Monday, September 14, 2015

Traveling the Green Mountains

     The road melts away beneath us mile after mile.  We are headed for the Green Mountains of Vermont and the treasures they hold.  This is our first road trip in a while and it feels good to be counting the highway lines as they blur by.  It would be a short trip, a long weekend, but it would hold plenty of stops and sights and places.  I have never been one to have an empty slot on the itinerary.
     Three hours is all it takes to retreat from the hustle and bustle of NYC and find some quiet.  These particular three hours took us north through Connecticut to Deerfield, MA and the flagship store of The Yankee Candle Company.  The store is filled with an overwhelming amount of scents that nearly assault your nostrils.  They carry every kind of Christmas ornament and knick knack for the home.  Wind chimes are in one corner, mason jars filled with anything in another.  There are recipe books and kitchen utensils, gifts galore, and make your own hands, feet, candles, crafts, whatever.  There is a cafe and a candy shop and always some kind of entertainment.  We filled a basket with a few favorite scents to fill our home when the weather cools enough to open the windows to a fresh breeze.  The flagship is worth a stop at least once especially to stretch the legs on the way to another destination.  As a side trip, a few blocks away we accidentally found the Berkshire Brewing Co.  They may not have such accommodating tour hours or any snacks when you do visit but they were super friendly and pointed us to a local shop that carried everything they brew.  We put a select few brews in our empty cooler and put Berkshire and Yankee Candle in the rearview.
     Morning was giving way to lunch time and we had crossed into Vermont, nearing our food pit stop.  The Long Trail brewery was to be, however, a disappointment.  Even though it was 1 pm on a Friday, the parking lot, dining room, and patio were all jam packed.  The license plates in the lot held a variety of states and a table couldn't be found until near dinner time.  Oh wait, there was a little road side drive-in not far back down the road.  The little road side shack had the perfect lunch that fit right through a window and even allowed customers the use of the creek out back to dip your toes or enjoy a burger sitting atop a boulder in the middle of the running water.
     Setbacks wouldn't hold us back as the gravel road and covered bridge brought us to Sugarbush Farm and all the great samples of homemade Vermont cheddar and maple syrup.  The cooler once again opened wide to accept all the goodies we would bring home to adorn our tailgate tables of cheese and crackers.  This down-to-earth farm setting has everything to make a great road trip stop, a woods tour of maple syrup making, food samples, tourist gifts, and friendly folks.  Right down the road was Woodstock Barley'N'Hops, a beer geek's paradise of local brews.  I had to mention this stop solely on the merit of the staff.  And the cooler yet again opened wide for ciders and beers.
     We would stretch our legs for the final time Friday reaching the bottom of Quechee Gorge.  This is a nature trail and tourist stop with a little city of antique stores that grew up around it.  For the outdoorsy types, take the hike to the bottom and dip your toes in the ice cold water or even take a swim on a hot afternoon.  For the sight-seers, stop in the little shops and maybe grab a bottle of local wine.  Either way, stretch the legs, use the bathroom, grab some brochures, and get back on the road.  And down that road we spent the evening relaxing poolside at the local KOA campground and a quaint cabin that definitely makes it feel like cheating when it comes to camping.  Bring a sleeping bag and some marshmallows and it's camping made simple.
     Saturday morning we followed the fog to Brookfield and one of only four floating bridges left in the U.S.  It is a simple piece of roadside America that is situated in the middle of nowhere surrounded by a tiny town accessed by dirt roads.  The bridge has been newly reconstructed and easily handles the weight of a car but it still is strange driving across a pristine country lake as the sun rises on a piece of floating wood.  There is little here to see but the woods and the sky and the clear water and a plaque at the end of the bridge explaining the historical importance of this piece of civil engineering.  I love history.
      In appreciation of the kids' indulgence of my quest for quirky history (whether they like it or not), the next stop would have to be Ben & Jerry's famous ice cream factory in Waterbury.  A tour, a taste, a visit to the flavor graveyard, pictures by the bus always bring a smile no matter how many times we visit.  The road beyond the ice cream brings farm stands and cider mills and antique stores and finally a ski resort.  Stowe allows cars to drive up the ski slopes (well the ski slope maintenance road) during summer time.  We cut through the trees under the ski lift and above tree line to reach a parking lot next to a small visitor center where a trail began that led to the peak of Mount Mansfield, the tallest in Vermont.  The hike is about a mile and a half one way to the summit but the magnificent views began only ten minutes down the trail.  Our late afternoon arrival did not allow for a summit bid but the kids have earmarked this for a return road trip (and so has Dad).  For any road tripper the road through Smuggler's Notch and the Stowe toll road are a definite destination point.
     As the sun set we were able to catch a ferry across Lake Champlain and the kids watched carefully for the mysterious Champy (the sea monster that frequents this lake).  Disembarking in NY after only 10 minutes left us at the doorstep of the Plattsburgh Brewing Company to fill our bellies with great beer and satisfying fare.  We all quickly drifted off to sleep at the local Hampton Inn and were ready for the last leg of this road trip bright and early.
     Ausable Chasm has an adventure trail with steep steps, cliffside tippy-toes, Tyrolean traverses, ladders and laughter followed by a short raft trip or tube float down the waters of the gorge.  This is another great piece of roadside America and well worth the stop.  Half the day quickly passed as the kids swung along the ropes criss-crossing the gorge and we would have to bypass a few side roads to stay on schedule.  Traffic on the NY Thruway would not cooperate and dinner would need a quick check on the smartphone to put us back on track.  Thankfully Albany was in sight and the Albany Pump Station would yield yet another great road meal and a few more beverages for the cooler.
     In the end, our beds at home quietly, comfortably welcomed us back.  Perhaps we were more worn out now than when we had left but we created some great new memories and had planted the seeds for future trips down the road. 

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