Biking to Burlington VT 2023

Finally got back in the saddle for a multi-day bike tour, from Hartford CT to Burlington VT. Explore the full-screen map and click on thumbnail images for captions, or view all in my Flickr photo album.

For those interested in maps and mileage, here’s my route segments on RideWithGPS:

Overall, I pedaled about 300 miles with an elevation gain of 15,000 feet over 5 days. The last chunk was split into two half-days, because Beth and I decided to meet up in Burlington, where she drove me and my bike to our campsite at Grand Isle State Park, and together we biked back to the ferry and causeway to Burlington the last half-day.

What motivated my ride? This was my first big bike tour since my right eye stopped working due to an optic nerve stroke in January 2022. A similar but smaller stroke resulted in a large blind spot in my left eye about twenty-five years earlier. As a result, while most people have a horizontal field of vision around 120 degrees (plus more with peripheral vision), mine is a narrower scope around 90 degrees. Also, normal two-eyed binocular vision creates depth perception, which one-eyed people lack, so it’s harder for me to navigate unfamiliar stairs or to distinguish between shadows versus rocks in the road. Since less light comes into my eyes now, it often feels like I’m wearing sunglasses, even when I’m not, especially on rainy days or at dusk.

So I needed to get out of my head and out of the house. During summer 2022 I spent a lot of time sorting out what I still can do (pedal my bike) versus what my eye doctor and the CT DMV agreed I cannot do (drive a car). Fortunately I love to ride my bike, and happily use my bus card to get to work on really crappy rainy or wintery days. It took a few months for me to regain confidence navigating intersections on my bike. One adaptation I learned is to swing my head from side-to-side at intersections, which creates a sense of depth perception that allows me to better judge the relative speed of oncoming cars. Kind of like “look both ways” twice, or three or four times. After feeling more comfortable with my regular bike routes, I branched out to unfamiliar routes to build my confidence. In early summer 2023 I worked to regain my body strength through longer rides of 50+ miles and climbing steep hills. All I needed now was a goal.

I decided that “Biking to Burlington” would be a right-sized adventure, similar in scale to my one-week bike tours before my eye stroke. Just a little bit crazy, but not too crazy, because I needed a challenge with a reasonable chance of success, not defeat. For the past year my brain has been having an argument with my 58-year-old body about what it should be capable of doing. And my brain likes to win arguments.

So I did my homework by “chunking” the long route into one-day segments that seemed reasonable for me, meaning around 60 miles and ideally less than 4,000 feet of elevation gain. Originally I planned to follow the Western New England Greenway, but decided to visit an old friend in Amherst MA, so had to devise a different route through the Vermont’s Green Mountains region. My favorite route-planning bike map tool is Cycle.Travel. On my laptop browser I entered my start and end points, chose the types of road surface (in my case, both paved and gravel), and it recommends a bike-friendly route with possible overnight locations, which I supplement with the AllStays campgrounds map and Warmshowers map. Next I customize the route by entering specific points along the way, typically around my 60-mile daily mileage. After saving the route in my free account, I also can view it using their free iOS app, which offers turn-by-turn spoken directions and the option to download background maps for use outside of cellphone service areas. Of course, always carefully check your routes with multiple sources, but Cycle.Travel has been a very reliable companion.

Cycle.Travel view in my laptop browser, where I set start and end points, and customize with overnight stops.
Cycle.Travel view in my Apple iPhone app, where I view my saved route, see and hear turn-by-turn directions, and can download off-line maps for use outside of cellphone service areas.

The other key ingredient to winning this personal challenge was pure luck, and I’m very fortunate that several factors went my way. Before my trip, my friends invited me to stay overnight in Amherst MA (Day 1), and two Warmshowers hosts kindly allowed me to stay overnight in their homes in Jamaica VT (Day 2) and North Ferrisburgh VT (Day 4). That made it easy for me to decide to pay a very reasonable AirBnB room fee to stay overnight in Hubbardton VT (Day 3) and leave my tent, sleeping gear, and camp stove at home. Another lucky stroke was the timing of my trip with respect to extreme weather due to climate change. If my trip had been scheduled one or two weeks earlier, I would have had to cancel due to the smoke from Quebec’s forest fires or devastating floods. Even during my five-day bike trip, I somehow managed to dodge several strong thunderstorms and rain showers around me, sometimes by spotting them on my smartphone weather radar and waiting 15-45 minutes in a safe space for them to pass. The only rain I experienced was pedaling through gentle showers during the last two miles of Day 3, which felt refreshing. I never put on my rain gear until an hour after I arrived in Burlington, when it started pouring during a neighborhood festival.

Another stroke of luck was meeting my new friend Dave, who was pedaling through Jamaica VT at precisely the same time as I was starting my day to bike up the biggest hills on my trip. Dave is a stronger rider than me, as he’s a physical education teacher and triathlon competitor, and he also knew that we would need to take a 5-mile detour due to a road construction closure on VT Route 30, which I did not realize. But I managed to keep up with Dave most of the way up those hills because he had woken up at 4AM (due to a lousy night’s sleep at a loud campsite) and had already been biking for 3 hours by the time I met him! Meeting a new bike friend and sharing stories makes the climb so much easier.

My final stroke of luck was meeting my life-partner Beth many years ago. She spent the week visiting her elderly parents while I took this bike trip, and she agreed ahead of time to drive our minivan camper up to one of our favorite Vermont campgrounds, Grand Isle State Park, to meet me at the end of my adventure. We’ll spend a couple of days biking together around the Hero Islands, just north of Burlington, before she drives us back home. Next week Beth and I celebrate our 35th anniversary of living together. Thank you and love you, sweetie!