Slowing Down to Soak in Vermont’s Fall Foliage

Like most people, I’ve felt an incredible itch to get outside and travel during these turbulent times.

But the truth is, I have been frozen with anxiety over actually leaving the area. FOMO (fear of missing out) has been constant since the beginning of the pandemic and it’s hard to wait patiently for the feeling of “normal” to return. And who’s to say “normal” will ever come back? Existential crisis aside, I was determined to do some kind of adventure this year.

In the age of social media, I’m also guilty of feeling like every trip needs to be “epic”. Sure, those “epic” trips are amazing — summiting Colorado’s tallest peak or accomplishing a 4-day backpacking trip that takes you through 10,000 feet of elevation gain is swell.  Last year, I actually found myself on one of these “epic” trips, bikepacking through northern New Hampshire. What was supposed to be a “mostly manageable” gravel tour turned into more of a grueling mountain biking trip of endless miles that took me way out of my comfort zone. I definitely didn’t want that again.

All packed up and ready to go!

This year, I needed a trip that would allow me to slow down.

Type 1 fun was required — the kind where you have fun THE WHOLE TIME. I wanted an adventure version of a beach vacation with pina coladas, and that’s how I ended up in Vermont with my partner and a friend.

We’d discovered a route on Bikepacking.com called the Green Mountain Gravel Growler, a 255-mile loop through scenic Vermont over 5-6 days with 21,200 feet of elevation gain. Woof. Yes, this was quickly sounding like another “epic” trip. We were intrigued with the structure of the trip though and, while we weren’t looking to do 50 miles a day to achieve the whole route, we decided to make it our own. Oh, and did I mention this was a beer tour? The route has multiple stops at some of Vermont’s most iconic breweries. Lastly, bonus points for doing the trip during peak leaf-peeping season. Yes, sign us up!

We would start at Montpelier’s Park and Ride and ride to Stowe, totaling about 35 miles on our first day. Day 2 would take us through Morristown and finish at Lake Elmore State Campground in about 32 miles. Day 3 was another 32 miles to take us back to Montpelier to our cars. Our plan was to camp on Vermont State Forest land the first night and camp at the state campground the second night. To cut down on weight, we decided to minimize the food category and only carry water, snacks, breakfast bars, and instant coffee. Lunches and dinners would be at the breweries or wherever we found our next meal. We hastily threw the routes together two days before the trip and we were off.

After all the PB&J sandwiches and MountainHaus meals I’ve had on some of those “epic” trips, it was nice to have options.

Mike (my partner), Charles, and I started on a pleasant Saturday afternoon from Montpelier. Loaded up and stoked to start the trip, we began down the road with our heavy bikes. I had just purchased new pannier bags for this trip, which were secured on a front rack of my bike and I was excited to try them out. As we hit the first farm road potholes Vermont is known for, the jostling became too much for my poor bike bags and they evacuated my bike just 5 minutes from our starting point. Duct tape around the bar of the bottom rack helped the hook of the pannier stay in place over bumps and we started again, feeling like we tripped in the first 5 minutes of a marathon. How embarrassing…

The first day was chill, to say the least. Exactly what the doctor ordered for the start of the trip. We arrived in Stowe and our first stop was at the iconic Alchemist for Heady Toppers to celebrate. We then ended up at Stowe Cider in search of food, which we found at a neighboring Mexican restaurant. We ate, we drank, we sat. Way better than waiting for water to boil for backpacking meals at a campsite. We had about a 6-mile ride to the state forest where we were camping for the night. We were tired and cold (it was a bit chilly that night!) and ready to get settled into our tents.

Pretty in Purple. Charles and Mike enjoying Heady Toppers at the Alchemist.

I really enjoyed the ride to camp that night, we ended up on the Stowe Community Rec Path with our bike lights lighting our way through the dark. The town was alive with live music and we could sneak some peeks of the shows through the trees as we rode by. As we left town and the music faded away, the only sounds were the leaves crunching under our tires as the paved path turned to stone and gravel. We made it to the Vermont State Forest land which was eerily quiet after all the sounds of Stowe.

Stowe nightlife was hoppin’.

