Thursday, August 28, 2008

Wonderful Vermont

We've gushed before about our route through southeastern Vermont in July, and again in our last post about our return to Vermont through the so-called Northeast Kingdom. Well, it has remained beautiful as we've continued on there, and if we were to pick a favorite state for this trip, Vermont would be it.
The roads have been mostly good, and this past week have been exceptionally low-traffic. It's a hilly state, but we've found routes that have generally kept the climbing manageable. It is a particularly verdant state, with a dense tree cover and occasional patches of bright green cow pasture climbing a valley side.
It has proved to be a friendly place, and in one small town when we found out from a local couple that the library was closed that day, they invited us into their home to use their computer to do some things that couldn't be done on our handhelds.

We didn't get their picture, but here are a few views, starting with a last look north into Canada across Lake Memphramagog from Newport VT,
about 5 miles below the border, and a shot of a group of Canadian cyclists riding around "Lake Mem" with Jay Peak in the distance. After Newport we took Highway 100 one hundred fifty miles through Stowe to Killington, about 3/4 of the way south.
Here's one shot of some typical Vermont undulations, and another of Mount Mansfield, tallest in Vermont, scraping the clouds.

Highway 100 is famous among cycle tourists as a great route, and sure enough we met some at the
Waitsfield Inn from, of all places, Ithaca! In fact, we met one of the six last winter when we attended a Finger Lakes Cycle Club meeting! South of Waitsfield we passed this nice waterfall and some classic mountain and valley scenery,
then rested overnight in a beautiful Comfort Inn near Killington Peak that rents for about 1/3 as much now as it will in January, when they make their real money in central Vermont.

We spent two nights in Stowe and mostly enjoyed goofing off and doing some minor bike maintenance in this quiet resort town, then another two nights in tiny Dorset in southwestern Vermont, where we did even less on our rest day. On the way into town we passed this former marble quarry --
Dorset is dotted with dozens of abandoned ones in remote parts of town. This one was right on the road into town,
and it was the sort of place Norman Rockwell would have hung out at had it not been an active quarry when he lived in Arlington VT, about 20 miles from here, prior to his move to Stockbridge MA. We were not really tempted to join the locals, however, as the water was somewhere in the 40-49 degree range, nor did the 20-foot leap into the quarry strike us as our kind of fun (click on the photos to enlarge them and see how much fun it is).
BTW, on the walk into town for dinner, we noticed that all the sidewalks in Dorset are made of marble!

Surprisingly, this postage-stamp-sized town has a nice playhouse built in 1928 with wood from colonial-era barns, where they have been doing live theater ever since. They claim to be attempting to stage all the plays of George Kaufman, but since he wrote 79 of them and they're so far only doing one per season . . . Kaufman actually teamed up with others for many of his plays (most famously with Moss Hart), and this one, June Moon, was cowritten with Ring Lardner, which gave it some real bite. It wasn't profound theater, but it was good fun.

It's only a few miles from Dorset to the Batten Kill River, and we rode up to the Batten Kill Canoe Company, switched out of our bike shoes into our Gore-tex walking shoes, and got taken (along with a 17' canoe) to a put-in 3 miles away. Off we launched into one of the finest adventures of this entire trip. The Batten Kill is a clean, clear river that alternated between quick water stretches and class 1 rapids, exciting but not overly dangerous places where you whooshed between rocks and the shoreline.
Now you could do some real damage to yourself and/or your canoe if you didn't know what you were about, but fortunately Jeff remembered enough from his class 2 whitewater canoeing days 40 years ago to keep us out of serious trouble. We did 9 1/2 miles in a little over two hours, and it was so much fun, we came back the next day (we had found a motel 5 miles away) and did 13 miles in 3 hours, this time passing under a second covered bridge.
This was a very special part of our trip!

After much debate, we finally decided on a curious route to Ithaca. We followed the Batten Kill and Hoosic Rivers to the Hudson, rivers that cut through the Taconic Mountains that we struggled over two months ago fifty miles south of here. This time we saw the mountains but never felt them as we followed the rivers downstream. Once we hit the Hudson we were in canal country again --
this is a lock on the Champlain-Hudson Canal that Jim and Anita (remember them, the boaters we kept meeting coming up the Atlantic coast?) locked through en route to Canada in June. We turned left and rode along the Hudson to Albany, where we boxed up the bike at the Amtrak station and took the train to Rochester. This took us through 350 miles of territory we've biked twice before and positioned us 100 miles west of Ithaca and poised to visit Keuka Lake, the last of the larger Finger Lakes that we have not yet explored by bike.

Now we've had a few remarkable coincidences on this trip, such as running into the sister of one of Jeff's former clients in the Adirondacks; then someone in Florida who attended not only the small NYC high school as Jeff but also the same college; and most amazingly, the former wife of someone Jeff worked with for ten years at the University of Washington. Well, we had another one in Rochester. There are two people we know in Rochester NY: Jeff's former law clerk Cecily and her husband Rob. We spent one night in Rochester and went to a nearby coffee shop next morning for breakfast, and Jeff saw the day's newpaper sitting at an abandoned table so picked it up for something to read. And there, right on page 1, was a photo of Cecily! Once a month the paper has been doing an article on religious groups in Rochester, and this was the day to write up the Buddhists. Cecily and Rob are very into zen Buddhism, and she was one of a dozen folks the newspaper wrote about and pictured in the article. Those of you who know Cecily (and that would be a good chunk of Jeff's office where Cecily worked 5 or 6 years ago) will understand why they chose her for page one -- she is a delightfully alive person, and the reporter probably really enjoyed interviewing her.

Rochester, some of you no doubt know, is the home of Kodak since it was the home of Kodak's founder, George Eastman. We had booked an easy day out to a B&B near the Erie Canal, and on the way took time to visit George Eastman House.
In recent years they've done a marvelous job bringing the house back to its glory days just before Eastman's death in 1932, and a dozen years ago added gallery space where they have exhibits of interesting photography and also display some early and unusual cameras, including these two, one that looks like a gun (gave new meaning to "shooting a picture of someone") and another concealed in the handle of a cane.
And you thought that sneaky little webcams were something new!

We have one week more on the road, and then we're in Ithaca. We have a busy week planned, getting ready for what follows. On Sept. 12 we take off by bus for New York City, where we have three nights in an apartment we found on Craigs List and one night visiting Jeff's cousin and wife. While there we'll see the sights and reconnect with Louise's son Brian and his wife Ardith, and with Louise's brother Richard.

Meanwhile, our bike and a box or two will be en route to Los Angeles by FedEx. That could be interesting -- it will be the first time we completely disassemble our bike and put it in the two suitcases it supposedly fits into. We leave NYC on Sept. 16 on Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited, then change in Chicago for the Texas Eagle, getting off in Austin for four days with Jeff's daughter Becky, her husband Sean and her two stepdaughters.
After that it's back on Amtrak for the Sunset Limited to Los Angeles. The cost for a deluxe sleeper all the way across the country? Free -- courtesy of the Amtrak Guest Rewards credit card! We are BIG fans of it! Of course we did have to spend a few dollars on motels, restaurants, canoe outfitters and the like . . . but we were going to do that anyway, right?

And from LA, what then? The Holland American Volendam,
which will take us in style to Auckland NZ on a 29-day cruise with stops at 3 of the Hawaiian Islands, American Samoa, Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu, and a few other spots. No jet lag, and lots of time to read the 15 guide books and 25 maps of New Zealand we've accumulated!

Not sure when or from where we'll next write, but stay tuned -- the adventure continues!

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