In American culture the day after Thanksgiving is referred to as “Black Friday.” It’s a controversial day where some grab their sleeping bags to sit in line starting at 2 am for a deal at Best Buy, while others grab their sleeping bag for an adventure.
Whenever we are traveling abroad during this season this is when news headlines flash something like, “In the United States this morning a person was trampled to death while mobs rushed into Wal-Mart trying to get a deal on flat screen televisions.” These stories do not make the best impression globally and leave many with a bitter taste in their mouths about American consumerism and particularly Black Friday.
This year a company called REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.) decided to shut their doors on Black Friday and encouraged people to “optoutside.” What is now the nation’s largest consumer cooperative began as a group of 23 mountain climbing buddies. REI believes a ‘life outdoors is a life well lived’ and strives to ‘inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.’
REI is already a well known and respected company with their satisfaction guarantee, high quality products that consistently makes Fortunes 100 Best Companies to work for. This year they really shook up marketers when they decided instead of advertising for consumers to come to their stores on Black Friday (one of the biggest money making days), they launched their optoutside campaign instead. CNN, Forbes and others all picked up the story and I don’t know how anyone could scroll through their instagram account and not want to optoutside.
Nowadays there are so many different ways people can optoutside and a new-ish form of recreation is fat biking. If you are not familiar fat biking is basically bikes with big (aka fat) tires that are designed to travel on snow, sand, bogs and mud. It’s a form of recreation that is starting to take off more and recently we had our first fat bikers stay at the lodge. It just happened that a series of serendipitous events made it possible for two folks to be able to ride their bikes and stay overnight last minute. I am so glad they did because it gave us a better understanding of fat biking and we met two really cool people, Christine and her buddy Tylor, in the process.
Christine works at a awesome business in Burlington, Vermont called Old Spokes Home. It’s a bicycle shop with a big community focus; so you if you are not familiar with fat biking, head on over to see these guys and they will tell you all you need to know. Although fat biking has been around for a while, it’s still a form of recreation not as many people are familiar with. It was not until the last year or so I became familiar with the term myself. I asked Christine if I could post her story as this weeks post so that in case you have not heard of fat biking, you too can get some more insight into this unique form of recreating.
Who knows, after you read this, maybe you will be taking your own photos to optoutside while trying out a new sport. Big thanks to Christine for giving permission to share her original story about their outdoor adventure fat biking to Seyon Lodge (photo credits go to Christine Hill.) If you have any questions about fat biking or just like her story, check out Old Spokes Home and show them some love.
Happy reading, traveling and I hope you get a chance today to optoutside.
A perfect fat bike overnight
This is my buddy and bike adventure friend, Tyler.
About one year ago we both got our fat bikes within a week of one another. We were pretty excited. We decided to celebrate with a ride around the Intervale and the trails behind Colchester High School.
We were so caught up in our excitement about our new bikes that we totally forgot about the necessities of food and water. If you know Tyler “#pieandcoffeeforever” Van Liew, you know that this is wildly out of character. If you know me, you know that this is pretty standard.
Both of us were new to not only to fat biking, but to riding off paved roads at all. We were surprised by how physically demanding mountain biking was. Riding through snow and over ice certainly added to the challenge.
To say that were feeling frantic after 4 hours of getting lost in the woods sans trail mix would be an understatement. We talked about food the whole 20-minute ride back (food is mostly what we talk about, but this time our conversation about macaroni and cheese had an edge to it). We barely said goodbye to one another once we entered Burlington and tore away in opposite directions towards our respective homes to hydrate and smash food into our faces. The next day when I texted Tyler, “I feel like I got hit by a bus,” he only responded with a single syllable: “Guh.”
We’ve come a long way since then. Last month we shared hot coffee, avocado sandwiches, and a caramelized onion-sweet potato-goat cheese galette in the parking lot of Saxon Hill after the best mountain bike ride I’d ever gone on. We’ve had some pretty amazing #coffeeoutside sessions. And after hundreds of miles and and a dozens of [mis]adventures over the past year (Tyler even attempted the XVT route this summer), our bikes and our bodies a little more dialed in.
Here’s Tyler and Liza at the top of Saxon Hill before the three of us indulged in our parking lot delicacies:
Considering our initial shortcomings and recent progress as non-competitive fat bike enthusiasts, it felt pretty good when our most recent fat bike adventure — just about a year after our first ride together — was absolute perfection.
