Tag Archives: Vermont Motorcycle Rides

Perceptions | Being a Good Samaritan Motorcyclist

Perceptions Being a Good Samaritan Motorcyclist
Would you accept an offer of help from this man? Are you sure? (Photos by the author)

Each of us has likely been advised not to judge a book by its cover, but my experience as a motorcyclist confirms that those of us who ride are routinely judged in that manner. It doesn’t help that media and pop culture frequently portray motorcycle riders as noisy bad-ass bikers or reckless crotch-rocket squids.

But that’s not who I am. Friendly, slight of build, and respectful, I am the definition of non-threatening. Have a question? I’m all ears. Need a hand? I’ll help.

When I’m riding, I make a concerted effort to be an ambassador for everyone who rides. I stop for people crossing the road, let other vehicles pull out, and give extra space to those with dogs or horses. Off the bike, I hold open doors, especially for old folks and families with kids. I leave generous tips for waitstaff. I say hi to people in uniform. Honestly, it doesn’t take that much effort, and if non-riders get a good feeling about someone they meet who is riding a motorcycle, the next time they think about a motorcycle they’ll be able to associate it with something positive.

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Consider a couple of cases in point. Rides in my home region of Massachusetts often find me at Quabbin Reservoir. One particular day in March, the sky was cold blue crystal as I motored through the reservation. Water cascaded over the 400-foot-long stone spillway, indicating that the reservoir was at capacity. I continued up Quabbin Hill Road and, at the rotary, curved right toward the Summit Tower. From there I could enjoy splendid views of the valley and the mountains beyond. The unpaved parking area was a muddy mess, so I parked at the paved road’s edge behind the lone car there.

As I walked up toward the tower, a little girl, probably five years old, turned sharply at the sound of her name, looked back at me, then scampered to hide behind her parents. I offered a friendly hello, but my presence was clearly met with suspicion.

Though I gave them space, I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation: The girl was asking her mother for a quarter so she could look through the coin-operated binoculars. “Sorry,” her mom said, “I didn’t bring any quarters.” A hopeful look at her dad was also answered with “Sorry.” The girl’s expression switched from anticipation to disappointment.

Can a quarter change one person’s perception of another?

I had a quarter. I fished it out of my pocket and held it up for the mom’s approval. Looking a bit surprised, she nodded her consent, so I offered the coin to the girl. The youngster flashed a grin and thanked me.

“My daughter is a few years older than yours,” I told her parents. “She always liked looking through those binoculars.” They smiled. Twenty-five cents had changed me from someone best avoided to someone with a daughter.

Stopping to be a good Samaritan has long been my practice, although it has not always been met with appreciation. Several summers ago, while riding in Vermont’s remote Northeast Kingdom, I came upon a minivan parked on the shoulder. A tire was flat, so I pulled over to see how I could help. A young woman and her kids were in the van. I parked my bike ahead, removed my helmet and, keeping back what I considered a respectful distance, offered to help. The driver held up her hands: No! She didn’t know me or whether my intentions were honorable, so I couldn’t blame her.

My family was expecting me back home in a few hours, and I could have just left, but my fatherly instincts were telling me this young family was vulnerable. Another dad who rides once shared with me his story of simply staying on-site until proper help showed up, so even though this driver didn’t trust me to help, I decided to wait until help she did trust arrived.

Sometimes the good Samaritan arrives on a motorcycle.

“I’ve got a family and I’d hate to think of them stranded,” I told the driver, keeping back at that respectful distance. “I’ll just stay here by my bike until a cop arrives.” She was looking right at me but didn’t respond. I went back to my bike and reached into the tankbag for a snack.

It was sometime later when a Vermont state police cruiser, with its distinctive green livery, came into view. I waved my arms and the lights flashed on. The trooper pulled over next to me and got out immediately.

“What’s happening here?” he demanded.

“I saw the van had a flat and stopped to help,” I explained. “The lady said no, but it’s just her and the kids, so I decided to stay until help she trusts arrived. My family is expecting me home in Massachusetts, so I really need to go now.”

