On Sunday morning, I reluctantly said goodbye to Chris and Andrea as they got ready for more rock and roll goodness of the countrified variety – a Willie Nelson show outside of Buffalo. I’m a big fan of Mr. Nelson but $70 is bit hard to swallow on this new ‘poor man’s around the world’ budget.
I jumped back on the road to my next destination – the wonderful wilds of northwestern Vermont, a 9 hour ride away. On the way, I stopped in Syracuse to say hi to Jamie (with yours truly below), a friend I hadn’t seen since we met at a Habitat For Humanity build in Gdansk, Poland about two years ago. I was one of three lucky people sent by my former employer, Clif Bar, and had an amazing time and met some great people including Jamie, her brother Colin and father Andy, my partner in sheetrock-mounting crime on the project. Next time, we’ll have to get the rest of the familia together!
Once I hit Utica, I was finally able to get off the highway and back into some scenic riding for the first time in entirely too long. Again, riding becomes fun – about the journey and not so much the destination which is not the case on the ‘slab’. I headed north on Rt. 28 into the Adirondack Mountains, an area I’d been hearing about for years from friends that grew up in the region. It definitely lived up to the hype.
I rode about 200 miles down beautiful scenic roads through lakes, forest and sleepy little Summer vacation towns like Old Forge, Ray Brook, Saranac Lake (check out Tail of the Pup for BBQ or seafood if you go – damn good pulled pork sandwich) and Lake Placid, the no longer sleepy town that hosted the Winter Olympics years ago. I can see why so many people from New York flock here to get away from it all. It’s a beautiful place with tons of outdoor activity options. Seemed like every other car that passed had a canoe or kayak on top. Hiking in the area must be amazing as well as it’s nothing but gently rolling green forests for miles around.
After reaching the northeastern edge of the mountains and just missing the last ferry from Port Henry, NY across Lake Champlain to Burlington, VT, I rode through the dark, guided by a super-bright full moon up to Plattsburgh, NY to catch the 24 hr. ferry to Grand Isle. I was only one of 5 vehicles on the little boat, including a gigantic Wal-Mart truck. The moonlit scene on the water was suddenly not so quaint anymore. They’re everywhere!
Entering Vermont, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning, about to spend the next few days further exploring the place I’ve come to love since I started visiting 6-7 years ago. If nothing else, the trip ‘cross country has made it clear what kind of scenery I really enjoy. The mountains, lakes, ocean, deserts etc have all been amazing. But for some reason I feel most drawn to the aesthetic of the farming areas I’ve seen, and Vermont has that scene nailed. It’s called the Green Mountain State – how can it not be good? There are miles and miles of rolling green farmland, barns and farmhouses, forests and streams, all seemingly pristine without any of the roadside advertising (billboards etc) and eyesores that you find in many other places in the US. All this punctuated by hundreds of quaint little towns with main streets, dripping Americana. Postcard perfect all around.
The only drawback? There’s no diversity to speak of and not quite the level of “action” I’m used to – not that it’s a bad thing, I guess. At some point, I’ll be ready for the quiet, but not sure if the transition from a diverse and culture-crazy place like San Francisco would be an easy one quite yet.
Pals Tracy and Jen (and Cici the farting lab) were kind enough to put up with me for the next four days. Thanks for yet another stay in the lap of pastoral Fairfax luxury. You guys rock. I spent the next three days doing all that exploring I was excited about. After spending mornings running the dirt roads around their home, visiting the organic farm where Jen works (River Berry Farm – just a mile down the road), or just sitting on the porch enjoying the sounds of the cicadas and the birds attracted to the beautiful wildflower garden/yard Jen created,
I would head into Burlington or take the local routes to check out the surrounding area. In the evening, Jen, Tracy and I got together with friends Andy and Daria (Tracy’s sis) and the aforementioned recently-christened twins, Gus and Evelyn, for dinners (including corn that we picked ourselves and other veggies from Jen’s farm)
and a sales presentation for why I should move to the area. They were pretty convincing.
Burlington is home to the Univ. of Vermont (accounting for nearly half of the 38,000 people that call Burlington home) and is a funky little town, with a pedestrian area right down the middle, Church St., lined with coffee shops, restaurants (including American Flatbread, where an SF transplant friend of mine, Liz, used to work – you must’ve been an awesome employee ’cause they bought me lunch when I mentioned your name. Very cool place that sources a lot of local organic produce in their foods.) and bars (including Nectar’s, where the band Phish apparently got their start). There’s a beautiful waterfront area to the west, where the city meets Lake Champlain with a great view of the Adirondacks in the distance.
It’s a pretty progressive area as well, as a lot of college towns are, I guess. It’s home to some cool companies as well, including Burton Snowboards, 7th Generation, Ben & Jerry’s (just south), and some renewable energy related groups/companies like NRG Systems, Renewable Energy VT, Distributed Energy and others. I stopped by or met with some friends at a few of them (thanks, Erika, Billy and Jen), to say hello and get a feel for what’s going on here in the event that I might come back when this adventure is over. ‘Cause apparently I’ll need a job at that point.
I also explored about 150 miles of the nearby roads, cruising down Rts. 108, 100, 125, 116, 15, 2A and a bunch of others through Waitsfield, Hancock, Middlebury (home to Middlebury College and hot spot in the climate change movement w/Bill McKibben and the Step It Up campaign), Bristol and countless other cool little towns. I stopped by The Intervale as well (thanks for the suggestion, Liz and Caron), a 3,000 acre parcel of community farmland in the middle of Burlington, dedicated to educating people about the importance of sustainable agriculture and reconnecting people with food.
Who knew all this happy hippie goodness could exist outside of Northern California?? That’s a joke. But San Francisco IS the center of the universe.
Okay, just one more fun Vermont event I have to relay. I decided to stick around through last Wednesday night when Andy invited me to a Clutch show with his buddies, pre-cursor to a bachelor party he was about to go on in NYC for the weekend. After BBQing with his pals and all-around awesome people, OB, Goff, East Coast Hammer (as opposed to the original West Coast Hammer – long story), Hobart, Emily, Kate and Fassano (just off the plane from Hoboken), we made our way to Higher Ground, a legendary music venue in South Burlington and proceeded to rock. Put it this way – Clutch could never be confused with the Carpenters. I wasn’t a fan before but I think I am now. I haven’t been in a mosh pit since I was about 14 (the Descendants/All anyone?). It’s cathartic. Almost as good as the gravy fries we devoured at Nectar’s in the wee hours of the morning afterward (serenaded by a jam band actually covering a Phish tune – the singer pre-empted it by saying, “I know there’s an unwritten rule about covering Phish here, but..” and he played it anyway). Thanks Andy. Good luck with your bruises.
I think I’ll stop now. If you’re still reading, you deserve money. Or a lolly-pop. Well done.