Champagne Camping (Part 1)

Southeast MA – Randolph Center, VT
Fri May 27
(~199 miles)

Char and I have talked about going motorcycle camping pretty much since I started riding again several years ago. We’ve car-camped a bunch over the years, and I’d done a quite a bit of local backpacking in my youth. Though we’d managed to squeeze out week-long trips on the bike while staying in hotels, the equipment storage logistics of camping from two wheels eluded us for the longest time.

I haven’t been ready to switch riding platforms from the ST yet and she’s not interested in riding a separate bike for trips. So recently, we made the decision to shop for a pull-behind trailer, which will provide us enough extra storage to bring along some camping essentials. That process is ongoing, but in the meantime, we have plenty of older gear that we need to test out and possibly replace, as technology is constantly getting smaller and more durable.

When the HW3 rally got cancelled for this year’s Memorial Day weekend, our friends Bob and Cheryl Woodsom told us about the moto-camping weekend they were planning. We asked to join them to dip our toes back into the camping experience and start evaluating our gear. We’d bring both the bike and our small car, but try to keep the packing down to what we’d bring on a bike/trailer combo.

Plans came together for more of our northeast “rally couple” friends to join in the camping fun, and things shaped up nicely. We booked in early May at the Lake Champagne Campground in Randolph Center, Vermont, choosing some smaller campsites that the Woodsoms had enjoyed on previous outings. Anticipation of spending a relaxed long weekend with our good friends (off the rally clock) set in and gave us something to look forward to for a few weeks.

We left home early afternoon on Friday, having wrapped up our work responsibilities for the week. The weather was clear and gorgeous, with the forecast similar over the entire weekend. Char left earlier in our Honda Fit, figuring I’d catch her up on the bike. However, I wasn’t in a big hurry and her foot is made of lead when she gets behind the wheel, so I didn’t spot her again until Vermont! 💨 By then, I’d run up behind Bob and Cheryl on I-89 and tucked in behind them for the rest of the way to the campground. We caught Char up on I-91 and caravanned all together for the final few miles.

There ain’t much going on in the village of Randolph Center, just a small post office and ramshackle general store that we passed by en route to the campground. Check-in was quick, and we learned that some of our friends had already arrived. We paid up and motored slowly through the gravel roads of the lovely campground, a large part of which is open grassy field on a curved hillside overlooking the scenic Lake Champagne itself (really just a small pond). There were many big RVs set up in rows along the treelines, clearly seasonal guests, but overall the campground was not full by any means.

We followed the Woodsoms to the row of three sites chosen for our weekend stay. They were wooded sides right at the top of an open slope with nice views of the entire campground and lake off in the distance.

camp sites for the weekend

camper relaxing

The luxury site

The bathrooms were right down the hill, and there were electrical hookups, though the sites are clearly meant for small trailers or tents only. Ken and Felicia were unpacking their Goldwing and trailer, setting up their nice Redvertz 4-person tent alongside a  jeep rig w/rooftop tent belonging to our other friends, Jeff and Erin Arsenault.

Parking the ST alongside the Wing in the grass, usinga kickstand puck, I then helped Char find a spot for the car off to the side and we set about the business of camp setup. Our old EMS Scout 4-person tent is still in good shape, and has served us pretty well over the years. It may be nice to get a more modern design with a vestibule at some point, for storing wet gear and boots when the need arises.

middle campsite

Where the real campers stay

We have decent 20 degree sleeping bags, but they are old synthetic fill technology and much bulkier than what is available today. Most likely they’ll need upgrading to save room. Our sleeping pads are classic ThermaRest self-inflating models from the 80s. They are decently insulated, but not very thick for comfort. When we saw the modern puffier Klymit air mattresses that the Woodsoms were using, we were jealous at how comfy they looked, as well as how small they roll up. Jeff and Erin offered to let us test theirs out for the weekend, since they have a mattress in their jeep penthouse.

After we all got settled in, we all set about making our respective dinners. I broke out the MSR WhisperLite stove to start some water boiling and the darn thing fired right up and worked great, after probably 20 years sitting in the basement (I had actually tested it briefly before the trip). Despite rumors to the contrary, I did NOT almost burn down the entire picnic table!

(edited) Char had prepped some fresh taco ingredients for our first night’s meal – lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese – so all I had to do was heat up the fake veggie meat substance and warm up some tortillas. Nothing like tacos and a beer under the open sky! Char had also found a recipe for some quick and easy custard with dried strawberries, which was…OK.

camper with stir-fry stand

Erin showing off their swank and versatile saute grill rig.

cooking at camp

Whipping up some camper’s custard with dried strawberries.

The Altons rolled in just after dark, taking sole possession of the third campsite on the other side of ours. They’ve got a squat little camper trailer they picked up earlier this year to pull behind their jeep, and we ooohed and ahhed over the sleekness and gadgetry. Jim had ridden his ST up to join us on the rides, and they’d also brought their two Shiba Inu dogs along – it was nice to have a couple animals around the place.

round the campfire

Char and I had done pretty well at keeping the amount of gear down to motorcycle-size, but our two big concessions to having the car were a full size cooler and some firewood. We enjoyed a couple cold IPAs with our meal, and a couple more while catching up with the gang and sitting around the campfire.

