Progress, like the odometer, rolls on and on. Time flies, wheels turn, numbers roll higher, and just about everything increases in complexity. Forests give way to farms, that concede to homes, that spawn shopping centers, that lure expanding city boundaries. But unlike the forces that drive the increasingly familiar conurbation, a good traveler will attest that progress, in many ways, doesn't always have to be "full speed ahead."
A few miles east of Troy, New York, the rush-hour strangled suburbia finally begins to relax its iron grip. The Harley-Davidson's air-cooled twin is panting from the slow, dicing slog through endless lines of commuters fleeing nearby Albany's city center. You'd think that numerous trips up the Northway to Lake George each June for the yearly Americade Rally would've taught me to avoid the five o'clock knot that grips the roads surrounding the Empire State's capital. No such luck - again.
Eventually, the eastbound line of cars on Route 7 begins to develop gaps as the metallic mass is slowly siphoned off into the surrounding smaller towns and neighborhoods. Soon, the distant Green Mountains come into view sporting an emerald cover of early summer foliage. With this area having been initially claimed by the French in the early 1600s, it's easy to see how their original descriptor les monts verts has remained in today's name, Vermont.
Motorcycle & Gear
2009 Harley-Davidson XR1200
Helmet: HJC IS-Max
Jacket: Olympia Moto Sports GT Air Transition
Pants: Olympia Moto Sports Ranger 2
Boots: Sidi Doha
Gloves: Held Air
Luggage: Harley-Davidson Genuine Motor Accessories
Just a few miles over the border, I rumble into the town of Bennington. Earlier research indicated that Bennington College is hosting a big to-do and motel rooms would be in short supply this weekend. That's unfortunate, because plenty of tidy looking establishments are within easy walking distance of the lively downtown center. The sidewalks, decorated with colorful hanging baskets and American flags, teem with shoppers, strollers, and late afternoon partiers looking for an early dinner. It's a fun, welcoming scene that makes me wish I could park here for the evening.
With the sun slowly fading behind me, I put the whip to the XR1200 and continue east on Route 9. The smooth tarmac winds gracefully skyward through the Green Mountain National Forest and toward Haystack Mountain. Though the ride is excellent and traffic delightfully light, the near 3000-foot elevation spawns chilly temperatures that soon dispatch what little warmth my lightweight summer gloves are harboring. By the time I stop in the small town of Wilmington in the Deerfield Valley, my will to continue has gone the same route as the feeling in my fingertips. Apparently, honest-to-goodness summer arrives late in these parts. I make note of the obvious landmarks, drop a few proverbial breadcrumbs at the intersection of Routes 9 and 100, and abandon the tour's designated track in search of someplace warm in nearby Keene, New Hampshire. Though on my own tonight, the good news is that my next two evening stays are pre-booked.
To Vermont and Back Again
Back on track, I throttle north on Route 100. The brisk morning air zings through my helmet vents, popping my eyes open with caffeine-like efficiency while the sun's morning rays are highlighting the fact that the Green Mountain National Forest truly lives up to its moniker.
With a rightward swing toward East Dover, I notice the road narrowing as it begins hugging the rugged banks of the aptly named Rock River. Arriving in tiny Williamsville, I'm delighted to both see and use the hamlet's historic covered bridge. Built in 1870, this structure has unfortunately seen better days and is supposedly destined for obsolescence. A local resident tells me that a move is afoot to replace the span with a modern version of similar design. Here's hoping that aesthetics and character win out over modern concrete efficiency.
Turning north on Route 30, I soon come across yet another covered bridge in Townshend. Hovering majestically above the West River, the Scott Bridge entertains only pedestrian traffic these days. But at 277-feet in length, this Town Lattice Truss design still stands proudly as the longest wooden span in Vermont. Wide pullouts and ample photo opportunities make this 140-year old structure well worth a visit.
In Ludlow, the trek takes an eastward turn on Route 131 and soon crosses the Connecticut River where it adopts the new identity of New Hampshire Route 103. Rolling into Claremont, I'm surprised that a spot so small on the map could leave such a striking visual impression. The city's sprawling Monadnock Mills complex that rises straight from the banks of the rock-strewn, tumbling falls of the Sugar River harkens back to New England's days as a major textile producer. Built from 1837 to 1900, this group of red brick structures is being refitted as a mixed-use area designed to house businesses, restaurants, and condominiums. The city's commercial wool production may be long gone, but it's encouraging to see that so much care is being taken to honor this remaining legacy of the region's early industrial history. There's no doubt that Claremont's 19th-century mill town ambiance offers a tempting place to drop the kickstand and take a little stroll.
Route 10, just south of Newport, New Hampshire, quickly wriggles free of the city's retail-oriented outskirts. The now quiet, two-lane tarmac winds through wide valleys and past glassy lakes that perfectly reflect the trees, churches, and cottages dotting the shores. Along a desolate stretch of Route 123, the sign guy waves me to a stop, due to roadwork up ahead. "Marty" assures me that the winters really do put a hurting on the surfaces and that his crew spends all summer patching and repairing cracks and potholes. He also informs me that the brand new XR1200 is the coolest Sportster he's ever seen. Well, aside from his, of course.
With an abrupt left on Route 202, I turn back north. The hasty hands of the clock preclude a tempting exploration of the state capital of Concord and have me skirting the stoplights on Route 127. The sheer number of motorcyclists out enjoying the day is impressive for a Friday. Though with the region's open terrain offering numerous, expansive mountain views, my fellow two-wheelers are up this way for good reason.