MONTREAL — Mount Horrid certainly lived up to its name.
We climbed it on the fifth day of our weeklong, 400-mile cycling trip last May from Montreal to Boston. To that point, the ride had been spectacular, everything I’d hoped for when I suggested it to my wife and two college-age children over the winter.
Montreal, where my son, Tom, attends college, is one of the top biking cities in the world, the epicenter of 3,000 miles of cycling trails in Quebec known as Route Verte, or the Green Route. From the cornfields of southern Quebec, through the farmlands and lakefront of Vermont’s Champlain Islands, to the bustle of Burlington and the college-town charm of Middlebury, the riding was easy, and the scenery sublime.
I’d dreamed of a long-distance bike ride since high school, but aside from day trips that almost always ended at ice cream stands, never rode more than 100 miles. After marriage, then children, vacations evolved into pleasant weeklong stays by beaches or lakes, governed by the unforgiving but predictable school schedule. As chief organizer, I didn’t have to do much persuading or consulting; I knew what my wife, Patrice, and I liked; we learned what worked with the kids; and habits formed.
But with college classes, summer jobs, and young adult opinions to consider, a new approach was needed. I broached the idea of a long-distance bike ride to Tom, who couldn’t help but catch the cycling bug in bike-happy Montreal, and he signed on. My daughter, Laura, a strong athlete and an even stronger-minded individual, asked to join us, and another piece fell into place.
Then Patrice — a lover of the outdoors and adventure, but not the world’s most avid cyclist — volunteered to be the support driver and advance scout for food and shelter. Suddenly, we’d solved our thorny gear and logistical issues and transformed a solitary trip into an unforgettable family outing.
That still left Mount Horrid. We’d wheeled into Middlebury at midafternoon the day before. The overcast skies of the previous few days burned off, and the town was all blue skies and red brick. Patrice secured a huge room at the historic Middlebury Inn, built in 1827 and a dominant presence on the town’s Court Square.
After a shower, we walked across the Otter River to tour the campus of Middlebury College, which was gearing up for graduation later that week, and the small but lively downtown. We had quickly fallen into the habit of finding the local bike shop at every stop on the trip, and consulting with cyclists there on the next day’s ride; invariably, they suggested better directions than the route I’d plotted.
This time, we were told there was only one way across the Green Mountains — Brandon Gap, the southernmost of the passes across the national forest. I’d favored the Middlebury Gap, mostly for the scenery, but learned the roads were bad, and Brandon was the easiest way across. If that’s true, I don’t ever want to try the hard way.
We were up and out of the hotel at 7:30. The men went to fuel up on eggs and bacon at Steve’s Park Diner, catty corner across Court Square; the women headed to a coffeehouse. With two vegans and two carnivores in the family, the trip could easily have turned into a culinary nightmare. But Vermont is nothing if not solicitous to vegans; there were plenty of animal-free options along the way.
We rode south for a relatively flat 16 miles before turning east on Route 73 and heading up into the Green Mountain National Forest. Tom and I had ridden the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire, and I thought we knew hills. But Brandon Gap was steep and densely wooded, with no expansive views to divert the mind.
When the signs helpfully noted we were on a 12 percent grade, I made the mistake of looking up. I still had a few hundred yards to go — but my legs refused to pedal further and I hopped off the bike while my younger, stronger riding partners powered on to the top. There were still 200 miles to go, but we’d faced our biggest challenge. It was all downhill from there — literally.
Two hours later, we reached our day’s destination, Killington. May, as it turned out, is a great time to see Vermont: The leaf-peeping and snow-seeking crowds are nowhere to be found; hotel rooms are in ample supply; and shop owners are happy to stop and chat. While half the town of Killington was closed, several restaurants were open. Seeking a place where we could all eat dinner together, I asked a resident if there were any good vegetarian restaurants around. “What do vegetarians eat?” he asked sincerely. We opted for Italian.Continued...