In Vermont, paradise is just a climb away

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

The Jay Pass Loop
In Vermont, paradise is just a climb away
By Kate Carter

Call it fate that Vermont's Jay Pass loop begins and ends in the town of Eden. After all, this is God's own rural backyard, where billboards are banned, nearly 80 percent of the land remains undeveloped, and ultra-luxe ice cream is a signature export.

Jay Peak, the Green Mountains' final 3,968-foot hiccup before they evaporate into the plains of Quebec, is so removed from any sizable city or high-speed interstate that few motorists sully it. Marry low traffic to pastoral farmscapes, smooth asphalt, delicious downhills, and a country store that sells homemade brownies ù well, you're definitely in Eden.

Ah, but there's a snake aslither in this paradise: a huffing six-mile climb that comes deceptively masked. The loop starts innocently enough, with an exhilarating descent, faster, faster, past Belvidere Pond and a wooded bog and into an open vista of Holstein-dotted farms and cupola-topped barns and then faster, faster, even more downhill. Now the fun's over. You slow, downshift, begin to grind. Purgatory. You're at the bottom of the hour-long, 1,700-foot ascent to Jay Pass.

But this is the land of the Puritans, so you know that hard work is amply rewarded. Gut it out. On my most recent ride I focused on the hilltop teasingly within reach. I thought of that pint of Chubby Hubby I finished off unaided a few days ago. And somehow I found the incentive to go on. With a final push, I crested the peak.


(M) mountain bike ride
(R) road ride
W water available
C camping available
F food available
I inn nearby
O other liquid refreshments
X no services

Below me lay a scene from Rousseau, or at least Rousseau as reimagined by a Manhattan ad team: a rambling green landscape of fir and spruce, meadows edged with ancient stone walls, tumbledown barns, a few inns masquerading as alpine chalets. And best of all, smooth flat road.

Route: Take Vermont 118 northwest to Montgomery Center, turn east on Vermont 242 and then south onto North Hill Road in Westfield, and finally take Vermont 100 back to Eden. Contact: Chuck's Bikes, Morrisville, 802-888-7642.

Castle Point Carriageway, Minnewaska State Park Preserve (M)

Obviously well-designed for vehicles with wheels, this ancient carriage road carved into the Catskills steadily snakes its way up to the Castle Point knoll atop Shawangunks Ridge.
The view from here ù of a dense cover of pitch pines and, in the distance, a
crescent-shaped glimpse of Lake Awosting ù should leave you with that pleasant
hey-I'm-in-Zermatt feeling. C

Distance: Nine mi. Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft.

Route: Loop starting from Minnewaska State Park Preserve entrance gate, up the Upper Awosting Carriageway to the Castle Point Carriageway, returning on the Lake Minnewaska Carriageway

Contact: Minnewaska State Park Preserve, 914-255-0752

Lehigh Gorge Trail (M) (R)

A special on surf and turf. This converted railroad grade through the lush valley of the Lehigh River provides spectacular views of the 1,000-foot-high cliffs of the Lehigh Gorge on one side and churning, Class III rapids on the other. Almost as memorable: the scrapple at the Sunrise Diner in the town of Jim Thorpe, at the end. W F O

Distance: 25 mi. Elevation Gain: None.

Route: Point-to-point from the trailhead in the Shop Rite supermarket parking lot in White Haven to the Glen Onoko Access Point parking area on Coalport Road in Jim Thorpe

Contact: Blue Mountain Sports, Jim Thorpe, 800-599-4421

Swallow Falls Loop (R)

The most personable of rides: The course originates, after all, in Friendsville. Along the way, the route glides up grassy hills and past well-tended small farms including that most picturesque of crops, giant sunflowers. These typically bloom in midsummer, which ù happily ù is also when the roadside lemonade stands sprout.W F O C I

Distance: 25 mi. Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft.

Route: Loop from Maryland 42 to White Rock Road to Cranesville Road to Sang Rung Road

Contact: High Mountain Sports, McHenry, 301-387-4199

The Greenway Trail, Brandywine Creek State Park (M)

The Greenway earned its name the old-fashioned way ù by being a lush byway through the middle of Brandywine Park, with dozens of other winding, poplar-lined trails heading off from it. Narrow, rocky jeep track for much of its length, it ends near a 20-foot, man-made waterfall, seemingly placed there just for post-ride romping. X

Distance: Ten mi. Elevation Gain: 200 ft.

