Ride 27: Wolcott, Hardwick, Greensboro, Wheelock, Stannard & Walden

Well, they opened the Notch Road this week, so spring has officially sprung in the Green Mountain State! But before looking ahead, let’s look back a bit to events of this past winter. For me it was a middling winter weather-wise, but we got some snow and the skis got a decent amount of use. I skied the Camel’s Hump Challenge for the 5th (I think) time and even got to ride lifts with little Emerson

In town news, we may be gaining a 252nd city/town since Essex Junction voted in November to become an independent city. There are a few more legislative and logistical hurdles to clear, but by mid-2024, they could become Vermont’s 10th city (and the 4th largest). I also just became an official member of the 251 Club. I don’t know why I was putting it off, but I love the organization and what they do and $22 is a very reasonable price to pay for support and some fun perks. I was already invited to a member meetup that’s even happening right along a future route, but alas, I’m bust that day. 

Lastly, thanks to an article in the Catamount Trail’s Newsletter and a blog post about her, I learned of Mary “Badass” Anderson. She the real freaking deal: She’s done over 10,000 miles of long distance hiking, skied the Catamount Trail this past (not great snow) winter and this fall in between the Continental Divide and Catamount trails, she decided to ride her E-bike 1651 miles to all 251 towns in ONE GO! Oh and did I mentioned she’s 65! Certainly a badass. I haven’t found her route, but I’ll keep digging and may try to meet her to chat.

I also made a few minor updates to my bike:

Looking ahead I hope to do many overnights and if I were to really push, I may be able to finish this year, but as you might recall from “The Plan” there’s no deadline at all to this adventure and if it stretches into a 4th year, bring it on!

Okay, onto the ride. The temps were supposed to top out in the 60s and even 70s, so (unlike some of my crazy friends) I stuck around the house washing windows and putting up screens until the sun made everything the absolute PERFECT temperature. I then packed up the few things I’d need and headed the hour along Route 15 to Wolcott. For many years, Wolcott was a dive-through town and the main association I had with it was the mass of brown buildings with a trademark orange and yellow, then blue and green stripes running along them. This massive complex was Buck’s Furniture. They began in 1957 as a grocery and general store and expanded twelve times and at their height, they boasted 40,000 square feet of retail space and 12,000 square feet of storage. Sadly, they closed in 2014 and the spaces are largely empty save for an apothecary. But the village still has its charms. It honestly feels a lot like Bolton to me. 

Anyway, I pulled onto School Street and parked at the rec fields. Quickly, I was aboard and heading back up School Street. I saw a railroad bridge that is part of the old line was actively being worked on. It was in a state were it was impossible to cross on foot. I’d worried about this, given that the last six miles or so were supposed to follow the future rail trail. I knew work would be starting on the path, but it looked like the wheels of government turned faster than I expected. But knowing if the rest was passable was a problem to be solved in another 38 miles or so. So instead, I turned East Hill Road and began pedaling straight up one of my steeper, longer climbs of the day. I huffed and puffed up to Marsh Road, happy I’d done some pre-season training. Last time I was on Marsh Road was during an overnight trip with Maddie three years ago. I wasn’t as adept at route creation back then, and I had us riding our fully loaded bikes up the other end of Marsh. It’s just as steep as East Hill and needless to say, we walked most of it.

Luckily, I was riding the ridge and passed some lovely patches of Coltsfoot, which I sometimes call “fool’s dandelion” since they’re usually out a week or so before their more famous and longer lived cousins. I pushed on and passed Feel Good Farm where Maddie and I had stayed during our previous tour. At the time they were fully into the hemp boom and all their fields were filled with cannabis, but now they looked like they just get hayed. I continued east, eventually working my way to a class 3.5 road that took me down to VT 14. I cruised along that for a mile or two, taking in the marshy lowlands tucked between steep valley sides, before turning right to make my way up one of those imposing steeps.