The trooper pointed an authoritative finger at me. “Wait here.” He walked to the van, spoke briefly with the driver, then came back. “Thank you for staying,” he said. “Ride safely.” The lady waved at me from the van. I waved back and she smiled. The motorcycle guy had changed from an untrustworthy character to that thoughtful dad who stayed until help arrived.

It rarely hurts to be friendly, especially when we’re out riding motorcycles. That way, people who do not ride might appreciate that those of us who do aren’t outlaws or hooligans by default. They just might realize that motorcyclists aren’t all that different from them. We just prefer to ride.

The post Perceptions | Being a Good Samaritan Motorcyclist first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Favorite Ride: Vermont Border Run

Vermont Border Run
The landscape around Lake Willoughby is stunning.

A few years ago, Rider published my article about riding Vermont Route 100 from south to north, ending at the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, which straddles the U.S./Canada border. Someone wrote a letter to the editor asking how I got back. U.S. Route 5 runs along the east side of Vermont, and it happens to be another one of my favorite rides. It has all the elements of a great motorcycle road: beautiful scenery, fine curves, light traffic, and nice places to stop along the way. For this ride, I am again starting at the Massachusetts border and heading north, but it can also be run in reverse.

Vermont Border Run

Scan QR code above to view route on REVER, or click here

I cross from Massachusetts into Vermont just south of Guilford, and the road almost immediately plunges into the woods, curling back and forth around the trees, a preview of what’s to come. First, I pass through Brattleboro. With 12,000 residents, it’s the largest town I’ll encounter today. Downtown consists of about three blocks of century-old brick buildings. It’s a little congested, but as soon as I clear the roundabout at the junction with State Route 9, everything eases up and I’m into rural Vermont in search of coffee.

Vermont Border Run
Just one of the many wonderful curves on U.S. Route 5.

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Putney General Store bills itself as Vermont’s oldest general store. It has creaky floors, good food, and – most importantly – good coffee. Properly caffeinated, I’m on my way, and U.S. 5 reveals its true character: rising, falling, and curving through the landscape. I lose myself in its rhythm.

Vermont Border Run
These petroglyphs are believed to have been carved by the Abenaki hundreds of years ago.

In Bellows Falls, the falls don’t bellow anymore. The river was dammed in 1802 to aid with upstream navigation. Down near the river, a mysterious row of faces is carved into the rocks. The petroglyphs are believed to have been carved by the Abenaki hundreds of years ago. Curiously, a couple of the faces appear to have antennae. Evidence of an extraterrestrial visit? I ponder the question as I head out of town.

Vermont Border Run
The Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge is the longest two-span covered bridge in the world.

U.S. 5 resumes its swooping, twisting, and turning as it tunnels through the trees. Nothing is too tight or unexpected, just a wonderful ride, and I drink it all in. There is a zig and a zag in Springfield before the enjoyment continues to the American Precision Museum in Windsor. It’s housed in the Robbins and Lawrence Armory, where they developed the concept of interchangeable parts in the 1840s. One display in the museum is a belt-driven machine that turns gunstocks. As the blank for the stock spins, the cutters gracefully move in and out. The accompanying video is mesmerizing. In addition to many machine tools, they also have Bridgeport milling machine serial number 001 – if you’re a gearhead, you’ll understand its significance.

Vermont Border Run
The American Precision Museum houses tools from the birthplace of modern manufacturing.

Past Windsor, the road resumes its rhythm as it carves up around a golf course. All along the way, I pass small farms with their quintessential red barns. Some have stands selling fresh veggies, and I pick up some tomatoes and sweet corn.

White River Junction, where the White River joins the Connecticut, has long been a transportation hub. The arrival of the railroad in the 19th century cemented its status. Today, it’s at the junction of Interstates 89 and 91 as well as U.S. Routes 4 and 5. All the amenities are near the highway interchange, and it’s easy to miss downtown, but with several restaurants to choose from, it’s a great spot for lunch.

Vermont Border Run
One of the many small farms along U.S. 5.

A sign in the window at Dan & Whit’s General Store in Norwich declares, “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it!” Whether you are looking for an alarm clock or beer pong supplies, they have it. The paint department? It’s in a room behind the deli. Keep going and you’ll find a huge hardware section. The variety of stuff crammed into the space is remarkable, and it’s easy to get lost among the hams and hammers and hammocks.

