The kindness of strangers

Day 3 was a long day. By 3:30pm Joe and I had cycled nearly 30 miles with over 3,000 feet of elevation gain (A few weeks ago I had no idea what that statistic meant, but now I know it means climbing a LOT of hills.) and it was raining again. We were hungry and running low on food, climbing to get to a general store. Out of breath, I stopped to look at a house that had a big bike wheel on the fence. They also had a cool barn with more bike wheels and gears on it and a red VW bug parked outside. I stood looking at the house for about 30 seconds before a man walked out the front door to talk to us.

Turns out he’s a passionate mountain biker and just got interested in bikepacking. He and Joe started talking right away about packs and equipment, wheels and tire pressure, throwing around numbers I didn’t understand. I pulled out my recorder and John gave us a beer.

John loves his bikes. He cycled over 600 miles this past winter despite heavy snowfall. He and his good friend Jim (nickname Goat) strap on their snowshoes and pack down their mountain bike trails, then go out and ride them until the conditions change again. That’s some dedication to the sport.

We talked for half an hour before Jim showed up with his two dogs. Jim had come from building bridges on the trails he and John maintain in the area. They say there are a few other mountain bikers where they live, but mostly they maintain the trails for their own use and enjoyment.

We all talked bikepacking for a while, comparing routes and gear. Then Jim kindly offered us a shower and a bed at his house to keep us out of the rain. Joe and I looked at each other and then back at Jim. We accepted gladly, like two soaking wet strays offered an 8oz filet mignon. I was so covered in rain and sweat and mud that a shower sounded like the best thing in the world.

Just one more (tough) climb and we were at Jim’s beautiful home. Outside there was a tiki bar and a pond with a spring-fed fountain. He is a woodworker by trade and built the house himself. The floors came from pines on the property, he built the kitchen cabinets, the table, the hutch for the TV, the banister on the stairs, everything was made by Jim and his wife Mary.

Mary and Jim met at a ski shop. This week they’re celebrating their 23rd wedding anniversary. Together they run a custom woodworking shop in Mount Holly, and Mary has a second job at a country store. She loves dogs of all kinds, but especially her two golden retriever furbabies, Surly and Baxter (named for a bike company and a beer company respectively, Jim’s two favorite things.) The day they took us in was Jim’s birthday.

Showered and smelling fresh, Joe and I tagged along to Taco Tuesday. John (who Jim nicknamed Turtle) and his wife Jody were already at the bar when we arrived. John and Jody run a popular restaurant in Ludlow, VT called Mojo. Mary and Jim seemed to know everyone at the bar, it was obvious they have a great community in Vermont.

In the morning Joe and I drank coffee at the table Jim built and spotted John (aka Turtle) biking by on one of their trails. About a half hour later, we set off on our own bikes for day 4 on the xVT. As we pedaled off the cranks turned a little easier, Joe and I reflected on Jim and Mary’s kindness. The wonderful thing is, it’s not uncommon for us to be greeted this way. In my experience, when we roll up on fully-loaded bikes, people like to ask us questions and often treat us very well. My sincere gratitude to all the friendly people we’ve met so far.

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