At other stops, the food was unforgettable. Maybe it was the riding, and all the calories we burned; maybe it was Vermont. But from the very first croissant we ate at our starting point, the Maison des Cyclistes across from Montreal’s Parc Lafontaine, we found so many gems along the route that we might actually have gained weight.
Our first night’s stay, at the Ransom Bay Inn and Restaurant in tiny Alburgh, Vt., set the tone. The inn is a restored 18th-century stagecoach stop, owned by the hospitable Rick and Loraine Walker, who say that about 60 percent of their guests in good weather are cyclo-tourists. While there, we shared our table with a Quebec couple who were cycling the trails around Lake Champlain in preparation for a bike trip to Cuba.
The Walkers also came to the rescue during our only mechanical malfunction on the trip. Tom noticed that his spoke was broken as we rode away from the inn, headed south on the Champlain Bikeway. The innkeepers helpfully called around and located a bike shop that could help — 30 miles away, in Plattsburgh, N.Y., on the wrong side of Lake Champlain. But since we had a support driver, a major headache became a minor inconvenience. While Laura and I pedaled south along the lakefront through the farmlands of North Hero Island, my wife and son drove off, repaired his bike, and rejoined the route at lunch, 20 miles down the road.
Burlington was so enticing — and the weather so threatening — we spent two nights there. As we found leaving Montreal, approaching and departing large urban areas can be tricky. Both cities had well-marked bike routes to get you in and out of town with minimal interaction with traffic, but you have to pay attention; they zig and zag often.
For the vegans and the meat-eaters among us, Burlington was a food paradise. We sampled the ciders and burgers at the Farmhouse Tap & Grill, the local eggs and bacon at The Skinny Pancake, two kinds of steak — cauliflower and beef — at Leunig’s Bistro, and Tom and I even tried in vain to split the bucketful of ice cream known as a Vermonster at Ben & Jerry’s.
In Vergennes, a pretty little city south of Burlington, we followed some fellow cyclists and found the 3 Squares Cafe for lunch. The menu was well-stocked for vegans and carnivores alike; the tweet from that afternoon — “Cheese on my BLT! Gotta love Vermont.” — says it all.
On day 5 we found ourselves in Chester, Vt., an artsy little town reminiscent of Oak Bluffs and its Victorian cottages. The Moon Dog Cafe there boasted a well-stocked juice bar, vegan soups, and salads. And in Brattleboro, on our final night on the road, Patrice found a great Mayan restaurant, Three Stones, that served classic Mexican food with and without meat.
South of Killington, the final leg of the Vermont portion of the trip gradually descended to Brattleboro along Route 100, one of the state’s most scenic roads. The ride was easy and beautiful, but sad; poignant reminders of the destruction of Hurricane Irene were everywhere. “Please keep out, Irene already robbed us,” a sign on one boarded-up, broken-down house pleaded.
Our last day initially was intended to take two. But with rain stalling us in Vermont, and the real world calling, we voted to make one final push from Brattleboro and try to cover the remaining hundred miles in one shot. It was the right choice. Route 119 in New Hampshire is hilly and gritty, showing off few of the many charms of the state.
But crossing into Massachusetts, our pace quickened and the landscape softened. We entered the state through Willard Brook State Forest in Ashby, then passed through such rural gems as Townsend, Groton, and Forge Village.
And since, remember, no long-distance bike ride is complete without ice cream, we ate our final meal at Kimball Farm in Westford. What once was a quaint side-of-the-road farm and ice cream stand has morphed into a carnival complex of driving range, volleyball courts, mini-golf, and barbecue grills. But the ice cream remains first rate, even if I can no longer finish a giant Kimball Special on my own. A late lunch of meaty lobster rolls and a strawberry ice cream sundae propelled us the final 25 miles home along the Minuteman Bikeway and the Charles River in the soft May twilight.