Ride Day 3: The Climbing Begins

We woke up early Wednesday to find our host had already left (but left coffee on for us). The great news for us was that he had left to go pick up things for breakfast. And so Daegan and I loaded up on bagels, eggs, and bacon in preparation for our ride.  We packed our bags (with freshly done laundry), oiled our chains (the previous day’s hose-down had removed much of the lubricant along with the mud) and loaded our panniers. Before long we were off with stunning weather to take us along.

After a little bit of a ride, Google threw us another small curve ball:

The GPS told us to turn but there didn’t seem to be a road, only a weathered driveway. But undaunted by our previous experience we soldiered on until we came to a gate.  Should we go through? Google wasn’t totally wrong last time and so Daegan bushwhacked through the weeds on the right while I squeezed under the chain on the left and we left the gate behind us.

The road got a bit worse with lots of wet sand to make us slide around and work hard at climbing this long hill.  But it did give us some pretty gorgeous paths as well.

Eventually we did get back down to the main road. But thanks to all the sand sticking to my freshly lubricated chain, my pedaling felt and sounded really rough. A quick stop at a dollar store supplied us with rags to fix that issue – and also to get us some Fig Newtons – a great replacement for energy bars at a fraction of the cost.

The main road was pretty busy with lots of heavy truck traffic. But the breakdown lanes were good and the drivers here are all very courteous so we never felt threatened – just annoyed at the noise and exhaust.  But eventually, at our friend’s suggestion we took a turn toward Underhill Center and the road got a bit hillier but also a lot quieter.  For a while, anyway. Until the nearby military base started their machine gun practice.  What a surreal juxtaposition – the sound of violence overlaying natural beauty like this:

Daegan had to stop and capture some of this…

The terrain rose pretty quickly after this. Up and up we went in our lowest gears.  Fortunately, if there’s one thing that holds true here: “What goes up must come down.” and so it did. The trip in to Johnson was very fast – topping 60 km/hr for a bit and giving our legs a rest for a surprisingly long time.

Thanks to several recommendations we found our way to the Burger Barn for a refuel with burgers, and of course lots of fries. Carbohydrates to fuel us, salt to rebalance our electrolytes. Our rationalizations are nothing if not vaguely scientific.

After that we had a choice: Go over another massive hill: Smuggler’s Notch and take a 45 km ride, or go directly to our destination in Morrisville. We were indecisive throughout the lunch. Both ways sounded interesting.  In the end we decided to use a random number generator to give us a number between 1 and 100. 50 or less and we would go direct, 51 or over and we would go over the Notch. The number was 88 – about as decisive a signal as we could get. And so off we went.

We headed down a side street and within a few minutes saw a little girl jumping on the side of the street with a sign shouting. As we got closer we saw why. She and a friend had set up a lemonade stand and were looking for customers. As this was a quiet country road without a lot of traffic we thought we’d stop to help them out.  The cost was $0.50/cup and they were trying to raise money to go to Disney World. We only had a ten dollar bill but they were so earnest and working so hard. I love that despite all odds, they were trying.

We continued on and Google took us off the main road – a little unexpected but also a little welcome as big climbs are much nicer without lots of traffic behind you.  Eventually we hit a dirt road and our first covered bridge of the trip:

Not long after the bridge the ride got tough. The incline got steep and the surface turned to gravel – lots more resistance. But the views got nicer. And then the road thinned further down until it was one car width wide (we didn’t see any cars at this point). The incline got bigger and the scenery got more gorgeous. It was quite dark thanks to the tall dense trees and hills on either side. A stream bubbled down one side among moss covered rocks. If I weren’t working so hard just to climb, I would’ve taken many photos. As it was, I took many mental ones to make me happy for years to come.

Then the road got even worse as it turned to clay that had become very wet from the previous night’s rain. So instead of pavement or even hard packed earth like many roads we’d been on, this was like riding through Play Doh.  Even going down some of the little downhills required strenuous effort.  Eventually we got to a busier dirt road. I looked down at my watch – we had 40 km to go. We’d gone 5 km – about 1/4 of the climbing distance and we were both knackered.  I decided to switch to the other GPS track and go the easier route.  The road we had just turned on coincidentally would take us to the other route. It was shocking how much we had to descend to get back where we were. We had climbed a LOT.  Near the bottom was one of the steepest descents of the trip. Had it not been loose gravel we would’ve had some crazy speeds, no doubt.

