August in Vermont

There is something about the water, particularly lakes for me. The sound of waves, the babble of headwater streams, gentle waves lapping up against a pebbled shoreline of a great lake. Sounds not typically associated with riding a motorcycle unless you ride your bike to a lakeside retreat or to your mountainside cottage on a lake, or ride off a bridge into a river! On this trip, I was in the “White Mountains” of Vermont with my girlfriend Ms. Mandy. The “Green Mountain State”. It is everything you would think it is. Abundant Mountain passes. High elevation. Awesome curves. And as you would expect there are lakes everywhere. We were on my old ’93 Fatboy. Trusty Evo power. Simple, not loud, comfortable, 55, maybe 60 horsepower. Perfect for two, tooling around lake country packing ever growing saddlebags with honey and fresh cheese. A quick search of Vermont’s lakes on their official web site indicates there are approximately sixty-six lakes in that state. Now I’m not talking ponds here, I’m talking powerboat navigable water. Along with glacier made mountains and valleys come giant holes in the ground filled with water. Where I grew up, we call them lakes. The same glaciers that have formed so many awesome riding opportunities all over this planet with canyons and mountain passes, made all these lakes. Vermont happens to have an abundance of these glacier made riding opportunities! Blueberry Lake, Echo Lake, Crystal Lake, Cedar Lake, Fern Lake and the appropriately named list goes on and on. All with quaint little towns dotting the shoreline offering up farm fresh meals and country hospitality. I’ve ridden through the hinterlands of many lake-less portions of these United States and simply put, there is nothing more boring than a barren waterless landscape. Most of Texas, parts of Kansas, most of Nebraska and Iowa, ughhh. This is one of the reasons that Vermont simply appealed to me so much. Water all around. Water that had been there for thousands of years, deep crystal clear, cold and natural. Not a giant puddle concocted by engineers to harness power or store drinking water for some city. Good old fashioned naturally occurring lakes formed by glacial movement or God, or a combination of whichever you wish. Georgia has 23 lakes listed on its official web site, although all of them seem to in some way have been created my man. The 10,000 lakes claimed by Minnesota are a bit tongue and cheek. Every mud puddle in the state is considered a lake for the sake of advertising and tourism dollars. If it doesn’t take me more than 15 minutes to drive around a fresh body of water on my Harley, then I consider it a pond. A pond is not a lake. Not very scientific, I agree. I asked my teenager the difference and she straight faced said ‘a lake is a body of water that supports photosynthesis on its top layer only and a pond supports rooted plants all the way top to bottom.’ Who knows? I like riding my scooter around lakes, science notwithstanding.

I became fascinated with Vermont’s lakes and their beautiful shorelines many years ago while riding there summers and skiing there in winters. One of the biggest lakes in or bordering the state is the great Lake Champlain. The giant freshwater body that separates New York and Vermont and makes its way northward from its southern end 150 miles up past the Canadian border into Quebec. The lake has almost 600 meandering miles of shoreline. A thoroughfare where, during the Revolutionary War, both sides shed much blood to control its navigation. An abundance of small rural country roads service Champlain’s shore communities but no real highways circumnavigate the lake. We rode past many lakes in Vermont and between them were post card farms sprinkling the forested and hilly landscape. We found ourselves in the college town of Middlebury in the central western part of Vermont looking for a way back to the New York side of the aforementioned lake Champlain. The day grew long, and I with no accommodations for us, wished to return to the resort on Lake George in the Adirondacks on the New York side of Lake Champlain. June it was, but weather is fickle in this region and accommodations are thin. Knowing the lake is at some points 14 or 15 miles wide there are just a few bridges that cross it’s narrower straights. Certainly, there were none near us? So I looked on my paper map, having no cell service in the coffee shop where we sat pondering my options. I sat there with my big Harley boots up on the chair next to me. The shop was full of Vermont hippie kids studying “Liberal Arts”, whatever the hell that is? They eyed me as if I were Dennis Hopper or Peter Fonda being eyed by the Sheriff in the redneck coffee shop in “Easy Rider”. I did not fear being pummeled to death in my sleep by them that night. Then again, neither did Jack Nicholson (George Hanson).

I could see a thin red line meandering 20 miles west of the college where a road ended at the edge of the lake. It stretched straight across, dotted, to the clear terminus of another road on the other side in New York. I asked a few locals and they told me there was a small ferry there that ran across the lake, piloted by an old man and his daughter. They told me he took a few cars and a few bikes across at a time. Charged 5 bucks! How quaint was my initial thought. How great would it be to ride my bike onto a little ship and SAIL across the lake to my destination? Someone mentioned he docked his barge and went home at 6:00 pm, till 7:00 am the next morning. I glanced at my watch. It was 5:30. I jumped to my feet and we scrambled to my bike. I rode a hard 20 miles mostly through farms and hardwood forests on course pavement, cows ignoring my bike’s roar as I made my way. I felt our elevation change downward and a few snake like “S” turns told me I was near the lake’s edge although I saw no sign of water. Then, it all opened up in the last 100 feet before the road disappeared into the edge of the dark water. The vast expanse of the old lake appeared on both sides of me to the north and the south. I knew it to be Lake Champlain. The clock on my instrument cluster showed 5:59. The barge had already taken up its ramp and was making progress slowly moving from shore. I blew my horn and waved my arms and lo and behold the steaming barge slowed and reversed back to shore for me. A young woman, perhaps the pilot’s granddaughter pulled a lever and the big metal ramp dropped at the edge of the dock before me and I shifted into first and carefully rode on deck and she yelled “ALL ABOARD”, somewhat satirically. We were. I put my kickstand down and smiled broadly. We made it. The old barge lumbered through the big waters and left a wake that curled and churned behind us. I breathed in a full breath of air, part relief, part sorrow. My home state of New York, a minute before a hazy distant thin line came into focus and grew. Vermont, its farms, forests, mountains and hippies, all shrank behind me. I did not look back. I never do.

Remember, ride hard, ride safe, and in the end make sure you ride home.  –Irish

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