Locals call it "Vermonter's Vermont" and the Northeast Kingdom (a term coined in the nineteen forties by US Senator George Aiken). The most remote and most beautiful part of the Green Mountain State, the Kingdom has successfully dodged the massive tourist development that's entrenched elsewhere in the state. Quintessentially Vermont, with picturesque villages, covered bridges, and green rolling hills dotted with old farms, it's the perfect place for two-wheeled merriment. Best of all, the undulating topography remains unsullied by tourists, and on our late August ride, nary a Winnebago raised its ugly grille.
Day One: Run for the Border
We breakfast the first day with Chapter C of the Vermont Gold Wing Riders Club. Some thirty strong, they are on the second day of a two-day "mystery' ride, an annual event in which one team, rider and pillion, leads the group around northern New England to destinations unannounced. Like us, they're drying out after two days of torrential rains, and several members are polishing their muddy Hondas in the parking lot as they gulp their coffees.
We bid them adieu because we've got a good bit of riding ahead of us today. As much as we look forward to exploring the endless Vermont back roads, photographer Matt Peyton and I opt for an international adventure today, guiding our Beemers northeast to cross the border into the Canadian province of Quebec. Our French language skills are nearly nonexistent, but that's okay. How do you say "These curves were made for leanin'" en Francais? Heck if we know.
We pick up Route 5 north out of Newport and soon arrive at the border in Derby Line, Vermont. As many times as we've been abroad, Matt and I still get all goose-pimply as we confront the Mounties at the border. Turns out it's no big deal, since all you need is your driver's license and the answers to some simple questions, like your birthplace and how long you plan to be in the country. We're lightly packed and present no threat, apparently.
Switching to Route 143 shortly o'er rder and heading to the ortheast brings gently sloping countryside, with the requisite barns and farmland. We stop at a pick-'em-yourself roadside stand and stretch the hamstrings. In French, the area we're traveling is called Les Cantons de I'Est (Eastern Townships) and L'Estrie, a more French-sounding term coined by Bishop Maurice O'Bready in 1946. Residents are called Townshippers in English, and Estriens in French.
From Lennoxvile we head east on 8 toward Lac-Megantic. The roads here in Quebec prove deserted and sleepy, entirely safe from other drivers, and the least exciting of our four-day ride, but that's fine. They prove a good warm up. Our German motorcycles - BMW R1150R (Matt) and BMW K1200RS (your truly) - are the biggest we have ridden since we took our MSF courses together almost 20 years ago and this is our first tour on them. I'm humble enough to admit they take getting used to. I had purchased my K bike on eBay only three weeks earlier from a seller in Texas and it's gratifying to know that both machines are running flawlessly.
Lac-Mégantic is the least visited part of Quebec's "Eastern Townships" and we made it our destination today precisely for that reason. There's superb scenery here and the lure of water sports-swimming, windsurfing, sailing, and our own overwhelming fave, snacking in a waterside cafe.
We saddle up and ride from Lac-Mégantic on 263 due south to Woburn, then pick up 212 west through Notre Dame des Bois. After a stop at a fly-filled cafe in La Patrie, onward we go, south an Route 3. The narrow roads are ours and we enjoy having plenty of space to pick our lines through the turns.
Route 3 takes us south over the border again back to the US. The border policeman warns us of moose on the road as he peers into our tankbags. We ask about the moose potential. Has he seen any recently? We're slightly on edge after seeing a road sign a few clicks backs in Canada reading "Moose Alley." Yup, he says, three days ago a colleague narrowly escaped hitting one in his SUV. Moose and said Chevy came so close there was "moose poop on the running boards," the Mountie elaborates. Expecting to see a moose any second, I've got my fingers covering the front brake lever. But the moose elude us for days.
In West Stewartstown, New Hampshire, we follow SH 114 west and make a wrong turn onto 141 and find ourselves at the Canadian border once more. Oops. Funny how the night makes things that much harder. And colder. I kick myself for forgetting my electric vest. My riding partner is toasty in his full tour gear and I thought I could get away with a Vanson and heated handgrips. It's summertime, and the riding is easy, n'est ce pas?