THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Northeast Kingdom

Email|Print| Text size + By Tom Haines
Globe Staff / July 16, 2006

HARDWICK, Vt. -- Sitting at a wooden booth in a roadside restaurant, Blair Walker, rider of bikes and fixer of things, spies a roll of duct tape on the floor.

``Speaking of duct tape," he says to me, ``you could use it to cover the air holes in your riding shoes."

Not a bad idea. If only it and the duct tape had arrived three hours earlier, before Walker and I pedaled into the dark deluge of a summer storm on the first of three rides in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom.

We wait for an iceberg lettuce salad and pizza, staples of the Northern New England diet. The dining room looks as though it has not been remodeled in decades, but on this night two burly carpet-layers begin carting away booths . Our pizza arrives.

``Would you guys mind moving?" one worker asks.

Timing is everything.

7:15 p.m.

Cold rain splats and soaks: hair, skin , and cycling shorts layered with grit spun up from the road. No summer evening this. Get home and stay there.

Pickup trucks barrel up Route 14, blowing water in their wake. In Albany , the stone monument to residents who fought in the Revolution, the War of 1812, and on down to Desert Storm squats, silent. Little purple flowers shudder.

This is no postcard, no wish of a place that draws people from the big city. Fields rise and fall toward forested ridges, true. But not now, as cloud and fog hang above yards cluttered with forgotten Fords.

In Irasburg , no one lingers around the gazebo, or plays ball on the common. Engines growl as the edge of darkness comes not at 9, but barely past 7.

The cycling route was meant to continue through the western terrain of the Northeast Kingdom, in a loop of 58 miles through Barton, Glover, and Greensboro Bend . It is cut short by too much weather and too little ambition.

A side road leads back to Craftsbury Common, a village tucked high above the rest. The pace slows as the pitch rises. Within the cloak of trees, the evening hugs, friendlier than before. Behind an inn sits an open garage, perfect for prying off soggy shoes.

11:30 a.m. the next day The sky is big and blue. White clouds skip into the distance. Even better, a stiff breeze hits the back so bike wheels spin with only decent effort at 25 miles per hour.

Route 114 north toward Norton, and Canada just beyond, is thickly wooded. Muddy trails by the road are littered with fat footprints. As promoters of the area say, out here it is mostly moose.

Then, around a bend, a clearing opens to show a train track and, just beyond, a clutter of huge signs painted by hand in bright colors. Written on one:

``GOD DECLARES, CLAIMS, and INTERPRETATES / EXPLAINS UP TO AND NOT BEYOND HIS FRUITFUL AND `ALL FULFILLED' WRITTEN HOLY BIBLE AS OF A.D. / C.E. 70."

This sun-stroked 70-mile loop at the state's northeastern edge, tracing the Canadian border east, then the Connecticut River south, seems another world, all big red barns and river bends. But the pedaling goes dead against gusting wind, and the pace slows to 15, 14, even 13 miles per hour. Work, work, work up each little rise, then slough down the other side.

Nearing the town of Island Pond , a grazing moose freezes in a stand of trees . A few miles more and there will be little to do but wander lakeside shops and settle over spaghetti.

Along the Connecticut, though, it is a battle until the end of the upwind leg when, without so much as a car or another cyclist to clutter the view, a small green sign announces the town of Bloomfield.

12:15 p.m. the day after that You have got to be kidding. Trucks on State Route 2 west of St. Johnsbury are blowing water and the steep climb up the North Danville Road is splattered with rain.

A sign points the way to the Old North Church, built in the 1800s, but the dirt side road is mud. Still, the winding trace of the Bruce Badger Memorial Highway , named for a man whose life began in 1946 and ended in 1968, in Vietnam, feels good. This loop, a quick 35 miles through the southern edge of the Northeast Kingdom is similar to central Vermont: busier, but home to hilly hamlets.

At the weekly market in the center of Danville, Cornelia Hasenfuss waits beneath a sturdy umbrella to sell garlic scapes , radishes, and more from the fields of Old Shaw Farm . Even though it is only Wednesday, Marvin Bailey , peddler of pickled produce, is worried the rain will keep coming. On Friday, he has to pick peas.

Past Peacham, a young man in a baseball jacket pushes a mountain bike along the roadside. He is carrying a broken pedal in his hand. Sure, he says, you can go up and over Barnet Center, to East Barnet, then pick up Route 5 back to St. Johnsbury. Better, though, to continue straight to Barnet and then meet up with Route 5. The hills are not as bad.

He waves and says goodbye with a question: Is it hard riding with those skinny tires?

Contact Tom Haines at thaines@globe.com.

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