Cycling Lake Champlain

Champlain

 

Technology can be amazing.  After all, it is the technology of the internet that allows me to share the incredible stories of my cycling adventures with you, Dear Reader.  But sometimes technology moves faster than your Humble Author.  It has come to my attention that my iPhone saves pictures in a new format known as HEIC.  At almost the same time, I learned that wordpress does not accept this format on its website.  At a much later time, I learned how to convert HEIC pictures to JPEG so I could share them here.  Additional complications ensued, such as the inability to copy pics off my phone (iPhone really wants me to store them to the cloud and won’t let me access them through my computer’s file browser).  I was also frustrated in my attempts to graphically depict five separate bike rides in one graphic.  It turns out Garmin files can only be depicted in such a manner if they are placed on Google Earth.  And I haven’t bothered to download that program yet.

All of this is offered as a partial explanation for the delay in this post and the simple depiction of five rides you have already noticed at the top of this post.

On with it, then.  it’s time to discuss what exactly is going on with the above map of Lake Champlain and the five numbered rides.  On the occasion of our first anniversary, Maureen and I drove north to Burlington, Vermont, looking forward to a week of cycling and possible glimpses of the autumn foliage.  We signed up with Discovery Bicycle Tours, who offered five days of relatively flat cycling on the shores of Lake Champlain.  The tour would base out of two cities – Burlington and North Hero Island.  It would be our first trip to that part of the world and we were excited to explore it.

After a nice Sunday evening dinner where we got to know our two tour guides and the other ten members of our touring group, we woke up Monday morning ready to ride.  The adventurous riders left from our downtown Burlington hotel and rode south through the morning traffic.  The more conservative riders (including Yours Truly and Maureen) were shuttled to a scenic overlook five miles outside of town and picked up the route there.  It was a scenic ride through the countryside down to the lake.  The near continuous downhill caught Maureen’s attention.  She correctly deduced that what goes down must eventually go up.  It’s great to be married to someone who is smarter than I am!  Although it would be a hilly ride with about 2,000′ of climbing, it wasn’t too bad and it would be the hilliest day of the week.

The day would feature our first ferry ride.  Three of the five days would put us on a boat.  This was definitely a great way to tour!  Some folks weren’t so sure this counted as bike touring.  Some went so far as to say we shouldn’t count “ferry miles” toward our total mileage for the day.  This led to philosophical discussions as to whether the miles would count if we sat on our bikes while the ferry carried us across.  No consensus was reached, but much fun was had by all.

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Maureen, helpfully pointing the way toward New York.

After crossing the lake, we encountered our first dirt road.  We were not aware this would be in the cards for us but we survived the event unscathed.  It gave me the opportunity to tell Maureen of many such roads I had accidentally encountered on the backroads of Virginia.  Maureen politely feigned interest while hoping she didn’t flat.  After successfully traversing the dirt road, it was time for a picturesque lunch on the shore of the lake.  Our bellies full, the ferry returned us to Vermont, where we pedaled up those hills that Maureen noted earlier.  The pain of the climb was quickly forgotten when we reached our destination:  a local winery with a wine tasting waiting for us.

(place cursor over the pic to read a fascinating caption)

Day 2 required us to pack up our belongings and had them over to our tour guides, who had the additional duty of Bell Hop for the day.  We were cycling north to our second hotel on North Hero Island.  As the name suggests, this island couldn’t be reach (easily) by road, so another ferry was in order.  There’s a fun 3.5 mile causeway that connects the suburbs of Burlington with South Hero Island but, sadly, this was closed due to construction.  The ferry deposited us on the north side of the construction, where we were able to cycle a few hundred yards of the causeway.

As we pressed northward against the wind, we were encouraged to look for stone castles built by a local man.  Based on this simple description, I was expecting something… castle-like.  Imagine my surprised when we came upon the first “castle,” and realized these things were little more than glorified lawn ornaments!  We stopped to take pictures so you could also enjoy these “amazing” structures:

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One of the amazing stone castles of South Hero Island

About 20 miles into this ride, we encountered a problem: namely the road was out.  There was a road construction team that had closed the road and wouldn’t let us pass, no matter how politely I asked.  In retrospect, bribes might have worked better than politeness, but that didn’t occur to me in the moment so I was forced to improvise.  Maureen and I were the first members of our group to come across the site and I called our guides to let them know the situation and to tell them the alternate route we would be using.  Our guides quickly texted the new plan to the rest of the group so they knew to avoid the problem.

I know what you’re saying.  You’re saying “Wait a minute, Steve, YOU were in the lead of the group?”  You read that correctly.  I am proud to say that our tour guides quickly gave Maureen and I the nickname “The Rabbits” and I proudly accepted that label all week.

