For Greta Stone, the worst part of her eight days on the road was the heat, with several days in the 90s.
“The heat really cut back on my efficiency,” she said. “Normally I can ride 40 to 60 miles a day.”
Stone is a long distance-bicycle enthusiast who rode from Pownal to Morses Line from June 3 to June 10, and then back home again to Montpelier, or about 290 miles total. She’s also one of the older riders you’ll find peddling long distances. She’ll be 76 next February.
The retired social worker and her husband Jacob have lived in Montpelier since 2014. She has been doing distance cycling since her 20s and has racked up an impressive number of miles on her many long distance, often solo, bike touring trips.
Among her accomplishments on two wheels and solo was her year 2000 cross-country trek of nearly 4,000 miles that took 11 weeks to complete. She was 54 then and said it was her first experience of bike camping.
She’s cycled solo in Ireland for two weeks, as well. When her husband was able to ride long distances the couple biked in England and toured Europe by bike in 1970 and 1971. On that trip they amassed 8,000 miles on their bikes.
Stone said the idea of riding the length of Vermont had been on her mind “since the COVID situation loosened up. I thought the safest thing to plan would be to ride only in Vermont.” She tied her cycling planning to her membership in the 251 Club, with its 6,000 members.
“I was intrigued by the idea of checking off some new towns in southern Vermont on this trip,” she said. Stone already has visited about 40 percent of the towns in the state, all by bike. Her next bike trip will be in the Northeast Kingdom, which has “a lot of towns I haven’t been in.”
For her recent adventure she rode about seven hours a day. A vegan, she ate “very frequently small meals.” A problem with her diet she said, is “its hard find food in rural Vermont. I ate mostly a lot of pasta, fruits and veggies, some ethnic foods like Chinese or Thai.” She also consumed lots of granola and energy bars.
Stone said she chose to ride the westerly route all in the vicinity of Route 7, an area she hadn’t ridden before. She rode mostly back roads and a few miles on dirt primarily paralleling Route 7. With the exception of one night spent in a South Burlington motel after a grueling 90 degree day on her bike, Stone camped out.
She carries basic camping equipment in the four panniers that held her gear. She took a lightweight tent, sleeping bag and a small camp stove.
“I tried to eat out of stores during the day and cook something warm at night,” she explained. Her cycling day ended around 4 p.m., as “it takes time when traveling alone to make camp cook and shower.” Her cycling day began around 8 a.m.
When you ride long distance there are always problems. For Stone, the biggest problem was that on the first night she broke the zipper on her sleeping bag. The weather also was an issue. “The heat was a big problem and I had torrential rain two nights, but I did not have to ride in the rain,” she said.
Physical problems are a continual issue. Stone said she has arthritis in her hands and feet. She also admitted that at 75, “I’m not being able to cope with the heat the way I used to.”
Traveling the slow way by bicycle, one sees the road from a slow perspective. Stone said she had several insights as she pedaled north. “I could see the opening up from pandemic restrictions, and there were mixed messages about masking or not.”
Another observation: “There were a lot more people out and about than in the months before.”
And there has been an economic toll taken on Vermont. “I saw a lot of permanently closed stores, the pandemic took quite a toll on mom-and-pop stores.”
On the other hand, Stone reflected on the scenic majesty of Vermont. “It’s a beautiful state.”
She said she was “able to meet people; it was nice to ride up to people and talk to them.” Some of those she met had questions about her trip and why she was cycling so far.
For roads she said she enjoyed Route 30 and parts of the Champlain bike way; she was surprised by the bike path through Oakledge Park. She said Route 207 from St. Albans to the Canadian border was “lovely.”
Stone has no illusions about long distance cycling at her age. “I still enjoy it, I know I can’t do the major trips I used to do, it takes a lot more body maintenance and care.” Her main motivator remains the “sense of freedom and independence. I love being outdoors.”
A bicycle ride changes one’s perspective, she said. “Being on a bike you smell, hear the outdoors; it’s not like a car trip. Most of the time I can feel healthy and strong.”
She has no plans to retire from cycling.
“I may not be able to do a week’s ride in the future, or I’ll have to stay in motels more as camping is getting harder,” she said.