I was talking with my friend, Jim, recently about a mutual friend who is retired and spending his time traveling the world, staying for a month or two in each place to enjoy an in-depth local experience. I have to say, that sounds pretty appealing.
I’m not in a position to retire yet, so traveling the world eight months of the year isn’t on my radar. My daughter is 16 and will soon be going to college, so my immediate focus is funding her education. However, in talking about our friend’s activities, Jim brought up the concepts of the “go-go,” “slow-go,” and “no-go” years. I’ve since gathered that these terms are common ways of referring to the three phases of retirement. After a short discussion, we both agreed that we want to maximize the go-go years, minimize the slow-go years, and pretty much skip the no-go years.
Maximizing the go-go phase requires me to stay active and keep pushing myself. At the beginning of 2022, I set a goal of going on at least five adventures with friends and/or family that include travel and multi-day physical activity. One of those adventures was a five-day, 250-mile bikepacking trip that loosely followed bikepacking.com’s Green Mountain Gravel Growler route. My companions were the aforementioned Jim and my brother, Jeff. We’re all in our 50s, with Jeff early in the decade, and Jim and I on the upper end of the quinquagenarian scale.
Bikepacking.com describes the route as “an extraordinary loop that weaves a selection of storybook-farm dirt roads, flowy New England singletrack, and rugged historic woodland paths to create a circuit of some of the world’s best and most coveted craft beers...” It also passes through a part of the country that I called home for seventeen years. I was anxious to go back — to explore and reminisce and share.
I used Komoot as our navigation app and created daily GPX routes that took us from campground to campground with an eye towards ensuring that we could find food along the way and didn’t have to eat too many meals out of a rehydration bag.
We began the first stage of the trip in Montpelier, VT, and left our vehicle at the Dog River Park & Ride. One thing we realized right away: Vermont is damned hilly. It seemed like every town was in a river valley, so every time we set off, we were climbing. We would climb more than 22,000 feet in the next five days and nearly 6,000 feet on Day One.
Getting ready to start in Montpelier.
The first stage of our trip took us from Montpelier to Hardwick; Greensboro and the famous Hill Farmstead Brewery, Craftsbury; and finally, to the Mountain View Campground on the banks of the Lamoille River. The highlights included more than thirty-five miles of quiet, undulating gravel roads in the Vermont countryside; lunch at Willey’s True Value Hardware in Greensboro; a draft, craft pint on the grounds of Hill Farmstead; and the nicest, flattest, softest, riverside campsite available at the Mountain View Campground. On the road from Greensboro to Hill Farmstead, a passing local called out, “You’re almost there!”
First beer of the trip!
The only drawback to the gravel growler concept is the fact that you don’t always arrive at the breweries at the end of the day, when you’re really ready for a beer. We ended up at Hill Farmstead with about two hours of riding left in the day before we reached our campsite. A belly full of beer does not exactly complement two hours of climbing in the afternoon sun, but the beer sure did taste good going down.
The Mountain View Campground was a delight. Privately owned, it features cabins, RV sites, and nine tent sites on level, grassy ground with picnic tables and firepits — all right beside the Lamoille River. They have a camp store with VT craft beer, snacks, supplies, and firewood. They also have the cleanest, best-equipped restrooms of any campsite I’ve ever seen. It was on par with a full bathroom at home (toilet, shower, sink and vanity, mirror, towel racks, bathmat).
After a long but satisfying day on the bikes, it was time to set up camp. Here’s what we were carrying for overnight gear — all NEMO, of course:
Camp on night 1.
It was fun watching Jeff and Jim figure out how to set up the Hornet OSMO 2P and navigate the inflation of the Tensor Insulated pads with the Vortex Pump Sack. All in all, they did a great job with little assistance from me. Both remarked at how easy it was to set up and how much vestibule space they had. Both were curious about the volumizing guy-outs and impressed with how much extra internal volume they had once deployed.
The pack size of the Hornet OSMO 2P was perfect for strapping on the bike or inserting in a pannier. If you pull the poles and stakes out and use a compression strap, you can squeeze the rainfly and inner tent into a softball-sized shape for super–space efficient storage. Plus, the new OSMO fabric sheds water and condensation, resists sagging, and dries quickly with a good shake and a little help from the sun.
A good night’s sleep, a breakfast of Good To-Go oatmeal and granola, an hour of dew-drying sun, and we were off for Day Two of our adventure, which would prove especially challenging. Only thirty miles to our next campsite at the Little River State Park, but lots of climbing, with some off-road sections that ensured we were “under-biking.”
The route took us through Morrisville and Stowe. There’s a recreational path that winds through Stowe and is abutted by many restaurants and breweries. Next time, we’ll score lunch at one of these establishments rather than riding out of town based on a Google search. I spent a lot of time in Stowe during my days with Burton Snowboards, and it was great to be back in the area.
One lesson from this leg of the journey was not to rely on the route’s elevation profile. That led to disappointment as we crested false summit after false summit, thinking we were further along in the route than we were. At one point, Jim yelled, “I’m 59 years old. What am I doing here?”
By the time we arrived at camp, we were gassed... But not too gassed to ride twelve miles into town and back to grab some VT craft beer and salty chips. Fifty-cent, four-minute showers, Good To-Go for dinner, a blazing campfire, and we called it a night. The spectacular harvest moon illuminated our tents and riled up a bear that terrorized the camp next to ours.
Not much sleep on Day Two.
Day two was tough on the legs.
