Sunday, July 31, 2011

First trip in the rain

Who cares about fashion when the weather forecast is for rain, heavy rain, and possible thunderstorms?

Friday afternoon we set off for Indian Lake, smack dab in the middle of the Adirondack National Forest, a 2.25 hour ride from our home in southwestern Vermont. We knew it was going to rain, but we had fantastic plans to explore the Adirondacks with Wayne and Colleen for the weekend, and we weren't going to let a little rain get in our way.

I wrestled myself into my FroggToggs rain jacket and  boot covers before we left, feeling a bit like a deep sea diver with the extra bulk. It was sprinkling when we left, but by the time we reached Granville, NY we were riding through a steady, heavy downpour.

Guess what - I stayed completely dry!

It was a unique experience riding pillion in the rain. I could barely see, but Mike reassured me his vision was fine. If you've ever opened your eyes underwater, or smeared vaseline on your glasses, you have a good idea of what the world looked like through the visor of my helmet. Since I couldn't look at the scenery, I paid attention to the sound. I've always enjoyed listening to rain pounding on the roof, and it's even better on my motorcycle helmet! Riding through the rain, exposed to water coming down from the sky and also water kicked back up by passing cars, ended up being a fun experience.

I'll be honest - I was surprised that I stayed dry and not even a bit damp. No rain dripped down my back or seeped through the seams. My jacket came down low enough over my pants to prevent wayward leaks. Mike didn't wear his booties, and his feet were completely soaked. Mine were absolutely dry! No squishy shoes for me the next day.

My one complaint was my leather gloves didn't keep my hands warm or dry. I'm going to try out the waterproof mittens that I wear for winter running during the next motorcycle ride in the rain, and am betting that they'll keep my hands as dry as the rest of me.

Saturday and Sunday the weather was warm, sunny and dry, just as predicted. I'll tell you all about those days in posts later in the week.

Footnote:  After spending some time at the nearby laundromat to dry their clothes, Wayne and Colleen decided to purchase raingear for future trips.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Off the beaten path

It was 85 degrees at our house when we headed out on the bike this morning. 20 minutes later we were on the Kelly Stand Road with temps in the mid-60's. The combination of elevation, dirt road, no traffic, and riding through the middle of the Green Mountain National Forest provided a welcome reprieve from July's heat and humidity.

The Kelly Stand Road is one of the old throughways that you often find when wandering around Vermont. Once a major route between the towns of Arlington and Stratton, today it's primarily a recreational dirt road on the Arlington side, and paved once you get onto the Stratton side. Tourists sometimes try to navigate the road in winter, only to find to their dismay that snowplows don't maintain this road. It's a good thing the local rescue crews are adept at pulling stranded flatlanders out of the snow and mud!

In the early 1800's the Kelly Stand Road was a popular and busy route. So popular, that on July 7, 1840 Daniel Webster, Senator from Massachusetts, spoke to an estimated 15,000 people during a Whig convention supporting William Henry Harrrison's presidential candidacy at a spot on the Stratton side of the road. Today, about 1300 people total live in Arlington and Stratton combined. 170 years ago, ten times that number of people came from miles around to hear a politican speak in the middle of the woods. Newspaper accounts describe the road even then as 'rugged', that a procession of people came a 'distance of 8 miles with their banners flying and bands of music playing lively airs', and that 'only one farmhouse was seen for miles around'. Why in the world they chose this remote spot is beyond imaging. Today a boulder with a bronze plaque marks the spot where the gathering occured. When we visited, there were two tents pitched in that same field - not quite the 15,000 of history!

Pick up the Kelly Stand Road in Arlington just off North Road, or in West Wardsboro where it intersects with Route 100 (the road is known as the Arlington-Stratton Road on this side). We continued north on Route 100 through the small classic New England towns of Wardsboro Center, Wardsboro, East Jamaica, Jamaica, South Londonderry and finally into Londonderry. Vermont likes to use the same name over and over for closely linked towns, differentiating them only by map location.

We were in luck because by the time we drove into Londonderry we were hungry, and the legendary Londonderry farmer's market was open for 15 more minutes. We couldn't carry fresh vegetables, cheese, or bread made by our neighbors, so we settled for delicious burritos and ice-cold, fresh-squeezed lemonade enjoyed at a picnic table in the shade.

One more treat was in store for us before we wound our way down the mountain toward home. A combination of expected and unexpected fun is a large part of what I love about riding on the BMW. You'll have to wait to read the rest of the story for the next blog post! Be sure to check out the video of today's ride!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Mt. Equinox picnic

Mike texted me this morning:  let's ride the bike up to the top of Mt. Equinox and have a picnic supper!

Excellent idea! Mt. Equinox is the highest mountain in the Taconics with incredible views. Take Skyline Drive, a winding paved road complete with hairpin turns, to the top. It's a lot more fun on the bike than driving a car! We had the road all to ourselves tonight. While we ate our picnic dinner at the top, all we heard were birds and the wind in the trees.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Prepared for any type of weather

Mike and I are in the final planning stages of a dream trip:  a tour through the Alps on a BMW 1200! We lived in Augsburg, north of Munich, for almost 3 years when we were first married, and we can't wait to go back. We never rode a motorcycle in Germany, although friends of ours rented a bike when they came to visit and of course had a blast. Now it's our turn!

