Route 2 across northern Vermont is a major highway, but thankfully not as major (read: horrifically trafficated) as the Interstate it shadows. I caught the old road a bit west of Montpelier, a little more west than planned, actually, since a construction detour took me the long way around. It seems there was a bridge being rebuilt somewhere along Route 100. I asked a cop at the detour barrier if there was any way to walk (or wade) around the construction site; I was thinking back a decade or so, when Rochester bicyclists enjoyed a break from traffic on Clover Street because of a bridge project near Calkins Road. In that case, you could just carry your bike through a piddling stream and then cruise unmolested for a while. But no such luck in Vermont. I talked to a cop who was monitoring traffic at the Route 100 detour; he told me there was no way to bypass the construction, and lacking any firsthand info, I took his word for it and followed the traffic northeast. Thinking back on this, I wish I’d made a secondary detour through the nearby woods and followed Route 100 regardless. Maybe I would have ended up trespassing somewhere, but I surely would have found a way around the mess.
The detour did have one good result. In the little burg of Middlesex, just as I was about to turn onto Route 2, I stopped for a newspaper and a very large coffee at a country gas station – the type of facility that has become by default the nerve-center and business district for many rural communities. As I watched one of the proprietors barbequing some stuff destined for the warming/embalming rotisserie, a young man with a neo-hippie look strolled by. We got to talking. Turns out he was a Montrealer (originally from the Prairies) who was on a long tour of Vermont and New Hampshire; his steed was a 1980s Peugeot he said he’d retrieved from a trash pile and restored. We talked about touring tires, load distribution (his rig was piled high with panniers and assorted gear over the rear wheel but nothing up front – a recipe for wobbling and worse), road conditions, and more. Then up walked a true Vermont hippie (my kind of guy) who was originally from the UK and decades ago settled on a Green Mountain farm. He, too, had plenty of thoughts on biking, roads, the weather, and local politics. The three of us spent maybe half an hour discussing everything under the sun. Then the young guy and I rode west Route 2 as far as the next town, Waterbury – home to that lil’ ol’ backwoods ice cream shop, Unilever, better known by the label Ben & Jerry’s.
Back in the 1980s I’d toured the B&J factory and store here, imbibing much bushwa about “caring capitalism,” the company’s flavor of the month. Now with the explicit corporate transformation, I passed through town without swallowing so much as a microgram of saturated fat.
Strangely, though, as I stood in the shade on Waterbury’s main drag, I remembered that I’d failed in another pilgrimage. Long ago I promised myself that every time I visited Lake Placid, I’d pay my respects and the John Brown Farm, where the madly militant anti-slavery hero and his sons are buried. Yes, it seems like an oddity: Just how did Brown and his family end up in the North Country - specifically, the town of North Elba - after the disaster of Harpers Ferry? It was the aftermath of a plan to create an African-American colony/community in what was then considered a howling wilderness, a very marginal agricultural region that had been largely bypassed by westward migration.
The plan came to naught, of course – and to this day, given historical racism, the failures of transportation, and other factors, Lake Placid is one of whitest areas you’re likely to visit. But when you do visit, go to the Brown Farm; it’s just outside of town, and it’s now a public historical site with original buildings and educational displays. Just try to ignore the nearby Olympic ski-jump tower that looms before you, marring the mountain views.
Next time: Route 2 takes me slowly to the burbs of Burlington.