Leaving Norwich, there is a change. The hurry is gone, and I glide effortlessly around the curves, passing by narrow valley farms and through the villages of Thetford, Fairlee, Bradford, Newbury, and Wells River. In Barnet, there is another perceptible change as U.S. 5 parts ways with the Connecticut River and starts following the smaller Passumpsic River. The curves are tighter, the hills are closer, and at one point, U.S. 5 slips between the northbound and southbound lanes of I-91 for a bit.

Vermont Border Run
There is a “North Country” feel here close to the border.

In St. Johnsbury, State Route 5A splits off as it passes the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum and the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium. Both 19th-century edifices were built by the Fairbanks family. Their Fairbanks Scales Company changed how commerce was done, and the family spent much of their fortune locally. Fine Victorian architecture lines both sides of the road here.

After Lyndonville, U.S. 5 cuts through the landscape to West Burke, where I follow State Route 5A toward Lake Willoughby. The lake is the crown jewel of this ride. Nestled between Mount Pisgah and Mount Hor, it resembles a Norwegian fjord. The road runs up the east side, perched precariously between lake and ledge.

Vermont Border Run
With the border just ahead, it’s time to turn around.

Past Lake Willoughby, there is a “North Country” feel. The rivers flow north toward the St. Lawrence River, the landscape is more open, and the trees seem shorter. Route 5A reconnects with U.S. 5 in Derby Center and heads for the Canadian border at Derby Line. There, within sight of the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, not far from the border, is a sign that declares “End 5.” Just beyond is Quebec and a large sign that says “Bonjour.” It’s time to head back. Maybe I’ll take Route 100.

The post Favorite Ride: Vermont Border Run first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Dirt Roads: An Appreciation

pavement ends sign
When the pavement ends, a new kind of fun begins. Photos by the author.

Andy follows me across the border from Massachusetts into Vermont. We’re riding along a dirt road that cuts through dark, deep woods overlooking the Green River. As my Kawasaki hums below, the final stanza of Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” repeats in my head:

These woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep

It’s a warm August morning, not a snowy evening, but Frost’s silken words apply. For two days we are riding through the very landscapes that inspired Frost’s extraordinary descriptions of ordinary things. As the crow flies, Vermont is about 160 miles long north to south, but we’ll cover 321 miles before reaching our destination of North Troy. We’re on the Vermont Puppy Dog Route, which links unpaved roads from the southern border we just crossed all the way to the northern border with Québec, Canada. 

Stowe, Vermont
Your humble scribe stops to take in an early morning view near Stowe, Vermont.

This isn’t off-roading. It’s dirt-roading. Especially in Vermont, roads like these came about because someone had a destination in mind. They follow rivers along a path of least resistance, or hug the edges of pastures and fields, or take the shorter, steeper route up and over the mountains. They have names like Church Hill Road, Rabbit Hollow Road and Elmore Mountain Road. We’re not blazing new trails or attempting to conquer untamed hilltops, we’re just choosing roads no one felt the need to pave. And since they are often the only roads to certain locales, they take us through areas we’d otherwise miss.

Vermont motorcycle ride
Early morning sun begins to burn off the fog over this beaver pond somewhere in southern Vermont.

What my “Vermont Atlas & Gazetteer” depicts as dirt roads can vary in width, surface and state of repair, but these roads are maintained for public use. Some are graded hard pack wide enough for two pickups hauling horse trailers to pass with room to spare. Others are so narrow that one vehicle must give way for another to pass. A few are bumpy, graveled but navigable two-tracks. You might not want to ride your pristine Harley Ultra on these roads, but you don’t need a dedicated dirt bike either. Any scrambler or adventure bike is up to the task.

As we discover, sticking to dirt roads can present snags. In southern Vermont, the route comes to a locked gate, so we find another dirt road that returns us to the route a few miles on. Farther north, a farm road abruptly ends at a single-track trail of deep mud and big rocks. We backtrack and look for another gray line on the map. As Andy likes to say, it’s all part of the adventure.

covered bridge Vermont
Nothing says Vermont like a dirt road and a covered bridge.

