An Outdoor Recreation Renaissance in Poultney | Happy Vermont

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An Outdoor Recreation Renaissance in Poultney

Main Street in Poultney features everything you could hope for in a small Vermont town: a book shop, a local pub, a post office, a hardware store and a library. There’s also James Johnson’s bike shop, Analog Cycles, which sits on the corner of Main and Depot Streets, just west of the local rail trail.

Johnson, who moved to Poultney six years ago, lives off the grid in a yurt on land once owned by his grandmother.

He started the annual Fifth Season Race and Ride, a mud season excursion where riders make stops at maple sugar houses to sample maple syrup, maple butter and maple cotton candy.


-Fifth Season Race and Ride participants visit Verlaska Farm in Poultney on March 23, 2024. (I’m in the purple jacket in the back.) Photo by Tim Farrell

A major snowstorm arrived in the early morning hours of this year’s Fifth Season ride, requiring Johnson and organizers to reroute and shorten the race. About 135 riders registered for the race, and 35 showed up to ride in the snow.

“It’s a super Vermont-y experience in the best, most ridiculous way possible,” is how Johnson described this year’s race.


-Fifth Season Race and Ride headquarters at James Johnson’s off-the-grid sugarhouse in Poultney. Photo by Tim Farrell

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History, Optimism and the Outdoors

Poultney is best known for its role in the slate industry, which shaped the town’s identity in the 19th century. It was also the location of Vermont’s first library. And where American editor and publisher Horace Greeley worked as a printing apprentice.

Poultney was once the headquarters of a melodeon-manufacturing enterprise—the largest outside of New York or Boston. Until 2019, the town was also home to Green Mountain College.

“When the college dissolved … everyone thought that the town would fall apart, but it didn’t,” Johnson says.


-Fifth Season riders (that’s me on the left) trek through a snowy section of Poultney. Photo by James Johnson.

Instead, outdoor recreation is breathing new life into Poultney. The town is located in western Rutland County and is home to Lake St. Catherine, the Poultney River, the Delaware & Hudson Rail Trail and Slate Valley Trails.

“What’s cool about Poultney is that many places have good mountain biking, a lake, gravel roads, or a river,” Johnson says. “But to have all those things in one spot makes Poultney a real sort-of sleeper destination.”

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-The Delaware & Hudson Rail Trail is accessible from Main Street in Poultney.

Inspiration and Resilence in Poultney

Johnson left Maryland for Vermont six years ago to open a bike shop and start his bike brand, Tanglefoot Cycles, along with Discord for specialty parts. Fifth Season Canvas, a brand he runs with Ariel Ogden of Middlebury, is a line of sustainable soft goods, such as saddle bags and sacks.

Before moving the bike shop to Main Street, he ran the operation out of his late grandmother’s off-the-grid sugarhouse near his yurt.

“I didn’t decide to move up here and live off the grid to be crazy or hardcore. I did it to save money,” he says.

His bikes are inspired by the design and utility of bikes built over 100 years ago. The bikes are built in the basement of his Main Street bike shop and shipped to customers as far away as Japan.


-James Johnson, second to right, listens during a tour at Green’s Sugarhouse in Poultney.

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After the race, Johnson and I sat inside his yurt. We heard a massive pile of snow slide off the roof and drop to the ground with a loud thud.

Despite the storm delivering nearly two feet of snow, we talked about how people showed up for the race and embraced the experience.

Was this an example of Poultney’s resilience?

“I see that resilience all the time. To me, it’s just what the community is here,” Johnson says. “I see the town get knocked down and then pick itself up again and again. And it’s certainly part of why I live here. Poultney is a scrappy, little funky place.”


-The Analog Cycles bike shop in Poultney. Photo by James Johnson.

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Happy Vermont Podcast

In this episode of Happy Vermont, James Johnson, Whitney VanBuren, Tim Farrell and Courtney Behnken talk about life in Poultney and why they call this Rutland County town home.

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If you go: Poultney is located about 30 minutes south of Rutland and 40 minutes north of Manchester. Visit the Poultney Area Chamber of Commerce’s website for more information.


-Fifth Season Canvas products, handmade in Middlebury, feature the best materials that exist for eco-friendly bag building: waxed canvas, hemp, leather and brass.


biking, Dirt roads, events, Featured, Mud Season, Outdoors, Poultney, Rutland County, Vermont Podcast
  • Robert Gould
    Posted at 08:20h, 19 April Reply

    Just started listening to the podcast and really love it! I also enjoy your Vermont geography challenges on Instagram.

    • Erica
      Posted at 20:22h, 21 April Reply

      Thanks so much, Robert! I’m so glad to hear that! The geography quizzes are really fun, too.

      Thanks for saying hello. -Erica

  • Thomas Slatin 🏳️‍🌈
    Posted at 14:09h, 15 May Reply

    I just wanted to let you know that I just recently followed your podcast and I think it’s wonderful!

  • Erica
    Posted at 16:15h, 15 May Reply

    Thank you so much, Thomas! I so appreciate your kind words. Thank you for listening! -Erica

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