I’ve logged a lot of miles with my wife, Meredith, riding pillion, but I’ve never seen this before: she’s back there snapping photos of a straight, four-lane interstate, as if we’re riding God’s own highway.
“What’s up?” I ask. “Well, it’s the most amazing thing,” she says. “I’m looking in front and behind, but there aren’t any cars appearing.”
She’s right. Where we come from, in California’s Bay Area, four-lane super slab is a form of purgatory. There have been moments when I’ve been tempted to insert my finger in the accessory outlet of my BMW and terminate the whole affair—and if it provided sufficient voltage, I might have. Don’t get me wrong: California is a beautiful place, but it’s continually exceeding its carrying capacity.
But here, we have the road to ourselves much of the time. To the east, the Connecticut River spreads out, dotted with occasional kayakers towing tiny barges of beer. To the west, we catch glimpses of ski areas along the spine of the Green Mountains. It’s important that we stay alert—but in this case, it’s for “swamp donkeys” (moose), not cars. On the rare occasions when we do see autos, the passengers wave.
The Fine Art of Porch Sitting
Northern New England has had ample centuries of civilization to become as mad as California, but somehow it hasn’t. The traffic is barely more frenetic than when Meredith and I lived in Brattleboro and Newfane, 30-plus years ago. Maybe four feet of winter snow creates a self-limiting population. Whatever the reason, I’m thankful for it.
On the first morning, we leave the Four Columns Inn in Newfane (15 minutes north of Brattleboro) and aim directly for two old favorites: the neighboring towns of Woodstock and Quechee. The latter is the home of the Simon Pearce ceramics gallery and its restaurant, The Mill, places that Meredith loves, verified by regular appearances on our credit card bill, with lots of digits on the wrong side of the decimal point.
Motorcycle & Gear
Helmet: Shoei RF-1200
Jacket: Aerostich Darien Light
Boots: Aerostich Combat Lite
Gloves: Aerostich Competition Elkskin Ropers
In 2011, Hurricane Irene took out the historic covered bridge next to the restaurant. The side of the building is discolored at flood level, and it strains credulity to think the water rose that high. Back then, you’d have needed scuba gear to explore the ceramics furnace on the ground floor. Farther south, the town of Wilmington was so isolated by the flood that it had to be supplied via helicopter.
We ride north on Route 12 to Barnard and a favorite swim spot: Silver Lake, where there’s also a fine deli across the street from a public beach. It’s an amazing place to don goggles and cap and swim to the far side, but today it also looks like a great day to be electrocuted and sink to the bottom in a charred mass. So, we retreat to the porch, and sure enough, the skies illuminate and the light show begins. I’m glad to be operating at normal voltage levels and enjoying a coffee under cover.
Turns out, porch sitting is a theme that will run throughout our trip. Almost daily, we find ourselves seeking shelter under the covered porches of grange halls and general stores throughout New England, waiting for storms to pass. And, serendipitously, our sitting around pays big dividends in conversations with locals happy to tell us about roads, attractions, and, most important, the locations of the best ice cream stands.