On a motorcycle you already feel more involved in your transportation. When you ride long distances on dirt roads your connection runs deeper. There’s a different kind of mental focus than riding on tarmac. Our pace is slower, with posted limits typically just 35, and limited sight distances are the norm. Inclines and declines can be steep. Steering is more labor intensive, traction varies continuously and braking distances are longer. It’s actually a good way to practice braking control at the limit of lockup on my ’08 Kawasaki Versys, which lacks anti-lock brakes.

dirt road underpass
Dirt roads often go under railroads. The underpasses can get mucky.

We also encounter all manner of critters at close range. A bobcat scrutinizes us from its perch atop a stack of firewood. A fisher cat ambles purposefully across our path with its distinctive four-wristed gait. A docile, ungainly porcupine takes one look at us and promptly turns back. A barred owl perches high in a tree that is rooted low in a roadside ravine, making it head-high with me as it suddenly swoops into flight. 

Mid-state we find ourselves riding through horse country with stately manor homes and white-fenced pastures that remind me of Kentucky. Here we share the road with horse-drawn sulkies driven by nattily dressed people enjoying a trail ride event. (Ride slowly past horses…they often get spooked by motorcycles.) 

Vermont Puppy Dog Rout
Mission accomplished: Andy arrives at the northern terminus of the Vermont Puppy Dog Route.

As we near North Troy, Andy points out a gorge and we stop for a look. There are no signs, but the map describes this beautiful place as Big Falls State Park. In a few miles we reach the Canadian border. When we stop to reflect on our ride, Robert Frost again springs to mind. This time it’s the concluding lines of “The Road Not Taken”:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Go enjoy a nice long ride on dirt roads.

Lovejoy Brook Road
Lovejoy Brook Road follows Lovejoy Brook (imagine that) near Andover, Vermont.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Riding Vermont’s Route 100 From Massachusetts to Memphremagog

Vermont Route 100 motorcycle ride
Vermont is still a state full of small farms. Photos by the author.

Vermont is a four-season state. It offers great skiing in the winter, sweet maple syrup in the spring and fantastic foliage in the autumn. Summer? Summer is for motorcycle riding. Vermont’s topography lends itself to incredible motorcycle roads, and State Route 100 is one of the best. Extending from Massachusetts to nearly the Canadian border, Route 100 traces the eastern flank of the Green Mountains, and it is as fine a motorcycle road as you will find anywhere.

I entered Vermont from North Adams, Massachusetts, where Route 100 zigzags through the quiet towns of Readsboro and Whitingham and loops around Harriman Reservoir before finally turning north. The first town of any size that I encountered was Wilmington, where I stopped at Dot’s Restaurant.

Vermont Route 100 motorcycle ride
A map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

Dot’s is a Wilmington icon. The building dates from 1832 and has been a diner since the 1930s. When Hurricane Irene hit Vermont a few years ago, the Deerfield River backed up and pushed Dot’s off its foundation. After three years and a complete foundation replacement, Dot’s has reopened, and the restaurant is every bit as popular as before.

In the morning, after a good night’s sleep and a great breakfast at the Gray Ghost Inn, I hit the road. Just north of the Gray Ghost, Route 100 twists and turns down to the river. The same storm that nearly destroyed Dot’s also wiped out this section of Route 100. By rebuilding it all at once, many of the off-camber and reducing-radius corners were fixed, yet the nature of the road was not compromised. The miles of new pavement made this section of the road a joy to ride.

Vermont Route 100 motorcycle ride
The Gray Ghost Inn is a family-owned B&B that caters to motorcyclists and offers up a delicious traditional Vermont breakfast.

North of Weston, Route 100 tucks in tight against a series of small lakes. With a few houses on the left and swimmers and boaters on the right, I felt like I was in the scene. The heat of the sun through the pine trees and the mouthwatering smell of burgers on a grill made this stretch a feast for all five senses.