I took a right onto Town Farm Road. As you may remember from Ride 19, town farms (also known as “poor farms”) used to exist all across the state to provide some level of care for the “poor, lame, blind, sick and other inhabitants” of the town. So this area must have housed one. At the bottom of the hill is Heartbeet Farm which has existed since 2000 as a therapeutic residence for adults with developmental disabilities. It “interweaves the social, artistic, and agricultural realms for the healing and renewing of our society and the earth”. They’re under the umbrella of Camphill who run fifteen of these communities across North America. On the way up through their beautiful campus, I passed by the ends of the creatively named “Karmic Loop” before reaching the Class IV section of road which heads steeply up towards the top of the ridge. This section of road was actually familiar to me as Maddie and I had gone in on renting an amazing house with a crew of friends this past January. We all isolated, tested and had such a great time there. I’d highly recommend the rental if you have a large group: the riding is obviously great and Craftsbury Outdoor Center and so many other fun places are right nearby. 

I eventually made it up to Bridgman Hill Road and had views over to the snows of Mansfield. Reports from that day were of pretty solid coverage and great corn skiing. I headed north to work my way towards Caspian Lake and into the town of Greensboro. The area has a number of lovely class 3.5 roads and Cook Hill Road which took me over towards the lake was certainly one of them: generous double track, small rollers and generally trending down. I’ll need to come back to explore Edsall and Harrington Roads some other time. After taking in a view of the lake, I made my way to “The Four Corners” where the historic Hinman Settler Road began. Built in the early 1790s the road connected Greensboro with the Canadian border and led the the founding of Derby Vermont and increased development in the area. 

Taking a left onto Breezy Ave, I passed a few of the cultural institutions of the area: the Highland Center for the Arts and Circus Smirkus, a camp and traveling youth circus. I continued down to Willey’s Store, nominally a hardware store, but so, so much more. They’re a full grocery store as well as a tourist sweatshirt-type shop, plus an actual outdoor store. It’s fantastic and you MUST stop by if you’re in the area. I browsed a bit, becoming sad I didn’t have more room to carry some of the wide selection of Jasper Hill cheeses they carry (made just up the hill). I grabbed a sandwich and some snacks and headed out behind the Miller’s Thumb gallery to watch the Greensboro Brook gurgle by underneath the gallery, the road and Willey’s!

After refueling, I worked my way northeast and out of town. I was headed up towards the Barr Hill Natural Area. In addition to its cheese, this area is known for its alcohol: Caledonia Spirits, makers of award winning Barr Hill Gin started right nearby and Hill Farmstead is rated as the top brewery in the world. They’re located on the family’s homestead along a quiet dirt road in an unassuming building. Oh and many of their beers are named after relatives, which I love. When I rode by on Hill Road (thankfully named after the family, not the topography) they were closed, but there was still a couple parked and walking around, checking things out. After a curvy downhill I crossed Route 16 onto Sparhawk Road. I couldn’t find much about the name Sparkhawk, but I like the ring it has. It’s a moderate climb that becomes a class IV road after about a mile and a half. Towards the top, I was very courteously passed by a gentleman in a Prius and it turns out his place is the last house before the road shifts rough. He gave me what I now recognize was a knowing wave: him knowing the shape of the road beyond his house and knowing I’d be having a time of it. It’s still a bit early in the season for a true class IV section and this one delivered on the mud. I was able to ride some, but there was more hiking than biking. In fact, right as I got to Wheelock Road (a rideable class IV)  and through the worst of it, I came upon a truck whose driver was outside, around on the passenger’s side. I had just stepped into the mud up past the top of my shoe and a bit annoyed, but also trying to get back to riding. Trying not to scare the driver, I quickly walked by. However, despite my efforts I freaked the heck out of him. He was actually relieving himself and the last thing he expected was someone to come up the way I came! All he could muster saying was a quick “Woah! I’m peeing!”

