Vermont Trip 2012

Just returned from a week-long, 2000+ mile camping/road trip through New York and Vermont with Renee. All of our photos from the trip can be found on my flickr page. Here is a rough outline of the route:

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Day 1 | Driving Day: Jello-O, Veganism, and Brown Tract Pond Campground

The first day was spent mostly sitting in a car — the idea was to get most of the driving out of the way early on so that we could have shorter distances to travel the rest of the week. We did stop by the Jell-O Museum in LeRoy, New York, but it unfortunately didn’t open until 1pm on Sundays so we had to just take in the sights from the outside.

We briefly stopped in Syracuse for some lunch at the Strong Hearts Cafe — a small coffee house with vegan food offerings. I was excited to try this place out since I have never tried well-made vegan soy foods. I had a “chicken” salad sandwich and also tried Renee’s BBQ tempeh. Both were very tasty and I wouldn’t mind eating more vegan fare in the future. I however, don’t think I could ever pass up a juicy steak.

After eight hours of travelling, we finally made it to the Brown Tract Pond Campground. The campground is a New York state park, and it is in the middle of nowhere. Brown Tract Pond is a very nicely maintained campground with a small beach on a beautiful lake, no cell service, and a seven-mile dirt road separating campers from the closest town. As great as the campground is, we happened to arrive when it was getting dark, and a thunderstorm was rolling in. We set up our campsite in the rain, and then proceeded to eat our purchased sandwiches in the car.

Not really roughing it, I know. But this was a vacation, not n exam to earn a camping merit badge.

Day 2 | Wilderness Day: Shallow Lake, Kayaking, and the Milky Way

By morning, we woke up and the skies had cleared up, leaving us with a nice dry view of our campsite.

Since the weather was now sunny and cool, we decided to hike to Shallow Lake, about a 1 1/2 mile trek from the campsite through Adirondack forest. It was refreshing to stretch our legs after having spent almost the entire previous day cooped up in a car. The hike had some interesting sections to it, including a fern grove akin to the flora found in Jurassic Park and a log bridge that bounced quite a bit.

We eventually made it to Shallow Lake, ate some trail mix and drank lots of water, and then made the return hike back to camp.

While our morning was spent on (mostly) dry land, the afternoon took a turn in the opposite direction as we decided to go kayaking. We drove to Racquette Lake looking for a marina that would rent us a kayak and eventually found one. For twenty-five dollars we set off into the lake, surrounded by ninety-nine miles of shoreline and the Adirondock mountains.

We kayaked 2 1/2 miles through the lake and inlet until we were stopped by a very small waterfall.

After kayaking back another 2 1/2 miles, we were exhausted and ready for some food. We feasted on some delicious fried seafood at what looked like the best restaurant at Old Forge, Slickers. Not sure if it was the full day of activity, but fried fish and french fries never tasted so good. Afterwards we went across the street to an arcade (!) and I whooped Renee in air hockey 7 to 2. I won’t go into the details though of my pathetic performance against Renee’s skeeball skills.

We eventually made our way back to camp as it was getting dark. After a quick telescope collimation (telescopes don’t like being bumped around in the trunk of a car over rough roads), we headed down to the campground’s beach for an evening of star gazing. We finished setting up as soon as the sun set behind the mountains. Renee spearheaded the effort of finding Messier objects to cross off our marathon list while I fooled around trying to take photos. The skies in this part of New York are some of the darkest in the country, and we were treated with fantastic observing conditions. I have never seen the Milky Way so bright before!

After we finished observing, we stumbled through the completely dark woods back to our campsite.

Day 3 | “B” Day: Branbury, Beer, and Burlington

After such a fun and exciting previous day, it was a little sad to have to leave the Adirondacks — I will definitely want to go back and camp in that region again in the future. We packed up our site and drove for three hours to Branbury campground just south of Middlebury, Vermont. Although Branbury Campground is also beside a giant lake, this location is definitely more family oriented and not in a place where the bears outnumber humans. It’s a very nice area if you don’t mind all of the people, and we were happy because it offered a great 360 degree view of the night sky for stargazing.

After setting up camp, Renee and I headed to Burlington for some evening fun. On the way there, Vermont’s eco-friendly-let’s-save-the-planet-and-be-green persona became apparent in many ways, most notably through the huge solar farm we saw on the side of the road. It was pretty neat.

We made it to Burlington, and our first stop was Magic Hat Brewery. I’ve been on a few brewery tours before, but I particularly liked this one because instead of solely focusing on their own process, Magic Hat gave a pretty broad overview of the history of beer and microbrewing in the United States. Additionally, their gift shop is a grown-up Mardi Gras carnival funhouse with free samples of most of their beers on tap. Unfortunately, I forgot to take any pictures of the actual brewery except for one of Renee at the top of the tower in front of their building.

After Magic Hat, we drove deeper into the heart of Burlington to be tourists and eat some dinner. After some more delicious fried seafood, we headed back to camp for the night.

Day 4 | Dairy Day: Bagels, Cabot, Ben and Jerry’s, and Soft Serve

Wednesday was Renee’s most eagerly awaited day of the trip: dairy day. We started the day off by eating breakfast at the Middlebury Bagel & Deli. The shop’s bagels were hot and fresh and their homemade cream cheeses delicious. My particular favorite cheeses were the horshradish and bacon, and the scallion.

