Words and Photos by AOC Athlete Tony Prikes
Event: Vermont Super 8
Rider category: ‘Self sufficient’ (Riders in this category must remain outdoors for the entirety of the race with no ability to buy or purchase any goods or services.)
Bike/Stuff: Trek Procaliber 9.7; rigged to 60lbs; ~ 3 liter water capacity; 6 days food
This was my first bikepacking/endurance riding experience and I enjoyed every minute of it. This race in my opinion is more than just a race. For me it was a unique and privileged view into the landscape of Vermont along with its people and their way of life. You’re a temporary passerby so you better make the best of it while you have the time. You’ll be able to discover things about yourself you won’t otherwise be afforded to realize. As the saying goes, “I travel, I experience, I become."
Friday, September 25th: Grand Depart Montpelier - End @ Woodstock
And we’re off! A cluster of 20 or so masked riders at the steps of the state capital of Vermont, if not for the bicycles this might be considered some coup d'état but this was the start of the 2020 Vermont Super 8 … exciting days were ahead for all!
My memory is foggy here but someplace either transitioning to Densmore road or off of Densmore 2 unleashed german shepherds wanted to make clear they didn’t like strangers! I was lucky enough to have a fairly flat trail to speed away! Note to self, make sure your bear spray is easily deployed while ON the bike instead of having to dismount and fiddle with a strap.
Paul Revere’s Bells
At the end of today’s ride I was very happy with my performance but rolling into Woodstock I was beat and the sun was already down. I was continually scoping where to pitch the tent and decided to roll into Billings Farm and Museum parking lot for a look. A caretaker I spoke with on the premises was kind enough to recommend a tree line spot behind an old stone well up on a hill. I thanked him and shortly after that I pitched the tent for the night overlooking the flickering lights of the town below. Half asleep I could hear church bells ringing throughout the night, striking the time … 2am, 3am, etc...I later discovered that Woodstock is the only town to possess six church bells manufactured in Paul Revere’s foundry, so I guess they proudly keep them in service, all night!
Saturday, September 26th: Start in Perkinsville - End @ Crown Point Campgrounds
The Crown Jewel
Morning I woke to thick fog which slowly dissipated to reveal sunshine. Water was a priority and I was able to find a spot to draw from the Ottauquechee river for the day's ride ahead. I propped my bike up next to a fancy stone wall and descended through thick brush to get to the water's edge and do the needful.
I was able to have a fairly easy day mileage wise after putting in a decent performance the day before. The climb up to and past Coolidge State Forest was pretty brutal but I knew once it was over there was a nice long descent to Crown point campgrounds and getting there on the early side was a nice change from the night before where there wasn’t a rush to set up camp. On the way I snapped some pics of the awesome Little Ascutney Mountain, couldn’t resist. Once I reached the campgrounds Gary checked me in. He had me fill out the standard state covid form, signed, I paid the nominal camp fees and enjoyed a terrific lakeside view for the evening along with a hot shower.
Sunday, September 27th: End @Wardsboro
Pete’s Camp Debacle
I decided to detour around Pete’s camp rather than deal with an excavator blocking the course route based on a group text or email I read, then my thought was after the bypass cycle up one of the side roads, Stigers Road in this case, to get me back on the Super 8 course. Sounds like a plan? Well not really it had a severe flaw … what I thought was Pete’s camp pinned on my map was actually not Pete’s camp … So rather than bypassing the camp I actually was formally introduced to the excavator! … Undeterred I dismounted from the bike and surveyed a way around to the other side of the road which meant carefully walking the bike around a murky pond … SUCCESS!!! And I was back on my way saying adieu to the excavator…
Shortly afterwards I met Pete Voller who introduced himself as I was cycling by his camp. He invited me to stay which I accepted and then gave me some history on the camp and his background including the VOR ‘vermont overland race’ and also a very interesting story about a crabby old man down the road who apparently doesn’t like jeeps, cyclists, motorbikes, etc... going past his residence. Any opportunity the old man had to block travelers' path he would do so and falsely state they are trespassing but in reality it’s a public access road. Luckily I didn’t have a run in with Pete’s nemesis.
Pete didn’t have snacks or water out but he did offer it so of course I took a fill to my water bottle and an extra power bar he had in his truck, great guy! Pete subsequently left to speak to the old man once again to smooth things out based on the most recent drama and issue unfolding, I wished him luck. I then finished up my lunch and decided to press on.
Rocks and Jeeps
The rocks of Turkey mountain road made for a tough descent and I kept reminding myself that ‘slow is pro’. The rocks however were not a problem for the 2 Jeeps heading in the opposite direction. They stopped and gave me the right of way and we chatted a bit, terrific folks enjoying the day who were headed to Pete’s camp for a quick stop.
Rob and Maggie & House of the Virgin Mary
The day was running out fast and I just completed a climb and took a break. The views and changing leaves were spectacular from Mowery Lane. I noticed a Labrador ahead on the road with its owner on a mini tractor … I introduced myself to make sure I wasn’t intruding on his property in any way. Rob and his dog Maggie were very friendly and I didn’t know it at the time but he was an airbnb host (Evernest), unfortunately he wasn’t able to accommodate me due to covid fears, his neighbors specifically were more concerned than he and my being from NYC was deemed too risky. We chatted a bit more and said our goodbye’s, I gave Maggie a final pat and I was on my way.
