20 more miles to go until Newport. That meant I would be riding after dark again.
Before I got to the end of the class 4 road, two other bikepackers caught up to me and passed. They had very little on them, their packs looked like small football sized bundles. Obviously, they were traveling as light as possible with few provisions and camping gear. I came out onto a more traveled dirt road on the west side of Holland Pond. It proceeded north-west and at this time, I was very close to the Canadian border. It was also getting darker, so I turned on my blinky light and headlights so that drivers in cars would see me better. The temperature cooled down and I had to stop and put on a shirt and vest.
The next few miles were on open dirt roads that routed me around some farms. Eventually I got to the border station at Derby Line and proceeded into the town on the main road. Pam and I had ridden this part last year (in daylight) and I remembered the layout of the town. We had stopped and taken a picture of an obelisk that marked the border between Canada and the US, right in the middle of the town. Tonight, I did not bother to find it, as my goal was to get to camp and eat dinner. I got a curious stare from a border patrol agent sitting in his car at the turn in the center of town. Hope he gets used to seeing bikers going by in the next few days.
Passing through town and going down to the river, the temperature dropped drastically. However, I was soon climbing again and warmed up. A sharp left at the Beebe Plains border station and onto North Derby road, which followed the border for about 1 ½ miles. You can look across and see Canada here - just don’t cross over. The bike path to Newport came up and I was on the last stretch for the night. As I rode down it, I passed through warm air, then cold air, then more warm air again.
The turn to the campsite was indicated by a small sign and a wooden bike bridge off the rail trail. I had no problem finding that but there was a maze of mountain bike trails once I crossed over. I texted Dave and he ended up coming out to meet me. After all, it was 8:30 PM and very dark at this time. I got to the campsite, which was a large open field above the trails but below the houses up on the road. The houses were a good distance away, so we were pretty isolated from anyone else.
Cooked dinner, set up my tent and settled in for the evening. We hung our food bags on a metal solar lighting pole next to our tents. Apparently, they use solar lighting to illuminate the field and trails when there are events there. There was no water nearby, so Dave had to go up to his friend’s house to get some.
While I was laying in my sleeping bag, I realized that I had not seen my dirty laundry bag when I unpacked the tent. I guessed that it must have fallen out of my pack back up on Gore road just prior to the incident with my T shirt. I also found out that my pack towel was missing. Bummer.
Super 8 Day 3 - Sept 27, 2020 38 Miles
This morning was cool and damp (a good deal of condensation from being out in the open field on a cooler night). However, it was starting out to be a fairly nice day and a good breakfast of freeze-dried scrambled eggs with a waffle got the ball rolling. After packing up and securing all our gear on the bikes, we headed up to the house to refill our water bottles. Not the most ideal water situation but what were our choices? A refill and an easy descent down through the field past our tent site and we were on the mountain bike trails again. The rail trail was reached easily and we headed south towards Newport.
Through town and out onto a less traveled street that hugged the lake shore. Then a steep climb up out of the lake area to eventually cross Rt. 105. We passed through some open farmland and good views, then came to Rt. 105/14 (105 makes a curve and joins 14 here). Another short section of paved road before turning left onto Poginy Hill road and going up. This road ended with a class 4 section that goes over the top and was very dusty due to the drier conditions this summer. As I was entering the class 4 section, I stopped for a water break and was met by a string of ATVs, all families going on a Sunday tour. They raised quite a cloud of dust but not because of speed, they were just crawling along, it was just plain dusty. The last guy commented to me “dusty enough, isn’t it?”. It must have been bad for him, being at the end of the line.
Once they passed, the dust settled and I proceeded through this section. It was easy here, not much elevation change but rough enough to remind me to ride carefully. It came back out on a dirt road and soon climbed a short, steep hill up to a sharp right turn. It descended and turned left and went up again. At the top of this section, the next intersection looked familiar. In fact, we had ridden that road a few years ago with our bike group but came in on a different road to get to this intersection.
At the intersection of Bonin road and Gore road, a sign stated that my GPS was wrong! Seems to me that sign was there back when our group had ridden this route a few years ago. And, just like back then, the route got rougher and eventually descended down a rocky ATV road to a swamp. At the top of the descent, my GPS informed me I was off track but there was nothing to turn onto except a grassy driveway with a gate across it. Looking at the road, I could see bike tire tracks where others had gone, so I expanded the map enough to look ahead and could see where the marked route came back onto the road I was on. This was indeed the same track we had followed before, except that the swamp now has a detour around the muck hole that ATVs had wallowed through. Our previous ride here offered no such alternative, so we had to wade through shin deep mucky water, walking our bikes until we got to the other end. Adventure!