Next we were off to Cabot, Vermont to tour the Cabot Creamery. The tour was interesting because unlike most other tours that show only parts of the actual production process or use demos set up specifically for the tours, Cabot walks you around their actual creamery — with tourists getting in the way of employees and forklifts in the narrow hallways. As informative and cool as the cheese making process is, no doubt the best part of the tour is when you get to sample nearly all of the varieties of cheese Cabot makes. After sampling around twenty varieties of cheese, I was so stuffed that there was no need to eat lunch. Renee seemed to get pretty filled up on samples too.

After Cabot, we made a quick stop at the non-dairy related Bragg Farm and Sugar House to fill up on maple candies and maple syrup. Yum.

The next Dairy Day stop was at Ben and Jerry’s. Although the commercialization of Ben and Jerry’s makes visiting not as personal of an experience as all of the other tours we took (timed and scripted narration instead of being able to freely interact with the guide), it is still worth going on at least once. After having had our ice cream at the end of the tour, and then purchasing even more ice cream afterwards (to try some flavors we can’t get here in Ohio), Renee and I both agree that although Ben and Jerry’s is decent, it doesn’t even come close to Cleveland’s own Mitchell’s.

The home stretch of Dairy Day came less than a mile from our campsite. Lured by the promise of twenty-four flavors, how can you say no?

Day 5 | Popping the Question: Townshend State Park and Bald Mountain

Thursday was my most eagerly awaited day — only because Renee didn’t know it was coming. That was because it was the day I planned to ask Renee to marry me!

We started the day by travelling to our final campsite of the trip — Townshend State Park in southern Vermont. It was a dreary morning and I was worried that rain might hamper our hiking plans. When we arrived at the park, the weather finally cleared up and it became reasonably sunny. We set up camp as quickly as possible so that we could go hike up Bald Mountain before it got too warm. By this point in our trip, we had become experts at setting up the tent. The Townshend State Park campsite was particularly interesting because it was on a pretty steep slope. To account for steepness, and possibly the rain runoff that occurs on such a hill, there was a platform where we could set up the tent. It’s something I had never seen before but it was pretty cool!

Immediately after setting up, we set off for the trail up Bald Mountain. Although the trail sign stated that the hike was only 1.7 miles long, it rose 1100 feet in elevation and the distance felt much further.

Not only was the hike long and very steep at times, it was incredibly buggy. We also kept thinking that we were getting close to the top, but it wasn’t until our fourth or fifth “I think we’re almost there” that we actually made it.

The view from the top was pretty nice, but the sound of thunder in the distance meant we had to look around quickly before making our way back down. There was one thing that I wanted to do before we left, and that was to set up the camera on a timer to take a picture of both of us at the top of the mountain. I found a rock to rest the camera on, and had Renee stand-in for a test shot so that I could make sure we would both fit in the camera’s frame. One test shot, a second test shot, another shot with me in it, another shot; I think at this point Renee started to get a little annoyed just standing around while I dabbled with my camera. I promised her just one more shot but instead pressed the record button to capture some video:

Pictures speak more than words, but Renee was definitely surprised, and she accepted my proposal! Another friendly hiker, Greg, made it up to the top of the mountain shortly after and offered to take a photo of us.

After some more celebrating, chatting, drinking lots of water, and eating trail mix, we made our way back down. The hike back was still very steep, long, and buggy, but with both our excitement, it went by pretty quickly.

After the hike, we cleaned up and drove in to Manchester to eat some wood-fired brick oven pizza for dinner — yum. Afterwards we got back to the campsite, started a fire, waited to see if the sky would clear up for stargazing, and when it didn’t went to get some well needed rest.

Day 6 | Driving Day part 2: Manchester, Bennington, Albany, and Rochester

Our last day of the trip started early again (going to bed early the night before, we had gotten up at 6 am). After packing up our campsite, we drove-in to Manchester to eat some donuts for breakfast. On the way there, we saw some goats on a farm and decided to stop in and say hi.

After the goats and then after devouring some Boston Creme and Cookies and Creme donuts, we drove some more until we reached Bennington, Vermont. Apparently the soil in the Bennington area is perfect for making pottery clay, and so many artists moved to that area to practice their craft. We took a self-guided tour at Bennington Potters to see how they make their vessels, and as cool as it was, I definitely don’t remember being this excited about it:

Next we drove through Albany, New York and stopped for some lunch at Mr. Pio Pio‘s Latin-American kitchen. All I have to say is that it was the most delicious food we ate during our trip, and it was the best Latin-American food I have ever had. If I am ever anywhere near Albany again, this is where I am going to stop in to eat.

By the end of the day, we made it to Rochester, New York where we could look forward to sleeping in normal hotel beds for the first time in a week. Spending a night in Rochester helped break up the long drive (the next day we were a mere four hours from Cleveland) as well as letting us stop in to one of the Blackburns’ favorite restaurants: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. It was the first time I had ever eaten there, but the ribs were good, the sauces were great, and the mac and cheese was untouchable. It was the perfect way to end our road trip.


Originally published at bertwagner.com on August 18, 2012.