A Verdant Fourth

Sitting atop a mountain and witnessing the last vestiges of sunlight upon other distant mountains is certainly a grand way to spend the waning hours of a day in Vermont. Nestled in the quaint and bucolic town of Wilmington (and what town is not bucolic in this state?) the house is situated a scant distance from Mt. Snow.

I sit here, on the deck, nursing a nice cold beer and thinking about how utterly peaceful it has been the past few days to have partook in this most healing excursion. A soft breeze blows across the deck, and a shaft of resplendent sunlight pierces the peach-gray clouds. Only patches of pale blue sky are visible, and the rake of sun plays vividly against the deep, dark shadows of the forest, nature’s nod to the haunting visions captured by Hopper.

I arrived here, late Friday evening, with my fiancé Julie, whose brother just happens to own this spacious and beautiful house (as well as the brew that I am enjoying at this moment. Thank you, Steve). Julie and I have had quite a few jaunts around these far-flung hamlets, jaunts at times filled with both pain and laughter.

Rising early every morning, we each hefted a hearty mug of joe and took in the brilliance of sunrise. We sat in silence, and listened to pleasing birdsong while contemplating the day. It was just the two of us, as the boys were happily ensconced with their Dad in Rutland. Rutland, Massachusetts, that is, far removed from the lush hills here in the Green Mountain state.

After a healthy breakfast of cottage cheese, fruit, whipped cream and nuts, we dressed appropriately for both weather and biking, and headed out. Our first destination was Manchester, where we heard there were some nice trails. Upon our arrival there, we found the town to be quite stunning, nestled between mountains and possessing a spectacular complex of buildings under the guise of The Equinox Hotel. Very impressive, and the whole tiny town was postcard perfect. At times, too perfect.

I say that for as we walked about it was deathly still, not a sound to be heard. I cannot even recall if we heard any birdsong. There was a Stephen King undercurrent to the day, like a portent of something dreadful was going to happen. But nothing did and we spent the afternoon hiking the trails instead of biking them as many a root and rock were strewn about the narrow trails. We preferred something a little smoother and scenic but still, it was a nice way to get some good exercise and witness yet another beautiful small town in Vermont.

I should mention that, prior to getting to this beautiful village, we opted to use the GPS system instead of the Google maps we had printed out. That was indeed a grave mistake.

‘Laura’, our onboard navigator (or is it tormentor?) proceeded to take us on these god-awful back roads, pitted and laden with turns and twists through the dense forest. Asphalt turned to dirt, and for 17 miles we rode along this ghastly road, finally reaching pavement and a semblance of civilization. And if you plan on taking a trip north to Manchester from the Wilmington area, DO NOT take the Stratton-Arlington road to get there. Stay on the main roads at all costs. You will thank me later.

From Manchester, onward to Stratton Village, where there was to be a festival and fireworks at the base camp of the mountain. The entire Stratton resort was quite impressive in scope, as there are a multitude of condos and rental places scattered far and wide upon the mountainside. Sandwiched between these monstrous modern buildings were remnants of the original ski lodges, tiny structures in disrepair but still serviceable to those who prefer not to pay exorbitant sums for their stay.

This is where both pain and laughter became evident. Julie and I asked each other what we wanted to do, and I suggested we leave the car here at the lodge and bike down the mountain, to where a dam and trails were supposed to be. At least, that is what the clerk at the bike store told us. He inquired as to whether we were doing a ‘single track’ (I think that is what he said) and, since we had no idea what the hell he was saying and that it probably registered as so on our faces, with a heavy and disgusted sigh he pulled out a map and told us some areas to go for simpler trails.

But that was not to be.

After pedaling a scant 100 yards away from the parking lot, we did not have to pedal again for the next 8 miles. Literally. We kept looking at each other, realizing that we made a terrible mistake, but we were both hell-bent on seeing this %&$*(#@$! dam and trail, even if it took us downhill directly into Hades. Come hell or high water, we were determined. As it turned out, it was hell that won out.

After coasting for an hour, descending along twisting roads that–again!–turned into dirt lanes, we paused at an intersection.Quietly sharing a water bottle whilst viewing a lovely stream below a bridge, we contemplated our hellish return, realizing that it was entirely uphill. After taking one last sip of water, the pain commenced.

To add insult to injury, we finally arrived at the very base of Stratton Mountain, knowing that we still had to ride up the steep inclines to get to our vehicle. Needless to say it was hell on two wheels, but we made it and settled in for a snack before changing into sweat-free garments for the evening festivities.

But after witnessing the setting up of the fair, with assorted vendors and  the band rehearsing, and with hundreds of people milling about, jostling for overpriced food and drinks, we decided to flee the mountain and head on home. That was a most pleasing decision, one of the few we made that day.

As a faint whisper of sun played upon the ridges of distant muted hilltops, we finally had to laugh about the arduous day. Our bodies spent and racked, especially our calves and thighs, we plopped on the couch to watch a movie. All in all a busy but healthy day in Vermont.

Which brings me to the tail end of this overwrought piece of prose.  The beginning of this lengthly discourse started with the waning of our last day in Wilmington, where I was nursing a beer, compliments of my soon-to-be brother-in-law. (I’m sure he’s rather ecstatic at the prospect).

So let me finish with our last bike ride in Vermont, one that proved to be the most healing and spectacular of all, and something close to our home in the hills.

That morning, we ventured to a strip mall of sorts, a few miles from the house. We decided to eat first, and ever since driving here and there along Route 100, we espied this aptly named bakery, ‘Sticky Fingers’, and so we just had to go in and sample their creations. I can tell you that one will not leave disappointed.

Taking our chocolate croissant and cheese danish across the street to our car, we ate there and savored every last delicious bite. Not even a single crumb was spared. They were both that good! Next time…next time we will split the over-sized and mouthwatering cinnamon bun that beckoned for our tastebuds.

Now to work off these dainty delectables, we inquired at the bakery about local trails. The bloke behind the counter was most obliging, and he regaled to us of a trail that led up the mountain that possessed lovely vistas of the hills and valleys. So off we went.

After initial confusion as to the exact directions given, we finally located the correct ascent and proceeded to climb for a good half-hour, so much so we had to hop off our bikes and walk the rest of the way. But soon we were elated, for the road led us along a mountain-top golf course and near the Mt. Snow airport. A little further along, we saw the trail and spent the next hour biking its length, marveling at the splendid views along the way, a perfect way to end our stay in the state.

We went back to the house packed up, and off we went to, of all places, Rutland, MA, where a friend was having a July 4th party after the parade.

All in all, now that I have finished my beer and tale, it was a healing and healthy trip to Vermont, something that will surely linger long in our memory. So take a jaunt to the Green Mountain state and share your story. Vermont, you will find, has that kind of sway.

Copyright 2011, Paul Grignon, All Rights Reserved.

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