Vermont Part I: East Thetford

As we begin to navigate our way through the Northeast, we really need to pay special attention to the routes and roads we choose for our travels. The terrain is more mountainous, and we want to stay on major interstate or intrastate highways. The Monaco is a bit too large to amble down winding 2-lane country roads with no shoulder – that is what the Honda is for. If we were to come upon a low bridge crossing, a weight restricted bridge, or one of the many historic covered bridges in Vermont, it would be a nightmare. There is no backing up in this bus, especially with the car hooked up behind us.

There are 2 interstate highways that run through Vermont. I-91 runs the length of the state from south to north. I-89 starts about midway through the state and cuts a diagonal line from the eastern side to the northwestern corner, ending at the Canadian border.  We found a small private campground close to the I-91 and I-89 intersection called the Rest-N-Nest. They could accommodate a rig of our size, had water/sewer/ 30 amp electric hook-ups, offered a Good Sam discount, and had spaces available for the dates we wanted. Since most of our criteria were satisfied, we made reservations and headed there from our spot in New York.

We made most of the drive in the drizzling rain and reached our destination in about 5 hours. I had only been to Vermont once in the winter, but this time there was no question why they call this the Green Mountain State. The mountains and fields are flowing ribbons of vivid green. As you look in the distance it appears that an artist has isolated that section on the color wheel and painted a picture with every imaginable hue of emerald, jade, olive, lime or kelly. Of course the leaves of the trees are green, but there is more. The floor in the woods is not dirt or pine straw; it is underbrush of feathery fern and other varieties of lush groundcover.  Even the boulders have green moss growing on them. The drive up the interstate was actually featured as a scenic drive in our 2012 Rand McNally Road Atlas. It was like we were driving through a postcard the whole trip.

I looked up the meaning of green and learned that it symbolizes growth, harmony and freshness. There is a strong emotional correspondence between this color and safety. It is the most restful color for the human eye and has great healing power. It suggests stability and endurance. Yes, even though the weather was crappy, we were in blissful moods when we got to the Rest-N-Nest. We had outrun the rain for the moment, so we had the chance to set up camp without our umbrellas or rain ponchos. The rain started up again once we were settled and kept coming down for the next 36 hours, or so. We were so peaceful and safe that it didn’t matter in the least!

We were ready to get out and about on the third day of our stop since the skies had dried up for the moment. I had asked our hosts at the campground about some local restaurants we should try and we were pointed to a place down the road called Isabella’s for breakfast. She said the place served breakfast and lunch, but we should do breakfast since they served local Vermont Maple Syrup with their pancakes and French toast. Sold! The tiny family-owned diner had about 8 tables and a counter. Breakfast was delicious and gave us the jolt we needed to run our weekly errands.  Our list included groceries, a credit union that reciprocated services with FAAFCU, and an auto parts store. The closest town that offered those conveniences was Lebanon, New Hampshire. Vermont and New Hampshire are separated by the Connecticut River, so we had another picture postcard drive for about 15 miles south along the water before we reached Lebanon.

Vermont is the 49th state when ranked by population. The towns are tiny, and it seems like driving 20 miles to run basic errands is no big deal to its residents. During the brutally cold winters I can see where this could get old fast.  However, with the views during summer, I started making up errands I needed to run… just to go for a scenic drive every once in a while. This is why I wasn’t worried when the “super” Wal-Mart we selected for grocery shopping had no produce section. Mike found out from the bank teller that Hanover had a Farmer’s Market on the campus Green of Dartmouth College from 4 – 7 that afternoon. I wondered if Ivy League vegetables were better than regular Farmer’s Market veggies. We returned to the Rest-N-Nest to drop off our purchases and my husband. Then I left for another drive along the river to scratch more items from my grocery list. As I left the bus, Mike warned me to go easy on the bread.

I found the tents and a parking space fairly easily. The school year was just ending, so students were moving out of dorms and rental houses on every corner. It seemed like everyone was walking down the sidewalk with a suitcase or a dolly stacked with boxes. I grabbed my earth-friendly shopping totes and headed for the goods. It wasn’t a big outfit, but the vendors offered everything one could possibly need: from eggs to jewelry to brick-oven fired pizza for snacking. I went from tent to tent with my list and got almost everything we needed to last another week. My bags were full with eggs, bread (only one loaf), spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, cheese, scallions, salsa, and more. Mike only told me to go easy on BREAD, but I didn’t give him a chance to mention anything else from the baked goods category. This is how I justified stopping at a tent from a local bakery on the way out. I abided by his request while purchasing a couple of muffins for breakfast and some granola to go with my Greek yogurt. I veered away from their cinnamon loaf and bagels, so I think I did great!

