With only a week to go before driving west towards the start of our summer on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, we hit pause on packing up our apartment and set sail for Burlington, VT. We chose Burlington primarily because Charity, Casey, and Julie were running the Vermont City Marathon, but also because we had set aside time to test ourselves and our gear on a last-minute shakeout tour. The route we rode is known as the Green Mountain Gravel Growler, and is composed of 250 miles of Vermont dirt roads and singletrack-goodness. We only had 3 days for the ride, so we planned to ride a 100 mile sub-loop.
We had a blast watching my siblings run their 10th marathon, and they were happy due to good weather and great results! The course was laid out like a misshapen clover leaf, which was nice for spectating, and we also brought our bikes so we could cover more ground.
After the race, we celebrated with champagne, beers, dinner, ice cream, and then more champagne! Burlington is such a fun city, and it was great to be back! My siblings also brought up some exciting news; they are eyeing a Colorado marathon for next summer, which is almost completely downhill.
The next day, we packed up and toted all of our gear to Waterbury, where we would begin our 3 day ride. In the parking lot, we completely loaded our bikes for the first time – something we said we would do for about 2 months leading up to this day. It was a relief when we confirmed that all of our gear fit into our various bikepacking bags. We baked in the sun and nitpicked our packing strategies for far too long in the parking lot before resolving to hit the trail and do the fine-tuning as we went.
We did the clockwise loop from Waterbury to Montpelier in 3 days, with layovers in Stowe and Hardwick. The route is called Gravel Growler because it links up a dozen or so microbreweries throughout the region. We sadly only hit two of them: von Trapp and Hill Farmstead, but we enjoyed both of them very much.
A dirt road dumped us right into the parking lot of the von Trapp Bierhall, and we decided to call it a day after a few beers and giant pretzels. The bartender offered for us to camp behind the brewery, so we set up our tent on the hill, a few feet away from the electric fence of a cow field. That first day had only a couple of miles on pavement and the rest was on smooth dirt roads with some fun singletrack between Waterbury and Stowe. We were surprised by the $4 entry charge to Little River State Park, but luckily, we packed cash.
Our second day brought more great weather and enough climbing to remind me that I am out of shape. In the first few miles, we rode Rachel’s favorite singletrack of the trip: a winding route alongside and underneath maple syrup sap lines, down to the Adams Camp trailhead in the Stowe Land Trust. I joked that nearly every road name on the cue sheet had the word “hill” in it – Ketchum Hill Road in Craftsbury was particularly punishing, which had me feeling depleted of energy. Fortunately, it was only a few miles up-route from Hill Farmstead, the highlight of the afternoon. There, we resupplied water, had beers, and heated oatmeal for lunch.
In Hardwick, we had an engaging conversation with a local touring cyclist named Joe, who was taking his dog Luke for a walk on the town trails where we set up our tent for the night. We fueled up at Connie’s Kitchen, thankfully, because we hit our high point of the day only a few miles outside of Hardwick. It was at the top of a long, muddy climb on a road that seems to be frequented by dirtbikes, ATVs and trucks. It was slow-going and sloppy, but we enjoyed the challenge. The last few miles of the GMGG were on another singletrack trail which wound its way through field and forest as we descended into Montpelier.
After a 10 mile cruise alongside the Winooski river, we were back in Waterbury. We loved our 100 miles of the Gravel Growler, it felt like a great way to prepare for the GDMBR. Maybe someday we will return to ride the rest of it!