Here at home if the weather forecast is for rain, we stay off the bike. We  have to be prepared for any type of weather on the 12-day tour of the Alps, so we purchased rain gear from Froggtoggs. It's not specific for motorcycles, but it's waterproof and large enough to fit over my motorcycle gear. Plus it packs down into a very small bag, which of course is essential when we have to carry everything with us on the bike.

Here I am modeling the rain pants. Of course they have to be big to fit over my bike pants, which already make me feel somewhat like a sausage. Just wait until you see the full outfit.....

Now I know what my kids felt like when they were little and I dressed them in their snowsuits. When they fell down, they couldn't get back up without help. Hopefully I won't fall down, but I haven't yet tried getting on the bike wearing this stuff. Stay tuned for that story.

You may wonder about the hood. Does it go:
  1. under the helmet
  2. over the helmet
  3. neither
#3 is correct, because the Trek Toad jacket (I am not making this up - that's really the official name. Now I look like a huge magenta toad) is not designed just for those of us fortunate enough to ride motorcycles. The waterproof and breathable material is designed for any type of outdoor activity. I'm just going to hope that I don't have to move very fast or very far when I put this stuff on, because it seriously limits my mobility. At least I'll be dry!

Obviously a woman didn't design this gear, because no female I know wants to look like a magenta toad, even if we're dry while riding through a rainstorm on a motorcyle. A friend of mine always chooses form and style over function and I can't wait to hear her reaction when she sees this outfit!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Riding through the Green Mountains

What do you do on a sunny, warm July day in Vermont? Jump on the motorcycle and head for the mountains!

We started off on familiar roads close to home:  Route 11 over Bromley Mountain where our kids learned to ski and snowboard, and where both worked summers at the adventure park. Bromley opened for skiers in 1936, and it's been a local favorite ever since. Look to your right as you head north on Route 11, and you have awesome views of the valley ringed by Stratton Mountain and Magic Mountain ski areas.

Route 100 is one of the most scenic roads in Vermont and one of our favorites on the bike. Route 100 winds through the Lakes Region outside of Ludlow, past Killington Ski area (fondly known as the Beast of the East), and into the beautiful little town of Rochester.

We slowed down before entering Rochester to honor and respect David Segal of Emerson Motor Works who passed earlier this Spring. David and his family are well-known to the local BMW community, and hosted many a weekend picnic as well as the Heart of the Green Mountains Swap Meet in the fields along Route 100.

Rochester packs a lot into a small, picturesque downtown and it's also a jumping-off point for any type of outdoor activity in the Green Mountains. On a whim, and because I was starving, we stopped at the Rochester Cafe and Country Store for lunch. Like much of the town, the building stems from the mid-1800's, and it's warm, inviting, and full of local history inside. The huge blackboard that lists today's specials, local artwork and photographs on the walls, outside seating, and friendly waitstaff make this one of our new favorite stopping points. Plus, they make a delicious chocolate malt that hit the spot with our sandwiches packed with ingredients sourced from local farms.

Properly fortified, we set off north once again, looking forward to riding through Granville Gulf. You may wonder why a 'gulf' is located in the middle of Vermont in the midst of the Green Mountains - I know I did. Gulf is another term for notch, and Granville Gulf is a 7-mile stretch of Route 100 that winds through a protected wilderness along the Mad River. We shared the road with other motorcycles plus several bicycles, since this is a favorite road for everyone on two wheels. There are lots of places to pull off and hike, or wade in the river. Don't miss Moss Falls on your left!

If covered bridges and quaint Vermont villages are your passion, take a side trip off Route 100 into Warren. If my stomach hadn't been growling and churning in Rochester, the Warren Store was our original lunch destination. It's located right on the Mad River in the middle of Warren, and while you wait for the folks in the deli to make up your meal, browse through the eclectic store that is full of all kinds of things you'd expect to find in a Vermont country store - plus lots of the unexpected!

Since I was still stuffed from lunch, we skipped Warren and instead headed west on the Lincoln Gap. This was our first trip through the Gap on the bike, and what a ride! When you come up on a Vermont road that's closed to traffic in the winter, you know you're in for a treat. We dove into the Camel's Hump Forest, with nothing but trees on both sides, and even tree branches that arched over most of the road. What better way to beat the heat of a Vermont summer day than riding through a tunnel of trees at the top of a mountain? Lots of twists and curves along with some dirt sections and new pavement made the ride even more fun. We took our time navigating the challenging road so we had ample opportunity to gaze out over the mountains before dropping down into South Starksboro.

