What’s better than a fat bike tour in the middle of winter? Finding a cozy lodge in the forest at the end of it.
Story and photos by Christine Hill
Last winter my buddy Tyler Van Liew and I got fat bikes within a week of one another. We decided to celebrate with a ride around the trails behind Colchester High School. We were so caught up in our excitement about our new bikes that we totally forgot about the necessities of food and water. If you know Tyler, you know that this is wildly out of character. If you know me, you know that this is pretty standard.
Both of us were new not only to fat biking, but to riding off paved roads at all. We were surprised by how physically demanding mountain biking was. Riding through snow and over ice certainly added to the challenge. To say that were feeling frantic after four hours of getting lost in the woods sans trail mix would be an understatement. We talked about food the whole 20-minute ride back (food is mostly what we talk about, but this time our conversation about macaroni and cheese had an edge to it). The next day when I texted Tyler, “I feel like I got hit by a bus,” he only responded with a single syllable: “Guh.”
We’ve come a long way since then. And after hundreds of miles and dozens of [mis]adventures over the past year, our bikes and our bodies are little more dialed in.
Considering our initial shortcomings and recent progress as non-competitive fat bike enthusiasts, it felt pretty good when our most recent fat bike adventure—just about a year after our first ride together—was absolute perfection.
It started like this: Glenn Eames, founder of Burlington’s Old Spokes Home bike shop, told Tyler of a mystical, beautiful place named Seyon Lodge located deep in Groton State Forest. He told Tyler of miles of off-road trails that would lead us directly to this quaint lodge in the woods. Glenn said that when we arrived, beautiful, glowing hippies would feed us nourishing food and give us a place to sleep. It had been 15 years since Glenn’s experience there so he couldn’t tell us exactly what route he had taken but Tyler and I were enthralled and determined to find our way there on our fat bikes.
Planning and preparation are integral to a successful trip, so Tyler and I exchanged several text messages on Friday night to firm up our plans for the ride the following day.
With just a few more details to work out, I showed up at Tyler’s house bright and early at 10:30 am on January 2 without my bike and with nothing packed. I found Tyler in his long johns. He was making coffee and all of his gear and maps were strewn about his apartment, covering the furniture and floor. None of the maps had Groton State Forest on them.
Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, we discovered that Seyon Lodge is essentially a rustic, bed and breakfast tucked away in Groton State Forest and operated by the state park. I called the lodge to see if anyone there could tell us how we might get to there on fat bikes. I spoke with a helpful woman named Tiffany. She wasn’t sure about the trails. Neither were we. I could hear the concern growing in her voice as my questions got more and more stupid.
It was getting late in the day and our obvious lack of knowledge about the area and lack of a plan for this trip was sending off red flags. I knew that Tyler and I would be fine but I didn’t know how to convey that to Tiffany, so I quickly changed the subject to lodging. Tiffany explained that for $90 each, Tyler and I could ride our bikes all day and arrive in a warm place with beds, showers, a fireplace, and have dinner and breakfast made for us.
She didn’t say anything about the food being prepared by beautiful, glowing hippies, but we we’re trusting Glenn on this detail. Since it was getting late for a day ride and eating food made by beautiful, glowing hippies is practically sport for us, we were sold and planned to spend the night.
Tyler and I are both accustomed to camping on our bike adventures, so packing for a trip that ended in a four-walled, heated place with a roof had us looking like a couple of confused puppies confronted with a staircase for the first time. Unable to fully comprehend what a lodge is, we each brought our sleeping bags. We did not need the sleeping bags. But even with the sleeping bags we were each able to fit everything we needed (and then some) into a frame bag and a seat bag. “Credit card touring,” as they call it, was already feeling pretty deluxe.
Still unsure of our route, we decided to drive to Plainfield and just ask someone about what trails would take us there.
We eventually found what we thought was the trail. The first 20 minutes, the terrain was pretty bad. Only a foot-wide section was packed down by foot and cross-country ski traffic and I was starting to worry that I’d spend all day bouncing off the banks of snow on each side. Just as I was about to express my concern to Tyler, the whole trail became damn-near perfect. The trail had been groomed for (and by) snowmobiles and was ideal for fat biking.
[Important disclaimer here: what we didn’t know is that much of the trails we rode are off limits to fat bikes. While all VAST (snowmobile) trails on state land are open to fat bikes, it turns out the trail we were riding on was on private land. What we should have done is drive to Seyon Lodge and then explored on the various trails in the state forest surrounding it. (See The Right Way to Seyon Lodge).]
The trail we were on eventually ran brought us to Groton Sate Forest. The transition from one trail to the other was unnoticeable to me, but I’m chronically unobservant when it comes to signage and any and all navigational tools and always leave it to my travel partner to make sure we’re not getting abysmally lost (right now my ex-boyfriends reading this are no doubt saying: “well at least she’s starting to acknowledge it”).
The trail continued to be totally flat but with more beautiful, natural wonders popping up. We first passed Marshfield Pond, then Owl’s Head Mountain, then Lake Groton, and Ricker Pond before hitting Route 302.