Anyway, I was deep into Wheelock. Well, about as deep as I’d get on this ride. The town of Wheelock is actually kind of fishhook-shaped and curves up across I-91 and borders Sutton from Ride 25. I was able to ride south now and suddenly I came across a lovely little pond on my right and across on my left were two buildings I instantly recognized, but had never seen from this side or in this weather. It was a barn and small sauna that belong to a friend of a friend. I’d visited them over the course of renting houses around New Year’s with the same crew of friends we were with at the house on Town Farm Road! I had no idea I’d be going past them and it was so fun to approach them from the back side. I rode on past the main house of Wheelock Mountain Farm and crossed into the small town of Stannard. I took a left onto Stannard Mountain road. The Mountain road is the main thoroughfare and is all dirt. In fact, there are NO paved roads in all of Stanndard! I climbed up to the two-building village: the town hall and yellow church are just about it. I peeked into the town hall’s windows and the only activity was a whole mess of ladybugs, so I kept south on Lazy Mill Road towards Skunk Hollow Road and my last unknown section of the day. On the Strava map, there was the faintest of blue lines, meaning someone had gone through, but not many. So I kept my fingers crossed that I’d make it.

I began Skunk Hollow by passing into the town of Walden and in less than a mile, I reached the class IV section. The track is clearly used by a farmer and wasn’t too bad, despite the dire warning from the local snowmobile club that “Your GPS is Wrong”. Don’t misunderstand, there’s no way you’d get a car through there, but it was all rideable and was quite open. It even appeared to have been rerouted around a wet area. After popping out into a field, the road bisects two cow pastures and climbs up towards a white farmhouse which I learned is part of an Alpaca farm. At the top of the brief climb the view was astounding! You have 180+ degree views towards the main spine of the Greens, and then back towards the ridge that includes Stannard Mountain. I’m not sure if the ridge as a whole has a name, but I do know it’s the state’s divide between the Lake Champlain and Connecticut River watersheds. After soaking in the view, I cruised down towards Route 15, doing most of it on Bayley Hazen Road. You may remember this historic road from Ride 4 or ride 6. Those rides were north and south of here respectively, and the old road has been maintained here as well. At Route 15, I had minor hopes of stopping into the “Corner Stop Inn Shop”, but it being a Sunday and that place not having much of an online presence, I hadn’t held my breath. It was closed, so I took a brief break sitting on a large stone out front, and continued on to work my way into the hills above Hardwick. 

The roads and views were nice here and I enjoyed seeing how the hills hid what was around the next bend, but I was getting a bit tired. I also must have been tired when I was making the route, because I totally should have taken Dusty Swamp Road to Nichols Pond Road in order to go by a lovely tiny little orchard and a wild treehouse you can rent out. I think it also would have been a bit flatter. Oh well. Anyway, I bombed down into the Village of Hardwick which has had a bit of a mini renaissance and is moving away from its old reputation. It’s also the setting for one of the most powerful podcast episodes I’ve ever heard. Seriously, stop reading and click that link, you’ll be glad you did. I was hoping to take a cool pedestrian bridge that’s right downtown and hookup with the future Lamoille Valley Rail Trail, but basically struck out on both fronts, but for very different reasons. Unfortunately the bridge closed in August of 2020 after more than 100 years and will likely need to be replaced. I put my backup plan into action and headed up towards the old railroad bed that is being rehabbed to be a multi use trail. I knew that money to compete the trail had been approved, but I thought the right of way would still be in the rough, but passable condition it’s been in for years. I was wrong! As I mentioned before, there’s already been work done on it this year. In fact there was a “Road Closed” sign on it, but the surface looked pretty good, and I didn’t feel like creating a plan C, so I partook in some light trespassing and rode the trail. It was basically done except for the final crushed stone layer. I got to an old railroad bridge that still needed its final decking, but it was better than the first one of the day: I just walked my bike across the sub-decking. At this point I popped out by Lamoille Valley Ford and saw that the whole trail was like that. I’m a bit of a rule follower, so after one more sidetrack to see what the path was like, I just took Route 15. However, I did make one more pitstop before the end: The Fisher Covered Railroad Bridge. Built in 1908, it’s one of a small handful of surviving covered railroad bridges in the US, but what I really love about it is the full-length copula that runs along its ridge which allowed smoke and steam to escape. I love imagining the train rumbling through as a mix of white and black smoke rises up through there. It’s going to be really fun to be able to bike through the bridge soon, not to mention bike the 93 from St. Johnsbury to Swanton all off road! Alas, I had to get back on the main road and wince as cars whizzed by, but the last section on Flat Iron Road was lovely. And so was the ride. I’m beyond excited to have the whole season out ahead of me and I now have less than 100 cities and towns left!

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