First-time Bikepackers Tackle Bethel to Burlington
What better way to break in a new bike than to say, “Hey, let’s cycle 350 miles across several states and try bikepacking for the first time”?
That’s exactly what Sarah Crockett and Eliza Cress did when Sarah got a new Poseidon Redwood gravel bike and had six free days in late June. Sometimes the best trips are the ones that come together quickly, without months of planning and obsessing over gear.
Both are experienced cyclists — Sarah’s a keen mountain biker and Eliza completed a Bike & Build journey — but neither had bikepacked before. However, a sense of adventure gave them all the willpower they needed to tackle the trails ahead.
“The two trails connected rail trail and dirt roads and bike paths, as much off the main road as possible, so that’s where we got the idea,” Sarah says. “It was awesome. We didn’t really have a plan until a few days before we left and Eliza said, ‘Let’s bike to Burlington; we can do it!’ And I said, ‘Okay, here we go!’”
Day 1: Bethel, ME to Littleton, NH
Day 2: Littleton, NH to Montpelier, VT
Day 3: Montpelier, VT to Burlington, VT
Day 4: Waterbury, VT to Lyndonville, VT
Day 5: Lyndonville, VT to Jefferson, NH (via Victory/Granby Road)
Day 6: Jefferson, NH to Bethel, ME
In terms of planning, there wasn’t much to it. They looked at the trail maps, did some quick math, packed their bikes, and were on their way. Sarah guesses their average mileage was around 60 miles per day, with the longest day clocking in at 74 miles and the shortest day at 43.
They didn’t carry many meals and instead opted to stop along the way to refuel (think Annie’s mac and cheese with frozen veggies and sausage). This was probably a good idea in general, but the added difficulty of riding a fully loaded bike for the first time made it a great idea.
“I’d never been on a gravel bike until I got this one and I had definitely never been on a loaded bike,” Sarah says. “It actually felt really stable once I was on it because the weight was so low to the ground and was pretty evenly dispersed, but it was so hard to get moving!”
Sarah’s setup consisted of a saddlebag, a bag on either side of the fork, a frame bag (made by her mom — with a matching one for Eliza, too), and a handlebar bag. As for the bikes themselves, the Poseidon Redwoods got the job done.
“It’s a really cool, burly bike,” Sarah says. “It came with full mountain bike tires, which are the only thing I switched out besides the seat. I put GravelKing tires on because they just roll a little faster, but other than that I rode it as it came.”
Sometimes the best way to learn a new skill is to just go for it and be open to unexpected adventures along the way. This is certainly true of bikepacking. From endless challenging hills and wrong turns to 95-degree heat and wild animals blocking your intended trail, you simply can’t plan for everything.
Sarah and Eliza hit a low point in their trip when, after biking five miles straight uphill after a late start, they were told they had to turn around and reroute because a goshawk was attacking people on the trail ahead while trying to defend its nest.
Or there was the day when they put off eating lunch because they would be arriving in Burlington soon, but then the “bike path” wasn’t really there, and it took the past-hungry riders much longer than expected to go a very short distance. Luckily this ordeal ended in ice cream for lunch, so it wasn’t all bad!
For every challenge, there’s a reward. After pedaling up a particularly long and grueling hill, Sarah says she was treated to some of the best views of the entire trip. They saw friends along the route, got to know their bikes in a new way, and overall had a super fun and positive experience.
Sarah says despite the challenges, this trip definitely whet her appetite for future bikepacking, and she has some advice for anyone else who is considering going out on their first bike trip.
- Decide whether you want to prioritize doing a lot of miles or being able to hang out in interesting places.
- Don’t underestimate how heavy the bikes are and how much slower you’ll be riding — or how many snacks you’ll need.
- Sometimes the hardest parts are the most fun and rewarding.
- Have ice cream every day, preferably before dinner — extra points if you make it a maple creemee.