Speaking of sitting, we’d already upgraded our camp chairs from the old bulky models from Dick’s Sporting Goods, to more compact lighter chairs that we’d be able to eventually bring on the bike. I’d found the Rocky Mountain ATV branded chairs recommended in a couple places and they’re pretty affordable, so we got the compact Tusk model for Char, while I opted for the beefy 300-lb rated high-back RMATV model. Mine kept creaking alarmingly, but I’m well under the weight limit so trusted it to do it’s job. They both seemed well made, and much more comfortable than our old chairs.

We discussed timing for riding tomorrow and stayed up watching the flames for as long as each one of us could manage, before finally heading into the tents for some shut-eye. Already, I could tell that these more modern sleeping pads would be much more comfortable and result in a better night’s sleep. I looked forward to waking up without a back ache in a tent! Yup, we’d been away from it for a bit, but camping is pretty awesome.

map of today's ride

 


Central VT loop
Sat May 28
(~218 miles)

We awoke with the sun and birds, as is often the case while camping. I poked my head out of the tent and observed the Woodsoms already chilling in their camp chairs with steaming coffee from their little JetBoil stove deal. The others were beginning to slowly stir from slumber as well, thanks to the cacophony of birdsong. I managed the awkward routine of standing-up-while-exiting-tent-and-donning-shoes without falling on my face, put some water on to boil, and headed down to the bathrooms.

morning coffee at camp

Some of the group already enjoying hot coffee minutes out of their sleeping bags.

While some of us needed to refamiliarize ourselves with the gear. 🙂

MSR Whisperlite stove

My trusty MSR WhisperLite stove

After getting our instant coffee-bags steeping, I proceeded to prepare myself a bagel, egg, and Spam sandwich – one of my go-to gourmet camp breakfasts. Char generally skips out on early breakfasts and was satisfied to sip her coffee, as we all ate and chatted around the picnic tables.

The plan for today was to get out and ride NER’s Killington Vermont Piedmont Ride. There are a few variations of this general route, and I hadn’t ridden any of them yet, so I was looking forward to hitting some new roads and stops today. We had breakfast eaten, dishes done, and wheels rolling by around 0900. It was a bright glorious spring day and the chill of nighttime in the Green Mountains was already wearing off under the morning sun.

campsite in the morning

The bikes in our group consisted of: the Amans on their Goldwing; Jeff & Erin on their big GSA; Bob & Cheryl riding their mid-size GSAs; Jim on his beater ST1300; and Char and I on our ST. Down at the gas station by the interstate, we met up with another couple on Triumph Tigers, Dean and Tanya, who were joining us for the day’s ride. Since I’d suggested and prepped the route, we were chosen to lead the group today. After some fumbling around with the Sena intercoms, we finally all lined up and hit the road, heading back up the hill through Randolph Center.

sign for Floating BridgeWe enjoyed a quick pace through beautiful Vermont countryside up route 14 to the small village of Brookfield, where we stopped for a short photo break of the famous Floating Bridge.

This was my first visit to the well-known bridge, though I’d heard about it for years. It’s a pretty spot, though the bridge is now modern and well-made, mostly disguising any hint that it isn’t just a normal span crossing narrow Sunset Lake. I hear back in the day, the bridge would often be partially sunken, with vehicles splashing through as they crossed over.

 

riders at floating bridge

Felicia, Ken & Cheryl

crossing the floating bridge

Sunset Lake

Sunset Lake, Brookfield VT

floating bridge scene

After a nice break and some photos, we headed north out of Brookville, hitting a couple miles of gravel on Road Pond Road. I was surprised to hit such a long stretch of dirt on an NER route, but it was a very scenic narrow road, through a tunnel of trees, with nice water views. I figured the GPS was having fun with me, but knew nobody in this group would mind at all. In fact, it was one of the nicest scenic highlights of the ride.

gravel road section

Road Pond Road

We were dumped back onto pavement at VT 14, only to hit a road closure a mile up the road. A couple more miles of gravel ensued on the detour, circling to the east before we came back down to paved roads in Williamstown. In a few miles we rolled into the bustling little town of Barre.

Barre VT

Barre VT

bikes behind us in Barre

riders taking a break in the shadeWe pulled in for a scheduled stop at a Dunkin for a nature break. It was getting a bit warmer by now, so most of the group spread out in the shade of a convenient hedge to stretch their legs. I ordered a cold mango-flavored beverage while chatting with a local biker and his pillion in line. Everyone seemed happy with the relaxed vibe and we weren’t in any hurry after all. No. Clock. Ticking.

bikes lined up

Winooski River along US 2 in VermontRoute 14 dumped us out on US 2 east of Montpelier and we followed it east along the Winooski River to Marshfield, where we picked up VT 232, a rider favorite in the region and the part of the route I most anticipated. Despite hearing so much about it, this was actually my first run on this short but twisty bit of tarmac through Groton State Forest.