 

Day 3 promised to be our biggest challenge: 53 miles of cycling, much of it in the uncharted wilderness of southern Quebec.  Ok, I suppose Quebec is fairly well charted, even its southern portion, but it was 53 miles and we did go into another country, which is always exciting.  Loyal readers will know that this would be Maureen’s longest ride ever, surpassing the great Seven Mile Bridge ride on our Key West tour.

We reached the border after 19 miles, whereupon we stopped.  I peered into the small guardhouse and saw nobody.  I knocked on the window and shouted, “Hello!” in a friendly manner with no success.  As I pondered the option of simply invading another country with my wife and two bicycles, a guard finally appeared.  He was a very pleasant person and stamped our passports without further delay.  We were off to something called a fromagerie.  We enjoyed this very much (non-French speakers will be interested to learn a “fromagerie” is a place that makes cheese) and also enjoyed a visit from my uncle, who drove down from Montreal for a chat.  Neither my uncle nor I particularly care for cheese.  This greatly pleased Maureen, who enjoyed her snack without fear of thievery from either of us.

After saying farewell to my uncle, we cranked out some miles in the flat Canadian countryside.  We marveled at French signs and enjoyed having the wind at our back for the first time all week.  We were very careful not to complain about this as earlier weather forecasts were for rain every day.  In the end, not a single drop fell on us while we rode.

After crossing back into America (where a guard was standing ready for us) we worked our way southward toward the hotel.  We took a brief diversion to visit something called The Alburg Dunes.  This required a brief trip down yet another dirt road.  Imagine our surprise when we saw the Alburg Dunes had no dunes.  It was still a very pretty shoreline.  We took our shoes off and waded into the shallow waters.  After the break, we steeled ourselves for the final eight miles home.  This included a significant 10% hill that Maureen climbed with only a little complaining.  She completed her longest ever ride with a smile and a request for a glass of wine.  I happily obliged.

 

Did you ever wonder where Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was when President McKinley was assassinated?  Wonder no longer – he was on Isle La Motte, which was the destination of our Day 4 ride.  Teddy was an avid outdoorsman and he was giving a speech to the Vermont Fish and Game Commission when the news of the tragedy reached him.  We pedaled past the Fisk Farm where he was staying and also visited exciting sites such as the landing spot where Samuel de Champlain met with local natives in his initial expedition of 1609.  We stopped at the remains of a local quarry and an exhibit of fossils in the rock formations.  It turns out this is one of the oldest known coral reefs in the world.  It’s not a reef nowadays (it’s a bit too cold for that) but many millions of years ago, it was tropical and there is evidence of the critters who lived there in the rock.

The day ended with a fun adventure on sea kayaks.  Our guide (not the bicycle tour guides but an actual kayak guide who knew what he was doing and made sure we didn’t drown) provided lots of interesting trivia on the lake’s biology and history.  He also put on an entertaining demonstration of kayak rescue procedures.  Fortunately, none of those were required by our group and we returned to shore ready for our final ride the next day.

 

We woke on Friday, wondering where the time went.  Had we really been at this for five days?  Sadly, we packed up our luggage and turned our bicycles southward to the ferry.  Despite mostly traveling on roads we had already cycled (we again laughed at the castles) we found some new sites to enjoy.  On a small stretch of road we had not yet explored, we found a patch of woods where someone had nailed several hundred (thousand?) bird houses onto the trees.  The houses were brightly painted and in good condition.  No explanation was given for this arrangement.  As we tried to understand who might do something like this, we noticed another oddity:  about one hundred feet inside the woods there were three dinosaur statues.  Because, why not?  Again, no explanation was forthcoming, so we got back on our bikes and pedaled south to the finish line at Burlington.

 

In the end, we cycled over 170 miles in five days (miles on the ferry not included).  Maureen had never cycled more than three days in a row and she did marvelously while extending her personal record to five days.  I had equaled my best for consecutive days on the bike, set during the debauchery of RAGBBRAI in 2016.  We were hoping to see the fall foliage in Vermont but we arrived about two weeks too early.  We still got a taste of it and we’ve decided to come back someday to see it in all its glory.  We are definitely enjoying bicycle touring as a group, with hotels and meals taken care of.  Gerry, I think you’ve created a monster!

 

 

5 thoughts on “Cycling Lake Champlain

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this, Steve. It sounds like a great little tour. Incidentally, I have ridden in Quebec a few times and the wind has always been at my back, too. It’s just the way we roll there.

    Looking forward to the next big adventure. Hugs to Maureen!

    1. I mentioned your name while in Quebec and everyone was asking about you. I told them you ran a world-famous bicycle touring company and also found time to write an excellent blog. Everyone was very proud of you! At least I think that’s what they were saying. As you know, my French isn’t all that great…

      1. It’s probably their accent you didn’t understand. After all, you and Maureen are used to southern France French!

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