Just a bit past Rob’s place is a replica of Ephesus and anyone passing by would definitely do a double take. The replica serves as a place of worship for the community and represents the last resting place of Mary… it could have also served as a much needed resting place for Tony but I decided not to entertain that idea.
Entering Wardsboro it was time to make camp. The spotty cell phone coverage made it difficult to connect with the local airbnb host so I decided to tent under tree cover behind a local repair shop next to the Wardsboro Brook where the rushing water provided a great white noise effect to help me drift off to much needed sleep. 2am heavy rains came which woke me up and I managed to fall back to sleep. Once morning light hit I was up and almost fully packed when the shop owner rolled into the lot with his truck and I introduced myself. He offered his front porch to assist me with drying out my gear and I accepted! The sun shortly came out and I was back on the road thanking the shop owner for the use of his porch.
Monday, September 28th: Start in Brattleboro - End @ Fort Dummer State park and Campgrounds
There’s a Lake up here?
Probably the most memorable portion of this leg was discovering Sunset Lake at the top of a very tough climb, well hike a bike really! 18 miles into this ride and a fairly steep climb there’s the beautiful Sunset Lake where I couldn’t resist to take a short break. That same hike a couple in their 70’s were biking past me and out of their saddles to compensate for the climb. I hooted and hollered for them and said “I’ll catch your slipstream!” They both laughed probably thinking who that nut is hiking up a steep hill with a tank of a bike.
I was reluctant to leave Sunset Lake since it was so beautiful and the changing of the leaves made it all the better but making distance was a priority today and with that I descended into Brattleboro to discover the wonderful single track and Fort Dummer State park where I was able to shower and camp for the night.
Tuesday, September 29th: End @Woodford forest
Damn you Herbert, where are you & Noah’s ark
It was an exciting day, it was a special day since my track was now heading west and I felt a great sense of accomplishment. My mileage was adding up and I felt strong each and every start of the cycling day. The plan was to try and make Bennington and if not shelter for the night at a site known as the Congdon Shelter which is on the Appalachian trail and very nearby the Super 8 course.
Once I made the Harriman reservoir and headed north on Dam Road I found a stream to pull water from for my 2 one liter Nalgene bottles, shortly after that the rain began. A left turn from Dam road would once again have me headed on a west track towards Bennington however the terrain quickly changed. I said to myself “Is this correct?!” Wet leaves, a blanket of rocks, steepness, a triple threat probably more dangerous than the Cujo twins, time to hike a bike. The rain by this time was increasing and my progress was limited. It was clear I wasn’t going to make Bennington so I decided to make for the Congdon Shelter. Darkness hit quickly and I took out my torch which was so bright it could probably land a 747. According to the GPS the shelter was located 50 yards max south of the Super 8 course from where I stand but that meant going directly in the forest … with that I left the bike behind, grabbed the bear spray into my back pocket, turned on my red tail light for visibility back to the bike and set off into the forest. Every 10 yards or so I would turn towards the bike and light up the reflective material with my torch. Also the red tail light was visible giving me additional relief I’d find my way back. 10 more yards, 10 more yards, nothing … I started to doubt the GPS which had my location bouncing all over the place since I was walking so slowly … another 10 yards … nothing in sight. At this point I was reluctant to go further and headed back to the bike … in retrospect I should have pushed further into the forest to find the shelter but had concerns with fatigue and trying to keep warm. I went back to the bike, found the best spot to pitch the tent quickly and sheltered for the heavy rains ahead. “Oh look, it’s Noah’s ark floating by!”
Wednesday September 30th - End @ Bennington - Scratched
When light hit the following morning the heavy rains had subsided but it wasn’t clear for how long. I took this as a window of opportunity to get out quickly … should I find the shelter now? Or head to Bennington? Bennington was the choice … the descent was fast, cold, wet and would represent my last for the race, 5 nights, 240 miles and 24,000 ft elevation gain. After picking up a rental car I made for the first open sports store for a warm pair of wool socks and shoes and shortly after that probably had the best egg & bagel sandwich of my life.
Thursday, October 1st: Search for the Congdon
After picking up my resupply bag in Montpelier and a restful night at a local hotel it was time to head back to NYC. Before doing so however I decided to take a detour to Bennington. I set off to get the rental as close as possible driving on National Forest 273 until Old Stage coach road where I parked. It was a beautiful sunny day perfect for a hike. Bear spray into the back pocket and I was once again off hiking the Super 8 trail. I found the spot where I previously left the Procaliber (big moss covered rock trailside) and again darted south into the forest, no having to look back at the bike this time … about 40+ yards in a trail presented itself?! (WOW) I took it west to a stream where the Congdon Shelter was in full site, I smiled and breathed a sigh of relief. A placard states the shelter was built in my birth year of 1967 in memory of Herbert Wheaton Congdon.
Note pinned to front of Shelter… (I guess I found more than the Congdon Shelter itself. A very nice reminder indeed)
This race would not have been possible without the guidance and training from Kristen Phillips of Brooklyn NY’s ‘Art of Cycling’, so a special thanks to Kristen for providing me with the know-how and skills to successfully perform the Super 8’s 240 mile route from Montpelier to Bennington, representing some of the most challenging terrain of the full 640 mile course.
To Mike Lawler as a 2 time finisher of Costa Rica’s LRC Pacific to Atlantic coast race. His exploits have inspired me to participate in the Vermont Super 8 race and I consider myself lucky to call him my friend … Obrigado Mofo!
Thank you Dan Jordan for allowing me to participate in this great experience and I hope to do it again next year.