Day Three started with a hearty breakfast at Maxi’s in Waterbury, VT, followed by a refueling stop at Waterbury Sports, a great local bike shop in the heart of one of the best mountain biking areas in Vermont. Then we made our way over the Green Mountains to Hinesburg (with a quick stop at Frost Beer Works), and finally to Mount Philo State Park, where we encountered the steepest climb of the trip: 1 mile in length, 941 feet in elevation gain, average grade 10.7%, maximum grade 23%. It reminded me of Lincoln Gap in Warren, VT, albeit shorter in distance.
Once we got our camp set up, we ventured back down the mountain to Charlotte, VT, in hopes of scoring a savory dinner at Backyard Bistro. We arrived at 4:30 and there were, maybe, 6 people in the ample restaurant. But, to our chagrin, the hostess said they were full and wouldn’t be able to seat us. The Backyard Bistro is now dead to us, and we took our sweaty selves down the road to Stone’s Throw, where we feasted on piping-hot, delicious, brick oven pizza and VT craft beer on the lawn of the Charlotte Town Hall.
After relaxing for a few minutes and taking advantage of rare internet service, we made our way back up the Mount Philo climb for the second time and put ourselves to bed next to the dying embers of our campfire.
Spirits were still high on Day three.
Day Four was my favorite day because we got a chance to ride through my old haunts of Bristol, Middlebury, East Middlebury, and Ripton, culminating with a lengthy climb and speedy descent of Middlebury Gap. I lived in the Middlebury area for ten years and have fond memories. My wife and I bought our first house in East Middlebury, and we made sure to take a peek at it as we rode through town.
When I lived in Middlebury, I didn’t often venture onto the Middlebury College campus. On this day, we grabbed lunch in town, then rode over to the College to digest with thirty-minute naps on the green. We were all blown away by the beauty of the campus, which was full of carefree freshmen finishing up their orientation week in anticipation of the first day of class. The experience transported all of us back in time. My daughter, Maielle, is now starting to explore where she might like to go to college, and for my part, I’d put Middlebury College on her list. It’s an idyllic place.
Quick pit stop for a snooze.
When making the route, I purposefully avoided Lincoln Gap in favor of Middlebury Gap. It’s longer and less severe, with beautiful views, and it’s familiar to me, having lived in this area so long and traveled that route so many times. It was a pleasure to ride it again — it has a ripping downhill that you can navigate without braking if you’re brave enough. None of the turns are so sharp that you can’t see oncoming vehicles, and you’re going fast enough not to have to worry about cars coming up on you from behind. Frankly, it’s a hoot!
We ended our day at Little Emma’s Sweet Retreat, which is a rustic but well-equipped campsite in the backyard of the home of proprietors, Ed and Kitty. Ed greeted us, introduced us to his two miniature donkeys, Theodore and Duncan, and showed us his 1939 Chevrolet truck that is still running. We set up camp, pitching our tents as far away from each other as possible on the expansive greenery of the Hancock Branch flood plain, hoping to avoid hearing each other’s snores and other nocturnal sonorous discharges. We ate our last dehydrated meals, split a beer, played hearts, told stories, and reminisced about the first four days of our trip. We were excited for the final day of riding.
Sharing our camp spot for the night with Theodore and Duncan, the donkeys.
On Day Five, we rose early, had a quick breakfast, packed our wet gear, and rolled out of Little Emma’s for the last leg of our journey. By this time, we were nursing saddle sores and not looking forward to the long, steep climb over Bear Farm Road. Enough climbing. After a brief discussion, we re-routed to follow Route 100 north through Warren and Waitsfield, then followed the Mad River through Moretown to Middlesex and the Winooski River to Montpelier.
We opted for an easier day back to Montpelier after all the climbing.
I always love going to Warren and Waitsfield. My family and I have vacationed in Warren and I’ve spent a fair amount of time snowboarding at Sugarbush and cycling in the area. We grabbed coffee and tasty breakfast burritos at the Warren Store, then made our way to Waitsfield and Lawson’s Finest Liquids. It was only 11 a.m., and we had twenty miles to ride, so we elected to pass on sampling the Finest Liquids. Instead, we spent our dollars on bike shirts and other Lawson’s apparel. We agreed that if Lawson’s were to set up a campground on some of the adjacent open land, they would solidify their reputation as THE destination for craft beer (and bikepacking) aficionados.
Celebrating our last day at Lawson's Finest Liquids.
Twenty more miles hugging the rivers and we were in Montpelier, back at our vehicle. We were proud of our accomplishment and grateful for the chance to explore Vermont on two wheels, powered by only our bodies and enthusiasm. A few Dude Wipes and a change of clothes had us revved up for some good food and another VT craft beer. We headed to the Three Penny Taproom and were not disappointed. We also stopped in at Onion River Sports, which became a NEMO dealer in 2022. They had essentially sold out of their NEMO buy and were very pleased with the brand’s performance in its first year on their shelves.
We made it!
As thankful as we all were to get off the saddle after five days of riding, each one of us commented the next morning that we wished we were out for a sixth day. I’m grateful for my forty-one-year friendship with Jim, who was my freshman year college roommate; and for the close relationship that I have with my brother, Jeff, who is truly my best friend. We’re all fortunate to be physically fit and reasonably mentally acute, with wives and families who support our need for camaraderie and adventure. Throw in some well-designed, highly functional gear, and that’s a recipe for racing towards our sexagenarian years in full go-go mode.
Although I’m years away from being able to retire, maximizing the go-go years is my goal. I’m flying to Arizona tomorrow for a week of mountain biking in the desert near Tucson. Go, go, go!
The NEMO GO FAR (Get Outside For Adventure & Research) Program gears employees up and sends them out to spend time in interesting places in NEMO gear. We believe great design starts with real adventures, and are committed to making sure all NEMO employees get to experience it.
Brent Merriam is the Chief Operating Officer at NEMO, and can be found surfing, snowboarding, mountain biking, or trail running nearly every day of the week.