Sunday, July 6, 2014

Tour de Ticonderoga Bike Overnight

My smiling friend, Adele. She's game for rides, especially if they involve
eating good food and stops for garage sales.
In early June, I wanted to visit Mount Independence and cross on the tiny Ti Ferry - two things on my Vermont "to do" list. There's nothing like regional goals to keep bike overnights fresh and upbeat. I also like to exclude the car from the equation to minimize logistics; I'm more comfortable using ferries and/or alternative transportation for a one-way or loop adventure.

I've been on several overnights alone, so having a companion—other than my husband—was a first. Adele is semi-retired. With my light work schedule, we've ridden a few times together and shared a room on organized tours. More importantly, we are like-minded: interested in reading signs, admiring flowers, stopping for lawn sales, and/or something that piques our interest. Adele is also a foodie: she's a great cook, teaches cooking classes, brings treats to my house, totes luscious snacks on rides (think pear tart or healthy cookies). Food is a priority. I knew we'd get along well.

So unsurprisingly, on our first day, as I admired wild roadside phlox, their white and pink blossoms bending in a light headwind, we stumble on an outhouse titled "Bikers Rest". It comes complete with classic crescent moon cutout on the door. And a lawn chair, just in case there's a line. But really, I imagine it's a welcome sight for cyclists on this popular route. Insects starting nagging me so I was ready to get moving, however, inquisitive Adele had to peek inside.

Plastic jug placed upside down functions as urinal. 
She laughed. "Look at the urinal!"

Indeed, it's a classic outhouse, complete with wooden bench setup and makeshift urinal. Which makes sense, considering more cyclists are male. I was more curious about the history of the outhouse and why the owners placed it beside the road.

After a shortcut on a dirt road, and a quick stop to photograph a sign, (it's my son's name), then riding up and down a few hills past farms, we arrive in Vergennes, just in time for lunch.

Of course, Adele has a restaurant all picked out. Indeed, there are cyclists congregated at an outdoor table. It's a French bakery. We split smoked salmon on crusty bread, plus a salad. Extra bread is served in a cloth basket. Cloth napkins and a milk bottle of water complete the ambiance. I can't resist an iced latte and eagerly suck it down.

I recognized the Blackburn rack. You go, Adele!
Afterward, Adele chats with acquaintances—she's incredibly connected—then steps inside a nautical store, while I remain with the bikes. I had to capture the extra bike rack atop her panniers. Earlier, only 15 miles south of Burlington, eagle-eyed Adele had spotted a rack in a "free" pile beside the road. I had to hand it to her. We both knew what a find it was. It's a lightweight Blackburn model. She planned to lug it for the next two days to get it home. The rack is for the custom bike she's promised herself this year, which I found amusing—to acquire accessories before the actual bicycle!

Twenty miles later we cross the Champlain Bridge and camp at Crown Point State Park in New York. I'd brought two lightweight 2-person tents, though they are better suited to one person plus gear. This allowed us privacy. We consumed deli salads and I heated tea for the cool evening. Later we sip Merlot and watch the sunset. I'd wanted to investigate nearby Crown Point Fort ruins—it's prominent lakefront location is breathtaking—unfortunately, wine and conversation go down easily and before I know it, it's dark.

The campground was surprisingly empty. We had our pick of campsite.

The next morning is bright and sunny. We pack early and wander, searching for a park employee to no avail to pay the camping fee, nor provision at the entrance to self pay. It's strange, but we take off, knowing we attempted to do the right thing.

A quick ride back over the bridge to Vermont and we eat breakfast at the aptly named Bridge Restaurant.

Snapping turtles are a pretty common sight in Vermont.
By the time we finish our eggs and toast and start heading south along Vermont's shoreline, the headwind is strong and gusty. A snapping turtle is crossing the road on a blind corner. I stop, hoping to protect the creature, but it lifts it's head, mouth gaping. A bit frightened, I let the turtle go about it's merry way—it was heading to the safe white line anyway—and better off without my help!