Route: Out-and-back from the parking lot of the Jewish Community Center on Garden of Eden Road

Contact: Bike Line, Wilmington, 302-479-9438

Bull's Island Double Loop (M)

Ye olde cycling territory, this ride circles through Frenchtown and Lambertville, two of New Jersey's most charming towns. In between, it winds past long, wooded stretches and small farms, with the Delaware River always in view. If the quaintness of these burgs doesn't quite satisfy your tea-and-antiques jones, New Hope, Pennsylvania, is just across the river. W F C I

Distance: 30 mi. Elevation Gain: None.

Route: Figure-eight-style loop with Bull's Island at its center; it's 20 miles round-trip to Frenchtown, another ten to Lambertville and back. Each loop uses both New Jersey 29 and unpaved path.

Contact: Freeman's Bike Shop, Frenchtown, 908-996-7712

Soapstone Mountain, Shenipsit State Forest (M)

A three-and-a-third-season trail, since unlike most of the East, Shenipsit's drainage is superb. Mud, therefore, is rarely a problem. Snow, however, can foul these December and January rides. The rest of the year the trail to the summit and its decommissioned fire tower ù thoughtfully left open for riders to clamber upon ù is shady, rolling, and, best of all, dry. X

Distance: 15 mi. Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft.

Route: Out-and-back starting at the Soapstone Mountain trailhead on Gulf Road in Somers

Contact: Cycle Center, Vernon, 860-872-7740

Streaked Mountain Loop (R)

Local racers love Streaked Mountain. But then, racers are often sadistically enamored of long, ambitious climbs. And this one's a doozy, more than four miles at a 10 percent grade. There's recompense, however: horizon-filling views of New Hampshire's towering Mount Washington and, at ride's end, the right to brag over a Honey Brown Ale at the Storekeepers shop in Hebron. W F O I

Distance: 35 mi. Elevation Gain: 3,500 ft.

Route: Loop from Maine 119 east to Maine 124 to Maine 117

Contact: Rainbow Bicycles, Auburn, 207-784-7576

The Grand Tour (R)

More than 80 miles and only one stoplight ù on the other hand, plenty of moose. This is a classic East Coast climb, winding over four passes in the White Mountains. Snowbanks exist as late as May at the top of 2,559-foot Kancamagus Notch, not quite covering the budding tulips, and cooling things pleasantly. W F O I

Distance: 82 mi. Elevation Gain: 5,900 ft.

Route: Loop starting in North Woodstock on New Hampshire 112 east to U.S. 302 to U.S. 3 to the bike path in Franconia Notch

Contact: Greasy Wheel Bikes, Plymouth, 603-536-3655

Mount Wachusett (R)

Twenty varieties of apples, homemade ice cream, farmers' markets, and a route on which every third road has "hill" in its name. What more could one want? If you replied, perversely, "more climbing," the road obliges by abruptly rising 1,500 feet near its end. If instead you thought "baked goods," try the apple pie at Berlin Orchards. W F I

Distance: 110 mi. Elevation Gain: 3,500 ft.

Route: Out-and-back starting from the town green in Weston. The entire route is marked with arrows. For a shorter ride, start in Bolton, midway along the route.

Contact: Lincoln Guide Service Bike Shop, Lincoln Center, 617-259-1111

Breakheart Trail, Arcadia Management Area (M)

Ah, the mountains of Rhode Island: all the elevation of, say, Iowa. Which makes, of course, for superior off-road cycling. The Breakheart has wonderful, tight singletrack; a pitted, rocky stream crossing; frequent fast, short descents; and glorious pine, beech, and oak shade trees. Plus an elevation gain of, ahem, 400 feet. W F O C

Distance: 13 mi. Elevation Gain: 400 ft.

Route: Loop starting at the trailhead at the Arcadia Management Area parking lot on Rhode Island 165

Contact: Kings Cyclery, Westerly, 401-322-6005

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