Northern Vermont scarred me. That’s a bad place to start but there you have it. It’s crazy up there.
I thought Vermont would be like Massachusetts. I thought there would be towns every few miles with houses and people walking their dogs in between. But Vermont is not like Massachusetts. I know that now.
When I started the trek south from Burlington on Monday I was wearing every item of clothing I had: sports bra, the tank top I slept in, my No Barriers bamboo wicking t-shirt (the one that dutifully reminds me that what’s within me is stronger than what’s in my way), the homemade pink sleeves my mom made out of knee high performance socks, a long sleeve shirt, my hoodie and my new yellow windbreaker.
I had my hood up under my helmet and folded around my chinstrap to keep my cheeks warm(ish). Instead of contacts I put my glasses on, which I never do when cycling, because I thought maybe they would cut some of the wind going to my eyes. I doubled up on socks with toe warmers sandwiched in between the two layers. And I had my sweatpants on over my leggings and cycling shorts.
It was 21°.
A lot of you don’t know me well but those who do would tell you very quickly that I don’t do cold. Thank goodness I stopped at the first country store I found because the next semblance of civilization was 25 miles away. (That’s over 2 hours on a bicycle!) There I picked up the toe warmers and also got a pair of fluorescent orange fleece gloves. Can I just pause for a moment to say… I looked fabulous!
I was still so cold I couldn’t feel my feet. The only thing to do was keep moving.
I battled a strong head wind the entire way. Ninety-five miles from Williston, VT to Manchester, VT. The only saving grace was that the sun was out, though I couldn’t feel it, and there was no rain. I rode for what felt like forever and had only passed two towns and the small city of Rutland by sunset.
Here’s me in the pitch black of night still cycling down Route 7 towards Manchester. No one is out. I am the only person out. There are more rustles in the leaves beside the road than there are cars passing me. People in Vermont know to stay indoors when it’s dark outside but this is one of those not-so-well-planned days for me where I don’t know where I’m going to stop and I don’t have a reservation or a friend anywhere. In a nutshell I’m the only idiot on a bike at night desperately seeking a hotel room I did not plan ahead for.
When I finally found a motel that had a vacancy, after four failed attempts and numerous desperate unanswered inquiry phone calls, I texted my parents vowing I would never in my entire life ever step foot in the state of Vermont again. Ever. (Even though I was still there.) Then my dad had the gall to suggest I go out and find myself some dinner. As if, after almost eleven hours in freezing cold lonely desolation, there was any chance of me leaving a heated motel room!! I think it’s so ridiculous that I’m doing this on a bicycle that people just forget I don’t have a car to jump into.
I showered, ate cashews and a protein bar, then slept like the dead.
All day Monday I had been thinking that was the worst it could possibly get – to be so cold, so far away from human connection, so lost in the desolation of a frigid unpopulated landscape, even if it was ablaze with gorgeous fall colors. And then I woke up to a drizzly Tuesday and it got so much worse.
I still had 40 miles to ride south before I crossed over into Massachusetts. Nothing to do but keep moving even though it was barely 40° and the rain was getting heavier. At least it was above freezing and on Tuesday I had a destination to look forward to: my friend Patti’s house just outside of Pittsfield, MA.
I wasn’t sure I’d ever get there. Google maps immediately sent me to a dirt road that was going all uphill. Google maps put me on a lot of dirt roads in Vermont, (because why pave a road no one’s going to drive on?) which I can handle for the most part when it’s dry, but in pouring rain no way. I’m out there on a road bike with skinny tires and a 20 lb. pack on the back.
Within seconds my shoes and legs were caked with mud. It was really white and looked like wet cement from the tip of my toes all the way up to my knees. I was slipping in every direction.
I had no choice but to turn around and figure out a different plan. I headed east to Route 7 only to find out that part of it was a major highway that prohibited bicycles. I spun around west to Route 30 which took me back over to 7A: super narrow, no shoulder, lots of trucks, a bunch of hills, still raining = AWESOME. At least I was heading south on pavement.
After a while I hit the next town and some construction guys told me where I could find a convenience store. I made my way to Paulins in Arlington for a hot chocolate and a cinnamon donut, the staples of my Vermont weekend diet, and tried to dry off a bit. It didn’t really work. Looking at the maps and forecasts I knew I was going to be soaked at least until Bennington.
The weather wasn’t going to change where I was, so I got on my bike and kept moving.
Once I got down to Pownal and crossed the state line into Williamstown the roads dried up and the sun came out. The temperature rose and before I knew it I was on the absolutely stunning and well-maintained Ashuwillticook Rail Trail cruising alongside the Cheshire Reservoir. Back to civilization at last!
After a few miles on Route 8 and Barker Road I eventually got to where I needed to be: under a hot shower at a good friend’s house with a beer waiting for me when I was done.
I’m telling you Vermont wore me down. But I pulled through. It’s a beautiful thing when you make it out of a difficult situation alive and well with a good story to tell. I’ve got five states down and only one more to go. As of right now my back is out and my bike needs love, but Maine is staying on the docket for this weekend.
It’s crazy to be home in Connecticut for a rest day and it’s 70° and sunny. Here’s me trying so hard to smile as I rode south through snow kissed pastures in northern Vermont.