As we rode down the dirt road past the entrance to the park to look for a place to camp for the night, we passed a group of about 10 coolers down a riverbank alongside the road. I thought it was strange, but Mike and Charles immediately began to investigate, and low and behold, there were about 50 DIPA’s (double India pale ale) in the coolers! This was the mystery of the trip, for sure. We couldn’t figure out if it was trail magic or why the coolers were out there. Mike and Charles took a couple of DIPA’s but I felt like it was bad voodoo to help ourselves so I did not partake. I’m a little superstitious and felt like the boogie man was going to get us for stealing his beer in this creepy, quiet forest. We soon found a good spot off the road to set up camp and went to bed. I didn’t get much sleep that night, I thought someone was coming for us for stealing their beers. Mike and Charles didn’t sleep well either, karma.

No littering — had to pack the empty cursed beer out somehow.

We made some coffee the next morning, packed up camp, and were on our way. Charles mentioned the Von Trapp Lodge was close by and that we should try to get breakfast there. I had no idea that the Von Trapp family in Vermont was the very same as the one from The Sound of Music. If you’re unfamiliar, the original Von Trapp’s actually settled in Vermont because the mountain vistas reminded them of Austria.

As we climbed the steep winding road up to the lodge, we were passed by a Sprinter van and a hand shot out the window to wave. “It’s Andrew!” I cried. Hilariously, Andrew is a co-worker at NEMO, and works closely with Charles and I on warranty repairs! He and his family were in the area the same weekend and we, unknowingly, all ended up at the Von Trapp Lodge together. Amazing that we had decided that morning to go! Small world, Vermont. The views from the top were gorgeous — the hills were alive with … no, not music, but popping reds, oranges, and yellows!

Views from the Von Trapp Lodge were stellar!

I could definitely see the resemblance to an Austrian mountain range and we had definitely picked the perfect weekend for leaf-peeping. And so had everyone else, there were a ton of people around which meant no fancy lodge breakfast for us as they were completely booked up. After bidding auf Wiedersehen (sorry, last Sound of Music pun I promise.) to Andrew and his family we stopped at the Von Trapp Lodge bakery for a chocolate croissant and more coffee. We descended into town and ended up at the Idletyme Brewery in downtown Stowe for lunch beers and actual lunch. The wait for a table was long so we ended up staying there for a couple of hours, enjoying the sun as the day was crisp. Day 2 got even better as we left Stowe and entered the classic small town and pastoral landscapes. We were in no rush, we stopped often to take in views and pictures of the mountainscape around us. My favorite thing about this trip was mileage, sticking to around 30 miles per day allowed us to stop anywhere and make any detour we wanted with no fear of not making camp by a reasonable time. We made it to the Elmore State Park campground just before dusk where we booked a campsite with the friendliest state park ranger and got settled in for the night.

We stopped often to take in the views.

Day 3 was definitely the highlight of the trip. Our route took us down a class VI logging road that provided plenty of rough terrain at times and took us deep into the forest. Farmland and rolling hills gone, we were now into the truly chunky gravel, winding descents, and mud o’ plenty of New England. It was a tough road to pass, we dismounted many times but got out alive.

The Class VI road was tough but had some pretty epic descents.

After we emerged back onto the main roads, we rode through quaint, small towns that left us feeling nostalgic, humbled, and happy to be on our bikes. We stopped for snacks/lunch at a general store in one of these towns and soaked up the sun at a picnic table outside. Sad to finish the day but happy with our wanderings, we made it back to our cars that afternoon in Montpelier feeling satisfied with our days on the bike. We loaded up the cars and drove to Waterbury to Prohibition Pig to finish our day with some amazing BBQ and Vermont Cheddar Mac and Cheese. Tired and full, we drove to a campground just outside of Burlington to camp for the night. The next day we had left intentionally unplanned. We drove to Burlington and hopped on our bikes once again to ride the causeway that extends into Lake Champlain. It felt so good to ride our bikes without all of our gear!

Maple creemees, more breweries, and flatbread pizza left us content with our day on the town in Burlington and brought the perfect end to our trip.

