Vermont and New Hampshire
July 31 to August 6, 1997

Michael J. Ferguson

Les Publications INRS-Télécommunications, Montréal

Journal Index


1  Thursday, July 31, Montréal
2  Burlington, Friday, August 1
3  Saturday, August 2, Branbury State Park
4  Grantham, New Hampshire, Sunday, August 3
5  Grantham, New Hampshire, Monday, August 4
6  Tuesday, August 5, Brookfield
7  Grand Isle, Vermont, Wednesday, August 6
8  Maps

Jim and Nancy Coffey were our next door neighbors in Hawaii in 1974. Jim was then, and still is, a retired Air Force colonel, but has worked, since his retirement, for the FAA. For the past five years, they have been living just outside Frankfurt in Germany. Jim retired in January, 1997 and they decided to spend their retirement in Grantham, New Hampshire. We were delighted that they decided to be so close. They have lived all over the world, so the choice of a final landing spot was not easy. I do not know how they decided on Grantham. However, I shall probably find out. I am riding down to Grantham to see them.

1  Thursday, July 31, Montréal

It was a good ... and long day, and quite uneventful. I had sunshine, with the occasional clouds to make things quite pleasant. Québec, from Montréal to the border is distressingly flat, with uninspired towns, and extensive, and sometimes interesting farms.

The corn was as ``high as an elephant's eye'' in most places, but in other's seemed to emulating small calves. Just north of Lacolle, a farmer's vegetable coop was spewing left-over greens into a freight-car sized dumpster.

** A sign beside a stretch of road - ``121 nord : 119 sud''- pointing the same direction. Perhaps all things in Québec have simple rational explanations.

At about 2:00pm and 50 miles (80 km), I reached the Noyan/Alburg border station. This route took me through Grand Isle, the Lake Champlain Islands, to Burlington. It was quite flat, with vistas, east across the lake of the Green Mountains - Montagnes Verts of VerMont, and occasional views of the Adirondacs to the west in New York. The town of Grand Isle boasted that it was ``The Beauty Spot of Vermont''. Perhaps it is, on its periphery, but from the road it was typical rolling farmland and woods.

At 75 miles (120 km) and 4:30pm, I passed the Grand Isle State Park, the last place for decent camping before Burlington, another 25 miles (40 km) away. It was too early, so I pushed on. All the state parks, from here were ``day-use only - no camping'' - the last added, I suppose, for people who have problems with language comprehension.

The hills started just as I hit US-7 on the eastern side of Lake Champlain, at 85 miles (137 km) and sheer exhaustion. At least I knew where I was going. I got a detailed map of the Greater Burlington Area, in Grand Isle which had the campgrounds marked. I was aiming for the Burlington Beach Campground, a municipal campground just north of Burlington. It was getting quite dark when I left Shaws Supermarket, with breakfast and some wine - Ugh, I think I managed to lose my Swiss Army knife when I was decanting the wine into a plastic bottle - and quite dark when I arrived at the Beach at 9:00pm. There was a place so here I am.

Today was 102 miles (165 km) and about eight and half hours of actual riding.

2  Burlington, Friday, August 1

First thing I shall do is go back to Shaws and see if I can find my Swiss Army knife - unfortunately nothing - it was, indeed, wishful thinking.

Today was supposed to be an easy day - only 50 miles (80 km) to Branbury State Park on Lake Dunmore. I expected to get there early afternoon with much time for rest and work. It is now 6:00pm and I just arrived. It is Friday, and, of course they are full, but they have a ``hiker/biker overflow'' area in the picnic grounds so there is room for me. I have a beautiful campsite under four pines, and there was enough light, dry, kindling wood for a fire to barbecue my two day old steak.

Unfortunately, this is not a prime bicycle route so I am alone, except for the sounds of Burlington's ``BUZZ Radio'' - alternative rock music? A group of about 6 men were erecting huge tents and apparently needed the sounds of ``civilization'' to motivate them. This was my entertainment during supper. My steak was well done, and probably needed it.

The first 25 miles (40 km), which took me until 2:00pm, were merely exhausting, as I climbed up and down out of Burlington, over steep, and almost invisible ridges. At Hinesburg I got high enough to see the mountains far off too the east. Lee and Lukas Soderstrom and I climbed Camelback Mountain a few years ago. Today I discovered why it got its name. From VT 116, it does look like the humps of a camel. Just north of Bristol, the road got easier and more spectacular. It ran along a relatively flat valley with a continuous 2000' high ridge the eastern side. It was a continual feast for the eyes until East Middlebury. Another delight was the smell of a sweet flower, possibly Honeysuckle, that would occasionally waft over you.

3  Saturday, August 2, Branbury State Park

I don't really know how far it is to Grantham, but I have to go over several gaps in Green Mountains to get to it.

