Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Spontaneous ride

When was the last time you jumped on your bike for a spontaneous ride?

It seems that everything in my life is planned and scripted. Work schedule, appointments, exercise schedule and a lengthy to-do list mean that Mike and I only fit in a bike ride when we plan it in advance. We pull out our calendars, check the weather forecast, and eventually agree that if everything works out, we can go for a ride on Saturrday at 11:30.

Today, spontaneity ruled.

Mike was working in his upstairs office, I was sick of spending the day on computer tasks, and sunshine beckoned. A quick "do you want to go for a ride?" turned into "let's go, right now!".

No matter that I had chicken and steak thawing in the fridge for dinner. Work was put on the back-burner, the kitchen floor can wait another day or two (or maybe week or two) to be swept, and the temperatures won't drop for at least another 2 hours. We were out the door in less than 10 minutes, heading toward the back roads of Dorset and Rupert.

A quick ride through Manchester on Route 30, turn onto Dorset West Road to enjoy a lightly traveled side road, and finally a left turn onto Route 315 that twists up over Rupert Mountain and down into West Rupert led us through newly plowed farmland and small clusters of houses in quiet villages centered by a white-clapboard church with a cemetery next door.

Route 315 becomes Route 153 when we cross into New York. If you miss the sign welcoming you to New York, you wouldn't realize you were in a different state. The state lines are blurry in this rural area, where kids living in Vermont go to high school in New York  because it's closer than the nearest Vermont school.

Salem, NY, boasts a stoplight where 153 intersects with 22. We head south on 22 into Cambridge, and tired of the busier 2-lane highway, I suggest to Mike that we turn off in White Creek onto a road I believe leads to North Bennington. As Mike always says, roads around here have to lead somewhere, and we followed NY 68 up and down rolling hills through more open farmland into White Creek and finally into North Bennington. We ride more slowly, giving us the opportunity to notice groups of daffodils blooming around the base of an abandoned farmhouse, cows grazing in newly green fields, and the smell of fresh dirt and manure.

North Bennington, population around 1,400, is busy with people driving home from work. Kevin and Mike's Place II is a popular restaraunt/bar, and since it's early we sit at the bar to order dinner and watch sports on the large TVs lined up on the wall. We don't linger over dinner since we want to avoid the rapid drop in temperature sure to come with dusk, and I pull on an extra sweater under my jacket as we get back on the bike.

We've ridden this route hundreds of times, but tonight Mike sticks with the theme of taking side roads whenever possible.Instead of staying on 7A all the way to Manchester, he turns off on Dunham Road in Arlington. It's a dirt road that twists and turns along a swampy area to our left, with scattered houses and steep forested hills to our right. At a couple of points Mike slows down to make a blind corner, just in case a car is coming from the opposite direction. The road narrows quite a bit, and it's easy for a car to take up more than its share of the road. Dunham Road ends at River Road, leading us along the BattenKill back to Manchester, with views of Bromley Mountain in our sight most of the way home.

A little under 3 hours after we left home, we pull into the driveway. We'll have to plan to be spontaneous more often.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

If it's sunny and above 60 degrees, it's time for barbecue!

March teased us with hot temperatures and the promise of an early Spring, and then April roared back with cold, rainy, gray weather. The BMW sat in the garage, waiting for the sun to return.

It seems that many of our favorite rides involve food, and today was no different. We started with a plan to eat a late lunch at Curtis BBQ in Putney, home of the best barbecue we've found in the Northeast.

We headed north on Route 11/30 into Londonderry and through Chester before turning onto Route 103 on our way through Rockingham and Bellows Falls, ending up on Route 5 to Putney.  The damage caused by "Irene" - Tropical Storm Irene that lashed southern Vermont the end of August, is evident everywhere a stream or river travels near the road. People usually visualize mountain ranges covered with pine and hardwood forests when they think about Vermont, but they forget about the vast amount of water that is drained through these mountains. We didn't have much snow this winter, and Spring has been unusually dry, leaving the streams and rivers much lower than usual but showcasing the gravel, boulders, and huge trees that were hurled by Irene.

Usually when we pull into Curtis Barbecue we're greeted by a parking lot full of motorcycles, pick up trucks, and cars with license plates from Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Today we were only the second bike in the lot, parking next to a Harley owned by a friendly guy from Springfield.

This is only the third weekend Curtis has been open this season, but everything looks familiar:  the menu featuring pork and chicken, potato or cucumber salad, and lots of paper towels to soak up the BBQ sauce.

We listened to acoustic guitar music while we enjoyed lunch, and then went in search of ice cream for dessert. We took the circular, long way around route back home riding through busy and congested Brattleboro then along Route 30 along more open and rural countryside into Newfane. How a business called The Creamery can't have ice cream on the menu is beyond me, but they didn't so we rode on, still in search of dessert.

Since we ride along Route 30 from Brattleboro to home fairly often, Mike took a detour from Townshend into Grafton, a beautiful old Vermont town that gives meaning to the phrase "you can't get there from here". Grafton isn't on any direct road, and in fact we rode on over 10 miles of dirt roads that have been repaired since Irene cut Grafton off completely. We rode through wide stretches of forest and farmland before turning out onto - paved - Route 30. 

Still without ice cream to finish off lunch, we turned into Zoeys deli in Manchester, hoping to try their new gelato. One of the staff was hanging up the 'closed' sign as we pulled up to the door, so we kept going to our old stand-by:  Ben & Jerry's outdoor stand owned by our friend John. We joined the everpresent line of customers to order Chunky Monkey and Vanilla Heath Bar Crunch ice cream.

Lunch finally complete, we headed home a couple of hours ahead of the rain. 120 miles in a 3-hour ride on familiar roads to a favorite lunch stop was a great way to spend a sunny, warm April afternoon. Forsythia is blooming, the trees are starting to bud, and farmers are just starting to think about plowing their fields. The weather forecast for tomorrow is more warm, clear weather and Mike is planning to ride the BMW to a meeting in Massachusetts. I wonder if he'll find ice cream for lunch?