Farm stands, general stores, great coffee shops, famous stops along the way: Wayside explores the best stops in cycling.
It didn’t catch my eye at first. One’s mind tends to put things in the correct place, which for me includes the Ripton Country Store. The halfway mark up Vermont’s Middlebury Gap is an everyday stop for me en route home in Ripton. My mail is delivered for pick up at the store. (There is no rural delivery in town.) Walking past the cooler that sits behind the handmade and rusted signs (HOT COFFEE, SANDWICHES, WORMS) it was years before I actually caught on to the landmark spelling. When a new ice chest was delivered and store owner Dick Collit was outside with a heat gun stripping off the letters, I pieced together the correct Ripton spelling: IEC and with it, a type of winking cyclist's landmark.
“In the 70s we had a new chest delivered,” explained Dick. “The stickers came separately and the fellow installing them wasn’t too bright, apparently. It became something that people looked for, the IEC. We’ve kept it the same since and in the times when we’ve been waiting on stickers for a new chest, people get upset. The cyclists look for the IEC.”
Simple landmarks are reassuring. There is motivation in a great wayside stop. Small bits of encouragement in the knowledge that a coke or a candy bar sit securely at a favorite gas station. There’s comfort in a friendly clerk willing to fill a water bottle. For those reasons and for its steadfast appearance unchanged really since 1879, the Ripton Store is well loved. It slips often into the social media cracks, Instagramed shorthand for Vermont Gap riding, for pro base miles, for urban escapes, for real seasons. Penny candy and ice cream. Buck knives. A woodstove. Maple syrup. Cheddar cheese.
Set in a constellation of gravel and asphalt roads lauded for their scenery, their challenge, their draw for riders far from Vermont, the Ripton Country Store might have a place in cycling without its iconic look, but its front porch with the annual flower beds perfect for bike parking and picture taking, its kitsch and its utility are forever set in a time . It’s that preservation, sturdy and clear as a block of iec, that make the last clicks of the freewheel before pulling off the road and refueling so satisfying, an easy wayside stop to repeat given every opportunity. The cyclists look for the IEC.
Andrew Gardner tells stories, loves dirt two-tracks, enjoys cursing and collaborates with Velocio on media and outreach. He owns Press Forward, a marketing and PR consultancy based exactly one mile from the Ripton Country Store.