Today’s “adventure” through the swamp was much easier. I met 3 ATVs coming through towards me and pulled over on a narrow side bank to let them pass. All families again, just like up on Poginy Hill. At the end of the swamp and a short, rough section, I could see a better road ahead. A pickup truck was approaching and the driver stopped and asked me about my ride. He said he also liked bike riding and was curious about the bikepacking gear on my bike. He was very interested and had not heard of the Super 8. He even offered his field as a camping spot for bikers in the future. I thought that was very generous of him.
On better roads now, cruising down hills and climbing some easier ones too, until I turned onto another class 4 road. This one was fairly easy and the riding here was nice. It came out onto Rt. 58 above Lowell. I knew that the Bayley-Hazen road was somewhere up ahead and I had heard it was a challenging section. I was looking forward to riding it to check out the route of the Bayley-Hazen road over the Lowell mountain where the windmills are. I have that road on my bucket list for a future bikepacking trip.
The first part off of Rt. 58 was Irish Hill road and it went up a hill, as its name implied. However, it was new pavement and the hill climb was a breeze. As I reached the top, I heard someone call my name. It was Emil and John taking a rest stop in the pasture. They were under an apple tree and had a very nice view of the foliage across the valley in front of them. Good idea! Breaks are good! We ate a little and watered ourselves down before setting out to the ridge.
The road had flattened out here and was an easy ride to the turn for the Bayley-Hazen road. We rode up through a rough class 4 road in the pasture until it turned left and leveled out. Once around the next corner, the road got really rough and rocky. It was hike-a-bike time! The rocks were very numerous and the road went up over many ledges and holes. Some ATV riders met us as they were coming down and we recognized them as the same ones on Poginy Hill road back near Newport. I think they were more surprised to meet us here than we were. Finally, we got to the top of the ridge and were greeted by some ATV riders taking a rest on top. The windmills hummed in the background and could be heard a long way off.
The descent was just as rough but at least it was partially ridable. Met a few more ATVs going up, then the road leveled off for a little way and soon came out into the open. The views and foliage were great. I came out near some fields and suddenly I was attacked! A whole flock of turkeys came charging towards me. It was actually kind of comical because they had their necks stretched out straight and their legs swung from side to side as they ran toward me. They were not wild turkeys, some were white, some were black and the rest were white and brown (red). One was a Tom and after they surrounded me, he put on his display (tail fanned out and neck tucked close to his chest with his wattles hanging down, colored blue and red). Their demands for food got them no where as I left them in the road. They chased me for a short distance but I easily outdistanced them.
Turning off of the Bayley-Hazen road, the route followed the back road to Eden. This turned into an “almost” class 4 road that rolled along rather easily and crossed a few streams along the way. I stopped and refilled my bottles at one of them, then continued the rest of the way until the road came out by the Eden dogsledding place. Shortly, I reached the East Hill road and it lived up to its name with some big climbs up some short but steep hills, one after the other. At the top of one of them, I spotted someone with a bike looking down towards me. At first, I thought it was John but I saw the camera and realized it was not him. It was Daniel, and he cheered me on up this hill (I was pushing my bike by then). Then he told me the best part – there was trail magic in the form of grilled food down in Eden at the lakeside campground. Whoa! A burger sounded awfully nice right now! We rode down the next hill and got to the turn for the lake side road when we heard a shout behind us. It was Scott coming towards us. I hadn’t seen him since yesterday around lunch time up on the South America Pond road.
We rode the rest of the way to the Lake Eden campground together, eagerly anticipating the cheeseburgers and hot dogs that were waiting to be eaten. When I got to the campground, there in the small crowd of bikers was Emil and John. Dave had pressed on ahead and was attempting to make Montpelier by tonight. Wow, hope he does it.. We had no plans for camping out tonight but if I had known about this place, I would have opted to stay the night here by the lake. What a nice site! However, I had had enough of riding with a heavy bike and saddle sores and had called home an hour ago for a pickup in Eden. I needed a rest and figured calling it at mile 200 was ok with me.
John, Emil and Scott decided to ride a little farther and camp somewhere beside the trail. Well, that would have been ok too. Looking back, I could have done that as well but at this time, I was ready to scratch. I will probably attempt another one of these trips in the future but not until I do some gear pruning and bike tweaking. My old Kona Jake would have been a faster and easier bike to ride for the majority of this trip, and I had already proved it a few years ago on the CVT. However, I enjoyed the tour and the anticipation of seeing new trails and roads (let alone the spectacular foliage)!
One last item – Dave made it to Montpelier by 8:30 that evening. I made it home in time to clean up and drive down there to meet him. We picked up a pair of gluten-free pizzas and a salad and met him on the capitol lawn. Way to go Dave!