As we neared the end of the rail trail and the intersection of 302, we checked out a few different maps on information boards to see what our options were. We noted several trails that cut from the rail trail through the woods directly to Seyon Pond Road. These trails were an alternative to riding on the road that would cut off distance and perhaps save us time. But in the winter they may not be groomed. If you’re a hardcore fat biker who would rather carry your bike over your head for a few miles than ride on the road, then these trails might be a great option for you. But if you’re a couple of space cadets in long johns and leather boots who got on their bikes at 1:30pm in the dead of winter to bike 20 miles in the snow who are mostly in it for the glowing hippies’ food… you just bike the 3 miles on the road and it’s all copacetic.
We hit 302 and it was up up up. We turned right onto the well-marked Seyon Pond Road, and then it was up up up again. I was exhausted, it was getting dark, and due to my poor observational and navigation skills I wasn’t even sure we were in the right place (sure, we were on ‘Seyon Pond Road,’ but does that really mean anything?). I started to get a little miffed (again my ex-boyfriends are thinking: “Yep, yep, sounds about right…”).
The sight of Seyon Lodge lit up at the top of the hill was most welcome. At first it just looked like a regular house and we wondered if we were in the right place. Shortly after spotting the “Seyon Lodge” wood-burned placard above the door, a woman literally leaped out the door with arms flailing, shouting, “YOU’RE HERE!!! YOU MADE IT!!!”
We quickly deduced that this was Tiffany from the phone. We learned that the workers and the guests at the lodge were pretty sure we weren’t going to make it. Apparently two hikers staying at Seyon Lodge back in October went missing on a short hike and Tiffany had to call in a rescue squad to find them. This explained the justified concern in her voice as she talked to Tyler and I about fat biking there.
The lodge may feel ‘rustic’ to Marriott Rewards members, but to a chick wearing a sweaty helmet and cold, wet socks who is accustomed to dealing with nylon, zippers, and tent stakes after an arduous bike ride, the lodge seemed positively luxurious. I immediately took a hot shower in one of the very clean shared bathrooms, helped myself to some chamomile tea in the dining room, and joined Tyler and the other guests downstairs by the fire. Children played board games with respectful indoor voices and the adults quietly read and worked on their laptops. Tyler and I exchanged holy-crap-this-is-amazing sideways glances as we wiggled our toes in our fresh socks and sunk into the comfy couches with our magazines and mugs of tea.
We were in good company at the lodge. A couple from western Massachusetts was up enjoying some cross country skiing. Another couple from Pennsylvania was there to hike and explore the area. And a dad and his three kids were visiting from Burlington and having outdoor fun for the weekend. Everyone kept to themselves while we lounged by the fire, but the conversations flowed once we all sat down at the dinner table together.
We exchanged backgrounds and stories over a nourishing three-course dinner of squash soup and bread, soba noodles with eggplant and basil, kale salad, and roasted beets, and carrot cake and coffee for desert. Tyler and I exchanged several more holy-crap-this-is-amazing giggles throughout dinner.
After dinner we all sat around the fireplace and one of the guests asked Tiffany about the history of the lodge. “Ooooo we’ve gotta get Chris out here!” she exclaimed. Ten minutes later the guy who had cooked much of our dinner came out of the kitchen, wiped his hands on his apron, threw a log on the fire.
The guests gathered around like school children at story time and listened intently as Chris told us about the transformation of Seyon Lodge from a privately-owned Vermont vacation estate that was sold from wealthy baron, J.R. Darling, to a wealthier baron, Harry K. Noyes, into what it is now: Vermont’s only state operated lodge on the shores of Vermont’s only public fly-fishing only trout pond. In addition to serving as a remote getaway for outdoor enthusiasts, the lodge hosts school groups, weddings, meetings, and is apparently a popular place for quilting conventions. Who knew?
Our breakfast of eggs, bacon, and toast the next morning was equally pleasant and Tiffany provided us an enthusiastic send-off that rivaled her one-woman welcoming celebration. Before leaving, we had contemplated taking one of the trails off Seyon Pond Road back to the rail trail, but folks at the lodge emphasized how hilly they were and guessed that they were not groomed. We weren’t prepared for hiking, so we decided to take the same route down Seyon Pond Road to 302 and back to the trail. We were happy to keep things easy and enjoy the predictable ride home. It was even more gorgeous than the day before since morning snow flurries covered the world in a couple inches of bright, fresh powder.
It took as about five hours to get to Seyon Lodge on the first day, covering about 20 miles, and took us about three hours to get back because of the six miles of downhill at the beginning of the ride. We were starving nonetheless and on the way back stopped at Prohibition Pig in Waterbury for cheeseburgers and turkey pot pie. We earned it.
It’s been a month since we did the ride and I’m still flabbergasted by the perfection of this trip. But If I could do the whole thing over again, I would: 1) drive out to Seyon Lodge and bike from there 2) bring my XC skis, and 3) bring beer. But it’s probably for the best that I didn’t think of that the first time. My head would have exploded.