The wind is tough. Adele is falling behind. With thunderstorms predicted for the following day we planned to pedal 20 miles, visit Mount Independence, then head back north and ride as far as possible to allow less miles in foul weather on the third day, returning home. However, I realized the route was too ambitious. If we cut out the Mount Independence leg we could still cross on the cable ferry and easily save 20 miles. With the alternate plan settled, we enjoyed the dairy farms, and eventually headed inland on a Class 4 road—my idea to save hill climbing closer to the lake. It was an adventure! The road was doable even with cracked, rutted tracks. It bisected huge farms fields. I think Adele was skeptical—her bike has narrower tires—but she eventually smiled and exclaimed, "this must be what Kansas looks like!"

Later, Adele admitted to loving our alternative to Lake Champlain Bikeways
Route and passed the information to a touring cyclist.
After several miles, and smoother dirt roads, past apple orchards, we turn onto a paved road and zip downhill to the ferry dock.

We arrive just as the boat was pulling into shore. However, it's only a six minute crossing. The boat operates frerquently, whether loaded to capacity or not.

On board there are hand lettered signs and, of all things, a maple syrup corner. A quart of Vermont's finest sells for 15.00—a typical tourist price.

Day 2 - Adele still lugs the new found bike rack.

The summer home has fallen into disrepair. Note the chimney
bricks tumbling to the ground.
Within a minute of disembarking back on New York soil, we arrive at Fort Ticonderoga's entrance. Adele's lived in Vermont for 30 years yet she's never had occasion to visit (her daughters weren't into guns and military stuff like my boys), so we make a whirlwind tour. It seemed appropriate that since bypassing Mount Independence we could make time for a quick visit. Views atop the rebuilt fort are spectacular.

Included in the ticket price is admittance to adjacent King's Gardens—more our style. Once upon a time, the wealthy Fort Ti owners built a grand summer home, complete with English style walled garden. Today, the plants are lovingly tended, while the home is sadly falling apart.

Iris and columbine are in bloom.

Amtrak station in Westport,  a hop, skip, and a jump from the hotel.
Then we happily turn our wheels north, flying on a hot tailwind. There are hills, but we crest them easily even though the temperature is brutal. But nothing that a creemee can't fix!

I drank a Dark & Stormy with my tasty burger and fries.
By late afternoon, I can't convince Adele to spend another night in a tent. Instead, she springs for a hotel in Westport, which is a welcome treat. Newly renovated and nicely appointed, we shower and relax on a lovely front porch and order dinner. The only uncomfortable part—the hotel is right next to train tracks. However, the location is historical; the hotel is 100 years old, built when passenger rail brought city travelers for country fresh air.

The third morning is humid, yet the storm is predicted for late afternoon so we might escape it's wrath. The lake road north is tough. Up one mile, down one mile.

Waiting at the top of one hill, I spy a face in a tree.
Adele is struggling. She's a strong lady, yet my bike has lower gears. I finally convince her to let me haul her tent and ground pad so we can ride together.

Eventually the route followed a gently graded ridge with more expansive views. Considering this started as an historical tour, it seemed appropriate to stop for a moment and admire the farmhouse where my husband's grandmother grew up. A half mile later, we visit the family cemetery, across the road from where she attended school in a one room schoolhouse—now renovated into a house.

Then we hung out in Essex, New York for a half hour before the ferry arrived, then a 20 minute ride brings us to within 15 miles of home. We were both running low on water. Adele knows a church where we top off our bottles—it's still blazing hot—suck down as much water as we can hold, then meander on a gravel trail, which is a delightful diversion from asphalt.

Double rainbow lights up the sky after the storm.

We got home around 1 p.m. Adele fed me lunch—I couldn't pass up that opportunity, of course. And did you know that freezing extra coffee in an ice cube container makes for flavorful iced coffee? Oh, the things I learn about cooking from Adele...

Storm clouds rumbled so I skedaddled home. The only trip casualty: I'd lost a water bottle somewhere during the last five miles. Oh well.

For a map of our route, refer to Tour de Ticonderoga route.

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