The first couple miles were confounding, with torn up road surface and teeth-grating bumps – I was not impressed so far. However, once we got to the state forest border and passed a couple slow-moving cars, Char and I were whooping in our helmets, enjoying several miles of well-banked curves with no crossroads, until the T-intersection at US 302. We waited for our group to catch us up there, exhilarated. I may or may not have performed a brief happy dance in the road when the others finally came into view.

Colatina Exit restaurantTurning left, we followed 302 along the Waits River in West Topsham, picking up VT 25 southeast into the Connecticut River valley. We crossed under I-91 and into the charming little town of Bradford on US 5, where we broke for lunch at Colatina Exit, a local Italian eatery on the main drag.

They had two groovy round booths right up under the front windows, and I’m a sucker for a round table, so our group split up to take advantage of these prime seats in the sunny windows. Only a couple tables were occupied when we arrived, but the place got busier following our arrival, so we’d apparently timed it well. I opted for a caesar side salad and grilled chicken panini with cheddar, onions, and chipotle aioli – quite tasty. Everyone seemed very happy with their food, including a few who tried the pizza.

riders at lunch table

lunch plate

After this nice lunch stop, we headed south, with a detour off US 5 for a slow shore-side cruise along Lake Morey, then more limited views along Lake Fairlee on route 244. We followed the Ompompanoosuc River down through Thetford, passed the state forest and enjoyed a quintessential Vermont experience, crossing the river via the Union Village covered bridge.

Union Village Bridge

interior of Union Village covered bridge

VT 132 led arcing around to the west to Sharon, where we picked up VT 14 alongside the White River, down to White River Junction. See how that works?

Woodstock Beverage liquor storeWe crossed the river to US 4, which took us past the touristy Queechee Gorge area. I had some flashbacks to the ’21 IBR when I was stuck behind a line of slow traffic for miles on this stretch. Good thing we are relaxed today, but the traffic wasn’t terrible anyway.

We stopped off in Woodstock at a local liquor store that looked likely to stock some good Vermont micro-brews. Sure enough the selection was good – I picked up some Lawsons and Heady Topper to bring back to the campground, while the others did their own shopping. Dean and Tanya took their leave of the group  here, to get back to their campground a bit sooner.

We got some leaning in on route 100A and then VT 100 itself, heading back north through Killington and skirting Green Mountain National Forest. We veered east from Stockbridge on VT 107 and rounded off the day’s loop with a final run up VT 14 to Randolph and our waiting campsites.

splitting firewoodThere was still plenty of daylight left, and I decided to go take a dip from the small beach area at the pond. I hadn’t been freshwater swimming in a while and it had that pond smell, but it was clean enough, refreshing, and peaceful, with just a few folks braving the water with their small children today.

Back at the site, we got to work on splitting up some not-quite-seasoned wood for kindling, and got an early fire going for atmosphere. Today’s dinner for Char and I was pasta with our pre-prepared homemade pesto sauce (another camp staple for us). I tossed mine with some more canned chicken and declared it good. Char was still experimenting with camp desserts and had whipped together some camp-cheesecake (w/granola crust & dried strawberries) from an online recipe, to satisfy our sweet tooth, and that turned out pretty tasty.

can of beerSmall bit of drama when my new camp chair (which had been creaking alarmingly you’ll remember) had a backstay rod tear through the fabric, delivering me unceremoniously downward, amidst much laughter. I was amused (beer helps with that), but none too pleased about the quality of this supposedly rugged piece of kit I’d just bought. I was able to jury-rig a workaround and continue using the chair, but planned to send off a complaint to RockyMountainATV as soon as we got home.

It was a great night, hanging around the campfire with our good friends, recounting old riding and rally stories and sharing  future plans. The perfect spring evening on a long weekend.

map of today's route

Killington Vermont Piedmont Ride

4 comments on Champagne Camping (Part 1)

  1. Last time I went over the floating bridge, it must have been like.. ’97 or ’98, and yeah, seeing the 50-gallon drums dip under the water… oh well, the tires needed washing anyways! 😀

    …and 232, yesssss! I went to college in Plainfield, and buzzing over 232 to the truck stop in Wells River was our only late night hangout.. so many nights buzzing through Groton SF with a car load of college kids, sleepy from late night burgers… <3

    1. The videos about the bridge history on the Historical Society site that I linked to are pretty interesting, if a bit unexciting. That last bridge cost $64K to build in 1978. Current one cost $3+ million. 😬 Better not be water on it now!

      I’m surprised you all didn’t find a dirt track through the woods to take instead…call yourselves Vermonters? 🐄

  2. Nice write up. I haven’t had the opportunity to ride in that part of the world. Looks like I need to make it a priority. I haven’t been camping since I was a kid. Almost makes me want to go camping……almost.

    1. Thanks Matt! New England often gets a bad rap for congestion, etc, but we actually have some great riding in the area if you know where to look for it.

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