This past weekend my dad and I set off on a trip we’d been talking about all summer: a weekend of biking through Vermont and Quebec. We would bike for just two days, at a relaxed pace, and stay in inns rather than camping out overnight. So granted, this was no trek up Mt Everest. But despite that fact, I’d been looking forward to the trip with eager anticipation: it was a chance to get out of the city, be immersed in nature, and spend time with my dad doing something we both cherish.
We set off Friday afternoon for the Northeast Kingdom – the northernmost region of Vermont whose name sounds like it’s right out of a Tolkien book. The hustle-bustle of Boston’s highways flowed into the towering White Mountains of New Hampshire, then the far-spaced towns of northern Vermont.
That night, we turned in early… but I’d heard that the Aurora Borealis might be visible that night! So before heading to bed, I scampered outside to gaze at the stars. I set my alarm for 3am and tried again. No luck with the mystical Aurora… but what a wonderful excuse to soak up the heavy darkness from grassy meadows, and drink in the light of a full moon and hundreds of stars!
Saturday morning, we set off! Our first goal was the Canadian border, about 40 miles away. The landscape was a harmonization of human needs and nature: miles of deep rich forests alternated with small farms which seemed to respect the forest, allowing their hilly pastures to roll with the shape of the land. Just seeing cows roaming around outside, grazing on these rich pastures, brought me so much joy… more of our country’s livestock should be here rather than in factory farms. We also passed horses, donkeys, goats, geese, herons and wild turkeys.
It was not an easy ride—besides the frequent hills, it was COLD! It was cold in the way New Delhi is cold in the winter: it’s not that the temperature is that low, but it’s a cold that seeps into your bones. Even with a few layers, 90% of the ride I was freezing! And often it was an hour and a half between towns so it wasn’t like you could just step inside and warm up easily. We also had the added challenge of each carrying ~20 pounds of stuff in our side bags, including clothes, snacks, water, etc. I started to appreciate what a pregnant woman might feel like around 8 months 😉
Finally we reached the border! There’s a beautiful library (the Haskell Free Library) that is literally in two countries—the border line runs right through it! The wealthy old lady who commissioned it 100+ years ago clearly had a sense of humor.
It’s a lovely structure with every detail richly attended to.
And there’s even a small theater on the side of the building!
We’d made it to Canada! The last 15 miles were along a “rail trail” (an old railroad line that’s been converted into a bike path) that followed the windy Tomophobia River. This time, beauty took a different form. It was not the bright, conspicuous beauty of a mid-summer’s day… rather, the deep red ferns and rusty yellow flowers confidently portrayed the subtle, noble beauty of fall. It was raining, and still cold, but the meadows were illumined with a misty light that seemed to come out of the earth rather than down from the sky. We passed lilied ponds and a sign that said “Bear Crossing” in French. There was not a single other person on that gravelly path besides us.
Eventually the path ended and we arrived at the inn. We’d done just under 60 miles. I’ve rarely been so grateful for a hot shower and a warm bed! This inn actually used to be a stop for stagecoaches, so it’s one of the few places left where there’s a restaurant downstairs, and rooms upstairs in the same building. A lot of the furniture was quite old, and it was neat to imagine the people that might have stayed in the same room 150 years ago.
The next day we more or less turned around and headed back, with a few route tweaks to keep it interesting. But first, we grabbed breakfast at Chez Maurice’s – which was basically a diner, but even the diners in Quebec sound distinguished! I was curious to see if there’d be any noticeable cultural differences between Vermont and Canada. I didn’t think it was too likely given how close they are geographically… but there was a certain charm in the way a little girl in the diner kept saying, “Papa! Papa!” in the sweetest voice; in the hummingbird flitting from flower to flower… I can’t really describe it, but let’s just say you could tell you were in Quebec 🙂
After another 60 miles (fortunately with no rain!), we were back in East Burke, Vermont where we’d started, exhausted but happy. I bought some maple syrup, one of the many fruits of the hardworking people whose lands we passed through. I’d love to be able to share some of the beauty of this trip with you besides just through words and pictures, so if you’ve made it this far and would like some syrup, let me know and I’ll give it to you next time I see you! Or if our paths may not cross for a while, I can mail it. (WordPress tells me some people are reading this blog from pretty far off countries, so it would be interesting if someone from, say, Lithuania asks me to mail them syrup. But don’t hold back Lithuanian readers, happy to oblige! 😉 )
Life’s been moving in fast-forward these last few months but will try to write again soon. Thanks for reading!