This was the best trip I’ve been on in a while, enjoyed with close friends and set at a pace that left time to explore and go where the wind took us. And the best part? It didn’t kill us. We weren’t sore or exhausted by the end of each day. We woke refreshed each morning when we felt like it — ready to meander. No pressure to crush miles or see the best sites. Free to enjoy the present. I highly recommend a trip like this, there are so many benefits. It’s good for the soul. I think in our fast-paced world, we forget to slow down sometimes. On Day 2, as we were making our way to camp, I saw a sign that said “Drive like your cows live here.” and it was just so perfectly “Vermont”. Slow down, live in the present, and please — don’t hit any cows.

 


Tips for Your Own Bikepack Trip (For beginners and experts!):

Make a route/Download maps

While this trip wasn’t planned down to the nitty-gritty, some planning was required. Strava.com, Google Maps and Komoot were extremely helpful with mapping our routes and getting us back on route when Strava was off (which is often if you know and use Strava). Having all three available was key to navigating some roads without cell service. Make sure you bring along a charging brick to keep your phone or whatever you’re using to navigate fully charged.

Dial in your Kit

Racks/Bags: Between the three of us, we each had very different packing styles and preferences. Mike had two racks on his bike and used two Swift Industry Junior Ranger Pannier bags in the front and strapped his sleeping bag in a dry bag to the back rack. He also carried the tent we shared, the Dragonfly™ Bikepack 2P, which he attached to the bottom of his saddle. The Bikepack 2P’s stuff sack has helpful daisy chains on the outside and offers a variety of attachment points for different packing options. The best place to put the tent is definitely on the handlebars. Charles had the Dragonfly™ Bikepack 1P and attached his there as well — along with some other bags. I had one front rack on my bike with two Swift Industry Junior Ranger Panniers, a small handlebar bag, and a medium-sized saddlebag. Charles used his handlebars primarily for most of his gear and had a small saddlebag. I think we were all maxed out in terms of packing space in bags we brought so not carrying a ton of food worked out well. If we had wanted to carry food on this trip, we definitely would have needed to add one more bag somewhere on the bike. For me, that probably would have had to be a frame bag or I would have needed to add another rack in the back. Our setup was definitely ideal as it helped keep the bikes light-ish.

The Dragonfly™ Bikepack really is the perfect companion. to any bikepacking adventure.

Sleep system: I used a NEMO Rhumba™ 15 degree bag (now the Disco™ Women’s 15 Regular) and a Quasar™ 3D Insulated Regular pad and I was very comfortable. Two Quasar™ regulars fit perfectly in the Dragonfly™ Bikepack. We could have gone lighter and brought along the NEMO Tensor™ but as a side sleeper I prefer the 3D baffling of the Quasar™, it’s just a more comfortable sleep system for me and I think the extra weight and pack size is worth it. Oh and the Fillo™ Elite pillow, packs down so small and definitely worth packing for extra comfort as a side sleeper.

Mike’s setup.

Bring what you need: This goes along with dialing your kit. Packing for a trip is a skill — one that is refined and perfected as you go on more trips and learn what you use the most, what you’re missing, and what you didn’t use at all. My best recommendation is to keep it light, and really think about whether you need that item when you’re packing. I’m still perfecting this and have a hard time not packing the kitchen sink, but I’m WAY better at it than I used to be. Check a weather report to get the best idea of temperatures and whether it’ll rain or not to build out clothing needs.
Mileage: As I mentioned, I think we really nailed the mileage on this trip. 30 to 35 miles a day was actually still a good amount of mileage with a good amount of climbing. You don’t have to kill yourself with 50 mile days. Heck, you could go even lower too! 20 miles doesn’t sound like a lot but you can really stretch that out if there are unique places to see along the way. This was my second bikepacking trip. I bike a good amount over the year. I average about 30-70 miles a week during the summer and have done a couple centuries. If you’re a beginner cyclist and want to do a bikepacking trip, please do it! It’s a really cool experience, especially if you start with a trip like this one. Bikepacking sounds intimidating, but don’t let it scare you.

Make it your own! I can’t tell you the one best way to plan a trip, but I hope these tips help get you there!


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. Sam Rokos is the Senior Customer Service Guide at NEMO, loves to x-country ski, and is an aspiring triathlete.