Tour de Lake Champlain

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THAT’S LAKE CHAMPLAIN ON THE LEFT AS BOB JOHNSTON RIDES ALONG VERMONT ROUTE 2

Six days on the road by bike through amazing scenery in Vermont and New York

A map is a wonderful device for helping us find our way.

I have one stuffed in the back pocket of my bike shirt that shows us the way from the Auberge Harris in St. Jean, Qc, to the border crossing at Alburgh, Vt. in the first of our six days on the road around Lake Champlain.

It seems clear. The route we want to take is along the Chambly Canal and then across the Richelieu River by the Gouin Bridge to Iberville. So far, so good.

We’re pumped with the nothing-can-go-wrong kind of feeling thanks to an excellent breakfast at the Auberge Harris, strategically located midway between Montreal and the U.S. border with easy cycling access to Vermont and New York State.

But in less than an hour we are lost – the excellent map obtained at the Auberge Harris notwithstanding – because we took a wrong turn somewhere or didn’t take a turn we were supposed to.

We are heading east – as confirmed by the compass on our phones – along the Montérégiade bike path, which leads to Granby and that is the wrong way.

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PREPARING FOR A RIDE IN THE RAIN AT THE NORTH HERO HOUSE

We – Bob Johnston, Doug Taylor and myself – want to go south to the border crossing at Alburgh, Vermont.

So we double back a few kilometres to join the usually busy Highway 133. It’s not the preferred route but we know it will get us to Sabrevois.

The traffic seems a bit docile and we cycle eight kilometres on the paved shoulder to Sabrevois where we join Highway 225, a tranquil country road that takes us to Alburgh.

We arrive at the Alburgh border crossing and there is another hiccup. The U.S. border patrol lets those of us on bikes through, but decides our support vehicle driven by Archie Smith needs further inspection.

The border officials, possibly spooked by the escape of two dangerous criminals from maximum security Dannemora prison near Plattsburgh, spend a half hour or so searching the car.

Satisfied that the car holds nothing more threatening than our pumps, tools, spare tires and tubes, Smith is allowed to proceed and we resume the trip with Denis Bauer and Mike Robbins, the other members of our group, who arrived ahead of us because they didn’t get lost.

The border patrol said it decided to conduct a search because Smith was acting strangely on the Canadian side of the border.

What he was doing was rummaging through the car for his bike shoes to get ready to ride after crossing the border. It’s part of our routine to change drivers after half the day’s route has been completed.

As the clouds dissipate and the day turns even more gorgeous, we proceed south along Vermont Route 2 beside the shimmering water of Lake Champlain toward the North Hero Inn, our first stop.

The inn has a lovely water front and a hot tub, good for relaxing our tired bodies after the ride of 80 kilometres.

We knock back some excellent Vermont beer (a choice of Long Trail and Shed) and we are joined by the seventh member of our group, Alain Piché who has arrived by car from Wakefield, Qc.

ARTIST DUKER BOWER EXPLAINS HIS PAINTING OVER BREAKFAST

ARTIST DUKER BOWER EXPLAINS HIS PAINTING OVER BREAKFAST

He is late because he had to replace a lost passport. He went to the passport office in Gatineau earlier in the day and walked out with a new document (good for 10 years) before his parking meter expired (very quick service) at a cost of just over $300 (ouch). But that was a bargain compared to another friend who had to cough up $400 to replace a lost passport on the day he was leaving for Cuba a few years ago. It was a Saturday and apparently it costs more to replace a passport on a Saturday. He also had to fork over $250 to take a later flight.

It’s a whole different ball game in the weather department the next morning as the group faces the prospect of riding in pouring rain and blustery wind. Thankfully, it’s my turn to drive. But nothing can stop us and the group plans to ride – after breakfast.

And that’s where we engage in conversation with a woman sitting near us in the porch overlooking the lake.

She listens to us talking about our goal for the day, which is Charlotte, a small village south of Burlington.

‘’Let me give you a tip. It’s pronounced CharLOT,’’ she says with the emphasis on the last syllable. It’s probably the only French place name – and there are many in Vermont – that gets a correct French pronunciation.

It’s the start of a pleasant conversation in which she tells us that she is the wife of a Vermont legislator.

‘’What do you think of Bernie Sanders and his chances?’’ I ask referring to the independent U.S. senator who is facing off against Hillary Clinton to be the presidential candidate for the Democratic Party.

THE GUNS OF FORT TICONDEROGA

THE GUNS OF FORT TICONDEROGA

‘’He will move Hillary Clinton to the left,’’ she says. A headline in the New York Times a couple of weeks later seems to confirm that (NYT July 10 – Hillary Clinton’s Economic Agenda Aims at a Party Shifting Left).

Sanders, who has pronounced socialist leanings (he likes medicare and a decent minimum wage), seems more Canadian than American (a Say Eh Kid despite an accent that reflects his native New York City) and seems much more rational than the swelling list of Republican wingnuts who want to move into the White House. In fact, I believe Vermont would be a good candidate to become Canada’s eleventh province especially with its recent embrace of craft beer – only a few decades behind Montreal.

My wife and I have have a soft spot for Vermont, sharing an affection of the state for more than 30 years. We were married on the shore of Lake Champlain near St. Albans by a Vermont dairy farmer (Mr. Gasson, a justice of the peace) and spent our honeymoon in Stowe. We have hiked to the summit of Mount Mansfield a couple of times and we took our children camping at Burton Island State Park on numerous occasions. The trips were topped off with burgers and shakes at Warner’s just outside St. Albans near the I-89.