We found ourselves back on the main road with the (respectful but loud and smelly) trucks for a few kilometres after that. But then we got an unexpected and welcome surprise.

The Lamoille Valley Rail Trail is New England’s longest Rail trail and it was really pleasant. We joined it about 20 kilometres from the end of our ride and it took us, completely removed from traffic except for a few road crossings, to the end point in Morrisville.

Despite our little detour up and down Smugglers Notch, we were still almost 90 minutes early for our scheduled meeting with our Airbnb host. Fortunately, a welcoming sign drew us in.

We sat and drank our coffee and watched people come and go. As we watched I was reminded of one thing about this state I had forgotten since I moved away: It is a good place to be a pedestrian. The state law is that drivers must yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, but as it stands, they yield nearly everywhere.  If you look like you might want to cross chances are very good that the traffic will stop immediately and patiently wait for you to cross without the slightest bit of impatient forward-inchings.

When we got in our host welcomed us and showed us around before making some dinner suggestions and then letting us know that there was free music in the nearby park. We walked over to catch the last 15 minutes or so. It reminded me of when I was a teenager living in this state and played for our town band and another jazz ensemble for gatherings just like this one. The one thing my childhood gatherings lacked, though, was Nepali food – delicious looking curries and noodles as well as momos that we verified were quite amazing.

On the way back we walked past another welcoming aspect of this village, a community garden.

We made our way over to a local Mexican restaurant where we had a fantastic dinner of burritos and, as we could use the calories, a bit of mud pie for dessert.  Despite the sugar infusion, by the time we got back, I fell in to bed and slept soundly.

I have to say, this has been a wonderful trip and I’m finding my old home state a welcoming place to visit – one that I could see having lots of pleasant things and improvements even since I was young. It’s almost as if we both grew older and headed in the same direction.

But at the same time, I also have to say, I don’t think I could ever move back here. I’d have to trade the Canadian people, the government, its healthcare, the ability to live in one of the most diverse cities in the world without a car – and without the inconvenience that not having a car often seems to have.  And I’d have to have everything that the US political system (and people who were supporters of the current regime as neighbours). I just couldn’t do it.  Even as we are having a wonderful time here and have liked the people we met, and loved the country. I’m getting really homesick. So much so that I was even a little disappointed to find that we couldn’t find somewhere to stay on the Canadian side of the border tomorrow and so are staying 5 miles *south* of the border instead. Silly, I know.

That said, tomorrow will take us another 75 kilometres and the usual 500-600 metres or so of hill climbing to within a short shot of the border. Saturday we’ll cross over and then I think we’ll make our way slowly toward Montreal for a few days there followed by a little early departure for home.  I want to have time at home to put together our Canadian citizenship applications together and finally mail them out.


3 thoughts on “Ride Day 3: The Climbing Begins

  1. Beautiful! I’m almost imagining you both cycling down on those roads. Those covered bridges are so unique. Haven’t seen anything like that in India.

    My first encounter with such closed bridges was through a beautiful movie called The Bridges of Madison County. Your picture of the bridge made me wanna watch that movie again!

    1. Interesting – I haven’t seen the movie but read the book a few years ago back when we were living in a yurt in the woods (lots of time to read then!).

      I don’t know why it never occurred to me that bridges like that would seem unique to anyone – there are a number of them all over that state – which is the one I lived most of my childhood in so I take them for granted. It only just occurred to me that just as I see others’ daily lives throughout the world – and even just elsewhere in our city – as unique and interesting, of course some aspects of my own life that I don’t even think are unusual at all would, of course, seem very different to other people…

  2. Have heard that the book is quite boring. The movie is a classic with Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep.

    It’s quite common for people to assume their surroundings to be usual and normal. A foreign eye can give a different perspective to such things.

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