Bicycling the Champlain Islands
We pulled our friend’s road bike down from the ceiling hooks in her garage, dusted it off, lubed the chain and checked the brakes. It had been almost 20 years since the machine had been on a ride of any length, but its owner decided the two of them could handle a tour on the Champlain Islands–because she’s game. The strongest people don’t let their minds convince their bodies something is impossible just because it’s a little outside their comfort zone.
With all three bikes stowed safely on a rack, we left our friend’s home in Burlington, Vermont and drove north on Highway 2, taking a bridge across Lake Champlain onto South Hero Island. We then continued north through Grand Isle and onto North Hero Island, stopping for lunch at a little lakeside grocery/deli with a beautiful view of the waves. From there, it was a short trip onto the Alburgh peninsula (which seems like an island because it’s surrounded by water) and the park that was our destination.
Many people are intimidated by the unknown, and this feeling is amplified by the notion of a bicycle ride on roads they’ve never even driven in a car. Luckily, in this case, we were aided by printouts from the Lake Champlain Islands Bikeways. Armed with a simple map and list of instructions, we thought we were well-prepared when we pulled into a parking spot at the Alburg Dunes State Park and unloaded the bikes. The Bikeways directions said to exit the park “past [the] gate on Beach Road (unpaved).” So simple, we thought, as we rode past the gate and then stopped, confused, because there was no roadway of any sort. We circled on the bikes for a few moments. Eventually, we decided to ride down a track heading in the right direction (indicated by the map). It was nothing more than two sandy ruts in grass behind the beach. Our tires sank and slid in the sand for about 20 or 30 yards before we came upon a park worker who indicated we were heading in the right direction to hook up with Poor Farm Road. So on we rode, nearly spilling a couple of times in the deep sand. I’m always grateful for bikeways wherever I encounter them but, oh, how I wish they were better marked.
According to the printouts, we had chosen a themed loop called “A Trail to Two Beaches,” the beaches being Alburg Dunes and North Hero. After leaving the Alburg Dunes parking lot, we rode a mostly on quiet, bucolic roads with little traffic except for other bicyclists. Meadows dotted with flowers lined the roads, which unfortunately weren’t in the best condition–under repair, broken up by bands of gravel. We arrived at North Hero State Park after about 10 miles and took a break on its rocky beach with expansive views of the lake. On the return trip–riding leisurely and chatting with each other–we noticed a humorous sign in someone’s front yard. Mr. Spoked just had to stop and pose for a photo. We never would have noticed it in a car.
Despite a few disorienting moments, we truly enjoyed our slow ride in the warm summer sun. I’d encourage other cyclists to take a journey on one of the Lake Champlain Islands Bikeways routes. There are many options to choose from and, armed with a map, you probably won’t get lost. Even if you do, it’ll be a lovely little adventure.
Other posts in the Velo Vacay series:
- Niagara Falls (Bike New York)
- Erie Canal (Bike New York)
- Covered Bridges in Vermont (Bike Vermont)
- Montreal (Bike Quebec)
- On the Burlington Bike Path (Bike Vermont)
- Great Allegheny Passage (Pennsylvania Bike Trails)