It started like this: Glenn, Old Spokes Home’s founder and resident riddleman, told Tyler of a mystical, beautiful place named Seyon located deep in the depths of Groton State Forest. He told Tyler of miles of off-road trails leaving from Plainfield Co-op that would lead us directly to this quaint lodge in the woods. Glenn said that when we arrived, beautiful, glowing hippies would feed us nourishing food and give us a place to sleep. It had been 15 years since Glenn’s experience there so he couldn’t tell us what route he had taken or anything else about this ‘Seyon’ place but Tyler and I were enthralled by his story and determined to find our way there on our fat bikes.
Planning and preparation are integral to a successful trip, so Tyler and I exchanged several detailed text messages on Friday night to firm up our plans for the ride the following day:
With just a few more details to work out, I showed up at Tyler’s house bright and early at 10:30am without my bike and with nothing packed. I found Tyler in his long johns. He was making coffee and all of his gear and maps were strewn about his apartment, covering the furniture and floor. None of the maps had Plainfield or Groton State Forest on them.
Thanks to the miracle of the internet, we discovered that Seyon Lodge is essentially a rustic, state-park-operated bed and breakfast tucked away in Groton State Forest. I called the lodge to see if anyone there could tell us how we might get to them on fat bikes from Plainfield. I spoke with a helpful woman named Tiffany. She wasn’t sure about the trails from Plainfield. Neither were we. I could hear the concern growing in her voice as my questions got more and more stupid. It was getting late in the day and our obvious lack of knowledge about the area and lack of a plan for this trip was sending off red flags. I knew that Tyler and I would be fine but I didn’t know how to convey that to Tiffany, so I quickly changed the subject to lodging. Tiffany explained that for $90 each, Tyler and I could ride our bikes all day and arrive in a warm place with beds, showers, a fireplace, and have dinner and breakfast made for us. She didn’t say anything about the food being prepared by beautiful, glowing hippies, but we we’re trusting Glenn on this detail. Since it was getting late for a day ride and eating food made by beautiful, glowing hippies is practically sport for us, we were sold and planned to spend the night.
Tyler and I are both accustomed to camping on our bike adventures, so packing for a trip that ended in a four-walled, heated place with a roof had us looking like a couple of confused puppies confronted with a staircase for the first time. Wait wait wait… so, so, we still need our sleeping bags, right? Wait, no… there are beds! But maybe it will be cold still? I guess not. Maybe? How about a stove? I think they have an industrial kitchen… but maybe just in case?
Unable to fully comprehend what a lodge is, we each brought our sleeping bags. We did not need the sleeping bags. But even with the sleeping bags we were each able to fit everything we needed (and then some) into a frame bag and a seat bag. “Credit card touring,” as they call it, was already feeling pretty deluxe.
Still unsure of our route, we decided to drive to Plainfield Co-op and just ask someone there about the rail trail out of the parking lot. Side note: Plainfield co-op is positively adorable. Check it out. I bought some dolmas and we struck up a conversation with the nice cashier. She suggested that we park at the Plainfield Park and Ride in order to pick up the rail trail. The Park and Ride is just a stone’s throw away from the co-op and has oodles of parking spaces.
A granite obelisk to the side of the parking lot clearly marked the beginning of the rail trail. After we strapped our bags on and suited up we enjoyed the rush of excitement and relief that comes with the first few pedal strokes of a poorly planned bike adventure. After all of the still-unanswered questions, sketchy navigation, and rushed packing, it’s such a relief to get on the bike and know that your only responsibilities for the rest of the day are pedaling, drinking water, eating snacks, not hurting yourself, and staying calm when everything inevitably goes wrong.
For the first 20 minutes the trail was pretty bad. Only a foot-wide section was packed down by foot and XC ski traffic and I was starting to worry that I’d spend all day bouncing off the banks of snow on each side. Just as I was about to express my concern to Tyler, the whole rail trail became damn-near-perfect. The trail had been groomed for (and by) snowmobiles and was perfect for fat biking. Tyler and I zigged and zagged as we rode, searching for the smoothest, hardest sections of the path. Motor vehicle traffic on certain sections created super packed down wheel tracks provided the smoothest, fastest riding of the day. Several sections of the trail were so flat and smooth that we could ride with no hands. We were crushing it. We were psyched.
We later learned that the rail trail we were riding on was on private land.** That’s why the section of the Cross Vermont Trail that runs from Plainfield to Groton is on route 2 and not on this spectacular trail. We didn’t seem to be stepping on anyone’s toes, but we were a little hesitant and unsure of what the rules were. We didn’t see anyone except for a guy walking a dog and another guy driving his truck, both of whom smiled at our fat tires and gave us a thumbs up. We proceeded.
The trail was wonderfully flat. There were a few small downhills that were positively delightful. We felt like we were sledding on bikes. We took a break to have some fun on this snow-covered pile of something to the side of the trail.
