Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I’m back. Trip was great!

I’ll post pics soon. The WiFi at the house is dead (I think the humidity killed the router while I was gone), so I have to sit near the modem with an Ethernet cable to send and receive (I’m doing email and such in batches). Hopefully, we’ll be back to warp speed in a couple of days.

I have a list of stuff to do that must be 1½ pages. I’m going to shorten it some, then come back here.

Until then, let me introduce you to someone I met along the way. I never did get his name. He was quite friendly, though. I think he wanted to eat my gloves.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Stage 4: Stowe to Enosburg Falls, VT.

The highlight of this leg of my journey is the climb to Smuggler’s Notch. In the early 1800s, the US Congress placed an embargo on the imports of all English goods in an attempt to avoid becoming involved in the wars declared against the French Empire under Napoleon. The British circumvented the embargoby simply shipping their food, clothing and medical supplies to Canada and smuggling the materials down the Long Trail and through what is now called Smugglers’ Notch Pass. The geology of the pass is, apparently, well suited for smuggling because of its remoteness and the fact that it is laced with many caves and caverns which served as hideaways and could be used to store goods and supplies. For well over 100 years, Smugglers’ Notch was used to transport illegal goods into and out of the United States -- from cattle to slaves to alcohol, during the Prohibition Era. The caves are good for storing illegal alcoholic beverages at near room temperature, or so I’ve read.

After I’ve climbed the Notch, I have just 30 miles to ride before I arrive at Carol and Pete’s. They’re hosting the Morrison Family Reunion this year and have, for the second time, offered lodging to our family at this event. Their property is 1/10 mile from the Canadian border (the last time we were up there, we snuck across through the woods for just long enough that the helicopters came out looking for us -- it was very exciting). By that time, I will have crossed over covered bridges, coasted past cornfields and grazing cows, taken in a landscape dotted by churches with tall steeples and 18th-century brick houses behind white picket fences. I will probably race at least one farmer on a tractor and more than a few old timers will stare at me from their dilapidated porches. I will ride quietly though more than one quaint village, but I will also see more than my share of metropolitan New England. Although I will miss several sites of historic interest because they are not on my direct path, I feel like I will finally get to know the state where I spent 5 years of my life--a period of time not nearly long enough to shed the term “flatlander,” as Vermonters call everyone who hails from across state lines.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Stage 3: Rutland to Stowe, VT.

This ride is entirely along SR 100, which is widely recognized to be among the best routes in New England for viewing fall foliage (there won’t be any on my ride, not that I’d notice much of it anyway). It cuts right through the backbone of Vermont, and is said to have spectacular mountain views along its entire length. A string of picturesque little lakes runs along the road, and Moss Glen Falls, just north of Granville, is said to be home to one of the prettiest waterfalls in Vermont. Route 100 grew organically from the many miles of dirt roads that connected villages dating back to the 1700s. Vermont has about 8,000 miles of unpaved roads (only about 6,000 miles of roadway are paved in the state). To a lot of Vermonters, an unpaved road is still a better road. I think this must be because people go more slowly and are more courteous on a dirt road an, in rural Vermont, that's what life wants to be. It probably also matters that dirt roads are far cheaper to maintain than their more modern counterparts. I enjoy dirt roads, to be sure, but I won't be riding any on this trip, if I can avoid it. As primarily a road cyclist, I must confess that I'm grateful for pavement. It is smoother to ride on, less taxing to my body and less destructive to my bike.

As SR 100 transformed into a single byway in the 1800s, the quintessential wooden covered bridge many associate with Vermont country roads began to appear. The primary purpose of the cover on a bridge was to provide added durability; uncovered bridges made of wood would get wet from rain and snow, and this would attract insects and fungus which would cause the wood to rot away quickly. Most, in fact, would have to be replaced every five years. Covered bridges offered other benefits, as well, though. The interiors of covered bridges apparently doubled as a local bulletin board of sorts, and travellers could read advertisements, notices and announcements as they waited out rainstorms or gave their teams of horses a rest in the shade.

This is the longest stage of the ride at just over 72 miles, and the elevation change is subtly demanding. I’ll be looking forward to passing through Waterford (63 miles along) so I can keep my eyes out for the Ben & Jerry’s Factory Store. I will have earned a very large cone of something fattening by that point. If I’m lucky, I’ll also be meeting Wifeness & Co. on their way up. We haven’t worked the details out yet, but it would be a lot of fun to see them there!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Stage 2: Bellows Falls to Rutland, VT.

Most of this part of the trip is along SR 103, which varies in quality somewhat, but represents some wonderful scenery. One landmark of particular note along this route is The Old Rockingham Meeting House, the oldest public building in original condition in Vermont. It recalls days of old in New England, when town meetings and church services were held in the same building and there were only homesteads, not concentrated towns and villages like we’re used to today. The late 18th century structure is a rare standing example of Georgian architecture, and it comes complete with its original box pews and ornate woodwork. Like all early New England meeting houses, the Old Rockingham building served both the religious and the governmental life of a widespread community, much like an assembly hall. It was visible for miles because of its hillside location, and provided an important social monument in early town life in Vermont.