More recently, I have driven to Burlington with friends to watch the University of Vermont Catamounts play Division 1 basketball games in the middle of winter.

If the stark motto of adjacent New Hampshire is Live Free or Die (as emblazoned on the state’s licence plates) then an apt choice for Vermont might be Live and Let Live.

That attitude becomes apparent when we stop for coffee later in the morning at a gas station and convenience store on Grand Isle.

One of our number avails himself of the women’s toilet and we jeer him as he exits in front of a woman of a certain age patiently waiting her turn.

“It’s not a problem,” she says. “After all, we’re in Vermont.”

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN STOPPED AT CHAZY ON WAY TO MONTREAL

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN STOPPED AT CHAZY ON WAY TO MONTREAL

We continue the ride, rolling along the Lake Champlain Bikeway through Colchester and into Burlington. Much of it seems to be a former railroad and this section is called the Burlington Bikeway.

To leave the city, we follow Shelburne Road, which has a wide lane designated for bicycles, for several kilometres. It narrows as we get into the country.

Arriving at the Inn at Charlotte we meet owner Duker Bower, an artist who is hobbling around on a crutch because of a leg injury. He is a fount of local information and one of his suggestions for dinner is a nearby pizza restaurant located beside a micro brewery.

We dispatch two guys to pick up pies and a couple of growlers (gallon jugs of beer) for a take-out dinner back at the inn.

The next morning Duker and his wife serve us a huge breakfast of bacon and scrambled eggs embellished with herbs from their garden. The meal is taken at the dining table under a huge painting of flying cubes, a boat and a nude woman lying in the field.

“That’s my wife,” says Duker, who is in the process of completing a sculpture of the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama for an island in the Azores.

He also gives us a map marked with a highlighter to guide us on a route along scenic back roads that will take us to the ferry for Ticonderoga, N.Y.

“There are a lot more hills on the New York side of the lake,” he says, waving us off.

So I become very concerned when my front derailleur refuses to move the chain off the big ring later in the day making the ascents more difficult. To the rescue come Alain Piché and Archie Smith who do a repair job with the latter bending the offending derailleur back into shape with vice grips.

That gives me a fighting chance on the big hills where the Adirondack Mountains nudge right up to the lake.

Before tackling the hills the next morning, we head over to Fort Ticonderoga alive with people dressed as 17th century French soldiers.

They maintain the fort, which has immense historical significance, in the style of 1756 when it was built by the French as Fort Carillon – later to be conquered by the British and then soldiers fighting for the breakaway colonies during the American Revolution.

It was from this fort that American forces launched their first foreign invasion, establishing a tradition of relentess and growing military might around the world that has continued to this day.

In 1775, U.S. forces gathered at Ticonderoga and pushed off across Lake Champlain with the ultimate goal of capturing Montreal (which they occupied for several months) and Quebec (where they were defeated).

TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES ON THE WAY TO THE FERRY

TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES ON THE WAY TO THE FERRY

The Americans retreated back to New York when British forces arrived to reclaim the British Province of Quebec in the spring of 1776.

We leave Fort Ticonderoga and head to Westport, a short hop of 45 kilometres (with a few hills) and book into the Westport Lakeside Motel for the night.

A bigger uphill grind begins the next day with an ascent lasting half an hour right out of Westport on Lakeshore Road before hooking up with Route 22 at Essex. I follow the highway because it’s paved with a shoulder for bikes. The other guys take a gravel road and we all go through Keeseville where the landscape flattens, past Ausable Chasm and on to Plattsburgh.

In all, we climb nearly 900 metres and cover 72 kilometres for the day.

The big drama in Plattsburgh is the search for the convicts who escaped from Dannemora. More than 1,100 police officers are brought in for the search and some are staying at our hotel, although we never see them or any sign of extra police because they are out on the search near Malone, about an hour away.

Over the last day to St. Jean, we cover 87 kilometres of flat terrain passing through Rouse’s Point, crossing the border at Lacolle and heading up Highway 223 to the Auberge Harris.

And on this day we do not get lost.

Good to Go:

The round trip from Auberge Harris in St. Jean is 570 kilometres, You will find detailed information and maps at

http://www.champlainbikeways.org

We stayed at the following inns and B + Bs

http://www.northherohouse.com

http://www.innatcharlotte.com

http://westportlakesidemotel.com/rates.html

http://www.aubergeharris.com

We also stayed at the Super 8 Hotel in Ticonderoga and La Quinta in Plattsburgh

7 comments on “Tour de Lake Champlain
  1. mike says:

    looks like it was a blast you guys!

  2. Cliff Murphy says:

    Your ability to live combined with your ability to write make your stories a pleasure to read. Thanks for sharing the adventure!! Keep well.

    Cliff

  3. Brian Riordan says:

    Yeah, Yates. 570 km, but how many beers?

    What a great way to spend a week.

    Enjoy,

    Brian R.

  4. Neil Robertson says:

    My favourite areas in the U.S are Vermont and upstate New York. Glorious country. Sounds as if you had another great ride.

    Now if they only could provide me with a moped and a technical & medical team of about 10 I might be able to follow your route.

    Well done again Dave. Always enjoy your travelogs.

    Neil Robertson

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