Words: Evan Wishloff
Photos: Stirl and Rae Media Haus
A carpet of color spread out before me - the smell of autumn decay lingering in the air. Millions of leaves varying in shades from yellow to red laid out on the forest floor around me, hiding the damp puddle-riddled soil below. This was the last grasp of autumn.
At some junctions, the woodland carpet underfoot was so thick that figuring out the direction of the trail was more a guessing game than a sure thing. Yet, even with that thick ground cover of freshly fallen leaves, thousands - no, millions - of leaves stubbornly held on to the surrounding trees. The colors shone so vibrantly, the scenery looked fake - as if somebody had put an Instagram filter over my glasses and slid the saturation up to maximum.
But it was real. This was Vermont in October - a state so well known by tourists for its stunning autumn colors that the term leaf peeper was coined to describe those that come to visit.
By a pure stroke of luck, I found myself here with a little over 24 hours to kill. I’m a firm believer that the best way to experience any locale is by bike, so I rented one from a local shop and hit the trails!
As a kid, I used to ride around, carefree on a cheap BMX bought for me second-hand by my parents. I put a playing card in my spokes, hoping it would make my cheap bicycle sound like a motorcycle and impress the other 9 year olds.
Riding in Vermont in the fall brings back some of that same juvenile essence. Leaves from the forest floor find themselves picked up by bike tires, getting caught in the frame, making that same buzzing sound as the playing cards did 20 years ago.
Time moves a bit slower in Vermont. Given the small geographic footprint of the state, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise, but this is not the place to visit if you are in a rush.
The South of Vermont is a maze of twisting, windy roads. Speed limits rarely top 50 mph, and you’ll find plenty of gravel roads depending on your destination. You’ll be sharing the roads with farmers, ranchers, and the locals, and they all have the right idea: You’ll get there when you get there.
You’ll be rewarded for your patience in the Green Mountain State. As far as mountain biking destinations in North America go, Vermont is a hidden gem, not mentioned in the mountain bike media nearly as much as it should be.
With only a little over a day to ride, I wasn’t able to sample a true selection of what Vermont has to offer, but I was able to ride the trail network that any local I asked about raved as the must-ride destination in the state: Slate Valley.
Featuring a smile-inducing mix of rocks, roots, long climbs, flowy descents alongside stunning autumn colors, SVT lived up to the hype. It might just be one of the best mountain bike trail networks in America...
So next fall, if you want to do some leaf-peeping and ride your bike, book a trip to Vermont. You won’t regret it.