It is now almost noon and I am in a picnic area just below, hopefully, the top of Brandon Gap. It has taken me about 3 hours to go 5 miles. During one, of many, rest stops on the way up, a guy out for his morning bike hill climb passed me, and stopped again to talk on the way down. He had quit just up the hill saying that he had enough. His comment was that about a two miles up the road, just as it entered the National Forest, it really got steep. This was echoed later by two guys that were cross-country skiing up the hill - on roller skis. They evidently did this quite often and said I really had to gear down when I hit that section. I said I already was on my lowest gear. My last encounter was with the Atkinson County Sheriff, who stopped on his way down, with the comment ``You look awfully beat. Are you OK?''. I said I was tired but OK. This evidently was not too convincing because he repeated his ``Are you OK?' several more times.

One of the advantages of slow struggles up hills is that you are going so slowly that you really see, hear, and smell the country. I had a tumbling brook on my right hand side, birds singing, and bright blue wild flowers.

Everybody said going down was going to be very nice - the road was much gentler. It was indeed pleasant - about ten miles through wooded ridges and past some beaver ponds. VT-73 ended at VT-100. There I had a choice of taking a ten mile short cut to Bethel on a small back road, that became dirt in its middle or following VT-100 down the White River valley. After my experience with Brandon Gap, I opted for the valley. The White River was a playground today in this 86 F (33 C) sunshine. It is rocky and shallow in most places making truck tubes the preferred water toy. I followed the White River all the way to White River Junction and arrived in Lebanon, New Hampshire at about 7:00pm. Even if Grantham were only ten miles away, it was clear I wouldn't make it before dark. Jim had offered me a ride, in his mini-van, if I needed it. I phoned, and he said it would take about 25 minutes. It took 35 - it seems that there was about 25 to 30 miles more to go.

We arrived at their new home at about 8:15 - getting dark.

Today: 65 miles (105 km) and ??? feet.

4  Grantham, New Hampshire, Sunday, August 3

At the moment I am sitting in the Jim and Nancy's downstairs living room looking out over their small beaver pond, backed by a small ridge of trees - quite pleasant. I haven't yet seen their beaver or the wood ducks but it is quite beautiful. Today was a good day for visiting. Their was some very needed rain - quite heavy at time

5  Grantham, New Hampshire, Monday, August 4

I expect to get a quite early start - Nancy usually gets up at about 5:30am for her morning walk. There was still no beaver but the lone mallard baby to survive the snapping turtles was paddling around.

After putting up my tent for Jim and Nancy, some great German coffee, a banana, and some banana bread, I was able to get away at about 7:10am - a quite decent start.

It is a beautiful morning - cool and sunny. My route runs parallel to I-89 on old NH-10 and a specially built bike path where old NH-10 disappears. After about 10 miles, I had to go up over a ridge line to Eastman Hill Road. Near the top there was a sign saying ``Scenic Road'' - those generally mean trouble. Right at the top, a township worker had stopped his pickup to warn me that the road suddenly got very steep up ahead. I did get his assurance that it was indeed down. The first part was only about as steep as I had coming up. Then there was a sign saying 18% grade - that is steep - a decent intermediate ski hill. I am sure glad I didn't have to come up it on the way down - it would have been a killer - probably impossible. In fact, it was mostly downhill all the way to Lebanon. There I turned north on Hanover Road, negotiating two dead ends. The first was quite easy - it was a pedestrian overpass over I-89. The second was much more difficult. Hanover Road finished in a guard rail circle just before it hit NH-120. There I went around, across the rough, and down the bank, and carefully onto the road.

It was only 20 miles to Hanover, the home of Dartmouth. Far less than the 30 miles that I estimated when I arrived on Saturday. The Appalachian Trail crosses the Connecticut River here at Hanover. I saw two groups of two girls, and an old man, all in about five minutes - the trail seems crowded. I crossed the river here too and then went ten miles up the valley on US-5. It was quite relaxing, pretty, and smooth. The road had just been resurfaced, and there was almost no traffic - it runs parallel to I-91. At the moment I am sitting in the Thetford Pizza in East Thetford. After this it is inland and over the mountains.

Every time I eat restaurant food for lunch, I find it detrimental to my health. I had hoped pizza would be different - no such luck. After about five minutes of hill climbing, I had to stop. I felt somewhat better after about twenty minutes of lying on the grass, but it took about two hours before I had reasonable energy levels and feeling of well being back.

This part of the trip runs east-west from East Thetford to Chelsea, through ``village'' Vermont. Some of these villages were cute and some were just sad. The ridges in Vermont tend to run north/south. This makes riding north/south, in the valleys, relatively easy. East/west is up and over. Donkey Hill - Hee Haw, as it was called on a small hand lettered sign, was one of these up and overs ( Chelsea to East Randolf) The last section was so steep that I was forced to push my bike. The fact that it was 6:00pm and I was exhausted did not help.