The rail trail eventually ran into the Montpelier-Wells Rail Trail where the Cross Vermont trail picks back up and which brought us to Groton Sate Forest. The transition from one rail trail to the other was unnoticeable to me, but I’m chronically unobservant when it comes to signage and any and all navigational tools and always leave it to my travel partner to make sure we’re not getting abysmally lost (right now my exboyfriends reading this are like, “well at least she’s starting to acknowledge it”).
The trail continued to be totally flat but with more beautiful, natural wonders popping up. We first passed Marshfield Pond, then Owl’s Head Mountain, then Lake Groton, and Ricker Pond before hitting route 302.
Here is Owl’s Head:
This isn’t a natural wonder, but it is a cool sign that makes me want to be a “Buckaroo of 302”:
He’s Tyler being high on life:
Here’s our bikes in front of a pond. Not pictured: both of us being that guy taking pictures of our bikes:
Oh wait here’s a picture of Tyler being that guy:
As we neared the end of the rail trail and the intersection of 302, we checked out a few different maps on information boards to see what our options were. We noted several trails that cut from the rail trail through the woods directly to Seyon Lodge Road. These trails were an alternative to riding on the road that would cut off distance and perhaps save us time. But in the winter they may not be groomed. If you’re a hardcore fat biker who would rather carry your bike over your head for a few miles than ride on the road, then these trails might be a great option for you. But if you’re a couple of space cadets in long johns and leather boots who go on their bikes at 1:30pm in the dead of winter to bike 20 miles in the snow who are mostly in it for the glowing hippies’ food… you just bike the 3 miles on the road and it’s all copacetic.
We hit 302 and it was up up up to Seyon Lodge Road. We turned right onto the well-marked Seyon Lodge Road, and then it was up up up again. Did I mention it was up? There was virtually zero climbing all day but I couldn’t not complain about the climbing for the last six miles. I was exhausted, it was getting dark, and due to my poor observational and navigation skills I wasn’t even sure we were in the right place (sure, we were on ‘Seyon Lodge Road,’ but does that really mean anything?). I started to get a little miffed (again my exboyfriends are like, “Yep, yep, sounds about right…”).
The sight of Seyon lit up at the top of the hill was most welcome. At first it just looked like a regular house and we wondered if we were in the right place. Shortly after spotting the “Seyon Lodge” wood-burned placard above the door, a woman literally lept out the door with arms flailing, shouting, “YOU’RE HERE!!! YOU MADE IT!!!” We quickly deduced that this was Tiffany from the phone. We learned that the workers and the guests at the lodge were pretty sure we weren’t going to make it. Apparently two hikers staying at Seyon Lodge back in October went missing on a short hike and Tiffany had to call in a rescue squad to find them. This explained the justified concern in her voice as she talked to Tyler and I about fat biking there. It felt pretty amazing to know that this lodge full of people had been keeping us in mind as it grew colder and darker. It was just the first example of Seyon Lodge’s characteristic quaintness.
Tiffany welcomed us in warmly and showed us through the lodge and to our rooms. The lodge may feel ‘rustic’ to Marriott Rewards members, but to a chick wearing a sweaty helmet and cold, wet socks who is acustomed to dealing with nylon, zippers, and tent stakes after an arduous bike ride, the lodge seemed positively luxurious. I immediately took a borderline-scathing hot shower in one of the very clean shared bathrooms, helped myself to some chamomile tea in the dining room, and joined Tyler and the other guests downstairs by the fire. Children played board games with respectful indoor voices and the adults quietly read and worked on their laptops. Tyler and I exchanged holy-crap-this-is-amazing sideways glances as we wiggled our toes in our fresh socks and sunk into the comfy couches with our magazines and mugs of tea.
Here’s Tyler laughing in our room because, well, it was a room. And that’s pretty wild:
Here’s Tyler drinking tea and reading literature by the fireplace like a distinguished gentleman:
We were in good company at the lodge. A couple from western Massachusetts was up enjoying some cross country skiing. Another couple from Pennsylvania was there to hike and explore the area. And a dad and his three kids were visiting from Burlington and having outdoor fun for the weekend. Everyone kept to themselves while we lounged by the fire, but the conversations flowed once we all sat down at the dinner table together. We all exchanged backgrounds and stories over a nourishing 3-course dinner of squash soup and bread, soba noodles with eggplant and basil, kale salad, and roasted beets, and carrot cake and coffee for desert. Tyler and I exchanged several more holy-crap-this-is-amazing giggles throughout dinner.