In Plymouth, I took a side trip on Route 100A to Plymouth Notch. This is where President Calvin Coolidge was born and where he retired after his presidency. Elected as Vice President in 1920, he happened to be staying here when President Harding died. His father, a notary public, swore him in as our 30th president at 2:47 a.m. in the front parlor of their home by the light of a kerosene lantern.

Vermont Route 100 motorcycle ride
Founded by Calvin Coolidge’s father, Plymouth Cheese makes some outstanding cheeses.

There are about 20 ski resorts in Vermont and more than half are near Route 100. I turned up Mountain Road toward Killington, the largest ski resort in Vermont. This multilane road with turning lanes, hotels and restaurants was a big departure from the rural landscape of the past 100 miles. It’s all designed for the winter ski crowds, but traffic was light today so I whizzed up past the golf course and the Killington Grand Hotel to the ski area parking lot. I hopped in the gondola to the summit and then hiked another couple hundred yards to the highest point. At 4,229 feet above sea level, the view from Vermont’s second-highest peak is outstanding, and I could see the Green Mountains rippling out in all directions.

Vermont Route 100 motorcycle ride
Swimmers enjoy the cool water of the Mad River.

North of Killington, Route 100 traces through the ripples. It is a fantastic motorcycle road as it dips and swoops through the woods and around the hills through Pittsfield, Stockbridge and Rochester, where I stopped for a maple milk shake at the Rochester Café.

This section of Vermont is known for the Gaps, the roads crossing the Green Mountains other parts of the country refer to as passes. In Rochester, State Route 73 heads over Brandon Gap, while to the east, Bethel Mountain Road crosses Rochester Gap. In Hancock, State Route 125 heads west over Middlebury Gap, while the dirt road to the east crosses Roxbury Gap. The partially unpaved Lincoln Gap heads out of Warren, and State Route 17, Appalachian Gap, leaves out of Waitsfield. I could spend an entire day happily zipping back and forth on these roads.

Vermont Route 100 motorcycle ride
Lower Podunk Road is two miles farther down Route 100.

Riding into Waterbury I came across the first traffic lights I had seen since Wilmington, 130 miles ago. The congestion was worth it though, as just past the final light was the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory. Here I toured the factory, which ended with a scoop of Ben and Jerry’s famous ice cream. Out in back is a “flavor graveyard,” a mock cemetery with granite headstones for discontinued flavors, or the “dearly depinted,” as they call them. RIP, Cool Britannia and Urban Jumble.

Vermont Route 100 motorcycle ride
Hard to find and just plain weird stuff from yesteryear is for sale at the Vermont Country Store.

Stowe, the next town on Route 100, is in a beautiful location below the 4,200-foot summit of Mount Mansfield. Despite being a big tourist town, it does not have a chain hotel, and the accommodations run the full range of amenities and prices. North of Stowe, the landscape opened up to rolling hills and farms. The fields were larger and the forest farther away. The road was full of sweeping turns with a rhythm and flow that made me crack the throttle a little bit more and smile inside my helmet, enjoying a thoroughly wonderful romp through the open country and empty highway. Farther on, I stopped at the Troy General Store. This is what a general store should be; the wooden floor creaked as I walked and stuff was hanging from the ceiling. A sandwich was being made in the deli, and I could smell a pizza in the oven.

Near Coventry, at the intersection with State Route 105, Route 100 just ends. After 200 miles, I expected something more than a 100 END sign, but, disappointingly, there it was. It was only 10 miles to the Canadian border so I decided to head there. I rode through Newport and along the east side of Lake Memphremagog to the village of Derby Line.

Vermont Route 100 motorcycle ride
St. Mary Star of the Sea church rises above Newport and Lake Memphremagog.
Vermont Route 100 motorcycle ride
The beautiful church building dominates the skyline over the lake.

The “Line,” in this case, is the border between Vermont and Canada. It passes right through the Haskell Free Library and Opera House: half of the building is in Derby Line, the other half is in Stanstead, Québec. In the reading room, the border is painted on the floor. Upon request, the librarian took my picture, where I stood with one foot in the USA and one foot in Canada. I couldn’t go any farther north without a passport.

Vermont Route 100 motorcycle ride
The Haskell Free Library and Opera House straddles the U.S./Canada border.

Source: RiderMagazine.com