At about 7:30pm, I started my last east/west run to go four miles to Allis State Park. This was on VT-65 all the way. Unfortunately, it was a very slow initial two miles continuously up to Brookfield. It was dark when I arrived, and the VT-65 degenerated into dirt. I had hoped, and expected that it would be down from there, but it was not. First a steep rise beyond the partly floating bridge followed by a short flat, and still more up. At about 9:00pm, in complete darkness, I was walking in front of John Reitzal's house as he was coming back from walking his dogs. They ran down the hill, to harass me, but John shouted that there was nothing to fear. John said that Allis was still about 3/4 of a mile away, and mostly uphill. This was a long walk - I couldn't ride on this road in the dark. I asked John if I could pitch my tent by his garage. He said sure, and found a flat spot behind the house. Then he said, I could come in and stay with him if I wished. His family was away in Boston at the moment. I accepted, and partly unloaded my bike. John is a gray haired and bearded freelance farmer/oceanographer, who is currently writing a book. He is from Pennsylvania, graduated from Harvard, and recently was supported, for several years after leaving TRW by an environmental study for a nuclear power plant in California.

Today I went about 75 miles (120km).

6  Tuesday, August 5, Brookfield

This morning it is raining - another nice reason for being inside. The only thing worse than putting a tent up in the rain is taking it down in the rain. I was up before John, and got my coffee and breakfast without disturbing him. However, I did disturb his two cats, a pure white one and a black and white like Kali, who ran from the garage into the open door. The white one was very insistent on being fed - those cries from a cat are unmistakable. I tried to put her out, but she insisted in coming right back in.

I finally got packed and started up the hill in the rain. It was hard going - I was weaving all over the road. Then I discovered I had a flat tire. I had only gone about 50 feet (15m) so I decided to go back and fix it. John got up while I was doing it. When he heard exactly where I was going, he had a new route that would avoid going up the hill, and was mostly downhill to VT-12, which would take me north to Montpelier. It was mostly downhill, but didn't go the way I expected from his directions. However, my compass prevented me for making some disastrous wrong turns. The highlight was a meeting a baby skunk. It was playing by the field on the road, and only disappeared into the grain when I was about 6 feet away.

This was an Irish mist and drizzle morning, with clouds hanging on the top of the ridges. There is a pleasant emphasis of the green in the haze. This lasted until about 2:00pm when it broke, first into just clouds, and then sunshine - not behind me, but in front where I was going. The Long Trail crosses US-2 at Jonesville where there is a small grocery store. There were about a dozen hikers, with their packs spread around resting, reminiscing, and reprovisioning. This was not good enough, apparently for a couple of kids that I met at the Grand Union, ten miles east in Waterbury. They had hitchhiked down to reprovision at a real grocery store.

I arrived at Grand Isle State Park at about 6:00pm, in beautiful dry sunshine. It was a good, relatively easy day - about 80 miles (130 km)

** A Comment: Apparently Vermont is upset about one of its unenforceable laws - The signs say -> ``It is strictly forbidden to put household trash in or around the travel trash containers - $200 fine.'' Only the signs are left. All the travel trash containers have disappeared.

7  Grand Isle, Vermont, Wednesday, August 6

Again it is beautiful, dry, almost mosquito free morning. I think the Beauty Spot of Vermont is a little overblown for the town of Grand Isle but the islands themselves are quite pretty. It was pleasantly crisp in the early morning.

The surprise of the day came at lunch. I was just west of Lacolle and finally found a shady spot in front of some trees and flowers on a farm that had recently been sold. It was not, however, vacant. The owner came by and asked me if I was interested in their deer. Bambi - of course - was their pet. It had free run of their front yard, unfenced, and coexisted with their dog. Although the lady tried to convince it that the carrot was best, it grabbed the sandwich off the plate instead. The second surprise in the same neighbourhood were the hills. They were small, but noticeable.

This area of Québec is vegetable country, with large commercial farms. The ``migrant'' workers here appear to be Arab or Asian Indians. I wonder if there is any large commercial farm system without imported workers. One exception to the migrants was a flatbed trailer full of kids.

The traffic on 221 north of St. Remi was horrible - a continual stream of small and large trucks, and cars. I should have continued straight north on 209 to St. Catherine. There are some side roads so I bailed out. The empty winding road through the farms was much pleasanter. The bicycle path from St. Catherine to the Ice Bridge to Nuns island across the St. Lawrence added about 10 miles to the trip but was well worth it with magnificent views of downtown Montreal and a pleasant panorama of the South Shore. It also allowed me to buy some fresh corn for supper on Nuns Island.

I arrived home at about 6:30pm, after about 90 miles (145 km), to find all was well with Pickle, Peanut, Caché, and Kali - except that Kali has been renamed ``Horrible Horace'' by Marg Santo, our northern neighbour, because he bit her when she came in to let him out. The cats were well tended. Tony, our southern neighbour came in twice a day to feed, clean, and let Kali out, and Marg came in to let Kali out during the day and on the weekend when Tony was up in the country.

8  Maps

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