After dinner we all sat around the fireplace and one of the guests asked Tiffany about the history of the lodge. “Ooooo0o0o0o we’ve gotta get Chris out here!” she exclaimed. Ten minutes later the guy who had cooked much of our dinner came out of the kitchen, wiped his hands on his apron, threw a log on the fire, and said, “So I hear you all want to hear the story of Seyon Lodge…” The guests gathered around like school children at story time and listened intently as Chris told us about the transformation of Seyon Lodge from a privately-owned Vermont vacation estate that was sold from wealthy baron, J.R. Darling, to a wealthier baron, Harry K. Noyes, into what it is now: Vermont’s only state operated lodge on the shores of Vermont’s only public fly-fishing only trout pond. In addition to serving as a remote getaway for outdoor enthusiasts and fly fishers, the lodge hosts school groups, weddings, meetings, and is apparently a popular place for quilting conventions. Who knew?
Our breakfast of eggs, bacon, and toast the next morning was equally pleasant, especially after being greeted by this personal message from Tiffany on the menu board:
I never got the story on the stitches…
Here’s the lovely morning sun shining in the dining room after our long, lazy breakfast with our fellow guests and new friends:
Tiffany provided us an enthusiastic send-off that rivaled her one-woman welcoming celebration. She insisted on a mini-photo shoot to capture Seyon’s first fat bikers of the season. Apparently the lodge’s staff were aware of the growing popularity of fat bikes and wondering if they would see more people finding their way to Seyon Lodge that way. We were the first ones to stay there who arrived on our fat bikes and they were pretty excited about it.
Here’s Tyler and me being a couple of cheese balls:
We contemplated taking one of the trails off Seyon Pond Road back to the rail trail, but folks at the lodge emphasized how hilly they were and guessed that they were not groomed by snowmobiles. We weren’t prepared for hiking, so we decided to take the same route down Seyon Pond Road to 302 and back to the trail. We were happy to keep things easy and enjoy the predictable ride home. It was even more gorgeous than the day before since morning snow flurries covered the world in a couple inches of bright, fresh powder.
It took as about 5 hours to get to Seyon Lodge on the first day and took us about 3 hours to get back because of the six miles of downhill at the beginning of the ride. We were starving nonetheless. Here’s a picture of the car in the parking lot of Prohibition Pig in Waterbury. We stopped for cheeseburgers and turkey pot pie. We earned it.
It’s been a couple weeks and I’m still flabbergasted by the perfection of this trip. It’s a must-do for fat bikers of all skill and experience levels, and especially for those who are in it more for the adventure and exploration and less for the technical sport and athleticism. The terrain is flat and if it weren’t for the many mountains and ponds providing visual fodder along the way, the ride itself would be pretty boring. The experience of riding well-groomed, scenic trails that end at a warm, unique place where all of your needs are taken care makes it impossible not to fall in love with fat biking. This trip for people who appreciate outdoor adventure and the finer things in life. It would be a great romantic getaway with an outdoorsy partner, a fun family trip, or a great retreat-style getaway with friends. This was an easy 24-hour overnight full of Vermont history, natural beautify, and an only-in-Vermont experience at Seyon Lodge. And it can all be pulled off with minimal planning and preperation!
Not only does Seyon Lodge do all of the cooking and cleaning and offer opportunities for skiing, hiking, skating, and getting cozy by the fire… the people on staff at Seyon Lodge were remarkable. Their care for their guests felt more familial than professional. Their passion for the lodge and surrounding area was evident. I was touched that they were so concerned about Tyler and I getting lost in the woods when all they knew was our first names and phone numbers that they had penciled down to make the reservation (no credit card or anything – what century is this?!). I’m considering another trip out to Seyon just so I can aggressively befriend everyone on staff. They were not the dreadlocked, woo-woo, crunchy-granola hippies we expected. They were better. The Seyon Lodge staff were approachable, helpful, and had the kind of warm generosity that reaffirms my belief that people are inherently good. I’d love some of those vibrations to rub off on me.
If I could do the whole thing over again, the only change I would make is this: recruit a non-fat-biking friend to drive out and meet us and have them bring 1.) my XC skis, and 2.) beer. But it’s probably for the best that I didn’t think of that the first time. My head would have exploded from too much of a good thing. But for you, that’s my one pro-tip. For next time.
Get at me with questions! Christine@bikerecyclevt.org
- Want to do this trip but don’t have a fat bike? Rent one from us! Info isn’t on the website yet so call as at the shop for details: (802) 863-4475
** We’ve received some feedback from Vermont Mountain Bike Association, Vermont Parks and Recreation, and individual VAST members about our use of the former railbed on private land. We were wrong to ride on this stretch without landowner permission and we apologize. We were not aware that the trail was private until after our ride. Huge, HUGE props to VAST, Vermont Mountain Bike Association, Vermont Dept. of Parks and Recreation, and private land owners for working together to making trails accessible to all kinds of users. Respect the rules, y’all!