No longer summer, not quite autumn - on impulse I stopped by Vermont's newest motorcycle dealership, Lucky's Motorsports. With the Beemer more than a little ragged-looking after my crash in the Berkshires, I was hoping to acquire a photogenic factory ride for Shamrock use. And as luck would have it, Ken Hall graciously offered me the use of not one, but three different Indian Motorcycle models. Good timing and fortune combined: the Indian Motorcycle factory closed its doors as I was finishing this tour and neither my doctor nor my girlfriend knew I was once again straddling two wheels.
Day 1: Riding the Gap Roads
Route 4W leads over Sherburne Pass (2,150 ft.), but the words Pico and Killington are more familiar because of the ski areas located on the slopes of Vermont's second-highest mountain. The rest of the east/west passages over the Green Mountains are known as "gaps" and they are the most popular motorcycle touring roads in Vermont.
Brandon Gap (2,170 ft.) is the next passage to the north and the Indian Chief Roadmaster quickly carries me over the mountain. Then I'm twisting through Satan's Kingdom and along the shore of Lake Dunmore en route to the next gap road: Route 125, also known as the Robert Frost Memorial Drive and the easiest of these east/west passages. After cresting the Middlebury Gap (2,149 ft.), I coast down to the Old Hancock Hotel. It's no longer a hotel but the excellent food served by the Vermont Home Bakery makes it an ideal place to stop and wait for your buddies to catch up.
Granville Gulf, the narrow channel squeezed between the Northfield and Green Mountain ranges, is in places barely wide enough to accommodate the highway. Moss Glen Falls, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the state, cascades from the heights to the edge of Route 100.
From Irasville, it's only 6.2 miles to the top of the Appalachian Gap (2,365 ft.) and just 9.5 miles from the gap to the western base of the Green Mountains, but this serpentine mountain road is the number-one destination for motorcyclists throughout New England. Hidden hairpin and double hairpin turns on extreme grades would make it a challenge even as a closed track, but loose gravel, cars, and even the occasional logging truck make it a risky run even for those intimately familiar with it. I don't believe I've ever made it over "The Gap" without scraping the pegs and even though I try to avoid it, the floorboard on the Indian Chief grinds against pavement on a severely banked hairpin.
Route 17 takes me through Bristol and west across the undulating Champlain Lowlands. The hidden left turn onto Route 23 is simply marked WEYBRIDGE, but brings me to the campus of Middlebury College. Middlebury has always prided itself on its educational roots, but it was iron and marble that built this town. Vermont's first commercial marble quarries were established in Middlebury and the method of welding cast steel was invented here.
The region's slate quarries (slate once was used to make roof shingles) made Castleton a wealthy town during the nineteenth century and the houses along Main Street reflect the prosperity of that era. The Castleton River has cut a pass through the Taconic Mountains, which I use to return to Rutland.
Day 2: Historic Southern Vermont
After a pleasant morning ride through the Taconics and down the Mettawee Valley, I arrive at "Malfunction Junction." Manchester Center is where Routes 7A, 30 and 11 come together in the midst of a retail nightmare. Dozens of top brand-name factory outlet stores lure status-conscious bargain shoppers to this small village from as far away as Rhode Island. Unfortunately, there are no stoplights to direct the confluence of vehicular and pedestrian traffic, hence the nickname. In Manchester, grand nineteenth-century mansions are ensconced on both sides of Route 7A. Open to the public, the most famous of these homes is Hildene, the Georgian Revival mansion of Robert Todd Lincoln.