Mary’s Cycling Challenge: Days 1–3
Mary Anderson is cycling through her home state of Vermont on her ebike. Her goal: to visit all 251 towns in one go.
October 7: As I sit to write this in the dark at 5 a.m. I feel I am jumping off a cliff. I have no idea what will come of it, but it seems to me it will be different than the hiking blog, in part because bike packing is so much different than backpacking. First, the stats.
Day 1: Wednesday, October 6
Bethel, Rochester, Randolph, Braintree, Roxbury, Brookfield, Chelsea, and Tunbridge
Miles: 48. At least 50% on dirt roads
Even with a late start and stopping for lunch with a friend, I made it my planned 48 miles and eight towns. I was chased by three dogs and used my throttle once to escape an aggressive pit bull. I dropped my bike once, but thankfully I was not on it when it fell. I was hit by falling acorns and apples. Both made it difficult to balance as I rode over them on the road. The apple packed a punch when it hit me. I asked for directions twice. The weather and views were perfect.
My self-imposed rule is to ride through all the 251 towns, even if I have been to them before. But for those I have been to before, I am content with just riding a few miles. I may not get to the town centers, but I will see some out-of-the-way farms, cemeteries, and natural beauty.
As I indicated, biking is different than hiking in so many ways. To my surprise, I learned quickly how many new muscles I will be using! Yipes! I realized I won’t stop as often to take photos. It is difficult to do on a steep up- or downhill. I have to really focus to keep my heavily laden bike upright, especially when going downhill on a dirt road at 30 mph. So far, the cars have not been a problem, but I expect they may be at some points on this trip.
I thought about a lot of things as I pedaled along. For one, the speed I travel at really affects my journey. Even though I covered at least three days of hiking on my first day of riding, I am not convinced I saw three times as much. Using any kind of vehicle takes away some of the focus I would otherwise have for seeing things. And the speed diminishes what I see. This led me to thinking about slowing down.
I don't mean the kind of slowing down that is enforced by bodily limits as I reach old age. I've learned through years of backpacking not to rush the trip. But yesterday I realized I was in a bit of a rush. I wanted to make it to my destination before dark. I want to finish this trip before snow flies. I had to remind myself to slow down and take each day, each moment as it comes. If I lose a day riding because I have to recharge my battery in daylight hours, so what? It is not my preference, but who knows what rewards might come out of it?
I realized that some of this internal rushing was coming from the fact that I do not know how long it will take me to ride even 50 miles. And I have no idea of the total mileage for this adventure. But those are not good reasons to rush. I want to be able to sit comfortably in that place of unknowing. I reminded myself that the adventure in the moment was the only one I really had. I focused on the ways this trip fell together without me having to do much. The idea came to me in the night. It felt right. I tried to plan it, but often found myself unable to do much. My brain fog and inability to think was much too intense. Yet still the trip managed to piece itself together.
My local bike shop was open even at 5:15 on a Sunday evening when I called on a whim. They were able to give my bike the once-over it needed and supply me with spare parts, such as an inner tube and extra brake pads. I had it back by Monday.
Even though I could not follow through on the list of things I set for myself, I set out on the day, if not the time, I had hoped to leave. My house is a mess and will not be fun to return to, but some inner wisdom seemed to be guiding me in those final planning days. I packed in just a few hours on the morning I was leaving. I spent time with friends in Randolph, my third town, even though I had gotten a late start. And still I made it to my first destination before dark. I have to make conscious memories of these facts, reminding myself to stay in the moment and take it as it comes, trusting it will work out.
I am about to get tested on this in a big way. I have one place to stay tonight. Then I head into what is feeling like the great unknown, the very rural Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Populations in these towns might be around 30. Since 1910, Lewis has had a population of zero; I have to reach it on what will amount to a rough logging road at best and more likely an unridable track. Just finding a house, not to mention a business to recharge my bike battery, might be a big challenge. But by reminding myself how I worked my way around fires and storms out west, I am able to ride on without fear. In fact, I'm interested to see how it all works out!
Day 2: Thursday, October 7
Strafford, Vershire, West Fairlee, Thetford, Fairlee, Bradford, Corinth, Topsham, Newbury, Ryegate, Groton, Peacham, and Barnet
Miles: 65. About 60–70% on dirt roads
Totals to date: 113 miles and 21 towns
My ride: An array of dead animals, especially squirrels and skunks. No dogs to escape but almost dumped my bike when I hit a newly graded patch while going downhill. Instincts kept it upright after a few fishtails and weaving back and forth. Instincts also kicked in when I heard a tree falling to my right. I pedaled like hell and when the tree fell it missed me by two feet! That’s a first. Made one wrong turn that added miles but gave me one of the best downhills I’ve ever had; Newly paved road, not one car, few miles at steady 20 mph, just the right curviness. Worth the extra miles. Charged one battery for 15 minutes, and with that it made it all but the last ten miles, when I changed over so I could up my speed and finish before dark.
Another bluebird day with perfect temps for riding, mountains aglow with autumn colors, numerous waterfalls, ponds, lakes, and streams. Doesn’t get much better.
Day 3: Friday, October 8
Waterford, Saint Johnsbury, Kirby, Concord, Lunenburg, Guildhall, Maidstone, Granby, Victory and Burke
Miles: 56 (at least 35% on dirt roads)
Totals to date: 31 towns, 169 miles
My ride: I got to slack-bike—that is, do it without my panniers and full gear, which helped a lot. Even with an 11 a.m. start, I rode 56 miles, at least a third of the distance on dirt roads, one with rocks the size of golf and tennis balls, which I walked down. One battery lasted the whole day. I added ten more towns. Besides the rocky road, my biggest holy-moly was when I was climbing a hill. A black form seemed to roll out of the woods on my right. By the time I came to a stop, a mama black bear and her two adolescent cubs were standing less than 15 feet in front of me. We stared each other down, my heart skipping a beat. Luckily, she turned and walked back into the woods, her cubs following. Still, since I spent all summer in grizzly country and had some encounters, I was wary as I rode past the place she had been. She was beautiful with such rich black fur. I felt lucky to have seen them. Again a bluebird day with red, scarlet, orange, and yellow leaves covering the mountainsides. Set against a field of pumpkins, the views were spectacular. I'm trying to make memories as I expect to be cold and wet somewhere along this journey. But for now, it couldn't be better.
Some useful links
Northeastkingdom.com: Visitor information for some of the towns Mary rode through on days 2 and 3.
Northeast Kingdom Byway Map: A map and other visitor info for the northeast corner of Vermont.
VermontVacations.com, website of the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing.
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.