I’m hotelling it from here on, but I’m excited that I’ll get to see Erica for dinner in the evening. Erica is an alumna of mine and a veteran of my 2002 trip leading students to France. She lives near Rutland and works at Castleton State College. With so many of my students in their twenties now, it’s a rare treat to be able to connect with them in person unless they happen to live nearby. I’m very much looking forward to spending some quality time with a student I’ve not seen in entirely too long.

I expect I'll get to see some of Rutland before dinner. The original Rutland was chartered in 1761 as part of New Hampshire land grants given by Provincial Governor Benning Wentworth. Almost immediately, however, a controversy arose with New York, who claimed the same land grants under the name of Socialborough. This dispute ultimately led to settlers of the territory to form the Republic of Vermont (statehood would follow). I find this interesting because we have talked tongue-in-cheek for some time about encouraging western Massachusetts to secede from the state and join with Vermont, with whom we share a great deal of culture and social values than we do with our more urban brethren to the east. Vive la Republique!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Stage 1: Wayfarer House to Bellows Falls, VT.

Through Northfield, MA and Hinsdale, NH, this part of the ride follows the Connecticut River for long stretches. This part of New England was settled by the English in the late 17th century, but the territory was fiercely defended by Native Americans for some 80 years after that. English settlements were constantly at risk of raids by “savages”, and colonists were regularly killed or taken north to Quebec (to be held as hostages by the French). This caused settlements such as Northfield to revert to American Indian control on more than one occasion.

In April, 1747, during the French and Indian War, a party of French and Mohawk, having been turned back after a three-day attack on the fort at Charlestown, NH, made their way toward Northfield. A number of their group, lying in ambush at the north part of the town, set upon and killed Nathaniel Dickinson and Asahel Burt, who were driving cows up from the common meadows. This violent and tragic event is marked by a granite monument on the side of routes 5/10, about a mile north of the center of Northfield Village. On one side of the stone is the inscription, "Nathaniel Dickinson was killed and scalped by the Indians at this place, April 15, 1747, aet. 48." On the other it reads, "Asahel, son of Joseph Burt, companion of Dickinson and sharer of his fate, aged about 40." I have ridden by this small monument many times, but only recently stopped to read, and think about, what it said.

It is worth noting that much of the Morrison family, whose reunion I am riding to, is based in the area through which I will be riding on this day. Many live in and around Walpole, NH and across the Connecticut River in Saxtons River, VT. The Kurn Hattin School, in Putney, VT, has been an important part of the lives of several of the Morrison family.

I’ll be staying with Tom and Leanne for the evening at their home in Westminster, VT. Tom is Wifeness’ uncle, and is a master general contractor. He helped me install our dishwasher several years ago, and has graciously offered his expertise in wiring to me when I’ve had to add, remove or change outlets in the house over the years. He’s led a difficult life, but he is a good, good man. I’m grateful for the opportunity to spend time with them.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Just When You Thought... was safe to go back into the water:


I think I’ll watch Jaws today on Netflix. I'm too far inland to have nightmares about such things.

Of course, then this could happen [HERE].

Monday, August 2, 2010

Vermont 2010: An Overview in Four Stages

Because I’ll be gone for the next several days, I thought it might be good to stack up some posts for while I’m on the road. The content of these posts represent a synthesis of some background reading I’ve done in preparation for this ride. The posts are fairly short, but I hope they give some flavor to the experience I hope to have. I also spent some time reading about the area covered in the ride I took yesterday. Consider this a prologue to the longer event.

Prologue: Wayfarer House to Deerfield, Haydenville, Goshen, Ashfield, Conway, Deerfield to Wayfarer House.

Deerfield has been in my mind for a while now, since I’d read The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America (Demos, 1994). This work recounts the story of Eunice Williams, an English colonist taken captive as a child by French and Mohawk warriors from Deerfield during a raid in 1704. Her mother, also named Eunice, was killed not far from Wayfarer House (a plaque marks the spot, and there is a covered bridge bearing her name nearby). The elder Eunice, wife of Deerfield’s famous reverend John Williams, had given birth just hours before, and was slain and thrown in the Green River by her captors because she was unable to keep pace with the march north through the frozen, snowy forest.

This story really brings to life what it must have been like to be here during those very difficult times. Another tragedy, which I only became aware of on this ride and only because I stopped to adjust my pack, is chronicled in Haydenville. On May 16, 1874, the Williamsburg reservoir dam broke, sending an avalanche of water over five of the villages that lined the Mill River Valley. When the flood reached Haydenville, the water was moving with such force that it picked up a house and slammed it into a brick factory with enough force to cause it to collapse like a cardboard box. The heaps of debris were so dense and tangled that people searching for survivors had to use crowbars to pry things apart. One hundred thirty-nine people were killed in that event, 27 of them from Haydenville.

I didn’t take a picture of the river itself, but it’s hard to imagine that it ever had enough force to cause such devastation. The village today is shown here.

The town of Conway was the victim of an earlier dam break, in 1869. Home of one of the few covered bridges left in Massachusetts, Conway has always had an abundant water supply. In its early years, this water provided power for grist and saw mills, as well as a number of tanneries. In the 19th century, a dam was created to provide a reservoir for the several woolen and broadcloth mills along the South River. These mills, the largest industries in town at the time, were all completely washed away when the dam burst. Conway has since returned to its roots as an agricultural community, and sports a number of maple sugar houses.