Joe Cook of Dummerston has bicycled all over the world, including riding on every paved and dirt road in Vermont.
Courtesy photo
Joe Cook of Dummerston has bicycled all over the world, including riding on every paved and dirt road in Vermont.

Keeping the wheels turning

Joe Cook will talk about his cycling adventures in Vermont and beyond at the Dummerston Historical Society

DUMMERSTON-Maybe you knew Joe Cook as a local banker at Vermont National Bank during his 18 years there. Perhaps you knew him when he started a second career as a lawyer at his firm, Corum Mabie Cook Prodan Angell & Secrest in Brattleboro.

But more than likely, you've recognized Cook on the road on his bicycle wearing his helmet and bright cycling shirts.

"I bought my bicycle 30 years ago. It's a touring bike, made for long-distance travel," the 70-year-old has already put 100,000 miles on his bike and has had to replace its components many times over.

On Thursday, July 18, at 7 p.m., Cook will share some of his cycling adventures at the Dummerston Historical Society.

Now retired, he rode his bicycle to work during his 40-year working career, first from Putney, then from Newfane, and finally from his home in Dummerston.

It was not unusual to see Cook fly down the breakdown lane on Route 30 twice a day in good weather for all those years. He credits local cyclist Dot McDonald for the idea.

"I loved riding my bicycle to work," Cook says.

Hitting all 251 (plus one)

Cook has been riding for 65 years, and he's covered the whole of Vermont's roadways and a lot of territory beyond.

He took about 35 years to cycle the full length of the 4,500 paved roads of Vermont. When he finished that project in 2010, he decided he'd do the 1,000 miles of dirt roads on the Vermont highway map as well.

"I figured, I'd done so many of our Vermont roads already, why not do them all?" remarks Cook, who also notes, "I don't believe anyone has ever done every single road in Vermont by bicycle. I don't think anyone else is eccentric enough to do it!"

Cook completed the project county by county, starting in Windham County.

"I rode my last dirt road in Jericho in 2021," he says with a happy smile. "Boy, did I learn my way around the state of Vermont!"

Between completing his travel on the paved roads and beginning on the dirt roads, Cook learned about the 251 Club.

"It's a group you can find online of folks who aspire to bicycle all 251 towns in the state. Essex Junction is now considered a town, so there are 252 towns now, but the club didn't change the name," he says with a grin.

Cook had to double back on some of the roads two or three times to cover their entire length, doing a loop whenever possible but sometimes having to go out and back to get them crossed off the list.

"Navigation was a challenge, since a few of the dirt roads do not have road signs," he says. "Vermont doesn't make maps for sale any longer. I used an old copy of Northern Cartographic's Vermont Road Atlas & Guide," says Cook, who notes that map book is now out of print as well.

"Technology has also changed a great deal in my cycling career. I use my phone a lot more now."

At the end of his ride, Cook highlighted all the roads on a Vermont highway map from 2002 (also out of print), and had then-governor Howard Dean - his second cousin - autograph the document, which is now framed in his Dummerston home.

Several times, Cook has ridden the length of the state of Vermont in a single day.

"The difference between a headwind and a tailwind is huge," says Cook. "Planning is important with cycling."

Cook has also led groups on trips to cover the length of the state.

"I decided it would be fun to lead groups in the fall and to break the trip into a weekend," he recalls.

Usually, a group of 12 would take the train to St. Albans, then to Essex Junction on a Friday night. Then they would break their journey at Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester.

"I'm a big fan of Liberty Hill Farm, which was the first green agritourism enterprise in Vermont. It's a working dairy farm and inn where there is homestyle cooking," Cook explains.

The group would stay on Saturday night, then ride the rest of the state the next day.

"It's easier than doing it all in one day, and it's a whole lot of fun," he says.

Seeing the USA

In between the end of his banking career and the start of law school in 1994, Cook rode 4,900 miles with camping gear from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. During the trip, he rode over the Continental Divide nine times.

"When I was between careers, I felt the need to seize the opportunity to do something I love: long-distance bicycling," he says. "It was a great trip. My wife Debbie and my two kids joined me for part of that ride."

Eventually, Cook found his way to the RAGBRAI (Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa), an eight-day "rolling festival of bicycles, music, food, camaraderie and community," according to its website, which claims the event is "the oldest, largest, and longest multi-day bicycle touring event in the world."

"After I'd been leading trips in Vermont, I decided to lead to the RAGBRAI and did those five times with other local cyclists, which was a lot of fun," recalls Cook.

During one of those trips, he and his group of riders raised money for the Livestrong Foundation. Begun by cyclist Lance Armstrong in 1997, the nonprofit provides support for people with cancer.

Cook has done other "big trips" including a 2,452-mile ride from Vancouver to Mexico. On that trip, he learned about a group for cyclists that makes their home available for a homestay.

"It's a reciprocal program called, a nonprofit that is a global network for cyclists. You make your home available to other cyclists, and they will do the same for you," he says.

Cook says his first host was on the Puget Sound in Washington State. "A woman 20 years younger than I moved out of her room and she slept on the sofa," he says.

"We also make our home available to cyclists," adds Cook, though he notes that he doesn't receive as many cycling guests in Vermont than hosts do in other states - particularly, flatter ones -where cycling is easier.

Going global

Cook hasn't limited his cycling to the Americas.

"One of my favorite long-distance rides was between Land's End [the westernmost peninsula of the county of Cornwall, England] to John o' Groats village in Scotland, the most northern point of mainland Great Britain, a trip of about 876 miles," Cook remembers.

He's also cycled in Holland and followed rivers in Europe, cycling the length of the Rhine and Rhone Rivers in 2016.

"On that trip I met a Brit near the summit of Mont Ventoux, a side trip I took in France. He predicted that Brexit would never pass, and I told him Trump would never get elected," says Cook with a laugh. "Guess we both got that one wrong!"

Cook has also cycled 1,400 miles of the Danube in 2012. Started in the Black Forest in the state of Baden-Württemberg in southwest Germany, he finished in Belgrade, Serbia.

These days, Cook is trying what he calls "credit card camping."

"That way I don't have to carry so much stuff," he says with a laugh.

Cook not only cycles, but he also cross-country skis and is now working on finishing the last 15 miles of Vermont's Long Trail, a hiking trail that runs the length of the state. He's also president of the Putney Bike Club.

"On Tuesday nights we sponsor rides that start in different places and finish with potluck dinners or meals in various restaurants. I compile our club's schedule, which can be found online," says Cook.

Cook's presentation on July 18 will be held at the Dummerston Historical Society's building, the former Center School House, in Dummerston Center next to the town offices. The talk is free, wheelchair accessible, and all are welcome to attend.

"I think I'll have plenty to talk about!" Cook says.

This News item by Fran Lynggaard Hansen was written for The Commons.

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