There are many reasons to ride a bike: For sport and competition, recreation and fun, health and wellness, for a cause or a loved one. There’s also a lifestyle and culture to identify with, one of coffee, beer and good meals to nourish before and replenish after long days in the saddle. There are the friendships and camaraderie that are born from a shared passion of pedaling a bike and covering some miles (as well as conversations over the coffee, the beer and during meals). And then, simply, there is forward momentum and freedom, as riding through the valleys and over the hills of Vermont inspires our senses with sights, sounds and smells that connect us deeply to our surroundings. I could hear cycling commentator Sean Kelly’s Irish brogue and thought it’s a beautiful day for a bicycle ride. As professional teams navigate, traverse, climb and race over the French landscape during the 2015 Tour de France, I am looking for a personal test – some time in the saddle that will bring both joy and challenge.
Today’s ride will take me from Stratton Mountain to Weston. From there, I’ll head east through Andover to Chester, linking me to Grafton and then to Townshend. The return trip winds along the West River, delivering me back to the base of the Stratton Mountain access road which I’ll climb to end my ride and create my own mountain-top finish.
With the winter infrastructure and lifts surrounded by lush, relaxing summer greenery, Stratton Mountain is a great place to start the ride. The mountain’s slope side village has a European feel year-round and speaks to cycling’s heritage. This certainly creates a different experience than rolling out your back door. Also, you can conveniently head over to the Stratton Mountain Deli for a coffee or latte, a breakfast sandwich or a burrito to fuel up before you start.
From Stratton Mountain to Weston:
The start is downhill and can be a bit steep in places. Make sure to check your bike over and ensure that wheel and brake quick releases are secure. Enjoy the decent, but pay close attention to your position on the bike, your speed and the road. At the bottom, take a right onto RT-30 S and then a little further on a left onto VT-100 N. There are a few climbs on VT-100 N and early on is a great time to pace yourself for later efforts. Once you head straight on to Middleton Rd off of VT-100 in South Londonderry, look for West River Creamery on your left. Here is perfect example of a great way to lose yourself in your surroundings and encounter Vermont agriculture and dairy in the works. Say hello to the cows in the pasture as you make your way through this pastoral scene.
RT-11 sits at the bottom of Middleton Rd. Take a left on RT-11 and then a quick right onto VT-100 N. Here you’ll encounter some rollers as you make your way to Weston. There are plenty of areas along this stretch to take in views of surrounding mountains and farms. Look right and you’ll see the sign for Woodcock Farm, another farm creating artisan cheese – Are you noticing a theme here? Their “Jersey Girl” is a personal favorite. Weston offers several places for riders to take a break. From ice cream to espresso, sandwiches to chocolate, there’s sure to be something to fuel the upcoming miles. Ice cream is also a reason to ride, so take a break and enjoy – it’s your ride after all. Weston is also a great place for riders looking for a shorter route to turn around and take advantage of a fun 34 mile out and back to Stratton Mountain. If you’ve got time, be sure to stroll through the Vermont Country Store before turning around.
From Weston to Grafton:
Turn right onto Chester Mountain Rd and you’ll be quickly looking uphill. This is one of my favorite shorter climbs on the route. The views of the West River and mountains to the north are beautiful. This climb also has the added benefit of a fun hairpin turn as you descend through Andover.
Once you make it to the intersection of Chester Mountain Road and VT-11, you’ll turn left onto VT-11 E towards Chester. VT-11 can be a busy road, so be sure to pay attention. There are a few rough spots in the road just west of Chester and you’ll want to keep your eyes on any hazards.
Chester is another town you can stop and recharge. The village green offers some shade and a soft spot to sit and relax. If you are looking for a longer break, there are plenty of shops and eateries as well. As you leave Chester, turning right on to VT-35 S, you’ll quickly start climbing through a wooded, winding mountain segment. I often ride this road and there are sections where I inevitably stop thinking about the day- to- day and focus on the smell of moss and pine needles, listen to my breath, feel my heart pumping as my legs, then pedals turn and turn and turn. The meditative quality of cycling tunes you inward as well as exposing the natural surroundings.
Grafton is a quaint Vermont village that has, yes, a cheese company – Cheddar fans take note! Grafton Village Cheese has been making cheese since 1892. Their retail store and eatery is yet another spot along the way that you can fuel up. I stopped in here to grab water and enjoyed some kombucha before heading back out on the road.
Leaving Grafton, you’ll head down Grafton Rd/ VT-35 S. With rested legs, I enjoyed this flat stretch taking in the smell and pattern of freshly hayed fields. Breathe in and listen to your wheels rolling along the pavement – freedom! Eventually, you’ll start a long decent to Townshend.
Townshend to Stratton Mountain:
From Townshend you’ll take a right onto and continue along VT-30 W back to the Stratton Mountain Access Rd. You’ll want to make sure that your water bottles are full, as there is a lot of up and down as you head west towards Jamaica. By now you’ve covered some ground and you’re closing in on the final climb up the Access Road. Here’s where you’ll want to take note. There is a fair amount of climbing out of Jamaica, so you’ll want to pace yourself as you head back to Stratton.
When I started climbing out of Jamaica, my thoughts turned to food and what I’d have to eat after completing the ride – the burger on the stick if you will. With so many restaurants and bars to choose from at Stratton Mountain, what was I going choose?
The Mountain-Top Finish:
The ride had been everything that I had hoped for. The ups and downs of the road allowed me to focus my mind and energy on completing the task. With cycling, a rider can make each outing their own and push themselves as hard as they want. However, sometimes the route or the weather can push back and challenge the rider to dig deep and then even deeper.
The final climb presented the challenge I had anticipated. Without question, I enjoyed each turn of the pedal that moved me forward towards the top.
What to Expect
Ride Distance: 65.6 mi
Elevation Gain: 5,760 ft
- Road bike with climbing gear ratio ( Compact cranks 50/34t and an 11/28 rear cassette were used on this ride)
- Bike shoes
- 2 full water bottles
- Rain gear (if needed)
- Small, easy-to-eat snacks (Gus, Shot Blocks, Bars)
- Smartphone or small camera (great views to snap shots and tag us #VentureVermont & @strattonresort)
- Bike computer
What to Pack
Everyone has their own saddlebag essentials and unless you have someone following in a support wagon, you’ll want to carry a pump or CO2 canisters and inflator, tire irons, multitool, spare tube and patch kit. While there are plenty of places to fuel up, water, energy gels and gummies are easy to pack in your jersey. Be sure to carry ID and payment method for stops along the way.
Who can do this?
This is an enjoyable ride for intermediate and advanced riders who are looking for some distance and climbing – you can push as hard as you want. Are you new to cycling? You’ll want make sure you’ve been riding hills and you may want to check your gearing with your local bike shop to make sure you are ready. Recommended for those who are comfortable climbing and ready for hours on the saddle.
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Chris Seidner | Chris has lived in Vermont for over 10 years, enjoying all that Vermont has to offer – including skiing, cycling and mountain biking. Lucky to call Vermont home, Chris is also fortunate to have a wonderful wife and family. One day he hopes to ride the French Alps with his three sons Stefan, Hugh and Owen.