Upper East Side
Excerpt From: New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Quebec: Upper East Side | OCTOBER '19 ISSUE OF ROADRUNNER MAGAZINE
Is there much traffic in Vermont’s famed, remote Northeast Kingdom? The answer depends on whom you ask.
We're passing through Bloomfield, VT, when we stop at the country store for a cold drink. A clearly exasperated farmer named Bob is at the counter, prattling on about the “Moose Fest,” a fair and classic car gathering in the town of Canaan, 20 miles north. (It also happens to include an event that will soon be taking the country by storm: Cow Plop Bingo.) “Dang,” says Bob. “I hate this weekend. When the Moose Fest comes to town, I go camping. It’s a zoo up there.” I notice he’s buying a case of cheap beer for his forthcoming wilderness retreat. Clearly, the guy needs some alone time.
Despite these dire predictions of gridlock, Meredith and I press on to Canaan (population 970). But the predicted traffic jam keeps not happening. By the time we get to the town center, there’s a solitary guy in an orange vest directing “traffic” into a dirt lot, which contains a total of five other cars. We pass through without touching the brakes once. If that’s a Vermont traffic jam, I’ll take another, please.
Welcome to some of the northernmost parts of the Northeast. I grew up in the East, outside New York City, but this is another thing altogether. It’s a place where seemingly every car has a canoe or kayak affixed to the roof, and hikers, mountain bikers, and climbers are as common as fall leaves. Everyone you meet is in the middle of an outdoor adventure—or planning one. And, of course, it’s perfect for motorcycling, thanks to a dense thicket of twisty, two-lane roads—and plentiful dirt roads, if that’s your preference.
On this two-up trip, Meredith and I completed 1,000 miles through upstate Vermont, New York’s Adirondack Mountains, southern Quebec, and back down into Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Along the way we climbed the toll roads of Whiteface Mountain and the famed Mount Washington. We even found vintage bikes at the Bundy Modern museum in Waitsfield, VT, and met some river otters and a friendly, de-scented skunk at The Wild Center museum in Tupper Lake, NY.
We take sinewy NY 9N and US 9 to Plattsburgh, NY, where a quick ferry takes us to Grand Isle, VT. This 14-mile-long land mass is occasionally so narrow that you can view water on each side. It’s excellent riding, and we catch lunch overlooking the lake at a general store, called “Hero’s Welcome,” in the town of (you guessed it) North Hero. From there, it’s a short ride to the border crossing into Quebec.
Memphremagog MoseyOur route crosses the southern border of Quebec, from west to east, through abundant agricultural land and the wine district around Bedford, then to the town with the unlovely name of Magog, our stop for the night. We’re agog to find Magog (sorry) bustling with tourist activity, with copious lakefront parks and a thriving marina on Lake Memphremagog (memphremagog means “big expanse of water” in Algonquin).
We spy a prominent hilltop steeple, visible from both sides of the lake, and decide to investigate. Fortunately, the Saint Benedict Abbey, built by Benedictine monks in 1912, welcomes visitors. Our timing is perfect, and we get to enjoy the haunting Gregorian chants of the monks at morning service. In the basement store, they sell excellent cheeses, cider, applesauce, and other products to help finance the operation, which includes 560 acres of land and trails along the lakeside. Just don’t make a commotion, and perhaps don’t visit with loud pipes, as the monks have taken a vow of silence.
We pass back into Vermont at Highwater, and into the lakeshore town of Newport, where we view Lake Memphremagog from the other end, and another country. The road south skirts Lake Willoughby, the deepest lake contained entirely within Vermont. The slopes of Mount Pisgah and Mount Hor drop precipitously to the water’s edge, giving a spectacular, vertiginous effect—a little like a freshwater version of the Big Sur coast back home. The park also has nice public beaches, including one, at the south end, famed for its lack of clothing. We linger awhile, but the gear stays on. ATGATT, you know.
Riding in the Kingdom
In Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, you won’t find many burgeoning towns, but you will find abundant twisty roads and some of the best riding in the state. Our lodging at the Rabbit Hill Inn in Lower Waterford provides not only the perfect launch point for a Kingdom tour, but also a foray to 6,288-foot Mount Washington in neighboring New Hampshire. The mountain is known for some of the worst, most volatile weather in the world, including a record 231-mph wind recorded in 1934. If you time it right, the 7.6-mile toll road also happens to be a great motorcycle ride.
On this day we get lucky and it’s a mere 57 degrees at the top. On a perfect day you can see 130 miles to Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Quebec, and the Atlantic Ocean. The road can be busy, so it’s best to keep your throttle hand in check. Be patient and just enjoy the ride (a portion of which is dirt). We let traffic go up the road a bit, and at times feel that we have the place entirely to ourselves, as we pass lovely small forests and brooks before the road opens up to enormous views. The summit is thick with people, including a line of 100 waiting to photograph themselves at the famous summit marker.
A Touch of Dirt
We're accustomed to traveling on my 2008 BMW R 1200 RT, which is known to be one of the best two-up bikes going, so the GS is a bit of an experiment. As it turns out, Meredith likes the accommodations even better than those of the RT. The bike also gives us license to do a little dirt road exploring from our inn, on a network of easy dirt roads with broad vistas. We get a bit lost—in the best possible sense of the word—before catching lunch in the tiny state capital, Montpelier, where one gets the feeling that a black bear might amble in the back door and occupy the governor's chair for a few hours.
An impromptu visit to the Bundy Modern in Waitsfield reveals that the owners are motorcycle enthusiasts, so in addition to modern art, there are a few Ducatis and Moto Guzzis to admire in the main hall. We cross the famed Appalachian Gap, at 2,375 feet, on our way to the night’s lodging in the college town of Middlebury.
On our way back to Burlington to turn in the bike, we pass through lovely Vergennes, Vermont’s oldest and smallest city, established 1788. It occurs to us that on most moto trips, there’s a day that’s epic for all the wrong reasons: hot, cold, mechanical mishaps, or worse. Then there's a trip like this one: flawless from start to finish. We even enjoyed the traffic jams—if you can call them that.