Once into Bristol and out onto Route 7, we headed south through familiar territory toward home. There are always mountains in the distance, but the valley opened up into fields and dairy farms. A stop in Pittsford for water and ice cream led to a chance meeting with another BMW rider and we swapped stories of favorite rides, the most comfortable seats, and rain gear. We slowed as we passed through East Dorset and the Vermont Summer Festival Horse Show with its tent city for hunters/jumpers and everything that goes along with taking care of horses and their riders.

I love riding on the bike with Mike with nothing to do except enjoy the sunshine and the scenery. It's fun to travel familiar roads and see something new:  a stone wall I don't remember, a glimpse of a house way back in the woods, hawks circling in the sky. We'll definitely ride over the Lincoln Gap again; maybe in the Fall, right before feet of snow close the road for the winter.

Want to ride this route? Check out the map

Don't miss the video of today's ride!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Into the Adirondacks

Mountains are a part of the daily experience in Vermont. We live in a valley between the Green Mountains that run north-south down the middle of the state, and the Taconics which are located along the southwestern edge of Vermont. Mike's a Vermonter, but I'm a flatlander by birth, and lived the first 18 years of my life in Indiana. My part of Indiana isn't pancake flat, but the rolling hills simply can't match Vermont's mountains! We've lived in Vermont for over 24 years, and every day I'm amazed, awed, and inspired by the mountain views.

Chris and Sharon met us in Manchester, and we headed north on Route 30 out of Manchester through Dorset, VT. Dorset looks the way a Vermont village is supposed to look:  stately inns shaded by huge trees, a picturesque town green, a historic general store that continues to operate and serve both locals and tourists, and the earliest marble quarry in the United States. The New York City Library was built out of Dorset marble, but today the marble quarry is a popular swimming hole - deep, clear and cold.

Going north out of Dorset we rode along the Mettawee River valley. There are mountains in the distance, but Route 30 winds through prime farmland and numerous dairy farms. What we noticed most today was the variety of smells. You just don't smell the landscape when you're in a car, but on a bike the smells are a part of the surroundings. Sometimes the smells are faint and tantalizing:  lilacs, new mown hay, pine forests. Other times the smells smack you in the face and you can tell you're riding by a dairy farm just by sniffing.

Once we joined up with Route 22 in Granville, the scenery changed once again as we entered the Adirondack Park. Where just a few miles earlier we gazed across fields of corn and wheat in the valleys, now we wound our way on curvy and mountainous roads hemmed in on both sides by tall pine trees, with glimpses of the mountains every time we sped down one of the steep grades. On one of those long downhill romps we spotted Lake Champlain, a large freshwater lake that lies between northern New York state and Vermont. We saved exploring Whitehall and Ticonderoga, two historic towns on Lake Champlain, for another day and another ride.

The Adirondack Park is lake country, with our route leading us past gorgeous Eagle Lake and the wonderfully named Paradox Lake until we stopped in Schroon Lake for lunch. Sharon is from North Carolina, and was thrilled to meet a waitress from the South at Flanagan's who knew how to brew sweet tea. We didn't expect southern hospitality in the Northeast, but finding the unexpected is part of the fun of a motorcycle ride.

Another type of water was in store for us today:  the Hudson River. We rode along the Hudson on quiet side roads in Riparius, watching kids and dogs play in the shallow water along the edges of the river. The Hudson turns into a large, wide river used for commercial traffic south of Albany, NY as it heads to the Atlantic Ocean in New York City. Yet upstate you'll see kayaks and watertubes instead of freighters and tugboats.

On our way back home we stopped by Lake George, both a beautiful lake in the Adirondack Park plus a town jam-packed with tourists for the 4th of July weekend. We much prefer riding along less trafficked open roads, but tolerated 4 lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic during late afternoon heat so we could enjoy locally made ice cream. As soon as we polished off the ice cream, we quickly headed out of town onto 2-lane blacktop that led us back home.

We traveled 164 miles through old pine forests, prime farm land, tiny towns and tourist favorites. We sped through the Taconics and the Adirondacks, with Green Mountain peaks calling us home. Small hidden lakes, large majestic lakes, streams where sheep cross at will and the mighty Hudson tied everything together.

Where will the BMW take us next?

Watch video of today's ride here: 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Why drive a car when you have a motorcycle?

I needed to be in Brattleboro, a town on the other side of the state, for an afternoon meeting. Mike had the afternoon free, so we rode the BMW.

Traveling west to east across southern Vermont means crossing the Green Mountains, which of course means lots of curves, steep grades, passing through small towns centered with a white-steepled church, and old stone walls lining the roads and defining pastures and farmland both old and new.

As we rode along Route 30 over to Brattleboro and back, I was on the look-out for stone walls. Some are overgrown this time of year with grass and small trees, making them difficult to spot. Others wind their way through wooded areas, which in the 1800's were most likely fields and pastures during a time when much of Vermont was deforested. New stone walls can be found defining borders around new houses, and old stone walls are rebuilt and renewed on historic properties.

Thanks to the motorcycle, a simple trip to a meeting in a town about one hour away becomes a musing on the past, thoughts about how Vermonters learned to use whatever materials were available, and dreams about the folks who built those stone walls.

And of course we stopped for ice cream on the way back home!