Another outing suggested by our hosts was the Quechee Gorge. About 20 miles southwest of us was “Vermont’s Little Grand Canyon”, one of New England’s most popular natural wonders. The brochure said a trip through central Vermont was not complete without a visit to this spectacular site. We definitely wanted our trip to be complete, so we loaded up the dogs and headed that direction. We were not disappointed. A waterfall cascades 163 feet down through a canyon to the Ottauquechee River below. There are walking trails extending in both directions from the falls, and a state park is situated adjacent to the natural attraction. We walked the dogs to the end of the trail in one direction, and then turned around and walked along a path DOWN to the river then back UP again. On this day we were able to get double credit on one activity: visit tourist attraction and work out the glutes… check. Just as we reached the top again, it started to rain. I had wanted to stop into some little shops near the area, but lost interest when the atmosphere stopped cooperating. Instead we opted to find a little watering hole where we could grab a drink and watch some of the U.S. Open Golf Tournament on television. We drove in search of somewhere for about an hour before we gave up and headed back home. Casa Martin turned out to be a great place to grab a drink and some golf on the big screen.

I took Mike and the dogs back to Hanover one afternoon to poke around for a while. We walked around the tiny town looking for a place with a patio that allowed dogs so we could grab a snack and do some people watching. Unfortunately there is no such establishment in Hanover. There were plenty of places we wanted to stop into, but none would allow dogs. After Cessna and Piper were tired from their little tour of the college town, we parked the car in a lower level of a parking garage where it was dark and cold. They waited for us in the back of the Honda with the windows rolled down while we had a tiny pub crawl. Hanover was even more chaotic on this Friday afternoon than it had been on my previous visit. Not only were students still shuffling down the sidewalks toting most of their belongings, incoming freshmen were meandering around in what looked like some sort of orientation program. To top it off, it was graduation weekend and there were hundreds of alumni in town for little mini-reunions. Everyone had a name tag and was wearing Dartmouth colors. We were just dressed normally, and I was kind of glad we weren’t sporting any U.T. gear that day. It would have been harder to blend in if our burnt orange clashed with all the green. We ended up talking to a former baseball coach while we were at the Canoe Club. Among some of the other things we talked about, he told us that the Quechee Gorge Bridge is a popular spot from which people jump to their death. Turns out that men mostly jump with their shoes on, while women seem to always take them off and place them on the sidewalk before the fall.

Our final excursion from the Rest-N-Nest was to one of those events we got lucky to stumble upon. The 34th Annual Quechee Hot Air Balloon, Craft, and Music Festival was scheduled for our last weekend in the area. The balloons were scheduled to take off at 6am and 6pm both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday’s weather was predicted to be the most pleasant, so that is the day we chose to drive over and check it out. We got there around 4 in the afternoon so we could explore some of the festival before the balloons took off. We had a drink in the beer tent, sampled a lobster roll and savory crepes from the food court, and then strolled through the vendor areas looking at jewelry, stained glass and other festival crafts. After we had seen all we wanted to see, we parked ourselves out in the open field to see about the hot air balloons. When we sat down the crowd was gathered around the edges of an empty field.

We didn’t exactly know what to expect, but we bided our time with some more good people watching. After a while the balloon crews started coming into the field with their trucks and trailers. We watched them unload their baskets and lay out the balloons. It was getting close to the 6:00 hour, but it didn’t look like these guys were in too much of a hurry to get up and going.  By 6:30 we were about to give up when the first balloon started inflating. The crowd got energized with all the buzz.  There was a giant roar when the first balloon started floating up into the air. The once empty field was now jam-packed with a rainbow of colors and the sounds of each pilot firing their burners into the balloon envelopes. I would estimate there were twenty or more balloons that participated in the event. After about a dozen were in the air above us, we made our way back to the car and watched them glide over the mountain tops for most of our drive home.  The next morning we found out that two of our neighbor campers had been up in one of them that night! The lucky ladies had chosen to attend the festival and take a ride as part of dual milestone birthday celebrations.

Our last Sunday in Central Vermont was a rainy Father’s Day. We passed the time by calling our dad’s and watching the golf tournament. I took the opportunity to sit at my computer for most of the day and finish another entry to the blog. The skies cleared slightly once evening arrived so we were able to grill some pork chops for dinner. We have learned that travel days are not very enjoyable if too much fun is had the night before, so we had made it an early bedtime and got good rest before heading out toward Burlington the next morning.

We found the beer (and wine) tent at the festival!

We found the beer (and wine) tent at the festival!

Finally, the balloons started inflating.

Finally, the balloons started inflating.

The frenzy.

The frenzy.

We got to watch them in the air for half of the drive home.

We got to watch them in the air for half of the drive home.

My bounty from the farmer's market in Hanover, N. H.

My bounty from the farmer’s market in Hanover, N. H.

A section of the walking trail at Quechee Gorge.

A section of the walking trail at Quechee Gorge.

Site 7 at Rest N Nest Campground.

Site 7 at Rest N Nest Campground.

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