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Trail Trials: Flat is just a state of mind

  • Northern Vermont businesses along the route are taking advantage of their proximity to the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail, such as this potential rest spot in Danville, Vt. (Valley News - Greg Fennell) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Greg Fennell—

  • A gentle bit of motivation greets cyclists along the westbound Lamoille Valley Rail Trail as they reach the intersection of Vermont Route 15 and U.S. Route 2 in West Danville, Vt. (Valley News - Greg Fennell) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Greg Fennell

  • A bicycle pump and repair station sits outside a former railroad station along the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail in Danville, Vt. (Valley News - Greg Fennell) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Greg Fennell—

  • A mileage marker along the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail in Danville, Vt. The sign is affixed to a piece of former steel railroad rail, and many bear sponsorship messages. (Valley News - Greg Fennell) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Greg Fennell—

  • Joe's Pond, in West Danville, Vt., the western terminus of one of two completed sections of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail. An association oversees activities around the pond, including a popular ice-out prediction contest. (Valley News - Greg Fennell) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Greg Fennell—

  • Hastings Store, along the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail, in West Danville, Vt. The 93-mile LVRT has two completed sections, including one of 15½ miles from St. Johnsbury to West Danville, and it's dotted with several place for cyclists to stop and refuel. (Valley News - Greg Fennell) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A marker for Joe's Pond, along the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail in West Danville, Vt. (Valley News - Greg Fennell) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Greg Fennell—

  • The author's wife pedals away along a straight section of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail in Danville, Vt. (Valley News - Greg Fennell) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Greg Fennell

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 11/3/2020 3:44:40 PM
Modified: 11/5/2020 9:00:57 AM

DANVILLE, Vt. — When I revived Trail Trials earlier this summer, I went into it with the thought that I’d finally get to climb some of the mountains past which I’ve been driving for more than three decades. But here’s the thing with many trails: You don’t have to be limited to only hiking them.

Heading home from our recent walk/limp around Kettle Pond in the Grafton State Forest, my wife and I crossed the path of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail in Danville. We saw another part of it again the following weekend upon returning from a trek through scenic Smugglers Notch. It seemed relatively active with cyclists and walkers each time and, from a distance, appeared to have the smooth surface the missus prefers if she’s going to get on her bicycle for any length of time.

So we decided to give it a go a couple of weekends ago. And, once more, continued our debate of when flat is truly flat.

My wife, bless her heart, has made a concerted effort to get more exercise during the pandemic. When it’s warmer outside, she’ll commute to work on her bicycle by way of the Mascoma River Greenway. Over time, I’d get reports about how much harder it was to go eastbound than west, because the route toward downtown Lebanon was “uphill.”

Yes, there are very few truly flat places in Vermont or New Hampshire. Rail trails are the closest thing to it. Most, if not all, abandoned rail lines that have since been repurposed as recreational trails take advantage of this.

Trains aren’t capable of negotiating significant grades without aid (see Cog Railway, Mount Washington). Light commuter rail networks can handle inclines or declines of 4%-5%, but freight lines are rarely much beyond 2% because it’s harder on the locomotives pulling upslope and braking on the way down.

We, the attempting-to-be-moderately-fit, are the beneficiaries … if we don’t psych ourselves out first.

The LVRT stretches 93 miles from Swanton in northwest Vermont to St. Johnsbury, at the gateway to the Northeast Kingdom.

To date, about 33 miles have been completed with a hard-packed dirt surface that is very bicycle-friendly. We picked out a bit of the western end of the easternmost developed route, in Danville and West Danville, figuring it would be the least-sloped portion.

One of the great things about the LVRT is how businesses along its route have connected to it. Our starting point was a convenience store parking lot around mile 9, just east of Danville’s downtown. From there we headed 4½ miles west, stopping at Joe’s Pond in West Danville before turning around.

My better half’s first impression: It’s uphill. Technically, she’s correct. The frequently asked questions page on the LVRT website notes that the 15.4-mile St. Johnsbury-to-Danville segment gains 900 feet of elevation during its “steady climb.” The part we pedaled rose about 200 feet.

But let’s be real here: This ain’t the Tour de France in the Alps. It’s a lovely piece of trail: We passed a pond-side carriage house, a former train station (equipped with a bike repair and pump stop) and plenty of open farmland and forest. Mileage markers constructed from former rails ticked off our progress. We took our time — someone needed to catch her breath every so often — and reached the eastern tip of Joe’s Pond in a little over an hour. We availed ourselves of lunch at a West Danville general store and — fortified with a turkey grinder, pork rinds, Gatorade and a butterscotch chip cookie — returned to our vehicle in about half the time.

After all, it was “downhill.”

The LVRT is designed to be a four-season recreational route. The Vermont Association of Snow Travelers maintains completed sections, including the 17.4-mile segment between Cambridge and Morrisville. About 80 miles is available to snowmobiles.

The great news is the full LVRT route may be fully constructed sooner than first imagined. Earlier this year, the Vermont government agreed to complete work on the remaining 60 or so miles, authorizing $2.8 million of the estimated $15 million required from its general fund, with the remainder coming from federal transportation money. The day will soon come — attention Prouty Ultimate candidates — when anyone can pedal across the width of the Green Mountain State and not have to huff and puff over a huge hill in the process.

Need to rent at bike? There are places along the LVRT to do that. Want a bite to eat? Check. A place to sleep? Check. This thing is going to be a gem.

We’ll be back. That’s a flat-out promise.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.

If you go

What: Lamoille Valley Rail Trail, Danville, Vt.

Starting point:Marty’s 1st Stop, U.S. Route 2, just east of village.

Getting there from here: I-91 north to exit 21 to U.S. Route 2 west; Marty’s is on the right, trail access across Route 2. About an hour’s drive.

Prettier alternate route: I-91 north to exit 18; turn left on West Barnet Road; continue straight on East Peacham Road (dirt); turn right on Peacham Danville Road; turn right on U.S. Route 2 east; Marty’s is on the left. You’ll want your GPS for that trip. Also about an hour’s trip.

Cycling route from starting point: Out to West Danville and back, about 9 miles. Easy.

Time: Two hours, with plenty of breaks.

Be advised: There are multiple parking and entry points along the LVRT. Find a complete list at www.lvrt.org.

— Greg Fennell




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