Bristol, Vermont Shamrock Tour®: Base Heart of the Green Mountains
Northern Vermont offers a variety of riding, from twisty mountain passes and remote winding roads to scenic farmland. New York’s Adirondacks are nearby, offering even more to explore.
It’s early September and the morning fog clings to the still, lush trees in Bristol, VT, a blink-and-you’ve-missed-it kind of town on the edge of the Green Mountains. The fog will burn off once the sun clears the mountains, but for now it lingers and carries a faint and foreboding chill. Summer is over, and after a brief explosion of fall color, winter shall arrive. But we still have time to chase some late season two-wheeled bliss.
Crisscrossing the Gaps
The color of the day is green. From the rumpled blanket of green thrown over the Green Mountains to the fertile green of the small farms that sprout wherever the land flattens, Sandy and I are surrounded by it and aren’t complaining. A brilliant blue sky invites us to bask and play along with our new Kawasaki Versys 650 and seasoned Yamaha FJR.
Wandering southward, the mountains are never far away, either filling our mirrors, our peripheral vision, or towering over our windscreens. The first gap crossing on our itinerary is the Middlebury Gap on Route 125. The road is tight at first as it twists alongside the Middlebury River but then it opens up and relaxes as it slowly climbs in a series of long sweepers. At the top we cross the Long Trail, a 272-mile hiking trail that runs from the Massachusetts border all the way up to Québec with much of the route tracing the spine of the Green Mountains. We drop back down the other side and ride by farms nestled against the White River.
Climbing again, we follow Brandon Brook to the Brandon Gap, crossing the Long Trail again at the top. The hike from Middlebury Gap to Brandon Gap is 8.4 miles and likely to take about four hours. With nicely paved roads and capable motorcycles, this feels like cheating.
It’s near lunch so we head to Rutland in search of food. So far we’ve been spoiled by traffic-free roads, but here we are brought back to the world of strip malls, traffic lights, and stop and go. We make our way to the classic old downtown of three- and four-story brick buildings, wide sidewalks, and locally owned restaurants and cafés.
Motorcycles & Gear
2015 Kawasaki Versys 650
2005 Yamaha FJR1300
Helmets: Shoei RF-1200 Terminus, Shoei X-Twelve
Jackets: Alpinestars Bogota Drystar, Cycleport-Motoport Riva Stretch
Pants: AGV Sport Solare, Cycleport-Motoport Police Stretch
Boots: Alpinestars Mono Fuse GORE-TEX, TCX Touring Classic
Gloves: Aerostich Elkskin, Alpinestars Drystar, Cycleport-Motoport Racing
After lunch we tackle the third crossing and sadly the least interesting. Between Rutland and Killington the road climbs with extra efficiency but little charm. In a perfect world there’d be just enough civilization to require serpentine asphalt connecting small towns to cheap ethanol-free gas and a good diner. But the world isn’t perfect, so we take what we can get.
Heading south on Routes 4 and 100 we ride through a dramatic valley, the Green Mountains rising over 1,000 feet on either side of us.
We turn west toward the New York border, tacking north in Poultney for the final stretch back to Bristol. The sun is setting and clouds are rolling in. With the mountains to our right, we get back to the Inn at Baldwin Creek in the fading light.
Day two starts with breakfast in Bristol before riding up the Appalachian Gap—the “App Gap” to locals. I’ve ridden the App Gap many times before but this time it’s bumpier than my memory. Frost heaves make the road more suitable for nimble bikes with long travel suspensions like the Kawasaki Versys I’m aboard. Still, it’s a thrill to try to nail the undulating apexes and adjust your line based on the road surface on the way up. And the view from the top is outstanding, the mountains layered on top of each other, a handful of trees starting to show their reds and golds, and a stray cloud floating in the narrow valley below. We surf down the other side and head to the state’s capital.