Hill Country: Spring Riding In Vermont

CHESTER, VT – There have been plenty of years when my riding season began back in March. Sound silly? Well, when I was a young married man with one car and a child on the way, having a motorcycle was often a Godsend. If I dressed properly, I could make sales calls on two wheels beginning in March and going right up into November.

Being a radio advertising executive I could do a lot of business over the telephone, too, but there was nothing like a personal visit – especially when it came to collecting money.

One of my clients was a small, now-defunct ski area. Riding a motorcycle from Hanover, NH west into the spine of Vermont’s Green Mountains in late March was an iffy proposition. I found that the worst of it was usually the mountain road and the ski area’s actual parking lot. If I could maneuver that, I was good. On one particular day, the March weather was tolerable, if windy. The owner of the ski area was impressed by my hardy initiative to get paid, and I was rewarded with a good check for the entire balance.

Vermont scenery – Photo by Paul Siciliano

Years later folks still referred to me as “that radio guy who rode the motorcycle in all kinds of weather.” I was not the only sales executive on two wheels in the area. The other one was Grafton’s own Bill Daigle, although I don’t recall if Bill used his motorcycle for sales calls, I do know that he is still renowned for his prolific BMW riding and motorcycle collecting. It was inevitable that our paths would cross due to the fact that we both grew up a mere seven miles from each other. Bill is very familiar with the need to carry about five different pairs of gloves in his panniers for spring and autumn riding in Vermont.

The thing that he and I both know is that riding conditions in the Connecticut River Valley vary wildly just 10 to 15 miles to the west, where we both lived. I could be working in Springfield on a warm April day and ride home to where it was bone chilling some 17 miles southwest. Admittedly, it’s a good 450 feet higher in elevation where I live, but even in the summer, the temperature difference is noticeable.

Jenne Farm in Reading, VT – Photo by Ed Conde

Lots of folks in Vermont commute to jobs in the Champlain and Connecticut Valleys where the temperatures can be 10 to 20 degrees higher on certain days than in the hills just a few miles to the east or west.

In spring, that can mean a complete change of riding gear for a motorcyclist. At times I have worn snowmobile suits for half of a ride, then changed over to leathers for the rest of the ride, all depending on where I was going. This has always made me a little envious of the folks who pilot rigs with sidecars. They are always looking for ballast, and a couple of pairs of boots, an extra helmet or two and a riding suit sure doesn’t hurt.

Sleepy Hollow Farm in Woodstock, VT – Photo by Ed Conde

Planning a ride in the early spring in Vermont really is about where you intend to go. If you live in White River Junction and you want to visit some friends in Rutland, well, you’re going over the Greens. There’s no way around it. The most direct path is Route 4 through Woodstock, Bridgewater, Killington, and Mendon. It’s the Killington and Mendon part that can be the challenge depending on the day.

On an evening in April back in 1968 I recall going over that mountain pass with one of our group getting out of the car and leading the way on foot with a flashlight due to the fog being so thick. His job was to identify the double yellow line painted onto the center line of the two-way road. The driver’s job was to stay behind and to the right of the guy carrying the flashlight. Other times you’d run smack into a blizzard, only to come out of it on the other side into a bright, sunny day. It just can’t be trusted.

Old Guildhall Grist Mill in Guildhall, VT – Photo by Greg Nebbia

Riding your motorcycle on a 65-degree day in Vermont means riding your motorcycle on a 40-degree, 65-degree, 52-degree, 60-degree day. Dress accordingly, because you’ll ride through a bone-chilling pass where the sun hits for maybe 20 minutes per day if it all, then you’ll pass a pond where the ice hasn’t come out yet and that section of road is about 20 degrees colder than the surrounding terrain.

So by all means, come ride Vermont in early spring. Along with electrically assisted gear, bring lots of riding gear for widely variable temperatures.

(Editor’s note: Ed Conde is the brains and muscle behind New England Riders, while Greg Nebbia is a prolific photographer who produces the group’s annual calendar.)

About Arlo Mudgett

“Arlo Mudgett” is the pseudonym used by a Chester, VT resident for the columns he writes in the “Brattleboro Reformer” and “Springfield Reporter” and for daily reports on WKVT and WKVT-FM in Brattleboro, VT. He owns a ’93 Honda Nighthawk 750 project bike, a 2010 Triumph Bonneville, a 2006 Harley Sportster 1200 and a 2014 Honda CRF 250 dual sport. He is a graduate of Boston’s Northeast Broadcasting School. He also attended Dartmouth College.