• Mary Anderson

Mary’s Cycling Challenge: Day 16

Mary Anderson is cycling through her home state of Vermont on her ebike. Her goal: to visit all 251 towns in one go. Since hitting the road on October 6, she has logged 148 towns and 915 miles.

Day 16

Shelburne, Saint George, Charlotte, Monkton, Ferrisburg, Panton, Addison, Bridport, and Vergennes

Miles: 55

Today I thought about how difficult it is sometimes to get up out of a comfy chair and start to work, but how once started, the dreaded task is not really all that bad. I wondered if past experiences of hiking for days in freezing rain left me with some deep-seated negative feelings that I need to change, because once I actually set out in today’s real downpour, it was not so bad. I noticed how much more comfortable it was to ride in 53-degree rain than in a wet 39 degrees. Though visibility was poor, especially on the downhills, I relaxed into the rain. It is amazing to me what we can adapt to and accept as normal. Once I stepped away from my traumatic memories of icy cold rain, I could accept the rain as natural.

What I couldn’t adapt to was how much more difficult the rain made it for me to brake. Unfortunately, I do not have disc brakes, and as the day wore on, I found my stopping distance getting longer and longer. I knew it was not my brake pads and assumed it was the rain. My brakes completely failed me on one long, steep downhill. When I saw a side road leading uphill I turned onto it and used the hill as a runaway ramp. Then I adjusted my brakes as tightly as I could and cautiously continued on. That was one close call I hope I never have to get used to.

My phone was acting funny, and by midday it had quit altogether. This meant I had no GPS or way to check my position. I decided to see this and the brake issue as challenges rather than as troubles. Tweaking that one thought really made it all feel different and came in handy when challenge number three arose.

I was almost to my night's destination when I encountered a detour sign off the road on a narrow dirt track. I asked a woman who was standing near her parked car about the detour. She informed me a culvert was being replaced and that the detour went a really long way around. I've learned that drivers usually underestimate the mileage, so when she told me it was a long way, I was a bit dismayed. I did not want to add more distance to my 55-mile day, especially as darkness would soon be upon me and I had no phone nor GPS to help guide me. My maps for the day were pretty wet and falling apart. I was loathe to try a new route on a remote, narrow dirt track. After talking with the woman some more, I decided to try the road, hoping I could get around the construction.

When I arrived at the construction site, I knew I had met my match. The muddy ditch was deep enough to contain huge construction vehicles. The culvert was so high that there was a ladder leaning against it. I searched for a way around but could find none, as one side of the road was fenced in and the other dipped sharply to a stream. Then I noticed a barefoot young man on the other side of the ditch. He informed me he would help me get my bike through, as it would otherwise be a long ride around.

My bike is heavy without the panniers. With them, it weighs more than most people can handle alone. We thought about taking them off, but it was nearing dark, and I did not want to take the time. The panniers are almost as ancient as I am, and so I have them jury-rigged to the bike. It makes for cumbersome attaching and detaching.

I slipped in the mud a few times while getting the bike into the ditch. Then I climbed up the ladder and pulled the bike behind me while Ken, the barefoot man, pushed. I balanced on top of the culvert, trying not to lose the bike while Ken climbed over. At this point, the bike fell onto its side. It took a lot of grunting, but we managed to pull the bike over the culvert and get it righted. Then I fell in the slippery mud a few times while trying to pull it up the far bank. By the time we topped the bank, I and my bike were caked in thick clay. My feet felt like they were encased in stone. My pedals were full of mud, as were my rainpants, tires, and wheel wells. I scraped as much as I could off the bike, but that only made me muddier.

After thanking Ken a multitude of times, I set off for my final few miles. That's when the warning came on that my battery was low and would be out of energy soon. Not wanting to stop and change it with mud-caked hands while it was dark and raining, I decided to push the final three miles without it. All the while my wheels were making a bit of a grinding sound as the tires hit the mud-lined fenders. Talk about a challenging day!

But the challenges were offset with some wonderful events. One of these was an hour-long massage by my day-15 host, Janice, who has a massage business. Another was getting to spend time with Sophia, Janice's absolutely delightful 16-year-old daughter who lives daily with special challenges. I know that if I had taken on the mindset that my day was one disaster after another I would have been too disgruntled to fully appreciate the easier parts.

I felt some real success at arriving at Karen and Carl’s home intact, and I enjoyed having Carl spray me and my bike with hot water from their hose. It took a while, but eventually we got most of the mud off. Then all the clothes got thrown into the washer, I had a lovely hot shower and dinner, and now I am falling asleep as I write this. Considering that it is past 11 p.m., I think tomorrow will be a shorter day than the 77 miles I had planned for!

Above (clockwise from left): The fully loaded bike; wet maps; me and Sophia; "Vermont's Smallest Town"; map of Vermont towns; Janice and me.


About Mary Anderson

When Bethel resident Mary Anderson set out to hike the southern half of the 3,000-mile Continental Divide Trail in the summer of 2020, nobody thought she would make it. Hikers give themselves trail names, and Mary’s was Old Lady Hiker. A few days into her solo trek, she ran into some younger hikers who decided she needed a new name. From then on, she was known as Mary Badass. In the fall of 2020, Mary began writing her story in a Korongo workshop hosted by Kimball Library in Randolph. After completing her CDT hike in September 2021, she began a new challenge: A bicycle tour of Vermont’s 251 towns. Estimated time: four to six weeks.

Photo: Evening at the home of Janice, Mary’s day-15 host.

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