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Wednesday, 1 August 2007
bike trip, 5 - Vermont ups-and-downs
Topic: travel

Before I continue with a Green Mountain travelogue, let me take a break to praise canoeing by bicycle. I mean, getting your canoe or kayak to water’s edge by bike, solely with human power and with minimal carbon emissions. It’s one of those little ironies: Too many HPVs (human-powered vehicles) get to the starting line aboard or atop a gas guzzler; think of the common ad image of mountain bikes on an SUV, as if they’re jewelry. But you can take another path. Last night, for example, I put my 18 ½ foot Mad River canoe on a second-hand kid trailer and attached the improvised rig to my faithful Dahon folding bike, then I headed over to Corn Hill Landing. It took no effort to get to the dock, then a few minutes to unload, get the boat in the water, fold the bike and trailer and stow them aboard, and set off for a three-mile paddle upstream to Brooks Landing (near the UR campus). Once on the water I was in a different world; near the old railroad bridge a bit south of Ford Street, I saw, and followed, a beaver that was swimming placidly along – at least till he/she realized I wasn’t a big log and submerged with a loud slap of his/her tail. I’d seen muskrats thereabouts before, but a beaver sighting is a personal first. Anyway, there’s something cool about doing the whole canoe “expedition” without resort to horsepower. Try it, you’ll like it.

Back to the Green Mountains. I’d enjoyed small but urbane Burlington, but I was ready for a change of pace, and the mountains of Central Vermont certainly provided that. For one thing, the steep, long inclines slowed me down; I had to walk up some stretches. But of course, even while you’re huffing and puffing, the Vermont scenery is priceless. The epitome came quite literally at Lincoln Gap, where you go up forever and ever, sometimes into the clouds, then descend like mad. It took me hours to get to the high point, where the famed Long Trail crosses the seasonal road. But my descent was slow, too. Turns out the road on the downside is too steep to ride safely (or maybe I was just chicken, though I enjoy a 45-50 mph schuss as much as the next biker), so I ended up walking for a couple miles before the slope got a bit less than lethal. This bit of walking, with 50 or more pounds of bike and gear beside me, straining to pull me along, was the toughest thing I came up against anywhere on the trip.

But maybe I just spoke too soon. Because some of the road conditions in Vermont (as later in other parts of New England) were atrocious. Route 100, a wonderfully old-fashioned two-laner that runs north and south, paralleling the Green Mountains’ spinal column of high peaks and threading its way through traditional rural communities, is a tourist’s delight. But there’s lots of traffic, including heavy trucks and construction vehicles, and there’s very little bikeable area at the edge of the pavement – basically, the road lacks a real shoulder, so you’re squeezed into a narrow strip near the sideline, and the sideline, if it’s visible, often runs atop shattered asphalt.

Then there are the bridges! Normally – that is, as found on the back roads - a tight two-lane bridge is a pleasure, or at least not a problem. But some of the bridges along Route 100 are downright scary; a biker has to watch for pavement hazards while the traffic presses him/her toward a safety railing that hardly exists. The railings I saw were not more than two feet high, and it took no reflection at all to realize that if I got sideswiped, I’d be knocked over the edge. And in these wondrous boulder-strewn mountains, that type of maneuver would involve not a plunge into a deep, cool river but a 10-meter swan dive onto a pile of rocks.

Overall, though, I loved the Green Mountains - and next time I'll write about some good stuff that happened as I completed the round trip back to Burlington. 

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 15:33 EDT
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